The Summer of Surgeries and SingCore

Running a family manufacturing business is hard.

Especially when the owners are aging immigrants who both require surgeries and don’t have an exit plan.

That’s where I came in.

My parents are the founders of a mom and pop manufacturing business called SingCore. This is a recap of my summer assisting them in business and in life.

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We all get older

My Father Peter began experiencing severe nerve pains earlier this year, which he soon learned would require three of his vertebrate to be removed by way of cutting into the front and back of his neck. Pleasant, I know. 

Peter has been a serial entrepreneur and inventor his whole life. Since 1990, he invented and sold his own log home, survived the Great Recession, and now manufactures a patented lightweight panel that’s utilized for oversized doors and museum walls. It’s a phenomenal product that has been utilized by NASA, The Center for Architecture and Design, and SFMOMA (they’re also installed in Airbnb’s headquarters). 

As Paul Graham would call it, Peter is a gritty cockroach who knows how to survive.

But he’s never grown past the garage startup phase. Building a team and management aren’t his strong suits, so when he reached out to me to try finally get his business to grow while he would be recovering, I had to stop and consider his request.

It was May, and I was in the middle of interviews with companies in San Francisco (I had just returned from a backpacking adventure in South America). I decided instead to step away from tech and fulfill my Dad’s wish to have me help out with his company.

Throughout my whole life, I’ve intentionally stayed away from the family business to establish myself independently. I attended university out of state, worked in Australia for two years, and have spent my my recent years working in San Francisco as a Growth Marketer. Growing up in the family business, I experienced the struggles and saw firsthand the stress involved in running your own factory and company. Especially as a first generation husband and wife team.

But if there was ever a time for me to help, it was now. My Mother’s hand was hurting too, which required surgery in August as well.

So I put my own self interests and professional pursuits on hold to work and live at a sawmill in Washington for the summer to see if I could kickstart this unique manufacturing business.


Streamlining a pencil and paper workplace

Everything was done the old fashioned way. Leads were manually forwarded to our Sales Manager, which my Dad managed with his sweet CRM called “gmail stars”. I took aim at modernizing and organizing the company.

It started with redesigning the entire website, then establishing a CRM (Pipedrive) to manage not only sales leads, but our entire factory production flow. Instead of walking hand-written orders, we were digitalizing the entire funnel all the way to the end shipment. It was a laborious process that the entrepreneurial side in me enjoyed.

My biggest task was to build a small team so my parents would not have to be at the mill day to day. We hired a talented young jack-of-all-trades named Forrest, and an experienced Sales Manager named Nick. They’ve stepped in and have made tremendous improvements in SingCore.

I helped close sales. I tracked finances. And as a marketer, I revamped his entire online presence. It was a great learning experience to touch all aspects of a small manufacturing business. Our Factory Manager was extremely supportive as we tag teamed on various process improvements. 


Family time or career time?

Just as importantly, spending my summer in Washington allowed me to visit my Father on the weekends as he recovered. Once he was in shape to return home, I’d do what I could to help out with daily tasks that have become more difficult for him.

It’s tough to take time off from a competitive career such as online marketing. There were times I felt this decision would hurt me professionally, but at the end of the day, I’ve still gained new skills. Just as importantly, have been able to provide assistance to my parents during this time.

I think it’s tough for millennials to sacrifice their interests for their parents at times. We’re self-absorbed in our own pursuits and futures, but can at times, forget those that have help mold us into the people we are.

Spending time with my parents has deepened our relationship, which is something I’m quite grateful for.

It’s October now, and I’m now back in the Bay Area still helping out by working remotely. I’m most pleased with the team we’ve been able to hire and nurture, which has alleviated a lot of stress for my parents not having to be at the mill every day. The business is something my Father would like me to take over, but not something I’m comfortable with.

My life is here in the Bay Area. Working remotely is going well, but returning to the startup world at the right company is something that I’ll be entertaining as well. A big thanks go out to my sister Annie, David Gibson, our Factory Manager, the entire SingCore team, and of course, my mom and dad for allowing me to help out and make a few updates to the business.

It’s been an eventful Summer, but I’m glad to be back in California and am excited to begin exploring my next move.

Higher Ed Piece on TechCrunch

TechCrunch recently published an article I wrote on the intersection of coding bootcamps and colleges. What are your thoughts on colleges now getting involved in the coding bootcamp space?

And a thanks to Gregg Cox, Nick Ducoff, Darwish Gani, and Abhi Ramesh for helping make this article happen :-).


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7 Keys to Starting A Successful Growth Team

There’s a lot of commotion around the importance of a growth team, but what steps are involved in successfully establishing one? It’s a frequent discussion I’ve had with friends in growth, so I thought it’d be helpful to outline my seven steps to starting a growth team.


  1. Company Commitment

Growth isn’t a role you simply hire for and expect to drive results independently. To optimize growth, it involves input from all departments and is a strategy the entire company is aligned with. Because what role or department doesn’t want the company to grow?!

What type of hire should it be?

It’s important to be realistic though when starting a growth team. Hiring a lead Growth role is the first step. This person should be knowledgeable in the suite of modern marketing tools, yet has engineering experience and can effectively work with product. Scrappiness and ability to define an actionable strategy are two essential traits for this role.

One of the biggest questions is whether growth is a part of marketing, product, sales, or engineering… The best answer is all of the above. Growth requires approval from design to A/B test a pop-up box for content pages. It involves social media to execute a twitter ads campaign. Developing a referral system needs input and potential development from engineering. The fact is growth sits closely between product and marketing

Growth teams that are highly technical and include engineers can move faster, but this is not a requirement as long as part-time engineering resources can be allocated for more technical tasks.


  1. One Simple Metric

Boiling down your startup’s definition of growth into one simple metric the entire company can understand will help streamline your growth strategy. This activity isn’t difficult, but requires your growth manager to understand your business model and offering at the deepest level.

For example, should your metric be the # of Monthly Active Users (a metric utilized at Pinterest) or the # of leads your company is generating? These sort of metrics provide insight, but which one is the most appropriate definition of growth for your company? Experiments will be designed based on this metric, which means you will want to keep it constant so you can make actionable decisions based on these results (I recommend committing to a metric for at least 2 quarters). Note that it’s important to have secondary metrics to help with analysis, but when forced to make a decision, being able to point to a source-of-truth metric will streamline this process. This allows your growth team to easily prioritize tasks and set goals when increasing and optimizing for this metric (see next point).

One metric also allows the entire company to quickly understand how their work affects growth. At the end of the day, all departments can positively impact this metric since it’s all encompassing. This is powerful, as it can align the entire team to contribute and help increase growth.


  1. Establish a growth experiment list

A growth experiment list is the list of all the experiments your company is interested in running. Experiment examples include an A/B test (copy, emails, design, etc), new product features, separate growth projects, or any other changes/updates that can be measured. A list is essential because it allows a growth manager to prioritize which experiments to set up and execute based on its impact potential, chance of success, and effort required. I like to use Sean Ellis’ ICE process to help with the prioritization process.


  • ICE stands for:
    • Impact potential. What sort of results could this test provide?
    • Confidence in its success. What are the chances the experiment will succeed?
    • Effort required. Will an engineer be required to build out this test? How much time will it take?


  1. Execute and develop a process

It’s now time to put those prioritized experiments into play. Proposing what “success” means before execution is helpful for reference later. Have your team aim to have a certain number of experiments pushed out each week (3 is a good number to start).

A scrappy, get things done growth manager and team are essential since growth involves a variety of marketing tools and skills. For more technical experiments, this is where allocating engineering resources, whether it’s part-time for a small startup or a full-time headcount for a larger company, comes in.

It’s important to utilize ICE as a source-of-truth when reviewing whether an experiment was successful. Or not. Oftentimes, there won’t be a clear cut winner, which is why the agreed upon metric and definition of success should be used as a reference.

Implement the improved experiments, push more tests, and repeat! Keeping track of what has been run is key, and provides clarity over what strategies have been tested.


  1. Allow the entire company to participate

Every role at your company has expertise within their domain on how to increase growth, which should not be ignored. It’s also natural for one person or a small team to eventually run out of great experiment ideas. By allowing anyone to propose growth experiments, you enable everyone to be a part of growth, which is a key to developing hypotheses that increase the quality of experiments on your list.

Build a process to enable participation by the team. Examples include setting up an experiments@ email address or google form that allows an employee to submit an experiment and its proposed ICE. Communicating growth updates to the team should be welcome, whether via a scheduled report or update session.

With that said, the growth team is the owner of the experiment list, which should be clear when setting expectations with the company (similar to a product roadmap). Opening growth ideas to the whole team can become a distraction when not managed properly, which is why keeping metrics, strategies, and goals simple and transparent are important.


  1. Understand that failure is part of Growth

You cannot expect all experiments to be successful. Doing so would stifle your team, and limit the amount of “high impact” growth experiments your team goes after, which occasionally lead to significant results conservative tests cannot achieve. It’s similar to a batting average. If you only go for conservative singles, you’ll never get that home run experiment that provides a jump in growth.

Cat Lee, the Head of Growth at Pinterest, has her team define tests two basic categories. 70% of their experiments affect the core product and are of medium ICE levels, while the remaining 30% are “moonshots”. Moonshot tests may be of a lower confidence level and require increased effort, but could provide drastic increases in growth, warranting their development. A healthy balance of experiments should be emphasized by the growth team, which help provide diverse wins of varying impact.


  1. Grow your team!

If your growth team is proving its ability to accelerate the trajectory of your startup, work on providing additional resources to your team. It’s important to keep the cadence of growth initiatives consistent, and increase resources when they’ve proven successful. The quicker your team can move, the sooner you’ll receive results. A growth team should consist of PMs, engineering, and marketing-related roles that can execute non-technical experiments.

Good luck!


Flightcar Review – San Francisco Airport

I’m a big fan of collaborative consumption models, so once we had our Yosemite camping trip planned out minus the wheels to get us there, I was excited to try out FlightCar’s rent-a-someone-elses-car-for-cheap model. There were a few bumps, but overall, I’m pleased with the experience. If you’d like to save $20, go ahead and use my FlightCar Referral Code – GRDF. Thanks!






I have a WA State license, which required me to pay for a $13 DOL report. FlightCar’s emails didn’t clearly state that they would be refunding me for the fee, so for awhile I assumed I was eating the expense, and began to get a little weary about what other potential fees there may be with my first FlightCar rental. $13 isn’t a lot, but no one likes the feeling of surprise extra fees. FlightCar could help its own cause by making sure it’s clear they will cover this cost. Making sure all the little step a customer takes are positive ones is crucial for a startup that requires as much trust as FlightCar.



I arrived San Bruno BART and called for my pickup. Within minutes a large Ford Excursion pulled up and I got in. Speedy! I was a bit surprised. There were fancy glasses in the back, but no access to water or drinks, which was odd. Seemed as though FlightCar was trying to come off as a luxury service with the glasses, but it fell a bit short.  Branding wise, it may not make sense to present an image of luxury when FlightCar’s brand is build on sharing cars and the cheapest rates. A random sedan or minivan would have been more than acceptable for a pickup since FlightCar is all about the use of random vehicles anyways :-).

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 oh you fancy FlightCar

Right when I got out, I was lead straight to my car. This was the most exciting part of the rental process. It’s beautiful when compared to the lines and paperwork we’ve all gone through at Avis and Hertz. No lobbies and no stressed out families with the crying baby in your ear. It was at this moment when I had that feeling of “yes, FlightCar is awesome”. The fact that this is such a hassle free process is an opportunity for FlightCar that should be touted on the site and in its marketing. No lines, no paperwork. Just keys in your hand when you arrive.

I was provided a Prius, which looked great, but was a problem since I requested a 2001-2008 mid-size sedan. Normally, this wouldn’t have been an issue, but because we were headed to Yosemite with a group of four plus camping gear, we needed a more traditional sedan with more storage.

I was tended to by Fred, who was very helpful and courteous during the vehicle switching process. I waited about 10 minutes, and was provided a Subaru Outback. Fantastic, now we can go Crocodile Dundee in Yosemite and make those rugged nature commercials a reality :-).

The Outback was clean and ready to roll. There was that moment of awkwardness familiarizing yourself with a new vehicle and asking questions that you don’t read in emails. How much gas do I need to bring it back with? How many miles/day can I drive? A basic brochure with standard rules would have been helpful, but not a huge deal since all the info is online.

If FlightCar was interested in going the extra mile,  a little surprise waiting for the customer could be a nice customer experience touch as well. Often, it’s the little unexpected efforts that make an experience worth remembering and talking about. Gagan Biyani, Co-Founder of Sprig, mentioned how their meals come with a little chocolate that is an unadvertised surprised. His feedback has shown it’s one of most memorable parts of the meal, yet is not the most expensive. Perhaps a chocolate or as a fun novelty (California paper maps, those things you had to fold!) would be fun to have when you jump in your first FlightCar.

While driving through the Valley to Yosemite, we realized the Subi didn’t have AC. FlightCar never states that AC will work, so just be aware in case you’re doing some desert driving. Not a huge deal since it’s the best rental deal in town. Guess we can’t have it all.



If you’re driving a vehicle that costs less than $30/day, it may be cheaper to simply extend your Car’s rental if you plan on driving more than the allocated 90 miles/day.

For example, I booked my car for 3 days (270 miles allowed), but clocked over 550 miles on our Yosemite trip. So instead of being charged an additional .45 cents/mile, I simply extended my reservation an extra 3 days (540 mile limit). You can always return a car early at no additional cost.



Returning the vehicle was easy. The staff do a quick inspection (1-2 minutes), then drop you off at the San Bruno Bart . Convenient.

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And that’s it! Overall, the experience was a pleasant one. I may be utilizing FlightCar as a Zipcar and RelayRides substitute (services that I also use). Thanks Rujul and the FlightCar team! If you’d like to save $20 on your Flightcar reservation, feel free to use my FlightCar Referral Code – GRDF.



FlightCar could begin setting up hubs in cities for people to rent vehicles outside of airport locations in a similar fashion to RelayRides and Zipcar. When transporting cars to and from a hub, they could also pick up customers on the routes as well to provide an extra service not offered by competitors.


Housecall: Android Wireframes

I’ve wireframed an app called Housecall that utilizes video and handymen to help people diagnose maintenance issues via video chat. It’s a proposed idea on Assembly, which is a groundbreaking new startup that allows anyone to build software apps collectively while retaining ownership and receiving profit for their contributions. If Housecall wins, then it will be built by the Assembly community!

MVP Assumptions

    • Purposely left out styles to focus on UI. Happy to implement color/design schemes (I’d say I’m an intermediate designer). Just let me know!
    • 1 credit = $25 for up to 45 min video sessions. Credits are used to increase multiple purchase uptake.
    • User not charged for first 30 seconds of video chat.
    • Handymen and Users may message each other for free.
    • Admin = Interface that only Housecall approved handymen will have access to.
    • Admin UI – Has taken account the ability to review users. I don’t feel this is necessary for the 1st iteration, but wip #4 was popular and this feature would eventually be necessary.

Handyman and User Relationship for MVP

Get a small group of 2 or 3 plumbers, electricians, etc to install Housecall. When a homeowner initiates a housecall, connect them with someone in this initial group of handymen with the Handyman Admin app (a separate app for handymen). If the consultation determines an onsite repair is required, Handyman would ask user for their location and search Yelp for local Handyman in their area. Handyman would then simply message User with the recommended local Handyman until a 2nd iteration of Handyman is built.


Wireframes for User Housecall app


Select a category – Initially, Housecall will likely have 4 categories, which makes an icon display suitable. Once Housecall were to hit say more than 6 or 8 categories though, a list display may be more appropriate to fit all the categories on the screen. Having a list display for 4 categories doesn’t make sense though because of all the whitespace that will make the screen feel empty.

Plumbers – The Plumbers page needs to immediately communicate whether or not a plumber is available to video chat, since this is what makes Housecall special. I used color to emphasize its importance. It could also be made bold for color-blind users.

Profile Page (Jim Kennedy) – I placed the message and video buttons side by side in the middle of the screen because these are the two key actions of the page. The gray lines help split the profile pg, since Jim’s pic and reviews are aligned differently than the buttons. Additional info could be displayed under reviews. Such as average call time, housecall handyman since, or favorite tool (bring a bit of personality to help humanize the profile pg).



Add Credit Card – If a cc isn’t on file, we’ll have to prompt them for their billing details. Reader’s eyes should gravitate to black text first, then the gray text for extra explanation. An improvement may be made by making the explanations shorter.

Begin Video Chat and Connecting – These screens simply want to confirm the user’s action, and provide a call pg. The weights of these pages could be improved. They feel a bit empty at the moment, but a colored background may help with that.



Video with Jim – This is the User’s view, which defaults their own camera as the main screen to give the handyman the same view for troubleshooting. Time to track session length is also displayed.

Exiting Video… – Transition screen that displays for a couple seconds.

Jim’s Review – A “do later” button appears at bottom of screen when keyboard is not displayed. Upon completion or “do later”, redirects to landing screen.



Navigation Drawer – Allows the user to view settings, billing, messages, and any other pages that make sense here.



Admin Housecall video call flow – When a video call is dialed to a Handyman, the flow would function similarly to Skype as shown below.

Structure in Android App Design

Good video for brushing up on your Android design skills. Will be releasing some mock android designs in the next few days.

How to win Startup Weekend

This weekend, I got a chance to participate in my first Startup Weekend: Startup Weekend Seattle EDU. Education has always been important to me (got into Teach For America and was a click away from teaching in Memphis!), so this event was a no-brainer.

Overall, it was an awesome time with 7 dedicated team members. We built Office Hours, lessons to catered to your senses. The site is a little wobbly, but check out our awesome 60 sec video pitch to learn more. Our team consisted of 3 biz dev, 1 idea curator/presentor, and 3 devs spanning organization like Amazon, Microsoft, Code Fellows, and UW faculty. I like to think we had the most fun, grabbing drinks once it was over and vowing to keep in touch. I hope so!

I helped design and mock the mvp product, prioritizing features and figuring out what was feasible in a weekend. In addition, I worked on the dev side, doing html, css, and a bit of rails. The best part of this weekend was working as a dev, and taking instructions from the business side on different feature requests. It helped reinforce what it’s like to be PM’ed with changing requests or pivots!

Unfortunately we didn’t place 1st or 2nd out of the 12 teams, but heard from two judges that if we had a better scaling strategy, we could of placed! For most of us, it was our first Startup Weekend, so I wanted to write down what I feel is important if your team wants to win a Startup Weekend.

How to win Startup Weekend

  • 25% – business model validation
  • 25% – product execution
  • 25% – user experience design
  • 25% – education impact

Our Startup weekend final presentations were broken down into the categories above. With only 5 min, it’s important to maximize your time to hit all 4 categories.

Product execution and user experience design – This means you should only spend 2 min max on a technical demo. Most Startup Weekends weigh Product Execution as 25%, which means you don’t need a full fledged, function product with user sign ups, about pg, landing pg, and other niceties for a functioning app. Instead, build a technical demo, not a technical product, and make the demo design worthy. It can be tricky to separate the two, but because design is the other 25% of the judging, a slick looking demo with a cool experience definitely helps. Judges don’t care if Facebook Connect works or if your app is responsive in one weekend. Framing the product as a polished demo will help eliminate extra features that take time from what truly makes your product unique.

Business model validation – Build a beautiful powerpoint/presentation. Practice it! Our business team did a killer job researching the market, receiving validation from users, and polishing the presentation into an intriguing story. Your powerpoint represents your team’s design elements as well, so make it easy to understand and pretty!

Education impact – This is where a team with industry experience (in this case, education) is key. It’s not always easy to know what the education space needs if you’re analyzing it as an outsider. I’d say just make sure someone on the team has direct experience with the problem your Startup Weekend is themed around. For us, that was Jonesy, our startup visionary who helped us see that students could learn through tactile and visual lessons as well. Very cool!