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For the past month, I’ve been giving two talks about my experience in organizing meetups. This is the first of the two talks given, titled “Introvert’s Guide to Starting Your Own Tribe”.

In this talk, I share about why I believe having a tribe of fellow empowering individuals could change your life and I break down the process of how you form a mastermind group.

And yes, I greatly believe that introverts are awesome! :D

Youtube

Video courtesy of MediaSaya — Thanks Frankie & Moses :)

Slidecast version (with live audio recording)

Coming Soon

I’m currently writing the expanded version of the talk and going deep into describing the process and tools that works while I’m organizing these smaller meetups. Hope that this project will see the light of the day in the end :).

My second talk, “The Big Bang Theory: Nine Steps To Build Your Meetup Empire” gets up a notch while I look back and share my experience in helping Wu Han in building Webcamp KL to what it is today.

I already had the slidecast version on Slideshare, but if you want a video version of it, please be patient since I need to edit the raw footage.

If you have any feedback or questions, feel free to reach out to me via Twitter or Facebook.

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The begining of a startup life
photo © 2012 Startup Weekend Singapore

Yes, I finally attended my very first Startup Weekend in Singapore. And they live up to their reputation of being one of the most organized startup events and I dig their heavy emphasis on execution.

Throughout 54 hours of working on startup ideas and observing how others approach the problem, there’s a lot of lessons that I’ve learned throughout the whole process. I know why Startup Weekend is awesome: within three days, you’ll be able to see the real social dynamics and the drama that unfolds as the teams manage themselves: both good and bad. It’s like getting a very condensed experience of what startup life is like.

Going through my tweets and my mental recollections, here are the lessons that I’ve learned and/or observed during the event, in chronological order:

1. If you don’t reach out or communicate well, your startup idea is DOA (Dead On Arrival)

In Startup Weekend Singapore 2012, more than 60 ideas were proposed, 40 were selected for the initial pitching process through participant votes and only 20 got picked to proceed with their development. And 54 hours later, only 18 teams managed to survive to make the final pitch.

And all 40 ideas that got picked for the initial pitching were a result of the “founders” going round the hall, reaching out, pitch the idea and ask for their votes. Whether is it by sheer awesomeness of the idea, pure persuasiveness of the founder or by pleading, begging or bribing, it doesn’t matter: you’ll need to do the legwork to reach out, communicate your ideas and have them vote for you.

And during the event, all you need is about 7 votes to get into the top 40 ideas. If you don’t reach out, your startup idea is already pronounced dead on arrival. So if you want your idea to be heard and garner attention, you better don’t lean against the wall with a drink in hand: get into the crowd and pitch.

2. Your ability to craft a impressive pitch will open doors

So now you got into the top-40, congratulations! Now you need to pass through the second filtration gate.

This initial pitching session is the time when you can separate those who came prepared and those who just fumbled their way through. Every person is given one minute to deliver their elevator pitch, and the amount of preparation effort you put into it will be evident the moment you open your mouth and speak.

The importance of the elevator pitch is two-folds: you are not only impressing the mentors who would decide the top-20 ideas that they think would be worthy for the participants to focus on; more importantly, you are trying to recruit team members who would help you in your cause.

Remember the fact that in Startup Weekend, there aren’t many developers who happen to be free-agents during the event — in most likelihood teams are formed even before the event starts. And it’s just human nature to cluster yourself among the popular groups. That means that you better prepare a compelling pitch that will make your team the honey pot that attracts implementers.

If you are a business development person, failing to do attract implementers is an instant kiss of death. Just ask the two top 20 teams that withered away during the event.

3. Even when you are desperate for team members, rejecting misfit hires is a must

Depending on how the team performed in their initial pitch, you either get into a very popular team, or a team where you can hear the crickets. And, if you happen to be in the unpopular group, be prepared to either take the uphill battle of wooing developers to defect to your team or eyeing the remaining few aimless and wandering souls and pounce on them.

However, that doesn’t mean that you should get all the help you get — with serious time constraints in getting your startup ideas off the ground, you should value your team fit way more than the amount of people in your team — as you want your team to be working as smoothly and swiftly as possible. Dealing with distractions caused by misfits will drag your down.

You must be able to weigh in several factors such as their skills and what they can contribute, availability of mission critical tasks he can take on and making a gut check on whether he’s able to gel with the key decision makers (i.e. the “CEO” and “CTO”) in the team.

If you want to be a startup founder, better train and hone your intuition capacity in Startup Weekend and be firm in rejecting misfit hires politely — it’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

Huddling around, enjoying the fruits of labour
photo © 2012 Startup Weekend Singapore

4. It’s not the team size that matters; it’s getting everyone on-board on the same page towards the goal

What happens if you have a Ruby developer, a PHP developer and a .NET developer on the same team? Duplicate effort in working on the exact same prototype. You don’t want such waste to happen during Startup Weekend.

Getting a great team on board is a blessing, but magic will not happen if you can’t orchestrate and conjure the spell properly. Enter Management 101: everyone in the team needs to reach a common agreement what needs to be done and distribute the tasks that’d maximize output.

That’s the reason why some teams formed themselves before the event: it’s like having a jazz band with the members able to read each others cues before the show started and you have to deal with less overhead in getting everyone on the same page.

If you happen to only form teams during the event, better brush up your project management skill or you’ll have to deal with discontent, misunderstandings, inefficiencies and drama.

5. Brace yourself, even the smallest idea is bigger than you think

To be very honest, every single startup idea being pitched sounds very easy on paper. I mean, look at the descriptions of the winners of Startup Weeekend Singapore 2012:

  • SnapSell: Sell off your unwanted goods from your mobile phone
  • StarCall: Charity auctions/raffles to win a chance to video chat with celebrities
  • Mystery Shopper: Crowdsourcing solution to help small to medium sized businesses to improve their business processes

Doesn’t sound all that complicated, right? Well, spend some time working on it and you’ll open a can of worms called hard work — building a rock solid pitch, identifying unique selling points, customer research and validation, working on a prototype that you can demo etc.

In most likelihood, you would at some point hate the startup idea once the hard work that needs to be done is being laid in front of you. With the time constraint that dangling on top of your head, brace yourself, buckle up and always keep your intentions and passion in mind — it’s going to be a roller coaster ride, baby.

6. Freaking out is normal; don’t sweat it

While you and your team are busy at work, there’ll be low times that hits you out of the blue — frustration when faced with a brick wall, anxiety and helplessness when nothing seems to work, exhaustion after a late night rush etc. Even more common would be that there’ll be times when you or your team members will freak out at the sheer amount of work that needs to be done and there’s just not enough hours to get all bases covered.

The early phases of building your startup is usually a stressful one and it’s normal to be freaked out from time to time. That’s the whole purpose of forming a great team — having a support group structure where the members would not only support each other in terms of skills but also acts as the necessary emotional cushion that’d pad the stress that pounds you.

7. Know your time constraints and be ruthless in cutting features away. Your idea of MVP is never lean enough

To developers, remember this is not a hackathon. To highly-excitable visionary “CEOs” in the team, diluting your developers resources into jamming more features in your next world changing, paradigm shifting, industry disrupting location aware mobile application demo is as good as being left with a thick Powerpoint slide deck and no working demo. And potential investors in the room don’t want to fund yet another startup that just looks good on Powerpoint and have nothing to show for it.

In short: You have only 54 hours to develop and validate your startup idea, laser focus is key here and you have to ruthless hack down your to-do list to the bare essentials of what really needs to get done. For a guideline, the things you really need to do within 54 hours is this:

  1. Decide on your unique selling point
  2. Have a team to work on a demo/prototype
  3. Craft the dream you want to sell
  4. Sell the dream
  5. ??? (hard work and some lucky pixie dust)
  6. PROFIT!

If you don’t have enough development resources, focus in developing on the core user experience and forgo the backend. That’s the strategy that I employ for the SmartTasker team. If your startup idea is any good and you are able to sell your dream, you’ll manage to find someone to flesh out the nuts and bolts after the event.

Awesome peeps attending #SWSG2012
photo © 2012 LiveSnapps, Startup Weekend Singapore

8. Position your pitch to your unique selling point instead of your innovation or platform

Finally, the moment of truth after 54 hours of pure hustling — it’s time to do the final pitch in front of a panel of judges and potential investors. In short, Shark Tank, baby!

In Startup Weekend Singapore, there are three teams who are working on different variation of marketplace to crowdsource tasks: Juubs, Mystery Shopper and SmartTasker, the team which I’m on.

In my opinion, the scenario of having several teams working on a same idea but with a different twist is commonplace: after all, ideas are cheap and it’s easier to come up with variations of a startup that works. The only way to separate yourself from such a crowd is to have a very strong and sharp unique selling point.

While Juubs and SmartTasker attempts to target to broad customer segments with the “you can do anything on our marketplace” tack, Mystery Shopper stands out by focusing on what problem they are trying to solve — to allow small and medium businesses to measure their quality of service by “recruiting” an army of crowd-sourced mystery shoppers.

Just by being really focused on the problem they are trying to solve, I personally find that makes the pitch solid, intriguing to listen to and creates a lasting impression.

9. Always have the name of your start-up featured prominently (and other petty but potentially fatal mistakes)

Same goes with life, there’s a lot of valuable lessons from mistakes of others — some of these mistakes are so fundamental that they should never be committed and could be spotted and remedied with sufficient preparation.

Here’s a list of the glaring mistakes that I noticed in the final pitches during Startup Weekend Singapore 2012:

  • Your startup name is important — it must be easy-to-spell, memorable and meaningful (i.e. triggers a strong association with the idea you are working on)
  • Feature the name of your startup in both your slide decks and demo prominently
  • If you are not projecting your demo on the big screen, you are doing it wrong
  • Not spending time talking about your work in customer discovery/development
  • Never defend your pitch with the “technology will solve everything” card (or “customers will see the value with some education”, for that matter)
  • Obey Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule of Powerpoint at all times
  • Sell the dream, not the product

10. When you say “Like what I said just now…”, you deserve a bitch slap

During the Q&A session with panel judges and potential investors, my major pet peeve is to hear the phrase “Like what I said just now…”. Purge this phrase off from your memory bank for good and give yourself a couple of hard slaps every time you catch yourself saying it.

One, it is a meaningless preamble and it’s most likely followed by a weak defence. Two, you assume that the judge or potential investor are not paying attention to your pitch. And three, you’ll come off condescending and arrogant. Remember, you are not defending your graduation thesis here.

If you feel compelled to use this phrase at all, take a pause and try to understand what is being asked, or even better ask a follow-up question.

Bonus: Nothing’s gonna stop you from working on your “bad” ideas

I would love to highlight one awesome feat during the event: the StarCall team built not one, not two… but three idea over the course of two days!

Meet Richerd Chan and Kai Loon — the programmer and designer combo who achieved the impossible. Richerd’s idea of Hullo, a simple iPhone app that facilitates contact exchange during events was shot down from the preliminary top-40 ideas, but that didn’t stop him from having it built.

After 8 hours of hardwork without sleep, Hullo is built and fully working — and that created great buzz for the team. Everybody who have their hands on the app are amazed. That’s why we gets us excited about working prototypes: it shows a glimpse of what change you are able to bring to the world and showing them that you can do it.

Hope this story inspires you to build what you are most passionate about — after all, that’s what startup life is all about :).

Plug: #WCKL Open Coffee Club

While we are on the topic of startups, if you are in Kuala Lumpur and you are an established startup founder, or startup founder-to-be, do check out the Webcamp KL Open Coffee Club.

It is a bi-weekly networking meetup that I’ve organized for startup founders and talents to network with each other and to allow everyone to support each other in the long journey of entrepreneurship. Sounds like a place you want to join? Like our Facebook page to get updates to the next event!

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Previously I’ve blogged about automating Hyde deployment with Jenkins and I’m prety much hooked with the idea of doing automated deployment and continuous integration in the future.

Now as much as I loved Github, Bitbucket is where I store all my private repository at — after all, you can’t beat the notion that it allows you to have private repositories even with free accounts :). So, with my blog stuff hosted at Github and my other stuff hosted with Bitbucket, some configuration changes are needed.

After reading the documentation and some trial and error, here’s how you would hook up with an secured instance of Jenkins:

Setting up a secured Jenkins instance

  1. To setup up a secured instance, click on “Manage Jenkins” and then “Configure System”
    • Under “Access Control > Security Realm”, select the “Jenkins’s own user database” option and check the “Allow user to sign up” checkbox below it
    • Under “Access Control > Authorization”, select the “Logged-in user can do anything”
  2. Once you save it, click on the “Sign In” link to create a Jenkins user account
  3. (Optional) Once you have created a user and logged in, you’d want to lock down your Jenkins instance and prevent new sign-ins. To do so, go to the “Configure System” page, uncheck the “Allow user to sign up” checkbox below it under “Access Control > Security Realm” section

Preparing the Jenkins project

  1. Now you’ve created a secured Jenkins instance, create a new project or configure your existing project that you want to hook up with your Bitbucket account:
    • Under “Source Code Management”, add your Git or Mecurial repository
    • Under “Build Triggers”, check “Triggers builds remotely (e.g., from scripts)” and add a really random string in the “Authentication Token” field. I’m now using KeePassX’s random password generator feature to generate the randomized and secure string
  2. Before we hook it up with Bitbucket, we’ll need grab an API token from our Jenkins account:
    • Go back to your Jenkins main page, click on “People” link in the sidebar
    • In the People page, click on our newly created account’s entry
    • In our user page, click on the “Configure” link in the sidebar
    • Under “API Token”, click on the “Show API Token” button and copy that entry

Bitbucket + Jenkins = Bliss!

  1. Now it’s time to hook Jenkins up with Bitbucket! Visit your desired Bitbucket repository overview page and click on the “Admin” tab
  2. Under the repository’s admin page, click on “Services” at the sidebar:
    • Choose “Jenkins” from the “Select a service…” drop-down and click on “Add Service”
    • You’ll be presented four fields:
      • Endpoint: Here, you’ll need to set your Jenkins URL in the following format — http://username:apitoken@yourjenkinsurl.com/
      • Project name: The project name that you’ve set in Jenkins
      • Token: It’s the authentication token we created in Step 4
      • Module name: (Optional) OK, this is one nifty feature that allow you to tell Bitbucket to only trigger a build when the commit contains file names that begins with a certain pattern.

        For example, assume that you organize your source code the open source way where you have several subfolders (e.g. src, tests, doc) and you only want to trigger a build when actual code stored in the “src” folder is commited, you can set this field to “src/”. Once this is set, Bitbucket will only trigger a Jenkins build when changes in the “src” folder is made.
        3. Try commit some code and see what happens :D

If you want more details on how the Bitbucket’s service broker for Jenkins is implemented, Jesper Noehr have posted the the actual service broker code in Bitbucket’s Issue Tracker.

… and dang, this is a long article — I’d really love to redo this as a webcast next time. :) Anyway, hope you’d find it useful!

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Kay on black by kayintveen, on Flickr
photo © 2007 kayintveen, Flickr

Two hours has passed and my iPod was already complaining and nagging me the fact that there’s only 20% of juices is left of it. Strewn across the table in front of me were pairs and pairs of headphones, I sat with my body leaned forward, eyes shut and focusing attentively to the aural stimuli that’s being channelled from the headphones. Every two minutes or so, I’d open my eyes again and flicking through the long list of songs on my playlist, thinking of the next song that I should choose to challenge the sound drivers.

And yes, I was auditioning my next pair of headphones, and I was sitting there like an American Idol judge seeking out the next star performer.

It’s really unfathomable to me that I’d becoming a bit of an audiophile and music geek now. Music has never been a big part of my life before college — and the 90’s are the one of the most happening years: living through the Four Heavenly Kings of Cantopop, the debut of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, the blossoming for boybands, eurodance and bubblegum pop, the surge of creative singer-songwriter in the Mandopop scene… I would never imagine how much had I lose out during those days.

It’s until later in my high school years that I got hooked to Nobuo Uematsu and his music in the Final Fantasy series and led me to take interest in instrumental works. Gradually I’d find myself loving Eurobeat and euro-electronic music due to my love for dance simulation games and fawning over Ayumi Hamasaki with her well-produced songs and lyrics that still resonates strongly with me till this day.

As to when I got really serious about it, I have Jacob Siau to blame who would introduced me to Soundmagic — a true-breed China company who make fantastic, very budget-friendly in-ear headphones. My life is never the same again after having a taste of them — the time when I’m able to listen to the lush details, intricate layering, timber of the vocals and the overflowing expression of music, it’s really like I’ve discovered a whole new territory that I’ve never ventured before.

That is a point of no return for me. And the beginning of my journey into the treasure trove of great music across genres and time.

p/s: (oh yeah, about the headphone audition!)

First off, I’m officially declaring myself a die-hard, loyal customer of Jaben — the only place with the largest selection of headphones and the only place that allows auditions to every single headphone they have in stock. Yes, you read it right, the only place where auditions are not only allowed but highly encouraged! Unbelievable! The staff members are all friendly and extremely knowledgeable so that really helps when you don’t have a frigging clue about headphones or audio equipment. Just make sure you bring your favourite music along so that you can test everything to your heart’s content and find the perfect set ;).

So now, I’m proud owner of the following:

  • Primary, at-home: Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro
  • Portable, on-the-go: Marshall Major — this is the pair that I’ve ordered today and can’t wait to receive them in the mail soon!
  • IEM, when I need some peace & quiet: Soundmagic MP-21 (Jaben doesn’t carry Soundmagic’s and I got it off from one reputable Lowyat.net seller)

And just for (probably my own) reference, here’s my set list of songs that I’d typically use to gauge the headphone’s capability and sound signature:

  • Kokia - so sad so bad (aigakikoeru): I use this song to test for emotional expressiveness and the ability to build up the emotional impact as it crescendos into the main part of the song
  • Kokia - Siuil A Run (Fairy Dance - Kokia meets Ireland-): I look for a vibrancy and sparkles in the song and the ability to carry the natural yet colourful tones during the guitar solo in the intro
  • Ayaka - Koi kogarete mita yume (ayaka’s History 2006-2009): I have to use this as a benchmark - some headphone simply struggle and make it sound like a radio broadcast minus the emotional impact of the song
  • Darren Korb - In Case of Trouble (Bastion Original Soundtrack): For tonal accuracy and the warm guitar sound
  • Bartok - Piano Concerto No.1 in A, Sz83: Looking out for sound staging and the ability to convey a solid pianissimo in the second movement
  • Barbra Streisand & Celine Dion - Tell Him
  • A couple of house and trance tunes to check for solid and clean bassline - muddy bass is a complete turnoff
  • A diverse assortment of pop, rock, dancepop tunes to get a better understanding of the general sound signature

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tarot reading by eran by fling93, on Flickr
photo © 2006 fling93, Flickr

In the past, I did mentioned that I do tarot reading, mainly for meditative purpose and to seek guidance. I’ve been doing this practice only for my own benefit for the past eight years and it’s until today that I actually do a reading for a friend.

Doing reading for her meant a big deal with me: there’s always the nervousness that goes when I offer my skills to others for the first time and not knowing what to expect out of it. And the bigger fear that would be not knowing what expectations that I may need to address and the responsibility that comes with giving consultation and advice to others. Despite such doubts, I agreed to it almost instantly and embrace the opportunity.

After all, I’m quite curious of my current capabilities and the new experiences that would come out of this meeting.

A week later, we met in Tony Romas at The Gardens Mall, a restaurant where I suggested to have the reading. I personally picked the place after some contemplation: the dim and warm lights, having segmented partitions between tables and is way less crowded compared to other establishments like Chili’s and TGIF. Thinking that this is the best place I can think of for a private reading. And the food is great so that’s a bonus ;).

Once I settled down on my seat, I took out two decks of cards: Osho Zen Tarot deck and Osho Transformational Tarot deck. I went on to run through my beliefs and relationship with Tarot: that I never believed in fortune telling, and that the Tarot acts as a medium to allow our subconscious to channel messages about our questions through visual imagery and patterns that arises from a spread. And that I’ve been using it as a tool that gives me perspective and guidance.

What happens next is three readings, three hours and a very open discussion of the interpretations of each spread and the issues in question.

And honestly I didn’t expect it to turn out this well and the whole three hours is an eye-opening learning experience for me. Throughout the whole session, I find myself in a calm state — rooting well in the present moment, in the here-now, engaging in conversation while tuning in to the energy flow that emanates off from my friend and the cards themselves. While I relayed the meaning of imagery, I’m tried my best to be totally honest and candid, admitting when I’m unable to decipher something, and being on the alert in distinguishing the message that’s being channelled through me are not from my ego and biases (well… or at least I did my best).

There’s one particular reading which I find confusing and I’m unable to decipher the spread. During that reading, when I’m trying really hard to formulate something out of it, I would feel what I’d describe as a thug on some part of the brain, seeming to tell me that I’m reading too hard into it. As I acknowledge and responded to the cue, I took a mental step back and allow myself to let go of all conscious efforts. Interestingly, the instant I relaxed, my eyes suddenly fall on a particular dimension of the spread, as if I was nudge, or probably led by some unconscious force — and the pieces only started to fall in place.

As we parted ways, I am glad that she told me that she finds it beneficial and gain clarity out of it. It’s too early to tell the effects and I genuinely hope for the best and that she’s able to sought out the answers she’s looking for and take affirmative actions to achieve her goals.

As for myself, it is a testing grounds for my intuitive capabilities and reminded me that I need to be aware of all the cues that my intuition is telling me. And honestly, I would love to do tarot readings for others next time on a pro-bono basis. Honestly, that one big world full of unknowns — well, that’d be an adventure for another day :).