I’m writing this post as I’m traveling between LA and San Diego just as the train kisses the Pacific Ocean around the OC. I’ve made this journey at least 30 times in the past 4 years, and it still never gets old. Plus or minus a few delays and the excruciating LA traffic, the 80 or so hours I’ve spent in this train have served many purposes. Three years ago, on this very train, I was writing a thesis on how faith and culture impact industrial food production. Last year, I was making trips to startup conferences. Six months ago, I wrote my debut Medium article, and today, I’m on the train officially departing Los Angeles. I’ve had the pleasure of making some amazing friends (Taylor, Rona, Justin, Nathan), mentors (David, Trevor, Kenan), and I’ve also made a million or so mistakes in between those trips which have resulted in a handful of lessons which I described in a post here.
WRDSMTH’s art is notoriously sprinkled across LA. I used to pass the one right above here whenever I got on or off the metro. In fact, I passed it as I just got on this train. In between all those lessons and mistakes, I also sought to answer his quote, “do something every day to remind this city why the hell you’re here”. I find that it’s somewhat of an analogy for “who are you, and what is your purpose”. Three years ago when I asked this question I had no clue — absolutely none. I loved startup culture but couldn’t figure out what made me tick. Loved the people, but didn’t know what product inspired me (pretty much everything did). And so, for a long time, my GPS was shattered. I was aimlessly throwing darts at the wall trying to figure out what would stick. I delved into consulting, finance, and many other areas that my parents and friends said I should dig into, but it was while I was running Avaant with David that I felt my engine truly skip a beat for the first time. During that year, I became vehemently obsessed with design theory and the way we interact with technology. A few years later, I discovered how data analysis, A/B testing, and clustering could be used to refine and utilize design to generate growth.
OK, whoops, the GPS just missed a turn — back to the original question:
“Why the hell you’re here”.
When I was a kid, my favorite toys were Legos. They were, and still are, the greatest toys in existence. Why? You can literally create hundreds of other toys out of them — talk about a good ROI! Planes, ships, small cities, characters — I was obsessed with building these things, and I would proudly put them up on my table chest so everyone could see.
As I grew up, my passion for building things transformed. In high school I learned to create business plans and to enter pitch competitions. In college, we refined those skills and started using our voices to become leaders and to enable others to create on their own. Sand.ee was the first place I learned to execute one of these plans and Anett gave me my first job as a marketer. Building things has always given me the greatest sense of joy, and for a large part, it was the reason why I got into venture capital. This answers the first question. “Why the hell you’re here?” — to build things.
What do I want to build?
When looking at the past it’s interesting to see how things align. My first job was in marketing (social, strategy, & creative). A year later, I founded a startup in the social media space, and this past year, the first deal I led was actually a social media application and influencer channel called Pepo. I don’t believe that things like this are a coincidence. I’m naturally drawn to the social/marketing/branding side of things because I am in love with storytelling and people. I think that the best and most successful technology is supposed to enhance human interaction rather than remove us from it. Connectivity services, entertainment, digital media, IoT, virtual/augmented reality, etc., need to seamlessly and beautifully integrate with our lives because otherwise, what’s the purpose? There is something so rich and compelling about the way we as humans interact — emotionally might I add — with each other, and my biggest fear is that the technology of tomorrow will take us away from those experiences. Even though we send messages through chat boxes miles away, we still hysterically laugh at silly giphy’s and emoji’s. This is an example of what good technology can do to enhance the human connection, and this is the philosophy I believe startups need to champion.
This kind of thinking also seems to be echoed in numerous studies conducted by Harvard and IDEO to industry pundits. According to a study by Upfront Ventures in LA, a mastery in design thinking and a people centric thesis is going to drive the application layer of technology.
In the near future, machine learning will aid in this process by blurring the line between human and computer. Think Alexa, or Siri. What about AI based assistants, or software that can autofill processes? Machine learning will be necessary in order to enrich the consumer experience. Coupled with beautiful interfaces and design thinking, AI is the leading competitive advantage that incumbents and newcomers will need to incorporate into their product, strategy, and culture.
This brings me to the final answer, “what do I want to build”? I want to be involved with companies that deliver rich and compelling products, services, or media that solve big problems. Specifically, I want to help those founders shape their narrative to include a more human-centric approach, through artificial intelligence, in both their strategy & product to create a positive & ethically responsible impact while generating bottom line growth.
When I started this blog, the goal was to develop a personal brand and write about my opinions on industry through stories. Storytelling, as I love stating, is the best way to communicate with other people. It’s become an obsession of mine and is an art that I still have much to learn about. I’m still crazy about AR/VR but slowly delving more into other new frontier sectors. Mark Zuckerberg, in his recent address to Harvard students, has made it our mission to discover and create new jobs that will overcome the obstacles that AI poses to our society. So I’ll take on this challenge. I’ll be writing more about AI enabled technology, block-chain, and the politics and ethical considerations surrounding them.
Lastly, as this train comes to a stop, I have to make one thing clear: this is not the end, or the departure, rather, the start of something new. Steve Jobs once said to stay hungry and to stay foolish… so sure, let’s start with that.
Nihar grew up in sunny San Diego and is a proud USC Trojan. He is currently an Investor with Correlation Ventures focused on LA investments and tech. Sarcasm is his favorite cup of tea and he would rather be a hippie than a hipster.
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