Rome (Italy) in three days

Rome has a rich history pertinent to western civilization. There are three different aspects of roaming in Rome, namely, architecture, history, and religion (Catholic – Christians). I was profoundly interested in history and to some extent, in architecture, and that influenced my itinerary.

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Programmable Money and value capture

Money serves three purpose – unit of accounting, a medium of exchange, and a store of value. Cryptocurrencies have been compared to Programmable Money. Anything programmable requires an experimentation platform for iterations and improvement. Bitcoin seems to have won the “store of value” battle. Ethereum has the developer mindshare and is the preferred experimentation platform. Multiple cryptocurrencies are still fighting the battle to be the medium of exchange.

BTC dominance chart from CoinMarketCap

BTC dominance chart from CoinMarketCap

The amusing part is that every cryptocurrency startup envies Ethereum’s developer ecosystem and is trying to attract developers. But there isn’t any real value capture being the experimentation platform. A successful product has a high chance of leaving Ethereum and migrating users to its chain. The real battle, I believe, remains in becoming the medium of exchange, being the programmable Visa & Mastercard equivalent.

A day in Venice (Italy)

A day in Venice

Compared to Prague, Rome, Vienna, and Split, Venice is a tourist trap. The city is made up of a collection of 100+ islands. Bridges connect most of them, and you can walk throughout the city. All the public transport is using water buses called Vaporetto. A single trip costs 8 Euros. If you are planning to use Vaporetto, buy a 24-hour pass worth 20 Euro which covers unlimited trips on Vaporetto.

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Circle CI vs Travis CI

I maintain a somewhat popular Android developer tool (adb-enhanced). The tool is written in Python, supporting both Python 2 and 3. Testing the tool requires both Python runtime as well a running Android emulator. I, initially, used Travis CI for setting up continuous testing of this tool. Later, I felt that Travis CI was too slow and when I came across Circle CI, I decided to give it a try. As of now, both Travis and Circle CI are used for testing. Here is what I learnedĀ from my experience.

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Croatia in Four Days

Croatia is a Balkan country south of Austria. It’s a small country of 4 million inhabitants and cities with medieval architecture. Games of Thrones was shot here.

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Angel investing for Software Engineers

Software Engineers peak early in their career and especially in places in the San Francisco Bay area, New York, and Seattle attain accredited investor status early on in their career. Hearing stories of Jason Calacanis and Chris Sacca, many consider trying their hands-on angel investing in startups.

If you are considering it, here are my few suggestions for that.

Should you do it?

Angel investing, just like many other exotic ventures such as buying arts and vintage coins, is optional. It is much more safe to make money by investing in publicly listed companies. So, don’t do it for money. Find a better reason to do it. For me, the opportunity to connect with other entrepreneurs makes it worthwhile.

How much to invest?

Don’t invest more than 5-10% of your net worth. Most angel investments fail; it is best to diversify. In the early stages, don’t invest substantial check sizes (50K-100K) in a single startup.

How to start?

Get your feet wet via Angellist Syndicates. You can invest a small amount and gain confidence. These investment opportunities come without the information rights, so, you learn a little less than what you get when investing directly.

Once you are confident, watch more pitches either at local pitching events or online pitching events like Stanford’s StartX and Alchemist Accelerator Demo day.

Whether you are looking at companies on AngelList or the pitching events, the quality will vary a lot. More often than not, you will say no, but occasionally, you will come across a gem to invest in.

Dealflow

Good deal flow is crucial. Either you will have to scout a lot of good deals, or you need to be friends with people who are going to make it big. Also, try to have some VC friends, so that, you know what not in trend. Here’s the hard reality, almost every angel investment of yours will need VC money at some point. If most VCs are going to reject the opportunity outright, for example, because it is located in unacceptable geography or is in a crowded space, then that startup is almost bound to die.

In the case of a hot oversubscribed deal, you will have to convince a founder to take money from you. And that’s where you have to answer what value-add do you bring beyond the capital. Put some thought to prepare that. Here’s mine – “I can help you with thinking around engineering as well as product. My background ranging from backend engineering at big companies to mobile development for emerging markets to blockchain gives me a unique engineering + product perspective. You can see my writings at https://ashishb.net/category/tech-thoughts/ and my prior investments at https://angel.co/ashishb“.

Learn to say no

You will be saying no most of the times. Say that fast and move on. Don’t waste your time or the founder’s time.

Don’t give up on pro-rata

Angel investing is way riskier than late-stage investing. And if you end up investing in a gem, you don’t want to miss out maintaining your pro-rata, fight for this right.

Understand the different type of investments

SAFE is the most popular now. Convertible debt creates phantom tax implications. Equity investing is less prevalent in early stage than the late stage.

Criteria

Develop some criteria to decide what would you invest in and what would you not invest in. For example, I don’t understand health tech and pharmaceutical, and I would not invest in it. Similarly, for the lack of understanding, I avoid startups targeting Latin America or Africa. Remember that laws are different everywhere; for example, in India, a minority shareholder can block an acquisition, in the USA, they cannot.

Process

Decide how you are going to invest. Are you going to decide over a phone call or multiple in-person meetings? Have a written questionnaire which you ask to ensure you are not missing on something.

Budapest (Hungary) in Two Days

Budapest, pronounced Budapescht, consists of two cities, hilly Buda in the west, and flat Pest in the south. The city structure is similar to Prague.

Day 1

Start your day with a walking tour. While there are many specific ones like focusing on Jewish quarters etc. I chose the generic one which covers the history and the culture of the city. After the tour, spend time checking out the castle before heading down to the Hospital in the rock. It was a hospital built during the cold war to survive a nuclear attack. The guided tour at this place is subpar though.

Castle

Buda Castle

Chapel at Buda Castle

Chapel at Buda Castle

Bunker Hospital

Bunker Hospital

Check out the Mansfeld Peter Memorial and Zero kilometer Stone while going down from the castle.

Peter Mansfield Memorial

Peter Mansfield Memorial

0 KM

0 KM

And then before crossing over to the Pest side, take a bus to Citadella for a few more views of the city.

View of Budapest from Citadella

View of Budapest from Citadella

Day 2

Start the day with St. Stephen’s Basilica. There is a hand of Stephen, the first king of Hungary, inside. It is illegal to construct a building taller than this in Budapest. The Hungary Parliament building is precisely the same height.

St. Stephen's Basilica

St. Stephen’s Basilica

Stephen's hand

Stephen’s hand

Next, head to Shoes on the Danube Bank, which are placed by Hungarians in the memory of the Holocaust victims.

Shoes at Danube River

Shoes at Danube River

Later at night, check out Szimpla Kert and Red Ruin, the two famous ruin bars among many others.

Szimpla Kert

Szimpla Kert

Red Ruin

Red Ruin

Note that Budapest is famous for the thermal baths as well. I felt that they are glorified hot water pools with high prices and decided to skip them.

A short guide for MBAs looking for a job in the tech world

Why Tech

In the past decade, interest among MBA grads towards tech companies has drastically gone up. If you are one of those, take a pause and ask yourself “why”. Of course, there are upsides; the tech sector is growing faster, pays well, has a much better work-life balance than finance, private equity, or consulting. But at the same time, do remember that you spend almost 50% of your waking hours at your workplace, so, you must as well enjoy it. If you enjoy flashy presentations, regular travel, or an opportunity to think about big M&A deals, then these things come much earlier in your career on the east coast than that on the west.

Why Product Manager

Product Manager is the dominant choice for an MBA grad. That does not mean this is the only possible role. Anecdotally speaking getting into a PM role at Google is harder than a Software Engineering role. And if you are an international student looking for visa sponsorships, then some tech companies are not willing to do that for the PM role. Lastly, if you are not from the Computer Science/Electrical Engineering background, it is harder to get shortlisted and clear interviews. My goal is not to discourage you from applying but make your expectations realistic.

Beyond Product Manager

Facebook, Google, Apple/Amazon, Netflix (FANG), and Microsoft are big businesses. They deal with a wide range of functions such as real estate to supply chain to short-term/long-term cash management. There are all sorts of finance-world equivalent roles beyond the PM role. I won’t be surprised if Google pays more in real-estate rents than say, WeWork. All big companies engage in regular M&A as well and have a full-time team staffed for that. Cisco, Apple, and Google, in particular, are known for M&A. Also, many companies have roles like Product Strategy and Product Marketing Manager. These roles are similar to Product Manager but attract much less attention since these titles do not look as coveted as the Product Manager. You can use these roles to get in and then can transition to a Product Manager role later.

Beyond tech companies, many venture firms, both domestic and foreign (like Rauketen and Softbank), invest in US tech startups. And for that, they hire analysts, principal, and associates. The job responsibilities range from scouting to deciding on the deals.

Does company size matter?

I like quantifying companies in three stages – stage 1 (pre-product market fit), stage 2 (post-product market fit, growth stage), and stage 3 (mature companies like FANGs). Do note that in a big company like one of the FANGs, you will find products which are in stage 1, stage 2, or stage 3.

If you need visa sponsorships and have loans to pay, then stay away from stage 1 companies. The risk-reward ratio is more skewed towards risk here. If this succeeds, even a small acquisition can net you a million-dollar or two easily.

In a stage 2 company, the likelihood of broad responsibility is higher. You could be doing inside sales one day and scouting for a new office lease the other. If you are willing to take the risk, then the long-term financial rewards are much higher here. If you need visa sponsorship, then you should join a stage 2 company with a non-US office as well. So, in case you don’t get H1-B before your OPT expires, the company can move you to one of the international offices. Confirm this after getting the offer letter and before signing it. Some companies like GitLab have a strong remote culture; this can be extra beneficial to someone concerned about the visa sponsorship issues.

In a stage 3 company, your role is going to be much more structured, narrow, and focused. The company won’t die overnight and would likely have international offices to move you to in case the visa situation does not work out. One caveat for those looking to apply for permanent residence (green card), join a company which did not do layoffs recently and is not planning to do in the next year. If a layoff happens than the permanent residence applications from that employer are usually rejected by the USCIS.

B2B, B2C, and marketplaces

B2C, Business-to-consumer startups, in their pure form, was thriving in the valley till about 2015. The users have swayed away from installing new apps, and more prominent companies have become good at making the whole startup a feature in their product. So, in 2019, software-only B2C exists, primarily, inside FANG and Snap. Two exciting classes have emerged beyond software-only B2C. One is prosumer (professional consumer) companies like recently-IPOed like Slack and startups like Savvy. The other exciting direction is the D2C, direct-to-consumer, startups like allbirds and brandless.com. D2C, in my opinion, requires a lot of operations and marketing experience. I notice more B2C startups focused on India, Latin America, and China than the USA these days.

B2B, business-to-business, are all in rage today. From Google cloud/Azure to small companies like Narmi, a lot of companies are capitalizing and building products for other businesses. While B2C is about understanding consumer psychology, B2B is about understanding the needs of another business.

Two-sided marketplaces are hard to grow. Most of them, in the US, are trying to build pieces of Craigslist, and some are doing well.

How to apply

Don’t apply directly for an off-campus opportunity. Go via a referral. The referral route ensures that you will get a response, even if it is a rejection. A lost of time direct applicants never get a response. And you don’t need to find someone you know. You need to find someone willing to spend 5 minutes submitting your resume internally. Culturally, it is not frowned upon to submit referrals for acquaintances. And if you get hired the person referring you will make referral fee which is usually a few 1000$.

Where to find stage 1 and stage 2 jobs

  1. Angel List
  2. Breakout list
  3. Y Combinator startups
  4. Hacker News’s who is hiring threads and a bit more readable version

Vienna in two days

Vienna is a historic city. First, a pivotal battle between the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe was fought in 1683 and then, during the second world war, significant support to Hitler came from Vienna.

Some tips for the first timers

  1. The dominant spoken language is German, but it is not hard to find English speakers.
  2. Public transport is great and a 24-hour pass costs 8 Euros.
  3. Most of the good spots are near the city center, so, don’t stay too far away.
  4. Toilets inside shopping malls, big grocery stores, and restaurants are usually free. Outside ones charge 0.5 Euro.

Which museum to see

Vienna is full of museums, and one can spend a week just checking out the museums. Entry cost varies from 4 Euros to 20 Euros. I would recommend deciding what you want to see and make a decision based on that. I was not interested in checking out natural history or art museums since they are similar to the museums I have seen before. Therefore, I picked “Museum of Art Fakes” and “Museum of Abortion and Contraception.” Both unusual and unique to Vienna.

Day 1

Start your day with a tip-only walking tour which gives you a good understanding of the history as well as the culture of this city. After the tour, spend time checking out St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a 13th century 444-ft tall Church which was the tallest building of its time.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

An old Nail Tree with nails nailed in for good luck is nearby and easy to miss.

Nail Tree

Next, head to Danube riverfront for a walk, it is a bit overhyped, so, feel free to skip it as well.

Danube Riverfront

Then head to the Open air market, Naschmarkt, prices are competitive, and it is a great place to grab fresh fruits.

Naschmarkt

Next, head to the Museum of Abortion and Contraception. It is small, it takes about an hour to see the full museum, and it has a good audio tour in multiple languages. Most writings on the wall, unfortunately, are only in German. The museum covers the legal, technological, and social battle fought for birth control rights.

Day 2

Head to the Republic of Kugel Mugel, a micronation inside Vienna. There isn’t much except a ball, so, don’t raise hopes.

Kugel Mugel

Then head to weird houses designed by Hundertwasser.

Weird house; weird design

And next door is the Museum of Art Fakes which covers the art forgery in great detail. The museum is small but has an unusually high-quality collection of both samples and anecdotes to learn from.

Museum of Art Fakes