Finding passion and home again… in Berlin

After being absent for more than 18 months (well I did update my last post on January 2014…) it is more than time to blog again!

Many things happened during that time, and not one month passed by without me thinking: "Damned I should really go back to blogging".

But I didn’t. Because of time and failing inspiration. Still I have a list of things I definitely would want to write about:
– The difference in start-up culture between Beijing and Silicon Valley
– Top 10 things I did in California
– Organizing Makathon and the Maker movement
– What inspired me to become a Data Scientist
– Top 5 mistakes you’ll do when moving to Berlin…

But today I just want to introduce my new self and give a little bit of background on what happens in the last 2 years:

Last year I turned my life around. After a year in Silicon Valley (SV), travelling back and forth every 3 months, I spent Christmas holidays 2013 in Paris with friends and family and realized that… it wouldn’t be that bad to come back to Europe.

At that point I had spent 7 years outside of Europe. And to be completely honest, if I had any good prospect to get a package "awesome job + working visa", I would have stayed in SV. But I didn’t want to stay at all costs. I wanted to switch career. And I wanted to find a company I was passionated about. Yes, my new dream was to join one day Facebook Data Sciences team. But I knew that would take time. So life pushed me out of the USA and I wonder "where would be the most fascinating place to be for a free-thinker and techie person in Europe"? I asked around and everyone pointed me to Berlin.

April 2014 I set foot in Berlin and found everything I was first expecting to find when I first arrived in San Francisco:
– a strong creative vibe everywhere in the city,
– kick-ass infrastructure and transportation system,
– open minded people who don’t try to make you fit a mould,
– a vibrant grassroot tech scene with friendly community (where sharing is more important than competing).

After 10 months here, meeting like-minded people, old friends, new friends, switching my career into my new passion of Data Analysis and Visualization, joining one of today’s most exciting tech company in Berlin… I can say that heureux qui comme Ulysse a fait un long voyage (happy like Ulysse coming back from the Odyssey).. it feels good to be back home.

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When WhatsApp is going to sell to Facebook (or Google)?

Quick overview of the Messaging app market:

  • WeChat – 300 millions (launch in Jan 2011)
  • WhatsApp – 250 millions (launch in 2009, estimate $20 million revenue per month)
  • LINE – 200 millions (launch in June 2011) ($30+ million revenue per month)
  • Viber – 200 millions (launch in Dec. 2010)
  • Tango – 130 millions (launch in Sep. 2010)
  • KakaoTalks – 100 millions (launch in Mar. 2010; $30 million revenue per month)

Do you see it? The 2 latest comers in the games are already #1 and #3 in users. Wouldn’t you be scared if you were Whatsapp?

And even scarier, these 2 Asian apps are supported by 2 monsters of the Internet: Tencent (WeChat) the leader in China – and #1 internet global internet company is market cap – and NHN (Line) the leader in South Korea.

We are all prepared to the typical VC question: “What would you do if Google/Facebook go in your market?”.
Well, here’s a new one… What would you do if the Google of China AND of Korea go in your market, at the same time and very aggressively?”

With a limited team of 45 and no intention to develop further their monetization model – Jan Koum specifically said he was not interested in developing stickers – I don’t see any outcome for Whatsapp than selling to Google or Facebook. And selling fast before they lose more ground in USA and globally and that the company value start depreciating.

Moreover Whatsapp faces the competition of another strong Silicon Valley based Messaging app, Tango, in the race for acquisition. Whatsapp has a strong hold globally (see cool pictograph here) but Tango already start his monetization transformation, becoming more social and game oriented. That is why Whatsapp has to act fast if Jan wants to get the best prize for his 4-years-old company.

Rumors said negotiation as been going on with Google for a month…But I would think that Facebook will be more willing to give a better valuation. They have the money and are in need of a great social mobile app much more than Google.

What I am expecting is that it shouldn’t be long until an acquisition news come by…

[Update from Jan. 2014 : ]

Some cool articles:

As Google acquisition rumors grow, is WhatsApp really worth a billion dollars? (VentureBeat, 8 April 2013)
WhatsApp knows about stickers and Asian chat apps. It doesn’t care about them, and it doesn’t have to. (TheNextWeb, 8 August 2013)
Korea’s Kakao Talk becomes the latest Asian mobile messaging app to pass 100 million users (TheNextWeb, 2 July 2013)
Viber founder: ‘People should be concerned about privacy’ (Thegardian, 30 August 2013)
With Nearly 200M Users, Messaging App LINE Is Gunning For The U.S. (Forbes, 12 July 2013)
WhatsApp Surpasses 250 Million Active Users (WSJ, 20 June 2013)

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Sheryl Sandberg – the Curse of being pretty and smart

I’ve been a big fan of Sheryl ever since I read “The Facebook Effect” from Kirkpatrick. No secret I have always been a big fan of Zuck, so when reading that this women had been highly recommended by an investor he trusted (already she earn a lot of points) and that Mark took his time meeting her several time, at her home, building trust and letting them know each other better, i was wow.

This women made Zuck – the most promising powerful tech mania of the Bay – come to her and played hard to get. Well done Sheryl.

And the fact that Zuck hired her on her own term added points.

And the story of when Zuck invited her to the first management meeting and rolled his eyes but called himself out to her after the meeting amazed me. The fact that she didn’t take him accountable, amazed me.

Ever since I thought, ok someone to follow.

So I couldn’t be happier when I heard she wrote a book about women at work and leadership position.

And even more when I glanced at her talking about her book while I was at the airport and commenting that women have to hold back because smart women easy become the target, the person to kill.

I can’t agree more 🙂 Always said it and no-one believe me. They are like “she is just bragging” and yet I have to say it half jokingly because you can not complain of being smart, right?

In China people qualified you immediately by your immediate appeareance. If you are fat they call you fatty (胖子, if you are a handsome guy “handsome” (帅哥). It is not judgemental, it is just bluntly honest from them. They don’t understand (at first) that someone a bit strong don’t like being call “fat”. They are like “what? you don’t know you are big?”. Maybe it is a reason why there is so few overweight people in China, they get the reality check very fast. In USA…not so much…politically correct obliged. But this is a side discussion.

Sheryl didn’t even mention in her book what it was to be smart and pretty. Because she is, and I am sure she got even more crap about that. But beauty is a very difficult subject to talk about in the USA. And maybe she knew she would not have been able to handle the criticism related to her physical appearance.

Truth is even the prettiest women has physical insecurity. And I do think that women are most sensitive to criticism, we do are weaker. Generally speaking of course.

So kudos to Sheryl, hope one day I will have the chance to be mentor by her. I am probably not ready, not good enough yet. But I give myself a 1-2 year frame 🙂
You have to believe in yourself.

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The Art of Giving Gifts and the Cookie Dilemna

I love this scene from New Girl when Nick – a guy who has a very hard time expressing his feelings – try to learn to be nicer to his best friend Schmidt by reciprocating the art of gift giving “Buying him a cookie”.

The whole episode is build up on the fact that Schmidt -a very sensitive guy who has no problem saying “I love you” to his buddies- buys a cookie to Nick, knowing Nick loves chocolate chip cookie.
Nick gets upset and all “guy-like” saying stuff like :”Why on earth would you buy me a cookie? We are guys, guys don’t buy cookie to one another!!!!”
Schmidt gets upset, the dispute escalate on all the other small things Schmidt does to show his love friendship to Nick all the time while Nick never does a thing.

Nick asks the other guy roomate Winston what he thinks and Winston takes side with Schmidt. He claims that for Nick “being a guy” is more important than being nice to his best friends.

So toward the end of the episode Nick tries and buys a cookie to Schmidt. But Smidt doesn’t like cookie so he angrily asks “What is that?” and that is when Nick completely lose it. 🙂 Great scene.

There are 5 ways to love: spending quality time, making gift, praising giving positive reinforcement, helping out, physical touch. But each person is more or less sensitive to certain ways.
And for instance people for who giving gifts is important doesn’t understand that the recipient doesn’t appreciate it more than that or never reciprocates. They feel that are not loved.

I am not good at making gift. Or remembering birthday for that matter. I forget my mum’s birthday, that’s how terrible I am. So when my roommate started making me more and more gift to celebrate our friendship I start freaking out and feeling like Nick:
“What to do to not appear insensitive, but at the same avoid looking ridiculous trying to do something I am very terrible at?”

Like Nick my first idea was to just return exactly the same type of present she made me. But than I felt dirty and non genuine.
So i thought maybe I should give one of my favorite things, a book. But then I felt like it would be just imposing on her something I like, not that she likes.

And I felt like Sheldon in the Big bang Theory: “Why on earth did she had to make me presents in the first place!!!”

oh well. I guess the whole key of love and friendship is also to laugh of the missteps we are doing. And instead of pressuring myself, I’ll just buy her something when I will feel like it is THE perfect thing for her. Or when I really would have something to make me forgive for.

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Retrospective: Working in NHN

Everytime I enjoy a Capuccino it remind me of my good time in NHN, particularly the time I spent with my colleagues chilling in the cafeteria.

NHN for those who are unfamiliar is like the “Google+Yahoo” of South Korea. It is the biggest internet holding and they have something like 90% of the search and portal market (number to be verified) in this market.
They are super innovative, came up with the first IM and forum service and their culture is very much oritented around creativity and great design (see naver, see nciku, see LINE). And they have branch office in Japan, US and China, Beijing where I joined them.

When I was first looking for a job in Beijing back in 2008 I created my luck and interviewed with 2 major companies: Sony Ericsson and NHN.
I believe I’ve been declined to join Sony Ericson because my profile was too similar to the girl who made me pass the interview. I wouldn’t have added much value to the team.
I got invited to join NHN for a 1 month mission to study the French legislation regarding online gaming and betting and I made my way from there. I stayed at NHN 2.5 years, it was my first real job and I learn a lot: about internet, about process, about working in a big corporate, about working in a start-up like project, about working in a cross cultural team (Chinese, Korean, US, Italian, Cameroun, German..), about working for others.

But now almost 3 years after I left I know what has been the most valuable things working for NHN: the network. I worked with wicked smart people and am still in touch with most of them.
People from the local team are now in diverse tech companies like Renren, Sohu, Weibo, ku6. Some started their own startups, others changed industries and worked in Toyota and Boeing.

Among the consultants (team of Korean mid-level managers send from Headquarters to help out the young Chinese team) most of them stayed in NHN, stepped up and returned to headquarters. 2 that I know of left for Google, Yahoo or inmobi.

But the friendly connection remains. We regularly chat on facebook or if we get a chance to be in the same geographical place we’ll meet up for a coffee. If I need a favor or intro I ask them and they are always helpful.

I had a lot of complain about NHN when working there but you know what we say “we always stand naked in front of the mirror”. With distance I realize the company culture was and still is amazing and they attract very good quality people.

I am glad I’ve been part of NHN story. And NHN has been a very important part of mine.

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The Fall of Apple

I am a big Apple fan.

2003 – The first laptop I bought when I left my hometown and when study in Paris was an Apple. I stayed with Apple since that. At that time, my boyfriend was studying to become a software engineer and was nagging me:
bf – “Why would you buy Apple, a computer that doesn’t have the best performance but is much more expensive than others?”

me, being provocative and also very honest:
– ” Because it is pretty. It makes me feel happy and good about myself”.

2004 – After the laptop I bought myself the ipod shuffle when I was in Japan and customized it with a Hello Kitty skin.

2008 I bought myself the ipod mini, red.

2010 I was not convince by the iphone, I was thinking I want a phone just to call, and other device for music and entertainment. So I bought the iPod Touch.

2011-2013 I have been thinking to buy myself the latest iPhone but was always short of cash and couldn’t find a way to justify so much money on a phone.

2013 Next week I will buy myself the Samsung Nexus. (death silence).

I still love Apple, and for laptop, I have no plan to switch to another OS. But the thing is I see the small signs of decline in Apple products and companies.

The latest laptop I bought is not performing up to my expectation, sometimes it is super slow, even if I habe 8GB. It goes to sleep with no reason, the electrical plug doesnt work all the time… I dont know I am just a bit disappointed in my MacBook. Yes I bought a MacBook to be a little retro and not join the mainstream of MacBook Pro or Air. But now I find it a bit too thick.

Also my friend gave to me her old iPhone 3 and it is cool and slick, but super super super slow. I can not launch the facebook app. It is too slow to go online with wifi, I end up using it as a dumb phone. And anyway most cool apps I want to have are not compatible with the version.

Maybe I haven’t try hard enough to fix my laptop and iphone shortcoming, but that’s the thing. I didn’t choose Apple to then be tolerant of its weakness, I choose them because of their reputation of being top performer. And they are failing. Sure if you like a team you root for them in thin and thick but there is something else about Apple.

After Steve Job passed away I thought “How will be the world after Steve Job?”. And the world kept turning. And I thought “I guess Apple will be fine and as a great company”. But reading Steve Job biography I realize it won’t.

Tim Cook seems like a great guy, a high performer. But in Steve’s word: “He is not a product guy”. Basically he is a great captain when he has someone – a visionary – to give direction. I dont believe in can be the person who give the direction (no offense Tim!). He might be better than most at leading Apple but he is no Steve Job. And don’t get me wrong I dont think Steve Job is irreplaceable. He is like all of us. But Tim Cook is not the one to bring back the magic at Apple.

Apple is a cult. And what is the difference between a cult and a religion? For me, a cult is about one person. A religion is about an-ongoing community. This week the Christians have a new pope. There is a clear process to replace the pope and even if the religion / faith of the followers will be impacted by the personality of the pope, the church make it so that it impacts at less as possible.

Apple? not the case. Everything as been make to be about Steve. Like his Board of Directors. And that’s typical from people who fear abandon. He set up the ground for the company to fail after his disparition so that the world will remember: “It was better when Steve was around”. And that include choosing Tim Cook as CEO to replace him.

Another clue for Apple is not make to be a self-walking company (can not survive without Steve Job) are their products themselves. You buy an iPhone 3 and it become obsolete as soon as the new version come out? Apps are not retro- compatible? WTF?
It is like a person an insecure person telling you: “Yes you married me but now I’m different so you have no choice but adapt !”
I personally am not a big fan of threat in personal relationship. And the fact that Apple doesn’t value their community enough to ensure the best user experience for all their device is very disappointing.

One great CEO from my hometown, Alfred, was explaining how building a company is really just about building a system. You create a product but also a system to make sure the production of the same product quality will continue no matter what. And you sell the whole thing as an exit, not just the product. He is a great CEO with 2 companies but travels most of his time. He empowered people in both company to move forward without him micro-managing. He just advice or come help when needed.

In my view, this is how CEO should be.

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“How do you make a videogame that, in some sense, is a religion”

via Anson

Again how games can impact real life. And people doing interesting stuff. A bit crazy but interesting.

I NEED to go to GDC now… (Game Developers Conference)

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