Now
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Now

Inspired by Derek Sivers’ Now page. What’s been happening and top of mind.

~Feb 2023

It’s little surprise that life moves a few ticks faster in NYC. It’s hard to pinpoint why, though the indicators are obvious - a greater density of friends within such close proximity, a boundless sense of new (experiences, restaurants, sights), and a more pronounced ‘hustle-culture’ (likely because aforementioned activities are just more expensive, demanding some feeling to do and make more). I’ve found it harder to prioritize activities that felt more natural in the past - face-timing my immediate and extended family, setting time to write, and getting lost in online rabbit holes. I don’t think these feelings are entirely unique, though they’re priorities I don’t mean to let slip.

With that, New York is a wondrous spectacle of novel sights and feelings. I don’t think I’ll get over the skyline views, three bridges within walking distance, and the unending flow of buzziness.

Trying

To make better espresso (+ martinis). Fortunately, my roommate has invested in a machine and grinder, resulting in a stark rise in my caffeine intake and increased snobbiness regarding shitty coffee. Turns out - beans, grind size, pressure, and accurate bean volume matter greatly. And that there are quite a few shops that overcharge for sub-par coffee.

one of my early espresso pours
one of my early espresso pours

Favorite coffee (so far) at Devoción!

Doing

Running again! I continued to run consistently when I first moved to NY (had a sublet right next to Prospect Park while finding our full-time spot), but just a few weeks in experienced more acute and prolonged knee pain. I first felt it in my left knee after a long run before feeling the same pain in the same spot on my right. It was a simple and common diagnosis that I hadn’t yet encountered- IT Band Syndrome (which turns out extremely common for runners, especially those with a taller build). I began stretching more regularly, though not having access to one of the more cathartic activities in my life was difficult in a new city.

Anyways, stretches and rest seemed to do the trick. I hit seven miles in the last month and ten this past weekend. I ran across two/three lower Manhattan bridges for the first time, which I’m sure will become a routine. Stunning views.

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Reading

Words that Matter. Consumer social, especially in the content space, is notoriously difficult. That said, I do believe the content to be some of the most resonant and important when well-curated. There’s a lot of clickbait out there with the barrier to internet entry so low. But finding that sweet spot that inspires and entertains is all the more special.

There are some wonderful links shared by some wonderful people, and I highly recommend giving them a read.

Space to Operate

I plan to write a longer piece on this sometime soon, though thought I’d start by putting down early thoughts here.

I joined Retool’s professional services (PS) arm a few months ago, during which I felt a great deal of uncertainty. I’ve now held four distinct titles at Retool, and while all have been closely related and aligned, each were fundamentally bespoke and new. The move to PS somewhat felt like a move back into my past role in consulting, which I had intentionally opted out of just a few years back.

That said, it’s already proven to be one of the better decisions of the past few years. I joined on the ground floor, meaning we’re truly building the plane as we fly. My time as a Deployed Engineer has been critical in understanding and empathizing with the needs of our customers. I have a good feel for where customers struggle, what they might be willing to pay for, and the lessons of scaling our initial field engineering team. We’ve been chugging away at all tenets of the org - determining our core customer offerings, methods for working with customers, milestones, and activities to run with each, and the selling motion and narrative. There have been considerable changes to the team and company in the last few years (it’s funny hearing perspectives of those looking at Retool from afar vs. the experiences of seeing the sausage get made, though I guess that’s everywhere), and those have pushed me mentally. Much of the original team I started with left, the role I joined changed, and many larger hiring and operational adjustments were retracted or shifted.

I shared many of these uncertainties with my manager during our last team offsite, including feelings of recent urges to start something of my own, pursue business school, or move to a product role in the near term. His advise was accurate and apt - we’re building the function from scratch, and while the role might not have been where I expected, it allows for building a business within a business: the offerings (product), the selling motion, marketing, pricing, enablement, execution, and scaling. With that frame, the role has become a lot broader, and quite fulfilling.

My focus has been primarily on our Quickstart program - the fastest way for customers to get up and running with Retool. I found this particularly appealing for two reasons:

  • It allows for full ownership: I have full autonomy over the entire program - what we want to offer, how we want to sell it, what the handoff process looks like, and what activities need to be run. The role has always been autonomous, but I feel like this ball is further in my court
  • it seems to be the highest velocity way of gathering product feedback. We expect most new committed customers to go through our Quickstart program, in which we’ll oversee/advise on deployment and initial application launch. By staying even closer to these two very pivotal moments in the Retool lifecycle, we’ll be able to pull out all the gaps, difficulties, and potential product improvements.

I feel quite fortunate to have found myself here after some troughs of doubt and true thoughts of trying something new. This section is a bit long-winded, but the broader lesson here has been - I think it takes time to navigate spaces, functions, and companies to find a space to operate well. Many standard roles exist in startups - Account Executives, Product Marketers, Software Engineers: but within them (or adjacent to them) might lie opportunities that are more relevant and likely more fulfilling than those descriptors on a standard JD.

~Nov 2023

Two months down in 🗽!

The move has been energizing - having and being in person with work continues to be a priority and has provided some semblance of structure in a time of somewhat erratic change. I’ve hit the essentials - saw Lion King on Broadway, had my share of NYC Bagels (Tompkins is great, Leo is better), and acclimated to the beautiful consumerism that is New York 🙇🏽

Full recount:

Food

Wallet’s begging me to get cooking.

  • Glin: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Birds of a Feather: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Scars Pizza: ⭐⭐
  • Tompkins Square Bagels: ⭐⭐⭐
  • Rule of Thirds: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Win Son: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Los Tacos No 1: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Lucy’s: ⭐⭐⭐
  • Kuun: ⭐⭐⭐
  • Boqueria Soho: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Joe’s: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Osteria Morini: ⭐⭐
  • Le Industrie: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Barbocino: ⭐⭐⭐
  • Atithi: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Eataly: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Kebab Aur Sharab: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Wu’s Wonton King: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Dokebi: ⭐⭐⭐
  • Leo: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Popeyes: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Views

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Reading

Elon Musk: Walter Isaacson

Halfway through. Well-written and highly engaging. Elon’s life was (is!) highly tumultuous, and his resilience in the face of constant pushback and backlash commands respect. Many of his pains seem self-inflicted, but it’s a testament to the shaping of early environment on the ethos of will and work.

Same as Ever: Morgan Housel

Housel is one of my favorite storytellers and writers, and I genuinely enjoy his simple takes on life and money. Psychology of Money remains one of the few books I strongly believe everyone should read, so excited to get through this. The premise being - we focus most attention on all that’s changing, looking for new models to predict the future without taking a step back and doubling down on those things that perpetually stay the same.

I’m a few chapters in - nice follow-on to Psychology of Money, but the lessons seem a bit less profound and a bit overdrawn.

How Finance Works: Mihir Desai

Loving it! Vanderbilt didn’t have a traditional finance major, meaning the closest I could get to the ‘business’ side of things was through economics classes. Having worked and now having seen the boom and bust of the startup market (and subsequent valuations), it’s inspired a want to dig deeper into the numbers - what does a good business look like? How is it evaluated?

It’s equally compelling mapping the terms to actuality (especially at Retool) - assets, liabilities, costs, growth targets, etc.

Quick read. Debunks the myths of common investment approaches and clarifies principles for higher probable returns.

Listening

~Sept 2023

It’s been a whirlwind of the past few weeks. Moving across the country is no joke; especially amid a NY heat wave that left me profusely drenched before even getting into the office. SF’s 75 and sunny weather didn’t help with acclimatization.

I got in late Friday, grabbed my keys, and made it to my cozy one-bedroom in Clinton Hill.

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Also decided it was a good idea to immediately go to Electic Zoo on Sunday. Fortunately missed the festival cancellation/next-day delay/storming of security.

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Beyond that, NY is wonderfully hectic. Excited to find a rhythm.

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Other

Reading

I’m not sure if my move to NY and the nearby Union Square park was the tipping point, but my friend recommended this book a while back and I recently finished it. It’s a story on Danny Meyers’ devise of his restaurants and later (Union Square) hospitality group. Highly recommend a read! Many of his approaches to hospitality resonate and apply aptly to any customer-facing role.

Danny Meyers also went to my high school 🙂.

Some highlights:

On Saint Louis:

During my adolescence, food continued to figure prominently in my social life. In the tenth grade I took cooking lessons in home economics, and as one of only two guys in the class I furthered more than just my culinary interests. That year I had transferred from the all-boys St. Louis Country Day School, where I had been a top student, to its coed archrival, John Burroughs School. Burroughs was an excellent and highly demanding independent school—presenting me for the first time with female distractions in the classrooms and hallways. My academic performance dipped dramatically. I was now fifteen years old, and what mattered to me most were girls; pickup games of street hockey; football on the lawn; tennis; and going to bed with my transistor radio tuned to KMOX and glued to my ear, as Jack Buck called that night’s St. Louis Cardinals game or Dan Kelly announced for the St. Louis Blues. Yet a constant theme in my life was always food: Imo’s pizza, Ted Drewes frozen custard, and Steak ’n’ Shake. Steak ’n’ Shake seemed to be where my friends and I all ended up every weekend night, throwing back shoestring fries, steak burgers with cheese, and shakes. Were those necessarily the best hamburgers to be found anywhere? It didn’t matter, because the nights at Steak ’n’ Shake with curbside service in our own cars were the best hamburger experiences I had ever known. (Decades later, my memories of Ted Drewes and Steak ’n’ Shake inspired me to create Shake Shack in New York’s Madison Square Park.)

The first place I drove after getting my license was to Ted Drewes. Jack Buck’s son (Joe Buck) was another Saint Louis parent whose daughter went to my middle school. Imos pizza was the only pizza we’d order, and it was somewhat sinful to talk down on it, even if you weren’t a fan of the thin crust or provel cheese. I probably had more burgers from Shake & Shake than any other fast food joint combined.

This hit home.

On work:

Being jazzed is a combination of feeling motivated, enthusiastic, confident, proud, and at peace with the choice to work on our team.

The feeling of ‘flow state’ persists across jobs and functions. I like the depiction and enjoy the feeling even more.

On Opportunities

It’s a tempting challenge that may look quite good from afar; but on closer scrutiny, many opportunities are far from good. I’m curious to see the view going up the mountain, and I’m curious to see it from on top of the mountain. One aspect of climbing I especially enjoy is the adventure and challenge of getting to know all the people with whom I’ll collaborate along the way. Each business journey attracts a new and different group of players—chef, general manager, cooks, waiters, hosts, reservationists, managers, bookkeepers.

Climb the right hill, and be wary of the hill you’re climbing.

At about this time, my assistant, Jenny Dirksen (now our director of community investment), shared a priceless expression her grandmother had taught her: One tuchas can’t dance at two weddings. It’s nice to be invited to a lot of parties. But as much as you may want to attend them all, it’s important to acknowledge that you can be in only one place at a time, and do one thing well. My own grandfather used to express similar wisdom: Doing two things like a half-wit never equals doing one thing like a whole wit.

New York has already established it’s ability to distract. It’s hard setting priorities, even if a priority is saying yes and getting a bit distracted.’ But the energy shifts across contexts is evident.

AI

I’m bullish on AI. Chat-GPT is starting to feel like a superpower for both writing and software (I don’t use it at all for hands-on keyboard writing, but it is great to run ideas off). It’s near real-time, and proper prompts deem proper results. It’s not for everything, but drastically improves certain activities (like rudimentary logic in a programming language).

I’m not sure what it means for the longer term. I saw a tweet that argued it’s no longer learning fundamental CS logic. I somewhat agree → outside of pure understanding, most simple blocks can be written and debugged efficiently through a prompt. There is long-term risk, with LLMs capable of building the majority of any junior dev in a fraction of the time.

I’ve also seen examples of awing Midjourney images and face melds, have been playing with Pi for journaling, and testing Eleven Labs Speech Synthesis (I CAN’T SPEAK HINDI).

Are you kidding me?!

There’s also been an insurgence of work in the health and ed-tech spaces, which I am particularly invested in. I want to relearn topics in a drastically more efficient manner than static schooling. Language is the largest rock that comes to mind (spanish, hindi), in a way that is AI-driven, and derived on conversation with an AI agent (that learns and iterates based on human interaction).

Left Brain / Right Brain

I’m getting back into a space of more creation, both on the writing (working to put out a few articles for friends and firms) and building front (apps, documentation, new team processes). While much of my time at work had previously fallen into ‘advising and consulting’, the new normal does rely more on outcomes and material progress.

It’s a different mode of thinking, and when switching between tasks it requires a new method of approach (and some alternative ‘brain’ work).

I also learned (I cannot confirm the certainty of this) that the height of our visual world affects our cognitive processing. High ceilings promote abstract thinking while low ceilings promote analytic work.

I worked out of the NY Public Library this past weekend and it reminded me.

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~July 2023

✈️ 🗽

I’ve confirmed my move to New York! After ~1.5 years in SF, I’ll be trying out that little concrete jungle.

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Reading

The Browser Company is building Arc, an experimental, ground-up take on the web-browser. I just started playing with it.

They try to explain their rationale and approach to the new browser here:

Before drugs, my friend assumed his eyes would always work like… well, eyes! Everyone’s eyes are different of course, some people can see better than others, some people are blind or visually impaired in some way, but he had assumed that eyes generally acted within the bounds of some laws set by the universe. Eyes were a thing that absorbed the world to the best of their ability and reported back to the brain as honestly as they could.

Then he did acid and entered another dimension for a bit.

When he came back, his understanding of reality had been toppled. He was like, “Wait, how did my body even do that? What is reality?! What are eyes?!”

He hadn’t realized he had been living under assumptions about the axioms of the universe, but these false pillars became visible in their acid-induced shattering. If all it took was some chemical cajoling for his eyes and senses to transport him to another planet, what were the actual rules? Are there rules, or are there only defaults? What other invisible false pillars was he living his life by?

And this is why he liked recreational drugs — because he could explore and challenge and unlock a new relationship with reality.

Though my friend didn’t quite put it that way. The way he phrased it to me was, “When I do acid, it’s like messing with the operating system for humans.”

The best analogy we’ve got is actually not about a browser at all — it’s about recreational drugs. An engineer I knew in San Francisco, the “goes to Burning Man” type, was trying to explain to me why he liked drugs.

Before drugs, my friend assumed his eyes would always work like… well, eyes! Everyone’s eyes are different of course, some people can see better than others, some people are blind or visually impaired in some way, but he had assumed that eyes generally acted within the bounds of some laws set by the universe. Eyes were a thing that absorbed the world to the best of their ability and reported back to the brain as honestly as they could.

Then he did acid and entered another dimension for a bit.

When he came back, his understanding of reality had been toppled. He was like, “Wait, how did my body even do that? What is reality?! What are eyes?!”

He hadn’t realized he had been living under assumptions about the axioms of the universe, but these false pillars became visible in their acid-induced shattering. If all it took was some chemical cajoling for his eyes and senses to transport him to another planet, what were the actual rules? Are there rules, or are there only defaults? What other invisible false pillars was he living his life by?

And this is why he liked recreational drugs — because he could explore and challenge and unlock a new relationship with reality.

Though my friend didn’t quite put it that way. The way he phrased it to me was, “When I do acid, it’s like messing with the operating system for humans.”

Vibes

Canada

We recently went on a family trip to Banff. This place is stunning. If you are a poor photographer like myself this is the place for you. Impossible not to get pictures like this.

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Some takeaways:

  • people in Canada are some other type of kind. Every single person had such genuine love and care for each other, including us ignorant (Indian) American tourists
  • We used an app called Autio as we road-tripped. It was really cool! It narrates stories and guidance on the surrounding areas based on location. The narrator also sounds eerily similar to Ray Dalio
  • Lots of Indians
  • Found that many of the service workers (park rangers, hotel personnel) were nomads spending a few years there before finding a new place to jump to.

Writing

Getting back into the habit of writing has been the best thing I’ve done for myself in the last year. I’m excited to have a home for thoughts, whether one or one million people read them.

~Feb 2023

Reading

Sleep Tracking

I’ve gone full tech bro and bought an Oura Ring. Big fan for sleep tracking

We Fostered Adopted a Dog

My roommate and I fostered a wonderful mini-doodle named Enzo two weeks ago. He is 3.5 years old, loves to cuddle, steal socks from our rooms, and stick his head on armrests.

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AI Explorations

These are funny

Music