#startuplife

December 19, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I haven’t really blogged since I got back from Peru.  Well, I have, but it has been for the startup I have been working for over the last 9 months @FiveStarsCard.  Just because I haven’t blogged, doesn’t mean my life has become any less exciting.  In fact, I haven’t had time to sleep let alone post a reflection of what my life has been over the past few months…

I had no idea what it takes to start a company.  Late nights out of a living room, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (ok, none of those really), and a good group of people.  At the end of the day, it hasn’t been easy… Realistically, it is one of the most challenging things I have ever done.  The best metaphor to working in a startup is running a marathon at a sprint pace.  All the training in the world won’t prepare you for the emotional, mental and physical investment of getting a great idea off the ground.  And to beat the competition, you have to run faster than you have run for longer than you have ever run.

So here is what I have learned:

  1. Your 100% isn’t quite enough.  At one point it was.  Maybe in college. Maybe in a 9 to 5.  But in the startup world, all you previously felt you had to give isn’t quite sufficient to do what is necessary.  You have to rise to the challenge and make efforts above what you previously thought your were capable of.
  2. You have to learn to work both smarter and harder. Busy work doesn’t exist in a startup.  Neither does “spinning your wheels”. If you are doing the same thing day in and day out without results, you are doing something wrong.  Revise your approach until you find something that works!
  3. Get innovative.  If you are in a startup, you are an entrepreneur.  Don’t expect others to think for you and don’t expect the answers to just drop into your lap.  Actively search for creative solutions to any and all problems that you encounter.
  4. Rest strategically.  If you work a 100 – 120 hour weeks back to back, your actual productivity will being to decline over time.  Taking a break from the day to day allows you to take a step back from your challenges and think about them more creatively.
  5. You can’t do it alone! Surround yourself with people you can trust and rely on. People that will both help you through all the difficulties that the startup life brings.

Just my reflections on the last few months working with @FiveStarsCard! Do you work with a startup? What has been your experience? Do you have any other advice?

South of Socal

April 15, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Posted in Culture, United States | 3 Comments
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This is my second (and final) name change for my blog. I wanted something unique at first: this blog has turned into a wellspring of my musings from my travels and I wanted the name to reflect that.  But the more I think about it, the more my identity is, and always will be shaped by my growing up in Southern California… and my journeys south.

And thus, “South of Socal” is born.  It´s name reflects the “South of Hope” article that was written about my Kiva Fellowship in the latest Pepperdine Magazine. More than that, it represents my worldview. One that has been shaped south of the border.

All this introspection started this Wednesday. The Wednesday when 45 minutes before a phone interview the carne asada burned and my mom asked me to head to downtown Camarillo to the Mexican meat market.

Carnicería. That´s what they are called. I kept looking at the clock on my phone impatiently thinking about how I wanted to be home and settled and ready to answer my phone. I walked through the shop to the back and not a single one of the butchers turned. Where´s the stupid bell on the counter when you need one.

Finally one turned around with a “Hey, Amigo” and after a brief debate, I settled on speaking English. Let´s stick with no surprises and less unnecessary conversation. Get in, get out. A “I would like four pieces of carne asada marinada dripped off my tongue”. No blonde kid should have that good of an accent and his face showed his surprise.

Get in, get out. I grabbed the bag of carne asada and headed to the check-out. Good. Only one lady in line. An old Mexicana grandma with handfuls of groceries and who constantly was browsing the snack counter behind the register. They were chatting in Spanish and I wanted to join in. Now, it feels like such a part of me, but still here in the U.S. I feel so out of place in South of the Border, Camarillo.

I was rushing remember? A second register opened and I blew out of the store without thinking about it and showed up to my house with 20 minutes to spare to answer the phone.

And in a month had forgotten all the best parts of the Latin culture. The stuff that has caused me to spend almost two years of my life there. The no rush, the never feeling like you have somewhere more important to be, the chat with strangers, the community that you create with every single person you meet. All of those great feelings came rushing back to me and I vowed to take another trip to downtown Camarillo.

Yes, I think I like it south of socal.

Life Update

March 19, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Posted in Kiva, Travel | Leave a comment
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Since I last wrote, I have gone from Cusco, Peru to Lima. Lima to Buenos Aires. From Buenos Aires on a 4000 mile roadtrip through Patatgonia to Córdoba. From Córdoba to Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires to Portland. Portland to L.A.

So here´s itinerary: We traveled from Buenos Aires to Bahía Blanca and then straight onto Peninsula Valdéz.  From Valdéz through Gaiman (for some Welsh tea!) to Parque Nacional Los Alceres.  North through El Bolson and Bariloche to the Ruta de los Siete Lagos. Launching off from San Martin de los Andes to Parque Nacional Lanín for a Volcano hike and sleeping under the stars.  North to Chos Malal for hot springs and then onto Córdoba (21 hour drive). From Córdoba to Buenos Aires to return the car.

And… the highlights of the roadtrip: sleeping in hammocks for two weeks straight, driving all night, seeing more stars than I ever have before, waking up to the sunrise, petting armadillos, trying to catch trout, swimming in crystal clear rivers and lakes, cooking over open fires, off-roading, getting off the beaten track and seeing Argentina from behind the wheel. And for me personally, learning to drive stick.

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A truly amazing experience. As my experience as a Kiva fellow comes to a close, I am starting the process of searching for a job in Los Angeles.  I will try to blog with any major changes, but in the meantime, I encourage you to follow my buddy, Devin Dvorak and his experience with Fulbright and microfinance in Argentina at http://dgdvorak.wordpress.com/

February 11, 2011 at 8:52 am | Posted in Microfinance | Leave a comment
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The success of microfinance is real, if subtler than generally understood. Its strength lies not in lifting people out of poverty—industrialization and jobs do that better—but in leveraging modest subsidies to build financial institutions and industries that help millions of families manage poverty better.

/David Roodman

My Last Peruvian Post

February 9, 2011 at 9:47 am | Posted in Culture, Guatemala, Kiva, Kiva Fellows Post, Microfinance, Peru, Travel | 4 Comments
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This is a hybrid post. Half consists of pieces taken out of my last Kiva Fellows blog. And the other half from my final musings and future plans (I won´t be blogging for at least a month). Feel free to cry now.

Click above to read the full post “Last July, I sat in Kiva headquarters listening to speaker after speaker desperately trying to get a grasp on what life as a Kiva fellow would be like. Despite all my “international” experience, I don´t think anything could have prepared me for the adventure that was to come.  Personally, I set out to discover how microfinance worked, IF it worked, and how it impacted the lives of the people it touched, but I really had no idea what lay ahead of me.

My two Kiva fellowships have allowed me to work with four separate institutions: FAPE and ASDIR in Guatemala and Arariwa and Manuela Ramos in Peru.  I have been able to meet and talk with hundreds of borrowers posting new loans and doing loan updates…

On the flip side, I have had a chance to surf in four new countries, to climb four volcanoes (including Concepción in Nicaragua with some other Kiva Fellows!), and hike the Inca Trail.  On the down side, I have been robbed once and assaulted another time, but I wouldn´t trade my two Kiva fellowships in Guatemala City and Cusco for the world.

And as I see my second (and final) Kiva fellowship come to a close, I have been asking myself what I have learned from the last eight months in the field… My second reflection on microfinance is that the most effective microcredit programs that I have witnessed combine education and training programs with the loans that they offer.  I personally perceive education programs highlighting business management, budgeting, family, nutrition, or health allow the borrowers to develop not only economically, but in all aspects of their life.  Which is the positive impact that all of us wish to see.”

As far as the future, I have a road trip through Patagonia planned with Devin Dvorak (starting on Feb 14th!). Coming back to the states, I’m heading up to Portland for a week, and after trying to find a job in Los Angeles.

My experiences with Kiva in Central and South America have truly been an adventure, one that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Thanks for all your prayers, support, and for reading my blog! I promise to blog when I’m back in the states about my exploits!

The Cusco Restaurant Guide

February 6, 2011 at 11:00 am | Posted in Cuisine, Culture, Cuzco, Peru | Leave a comment
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The most common questions I get from travelers arriving in Cusco involve where to go for coffee or a drink or a bit to eat.  Although I would not claim to know all or even most of the restaurants in Cusco, I definitely have some favorites! (look at my travel map for restaurant locations)

For Breakfast or Snack:

The Meeting Place: Delicious Waffles, Quality Bacon, Juices, Pastries and the best coffee in town.  All profits go to local orphanages and ministry projects. Can life get any better? I submit that it can not (Brian Regan) On the San Blas Plaza.

El Buen Pastor: Decent coffee, but absolutely spectacular pastries. I´m talking chocolate croissants, peach and apple filled baked goods fresh out of the oven, and delicious donuts. On Cuesta San Blas.

La Bondiet: My favorite coffee shop in town.  Mouthwatering cakes, cones filled with dulce de leche, small brownies, great smoothies, classy atmosphere, and great coffee! Located a block off the Plaza de Armas on Plateros and on the small plaza next to the Plaza de Armas.

Lunch:

Be brave and head to the markets. I personally find the San Pedro market a little dirty, but recommend heading to Garcilaso and the Wanchaq market for a bite to eat (walk away from Garcilaso until you get to the food stalls in the building).  Ask for Sr. Jamie and try his Lomo Saltado or Arroz a la Cubana (S./7 and S./3) and try a juice from one of the ladies opposite his stall!

Jack´s: alternatively, try the lonely guide / rough guide favorite at the bottom of Cuesta San Blas for big and late breakfasts (El grande), gourment sandwhiches, and soups like Tuscan vegetable or pumpkin that make your mouth water (my Mom went 3 times in 9 days! That says something for the quality of their food).

Olas Bravas: Ceviche is excusively a lunch food, and Olas Bravas on Mariscal Gamara near the start of Av. La Cultura does it well. Try the Jalea, the Lomo Saltado con Tacu Tacu, and the Ceviche Mixto (warning, huge portions).

Dinner:

I think I could eat at a different restaurant every night in Cusco and still have thousands to try.  Some of my highlights have been fusion cuisines near the town center.

Cicciolina: Located a block off the Plaza de Armas on Truinfo (second floor).  Absolutely incredible tapas, wine list, and the best Pisco sour that I have had in Cusco.  (U.S. prices and reservations suggested in high season).

Two Nations: An Australian / Peruvian fusion restaurant a few blocks off the plaza that has a giant burger, good soups, and solid Peruvian cuisine.  Walls decorated by happy diners.

Los Perros: Two blocks off the plaza. And makes this list because it is the home of one of the most delicious burgers I have had (and one of the largest) with great potato skins, and other sides.

Some shout outs: Paddy´s (corner on the plaza, good quesadillas and wings), Real McCoy (for some real British cuisine on Plateros), and Numa Raysi (Triunfo for some real good, real authentic Peruvian cuisine!)

Shocking and Mouth-Watering (A Food Post)

February 4, 2011 at 9:00 am | Posted in Cuisine, Culture, Cuzco, Peru, Travel | Leave a comment
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I have been severly lacking in food posts lately.  Especially considering that Peru is know for gastronomy and its unique fusion cuisines.  And especially because Peru has an array of foods that we, as Americans, wouldn´t dream of eating.  Here´s a few highlights:

Cuy: I don´t think a Peruvian food post could escape without mentioning the family pet that ends up on Peruvian´s plates as a delicacy on holidays.  Also more commonly referred to as guinea pig.

Before....

And After!

Besides the unusual presentation, it wasn´t half bad. A little greasy, and difficult to eat around all its little bones, but when it’s stuffed with herbs, served on a bed of noodles with a rocotto relleno (stuffed pepper), it was definitely edible. Just close your eyes and take a bite!

The other “unique” food served in Peru is alpaca.  Alpaca steaks are low in cholesterol, slightly gamey (think along the lines of venison but to a lesser extent), and generally free of excess fat.  My Dad mentioned the similarity in taste to an excellent pork chop and that´s a pretty good description too!

Good Morning Alpacas

As I previously mentioned, fusion cuisines are pervasive here in Cusco highlighting everything from French/Peruvian or Australian/Peruvian to Chinese/Peruvian.  One of my favorite fusions we encountered last weekend in Aguas Calientes after seeing Machu Picchu at Indio Feliz, a French/Peruvian restaurant.  For about $15, you started out with a soup or salad (such as the Avocado / Mango salad or Bacon and Egg Quiche below), main course (such as my Dad´s pineapple chicken or my Mom´s Mango trout), and finished with a dessert. Delicious.

A Bacon and Egg Quiche, Fresh Baked Bread with a Cusqueña at Indio Feliz in Aguas Calientes

The Avocado and Mango Salad at Indio Feliz

Finally, let´s top it all off with some dessert.  The Barack Obama Chocolate cake from a bakery in Lucre.. mmm

The Barack Cake in Lucre

In Transit

January 24, 2011 at 10:13 am | Posted in Kiva, Microfinance, Mountains, Peru, Travel | Leave a comment
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Sometimes it feels like my life is in transit. I wonder in those moments if life is a sum of the places you are waiting to go, or if the key to life is enjoying the journey and the mundane, endless hours in the terminals of… wherever.

And as it turns out… It is. If you don’t enjoy the process of getting there, you will miss out on those perfect sunsets, the people you met along the way, and when you get to your destination, you will only be thinking about how much you hated getting there.

All of these thoughts are summed up in my latest trip down south to do a borrower verification with our field partner, Manuela Ramos.  It started out last weekend when I took a trip to Arequipa to see American movies (yes they have a theater), to see Mt. Misti rising up from the town, and to read in the shade of every park I could find.  From there, I took another bus to Puno passing the high mountains and flamingos and deserts and lakes.

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In the first two days in Puno, I had traveled all over Juliaca and beyond, and down to the Bolivian border near Yunguyo.  Which added up to waking up before sunrise, and getting back hours after the sunset over Lake Titicaca.  Unfortunately, one very elusive borrower had taken off to Moquegua (another part of Peru). And if I couldn’t find her, I had to visit another 10 new borrowers.  With parents arriving on Monday, I choose (reluctantly and not enjoying the journey) the 7 hour trip for a 15 minute interview.

I was back in the morning, and headed out to the spectacular islands on Lake Titicaca. First to the famous floating islands Los Uros which I visited three years before, and then to spend a night on Amantani and a morning on Taquile.  I ended my stay with a cannonball in the freezing cold lake (did I mention that the lake is 3810m high??).

70 plus hours on buses, trucks, vans, boats. Exhausted. But happy. Remembering that traveling, meeting people, the journey, is why I did this in the first place.

Starting the New Year with a Bang

January 10, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Posted in Cuzco, Mountains, Peru, Travel | Leave a comment
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Well, my New Year´s Resolution to one-up 2010 has been going well so far.  I spent the second doing downhill mountain biking in Picol, near San Jeronimo, Cusco.  We took a cab 800m up to the mountain and flew down steep trails on bikes.  My ride was going fantasically until my brake started sticking… The result being this:

This past weekend, I settled on trying to sneak into Sacsayhuaman and White Water Rafting.  Not to bad eh? I spent Saturday morning walking around the small villages surrounding Sacsayhuaman and climbing rocks until I got into the main section of these spectacular ruins.

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Then yesterday, we headed up to Huambutio to go white water rafting on a III+ river with a coworker´s husband.  After two hours on the river / rapids, I was exhausted from paddling, but more excited to do it again on a IV river the next time!

Rethinking… Charity

January 7, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Posted in Kiva, Microfinance, Philosophy | 4 Comments
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January last year, I sat down in Tom Shadyac´s class at Pepperdine after my friends couldn´t stop raving about the film producer / philosopher who showed up year after year to impart some wisdom to us college kids.  The first class he told us a story (excuse my paraphasing) about a pair of glasses.  This was a special pair of glasses, because you could read 10x as fast.

Imagine! How much knowledge you would gain, how much smarter and better off the world would be because of it.  As the product got more popular, more and more people started using the glasses, and a few people ended up dying, but think about it! You could read 10x faster and there was only a .001% chance of getting injured by the glases.  The wider the glasses spread, more people were killed, but the sacrifice seemed worth the knowledge gained through the glasses. At the end of the story, he said… seems a little ridiculous right? But, I just told  you the story of the car. The trade off millions of lives for an increase in speed.

He went on to say that the class would be about rethinking things (this particular class was by far my favorite of college) … about putting a new perspective on things that seem “good” and “normal”.

So, right now I´m rethinking charity. I imagining the parable of the Good Samaritan and remembering the 10 people in destitute poverty begging for coins on my route to work.  And how I am of those that merely pass by.  And I find most Christians saying the same, “They will just spend it on booze and drugs” as an excuse not to give or help?

I wonder, are we called to give discriminately? And should I be giving to those in need because they need it? That´s is why I was in love with microfinance at first, it seemed like the solution to this. I KNEW that the money was enabling the poor to have a better life and I knew that the money wasn´t creating a downward cycle of expectations.  (Based on the assumption that the more people in poverty receive without doing anything, the more they rely on “aid” instead of their own efforts).

But I´m no longer sure that microfinance, alone, is the solution (I still fully believe in how Kiva connects individuals to individuals through lending). I think escaping poverty takes time. I think microfinance can play a role. BUT I know that it is microfinance coupled with EDUCATION and PERSONAL ATTENTION that will make the difference. (The negatives of pushing loan products without either of these is apparent in India as a wave of suicides broke out from microloan overindebtedness).

This doesn´t mean that all microfinance and charity is bad.  Yes, it needs to be regulated and monitored. Yes, it needs to be administered with care for the individual and coupled with education. I perpetually encourage and support people who are “doing their part” however small because of my own belief that changing at least one person´s life is better than changing none at all.  Rethinking microfinance means rethinking how we give.  So maybe we should help those that we encounter every day… knowing full well who our money is helping.

What do you guys think is the solution? What should charity be… and how should we give?

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