When I was a kid, I imagined myself owning a theme park and being an airplane pilot. Needless to say, I didn’t become any of these, at least not yet. In high school, I made a plan to major in Bioinformatics. Once I started college, I ended up switching to computer engineering, and further down the line, I switched again to Information Systems Management. It is crazy to believe that all of these changes happened considering that I was always the type of person who planned every step of my life. I believe that having a plan is absolutely the key to succeeding. However, I’ve learned that even with a plan, you will still fail if you aren’t willing to adapt to your strengths and beliefs. Buckle up and get ready for an interesting ride as I take you on a journey of my extended bio throughout the past decade.
My first job (at the age of 13) was working full time in my family’s Japanese restaurant located in San Mateo. It wasn’t really about the money, but more so to help my family. I rotated around from being a dishwasher, bus boy, cashier, sushi chef, and kitchen chef. Let me say, working in the hospitality industry is something I absolutely recommend. You build a great foundation of critical skills, such as customer service, teamwork, patience, and confidence.
In college, I realized I was a natural at working on computers and fixing them. I saw campus openings for the Residential Network, applied, and got the job. Shortly after two years, I became the supervisor. I knew I wanted to stay close to that field, especially since I was working on a B.S. in Information Systems Management, which is a combination of computer science, computer engineering, business, and I.T. As many of you know, the great recession in 2011 was probably the worst year for any college graduate. I was fortunate enough to weigh my past experience and obtain three jobs offers. In the end, I turned down a corporate giant for a local small business IT firm.
My decision sounds a little crazy right? The selling point was when I was given the opportunity of a 3-month internship to hire, but was offered a full-time position just after two weeks. I figured that if a firm could see my potential in 2 weeks, what could they potentially see in the long run? My bets did end up paying off. A little over a year later, I was promoted to network administrator and shortly after, I had a lateral promotion to associate consultant. On top of all that, I was the youngest in the firm. Having great managers played a huge part in my success. I looked up to them as mentors and never wanted to let them down. When they asked for one certification per year, I passed two or three. When asked to manage one or two clients, I managed four. My I.T. career was promising, filled with incredibly smart colleagues, and one of the fastest growing companies in the Bay Area.
2.5 years into my promising career, I resigned. Why? That’s the question my friends still ask me today. During my time as a consultant, I managed a firm called, Ekso Bionics. Ekso Bionics is a startup that builds exoskeletons that helps individuals walk again. You can imagine how emotionally compelling it was to see clients come in with wheelchairs, get strapped up into an exo-suit and walk again for the first time in who knows how long. That’s when I realized I no longer wanted to play a supportive role, but have a more direct-to-consumer impact.
With no time to waste, I went on to co-founding a startup called, Fitsme. Our goal was simple; we wanted to create an app that can help anyone find foods easier no matter what diet or restrictions they have. Within 2 weeks, we launched our alpha. After months of research and defining our product, we launched and quickly grew over 10% week-over-week. We had an overwhelming amount of positive comments such as, “Amazing site. Normally these kinds of places either come up with a lot of stuff that I can’t have or with nothing. This one is showing me all kinds of delicious recipes.” One of my favorites comes from a mother, “Bless you for sharing this. My daughter also has 22 sensitivities and finding recipes is not easy.” We quickly grew to 12k active users with a 23% churn. When it came time to fundraise again, a firm we were signed with declared bankruptcy. It’s as Sam Altman said, “The output for success is idea x product x execution x team x luck, where luck is a random number from 0-10,000k”. In this particular case, it also had to do with timing and reality. Weighing in the cost of living in the Bay Area and various accumulated expenses, my team decided we keep Fitsme online for our users but proceeded to pursue different careers.
I joined Orka Pod as an advisor after meeting the brilliant team behind it. Together, we launched two iOS apps: Strip, a messaging app, and Censord an app for college students to share campus stories anonymously (currently top 50 video apps in the App Store).
In February 2015, I traveled to Cambodia for a family gathering and to visit my uncle’s middle and high schools that he built with his retirement fund. It was a life-changing experience to revisit the country after a decade and realize how living conditions haven’t changed much. Kids risk their lives to attend school due to bad roads, awful drivers and the lack of basic needs. So upon returning to the U.S., I co-founded a non-profit called, lovethekids.org. We’re an organization aimed at ensuring that kids in third world countries have the basic needs required to lead a productive life by providing pens, paper, shoes, clothes, laptops, the Internet, and educational software. In the long-term, we plan to connect graduating students to our partnered employers. Our goal is to essentially look after these kids until they can be self-sufficient.
As you can see, life can take you on a path you could never have planned. Over the past decade, I’ve changed careers quite a bit, but I found myself. I read a quote recently that said, “Don’t quit your day dream.” So I didn’t, I quit my real job instead. There are thousands of paths we can take in life. If you’re happy with where you are, that’s amazing. On the chance that you’re not, I just want you to know, I’ve never regretted any of my decisions. Sometimes, you just need to put trust in the universe, your religion, family, friends and most importantly yourself.