Croatia / France

Kate and I spend so much time planning our vacations and we get asked about them frequently, so I’m going to start creating blog posts for where we stayed and what we did so it’s easy to share. We just spent 12 days in Croatia and Paris. Here are our notes:


  • Stay
  • Eat
    • Gusta me – just outside the city walls on the walk to the cable car. I think I liked it more than Kate – the tuna, fish, and house wine were great
    • Dolca Vita – great gelato place – went 3 times in 2 days
    • Taj Mahal – Bosnian food (read: meat), solid, but not as good if you get the meat sweats while walking on the city walls in the heat
  • Do
    • Climb the city walls – we went in the afternoon – it was really hot but less crowded because it was so hot
    • Cable car to see the city – go at sunset
    • Sunset kayak tour – crowded but still fun


  • Stay
    • Hotel Jagodna – 15 minutes outside of Hvar town on a beautiful bay where you can swim. Rooms are basic but it’s awesome.
  • Eat
    • Antika in Stari Grad – best meal of the trip.
    • Fig Hvar – went there twice in 2 days. Amazing fig flat bread. There is also on in Stari Grad and Split in case you miss it here.
    • Konobo Menego – Croatian food on your way up to see the fort. Get the octopus salad and the gnocchi
    • Hotel Jagodna – great dinner – fish is amazing
  • Do
    • Visit Stari Grad – outside of Hvar town but cute small town. It’s one of the oldest towns in Croatia and Europe
    • Rent a boat (that you can drive) and cruise the seas
    • Do the walk up to the Spanish fortress


  • Go here and stay at Hotel Lemongarden and do / eat everything they let you. It’s expensive but totally worth it.


  • Stay
    • Did an AirBnB but didn’t spend much time in it
  • Eat
    • Fig Split
    • Corto Maltese – creative Dalmatian food. Good drinks (especially lavender gin and tonic) and you can sit on the street and people watch
    • Ciri Biri Bela – Similar to Plant Cafe. We didn’t love it but it was probably just because it was so hot.
  • Do
    • Rent a car and go to Krka waterfalls – amazing. Make sure to go early, it gets really crowded with tour groups starting at about 10am
    • Diocletian Palace – we didn’t actually go in but it’s nice to look at from the outside


  • Stay
    • Le Bristol – place is amazing but really expensive. Thanks to Kate for getting a great rate through work
  • Eat
    • Croissants – favorites were Boulangerie Alexine and Miss Manon
    • Soul kitchen – right behind Sacre Cour, seemed to have only locals and food was cheap and delicious
    • KB coffee – oat milk cappucinos
    • Cook n Saj – loved this place. Family run Lebanese that was yummy, fun, and affordable
    • Arc de Falafel – in the guidebooks. The line is long but it’s cheap and really filling
    • La Drougerie Du Marais – crepes by the falafel place. Solid.
    • La Portena – empanada counter – aka a place made for me
  • Do
    • Eiffel tower
    • Ateliers Lumieries – really cool art museum that has 20 minute experiences. We saw the Van Gogh one and really loved it
    • Montmarte – really cute neighborhood with Sacre Cour, artists, and great food
    • Rent electric bikes and bike along the Seine – do it in the morning and on the weekend. The city gets really crowded and dangerous to bike later in the day. Make sure to dodge the scooters.

New Year, New Post

Hello everyone and welcome to 2018! It’s going to be an exciting year.

I’ve kicked off the year by writing a bimonthly column for YourStory (, the TechCrunch of India. My goal is to answer questions from Indian entrepreneurs and share my experiences with them.

So far so good! I have written two posts which have been read by thousands of people and delivered hundreds of great questions. You can see the first two here:

Thanks for reading. If you would like to submit a questions please end it to me at


This Year’s Resolutions

After skipping on New Year’s Resolutions last year, I think it’s time to go back to what worked: writing them down and making them public. Two years ago I made these 3 resolutions. I stuck to two of them, and cooking / eating healthy ended up becoming a habit.

To keep the same structure I am going to share my two resolutions as a 5-year vision and a 3-month plan.


Resolution 1:

5-Year Vision: Be able to answer questions about India

3-Month Plan: Learn something about Indian culture every week

My trip to India last March made it clear to me how little I knew about the country and my heritage. It’s embarrassing how many times I’ve been asked to confirm something about Indian culture, only to google the answer like everyone else. I have made it a goal to learn something new about Indian culture every week. To keep myself to task, a friend and I have started, a mailing list where we share a few facts about Indian culture each week. The mission is simple – help people to understand more about India and then expand to allow everyone to understand their heritage. If you are interested, please subscribe!


Resolution 2:

5-Year Vision: Be equally as likely to pick up a book as to turn on the TV

3-Month Plan: Read 25 pages a day

I have never been a book worm. Reading was always something that school forced me to do. Perhaps it was a combination of books I didn’t like and strict reading requirements, but reading became something to avoid. In high school, since I never expanded my vocabulary by reading, I actually had to memorize the definitions of thousands of words for the SAT.

This needs to change. Reading not only improves creative and critical thinking it is also one of the best ways to learn from the experiences of others. While it’s unlikely I’ll be the person that reads a book a week, I’d like to simply be in a place where reading a book is just as enjoyable as anything else. This will also help me plow through the books I have collected as gifts over the last couple years!


That’s it – I tried to keep it simple. Did you make a resolution this year? I’d love to help you think through a 3-month plan and a 5-year vision.

How the Military Scales a Technology Leader

First Round Capital recently shared advice from Adam Pisoni (co-founder of Yammer) about how to scale oneself as a technology leader. He gave five tips, including one he learned from General (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal. This made me wonder what the military solution equivalent would be for Adam’s other 4 suggestions. After a bit of research, here is what I discovered:

  1. Roles & Responsibilities

According to Adam, “Without clearly defined accountabilities, it’s easy for companies to become paralyzed by decision debt and arguments.” The military uses something called the “G-staff model” to help define roles and responsibilities. Each branch of the military uses this model to define one leader as responsible for each of the roles below:

G1 – Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, G2 – Deputy CoS for Intelligence, G3 – Deputy CoS for Operations, G4 – Deputy CoS for Logistics, etc.

From there, they have a team to support the execution and function. The U.S. Army Material Command does a good job of explaining it here.

  1. Monitoring Progress

Adam covered this one well by using lessons from General McChrystal. Adam credits McChrystal for “creating a process where every single day for 90 minutes, thousands of people from all over the world would dial in to a rapid-fire update meeting. Each group had 90 seconds to say what they did, what they’re doing next and what the risks or blockers are.” By holding a weekly standup, McChrystal was able to ensure that everyone possessed the appropriate amount of baseline information to execute missions quickly and effectively.

  1. Retrospectives

The major lesson here is that members of the tech industry should aim to “stop repeating mistakes.” The military uses After Action Reports (AARs) to evaluate the success or failure of missions and learn how to improve for the future. I tackled how the Navy uses AAR in a previous post about development, and Craig Mullaney does an excellent job explaining the AAR in more detail here.

  1. Planning and Prioritization

Adam outlines a strategy for how to best create plans, but I think the most interesting part is how he concludes: “based on your new priorities, decide what you’re going to STOP doing.” To accomplish this, the military uses the appropriately named Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP). The MDMP is a 7-step process that is explained in detail in this textbook, but essentially comes down to understanding the mission, developing appropriate Course of Actions (COAs), war gaming the COAs, and then executing.

  1. Managing Tension

As Adam points out, tension between employees is inevitable. Evidently, the military agrees. They have a position – the executive officer (XO) – who helps to resolve tension within a unit. Going into each new project/initiative, the XO will convene all relevant parties/stakeholders to identify issues, allocate decision-making space, and hash out solutions. Adam agrees with this process and says, “instead of digging in and trying to resolve tensions as a leader, your only goal should be to make tensions public.”



Three Military-Tested Techniques for Improving Your Team’s Decision-Making

This was originally published in Fast Company:

“Captain, to the bridge.”

Mike LeFever, captain of the USS Destroyer, was abruptly awoken to these words at 3 a.m. to learn that a newly appointed officer had nearly crashed a $100 million cruiser into a fishing boat. As LeFever approached the officer, he could see a bead of sweat running down the young man’s neck. First, LeFever asked a set of rapid-fire questions: “What happened? Is anybody hurt? Is the ship okay?”

The officer answered concisely but still braced for the worst. Instead, he heard, “What did you learn? Let’s talk about this in the morning. You have three more hours on watch duty.” Then LeFever returned to his quarters.


Unlike in many—or even most—organizations, the military is relentlessly focused on developing the decision-making abilities of its personnel through empowerment. “If you take care of the people,” LeFever, who retired as a vice admiral after a more than 30-year Navy career, told me when we spoke recently, “the people will take care of you and perform the mission.”


In this view, people—their skills, expertise, and judgment under pressure—are inseparably linked with the success or failure of every undertaking. LeFever defines empowerment as delegating responsibility, and then allowing people broad freedom of action—permitting them to succeed or fail.

LeFever could have decided to use the interaction with the young officer on the bridge to dress him down in front of his subordinates. But he recognized that that served little purpose. The incident had already occurred. What mattered now was to make sure that the officer learned from this experience so he could prevent it from happening again.

The idea of empowerment is challenging enough when failure means missing a product deadline, but handing off that kind of decision-making when failure could mean a loss of lives? That takes a different level of trust altogether. Yet the military faces many similar challenges that organizations do when it comes to investing that trust in individuals:

  • Constantly changing teams, as military units are continually created and disbanded
  • Geographic separation, with personnel on almost every continent and teams varying in size from two people to tens of thousands
  • Rigid promotion requirements and dismissal protocol

The military still manages to enable individual decision-making not despite these challenges, but in order to counteract their potentially detrimental effects. In other words, only by cultivating leaders at all levels is such a large, complex organization able to maintain its effectiveness at scale.

“The hardest part of being a leader,” LeFever says, “is allowing other people to do that job, because they probably won’t do it the way that you want it. My goal was to provide guidance and boundaries.”

The military’s rigid organizational systems are designed to create the boundaries that are most likely to enable decisive action, not prevent it. These are a few of them.


After every mission, the Navy conducts an “after action report.” The process is designed to determine what happened in a given incident and why. Officers across different continents scrutinize events, debate and defend decisions, and resolve conflicting understandings of the scenario in order to learn how better to approach similar ones in the future.


The Navy’s mentorship program epitomizes the organization’s way of creating empowerment through clearly defined working processes. Not only does the Navy assign formal mentors, it also encourages sailors to seek out informal mentors on their own. These mentors then set quantifiable milestones for young officers to work toward short- and long-term goals.

The concept of a formal mentor is foreign to most entrepreneurs—especially during startups’ early days. When a company has three people and a product nobody’s ever heard of, where would a formal mentor even come from? You have to seek them on your own. When my cofounder and I first began to target film studio partners for our startup ReelSurfer, neither of us had ever worked with one. So I cold-emailed everyone from our alma mater’s alumni list who had entertainment experience. From one of these emails we formed an amazing relationship with a Hollywood producer, who then helped us start conversations and negotiate deals we’d never have been able to do on our own.

Not only can a mentor help guide you in our own decision-making, giving you the confidence to take action in difficult circumstances, they can also help create the situations that allow you to exercise (and, over time, improve) your judgment in the first place.


How a team is put together also has an impact on how empowered its individual members can become to make tough calls effectively.

When LeFever first joined the Navy, its personnel strategy revolved around skill requirements, commonly referred to as “Fill.” Finding that strategy wanting, LeFever proposed a new policy, “Fit and Fill,” which combined skill requirements and team chemistry.


This is an area many entrepreneurs and business leaders struggle with when forming new teams. It isn’t always easy to balance cultural fit and expertise. Startup founders are often overzealous simply to hire the smartest people they know. But sometimes the most brilliant people clash with each other or scoff at doing some of the less glamorous work. Members of poorly composed teams might not hesitate to make decisions, but they’re more liable to do so independently, less effectively, and without enough regard for the team’s unifying goals.

Truthfully, before speaking with Captain LeFever, my understanding of leadership development in the military stretched about as far as the drill sergeant scene in Full Metal Jacket. I thought of the military as a rigidly hierarchal, top-down organization. We like to think of the tech world as the complete opposite. But in reality, it’s a focus on leadership development through empowerment at the lowest possible level that allows the military to operate at the scale and excellence that it does. That’s a lesson more businesses would do well to take to heart.

Constrained Storytelling


“Explain to me how photosynthesis works…

Great job. Now explain it to me in half the words…

Excellent. Now do it again.”

Call me Mr. Miyagi. After graduating from college, I tutored high school students. If you ask any of the students who I tutored, they would probably describe my style as “frustrating.” Any time they ever explained anything to me, I would challenge them to explain it to me again, only this time using half the words.

I had no prior teaching experience, but felt that if a student could explain a concept to me in a few words, then they would understand it well enough to succeed on a test. Lucky for me, it worked.

What I think the students didn’t realize is that this is still hard for me (though they probably did). They have no idea how long it took me to boil down the ReelSurfer or Napwell value proposition into one sentence.

Describing your company’s mission while you are still figuring out what your company does is a constant battle. To me this is “constrained storytelling,” and it is one of the most valuable skills you can learn.

My next and latest attempt to blog regularly and to further improve my constrained storytelling is by writing haikus for companies that explain their mission. I plan on sharing them on twitter (@njcar) and will add them to this post as I go.

To start, I tried this for McChrystal Group, a company founded by Gen (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal to improve adaptability in organizations:

An embrace of change,

Achieving a shared vision,

Every level leads.

If you have ideas for companies, please let me know!

Lessons Learned from a Shark Tank Survivor

I’ve given a lot of pitches – to investors, customers, friends, and to really anyone willing to listen. Some go well and others are complete disasters, but all give me the opportunity to make the next one better. Recently, I was given the opportunity to pitch our product, Napwell, on ABC’s Shark Tank.

To see the full segment including Q&A click here. We are in segment 3.

Shark Tank was never on our list of priorities. My co-founder and I were in the middle of our Kickstarter campaign, which achieved 130% of its goal, when we saw a tweet from the casting director. Being huge fans of the show, we had to give it a try.

While I have successfully raised money from investors and have even been on TV before, being in “The Tank” was so different. Sure, it’s like a normal investor pitch, only with millions of strangers watching you share your dreams (no big deal). Here are three lessons I learned that can hopefully help you start your company or survive a tough pitch.

  1. Set the stage

The show is structured to make the Tank intimidating. The Sharks are not only professionally impressive, but also very experienced at sparring with entrepreneurs and making compelling television.

When strategizing for the pitch, I recalled advice from my high school tennis coach: playing to your opponent’s strengths puts you at an immediate disadvantage. In other words, instead of being reactive, be bold and set the stage. The first iteration of our pitch was completely different from the one that aired – it was dry and filled with statistics to highlight our scientific backgrounds.

At the last minute, we scrapped our initial plan in favor of pajamas and sleep zombies. We thought our pajama look would force the Sharks to question our legitimacy and lead them to ask the questions we wanted to answer. We knew that our strength as a company is our academic backgrounds and entrepreneurial experiences. It was probably a shock to them that Justin is a PhD candidate and that I have already launched a few start-ups.

This lesson extends beyond the Tank. While pitching a product, the more you control the flow, the more confident and prepared you will be. Setting the stage is especially important when presenting to a group with as much experience as the Sharks.

  1. Always be selling (and closing)

Preach, Alec Baldwin, Preach.

While Shark Tank is an amazing and rare opportunity to pitch to a powerful group of investors, it is also a way to share your brand with millions of potential customers. Even if all the Sharks passed, we knew that there were future investors, partners, and customers watching at home.

While answering the Sharks’ questions, we tried to make sure that the audience understood the problem that our product solves. To make our message as clear as possible, we created a list of three talking points:

  1. We are experts in sleep science
  2. We have achieved lofty sales targets without spending a single dollar on marketing
  3. We are solving a problem that affects hundreds of millions of people

Entrepreneurship requires you to sell not only your product, but also yourself. Though the target may change, you will always be trying to convince investors, customers, and even employees to buy your vision of the future. I’ve yet to meet a successful entrepreneur who cannot do this to some degree. In order to close the deal, either work on developing this skill or partner with someone who can.

  1. When trying to win, you have to be willing to lose

If you haven’t seen the episode, <spoiler alert!> we did not receive funding from the Sharks. It’s okay: their objections were very reasonable. In fact, it was a risk for us to be on Shark Tank at all. Napwell is still in the very early stages. While some of the companies on the show already have millions in revenue, we are still improving the product and incorporating early customer feedback.

While we knew that a negative reaction from the Sharks could bruise our egos, we couldn’t turn down this learning opportunity. After all, a rejection from the Sharks is just the judgment of five people. If your goal is to make a significant impact, it’s naïve to think that there won’t be stumbling blocks along the way. The key is to not let it affect your confidence. Of course we wanted the Sharks’ support, but the show also needs high ratings, and they achieve that through interesting companies and founders like us. We took comfort in the fact that we deserved to be there.

Having worked with and befriended many incredible founders, I have noticed one constant: unwavering confidence. The best entrepreneurs are those that are willing to face impossible risks in order to win. If those risks turn into failures, they are resilient and adaptable. They turn them into lessons, instead of disasters.

That’s it. I’m happy to say that we survived the show and even enjoyed our experience. I hope you can use these lessons to improve your pitch, and I look forward to watching you in the Tank.

TechWatch Q&A Series: What Makes YC Great, Business Models, and My Favorite Apps

I want to thank everyone for the great questions. I promise to answer more next week.
1. Why did you join the YC program? What is the difference between YC and other incubators?


To give a brief background, YC or Y Combinator is a startup incubator based in Silicon Valley in the United States. Founded by Paul Graham, the incubator has helped develop large technology companies like Dropbox, AirBnB, Reddit, Stripe, and many more. For more information, here is a link to an article about Y Combinator on Wired Magazine. (

I truly believe that YC stands alone as the best in breed for incubators worldwide. I think there are many reasons why a company should join YC, but in my opinion here are the top 4:

  1. The YC Partners

The YC partners are not only incredibly accomplished and insightful -they tell you the unfiltered truth.

After being accepted into Y Combinator, I remember being excited about our first meeting with Paul Graham. After all, he had been the one to interview and admit us into the program. But, rather than praising our progress, he pointed out every flaw he saw with our product and company.

Media attention and fundraising success make it easy to buy into your own hype as a startup, but really revenue and users are all that matter. The YC partners have a wealth of experience and are able to quickly assess and provide assistance with issues ranging from founder disputes to contract negotiations.

  1. The YC Network of Entrepreneurs

When I applied, I knew how helpful the partners would be, but had no idea how valuable the other founders in Y Combinator would be too. Our batchmates (companies that were in Y Combinator at the same time) and alumni (those who graduated in previous batches) are a tremendous resource. Not only are they incredibly intelligent, they are also eager to help and give support.

Since it is rare that a startup is facing a problem that has not been seen before by others, having a network of successful, yet accessible founders makes every team that much stronger.

Startups are not easy. Try to learn from the best!

  1. YC Network and Relationships

Almost everyone in Silicon Valley is a first or second-degree connection from someone in YC. One example of that reach is Demo Day. After the end of every batch, startups are launched at Demo Day, having as an audience hundreds of top tier investors from Silicon Valley. In addition to making introductions, YC can tell startups who is actively investing and who is just trying to learn more about the market. This kind of information is almost impossible to get any other way.

  1. Building a Silicon Valley Network

I think this is more of a benefit for international founders, but Y Combinator is the best introduction possible to Silicon Valley. With Y Combinator’s help, international founders are able to leverage the network to build a ready network of friends and peers and a career in Silicon Valley.

If you are currently running a startup, I highly recommend you apply: I am happy to help with your application if you need it. Send me a tweet (


2. What do you think about Silicon Valley as a unique domain? I think SF is techy and advanced, NY/LA are fashionable and sophisticated, Northern Europe has a strength creating games.



While I think that Silicon Valley has unique advantages compared to other startup ecosystems around the United States and the world, I think this breakdown does not do any of these cities justice.

The cost of starting a company has never been lower. Open source tools and decreased hosting costs have enabled entrepreneurs from cities all over the world to impact whatever industry they choose.

Personally, I have brilliant technical friends that have founded companies in New York and Los Angeles. At the same time, there are highly successful fashion and gaming companies that are based in San Francisco. Though I don’t have as much experience with companies in Northern Europe, I assume the same is true there. In fact, I hope to learn more on my trip to Europe next month.


3. What are your favorite apps?



Though there are many apps that are beautiful and easy to use, my favorites are the ones that I use the most: Twitter, Yelp, Waze, Sunrise, and Spotify.


4. Thank you very much for giving me a chance to ask you a question! What is the best way to create an innovative and competitive business model for you? Is there any good way of thinking or research method? Mm Silicon Valley friend told me to just copy existing popular service like Groupon. He said we will need to make it different anyway after starting from copy(=pivot). What is your opinion?


– Tokyo

Thanks for asking!

Out of context, I think it is tricky to define what makes a business model innovative. For example, the freemium business model is popular for software startups. For those that are not familiar with the model, a company makes its software available to a customer for free, and then charges as the product is used more. One example is Dropbox, a cloud hosting company. The product itself is free, but to add additional storage, a customer pays a fee.

Though the freemium model has been used for years, if we take this model and apply it to a hardware company it becomes innovative. Imagine if Google gave away Google Glass for free, but then charged to either add any apps or record any data. I’d say that’s taking a common business model and applying it to a different industry, for instance, makes it innovative.

To answer your question, borrowing a business model from a popular service is not a bad idea as long as the value proposition for the company is compelling and different. For example, an entrepreneur can take the Groupon group-buying business model and use it to build a company that sells airplane tickets in Japan. Though it is the same model, being aware of cultural differences or targeting a specific customer segment makes the product different. In general, I believe that ideas are not as important as the execution of those ideas in innovative ways.

TechWatch Q&A Series: Introduction

I’m very excited to share that I will be answering questions from Japanese readers weekly on the TechWatch Blog, a technology blog supported by East Ventures. This is a copy of my introduction post in English. If you can read Japanese, take a look here:

スクリーンショット(2014-04-06 22.56.38)

“Software is eating the world.”

– Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape and Partner at Venture Capital Firm Andreessen Horowitz.

Marc Andreessen wrote these famous words in 2011 and could not have been more right. As an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, I have seen entire industries disrupted by small groups of dreamers and product builders. Large organizations must adopt innovative, lean practices to enable them to design, build and implement products and programs. This is not a battle for growth, but for survival.

This disruption is not only felt on a macro level, but also a personal one. For example, I still remember the night before my high school prom. Covered in maps, my father and I sat at the dining room table, and I hand-wrote driving directions on a notepad. Today, I could have left the house the night of the event with only a smartphone and Google maps. In less than 10 years, all of that time, planning, and paper have been replaced by a single device.

Ever since graduating from Stanford University, I’ve played my role both failing and succeeding to disrupt large companies. I firmly believe that positive disruption has the potential to create jobs, improve living conditions, and change lives.

This is true in Silicon Valley, but also the rest of the world. As a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum, I have been lucky to visit entrepreneurial ecosystems and meet company builders from Rome to Madrid to Tokyo. In my eyes, promoting and enabling entrepreneurship internationally is a crucial next step.

When Satoru and I first discussed this opportunity to share Silicon Valley insights with the Japanese tech community, it excited me. I am humbled by the opportunity to help educate and grow the Japanese startup ecosystem. This will not be a one-sided dialogue; I very much want to learn from your stories and experiences.

To facilitate conversation, every Monday I will be answering questions that you send and care about the most. To submit a question please use this form or send them to me via Twitter.

I look forward to learning together and embracing disruption and positive change.