Livin' it
Seattle Favorite Foods List - Preeti & Roger

We have a tendency to repeatedly frequent a restaurant, where we have enjoyed delicious food and experienced a cozy ambience. We do it to such a degree that we already know what we’ll be getting there before we get there. I have to credit Preeti for her relentless quest in locating the yummiest food and loveliest ambience. Below is a list of such places - we have been at least 10 times to each of the below places.  

  1. Serious Pie - Shitake Mushrooms with Truffle Oil Pizza, Yukon Potatoes Pizzas. This place makes the best pizzas I have ever tasted. Even their plain Yukon potatoes pizza is delicious.
  2. Nordstorm Cafe, Lynnwood - Salad, Pizza and Bread Pudding. This bread pudding is the yummiest - My best dessert ever.
  3. P. F. Chang’s, Bellevue - Kung Pao Shrimp, Chang’s special soup, Singaporean Noodles, Tiramisu.
  4. Trellis, Kirkland - Flat breads and Wine. Sitting here during summers. They used to serve Bitburger at one time. 
  5. Earl’s, Bellevue - Blackened chicken sandwich. Experience here is amazing. 
  6. Hoffman’s Fine Pastries - Chocolate Signature cake, Princess Torte Cake. This is our sole place for birthday and anniversary cakes.
  7. BOKA restaurant and bar - Truffle Fries and Fish Tacos.
  8. Himitsu Teriyaki - Sushi rocks here. Shrimp Tempura, Mt. Rainier (they have been named after Seattle culture) 
  9. Chicken Pho - There are quite a few vietnamese restaurants where I enjoy this - Square Lotus in Factoria stands out for us. 
  10. Mediterranean Kitchen, Kirkland - Chicken shawarma (comes with warm peta bread, hummus and yellow lentil soup). We enjoy the Kirkland location more than Bellevue (it’s less crowded and feels spacious)
  11. Bahn Mi - Another vietnamese favorite - made good at much of the places.
  12. Whole Foods Buffet counter - Samosas, Indian and chinese is very good here.
  13. Punjab Sweets, Kent - Samosas, Paneer. Worth the drive from Eastside. 
  14. Kanishka, Redmond - Palak Paneer, Chana Masala. Read my yelp review here
  15. Olive Garden - Minostrone Soup.
Lack of engaging content on Facebook

I read this over the weekend and it affirmed a lot of discontent that I have been feeling over the years. Also, take a look at how people (comments in the article) are vehemently agreeing to the lack of compelling content on Facebook. It just makes me wonder if a general purpose social network can keep people engaged. 

Facebook is great as a platform. I love Facebook’s existence as a directory of everyone that I know. But that’s about it. I don’t want to be knowing about what they are doing everyday, unless that falls in my interest realm. The success of Slideshare and Pinterest highlight how specialized networks with tiny features can create an engaging experience. I follow people mainly on these networks for the occasional discovery of content; dominantly, I search. 

Facebook needs to add recommendations. I would love Facebook to allow me dual views. One which is the current wall, feeds sorted based on time from everyone in your network  The second one, I call “Genius” (inspired from app world’s feature for discovering great apps). In the “Genius” view, personalization algortihms come into play to present you engaging content. Take a cue from Netflix’s recommendations. Utilize likes, clicks, comments, combine information retrieval and social network analysis concepts (e.g. PageRank, HITS) to identify compelling and authoritative content that engages people.

Bayern and Dortmund fighting it out in the champions League finals

Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are playing in an all German champion’s league finals right now. Just saw the highlights of Bayern’s crushing win over Barca in the semi finals - overall aggregate 7 - 0 :-) There’s no way any team can defeat Bayern at the moment. Neuer guarding the goal post itself is assuring and to add to it Ribbery, Robben, Gomez and Muller are playing top class attacking football. Not to mention that Boateng and Schweinsteiger play for Bayern too :-) 

Happy watching. I wonder what the betting odds for this match are.
preeti for spain (Taken with Instagram)

preeti for spain (Taken with Instagram)

Chelsea’s gritty Champion’s League Victory

This Saturday was the Champions League Finals 2012, Bayern Munich vs Chelsea. I haven’t been following Champions League in years, except the finals. And this year, none of the finalists featured my favorite teams (Man U, Barcelona F. C., Inter, Real Madrid). I had loved Bayern Munich when I was a kid. It was an offshoot of my obsession for German football. I supported Germany all throughout my childhood, in the World Cups and the Euros, till they started telecasting the entire English Premier League season in India. And all of a sudden, I started vouching for a team that consistently over promised and under delivered, England.

Chelsea had a remarkable run to the finals. They had some last minute clinching games with Napoli and Barcelona, enroute to the finals. The finals were in Munich, Bayern’s home ground. It was 28 years since a side last contested a Champions League final in their own backyard.

Bayern started the match with dominance and continued that way for the full 90 minutes. The match stats manifested that - BM had the ball possession 56%, 35 shots on goal to Chelsea’s 9 and 20 corners to Chelsea’s 1. The first goal from Bayern came in 83rd minute after numerous chances had been wasted. Chelsea equalized 5 minutes later. Bayern missed a penalty in extra time and finally lost the game on penalties. Chelsea’s “Never say die” attitude was evident, something that they held onto with grit. Didier Drogba later admitted in post match interviews that they try and cultivate that attitude with new players joining the club. Chelsea’s win on Saturday made me think on what persistence can get you at times. It brought me memories of Greece’s Euro 2004 championship victory, Goran Ivanisevic’s 2001 Wimbledon victory. Sometime you just need to hold onto and believe that you are going to survive and do it.

Brand is a lagging indicator of company culture

A few months back, a friend from Microsoft passed me a blog post, written by a Director at Microsoft. It was his farewell post as he was preparing to move to Facebook, after spending almost 12 years at Microsoft. It was an insightful post where he reflected on his time at Microsoft, discussing the culture, people he worked with, success inhibitors :-), etc. It’s quite refreshing, I suggest reading it.

In the post, the author recommended reading Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness, indicating to the level that it would blow the reader away. Delivering Happiness chronicles Tony’s early childhood and his adventures while running Zappos. I had recently heard about Zappos, while working at Amazon. Amazon had acquired the company in 2009 for around 1.2 billion dollars. Amazon is known to be very careful in what it intends to buy and how it plans to use the acquisition. I had heard that after the purchase, Amazon was keen to let Zappos run the same way it had been run before its acquisition. This had raised my curiosity all the more about Zappos. Since then, I have had Delivering Happiness on the top of my reading list. Finally, a couple of weeks back, I started reading it and as the Amazon reviews indicate, it’s phenomenal.

I have only completed half the book. The central point of the book till now has been about Zappos’ emphasis on Customer Service and Company Culture. In the midst of the discussion on Company Culture, Tony makes a profound point: Brand is a lagging indicator of culture. In the age of twitter and other social networking channels, its very easy to know a company’s culture (and in essence the brand) through blogs and tweets about employee and customer experiences. And these experiences conjure an image of the company for other prospective customers/users, in effect building the brand for your organization. (The classic case that came to my mind was Steve Yegge's post.) Tony recommends using culture as a medium to build brands, rather than relying on advertisement campaigns that talk about things that no one can connect to. As I read more into this, I felt there were two important cornerstones that Zappos used to build its culture that went hand in hand - Transparency and Consistency (or Integrity in this case). Consistency in doing what they talked about, living by the core values they defined and published for everyone to see. Transparency in opening their inner working to the external world, letting everyone know of their core values, encouraging journalists profiling the company to talk with any of the employees, than just a few handful predesignated ones.

I’ll write more posts about Zappos as I go through the book. I also encourage you take a look at Zappos’ core values.

Building enduring companies

My brother-in-law forwarded a good article from Forbes that highlights Steve Job’s theory on “building enduring companies where people were motivated to make great products”.

It’s a quick read. All throughout the article, I was thinking about Amazon and when the author mentioned it, I had a smile on my face. There’s a culture rooted deep in that company (inherited from its founder) to consistently play offense. For them, innovating and adding customer value are high up there, even above being profitable. Take the last sentence with a grain of salt :-)

The other company that readily came to me mind was Microsoft. Microsoft seems to be dying a slow death with a focus on “sales people” rather than on their engineers. I haven’t seen any innovative consumer product from Microsoft in the last decade. XBox, Bing, Windows Phone 7 - all seem to be a market reaction, an after thought as Steve Yeggie would call it. The author seems to have tacitly dedicated the following paragraph to Microsoft:

If the firm is in a quasi-monopoly position, this mode of running the company can sometimes keep on making money for extended periods of time. But basically, the firm is dying, as it continues to dispirit those doing the work and to frustrate its customers.

Platforms vs Product

Steve Yegge had a brilliant post contrasting Google and Amazon’s view on Platforms. It talks at length on Amazon’s continuous perseverence to build a Service Oriented Platform. He talks on Why building a Platform (internal and external accessibility to your services) sets you up for a longer term win, reinforcing the following belief in me:
You can’t always build the right product but having a great plafform would make it easy to pivot and make a comeback

Steve Yegge has taken down the original post but several copies exist around the web. Hacker News has an interesting discussion, with the first comment containing an entire repost of the article, if you are interested.

Funniest part in the post: “So yeah, Microsoft gets it……But they (Microsoft) understand platforms as a purely accidental outgrowth of having started life in the business of providing platforms.

Having worked at Amazon, I can attest that Steve’s opinions on Amazon are true. I’m not sure about Google but yes, I’ve tried using thier Search APIs and they suck - they are different (less qualitative results) from what they serve in production for more than half of the queries I sampled on.

Amazon has invested heavily in building infrastructure/platforms that is targeted towards making individual development teams self sufficient. It’s not surprising for teams to build a new service with substantial functionality and have it serving production traffic robustly in one single week. Cross team sign offs are non existent. The only time you would need a sign off is when you are using that team’s API and need to negotiate on the throttling limits.

HedgeHog Concept

Recently, Preeti read a book, Good to Great By James Collins, for which she had to prepare a presentation at work. After her slides were done, she gave me a mock presentation, summarizing the important concepts in the book. This was the most concise power packed knowledge I have ever got. I recommend doing this - There are too many great books to be read and time is limited. Try getting book summaries from your friends (who have already read them) if you are time constrained. Slideshare has a whole wealth of book presentations. There are also tons of other websites with executive summaries.

The book had interesting lessons for companies looking to transform themselves from good to great companies. It characterizes some of the interesting behaviors seen at great companies which are conspicuously lacking in other companies. One particular interesting concept, the author stresses on is the “Hedgehog” concept. The Hedgehog Concept is the intersection of three circles:

  • What you are deeply passionate about?
  • What you can be really good at?
  • What you can make money with?

The book emphasizes that companies should focus on the intersection of these three circles while making their future products. Great companies often spend a lot of time identifying this intersection by regular debates, dialogues and autopsies between their internal teams.

If you apply the Hedgehog concept at an individual level, it provides great insight in identifying a focus area for your future. I’m planning to try this as an exercise and will write a future post on my experience. I’m excited about the very fact that this could lead me to work full time on something that I’m passionate about.

Additionally, Robin Sharma talks about the concept of Human Being, Inc in his podcast here. It’s a great insight on how you could treat your life as a corporation and plan your time forward. Don’t miss it.

Storifying Startupday 2011

I’m attending Startupday 2011 and here’s the storify for it:
http://storify.com/rogermenezes/startup-day-2011
[As it happens :-)]

It’s helpful to have multiple FF profiles as you experiment with plugins and try out various options. I find it useful to have one profile where I disable images (cutting down distrations and have…

A very helpful post on how to set up google analytics for your Tumblr Blog - very quick and easy.

Trying out Storify

I have been playing around with Storify quite a bit recently and it’s highly addictive. To me, it felt like the perfect way of summarizing any event that I plan to follow over a period of time. Just as in the case of Instagram, where I can’t think of not applying a filter on every snap I click henceforth, I can’t think of not making my own notes using Storify for every event that I’m tracking.

[To learn more about Storify, here’s their CrunchBase URL]

Lessons learnt from my first story:

  • Since much of the interesting storify sources are realtime (Twitter, Facebook), it’s effective if you build your story by contributing daily rather than summarizing after the event is complete. The storify search hardly returns you anything that’s a day old, hence you miss out on the earlier interesting stuff.
  • Facebook comments were more funny that the other sources/feeds. Although, their original source seemed to be Twitter and may be that things live longer on Facebook.  
  • User generated content much more interesting than editorials. Tweets, FB comments and Flickr render google results lame and uninteresting.

So here’s my first Storify story:
http://storify.com/rogermenezes/india-england
[A chronicle of people’s disappointment and subsequent humor on India’s lackluster cricket performance in England]

Don’t miss TechStars on Bloomberg TV - Premiering September 13th and in association with @techstars

Jeff Bezos talks about his Regret Minimization Framework. I found the part very insightful where he talks about how a long term perspective can help you eliminate the daily “pieces of confusions”.