Chao Lam

Working on the next small things …

The Instagram Paradox

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A16Z has a delightful interview of John Markoff‘s long view of Silicon Valley and technology in general. It discussed the oft-mentioned story of how a 13-person Instagram toppled Kodak (which Markoff disputed given how Fuji managed to thrive). But that go me thinking that the story of Instagram is even more endlessly fascinating.

Waaaay back in 2012, when Instagram was acquired by Facebook for over $1 Billion, it sent shock waves through the valley and general buzz was that Facebook way overpaid for a $0 revenue 13 person company. Today, the pendulum is on the other end where Zuckerberg is hailed as visionary and analysts are now predicting that Instagram could bring in revenues in excess of $2 Billion just next year.

The podcast dives into the popular topic of secular stagnation and “how technology is everywhere except in productivity number”. Besides the Clothelines Paradox (which posits that GDP is not measuring all that we produce), we are also facing an Instagram Paradox: in 2012, the “GDP” of Instagram was $0, but the total present value of GDP was a lot more than that, even $1 Billion screams cheap in retrospect.

So, instead of a secular stagnation, are we just in the nascent stage of another a huge technological renaissance where work done today isn’t creating much “GDP” today but is really laying the foundation for value created in say 2025?

Update: Michael Spence speaks more eloquently on this topic

Written by Chao

August 30, 2015 at 6:38 pm

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How to Find Fulfilling Work

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I want to do my own thing.

I want to live (relatively) simply.

I want to deal with people, not masks.

People matter. Nature matters. Beauty matters. Wholeness matters.

I want to be able to care

So begins on Freedom from a delightful pocket book titled How to Findfulling Work by Roman Krznaric. Other attributes of fulfilling work are flow and meaning. In meaning, Krznaric talks about not seeking extrinsic rewards such as money, status and fame but rather look for work that is autotelic or intrinsically rewarding, which involve doing things we are passionate about, or that we have an inherent talent for or that we can make a difference.

We are not called upon a vocation, but if we continuously do work that gives meaning, flow and freedom, with some luck, we could perhaps grow into a vocation

Written by Chao

July 20, 2015 at 9:44 pm

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Life Hack: Call your airline in the wrong time zone!

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If you need to talk to a global service provider (e.g. an airline) that has a long call waiting time, find a phone number for that provider in a time zone where people in that time zone are likely to be asleep!

e.g. If it’s 3pm in Palo Alto, I could call United Airlines in Sweden where it would midnight!

(learnt this from my excellent tracking hacking class/group)

Written by Chao

July 20, 2015 at 9:32 pm

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Tasks I’m still figuring out about the Apple Watch

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  • How do you play a podcast?
  • How do you shuffle songs? (answer: force touch is your friend!)
  • Why is activating Siri so unreliable? or is it just slow?
  • Can I turn off stand up tracking? Doesn’t seem very accurate

Written by Chao

May 1, 2015 at 11:52 pm

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Yogurtland QR Codes for Looney Tunes promotion: Tasmanian Devil

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Here’s the final QR code for you to scan if you missed it!

Final Yogurtland QR Code

Final Yogurtland QR Code

Written by Chao

September 11, 2013 at 1:22 am

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Yogurtland QR Codes for Looney Tunes promotion

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If you are following the Yogurtland Looney Tunes “Flavors with Character” promotion, and are missing a few QR codes, I’m sharing the ones I’ve scanned below (Bugs Bunny, Marvin the Martian and Tweety Bird

First you need to download the Yogurtland App on your iPhone or Android. Then use the app to scan the codes!




Froyo girl has more info including the schedule for when new flavors will arrive.

Update here’s the QR Code for Road Runner:


Update from Froyo Girl, we finally have Daffy Duck for you to scan!

Yogurtland Daffy Duck QR Code

Written by Chao

August 19, 2013 at 5:57 pm

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Book Summary: So Good They Can’t Ignore You

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This book wants to teach you how to be able to do work that you love

Starts off with the contrarian career advice: (for most everyone) Don’t follow your passion because most of us don’t have a well-defined passion, and even if we do, we don’t have the skills to do anything about it.

Instead Cal Newport offers the career capital theory, which argues that traits that define great work are rare and valuable, and if you want those in your working life, you must first build up rare and valuable skills to offer in return.

So, we need to have a craftsman mindset and focus on building skills. Basically we need to walk before you run.  But what skills to start with? Newport leaves that unanswered but implies it is mainly circumstantial and opportunistic i.e. be on the look out for opportunities to acquire valuable skills.

Once you do have basic skills, constantly work on improving it via deliberate practice, which is not just practicing the skill, but constantly trying to stretch and improve your skill by attempting to do things you are just slightly uncomfortable or incapable of doing just yet. The is basically Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours to get to the top of your profession, but many people forget that 10,000 hours involves deliberate practice and not just doing the same routine over and over again.

Upon acquiring substantial marketable skills (which Newport calls Career Capital), you are then finally able to use it to trade for more meaning work. What is meaningful work? Newport suggests gaining control over what you do and how you do it is critical. How much control you can gain, depends on how valuable your skills are – but whatever you choose to do, you of course still need to do what people are willing to pay for.

The other important trait to meaningful work is a mission. Newport doesn’t explain how to acquire a mission, but maintains that the mission needs to be remarkable (i.e. a Purple Cow). Best ideas for mission are found in the adjacent possible which lies just beyond the current cutting edge. It’s not enough that a mission be remarkable, but that it be launched in an environment that supports its remarkability. This helps spreads the mission (e.g. launching a remarkable open source project, or a kickstarter). A remarkable mission is of course hard to attain, and Newport suggest we make attempts via little bets, just as we iteratively try to acquire our Career Capital.

Actions I’m taking after reading this:

I’ve acquired some career capital through the years, but alas, programming and starting companies are highly depreciable skills because things are so fast-moving, and the adjacent possible is constantly expanding!

Thus, I should be constantly applying deliberate practice (fortunately I really enjoy learning and pushing myself… so is that persuing my passion?!). I’m going to:

This book also raises the question: should Next Small Things adopt a mission (beyond constantly looking for the next small thing!)?

I’m not sure at this point, so perhaps the first action point is to persuade Sachiko and Ming to read this book (minimally this summary) and ponder this question, which is mixed up with all the sub question, this question brings:

  • what mission should we adopt?
  • what is the adjacent possible in our case?
  • what are the little bets we can do right now?
  • what environment should we launch the mission that will best help spread the mission?

Written by Chao

March 25, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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