What I learned about the Bay Area startup scene 3 years later

I remember the excitement I felt when I left to Hong Kong in the summer of 2012. It would be the start of a new journey away from the failure of my previous startup. It would be a rebirth. The startup scene in the Bay Area in 2012 was more spread out with plenty of space like Hacker Dojo flourishing and many events around the South Bay.

It became too much. It felt very much like the thrill of trying speed dating for the first few times. Excitement, something new and plenty of opportunities seemed to lie in wait. However it soon became dull and tiring. People’s overly optimistic attitude felt unreal, almost like being in a rave party all this time. Hong Kong would give me a break and let my mind calm down I thought at the time.

Now that I’ve been back for several months, I feel like an outsider, almost outdated. Discovering the new “spots” and seeing that the whole startup scene sort of shifted north to San Francisco. Most young startups move there and fewer smaller startups in South Bay. This has created an influx of work force which has driven up prices and rents to staggering levels.

I asked a friend who works in the city of why this sudden shift and why some companies do not move down for cheaper office rent.

“There is mainly 2 reasons.

1. Most talent is found here in the city. If you move out, you’ll have fewer access and/or worst talent pool. Everyone in the world wants to come to city and thats where you find some of the brightest people.

2. The ecosystem is here. The chance of networking with other people and companies is too beneficial. Unless all the companies move south, you’ll be the only one and it will be like living on an island by yourself (if you do move south).

No one wants to be the first to make the jump to the island.

Also to save 30-40% on rent… Is it really worth it? We pay 10k in rent right now. If we found something south SF for 2k then sure! That’s enough saving for another hire. But to save 3k, it’s not worth it especially with VC money coming in so much”

Makes sense to me. I love San Francisco and its where individuality is accepted.

Another change I’ve notice is the attitude of founders. Founders nowadays seem to have big egos and many I’ve talked to very briefly at meetups seem to have a stick stuck up their ass. When you talk to them, it doesn’t feel genuine like they always have a sales mask on. I guess few more beers would help them to get rid of it but that seems like too much work. One founder even asked me to impress him. I’m suppose to impress you? Why don’t you impress me with your product? I have a lot more experience than you and I have yet to see something impressive from a kid like you.

However there are more startups than ever before and some offer very cool services such as one of my favorite Luxe, which offers on-demand (another word thats too used now) valet parking in the city. If you happen to sign up, use my referral code and we both get $20 bucks; JM1. Seems to be that there is a on-demand service for everything (moving, deliveries, house cleaning, gym equipment etc…) as we move into an on-demand economy.

Side note: On-demand services aren’t knew in Hong Kong. People call instead of using apps but you can literally get anyone to do anything for you like moving, groceries, laundry etc…

Ill update back after I’ve settle in for a bit more but so far, I’m enjoying myself back in the Bay Area. The weather has been great and I’m getting a nice tan. Maybe someone will create an on-demand tan service…


Venturing into Real Estate Photography with JMEXPOSURE.com

Living in the Bay Area with one of the highest housing markets in the world, I’ve decided to try out a new type of photography; real estate photography. Photography has always been a passion and one of my competitive advantage and thus made sense to try out something I like but in a different field.

Initially I thought how hard could this be? Its not like a wedding where there bunch of people moving around and you stand on your feet all day. But I was wrong, there is a learning curve such as learning to shoot a 3D space instead of individuals where shadows create a person’s look. Instead, the absence of contrasty shadows is often required to highlight the room itself. I thus took time to learn all about the techniques of HDR, interior photography and the real estate listing process. I’ve set out to make my MVP, www.jmexposure.com and acquired a new lens, the Canon 17-40mm F/4 L.

I’ve attempted a few shoots and so far, I like it. It definitively does not have the stress levels of weddings but one doesn’t earn nearly as much per jobs.

I want to try this out further, my initial capital investment isn’t much and the photography knowledge is reusable in the future. Please send me any tips/points and refer me to your real estate agents :)

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Goodbye 2014 and Hello 2015!

Happy New Years to all and have a good holiday!

Its time to look back on what 2014 has brought and head toward a successful 2015. Thank you to all my friends and family who stood by me in the good and bad times.

Its also time to announce the closure of a chapter and the start of a new one; I will be moving back to California at the end of January. Its been a fun two and half years in Hong Kong but now is the right time. When you live out on your own and have been through so many highs and lows, it makes you think what are the most important things in life… and like the old story about the professor teaching his students what life is about and made popular on the internet, its time to focus on my golf balls. If you haven’t read the story, its worth a read here.

Its high time that I look toward getting my golf balls closer to my life and thus embark on another new journey, this time, at home close to where my family is.

Like the story, I too, once worried about the little things; the sands. My life became filled with worries, emotional rollercoasters and people who you shouldn’t have in your life. Experience and enduring pain helps you get pass that and learn from your mistakes… and made a better person. I don’t want to get too philosophical in this post but I advise people to overlook the small stuff and take care of the more important big stuff: friends, family, your health and following your dream.

My dream was always to do something out of the ordinary, to live on my own in a different country and experience all kinds of “moments” that can be cherished, as you grow older. I was never into having tons of material things, life was more about a journey to see and feel. As an ENFP, I viewed life as a big puzzle that you need to figure out how to put together, piece-by-piece. Along the way, I gained lifelong friends, valuable experience, self-discovery and self-reliance. I had broken hearts, broke some, learned to cook, sold a company, traveled to bunch of countries, rekindle old friendships, witness the growth of others, mentored young entrepreneurs and fell in love with the world again.

2015, I hope you will be as a-ma-zing as 2014 has been.

See you next year.

A Post Dedicated to Paul Orlando

With all the news about my startup and getting inquiries left and right about how we did it, people don’t realized we never made it alone. Today, I would like to take a post to solely say Thank You to our mentor and friend Paul Orlando. Paul is one of the key person which contributed to our exit today because without him, there would be no Taxiwise.

We originally came to Hong Kong in the summer of 2012 to attend Paul Orlando’s Startups Unplugged Bootcamp, a three-month program to help young entrepreneurs gain insight knowledge on how to go about starting their first company. We learned so much in those three months without the distraction of home and family and were suppose to take that learning back with us to Silicon Valley.

The last week of the program, before we all had to say goodbye, Paul drops us a news; “Guys ill be starting AcceleratorHK with Steve Forte. You guys should join.” And so we applied with a new idea, later to be called Taxiwise, and did a little market research to throw on our application form and a funny intro video.

Paul was even our model in our funny cartoon video and our first customer testimonial to promote our early day services.

What we learned from Paul was something we will never trade. The experience we had working with him made us who we are today.

Paul has a new book out called Startup Sacrilege for the Underdog Entrepreneur which can be bought here.

Paul is back in California with his family and thank you again for everything. Taxiwise is as much as your baby as ours.

– Jean-Marc


Seeing People Change

Lately, a single thought has been lingering in my mind:  “Are people changing that much that I haven’t noticed? I feel like I’ve stayed the same as I always have been.”

Last month, I took a trip to Taipei to visit my friend Wei Ni. I haven’t seen him for 3 years when he moved back to Taipei from San Jose, California due to his dad’s deteriorating health. So I figured since I have a bunch of free time, it would be nice to get together since I live in Hong Kong and the flight is only 1.5 hours away.

When I saw him, already I had the impression he was a different person, never mind the looks (I guess staying off American food reeaaaallllly slims you down) but his personality too.

I remembered back in the days when we would go out for drinks, oyster farms (even though i hate oysters), bars, Karaoke, camping etc… He was always there to encourage me to drink up or more. This time though… I was the only encouraging him. Yes life circumstances are different; his dad passed away and he took over his dad’s dental clinic. He seems settle down with a nice girlfriend and living a rather simple and quiet life.

Not that there is anything wrong with that, I’m glad he is happy and found someone to be happy with… its just not the Wei Ni that i remembered… this is Calm Wei Ni and the whole time, I was both happy and thought “Where is the Crazy Wei Ni?”

Change is inevitable as was quoted in the Matrix. I realized that and as I see everyone around me changing, getting married, moving on to other countries, starting a family or opening a new business… I look back at myself and think… “What has changed in me?”

C.S. Lewis once wrote “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”

It seems to me that change is just another natural part of life… part of me doesn’t want to change yet and is comfortable living as I am. Yet I’ve come to realized… I too have changed. Certainly the experiences of living in Hong Kong couple with doing a startup here and affected me. I am more independent, can survive in a foreign place and learned so much about business that it all felt like a long college abroad trip.

It will be interesting to look back years from now, the type of person I was (probably make fun of myself In the process).


A Trip to Taipei, Taiwan Part 1

Last week, I took a last-minute trip to Taipei. It was a sudden decision and I booked the flight and place the night before. I need a break from what was happening with the two startups I’m involved in and away from this bustling city. My friend Monique persistently persuaded me to go to Taipei as she was going from Hong Kong. I also wanted to visit one of my best friends Wei Ni whom I haven’t seen for 3 years since he moved back to Taipei. Wei was a friend I made in the US a while back (he moved there from Taipei) and it was sad to see him moved back here due to family reasons. I contacted him to see if he would be free which sealed the deal.

So Thursday to Monday was my duration of stay and this time, I made use of AirBnb, a very famous startup from Silicon Valley who gained worldwide recognition.

I was never a fan of staying at hotels… I always felt they were boring and too proper. Which is why AirBnB and service apartments were that much interesting and what perfect chance to try it out!

Photo Mar 21, 12 20 25 PM (1) I ended up booking a room in a 3 bedroom flat next to Yongchun MRT station, 1 station away from Taipei 101 and few from downtown. It was ideal location. This allowed me to connect deeper with the city and feel like I am living as a local. Living in Hong Kong, I was used to taking the subway system to learning the MRT in Taipei was a breeze. There’s event apps to help you with your direction.

One tip, when you get out of the Taipei Airport custom, buy a sim card at the stand on the right when you exit the arrival gate. The deals are better than the ones you can buy in the city.Photo Mar 20, 12 11 15 PM

When I arrived to Taipei, the weather was a bit cloudy with some light showers. Thinking it would be nice and warm (according to the weather app), I only had with me shirts and tees. Well here was a perfect opportunity to do some shopping. Luckily my friend Monique who also came to Taipei the night become, helped me buy a jacket (and few more later) as she can speak Mandarin.

The rest of the trip followed with more eating and drinking and repeat. My landlord took my friend Monique and myself to visit Danshui as catching the sunset there was beautiful… except it was a rainy day. Still, we got to try some street food and visit around a rather nice area.

Monique’s family in Taipei invited me for dinner that evening. It was quite enjoyable and they made me feel welcome. They tried to speak to me in English and my dialect Chaozhou which I was glad about. I’ve never seen Taiwanese people eat that fast before though… Monique’s uncle and son are… amazingly fast at swallowing food lol.

Dinner done and all full… I head into a street market to buy myself a jacket as its freezing cold. Few hours and careful pickings later, I have myself a light jacket and head back to meet my friend in front of his clinic to go for couple drinks.

Wei takes me to check out the rooftop at W Hotel which we have been become in San Francisco. Yes its nice but since its so windy and chilly… we left after one drink. I still glad to be able to have taken a few photos. The drinks are as pricey as their US counterpart. Worth it for the view but you better off getting something strong.

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Next bar is called Barcode, a very chill, classic jazz bar opened by Taiwan Gangsters apparently. Few drinks…couple shots and few extras, we decided to call it a day as my friend has work the following morning.

Continued in part 2…