What’s the One Thing that Makes You Happy?

I don’t usually gain insight from the morning radio. Yes, when in the car I still listen to the radio, but between songs this morning DJ asked, “What is the one thing that makes you actually happy?”

My first thought was the weather (it’s 75 degrees and clear skies as I write this). Then I changed my mind. It’s my family, my friends, the fact that I really enjoy what I do for work. Or food (they immediately started talking about a sushirrito).

How did I just find out about this. Who wants to go?

Thinking through those things made me smile and it hit me. The common link between everything on my happy list is smiling. When it’s sunny outside, I smile. When I’m laughing with friends and family, I’m smiling. When I feel like I’ve accomplished something at work, I smile. It’s really that simple. Smiling is free, easy to share with others and something I am in complete control of.

What is the one thing that makes you happy?



22 Lessons Learned in New York

After returning from a last minute trip to New York (for reasons I cannot share yet), I want to share 22 quick lessons I learned. Can you relate to any of them?

1. Why is Uber taking over New York? I couldn’t walk more than a block without finding a cab.
2. Someone as poised as a major news network anchor still needs cues from time to time
3. Warm weather always beats cold weather
4. Off-broadway performers are more coordinated than I will ever be
5. There is always a way to connect with someone
6. Flying into Laguardia is much easier than JFK
7. Always have google maps open while in a cab to monitor the trip
8. Don’t be afraid of the competition – try them on your head


9. Avoid connecting flights as best you can
10. 4am is a lot later than it seems
11. Starbucks wifi is optimized for customer turnover
12. Product demos always have a problem – bring a spare needle and thread in case
13. Land ownership in Burgundy is really confusing
14. Strong showers are critical to my happiness
15. You cross from friend to really good friend when you pick fuzz off his fleece
16. Always take pictures
17. McDonald’s chicken nuggets are good at any time of the day
18. If you want something ask for it, worst case they say no which is the same as not asking
19. When playing serious ping pong, make everyone use the same paddle
20. Dance floors are locked on Mondays
21. Drinking wine with a sommelier changes how you think about wine
22. Chicken wings in the bathroom make shower time delicious

Am I missing anything?

I Can Haz Title?

It took me a year and a few months but I feel like I’m finally breaking through with my writing and my blog. In fact it was the only resolution that I struggled with from last year. I wrote 2 posts last week and plan to have 2-3 this week.

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The best posts take about an hour to write and maybe another hour to edit (not counting the help of some awesome friends). What I did not count on is how difficult it is to come up with a title.

Good pictures are just as hard.

The title is SO IMPORTANT. For example, when I write a post, I share it on Facebook and Twitter. Someone then decides in a quick scan of their feed whether to read the post or not. All I get is 5-8 words to communicate with them WHY they should read it. Pressure, right?

The Upworthy approach (seen below) is fascinating but I don’t have the time or skill to produce 25 somewhat viable options. If I did this post would be unnecessary.

Screen shot 2014-02-12 at 2.03.06 PM
The slideshow where I took this from is pretty fantastic in terms of their viral process. Full link here.

I’m not trying to reach Upworthy levels of virality, but I would like to figure out a way to produce interesting titles that my friends would click on.

Any tips? How do you think of creative, shareable titles?

31 Things I Learned Traveling in Europe

I had not been to Europe in 13 years, crazy right? That’s why I was so thrilled to represent San Francisco at the Annual Curator’s Meeting of the Global Shapers of the World Economic Forum and then travel for a few days in Rome. While reflecting on my trip, I wanted to share 31 things I learned while in Europe.

  1. Talk to locals – they are like a real life Yelp
  2. Talk to drunk locals – its amazing how much you can learn about country politics, family and ambition
  3. If someone offers you a drink called the Bolivia, run away
  4. Made up handshakes are a great ice breaker
  5. If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together
  6. Get an unlimited use metro card
  7. Go sightseeing late at night (or at sunrise)
  8. Find restaurants with tables so close together that you can speak to the people next to you
  9. It’s hard to fit 2 people on a raft made of cardboard
  10. To hit a bullseye, take a breath and relax
  11. Always try starting a conversation with something other than English
  12. Things have a random way of working out
  13. Italians don’t like losing at foosball or ping pong
  14. With the right team, following can be just as satisfying as leading
  15. It’s amazing what you can get away with if you just answer “yes”
  16. Young people can truly change the world
  17. There are SO many problems outside Silicon Valley that are never even discussed here
  18. The best four flavors of gelato in no particular order are nocciola, banana, pistachio, and fig
  19. European airlines are so much better than US airlines
  20. Turning off your cell data plan is a liberating feeling
  21. International dance parties are the best kind
  22. Always wear sneakers at Frankfurt airport, especially when you have thirty minutes to make your connection
  23. An iPad is a must have for any long flight
  24. When in doubt take a picture, when you look back you never regret taking one
  25. Never go anywhere with a tour group
  26. Try not to go to a restaurant with a menu, and if it has one don’t order from it
  27. If you speak to 3 people in a row that speak English, go somewhere else
  28. AirBnb easily wins over any hotel
  29. Get on a random bus or metro without a map and go somewhere
  30. Gelato is a good idea at any time of the day
  31. Stay calm and Siyahamba

New Year’s Resolutions Revisited

Now that it is the end of July, I want to revisit my New Year’s Resolutions to see how I’ve been doing. As opposed to a completely new post (especially for those who did not read my original resolutions) I thought it would be fun to annotate my old post. 

Resolution 1 

5 Year Vision: Keep learning new skills

3 Month Plan: Write at least one new blog post every 2 weeks 

Like a lot of people, I find writing something well takes lots of hard work. I survived English class because I spent countless hours proofreading and rewriting. When I wrote my first guest post for CBS Interactive a few years ago, I was terrified before submitting it. A post published on another site felt so permanent – was it good enough? I probably had 10 people proofread it and still had that roller-coaster-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach feeling when I submitted it. To become a better writer, I must make a concerted effort to practice.

My goal is to write at least one blog post every 2 weeks to develop my own voice and become more comfortable as a writer. My hope is that after a period of 3-6 months, blogging will become a habit and I can move on to developing another skill.

Anyone who looks at the dates of my posts knows I have not stuck to this schedule. I don’t think my lack of posts have been about a fear of writing, it’s honestly just difficult to think of many topics that are truly interesting to write about. I have fallen into a trap of writing for an audience vs. writing for myself, which I need to fight through. As anyone who runs a startup, I’m a sucker for page views and metrics. They drive my work life and I think that kind of thinking is affecting my writing. I know it sounds cheesy, but I really need to start writing for myself. This post is my first in that direction.

Though my posts have been less frequent, I can honestly say that my writing has improved as well as my confidence right before I press publish. In fact, I even wrote my second guest post, this time for VentureBeat: http://venturebeat.com/2013/05/29/how-to-make-a-viral-video/. Now, I just need to get back on a regular posting schedule, and I will.

Resolution 2 

5 Year Vision: Raise my emotional intelligence (EQ) [I think it’s funny that I put a link to this. Now I think I am actually beginning to understand what it means!]

3 Month Plan: Meet one new person (face-to-face) every week

I have now lived in the bay area for almost 9 years. Most of my friends from college still live in the area and I have a tendency to stay in my comfortable social circle. While having a strong support network is amazing, having one makes me less likely to meet new people. It’s time for a change, not only from a professional standpoint (where being able to connect with all types of people is really important) but also from a personal one. I’m not sure how I am going to find all these new people (if you want to meet me leave a comment), but we’ll leave that for another post. 

My goal is to meet someone new (face-to-face) every week and have at least a 15-minute conversation.

I’m happy to report that I have done a pretty good job with this and have met one new person almost every single week. I have gone out of my way to not only find new people, but also meet them after our initial contact. I cannot even begin to explain how much this has helped me both personally and professionally. Also as a personal win, I have never “grabbed coffee.” (I don’t drink coffee and am not a fan of coffee meetings in general. I feel like to get to know someone you have to share an experience with them, and coffee is never it.) The most difficult piece of this was figuring out where to meet new people. (If you are interested in how I do it, leave me a note in the comments and I’ll devote an entire post to it.)

Resolution 3 

5 Year Vision: Be healthier

3 Month Plan: Bring lunch to work 3 days a week

I already do a decent job of going to the gym, but my eating habits leave much to be desired. Startup life keeps me pretty busy, so I don’t have much time to cook for myself. This means that I eat out a lot, almost 10 – 12 times a week. That is pretty outrageous considering there are only 14 opportunities to eat lunch and dinner every week. No matter how often you go to the gym, you will never be able to accomplish any health related goals by eating fast food.

My goal is to make and bring lunch to work 3 times a week. I hope this first step leads to making dinner and improving my cooking skills as well.

Looking back, this is the resolution I am most proud of. It started with my modest three-month plan to bring lunch to work three times a week. This was relatively easy to accomplish and pretty quickly grew into cooking dinner as well. Now I am at a point where I bring lunch to work four times a week and also cook dinner at home FOUR times a week. The difference has been noticeable; I feel healthier and save a lot of money. I don’t suddenly have a lot of free time so if you are curious to know what I am eating or how I prepare it, please let me know and I’ll make it another post.

Which Ben Affleck acceptance speech do you prefer?

For me the best part of any awards ceremony is the acceptance speech. I’m always crossing my fingers for either a complete train-wreck or something heartfelt and well done because I can learn from both. This is my favorite from this year – Ben Affleck after Argo won Best Picture.



Watching this speech made me wonder what his speech was like when Good Will Hunting won the Oscar in 1998. Take a look:

Amazing, right? What a difference 15 years can make. I’ve now watched each of these speeches at least 10 times, and I still can’t decide which I like more.

The speech from 1998 has the impulsive, charismatic charm of two whiz kids that came out of nowhere to create a hit. It was unrehearsed, raw and probably connected with anyone that feels lucky to be doing what he or she is doing.

The speech from last night had the measured, professional tone of someone who expected to be there. Affleck seemed to reflect on his past success and his relationship with the entertainment industry. Given the swings of his career, I’d say it was an inspiring message.

Which do you like more? Discuss on Hacker News

I finally started a blog

Who knew the hardest part about starting a blog was picking a theme? I probably looked through hundreds before deciding that the simplest one (and one of the first 5 I looked at) was the best. And no, I never considered paying for one. 

To quickly introduce myself, my name is Neil (you could probably guess from the URL) and I am the co-founder of ReelSurfer. I graduated from Stanford in 2008 and started ReelSurfer during my senior year with my good friend Christian Yang. While bootstrapping ReelSurfer, I ran a (non-technical) tutoring business, Cardinal Tutors, to help pay rent.

Since then, Christian and I have been lucky enough to find paying customers, participate inY-Combinator, become Global Shapers of the World Economic Forum, and build an amazing team of dreamers, executers, advisors and investors.

My goal for this blog is pretty simple. I want this to be a place where I can describe challenges we face and chronicle our attempts to overcome them. I hope these lessons will be valuable to those that are working on their first startup or hoping to take the plunge themselves.

Thank you for indulging me. To help me “build something people want,” please say hello in the comments and let me know what topics are the most interesting to you.

And please, follow me on twitter.