Category Archives: Gary Sheng

A Chat with a Young Twitter-recruited Entrepreneur

I had the chance to talk to Ashutosh Singhal, co-founder of Hotspots.io, a startup recently acquired by Twitter which aimed to filter exactly what people were saying about certain events on Twitter. Having entered the startup world at a young age, Ashu serves as an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs like myself to pursue our passions.

Ashu set himself up well to succeed in Silicon Valley. Having doubled majored in Computer Science and Math at MIT (graduating a semester early in mid 2011), Ashu reflects that he came with more than appropriate skills for the tasks that were required of him to launch Hotspot. In January 2011, Ashu worked with a couple of his fraternity brothers at a YCombinator startup, Moki.TV. Although that company ceased activity by that Summer, the team pivoted to launch Hotspot.io.

According to the website, Hotspots.io was founded with the vision of helping companies and individuals maximize their social media ROI through actionable and accessible analytics. They began to receive attention for their coverage and analytics of the SOPA fiasco — detailing what the Twitter public had to say about the issues. In mid-February, they launched a dashboard looking at the Superbowl. Pretty quickly by March, Twitter expressed interest, and they were acquired.

Currently, Ashu works to track analytics regarding ads on Twitter. In Twitter’s talent acquisition of Hotspot’s team, the social media giant brought in great skill sets to their table.

I asked Ashu for some tips he thought might be valuable for aspiring entrepreneurs. He reiterated a common point: to build and test things fast. You can never be too sure about an idea until it gets some feedback and you can collect some quantifiable metrics. His other piece of advice was to build a product that fits your particular skill set, or that of the team you are working with, rather than an interest you have. Ashu mentioned that he doesn’t think he’d be as savvy in a product-oriented, heavily design-based company, but feels comfortable crunching hard numbers.

One thing that resonated with me was his mention of how you can learn the technical requirements of working at a startup, but not the business side. That, you have to acquire through hacking the hell out of your own endeavors — whether in Silicon Valley or wherever you think you can best propel your company.

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Part Dos

My experience in San Francisco has continued to amaze me. Although living in the city has been somewhat of a rollercoaster with which to accustom myself, I keep telling myself how nice it would be to grow up in the Bay Area. Never in my life have I been so surrounded by individuals of a community that so fervently aspires to solve problems and improve on current technology and ways of life. In many ways, it is intimidating, and more than once have I felt insignificant in a crowd of innovators and engineers who can lay out tangibly and technically, “this is what I created.”

I don’t know where this summer will take me or whether or not I will end up as the developer that SF compels people to be. For certain, though, I have developed a strong appreciation for the work that goes behind the scenes of all the apps and programs we use on a daily basis – and probably take for granted. Working on customer development helped pound that idea in my head. In customer development, you have to face a host of characters – many of whom that go out of their way to deride an app team’s efforts. Some liberally employ caps lock and a handful resort to cursing. On the other hand, however, other users go out of their way just to let a company know how much he or she enjoys the team’s product.

Knowing that people have integrated your product into their daily lives is probably such an empowering feeling that it makes sense that Pocket members spend so much time working to improve their product. That passion is how I want to model endeavors in my life, and maybe just realizing that was enough to make this summer well worth it.

July 4th was great, by the way. Apparently the weather is unusually warm. No complaints here!

The Dream, Pt. 2

I still remember a passage from this article on workplace productivity. If there is one thing I got from that article, it’s that you can never underestimate the power of giving an employee (or intern) work in which they can invest him or herself. There’s something almost ineffably invigorating about contributing to a team — not a corporation, sector, nor division — but something you can call a TEAM. What is it about working with only a handful of others that makes one’s job life that much more enjoyable? I think it’s partly in having an email with just your first name. Some in feeling less like an observer in a meeting and more a fellow curator of great ideas. And a LOT in getting the chance to embrace the culture of instigating change, perfecting projects, and honing skills that make you a better person. Damn, I could get used to this.

I’m probably not allowed to share anything too specific, but I can say I have thoroughly enjoyed participating, and at times even merely observing, what goes on a a growing startup. Weekly meetings don’t consist of merely logistics, but big ideas about which fellow coworkers get excited. Everyone wants to work overtime, not because it matters for short term salary, but because they are making visible contributions to something they believe in. I’ve been given a fun independent project, along with some work I do with various team members, and it’s been great so far.

Have you downloaded Pocket yet? ;)

getpocket.com

Till next week!

Gary

Ah!, culture shock! But wait, I love this culture

When I say I couldn’t ask for more from this experience, I mean it. For me, even at an elite university like Duke, breaking into the startup world was far from something that seemed feasible until well after I graduated. Seemingly entrenched in the world that was either investment banking or sales and trading on Wall Street, two fields that failed to clinch my imagination, I feel that being given this opportunity to work in Silicon Valley is nothing short of a dream. As high of expectations I held for myself this summer, never did I imagine that I could be contributing to an established, tech startup – especially one like Pocket!
I am still getting used to everything, but the Pocket team has made me feel at home, been supportive in my learning, and given me a lot of responsibility – which has been rewarding. Matt, my mentor and the CTO of Pocket, and a leader of DEC and DSVIP, has been nothing short of awesome to me and my fellow interns at other startups.
I have begun work on database management and analytics (working with MySQL), managing customer feedback, and product design. I won’t get too much into what Pocket is, because you can find out at getpocket.com, but I think it is a wonderful product that is and has huge potential to benefit millions of people.