Leo's Letter #38 // Musings on Medellin

An eye-opening experience

Hey, it’s great to have you.

Long time no see!

I hadn’t written anything in months - nothing on the trials of early-stage startup life, my trips to Miami, Charlotte, or brief visits back to NYC, nor trying out keto for a few weeks.

However, my recent trip to Medellin, Colombia left such an impression that I HAD to write about it.

It goes deep, so strap in.

In This Letter:

  • Essay - Musings on Medellin

This is an issue of Leo’s Letter, where we share actionable ideas on content, commerce, and culture.

Musings on Medellin

My style of travel consists of making some loose plans and then mostly winging it. 

Instead of mapping everything out step by step, the most research I’d do before going to a place involves finding out the destinations to visit. Afterward that, I improvise getting to the location, exploring it, and then coming back.

Naturally, this leads to surprises - some pleasant ones, such as randomly stumbling across a large shrine in Tokyo while wandering around Tokyo Tower, and others not so much. During my recent trip to Medellin, Colombia, my friends and I got on the wrong bus, went for what was basically a rollercoaster ride down a winding path in the mountains, and somehow ended up in one of the most dangerous parts of the city (even locals exercise caution while in El Centro). 

I only bring this experience up now as a funny story to reflect on my trip with fond memories. Here’s a compilation of thoughts from spending a little over a week this past Labor Day weekend working remotely in Medellin.

But first, a few highlights on what I actually did during my first time in Latin America:

  • Saw the sights, from the graffiti walls at Comuna 13 to the scattered islands of Guatape

  • Rode the cable car to the top of Parque Arvi

  • Lived in the artistic Manila neighborhood of El Poblado and enjoyed the restaurants in Provenza

Culture: more carefree and curious

Picture a city the size of Los Angeles but with the chillness of San Diego (but keep the traffic and add in a hint of lawlessness to the driving). That’s what I thought of Medellin, a very liveable city built in a valley and integrated with nature. The hills of San Francisco have nothing on those here.

Things moved at a slow but purposeful pace. There were less rules and less self-imposed pressures of having to rush all the time. Instead, friends and families shared each others’ company on a weekday night, whole blocks of restaurants became viewing grounds for soccer whenever Colombia played, and more people were just relaxing. Living life.

It also felt that the people knew their past but never dwelt on it, instead working towards a brighter future - something the USA can learn from (how long will it be the “greatest” nation if things keep going on like this? Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare?)

Travel: working to travel, not the other way around

It’s hard to plan when you don’t know how much free time you’ll have in the day.

This is especially true with variable workloads, with the main culprit being “fire drills”, things blowing up at work. Think about balancing a day’s work with one’s own plans for the day, along with the need to plan for the next.

I felt like I was always on the move during those days. Exciting and fulfilling then, but requiring some time to recover afterwards.

And so I wonder how some remote workers, especially founders, are able to even step out to actually enjoy the beach their AirBnB is situated right next to on a tropical island.

Personal: as if a weight were lifted 

Move a person from Siberia to NYC and he/she will most likely be happier that it’s not constantly snowing.

Now move them to Los Angeles and his/her situation will improve even more, with all sunshine (and maybe even some rainbows).

In my visit to Medellin, I felt like a Siberian who was directly transplanted to LA.

How so?

  • In the USA, I sometimes feel weighed down

  • In Asia, I feel normal

  • In Latin America, I often felt uplifted

I won’t go into the extent of each, nor share too many specifics, but one crucial factor is how Asians are perceived in different parts of the world.

In the USA, Asian Americans must work harder in college admissions (good grades, extracurriculars, and leadership roles are table stakes). We’re portrayed by the media as the nerdy, comedic-relief characters (though this is getting better). Lastly, we’ve been painted as the new red scare with fingers pointing at China (rather than domestic issues such as the rise in income inequality, polarization in politics, crumbling infrastructure, etc.)

Now you know why I saved this for last. 

But to end on a more positive note, like the weather, sometimes cultural and political situations can offer better environments. Kpop has taken Latin America by storm so much so that Asians are perceived less like Ken Jeong and more like Jay Park. Trade flows more freely than in the land of the free, giving people access to budget-friendly and advanced Huawei and Xiaomi phones.  


All this being said, I acknowledge that these are only my limited observations from a 9-day trip to Medellin. 

I don’t have the full picture - I have no idea how hard life is for Colombians, who’ve had to deal with their own hardships such as the pandemic (where many jobs literally can’t be done at home) and the recent protests. I also recognize that visiting as an American citizen affords me certain privileges.

Instead, think of this as an account from a person who mostly saw rain, but had the clouds clear up for a bit.

I just have to have the temperance to not get burnt by the sun.

Until Next Time

Thanks for reading! Have any thoughts to share? Comment on the post!

Find me at leolu.info or on Twitter.

Bring a friend along for the ride:

Leo's Letter #36 // Less is More

Finding direction through process of elimination

Hey, it’s great to have you.

I’ve been spending my time over the holidays getting organized, and while there’s always something to do, I’ve come as far as I can in cutting down - a process bringing clarity amidst balancing a ton of things.

This pretty much summarizes 2020, where I tried a bunch of things, which helped me decide what to focus on for 2021 (read this issue’s essay for more).

Similarly, this also applies to my writing. I trimmed the essays on my site so that it now only shows the most important articles. I’ll also only be sharing writing where I truly feel I have something to say and the audience benefits.

Here’s to more clarity for all of us this year! (Also, see you on Monday evenings - changing up the release schedule from Sundays).

(Photo: sunset in LA captured on scenic Mulholland Drive)

In This Letter:

This is an issue of Leo’s Letter, where we share actionable ideas on content, commerce, and culture.

Essay - Looking for Directions

The above lines come from Matthew McConaughey’s recently published memoir, Greenlights.

Now, you might be wondering why I, as someone who reads biographies of founders such as Elon Musk, Satya Nadella, and most recently Tony Hsieh, am reading one about an actor who I barely have any knowledge of – I’m more of someone who follows the startup space versus the lives of Hollywood celebrities. Niche developments over mass media.

I was wondering the same, but, after receiving the book as a surprise on top of being wined and dined (remotely) by a company courting us as a potential client, I thought I might as well read it. Plus, it gave me something to do while quarantining after traveling. 

A quarter of the way through, I’ve enjoyed the read and learned the lesson above: sometimes you have to go by the process of elimination. 

Seeing what it’s like

It was only through trying that I realized I didn’t enjoy taking content creation seriously, pursuing financial independence, nor becoming a digital nomad (take these with a grain of salt since each scenario has different sets of conditions, and mine are only one interpretation).

Starting with content, the process falls into three stages: content creation, production, and distribution. For podcasting, it’s recording the episodes, editing, and then sharing on social media and other channels – I didn’t enjoy the last part due to social media’s needs to engage with other creators, which is fine, but in scrolling through newsfeeds (especially Instagram and LinkedIn), I couldn’t help but make self-comparisons with what I’m seeing. I’d rather not do that, and I’m glad I don’t have to.

My attempt at ecommerce didn’t work out for what may be two reasons: 1) lack of motivation for the end goal, and 2) lack of perseverance due to distractions. 

Since things didn’t go as I planned in September, I decided to use the remaining months of the year to work on ecommerce – wouldn’t it be great to end the year with a new stream of income? Turns out, this wasn’t so important to me and though I enjoyed some parts of the process, namely experimenting with Facebook ads and copywriting, that wasn’t enough to keep me going. When I started thinking about other things to work on, I got distracted and stopped.

To sum up my thoughts around travel based on my recent month-long trip to Los Angeles, I believe that it’s hard to balance travel with an intense workload, difficult to focus on your new destination when you are thinking about other things in your head, and risky to expect to encounter new experiences without seeking them yourself – things don’t magically appear.

Read the full essay here.

The Stanford Marshmallow Prison Experiment

Quite THE read and an alternative way to look at the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, most commonly referred to as a study on delayed gratification (will the child eat the marshmallow immediately, or wait 15 minutes to receive another one?)

Here's a thought-provoking question: "Q: Could waiting be a sign of wanting to please an adult and not a proxy for innate willpower? Presumably, even little kids can glean what the researchers want from them."

The author then ties this into the current systems around education, medicine, and academia - a read for those who are on the fast track and don't know what's next (for finance folks, it's 2 years in investment banking, 2 years in private equity, 2 years at a top MBA, and then a big fat question mark).

How Discord (somewhat accidentally) invented the future of the internet

"Everybody talks about the notion of the Third Place, but nobody's come closer to replicating it online than Discord."

Discord's combination of text, voice, and video chat make it the place for people to hang out, especially in a remote world.

Lots to look into here - I'm not sure how different Discord is from Slack, and communities often flourish without the need for real-time interactions, such as with Facebook groups. And then there's the audio rooms, starting with Clubhouse and then Facebook rooms and Twitter Spaces (speaking of Clubhouse, I just got on recently - come find me @lensofleo and send me where to go on there).

The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick

A summary of the book “The Mom Test”, on customer research.

People may have all the right intentions in their responses to your questions, but they might not be truthful, nor spurred to action.

Thus, you have to ask the right questions and set the right structure for the meetings, so that you can 1) find information that actually shapes product development, and 2) identify clear next steps post-conversation - will they want to dive deeper, bring in more people, or make a purchase?

A few examples of effective questions:

  • From: would you buy this product; To: what are the problems you are currently experiencing?

  • From: how much would you pay for X; To: what else have you tried?

  • From: feedback (I love this product); To: action items “when can you come back to talk to the rest of the team?

Until Next Time

Thanks for reading! Have any thoughts to share? Comment on the post!

Find me at leolu.info or on Twitter.

Bring a friend along for the ride:

Leo's Letter #35 // Adventure Time

Figuring things out on the other side of the country and preparing for what's next

Hey, it’s great to have you.

I’m back in suburban NJ - what a trip!

Now it’s time to wrap up some things to hit the ground running in the new year. I’m eager to put some plans into action.

Hope you are enjoying these last peaceful days of 2020.

In This Letter:

This is an issue of Leo’s Letter, where we share actionable ideas on content, commerce, and culture.

Essay - 5am in LA

I don’t have any profound realizations from waking up at 5am these past few weeks living in LA while working Eastern time.

But I do have lots of learnings from my first extended period working remotely while traveling, which made me realize: travel is not the only way to encounter new experiences nor the cure to problems.

1: You don’t need to be in a new space to have new experiences.

Serendipity comes when you put yourself in the position for it to happen. This means defining exactly what you want, seeking it out for yourself, and making your goals public so that opportunities come to you.

Content creation helps so much here in finding opportunities online. You can only talk to so many people individually about what you’re up to; with the internet, this expands to a global audience.

Attend an online event, host one yourself, or just read a book – they’ll take you places.

2: Travel is not a cure to your problems

While this may seem common knowledge, here’s an example that brings this home: think of when you put off a task by organizing your room, cleaning your house, or reading a book. Travel is similar. 

Travel is NOT an excuse to avoid tackling what you need to do. Even if you’re spending your energy planning out where to go, getting to your destination, and seeing everything, where did you actually go? Did your mind travel as much as your body? 

Sure, one can argue that sometimes all that’s needed is a change in environment, but it’s not that simple.

Read the full essay, including how LA is like during COVID, by clicking the link in the title.

Mapping the Creator Economy

Map and database of companies in the creator economy space created by Hugo Amsellem.

Hugo does a great job at breaking the companies down into six buckets, from creating content to managing a business.

The City with No Heart

Aaron Swartz describes the characters he meets and the places he sees visiting LA.

He cites all of the spots that stick out on the western part of Los Angeles - Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Hollywood, stating "That is how I will remember LA: this beautiful strip of sunset."

But the city has so much more, especially in the ethnic enclaves including Westlake, Irvine, and the 626.

Until Next Time

Thanks for reading! Have any thoughts to share? Comment on the post!

Find me at leolu.info or on Twitter.

Bring a friend along for the ride:

Leo's Letter #34 // Rising Up

Going higher and higher

Hey, it’s great to have you.

It’s been a while, and things sure are in motion!

This is now my third week in LA - quite the first time experience coming here just as things are shutting down and work is still full steam ahead. But it’s been a very interesting experience so far. Seeing so much.

More on that in upcoming issues along with what I’m thinking about professionally.

(Image: When in Los Angeles…)

In This Letter:

This is an issue of Leo’s Letter, where we share actionable ideas on content, commerce, and culture.

What it feels like when you've found product-market fit – Issue 45

Product expert Lenny Rachitsky how founders of companies such as Stripe, Superhuman, and Netflix found product-market fit (pmf).

The quotes sure serve up inspiration, but he also adds some takeaways on:

  • What it is - pmf often comes when your customers can’t get enough of you’re company, sometimes even offering to pay for what’s free

  • Time - pmf may not come immediately after launch. In fact, it can take years

  • Market - different market sizes will experience different types of market pull; the mass market may come in all at once whereas in niche markets, certain groups will be more receptive than others

The 15-Minute City—No Cars Required—Is Urban Planning’s New Utopia

Cities are looking to keep some measures implemented during COVID-19 to make them more accessible to people over cars.

Such describes the 15-minute city, a “decentralized” space that contains everything someone may need over former city blocks that may be dedicated for one function only.

NYC does a great job at this. LA, not so much. And European cities will be easier to modify since they were built before automobiles.

Brexit Musing #8: The impact on Blockchain and Digital Currencies with TAXMAP

This podcast episode I hosted for my friend Elusio came out at the right time - just a few weeks before Bitcoin started moving towards $20k.

Kidding aside, this was a fun discussion exploring what happens when different countries release their own digital currencies. How will they work together? Quite a future to imagine.

Until Next Time

Thanks for reading! Have any thoughts to share? Comment on the post!

Find me at leolu.info or on Twitter.

Bring a friend along for the ride:

Leo's Letter #33 // Writing For Who

Writing, podcast lists, and digital currenceis

Hey, it’s great to have you.

What a week it’s been. And what a week it will be starting tomorrow - but fret not, we’re almost at the finish line for this sprint.

The holidays are coming up, and it’s time to wrap up some work to get refreshed for more to come. I for one am feeling as if weights were being lifted off my shoulders as I complete different tasks, and I hope the same for you.

We’ll make it through - let’s do it!

In This Letter:

This is an issue of Leo’s Letter, where we share actionable ideas on content, commerce, and culture.

Writing For Who

(Image credits: pixabay)

I’ve already written a Twitter thread on completing a challenge to tweet daily for 30 days. You can check it out here, but this thread expands upon this.

Specifically, I’m now thinking about how to balance writing for myself vs. for an audience. While I’ve experienced both sides in writing on my blog now for years and pushing out content for After Hour Projects over the past few months, I don’t believe these are mutually exclusive - they fall on a spectrum.

Sharing here three learnings when it comes to writing:

1. Copywriting - the power of words

Writing is a tool to persuade, convince, sell. It’s not just about what you write, but how convey the message, and this is where copywriting comes into play.

I learned about copywriting through Neville’s Copywriting Course and frameworks for stories by reading Ca$hvertising. The former gives you the basic outline for how to write a compelling message and the latter different flavors for how to structure, but put simply, I’m expanding on the AIDA framework (also mentioned in my Twitter thread):

  • Attention - how the first sentence gets the reader to keep reading

  • Interest - use of logic, facts to get the reader engaged

  • Desire - use of emotion, appeals to benefits to get the reader further engrossed

  • Action - a CTA (call to action) on how to get what’s being shared

Keep this in mind and ads on social media (and many posts) start to make sense.

2. Content - what’s being said

Attention is not free. In fact, it’s an extremely valuable form of currency on the internet.

In such a competitive space, it’s hard to stick out from the crowd. Thus the importance of creating unique content - write what nobody else is writing and you’ll get an audience (if you employ the right marketing too).

I try to keep my writing to the categories of curation (showing interesting things going on), synthesis (explaining an event/sharing an outlook), and reflection (learnings from personal experience).

The hope is that I’m either onto something new, or conveying what others are thinking about.

3. Community - who’s in it together

This brings me to the last, perhaps most important point: community propels you forward.

There’s a community for every niche, so finding one is not the problem. Instead, for me it’s commitment - I find myself jumping from place to place, never doubling down on any interest-based communities for more than a few months.

On the other hand, I do find solace in my commitment to other demographic-based or skills-based communities, which I’ve stayed in. We’ll see what happens…

- - -

I don’t have a smooth way of tying everything together this time, so I’ll leave with a word of comfort (a lot for myself) - writing is a transferrable skill and comes in handy in unexpected ways.

Dickie’s Digets Favorite Podcast Episodes

A curated collection of podcast episodes from 25 different shows from Dickie Bush, who has become quite the curator on Twitter.

Podcast episode: The impact of Brexit on Blockchain and Digital Currencies with TAXMAP

This time I again host an episode for another podcast on something that comes back to me over and over - blockchain. Interesting how things turn out.

Until Next Time

Thanks for reading! Have any thoughts to share? Comment on the post!

Find me at leolu.info or on Twitter.

Bring a friend along for the ride:

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