Dec 20, 2015

Weekly Update 10: Dead Sea

I met a lot of friends this week, and I also had a good week at work, so it felt pretty good overall.

My work load had reduced from the week before and I had fewer calls/meetings. I met some friends for lunch hour during work and I would generally just come home after work to chill. I'm not the most social person when the weather gets colder, so I wasn't super interested to socialise or go out.

At the end of the week, Aileen and I visited our Israeli family in Rehovot (a suburb 20 minutes away from Tel Aviv)! A few weeks ago, we'd met someone through couchsurfing who invited us over to her house in Rehovot, and since then we've been in touch with her and her family. While she was travelling in India (infact she met my family there), we visited her family in Rehovot this weekend and then took a trip to the dead sea with them. Aileen and I hadn't been to the dead sea yet, so this was our first time!

For those of you who don't know the dead sea is one of the saltiest water body on earth and its Earth's lowest elevation on land. One of Israel's main sources of incomes is the minerals it mines from the dead sea (which has affected the water levels of the dead sea over time).

The beach that we visited of the dead sea had hot springs around it as well, so after going in the dead sea and floating there for a bit (since it's so salty in the dead sea, you just float there), we sat in the hot springs (which had mud underneath that's considered really good for the skin). My skin was quite itchy because of the salt, but it was such a unique experience to go there and I didn't really mind the itchiness!

This coming week is my last week here before I fly back home for the rest of winter. But as I mentioned in last week's blog post, I'm going to come back here in March for the spring semester at IDC (a university not far from Tel Aviv). I really like Israel and i feel like I haven't had enough of it just yet. So I want to stay longer and learn more about it. While I'm sad to leave my Tel Aviv apartment, and the company I was interning at, I'm so glad I got the chance to be here, and I'm even more glad that I get the chance to come back. It's also quite nice to visit home in India. It's been a year since I was there, and I haven't seen most of my friends and family since then! I wish I also got to see my friends in Singapore, but that will need to wait unfortunately.

Pictures later!

Dec 13, 2015

Weekly Update 9: Work

This week was nothing but work really. After coming back from Jordan, I was quite refreshed, which came as a surprise (usually short trips are pretty exhausting for me). It felt good to be back at work, and I was quite creative and productive through it. This weekend was my last weekend in Tel Aviv, since I'm travelling next weekend and then flying home the week after. But then again, I worked most of my weekend too. Also, I'm coming back in March for another few months here. So not sure it counts as a "last weekend"!

I had calls and meetings and more calls during the week. So I was waking up really early on most days to work. It was really satisfying though, because I managed to be productive and not to get burnt out. I also got to hang out with some old friends and some new friends on the weekend, which was really great.

A conversation I had with some friends about the Law of Attraction got me interested in it. So I ordered a free sample of the Alchemist on my kindle and watched a bit of the Secret, both of which are about the Law of Attraction.

I also decided to be nicer to myself this week. I tend to keep pushing myself and finding problems with myself that I can fix. So I decided not to be so harsh on myself and also, to not compare myself to other people. I often compare myself to other people who are more accomplished than me, and a friend told me that I should stop doing that.

Dec 6, 2015

Weekly Update 8: Jordan

This weekend, I visited Jordan. I went to Wadi Ram, Petra and Amman. People in Jordan are super friendly and despite some visa trouble I had at the border while entering (often happens when you hold an Indian passport) people were really nice right from the beginning, including the officials who were causing the visa trouble.

Wadi Ram is a place in the Jordanian desserts that's well known for camping and star gazing. The skies at night are extremely clear and we could see the stars really clearly. We also took a jeep tour in the dessert, which was basically riding around the dessert in a jeep. While I've been in desserts before (in India), it was nice seeing the Jordanian dessert. The color of the sand was different and I learnt a lot about the Bedouin culture (bedouins is the word used to refer to people who live in the dessert). We spent the night camping in Wadi Ram in the dessert (I went with 3 friends).

We spent our second day in Petra. It's a wonder of the world, and it was really amazing. Petra is an old city which was along the silk route. It was inhabited by traders. Their cultures and traditions showed through the structures that remained of the old city (tombs, treasuries, etc). Going to Petra and learning about the history of it was really amazing. Also, it was really beautiful.

On the third day, we visited my and Linus' friend Ronald in Amman, which is the capital city of Jordan. Ronald was doing a study abroad in Jordan to learn Arabic, and he's generally very well informed about cultures, so I was really glad to be able to meet him in Jordan. It was on this day that I felt like I was learning about present day Jordan. Wadi Ram and Petra had been quite touristy, and much of the people we interacted with on our first two days were people used to receiving tourists. So Amman was great in forcing us to see reality. People were dressed in burqas, they were quite anti-Israel and the social norms were different (for example, I couldn't sit next to a man on the bus unless I knew him). Not to say these are good or bad, they're just different. And I think these kind of things are what really make you understand cultures better. Ronald told us a lot about Jordan too, so learnt a lot from him!

During this trip, I also realised that I'm beginning to develop strong preferences for things I like and don't like. For example, I think I could have enjoyed the trip as much without Wadi Ram. I don't love camping, I've seen desserts, I've ridden camels before. But because people insisted seeing Wadi Ram, I decided to go there. Since the trip, I've gotten much more conscious about making personal decisions like these keeping in mind my preferences and past experiences.

Pictures later!

Dec 3, 2015

Weekly Update 7: Workaholism

I'm super late in writing this weekly update, but that's mostly because I haven't been doing anything particularly out of the ordinary outside of work. I had a ton of work to do in the past one and a half week, and I still do, which has kept me really busy from when I wake up to when I sleep.

Last week, Dr Chan, Sharon, Mervyn and Edmund from NUS Enterprise visited Tel Aviv. They were interested to know all that we'd been doing in Israel and we had quite a few meetings with them. We also pitched startup ideas to them that we'd been working on in our entrepreneurship classes. I ended up pitching my edtech project, which is always fun. We did the pitching in front of all our company's founders or supervisors at a farewell lunch. Even Singapore's ambassador to Israel was there! I've never pitched at a lunch before. Anyway I had fun doing it. I love public speaking, so even though it was a bit stressful to prepare, refine and practice the pitch in addition to the usual work, it went well. Also, this was the first time ever that I was pitching not an idea but a product. In the past, all my pitches have been about ideas that aren't yet products. So I learnt how to present a product and data from users with Liat and Natali's help (my instructors from IDC). I also learnt more about powerpoint design from my friend Ding YI who pitched with me!

Yesterday, we also had farewell drinks in which we met some more IDC students and re-met our instructors and course organisers. While it was farewell drinks for my Singaporean friends, it wasn't really farewell for me. A few weeks ago I decided that I wanted to stay longer in Israel, so I applied for a study abroad at IDC next semester through Yale-NUS, and I got accepted to it! So I'll probably be back here when the next semester starts in March. While I'm not looking forward to studying again, I'm looking forward to having more control over my time and more flexibility. I remember how much easier it was to work on my project and other things I'm interested in alongside school. Also, it's just really nice to be around students and new people. I'm not going to be living in Tel Aviv any longer-I'm going to be in an outskirt town called Herziliya (which is where the university is). This is the longest time I'll be spending in a non metropolitan city, and I'm quite looking forward to that. I think it's important to live in different types of places just to see the kind of person you become by living in each of those places.

I got to hang out with some friends last week, but not really all that much. I'm generally a bit less social these days and spend most of my non work time either sleeping, eating or reading. I've been reading Memoirs of a Geisha. Love that book! People say its not very accurate (also, it's written by a non-japanese), but I actually think its not so far from the truth based on what I learnt from my summer in Japan. If you have the time and know a bit about Japan, I would highly recommend it.

Nov 25, 2015

Weekly Update 6: Work, Blind Theatre and Jerusalem

This week, I mostly hung out with friends, travelled and ofcourse the usual work!

Work was quite interesting this week-we tried brainstorming new ideas for marketing. We also got some help from our users in coming up with new ideas-which was amazing. They come up with way better ideas than we do! We came up with some good ideas too though that we're going to start implementing this week and next week. It's so fun to brainstorm and try to think of things that people haven't tried before. I hate doing tried and tested things because they're usually the things that everyone is doing (which makes them less effective especially in marketing).

I met with friends for dinner a few times this week and Skyped with Yale-NUS friends, which is always great. Also, I went for a meetup at Google Campus. This one was a live stream of the Lean Startup Conference that happened in San Francisco last Tuesday and Wednesday. I just watched two or three talks on the live stream (which were pretty good) and spoke to a few other people who were hanging out at Google Campus for various events (which was even better!).

Vegan food with Caroline! Never eaten this much vegan food in my life. 
Live stream of the Lean Startup Conference
Dinner with Sharon!

On the weekend, I took a day trip to Jerusalem with Aileen. We just explored the old city, which is where a lot of the churches and historical places of importance are. We went on a walking tour of the old city in which they showed us the 4 different quarters of the city-each of which are occupied by Christians, Arabs, Armenians and Jews. Learning how the city was historically built was quite interesting-there were so many different people and rulers passing through Jerusalem, that the city kept seeing new kinds of structures built with every group of people that passed. I also met some nice people on the walking tour!


On Sunday, I went for a blind theatre performance. This was a theatre performance at the same place where I went for the dinner in darkness last week. It was basically a theatre performance by people who were either blind, deaf or mute. Many were blind AND deaf or deaf AND mute. It was really interesting to see their performance. The way the actors would communicate with each other during the performance using sign language and other cues was especially amazing.

At the theatre performance

Also, I've been reading a lot more these days. I've been less energetic and jumpy (probably because of the weather), and that helps me read.

Nov 16, 2015

Weekly Update 5: Dinner in the dark, got a tattoo

It was mostly a chill week with a good balance of work and other stuff. I actually got to do some pretty fun stuff this week!

First off, my friends and I went for something called Blackout, which was a dining experience in a pitch dark room. The idea was to simulate the kind of experience the visually impaired would have while doing simple things like eating a meal. We were led inside the restaurant by a waiter who was blind. She told us where to walk so that we didn't bump into other tables. We sat down and she told us where our forks and napkins were. She told us where the jug of water was and insisted on us pouring water for ourselves for the sake of the experience. The whole thing was really interesting. For one, we had to feel all the cutlery, the plates, the glasses before we could use them. Secondly, we found ourselves focussing much more on each others' voices than we usually do. So we were better listeners in general. For the first few minutes, our eyes kept trying to adjust to the darkness, since that's what we're used to when we enter a dark room. But it never happened! The room was pitch dark throughout. The food itself was pretty good. They had the option of ordering a surprise main or a surprise dessert. So you wouldn't know what you'd be ordering and could only use the sense of taste to guess what it was when you got it. I ordered a surprise dessert-it was good, but I still don't know what exactly it was!

My friends and I with our waitress Ruth after the dinner (once we were back out in the light)

The other exciting thing I did this week is that I got a tattoo! I'd been thinking of getting a tattoo for a while, and now just felt like a good time to do it. So I got the word 'maya' tattooed near my ankle in hebrew. Maya means dream in Sanskrit, truth or reason in Japanese, generosity in Persian, princess or honourable matriarch in Arabic and love in Nepali. I like that it has so many meanings-a lot of which I relate to (especially the Sanskrit and Japanese meaning).

Aileen had a couchsurfer over this week! He was our tallest couchsurfer by far, and he travels a LOT! 

I also made good progress on the startup project I've been working on-got to speak with interesting people in the edtech space who gave me some great advice on things I could do to create a better product! But I don't want to talk too much about that publicly, so will leave it at that!

Last weekend, I felt the urge to read fiction so I spent Friday afternoon at a cafe reading Metamorphosis by Kafka. It was really fun to read and it was a really quick read (took 2 hours to finish the whole thing)! I downloaded a few more books on my Kindle to read this week/weekend. Do you have any favourite books that you'd recommend? I've been asking friends for suggestions so if you have any tell me about it!

I was a bit sick for a day or two last week-the weather is changing and I'd forgotten how easy it can be to catch a flu when that happens. It's getting colder-which for some reason makes feel tired more quickly and get headaches more often. But nothing that can't be handled!

Nov 7, 2015

Weekly update 4: Bumping into fun events

This week was a relatively easy week. I spent most of my week working as always (which was great-made progress), so won't talk much more about that. But here are some other things I did!

I hosted 3 couchsurfers this week who were all studying at Utrecht university in Netherlands. They were really interesting people-they were doing a masters in gender studies, a topic that I really like to learn about. I enjoyed having them over-they were all from different places (England, Ireland and Taiwan), so I also learnt something about each of those countries!

Hosting some incredible couchsurfers from Ireland, Taiwan and England! 
We had presentations for our entrepreneurship class so some time during the week was spent brainstorming the ideas we'd been working on in groups of 4. I spent a few hours working on that. I learnt a lot from the presentations, because our instructor was really good at picking out issues that she saw with the ideas when we were presenting. She would point out things like font size, spacing, etc in presentations in addition to issues she saw with the implementation of the idea. So it was really good practice for preparing investor pitches and slide decks. 

After the presentations, I went out with some friends. We ate at a really popular hummus and shawarma place called Dabush in Tel Aviv. It was SO good! Afterwards, we were walking along the street when we bumped into a building with quite a few people outside it. When we asked around, we learnt that there were free artistic performances happening inside the building. Apparently in Tel Aviv, some government buildings are transformed for one night a year into artistic installations or a place of performances. Inside the building, there were theatrical performances, photo exhibitions and music performances. We went inside to check out some of it and it was amazing. The best things in life are free! 

One of the musical performances at the Tel Aviv city council
Photo credits: Aileen

My friends and I at the same performance after final presentations!
Photo credits: Kevan 

Another beautiful art installation on the same night
On Friday (which is the weekend here), Aileen and I went to this cute little cafe and bookstore called the Little Prince. It's really cozy and we'd been wanting to go chill there for some time.

The Little Prince Cafe. Doesn't it look great? Can't wait to go back! 

Orange hummus, one of the signature dishes of the Little Prince. I personally didn't love it, but I think it just didn't match my taste. It seemed well prepared though. 

We also bumped into this huge bubble party for kids that was happening near Habima Square in Tel Aviv. Apparently, it happens on the first friday of every month. Aileen and I happened to know the guy who was making the huge ass bubbles. We'd seen him at a social gathering a few weeks earlier and Aileen recognised him! He let us play with the bubbles for a while! 

A photo I took from Tel Aviv port after my yoga class. The sea always looks so beautiful on Saturday mornings when I go to Tel Aviv port for yoga classes. 
Came back home on Friday to find my flat mate and friend Kevan making beer at home! He loves making alcohol at home! This isn't the first time I've walked into something like this. 

Our office dog sitting on my desk at work. 
I think a lot of things I did this week were serendipitous-like walking into the bubble party and the artistic performances. I feel like that's really one of the best ways to enjoy Israel-by being open to new experiences and not trying to plan things too much. 

Nov 1, 2015

Weekly update 3: Amazing people, work and Bill Clinton

This week was mostly work, one networking event, dinner with one of my uncles who was visiting from San Francisco, two yoga classes and two chill nights at home with friends.

I went to an event at Google Campus Tel Aviv on Monday. Met some really interesting and friendly people there. Since this was an event meant for networking, people were willing to leverage their network to strangers and make introductions if they knew someone who could help. So after meeting these amazing people at the event, I got introduced to another round of amazing people through them!

On Tuesday, I met my uncle who was visiting from San Francisco and his colleague from Delhi. It was really nice hanging out with them. My uncle is really smart and cool! He runs a company based in SF, which produces something that apparently no one else in the world has the capability to understand or create. It's that complex. So proud to have such amazing family! 

On Wednesday and Saturday, I went for yoga classes. These were easier than the ones I went to last week, so I was less sore the next day. Also, my yoga class on Wednesday was interrupted by a fire on the roof of the studio. But the whole thing got handled pretty quickly, so after 20 minutes of standing outside, we went back in and continued class.

On Thursday night I just chilled at home with one of my flat mates! We watched artistic music videos. Apparently Justin Bieber didn't write his latest songs himself. He only sung them. They were composed by other people, and so were the music videos. I especially like this music video. The artistic style is beautiful and so creative.

Aileen and I bumped into one of our former couch surfers Nadege at a cafe! She was passing through Tel Aviv on her way to the airport. She's from France and was just on her way out of Israel. It was so good seeing her again and hearing about her experiences in Israel. She only stayed with us for one night at the beginning of her trip two weeks ago and she's really cool, so I'm glad we got a little bit more time with her at the cafe. 

Aileen and I went to an Italian restaurant for lunch on Friday! 
We had some friends over this weekend who stayed over on Friday night. We started to watch a Bollywood movie on Friday night, but it was so terrible that I left it halfway and my two friends forwarded their way to the end.

This week, I also had to submit a report about my experience in Israel so far to NUS Enterprise, the institute which organises this program. I love writing, so this was fun even though it took up all my Saturday afternoon!

I wasn't able to spend a lot of time working on my project this week, so that was unfortunate. I would have liked to speak with more users. But I had some phone calls with people in the edtech space, and it was really fun chatting with them!

Aileen hates writing reports. They drive her crazy.

On Saturday, Bill Clinton was speaking at Rabin Square, a place in Tel Aviv that is named after Yitzhak Rabin, a former prime minister of Israel. It's been 20 years since Rabin was assassinated and Bill Clinton was one of the supporters of Rabin. Rabin was killed much like Gandhi, by a fellow country man for wanting to make peace with the state's supposed enemy. One of the things Bill Clinton said in his speech was that Apart from hearing Bill Clinton talk, it was an interesting experience to go to a public and political event here. The security was quite strict and the atmosphere felt different than any other political gathering I've been to. There were speeches and music performances before Bill Clinton spoke also. I couldn't understand much of the speeches since they were in hebrew (some people around were nice enough to translate though!). The performances were all musical performances of patriotic music, some of which were apparently composed in memory of Rabin's assassination 20 years ago.

Bill Clinton at Rabin Square

Crowds with banners, balloons and signs at Rabin Square to hear Bill Clinton
Photo Credits: Aileen 

Today at work (Sunday is a working day here), I spent time working on Search Engine Optimisation for eRated's blog and website. It's really fun to try and find better keywords that we can use for our target audience so that we can attract audiences that will lead to higher conversion rates. I felt a state of flow while doing it. It's also fun to discover the new tools out there that help you optimise websites. The coolest one I discovered today is this one which gives you ideas for blog posts based on keywords you type in. Try typing in some words into this tool and see it produce a graph of ideas for blog posts based on those keywords.

I'm trying a new thing this week where I spend less time on my phone. I often caught myself browsing social media on my phone for no specific reason, so last night, I deleted the FB and Snapchat app from my phone just to see if that would result in me spending less time on my phone. I'll probably install it back after a week, but this week I just want to try and de-addict. I actually found myself looking for my FB app on my phone a few times today instinctively (I did it twice while writing this blog post), until I remembered that I'd deleted it. Isn't that crazy?

Oct 26, 2015

Weekly update 2: A tiny glimpse of work-learning-friends balance

My week was really long (which is why I'm late publishing this post), but it was quite fruitful and diverse in all that I did. 

First off, in my attempt to do things that make me uncomfortable, I went for two difficult yoga classes where I knew I would be worse off than everyone else. I wanted something more challenging, so I decided to go for some advanced classes. I was one of the worst in the class, but actually, it felt REALLY good to be in that position. I love being bad at things that are low stake and that I know I can get better at. It gives me something to work towards. It was a good kind of uncomfortable.

At my internship, I tried to ideate less and execute more. My natural inclination is to come up with 10s of ideas and then try to do all of them at once. But that doesn't always get good results, so last week, I just worked with 2 or 3 ideas. Doing that was super effective! By the end of the week, I started seeing more results than I'd seen over the past few months!

One of our tweets this week! 

Work is even more fun when you have amazing colleagues and you get to go for a sushi lunch with them! 

For my startup project, I chatted with a few users of my app. They're all SO amazing. I love how supportive they are and at the same time, they give some great suggestions on tweaks we can make to the app features. They're also really inspirational in all the stuff they're doing outside of the course. Some run their own businesses, others are trying to figure out what direction to take, while some are just constant learners who have an incredible drive to learn. I learn so much from talking to them, and I LOVE seeing them talk to each other. The conversations some of them have are incredible. They support each other in what each of them are doing, and the extent to which they're willing to help each other is unbelievable. I'm beginning to treat this more and more like a project than a startup these days-at this point, I care way more about building a great product for my users than I do about things like competitive advantage, fundraising, incorporation, etc, even though I know those things are important.

I attended a Zell workshop and class this week. Zell is the entrepreneurship program (the 'study' part of my program) that I'm on. It was really nice to sit in a classroom and just absorb information. My Zell class was on networking and pitching, and the workshop was by a veteran entrepreneur who talked about his experiences as an entrepreneur. While I prefer to learn while working, I like having occasional classes like this where I can just listen and learn. It complements my on the job learning.

Zell entrepreneurship workshop by Shlomo Dovrat. He said some pretty insightful things. My favourite ones were-
1) Make a product that is addictive-something that users want to use 30 times a day. (He also mentioned that cell phones have been found to be more addictive than narcotics based on research, which I thought was pretty interesting). 
2) "I never invest in anyone who comes with a market research report. The fact that they have a market report probably means that they're too late to enter the market"
3) 3 Ps of entrepreneurship-passion, people, professionalism
Zell class! 

We had some great couch surfers over this week again! It was really fun to hang out with them and learn more about their experiences. 

Jonathan from Switzerland got us Swiss wine! I had great conversations about art and economics with him! 
Arnold from Poland! He got us flavoured Vodka from Poland. Arnold is a serial couch surfer and hitchhiker. He inspired me to hitchhike the next time I take a trip! 

I also wrote and published this blog post about some amazing work habits that I noticed in my employers who I worked with in various startups. Its called 7 inspiring habits of my best startup employers! If you want to work for some amazing startup founders in India, Singapore or Israel, consider pinging these guys! I promise you won't be disappointed. 

I had quite a chilled out weekend. I worked for a few hours on both days, but I kept it under control, partly because I was tired from the week and partly because I was able to be more efficient and get things done quickly. 

Chilling on Friday night 

Randomest mix of people and cultures, which made it even better! 

Something I tried to do this week is talk less about my work to people. I love my work, so I end up talking a lot about it with my friends, but I don't want my personality to be just about work or startups. So I tried talking about other things. 

It felt strange to have this balance of creativity, execution, in class learning and non work conversations. I'm used to being on extreme ends where I have work intense periods, learning intense periods, travel intense periods, etc. This balance feels strange to me. But I think its better in the long run? I did feel less stressed last week, so I think I should make more of an effort to keep that balance. 

Oct 18, 2015

Weekly update 1: Couchsurfing, meetups, trying to be more organized

It feels like a month has passed by since last Monday. Its been exciting, tiring, amazing.

Earlier this week, Sharon and Prof Teo, directors of the program I'm on, came to Tel Aviv to check on us. We had a few meetings in which everyone presented on all that they've been learning on their internships. I learnt a lot from listening to the others talk about their internship experiences. One of my friends talked about his role as a community manager in the startup he's working at, which really got me thinking about ways I can enhance the community element among eRated's (the company I'm interning at in Israel) users. I still haven't found a perfect answer yet so if anyone has suggestions ping me ( Another thing that came up was how important it is to do something that makes you uncomfortable everyday. While this is something I try to live by, I think I needed a reminder. So I signed up for a few meetups on While I like meeting new people a lot, it does make me a bit uncomfortable still.

I went to two meetups this week. One was something on content marketing. In the first three months of my internship, a large part of my role was producing content (like blog posts) that engaged our users and helped us get new ones. So I thought it might be interesting to learn ways to do it better. My two takeaways from that meetup were documenting content strategy (I hate documenting-I rarely do it) and thinking through the purpose of the post more clearly before writing and publishing it. Is it to create awareness? or to get customers to buy your product? All of that really affects the tone of your content and I realised I should be more conscious about it. The other meetup I went to was something called She Codes. It's a weekly event organized at the Google Campus in Tel Aviv, where women go and learn to code or work on your own projects. I'd been wanting to play around with the user data my startup project's app has been getting, so I went there to work on that. It was SO nice to be surrounded by women who were learning to code. I usually don't like to go for gender specific events, but this one was really great. When I go to hackathons, I'm one of the few girls there and I feel judged for not being a genius coder. Here, I felt ok knowing however much I did and the mentality of people was more towards the growth mindset.

She Codes at Google Campus Tel Aviv

I hosted one couchsurfer this week. She's a student from China starting her masters at Tel Aviv University soon. She was super cool and so independent. We didn't get to hang out much, but I loved whatever little time I got with her. I spent the weekend couchsurfing with my flat mate and friend Aileen in a nearby city called Rehovot. Carmel, who we met through couchsurfing invited us over to her parent's house in Rehovot for the weekend and we got to spend time with her siblings, parents, grandparents and aunts! It was really amazing to meet so many warm people at once and spend Shabbat (Jewish weekends) with them.

Our host Carmel with Aileen and me at the end of an amazing weekend

I tried to be more organized and in the moment this week. I've been told I'm quite messy and unstructured by a lot of people. Also, I tend to get distracted easily. My Singaporean friends here are the opposite, so I figured that it's a good opportunity to learn from them. So I tried documenting more stuff, like meeting agendas, conversations with users for my own startup project (this, to do lists, strategies I was using to reach out to my startup project's users. My brain still feels quite messy as it did before. I often come up with new ideas and then get distracted by them. So I have to force myself to not get distracted and just keep doing what I'm doing. Doing one thing at a time has been really great though. It's much easier and less tiring than getting excited by 5 different things and trying to do them simultaneously. It's also nice when I manage to force myself to really listen to my friends when they are talking. Sometimes, when they talk too long or about things I'm not interested in, I zone out and then the conversation pretty much ends. But that's a terrible habit to have, so I forced myself to listen to everything people said to me this week, even if it was boring. It was quite nice actually. I had better conversations with people.

Weekly updates from Israel

When I first got to Israel, I hoped to keep family and friends updated about all that was going on through regular blog posts, just like I had in Japan. But after writing about my first month, I never got to writing again! It's too bad, because there's been so much going on and I feel myself changing everyday. So starting this week, I'm going to write weekly highlights, which are going to touch on all the interesting things I do every week. Unlike my previous posts, this is not going to involve a day by day account of what I ate, places I saw et al. It's just going to be some very quick updates and photos. If you want to get notified about these posts, just subscribe to my blog and you'll get an email everytime there's a new post here!

How to subscribe:

Aug 1, 2015

First Month in Tel Aviv, Israel

A few months ago, I applied to a program called NUS Overseas College (NOC) that places you in a startup in a startup hub of the world as an intern for 6 months. I got into the Israel chapter, which means I get to take 6 months off college to intern at a startup in Tel Aviv! I got here on 1st July and the first month has been amazing!

Tel Aviv is a tiny city. According to google its 50 square kms big, which is 1/14th the size of Singapore and 1/28th the size of Delhi. A large part of the city is accessible by foot, so I can walk to quite a few places.

I really like the city. Its a perfect combination of the two cities I've lived in. Its low rise, like Delhi. Its safe, like Singapore. The beach is nearby. Basic infrastructure like transportation is pretty good. For those of you who don't know, its a fully developed country (no, there are no bombs on the streets). The people are a lot like Indians in some ways. They're spiritual and energetic. Some people are religious. People in Tel Aviv are much more open minded than the people I've met in India though. They're quite hippie, kind of like the people at Yale-NUS. Its a perfect combination for me!

Tel Aviv is very diverse. You see all kinds of people from all sorts of places. Some are from the middle east region, others from Europe. Its not rare to see people from Africa and Latin America either. So just based on someone's appearance, you can't tell whether they're locals or foreigner, except perhaps for Asians who tend to stand out a bit more here. As one local said to me, "Anyone can be from Tel Aviv!". In general, people are quite friendly here. They're easy to talk to and they like foreigners. One of my favourite things about the people here is just how smart they are. They take intelligence to a completely new level. But that might just be the people I've interacted with so far.

A street party in Tel Aviv on the French Bastille day. There was music, street performances and people drinking and dancing to French music in the streets.

Another street performance in Tel Aviv. Its not rare to come across people singing in the streets. Based on what I've seen so far, they sometimes do it for money and other times for a social cause. 

A popular dish called Shakshuka. It's tomato sauce with eggs and other veggies. Its typically eaten with bread. I learnt to cook it this week! 
Hummus with meat, one of the local dishes in Israel. The Hummus here is so different from the kind I've eaten before. It has a different flavour altogether, probably because of the spices they use to make it. The meals here in general are pretty big. I usually can't finish dishes I order at restaurants in one go. Each of them are usually 1.5 or 2 meals for me.

The startup I'm working at is called eRated. It combines the online identity of online sellers who sell on websites like eBay/Amazon. Its been fascinating to learn that different e-commerce sellers actually operate on multiple platforms, but the reviews and ratings they have are scattered across all the platforms they operate on. So eRated pulls out information from the different marketplaces they operate on and aggregates reviews, facebook/linkedin profiles, etc to give buyers more information about the sellers. I'm doing marketing and social media at eRated. Working with the team at eRated has been amazing. They're super smart people and they're really fun. I'm learning a lot! Working with them motivates me to work harder at my own startup project. One of the best parts is that my work timings are 10.30 am to 8 pm, so it suits my body clock perfectly.

The eRated family! We had a fun day recently where we went for massages, drinks and Barbeque. Missing Matt, Jake and Yoav in the picture. 
Photo credits: Boaz Cohen

A timelapse of a day at the office.
Video credits: Dor Kelman 

I live in an apartment with three others from Singapore. I've learnt a lot living in an apartment, since this is my first time doing it without my parents. I'm learning to take better care of myself. In college, I never need to cook since food is provided. Here, I need to cook because food outside is pretty expensive ($15 a meal on average/ 750 Rs). I'm trying to learn to cook one new thing every week-preferably from different cultures! I actually prefer living in an apartment to college dorms. This way, I get to have more control over my meals, timings, etc. However, I miss being able to walk over to my friends rooms and knock on their doors to say hello!

The living room cum dining area of our apartment. The apartment turned out to be much bigger and nicer than the expectations we had for ourselves based on the photos we'd seen of it.  

A photo taken in the Old Jaffa area of Tel Aviv. We stayed at a hostel there the first few days before moving into our apartment. Its a beautiful area. It used to be a port at some time in history. Also, it has some biblical associations.

A view of Jaffa port. This photo was taken on our first day when we were walking along the beach to see the sunset.

In the old Jaffa area, there are several little cafes on the streets where people just chat and drink. These cafes would be filled with people on weekday nights and weekends. These kind of outdoor cafes are also prominent in several other parts of Tel Aviv.

A weekend visit to Nazareth, a town about 1.5 hours away from Tel Aviv. Its known for being the birth place of Jesus and is dominated by Arabs. Getting out of Tel Aviv and seeing the landscape on the highway and in Nazareth was amazing. Its one of the only places I've visited that's more beautiful than portrayed in pictures. 

Tel Aviv Port: I don't know if its a functional port, but it has a lot of nice restaurants around it. My flat mates and I went there one night and it was really nice walking along the port. 

Feb 19, 2015

The Diary of an Edtech Startup: The Good, Bad and Ugly

It was a month after I started Smoocer that I realised it comes under the category of an Edtech startup. Edtech means much more than it appears to be. Its not just about online tools that teachers can use to keep track of their students. Edtech startups range right from technologies that sell to schools, products for MOOC takers to learning tools for individual students and learners.

By working on my Edtech startup and in trying to make sense of this industry, I have discovered a few common experiences faced by several Edtech startups whose founders I've interacted with. If you're looking to venture into this space, or if you are already in this space, here are some things that I consider must knows of the Edtech space:

The GOOD: There are tons of opportunity in the market. No matter where you look in the traditional education space, there is almost always visible scope for technology to swoop in and save the day. It can be in the form of Learning Management Systems for teachers or Massive Open Online Coursewares for learners worldwide. Problems, such as poor communication between teachers and students or low accessibility to quality education are well defined problems that have a well defined audience. And this is what makes Edtech such a vibrant and upcoming industry.

The BAD: Just because the problem is clearly defined and existent, doesn't mean people are willing to adopt your solution. Remember that the Edtech space is entirely and completely dependent on the education space, which is fairly resistant to new technology. The Education industry comes under the late majority in adopting technology. Many a time, you can talk to your customers, understand their problems and craft a perfect product for them. But getting them used to screens after decades of having used paper is like trying to train a human being to do a headstand. For them, computers and phones equate to distracting games and social media, which is nowhere close to effective learning and good grades. Online tutoring is an ideal example of a product that faces this kind of problem. So in other words, finding your early adopters might be as difficult as finding your soulmate.

The UGLY: Even if you come with an awesome product that people are want to use, it's hard to get it to them. While the market is well defined, the marketing channels are not. In case of B2B products or services, the bureaucratic hurdles that you may have to jump in educational institutes can really slow you down. In case of B2C products or services, like the kind I'm working on, its difficult to find online platforms and physical places where you can market your product. End users, like professionals taking MOOCs in my case, are scattered across the planet, several MOOC platforms and thousands of Facebook groups. It's not rare for me to be talking to a user who tells me about a very frustrating problem they've been facing, like choosing the right MOOC for themselves, that has already been solved to a large extent by services like Coursetalk and MOOCList. They're just not aware of the solution yet.

I'm not saying that its harder to operate in the Edtech industry than other industries. Just like any other space, this one has its unique set of problems. But despite these problems, Edtech has been the most exciting space I've worked in so far. Its vibrant, moves fast and is far from saturation. And the best part? It feels like a revolution.

Feb 1, 2015

When Education gets Creative with Technology

Reading Tom Wilson's post on good technology for education got me thinking about some of the popular and prevalent social technology that have been used very creatively in online education, or more specifically, in MOOCs (Massive Open Online Coursewares). I remember being awed by each of these things when I came across them, and if you’re an edtech fan like me, it’s likely that these will blow your mind too:
Twitterbot: MOOCs often have discussions on Twitter, wherein hundreds of people taking the course converse by tweeting to the MOOC’s twitter profile. These discussions can be quite fast paced and are usually more spontaneous than those on course discussion forums. A particularly innovative MOOC I came across, called E-learning and Digital Culture on Coursera created a Twitterbot for themselves which would answer the course takers’ tweets automatically by picking out certain predetermined words. And you thought video lectures were advanced?
TalkAbout: TalkAbout is a tool that helps people taking an online course to schedule google hangouts with other students taking the same course. I haven’t personally used it, but from what I understand, it also provides some add-ons that can be used during the google hangout to guide discussion. The simplicity of the idea and the way it makes use of exisiting technology (i.e. Google Hangouts) is fascinating.
Padlet Walls: Padlet may not be something you have heard of unless you’re a user of online project collaboration tools. Well, that’s basically what it is. It lets you invite people to share a ‘padlet wall’ to which all of you can post documents, pictures, links, etc. A few MOOCs which included a final project to be submitted by the end of the course request their students to post the final projects on a common wall like this one. Apart from enabling students to see each others’ projects, this is a great marketing tactic for the course too since the content on these walls is usually made public by the MOOC provider who can display all the work that has come out of their online course.
Facebook and Google+ Communities: Creating FB and Google+ groups for online course takers to interact with each other on social media isn’t particularly innovative. But its probably the most effective. If moderated well, these social media groups can play a huge role in giving MOOC takers a sense of community and comfort. Also, these mediums seem to be better at maintaining long term relationships amongst MOOC takers since people continue to use FB and Google+ even after their course ends.
Do you have any other cool MOOC technologies you’ve come across? Share them with me if you have, so that I can geek out over them too.