Diversity Tastes Like Turkey

Thanksgiving Potluck @ 500
Some of our new friends at 500 Startups have never had the privilege of stuffing their faces with turkey, have never felt the honor of loosening their belt a notch after the seventh serving of pumpkin pie. It inspired me to write about why diversity is important, and how an off-the-cuff personality test can tell you if you’re more like Oprah or Bill Gates
Stop taking diversity for granted
I do this constantly. I grew up in Los Angeles, which has the largest population of Thai, Taiwanese, Armenians, and Koreans outside their home countries. I could essentially drive to any region of the world in 30 minutes or less. I could dine with my hands on an Ethiopian feast or pluck away with chopsticks at Chinese dim sum. Diversity was a given.
At 500 Startups, our international startup bootcamp, diversity is also a given. 32 companies represent 14 countries and 7 companies with at least one woman co-founder. And 500 is on the forefront of tackling every emerging market in the world. They are literally marrying companies into the 500 family from all over — reports of India and Mexico are next in this international matchmaking.
Outliers are a good thing
You sure as hell don’t become a big hit by being normal. 500 recognizes that by going to the farthest ends of the earth to diversify its portfolio of companies. The idea of following a playbook for success is absurd to me. In the right hands, a formula for success can certainly go far — but in my opinion that’s predicated upon the person, not the formula itself.
So why not build a team that’s different? That simply CANNOT be replicated?
I would do the same for my founding team (actually, I did just that). But what does diversity mean? Different genders? A CEO/CTO combo? I argue it’s about personality and how we view the world.
Why I use personality types every single day of my life
As a startup founder, I’d be the last person to willingly put myself into buckets. People run away from their corporate jobs to avoid the abyss of being put at the bottom of another bucket. They are tired of formal, thoughtless titles (Social Media Manager comes to mind). We’re looking for a refreshing opportunity to become a General Business Athlete or Chief Growth Officer. 
With that said, I’m looking for meaningful ways to evaluate my team. As CEO, the team is my product. In the interest of product managing, I have to look at building diversity and culture — the two meaningful pieces that create cohesion between the moving parts. Culture is a topic that deserves its own post, but diversity is incredibly important to my vision for Chewse.
While I don’t give a formal personality test to each hire, the key pieces of it loom in my head. I owe it to Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, which has given me an innate trust in my ability to gut check or “thin slice” someone the moment you meet them. And that’s when I come up with their type.
MBTI in a nutshell
The Meyers Briggs Type Indicator is a trade-marked personality test developed by a mother-daughter duo. It actually has a fascinating history. It was created because the pair wanted to advance the cause of women finding jobs in the post WWII economy that they were comfortable with, as women moved from domestic lives to working lives outside the home.
It’s now a tool used by incredible companies like McKinsey (17,000 employees) and Bridgewater (world’s largest hedge fund, oddest culture ever). It assesses fundamental ways that you make decisions, view your world, and organize your tasks. There are 4 categories, with 2 options in each — with a total of 16 permutations of your personality type. You can take the unofficial free online test here, or take my off-the-cuff test below. 
  1. Intraversion vs Extraversion (I/E) – Where do you get your energy from? Others (E) or being by yourself (I)?
    • This isn’t about if you’re the life of the party. It’s about whether you have an internally-charged or externally-charged battery.
    • Another way to look at it – If it’s a Friday night at your friends drag you out, do you end up being more energized with people (E) than if you had spent a quiet evening at home (I)?
  2. Intuiting vs Sensing (N/S) – How do you frame your world? Big picture (N) or detail-oriented (S)?
    • Another way to look at it – Are you more in the moment (S) or in the future(N)?
  3. Thinker vs Feeler (T/F) – How do you make decisions? With the goal of rationality or harmony?
    • I used to think this was about heart vs. head. But it’s also intricately tied with your values of relationships as compared with the ultimate logic of a situation.
    • Another way to look at it – When you meet someone, are you more interested in their position in a company or their life story?
  4. Judging vs Perceiving (J/P) – How do you organize your life? With lists (J) or spontaneity (P)?
    • The word “judging” alone is a misnomer. It doesn’t mean you’re a judgmental person 😉
    • Another way to look at it – Do you care about what side the toilet paper roll (J) is or not (P)?


I love how this grid personifies each of the types. Granted, it’s not a perfect system (similar to how you can’t lump all the personality traits of all women or all Californians together — that’s when you come up with dangerous generalizations like “valley girls”). The grid is a snapshot of the kind of leader you can become. 

I personally like the MBTI because it’s a simple, high-level view into a person and is a powerful tool to MAXIMIZE diversity. I’ve heard of others like Big Five, colors, power animals, etc. Whatever you use, I’d suggest being consistent and sharing with others on the team — and looking for those people that can fill your voids, and you can fill their blindspots. 
Besides, you don’t want a whole team of Oprahs if you’re an Oprah 😉
*NOTE: The MBTI test certainly allows for you to sit along a range of strong or weak characteristics, but it does force you to choose one or the other as a preference. While I’ve taken 3 classes (both at USC and ESADE), I am no means certified (you can become MBTI-certified to give assessments for recruiting or educational purposes).


Silicon Alley (NYC) Myths: Debunked

Batch 5 represents in NYC!
Andy Sparks (LaunchGram) + Yours Truly

I’m still flushed with the thrill of a visit to New York City — and a 500 Startups NYC event hosted by Shai Goldman, the newest addition to the 500 staff (thanks again, Shai!). I want to lay out just how new the city feels when as an entrepreneur meeting people from the startup ecosystem. I’m going to debunk my own preconceptions about kick-ass NYC startups, the weather, and Shake Shack.

Myth #1: NYC only produces media/adtech startups. 
While NYC is certainly known for its hot media companies like Tumblr and Foursquare, there’s a lot of talented startups that are outside this norm. I met with incredibly cool people from companies like:

  • David Bloom, Ordr.In | David’s built a powerful way for restaurants to craft their online presence. And he has an amazing understanding of just how big the foodtech industry is.
  • Dazhi Chen, Relevant | Dazhi knows the restaurant industry like no other, and has created a dashboard for restaurants to understand customer loyalty.
  • Michael Korn, CraftCoffee | Subscription coffee packages, curated by the coffee tastemakers — and Michael is definitely a tastemaker and super-generous guy.
  • Edlin Choi, Lean Startup Machine | I actually attended this workshop in LA and LOVED it. Based on Lean Startup methodology, it gets you going fast and mean. Edlin and their team of mentors are amazing. Plus, Edlin knows his NYC food and makes awesome recommendations.
  • Brian Wang, Fitocracy | Our new hire is obsessed with Fitocracy. Brian the founder is, of course, fit and #500strong.
  • Michael Ong, Skillshare | As a 500 mentor, Michael has been hosting office hours left and right (surprised I hadn’t connected with him until now). He’s building a marketplace like us, but doing it centered around classes.
  • Alexis Tryon, Artsicle | Although not an artist herself, Alexis has created a marketplace for artists to sell their wares. We spent a lot of the conversation discussing how being creative sometimes just means creating: startups, communities, change, etc.

Myth #2: New Yorkers don’t complain about the cold.
I thought locals would have some magically thick skin that helps them deal with the cold. Makes them impervious to the cold snaps that roll in every year. The ability to grow more chest hair just to keep warm.

Lies: New Yorkers hate and complain about the cold just as much as this Cali girl does — except they do it in this thick accent that makes them sound pissed at the weather.

I actually spent $0.25 to go to a public bathroom at Madison Square Park, and was delighted to enter a heated, sanitized place of near worship.

What $0.25 gets you in New York

Gadgets and gizmos a-plenty. And HEAT. Something about the frigid 50-degree temperature make a sauna-like public bathroom that much more enticing.

Myth #3: Shake Shack > In ‘N Out
Actually, it’s not a myth. I will say that for vegetarians, Shake Shack more than accomodates — they’ve created a whole other burger! In ‘N Out relegates us to a meatless version of their standard burger, and calls it a “grilled cheese.” THIS is a vegetarian burger:

The Shroom Stack – Vegetarian goodness

I took my shivering, California ass to Madison Square Park and the outdoor Shake Shack stand. The wait was brief, the air was chill, and I got a sample of their infamous frozen yogurt. Their special for the day, pumpkin pie, was creamy and deliciously spiced. But the focus was the burger I ravaged:

The melted cheese piled into the portobello stack was so gooey, I had to remove my gloves. Frostbite was a small price to pay for getting my hands on this.

A note on how to make traveling rock
I have officially become an evangelist for JetBlue. I had a red-eye flight, and they had these complimentary “Snooze Kits” on the seat, including an eye mask and earplugs. How delightful.

Now I’m soundly back in Mountain View with the team — and couldn’t be happier. I only gave NYC 3 days this trip. Next time, I’m digging in for a week.

Announcing the 500 Tribe

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Halloween isn’t the only cause for celebration and zombie-hunting — it’s time to officially unveil the companies of 500 Startups Batch 5! You can see legit coverage in TechCrunch and our amazing video on the 500 blog. This post and the whole crew has been under a press embargo since we got here. With the embargo lifted, bragging rights about this incredible group of people are now mine.

Kick-ass tea with the folks from Tealet

I want to begin focusing on the group of founders that I’ve already met in my first three weeks — and start meeting 3 new teams a week. Should take me 10 weeks to get through them all!

3 Bomb-diggity teams

  • Tealet  http://www.tealet.com/
    Marketplace that connects tea drinkers with tea growers.”
    Elyse Petersen is a fellow female co-founder, and she’s serious about tea. She’s got a tea station set-up at the Tealet desk, and we spent some time with the team sampling their new Taiwanese shipment. The team’s from Hawaii, and it’s no wonder I constantly have the urge to stroll over and sip some delicious warm tea — these guys really embody ohana.
  • LaunchGram http://www.launchgram.com/
    Revolutionizing Pre-Release Product News”
    Andy Sparks (who writes one hell of a blog) and I have initiated what I hope becomes a tradition: CEO Coffee Therapy. Okay, so I may not drink coffee, and it may not be licensed therapy, but it’s certainly dialogue between CEOs — and somewhat cathartic at that. The idea came from a Fireside Chat organized at 500 HQ with Yishan Wong, the new CEO of Reddit. 
  • Privy http://getprivy.com/
    Local Advertising Made Simple.”
    This team just gets me all warm and fuzzy. Ben, Jake, and Farrell are the ones I’ve met, and they actually are tackling a market of small medium businesses in a way similar to Chewse. I literally had parked myself in a random sunny spot at the office one day, we chatted in passing, and it turned into an hour-long conversation as we laid down tips, tricks, and intros. Boom, this is the beauty of being in an accelerator with brilliant people.
  • Amazeballs Moment of the Week

    Ben from Privy walking across the vast chasm of the 500 common area, kitchen, and conference rooms to give me some insight in person after I sent him an email requesting advice. Who does that anymore?!

Your batchmates define your experience
We were told from Day 1 that it isn’t the partners, mentors, or speakers that make the program valuable — it’s the other masochistic founders that you choose to hole up with that define your time here.

In such a short time, I’ve learned about Vegemite from Chris, Ed, and Diesel @ Kickfolio, gotten tips for finding cheap labor from Kevin @ WalletKit, and shared sales hustle experiences with Sean @ Dealflicks. The experience looks more like a mosaic than anything else — flecked with tons of tiny conversations and hallway chats that haven’t quite morphed into a cohesive story.

But maybe that’s the story of startups. We grind away and hustle forward; and sometimes, we emerge victorious without any cohesive logic for succes, but with a big grin in spite of it all.