How I Went From Unhealthy To Healthy (and lost 30 pounds along the way)

The Start

I am fat. Rather, I was fat. I was not obese but I was not skinny nor healthy either. I was getting close to obesity and I was hitting record weight early this year. But I went through a life impacting moment and had a chance to reflect upon myself. From the self-reflection, I decided to change for the better. I decided to go on a diet.

My decision to go on a diet, at first, was mainly because I was attending my friend Socrate’s wedding in Paris as one of the groomsmen. This meant I had to look good. My weight had spiral off into record high starting November 2015 to highest in Feb 2016. Ever since I moved back from Hong Kong, I’ve been gaining weight but it was around the end of 2015 to early 2016 that I had the biggest gains. I believe it was because of:

1. Stress. Stress from lack of job, stress from joining a growth hacker bootcamp, then stress from working at an early stage startup. This is probably the biggest factor to my weight gain.

2. Lack of activity/movement and poor eating choices. I was driving to San Francisco to work every weekday which is about 2–2:30hr per day of commute. This left no room for workout as I left home very early and only got home late at night. Because of the lack of time and the combination of stress, I was just eating unhealthy and drinking a lot whenever I could.

3. Lack of rest. Because of the hectic schedule, I compromised on rest. I rested over the weekend but it never felt that it was enough of a catch up, to make up for the week. And so… I became fatter.

Overweight JM

I think I was 180 lbs/ 81kg at my heaviest. 

After getting laid off in March, the stress that felt like a huge burden over my shoulder came off and my weight stabilized. I remember going biking the weekend of my layoff and noticing that I’ve felt free and energized for the first time in over 6 months.

As we got closer to Socrate’s wedding, my model friend Meisha, who I credit in getting me started in the right path, shared with me her diet routine. It’s as follows:

  • No red meat. Yes to tofu and fish. Chicken very rarely.
  • No processed carbs aka refined carbohydrates.
  • No sugar except whole fruit (no juice.)
  • Rice is ok (brown rice is best) and eat plenty of veggies.
  • She doesn’t drink alcohol at all.
  • 30 mins of daily activity.

Because I was not working, it was easy for me to pick up this diet. I went biking every morning starting in April until my flight to Paris. I made congee (rice porridge) almost every day and I was eating that with veggies, fermented tofu/soybean and soy sauce. I eventually ate less and less and it started showing very minimal results by the wedding time (I knew I weigh less but the physical appearance did not change much. At least to the people at the wedding who knew me when I was skinnier in HK, I was still fat).

Left Photo — May 22, 2016. My friend Vuthy visiting from HK. Look at my huge belly! Right Photo — This is where I go biking almost every morning since the start of my diet.

What my routine was:

  • Wake up, eat a banana or yogurt or cereal. Became lactose intolerant after moving back from HK so did not drink milk.
  • Go bike ride in the morning for 45–60 mins at Vasona Lake. At first I would start at 9am. Gradually I started earlier and earlier. Usually Monday through Friday.
  • After biking, I would go get a cup of coffee, an ice latte (and later just ice black coffee) and either go home or work from coffee shop until lunch. I went back to looking for a job and spend most of the day doing so.
  • I might have an bowl of por (plain with soy sauce, rice seasoning and fermented tofu) or a fruit around 10–11am If I was feeling hungry.
  • I included rice in my diet and ate plenty for lunch or dinner. My reason for eating rice is simple. Being Asian, I grew up eating rice since I was old enough to eat. My body had accustom itself to rice and only feel truly full after a bowl of rice. Over 2 billion people eat rice in Asia and they don’t have an obesity problem like Americans.
  • Cut out all red meat. Chicken once in a while. I was eating mostly rice and veggies and the occasional seafood/sushi. Nothing processed so no hot dogs, no pizza, no junk food.
  • Cut out most processed bread and chose whole wheat/grain when I was left with no choice (such as going camping in Yosemite and making breakfast for the group). I ate noodles once in a while.
  • Drinking plenty of H2O (my body stores water since my chins get fatter when I don’t drink water).
  • I choose veggie options when we went out to each. Veggie pho, veggie burger, veggie wrap, tofu options even if everyone around me was eating chicken or burgers. The one thing was that I was consistent. I never cheated. I only had a short amount of time until the wedding!
  • I ate enough to fill me up but not over. I didn’t starve myself. Yes, I ate less and less as I progressed through my diet but I didn’t starve. This concept is very important. Starving yourself is going to make you gain the weight back and more. Intentionally fasting is different.
  • Early dinner around 6pm. If I was hungry late in the evening, I would eat a fruit or greek yogurt with chia seeds. No more instant ramen as I used to do.
  • Overtime my meals became smaller and I ate later each day. What I didn’t know then, was that I was practicing my own version of Intermittent fasting. It felt limiting at first but one quickly gets used to it as you follow a routine, know which places you can eat at and what options you can go for.
 My Paris trip for Socrate’s wedding and visiting my relatives. A short visit to London to visit my cousin Celine. 

My diet was on pause for the duration of the trip. Surprisingly I did not put on any pound after my return (I also came back sick) and had to go to Seattle the day after I came back from Paris.

After coming back from Seattle and having gotten used to the diet , I continued on. It wasn’t hard since I was on it for the last 3 months. This time I was researching and watching a lot of youtube video about health, diets and cooking. I saw how food was made and how much butter, oil, fat was used in cooking meals which made me eat at home more (such as rendering fat to make steak taste even better). I was drinking less and had broken up with my girlfriend prior to the trip, which meant, I ate out less and lower the possibilities of eating unhealthy food.

Taking Control of My Life

My weight loss was slow and steady. That is one thing people need to understand, results come with effort at a steady pace. There is no such thing as miracle diet (one that is legit and natural at least). I felt better but didn’t measure myself so I didn’t know how I looked to outsiders until I went on a bike ride up the hill with my cousins mid-June. Since I was biking and doing cardio in the morning, the ride up the mountain, called QuickSilver, wasn’t too tough. The people who rode with me complimented how well I did and how much weight I had lost which might have contributed to my ride efficiency. “You look like you lost a lot of weight since our ride beginning of the year.” Not only did I show physical change but I felt better too. I felt more energized and refreshed.

Slowly July came around and getting to 30 was depressing because I felt I was behind in life compared to others who turn 30.

July 4th Independence Day Party. Didn’t have much BBQ.

The week of my 30th birthday, I came to the realization of a big motivational factor and a life changing thinking.

I can’t control who hires me and I can’t control who I end up with in life. But the one thing I do have control over, is my health.

Being healthy became my own personal goal. I needed a personal goal that was separate from my professional and relationship goals. Something I did only for myself. This goal isn’t to impress some chick or my boss or my family. It was something I wanted to do for me.

I have a new drive and I began to read and watch as much as I could on health, fitness, diets, cooking and intermittent fasting. I came to realize few things:

  1. Losing weight is simple. Consume less calories than you use; a calorie deficit. However getting to that answer isn’t simple. It is also about what you eat and when you eat. I’ve found that for myself, a 20% calorie deficit seem to be around a good range for weight loss while eating all the macronutrient you need.
  2. Not all calories are created equal. 1 calorie from protein isn’t the same as 1 calorie from a cup of oil or 1 calorie of veggies. Check out this short Ted-Ed video: What is a calorie?
  3. Diet and exercise are lifestyle choices. An investment for the future. Like all investments, you see results after letting it nurture itself over a period of time.
  4. Your willpower and personal choice are your greatest strengths. Self motivation are the biggest factors.

Health and fitness experts are moving away from using calories when teaching about dieting and eating. Remember the simple weight loss formula; consume less calories then you use? Well the bad news is that you can’t lose weight if you keep eating junk food even if you reduce the amount of total calories you intake per day. I learned the new diet term, macronutrients or ‘macros’, which is according to Merriam-Webster: a substance (as protein or carbohydrate) essential in large amounts to the growth and health of an animal. Macronutrients are a simplistic way to look at the food you consume. Its broken down into 3 categories: proteins, dietary fats and carbohydrates. The 3 essential components of what you need to consume to be healthy. The irony from my readings; vegetable is considered a carb and the term “Simple vs Complex carb” or “refined and unrefined carbs” are often confused. To understand carbohydrates, watch this short video from Ted-Ed: How do carbohydrates impact your health.

Easy tip to remember: Celebrity trainer, Duffy Gaver, list out three pillars ofany diet which he calls the 3 legged chair. You cant make the chair (diet) stand up if you don’t have all three:

1. Eat right. He makes his clients eat mainly brown rice, chicken breast and broccoli. No alcohol at all.

2. Train and workout right.

3. Rest & Sleep well. Can’t have a good diet without a rested body.

Diet and Fitness as a Goal

One Youtuber, Radu Antoniu, caught my attention with his videos about fitness, eating and strength training. His videos are insightful because he adds facts and logic behind it. I ended up learning about Intermittent Fasting through his video. I’ve read about skipping breakfast in the past and often used to do it during college days but he convinced me through logic and examples. One of his video became my motivational factor and sprung me into action; How to Stop Cheating and Get Lean for Good”, a video about discipline, habits, behavior control and auto-suggestion. I have watched this video over and over. Radu suggest to a trick to create a habit, an auto-suggestion by two methods: a goal card and following and watching fitness (or motivational) role models.

The goal card is an ideal taken from speaker Bob Proctor, to remind yourself what your goals are. As you begin to see and read your goal card daily, it becomes a subconscious goal. Your conscious mind can focus on something else while making better eating/exercise an earlier habit to maintain.

My goal card: lose weight get ride of debt. I read it every day. 

My goal card is tucked away in my wallet and in my laptop, the two items I carry with me only a daily basis.

  1. Lose weight. Be lean, be fit. Eat healthy and work out. Target weight = 147 pound.
  2. Get a job (old goal). Lose debt, be well off. Work hard and learn new skills for financial and professional success.

The goal card may seem silly but it cost you nothing and the benefit could be life changing. The great thing about the goal card is that it can always be updated for new goals. I continued to watch Radu’s video and learned that he started his fitness journey from joining another program called The Aggressive Fat Loss Program by Kinobody. Greg O’gallagher, the owner of Kinobody has a YouTube channel which contains a lot of what people should be doing to start getting lean and muscular. I ended up buying the Kinobody Aggressive Fat Loss program by finding one of his landing page with a big coupon discount (yay growth marketer in me!). Its built around intermittent fasting and a workout routine. I was already fasting from having an early dinner, but took it a step further with Greg’s program and Radu’s videos.

Intermittent Fasting

The underlying open secret for Radu and Greg’s program is a combination of intermittent fasting and a specific workout routine. Intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating when you force the body to prolong a fasted state and reduce the time spent in the feasting state. It allows your body to control the amount of new fat produced by using the old storage when you are fasting. Intermittent fasting has become popular as of late with noticeable results. It is not a diet and it is not for everyone. Read The Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting by James Clear for a good introduction and the many variation of IF (5–2, 6–1, alternative day, weekly etc.). Be sure to consult your doctor while carefully listening to your body. I’ve found it to be very effective for me and while there are many different variation of intermittent fasting, I implemented a 16 hour fast and 7–8 hour window consuming only coffee and water during my fasting period. My routine previously was enjoyable because I was not watching the clock but actively listening to my body of when it was really hungry (or just needed a quick snack) and full. It was however, very similar to IF in terms of timing so adding a more stricter schedule was not all too different and the results started showing signs around mid-July. I like to joke that It was a 6 month journey after all, trying what works, what doesn’t and what I felt my body was best doing. The Kinobody program is a form of intermittent fasting combined with calorie counting. At first, the program suggest eating the food you normally eat with one meal larger than the other, and slowly lowering your caloric intake to reach your desired weight. I choose to maintain my dietary routine and ate just I have been for the past months. In a way, I’ve slowly adjusted my timing to match a full 16 hour fast — 8 hour eating window by starting slowly and pacing myself.

The one aspect of the Kinobody’s Aggressive Fast Lost program that I did not follow was the workout regimen. I did not have a gym membership so I took to biking to get my cardio workout done. I was training for the Levi Gran Fondo, a charity ride across Santa Rosa October 1st that was 60 miles of road cycling with almost 4000 ft of elevation gain. I found cycling to be the most enjoyable way to exercise for my lifestyle and diet (training for the ride was an added bonus).

Me crossing the finish line for the Sea Otter Classic in April 2016. I’ve made biking part of my lifestyle. This ride was during the start of my diet.

Updated Routine:

  • Wake up at 6am and go biking for 30–40 mins. I bike the same distance as before but because I am getting more efficient at biking, It takes me less amount of time to finish. I increase difficulty by not changing gear and trying to ride as fast as I can. I go to sleep around 10:30pm.
  • Drinking TONS of water all day long. Sometimes coconut water as a treat and sometime sparkling water. It helps to fill you up as well.
  • Coffee after my bike ride as part of the mechanism to blunt hunger.
  • Lunch around 12 or 1pm. Meals include: congee, chipotle burrito bowl, salads, rice and an omelette. I’ve added a little bit of fat (yum to avocados!) and protein. I’m eating to my full potential or until I feel satisfied.
  • Fruit or greek yogurt (with chia seeds) in the afternoon.
  • I go out with friends Friday night. Yes I try not to overdo it but I understand going out means eating and drinking unhealthy. I just have to account for this when eating for the day.
  • In August, I joined a new company and sometimes have only time for biking 3–4 days a week.
  • I sometimes walk around the neighborhood after dinner If I feel too full for about 15–30 mins. I feel that walking after eating helps me digest better.
  • I try to eat around 6:30–7pm at night. My meals include white or brown rice, some sort of veggies and chicken or tuna salad once in a while.
  • Weekend work at our family’s shop so I’m waking up at 6am everyday of the week and maintaining the 16ish hour fasting. Some days I eat earlier, some days later. It depends on what my body is telling me. I work 7 days a week so I’m confident most people can do this If I’m able to.

Dieting should be about tailoring other people’s advice to what your body is telling you. There is no perfect diet program that is tailored for everyone. You have to take all the good from each of them and adjust accordingly. It will take time, patience, testing and perseverance. Read your goal card everyday.

Efficiency Tip: Got an morning workout routine like me? Instead of listening to music, listen to audiobooks and podcasts to absorb even more knowledge while exercising. I’m currently listening to “Grit” by Angela Duckworth.

Recommended Intermittent Fasting and Other Reading:

The Obesity Code

The path of researching all I could about Intermittent Fasting let me to a fitness podcast called Fitness Confidential with Vinnie Tortorich. Vinnie mentioned a book he liked named The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung. Intrigued, I bought the book from Amazon and I highly recommend it.

The Obesity Code by Dr. Fung, who is a nephrologist (kidney and diabetes doctor) and founder of the Intensive Dietary Management Program specializing in type 2 diabetes, explains how people have become obese, what is it and what we can do to cure it.

Dr. Fung surprised me when he explained that obesity is not about people not able to regulate their calories in and calories out, but it is caused by a hormonal imbalance. The culprit is the hormone insulin, the storage of sugar and fat hormone. Dr. Fung argues that insulin is like a gatekeeper in 2 compartment storage system. You have a refrigerator and a freezer. The refrigerator is where you store glycogen aka sugar for quick access while fat is stored in the freezer. Insulin is the gatekeeper that prevents you from accessing the fats in the freezer while bringing more sugar from the fridge to be stored in the freezer. In this cycle of overeating sugar and eating more frequently, people tend to have high levels of insulin for a period of time. This in turn, creates insulin resistance within the body and as a causal effect, makes the body increase production of insulin thereby making you more fat.

The current methods of treating obesity are lacking as studies have shown that by decreasing the amount of calories you intake, you decrease your caloric expenditures. Simply your metabolism slows down because your body seeks to be in a homeostasis and isn’t going to let you die off. Dr. Fung uses the analogy of a coal power plant. Say you were burning on daily 2000 tons of coal. Suddenly, you receive 1500 tons. Do you still burn 2000 tons? No you reduce the amount you burn otherwise you risk burning through your stores and have the power plant shut down and create chaos and havoc to our mobile connected youth! Your body works the same; the less calories you intake, the less you burn. That is why the calorie theory of “Eat Less, Move More” does not work. What has shown to be correct is the Hormonal Obesity Theory and how sugar is the root cause of obesity.

Sugar is deadly. Sucrose and especially fructose increase insulin levels and over time give rise to the American obesity epidemic. Its considered “empty calories” that contain very few nutrients and promote overconsumption (when has a kid ever asked for a second plate of broccoli vs. a second slice of cake?). Dr Fung informs the reader that Fructose is “The Most Dangerous Sugar” and has found its way into majority of the processed food available. Artificial sweeteners are not better, if not worse even for you, as they too raise insulin levels without having a calorie count. I love when he asked the reader, “Consider all the people you see drinking diet sodas. Do you knowanybody at all who said drinking diet soda made him or her lose a lot of weight? Anybody at all?” P174.

There are couple videos on Youtube of Jason Fung worth watching. It isn’t as comprehensive as his book but can get you started: The Aetiology of Obesity and Therapeutic Fasting — Solving the Two-Compartment Problem.

The Solution
So if the calories in, calories out model doesn’t work, what does? You’ve probably already guessed it, its proper eating and especially, Intermittent Fasting. Why is IF so effective in curbing insulin and getting the body to lose weight? We know that refined carbohydrates leads to increase in the production of insulin and cortisol thus eating a low-carb, high protein or fat diet makes sense right? Unfortunately not so; “The biggest problem with high-protein diets was that they didn’t really work for weight loss. But why not? The reasoning seems solid. Insulin causes weight gain. Reducing refined carbohydrates lowers blood sugar and insulin. But all foods cause insulin secretion.” (189).

Obesity is a multifactorial disease. What we need is a framework, a structure, a coherent theory to understand how all factors fit together.

Dr. Fung’s framework is a two part process. What to eat and When to eat. For healthy eating, he recommends 5 steps:

  1. Reduce your consumptions of added sugar (anything processed has added sugar).
  2. Reduce your consumptions of refined grains.
  3. Moderate your protein intake.
  4. Increase your consumption of natural fats.
  5. Increase your consumption of fiber and vinegar.

Eat wholesome natural and unprocessed food while drinking plenty of water, coffee or tea. In regards to when to eat, Dr. Fung simply has one word,fasting. Fasting is completely different from starving. As Dr. Fung explains,“Starvation is the involuntary absence of food. It is neither deliberate nor controlled. Starving people have no idea when and where their next meal will come from. Fasting, however, is the voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual, health or other reasons. Fasting may be done for any period of time, from a few hours to a few months.”(237).

“Fasting is the greatest remedy- the physician within.” — Paracelsus, founder of toxicology and one of the fathers of modern western medicine.

When you fast, you prevent insulin from increasing for an extended period of time. It forces your body to switch over to burning fat stores for energy and improves insulin sensitivity. “Most diets restrict the intake of foods that cause increased insulin secretion, but don’t address insulin resistance. You lose weight initially, but insulin resistance keeps your insulin levels and body set weight high. By fasting, you can efficiently reduce your body’s insulin resistance, since it requires both persistent and high levels.” (240). Dr Fung follows up on how hormones adapt to a fasting state and debunk myths about fasting. He believes that anyone and everyone can learn to fast and makes life simple.“This is the ancient secret. This is the cycle of life. Fasting follows feasting. Feasting follows fasting. Diets must be intermittent, not steady” (248).



Remember my goals? I am pleased to say that on the morning of September 11, I’ve reached the weight of 147 lbs/66.7 kg and my debt has been paid off. I now need to write new goals! I’m enjoying life and have never felt better. The mental change I’ve made allowed myself to be happy knowing I am aiming for better things in life. I cant wait to ride on October 1st for the Levi Gran Fondo.

When friends wonder what my secret formula or recipe to achieve this weight loss, I tell them, months of research and testing, healthy eating and living. Often times, that answer doesn’t seem to satisfy them and I am expected to share a sort of secret formula. I tell them the formula that worked for me is: low stress + sleep + Paleo diet + Intermittent Fasting + exercise (I heard that HIIT works well too). But in reality, what you need is motivation, perseverance and a desire to go from Unhealthy to Healthy.

This post originally appeared on medium

Thanks for the interview Jumpstart Magazine!

I was recently contacted by Jumpstart Magazine, the entrepreneur’s magazine in Hong Kong, about life after an acquisition.

Here’s an exert of the article which can be found here. Issue 11 of the magazine can be viewed online here .

There are a number of reasons why startups get bought: They could have a powerhouse team that could be a great addition to the acquirer, or technology that can be plugged into an existing product. Or perhaps they’re a friendly competitor with complementary product offerings.

In the case of transport app Taxiwise, which was an all-cash deal “in excess of seven figures,” it was an acqui-hire where co-founders Jean-Marc Ly, Truong Lam and Lawrence Tse were seen as key cogs to launching Ikky’s business.

Ly remembers making the shift from entrepreneur to employee after exiting his startup: “When my co-founders joined Ikky as full-time employees, it was a very different shift in terms of mindset which we had to learn quickly. We were not ‘founders’ so needed to operate within metrics and the boundary of our roles,” he said.

With the help of the Taxiwise co-founding team, Ikky “underwent different business model changes” and launched the app while signing up “a considerable amount of restaurants.”

Ly added that their new roles had pros and cons. “You had less of ‘wearing different set of hats’ which took a while to get used to. You do miss the founder way of thinking but know that you have more resources and are much more set up for success.”

Fast-forward to two years after the acquisition and the Taxiwise co-founders have moved on with their lives. While Tse went back to teaching, Ly said that he and Truong decided to move back to the US to be closer to friends and family.

“Since our move back to the US, Truong and I have been involved in advising other startups and joining the workforce as designers and growth marketers. We used our entrepreneurial experience to redefine any team we join and add a bit of scrappiness to it,” he said.



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Why Brand and Messaging Should Be Part of Your Initial Strategy: A Look at Hipmunk

Building your company’s brand and messaging is immensely important as they tell the story of your product and company. According to Stanford, branding is what people say, feel and think about an organization. It’s a set of mental and experiential associations that, when taken together, tell the story of who you are.” Branding done right makes people say things like, “This brand reflects my personality” or “I like the values this brand stands for” which ultimately affects reputation, conversion and sales. Strong brand value gives companies an edge in a crowded marketplace and helps companies to compete on things other than price which leads to a stronger relationship with customers.

For many startups, branding and messaging are often only in the back of founders’ minds. There are usually more important things to take care of, such as the product, than focusing on branding from the start. However, there have been at times, companies who have attempted and succeeded to create a strong brand impression as part of their core strategy. Hipmunk is a company where the brand was conceived along with the idea of the business.

Hipmunk’s advisor and early team member, Alexis Ohanian, said when he first found out about the idea and mascot of Hipmunk, I see this as a huge advantage for us since none of the competition has any character with which to build a connection to their users. When people have a fantastic flight search experience on hipmunk, we hope they’ll associate that with the silly name and the cute logo”. With this mindframe, the Hipmunk founders set out to create a company centered around a chipmunk for users to identify with their brand.


Messaging on your site is equally as important. It is the marketing message and the first line of communication to your potential customers. It’s the first impression, the first part of the process to understanding your brand. People often confuse branding and messaging to mean the same thing. But it is far from the same. To make things simpler, we can use this metaphor: Branding is the mural, whereas messaging is the paint strokes. You need to lay down the foundations of brush strokes (value prop, assets, pic, headline) to ultimately create a beautiful mural (the company, story, characteristics).

Photo Credit: Professor Bop

The 8 Second Test & Value Prop

8 second rule

The average attention span of most people is 8 seconds. We can use this test to determine if a site’s message has been communicated effectively. In 8 seconds, can you understand what the site does? Were you able to effectively communicate your value proposition and offering?

I showed this site to my 12 year old niece, Kristina, for 8 seconds to see if she could understand the purpose of Hipmunk. She answered “I think it’s a website to help you travel better and they have a cute logo”. 8 second test passed!

Above the fold, the viewer can easily read Hipmunk’s value propositions.

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 4.15.13 PM

The location and benefit  are just as intended and easily convey what benefits the user will get out of using Hipmunk. “I watch new users interact with the site for the first time and you see these Hipmunk eureka moments or aha moments where they are like, ‘Wow, this is new, this is useful, this is the way it should be.’ When you have got that as a start and you can associate that with a memorable brand, you have got something that is going to stick around a little longer.” says Alexis Ohanian. “We’re building a consumer application, so we really need to build a brand that will win over regular people who are simply looking to take the agony out of flight search.”

The chipmunk mascot gave consumers something to remember that other travel sites lacked. It took a while for the brand to grow its userbase but now, Hipmunk is a common name for travel sites.

A look at the messaging history

Over the years, Hipmunk has evolved to better suit new and returning users. Let’s take a look at how their site has changed over the years using the messaging
framework conceived by Graham Hunter and taught in the Growth Track at Tradecraft. This framework says that good messaging consists of 4 things: explain, emotion, evoke questions, exclude/include. You don’t need to have all 4 elements at once, but ideally should strive for a balance or a mixture of the 4.

Oct 6, 2010

History 1

Hipmunk at the very beginning was very plain and had almost no messaging or any other assets, simply the words “Flight Search” and the chipmunk mascot. The user was left to figure out the product or services this site offered and lacked any connection with the user. A travel booking widget gave a hint that it was for booking trips (flight/cars/taxis?).

Dec 24, 2011

History 2
A year later, we saw some improvement with a Christmas theme and partnership with Rovio’s Angry Bird and social sharing icons for a more modern feel. The messaging had playful emotions especially during the holidays and sought to include a potential subset of users who are familiar with the game. In a way, it’s to align or piggyback (no pun intended) on a stronger brand which conveys a similar message.

May 11, 2012

History 3
In 2012, Hipmunk added an animated video as part of their marketing message. Animation explainer videos were the trend and offered an easy way for companies to explain their solution in a short and simple way. However, the video was located in the top right corner, and getting users to click on the video might have been difficult because the following year, they removed it from their site.

July 28, 2013

History 4
In 2013, Hipmunk completely redesigned their site. The chipmunk wasn’t as big and dominant as in previous years, and the background had a darker tone of blue, going away from the light blue of the early days of Twitter. The search widget was also redesigned for a faster and more simple search experience. The cartoonish clouds evoked a feeling of being sent away which adding social proofs from credible sources provided the user with more authoritative sites that both explained and provided credibility of their service. We also saw a more refined and simple nav bar.  It communicated the services available and allowed the user to jump to what they needed.

Sept 1, 2014

History 5

Little change from the previous year except an addition to their tag line: the fastest, easiest way to plan travel. “Popular destinations with Hipmunk city guides” was added as a way to entice visitors to book. The site continued to play with the emotion of the freedom of travel and evoking questions… specifically “where next?”


History 6
The Hipmunk of today has a vastly different look from when it started. Gone are the cartoonish clouds and social icons of last year; and in their place are images of beaches and palm trees suggesting a more lifelike feeling of summer relaxing. We also see a value prop section, a stronger call to action for their mobile app and top destinations. The Chipmunk makes a bigger appearance in both the search box and value prop section. The 8 second test worked well in my initial test because it seems like the site has become more effective over the years and has now reached that sweet spot for that test. Overall, Hipmunk’s messaging has been consistent throughout the years signaling their value, to help travelers get to the best places in the easiest way possible.

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 4.32.33 PM

The chipmunk mascot of Hipmunk has become a beloved icon on the web. Hipmunk has done an incredible job of managing and leveraging the chipmunk to further its brand and get loyal fans to create user-generated content. They even launched several campaigns on social media such as the “Hipmunk Me!” campaign that incentivized users to interact with the company in exchange for renditions of the users with a chipmunk appearance.

Hipmunk’s mascot has been selected numerous times as one of the cutest brand mascots of all time. Using this mascot, Hipmunk has been able to create a lasting impression in the minds of their users and get them talking about their brand. The mascot has become the brand and what the company stands for.

Final Thought

As we have seen in Hipmunk, great branding and messaging does not happen overnight. Building a mural takes a lot of effort and patience. Sometimes you may need to redo a stroke or two but with practice and time, you will end up with a great piece of art. Hipmunk was able to achieve a strong connection with their users and used that as fuel to power their brand. Sometimes you just need to start on that first paint stroke on your way to building a masterpiece.

This article originally appeared on Medium.


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How MVMT Watches can improve its current referral program to increase user acquisition.

Referral programs provide a practical and cost-effective method to drive user growth. I conducted a referral program audit with my favorite watch company, MVMT Watches, and uncovered key points in the purchase conversion funnel to implement referral strategies. Creating a referral program will allow MVMT Watches to encourage their customers to become brand ambassadors, AND it can be done practically with minor changes on their website and emails. Referrals can be amazingly effective at growing the client base and boosting profits.

MVMT (pronounced “movement”) Watches launched a successful crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo and currently sells watches on their online store. They promise to deliver on 3 things:

· Minimalistic designs that can be worn in both casual and professional settings

· Watches made from high quality materials

· Priced at less than half of their competitors ranging from $95 to $135

With the buzz around their crowdfunding campaign gone, how do we help MVMT Watches increase sales and grow their customer base? I myself have bought two watches from them; one for myself and another for a friend. I have received many compliments from the look and simplicity of the watch.

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Photograph from MVMT, Classic White Tan Leather

MVMT’s Current Efforts

MVMT provides three methods for their customers to make referrals:

1. On their site with a referral page that is found only after clicking through to the [More] tab, followed by clicking a share button.

2. Email newsletters.

3. Promo codes given during social media contests.

I am going to break down each of these referral methods and where else is needed to make suggestions on how to improve their existing referral program.


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The domain referral link is found only after clicking through to the [More] tab, followed by clicking the share button in the drop down menu. I suggest moving the referral messaging to the homepage in a prominent location.

As a new user, the messaging might be confusing as I read it as “Friends don’t let friends #jointhemvmt”. I think this plays well on social media where their target users are often trend setters and younger adults but without being involved and simply a customer, the message might be lost. The value prop is nice (is there a cap on the rewards earned?) but perhaps as I have already purchased a watch, another type of incentive might catch my eye such as “access to special event, design your own watch face, early access to new release”. For many e-commerce sites, getting your existing customers to make a repeat purchase is difficult if the product isn’t a necessity but if I feel emotionally involved, the barrier is lower.

Entering your email gives us the option below:

The copy at the top of the referral page can be tested to find the phrasing that leads to the highest amount of conversions.

Phrases to test:

· #jointhemvmt with your friends and get 10% off

· Share the love of MVMT

· Help your friend dress better etc.

The email fmvmt 4orm is well written and includes a contact importer widget that makes it easier for MVMT to gather additional contact information from users’ network of people. A message mentioning that the user’s data is safe would help users feel more at ease about entering their private information.

Upon entering my own emailmvmt 5 (not sure why I need to enter mine to refer a friend), I have to click on the pop up to get the link. Why not have the link be ready for me to simply copy and paste? Also to note, the link refers to talkable which is probably the service they use for referral but may look like a spam link to users.

Overall I think it’s a great sharing widget which providesan ability to quickly share. It looks good and very easy to use. My recommendation is placing this option either on the page where returning users would come such as the “wall” page where users can post photos of their watches, after users have made their purchase or possibly in a ‘Thank You & join the MVMT’ page.

Refer Page:

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This page seems unfinished, unpolished, and the promo code did not work during checkout. If this is an expired code, MVMT should take down this page and remove it from their site map. I do like the idea of having a Refer Thank You page. Perhaps combining this page with clips or testimonials taken from their customers or reviews from their social media page would make this page more relevant.


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These are the email messages I’ve received from MVMT watches. The #jointhemvmt does not appear in my email newsletter. I also attempted to make a purchase with savings using the promo code provided; however, I did not receive savings off my order (could just be a timed promotion).

The email on the left is well written, and they are using an incentive to get me to refer my friends in the form of a contest. Although the email on the right contains a great graphic, however it does not truly convince me to shop even with the discount. I would test using other graphics because the background image reminds me of the outdoors while the watch is aimed toward a more dressy kind of look; two distinct look in a sense.

The timing of MVMT’s newsletters are on point, often arriving for Holidays and special events, albeit at times, too frequent (but that may have been due to the recent Holidays of Thanksgiving and Black Friday).

Referral from my Account:

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This is a very clean and easy page to read. However there is no option to refer a friend when logging into my account. This is surprising as I was able to create a personalized referral link previously. We are also missing a way for clients to monitor and track their own referral link and see how far it was traveled through the world of the internet.

Underneath my account details is an area used to show social proof, with quotes from authoritative sites. This tactic is often used in the homepage to convert visitors into paying customers. However, this is precious real estate(and I have already converted) that can be used for referrals and other promotions.

New User:

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Right after creating a new account, I received an email asking me to refer MVMT watches to friends. I do like the welcoming message but this is bad timing of an referral ask, as I have not yet made a purchase and thus not yet convinced of the value of product and their service. I would advise to instill a message to convert me into a paying customers before asking to send their site to my friends.

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When clicking on the link provided in the email, we are taken to the scoreboard above. It gives users a way to track their progress on referrals and social sharing. It looks great and gives the user, an easy way to share with the social links. However, on the account that I used to purchase a watch, this page was nowhere to be found. I could not find links to reach this page that is appropriate for paying customers. I recommend placing this widget on prior customers who have made purchases as they are the ones who most likely, are comfortable sharing a product they found value in.

This advertisement on social media appears spammy. Many people may be unaware of what MVMT or talkable are. The picture is appropriate for the theme of the site, but it is not very compelling. A colleague had trouble where this widget didn’t appear when pasting the link on Facebook.


MVMT is on the right path to creating an effective referral program. Some changes they can make to improve the program are to refine the messages, ensure existing customers are given a convenient way of referring the site via different channels, and to present the referral requests at an appropriate time in the user flow or shopping season. They need to create a referral copy that is compelling enough to entice users to share MVMT with their network of people.

Sharing via Facebook.

This article originally appeared on Medium.

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 new 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

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, 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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