10 Things I learned in 2013

Product Management

1. The 2nd Degree Impact

It’s easy to get excited about an additional $10M run rate from a bucket test.  However, it’s detrimental to just launch a new product without considering the second degree impact — you can completely trash the business.

A second degree impact can be about the market dynamics, competitive advantage/disadvantage, or the long-term effect on your brand.  It can be a risk or an opportunity.  The problem is — it is usually very hard to measure, so in many cases, you will need to rely on some deductive reasoning to make a call.

However, building products that have a neutral to positive second degree impact is critically important — this is what helps you set the right direction for your business.

2. You can’t perfectly measure the experience

In Q3, I was testing a few variations of a new product — one had a line of description that made perfect sense and the other had a line that made no sense at all and it’s ugly.  However, when we looked at the metrics for these two variations, we found that their numbers are very comparable — same level of revenue gains and same level of user experience improvements.  

If you were to run an A/B test on how Apple packs its motherboards — one that is beautifully organized and the other that looks like a mess, but they both work the same — you can probably have found that their sales are pretty much the same.

So, does it mean that we can just launch a product that has a line of description that made no sense at all because it doesn’t matter anyway?  Of course not!  But why not?  

Because it impacts the overall experience when engaging with the product.  Maybe only 1% of the people would notice the mess.  But the fact is — when people notice it, they will most probably frown.  And why would you want to make something that brings people displeasure?

3. To Differentiate or To Copy?

Yes, Google has spent billions of dollars to get it right — why not just copy Google first and then start differentiating the product?  Oh wait, but right after we launch the copycat product, Google made another huge leap forward.  What do we do now?  Let’s copy Google again?  When do we stop?

What I have learned is that there are 2 situations when one must stop copying:

  1. You are the clear #2 in the market
  2. You are a single-feature app and so is your lead competitor.

Also, as a product manager, what fun is there if you are just copying?


In the Corporate World

4. Be Collaborative

No one is perfect.  Non-perfect people make non-perfect decisions.  And chances are if you are in the corporate world, your product needs other people’s product to work.  And it’s always easy to call out other people’s flaws and get frustrated.  Consequently, you will just make everyone frustrated.

What I have learned is to grow with everyone around you, and work with them to achieve a win-win.  Even if people make a mistake or ignore your advice, don’t turn critical.  Ultimately, that’s what will help you get what you want to achieve.

5. Build Your Support Network Early

You need support to get things done.  You can’t fly solo and hope that if you do the right thing, people will be on your side.  

You need everyone involved — senior management, key peers (i.e., dev managers), and key individual contributors (lead engineer, architect).

The sooner you can build a minimal viable support network, the sooner you can start launching your product.

It all starts with the relationship.



6. Three Key Criteria for Real Estate Investing 

I learned real estate investing the hard way.  But luckily, here’s what I have picked up for my next game — the 3 criteria to assess:

1. Unemployment Rate

If people are not working, they can’t afford to rent your place and they can’t afford to be in the city; i.e., lots of people will move out, and lots of trouble will exist in the city.

2. Wealth Level

What’s the average salary in this area?  What’s the range?  What’s the distribution?  This will help you determine how much downpayment you will need to make.

The last thing you want to do is to have an upside down mortgage; i.e., your monthly load is more than your rent income.

3. Macroeconomics

Here are a few things to consider —

  • What are the major industries in this area?  How are the industries looking for the next 10 years?  (i.e., Internet vs. Auto industry)
  • What’s the 10-year trend of this area?  (i.e., pricing, etc.)
  • What’s the vacancy rate?
  • Immigration attractiveness?
  • How’s this country doing overall?  Any political issues?

This is just a partial list.  Go through all the macroeconomic analysis before you buy into this area.

As a result, I don’t think I will be investing in Canada anymore.

7. Invest in What You Know

If you don’t’ know real estate, and if you invest in it, chances are — you will pay the tuition for it.  

I have paid mine for investing in real estate without really knowing anything about it.

Tech is what I know, so I will be investing more in tech, and less about currency, such as Bitcoins.  

Invest in what you know.



8. Always Have a BATNA

Don’t enter any type of situations without at least 2-3 options/alternatives.

Your second best option needs to be as good as your first option.  You should feel completely happy about walking away from your first option. 

If your second best option is not yet as good as your first, then you will need to make it so.  Otherwise, you need to get yourself out of the deal instead of forcing it through and hope for the best — most likely, it will turn out to be the worst for you.

9. Due Diligence is a Must

Doing due diligence on someone with whom you are going to trust your life is a must no matter how trustworthy he/she seems.

I believe there are plenty of good people out there, but there are also plenty of sketchy people out there as well.  

I have met quite a few sketchy people in 2013.  And in 2014, I need to make a goal to turn down at least 80% of the deals based on my due diligence.

10. Don’t Let Others Make Decisions for You

When people give you an ultimatum, a deadline, or any hierarchical pressure to force you into a decision, don’t give in.  Because you will always regret.

When they force you, that means they are desperate to get what they want.  Chances are that they have not considered any bit for you at all.  So, if you give in, you will surely feel miserable after.

Some decisions would live with you for 10 minutes, some for 1 year, and some will live with you forever.  So, make your decisions wisely.


5 Lessons Learned from Being a First-time Landlord

On 12/20/2013, one of my good friends went into my furnished Downtown Vancouver Condo for me and found that it was completely empty and destroyed — yes, I had a bad tenant.  She is now nowhere to be found, and I have lost at least $24,000 from it.

Here are the 5 lessons that I have learned from this experience.

Lesson #1: Don’t Be a Landlord  Without Enough Cash

Assuming you have a mortgage and you need to pay for the strata fee and everything —

You need to have at least 6 months of all those expenses as cash in the bank; i.e., if your monthly load is $1,500, you need to have at least $9,000 in the bank before you post it up for rent.

Lesson #2: Don’t Rush to Find a Tenant

I know that if you don’t rent it out, you will be paying mortgage for an empty house.  You know what — that’s significantly better than having a bad tenant, and that’s why you need to have at least 6 months of cash to be a landlord.

Think about it — spending $9,000 to mitigate your $24,000+ risk is a pretty good deal!  So…, just think about it before you ignore this advice. :)

Lesson #3: Don’t Furnish It

I have passed many good potential tenants who have their own furnitures to move in before I got this bad tenant.

The point is — everyone is different — some will like your taste and some won’t.  So, leave it open and let the tenant make her own home.

Also, some property managers won’t accept your case if your apartment is furnished.  Therefore, although a furnished apartment can be rented for a higher price, it also carries a lot more risks and problems.

Lesson #4: Hire a Property Manager

Property managers usually charge a full month of rent initially, and about 5-15% of the monthly rent for managing your property.  Trust me — that’s worth all the trouble that you might be going through.  And if you did your mortgage right, you can still make at least $200-300 a month for a $1500 monthly load including the property management fee.

Property managers can help you reduce your risk of having a bad tenant and handle all the unexpected issues, such as plumbing, repairs, and wall-drilling on your behalf.  It’s not only time-consuming to handle these issues on your own, but also mentally distracting since it’s about your beloved property.

Therefore, hire a property manager.  You will be much happier living and making money this way.

Lesson #5: Do Thorough Background Check

Don’t just rely on your property manager to do background checks — you have to double check your tenant yourself.  This is the most important part!

This includes:

  • Interview your tenant.
  • Credit checks
  • Call previous landlords (all of them and they cannot be a friend or family)
  • Check with the Tenancy Branch (and see if your tenant has a bad record)
  • Check with the Police (and see if your tenant has been reported before)

I didn’t do any of the above and that’s why I got into trouble.

When I filed a report with the police on 12/29, the police told me that they already know of my tenant for many incidents.  Hence, if I had checked with the police, I would have avoided the $24,000 loss.


Real estate investing is not easy.  Don’t think of it as a slam dunk — once you buy it, rent it, and you can forget about it.  You still need to think about your cashflow, the quality of your tenant, and your target market value for the property in 5 years.

Be prepared before you become a landlord.


It’s really hard to build AngelList. Many have tried and failed, including myself, so thank you Nivi and Naval!



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It’s never about what you know

"What makes [a person] so amazing wasn’t the facts that he knows, but rather how he approaches the world and how he thinks about problems."


I hate having a pile of dirty cash in my wallet, and I hate carrying a tortured credit card. Most notably, I hate waiting for my payments to be processed.

Mobile payments allow me to just get in and get out as quickly as possible. It’s a great invention, definitely worth all the trouble of managing all the merchant account craziness and regulations!