Archive for January, 2012

Flow Control

Have you ever waited on the phone for a customer service representative? Have you waited in a lengthy line to speak with a ticketing agent? Have you raised your hand in class hoping to share a clever thought and ended up being ignored? These are examples of controllable flow. Have you ever read an email and waited for days before responding because you didn’t have enough spare time? Have you felt compelled to respond to a text-message right away, even though you might be preoccupied with an important activity? The root of overload in communication (specifically email) is uncontrollable flow.

In-person communication is generally focused towards one-to-one interaction, or one-to-few. Thus, social cues keep us from being overwhelmed when communicating in person. Digital communication can be a variety of setups, including many-to-one which often makes my inbox a chaotic mess.

You can stand in a room full of strangers eager to have a conversation with you, but unwritten social rules prevent a crowd of people from swarming you with questions all at the same time. This is because there’s a natural flow to social gatherings. You simply can’t have a personal conversation with many people at the same time. Some people will have to wait to get your attention. Or when you’re calling someone on the phone, you can only listen to one person speak at a time. Anyone else that tries to call you will get a busy signal.

The problem with email and SMS messaging is a lack of flow control. An infinite number of people and requests for my attention can flow into my inbox at any given time. There aren’t (yet) any acceptable social cues to control the flow of emails. Email overload is a social problem.

I’m currently thinking of ideas to automatically sort the most common items that flow into your inbox. If you’ve attempted to implement flow-control measures on your email, I’d be interested to hear what did or did not work.


01 2012

Two Weeks Into The Startup Journey

There’s usually nothing easy about moving 2,500 miles away from home where the people and culture are unfamiliar. Fortunately for me, on the New Years day I moved from New Jersey to familiar territory in California with two friends to pursue a startup dream. The technology-centric culture is fantastic, the people we’re working with are results oriented, and the weather is beautiful.

I’ve been surprised by many things that I had taken for granted up until this point, such as paying an electric bill and cooking my own food. I suppose most young people (including myself) forget to consider the miscellaneous costs of living that add up to a large sum just to get settled. Even mundane tasks such as buying groceries require serious thought when planning out the upcoming weeks. We don’t currently have a car but we’ve found Silicon Valley to be an especially bike-friendly place to live. There’re bike lanes on nearly all major roads and many trails or residential roads to bike safely. I’ve been biking 3-5 miles per day on average.

On the work front, it’s now easy to understand the hacker lifestyle. There’s a lot of thought, debate, and careful deliberate decisions on what course of action to take… Many hours of careful consideration are required because each decision we make at this early stage can drastically effect the success of our user experience. I’ve also found that I’m reading a lot more, including real books. A lot of the challenges I’ll encounter are troubleshooting situations where the best solution is to figure it out I go. Flexibility and open-mindedness are key towards making solid progress.

Services that have been particularly helpful to me during this time:

  • FedEX – I sent a package from Wake Forest and they put it on hold for no additional cost during the Christmas week.
  • Southwest Airlines – 2 bags fly free! Excellent for moving my entire wardrobe.
  • Safeway  – $3 grocery delivery any day of the week.
  • Ikea – Affordable and reliable furniture.
  • Staples – Free shipping on any office furniture.
  • Amazon Prime – Free 2-day shipping on any “prime eligible” products. — This has been huge.

I’m currently reading Delivering Happiness and the author Tony Hsieh included a list of principles he learned during his brief stint as a competitive poker player. I believe the principles apply to nearly all pursuits outside of poker or business and I’d like to publish them here for everyone to read:

Evaluating Market Opportunities

  • Table selection is the most important decision you can make.
  • It’s okay to switch tables if you discover it’s too hard to win at your table.
  • If there are too many competitors (some irrational or inexperienced), even if you’re the best it’s a lot harder to win.


Marketing and Branding

  • Act weak when strong, act strong when weak. Know when to bluff.
  • Your “brand” is important.
  • Help shape the stories that people are telling about you.



  • Always be prepared for the worst possible scenario.
  • The guy who wins the most hands is not the guy who makes the most money in the long run.
  • The guy who never loses a hand is not the guy who makes the most money in the long run.
  • Go for positive expected value, not what’s least risky.
  • Make sure your bankroll is large enough for the game you’re playing and the risks you’re taking.
  • Play only with what you can afford to lose.
  • Remember that it’s a long-term game. You will win or lose individual hands or sessions, but it’s what happens in the long term that matters.



  • Don’t play games that you don’t understand, even if you see lots of other people making money from them.
  • Figure out the game when the stakes aren’t high.
  • Don’t cheat. Cheaters never win in the long run.
  • Stick to your principles.
  • You need to adjust your style of play throughout the night as the dynamics of the game change. Be flexible.
  • Be patient and think long-term.
  • The players with the most stamina and focus usually win.
  • Differentiate yourself. Do the opposite of what the rest of the table is doing.
  • Hope is not a good plan.
  • Don’t let yourself go “on tilt.” It’s much more cost-effective to take a break, walk around, or leave the game for the night.


Continual Learning

  • Educate yourself. Read books and learn from others who have done it before.
  • Learn by doing. Theory is nice, but nothing replaces actual experience.
  • Learn by surrounding yourself with talented players.
  • Just because you win a hand doesn’t mean you’re good and you don’t have more learning to do. You might have just gotten lucky.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for advice.



  • You’ve gotta love the game. To become really good, you need to live it and sleep it.
  • Don’t be cocky. Don’t be flashy. There’s always someone better than you.
  • Be nice and make friends. It’s a small community.
  • Share what you’ve learned with others.
  • Look for opportunities beyond just the game you sat down to play. You never know who you’re going to meet, including new friends for life or new business contacts.
  • Have fun. The game is a lot more enjoyable when you’re trying to do more than just make money.

Credit: Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. Additional reading.


01 2012