My views

Four tools/sites I use to quickly get projects off the ground

I love playing with new ideas and always want to test things out quick. However, new projects always demand more time and energy. Creating the right graphics, finding the correct keywords, gauging user interest are all easier said than done. As I was working on creating resources for a new app , I realized that I use a small sets of tools/websites for pretty most of my projects. These are the resources I share the most when someone is looking to get started on a new project.

Canva

This has clearly been my favorite site/tool in last couple of years. This user friendly and versatile graphic design tool as been my go to place for almost any project. I have created anything from app icon to logo, Facebook ads, presentations, book covers, and flyers. I have an idea or image of something beautiful I want to create, but when I actually sit down to create , it is far from the image I have in my head. However, Canva simplifies this for me with their templates for almost any kind of graphics I need. Most of Canva’s features are free but I pay for the premium service for the ease of being able to resize a graphic to any size I want.

Unsplash and Pixabay

I came across Unsplash couple years ago when I was looking for some stock photos and for a long time I could not believe it was for real. Both Unsplash and Pixabay have amazing quality photos for almost every need that are 100% free to use. Pixabay also has vectors and illustrations that are free to use, with an option to buy some paid ones alongside. Unsplash is definitely my go to place when I am looking for an image. I have struggled at times to medical or scientific images, but other than that the section is phenomenal. In fact, if you look at medium, majority of the blog header images are from Unsplash. Attribution is not necessary but recommended, and I happily do it. I also contribute some of my relevant images to the site so we can continue to grow this amazing site.

Google keyword tool

This is a place I go to check for demand and competition anytime I have a new Idea I want to explore. I like being able to see number of searches for a certain term and competition to gauge market interest. This is also nice when I am working on something of a regional interest as Keyword tool has the option to narrow the search by geography.

Google adwords and Facebook ads

Finally I used both google adwords and Facebook ads to quickly get feedback on a project from an unbiased audience as well as gauge user interest. Additionally, for an app, I run both google and FB ads to quickly get some downloads and use firebase analytics to start collecting data on how users are using the app and optimize. I realize that paid advertising might not be for everyone, but is an amazing way to get quick feedback. For example, If I had an idea for a new subscription business, let’s say spice of the month club. Before I put in a lot of time and money into the business, I could spend $100 worth of ads to drive traffic to a landing page and see if users are willing to pay. This could be anything from taking people to a email list to a survey to an actual checkout cart that has all the steps except the final pay button. For apps, I have noticed that driving traffic early helps the app get listed on new and coming lists and drive further traffic as well as quickly testing what is working and not.

My top 5 books of 2017

Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 1.59.09 PM.png

Not too long ago, I was barely reading a book a year. Now, reading has become one of my favorite activities. In the last couple of years, I have finally discovered the joy of reading. To do better than last year, I started with a goal of 26 books this year (1 more than last year) but was able to surpass and read 36 books this year without much effort. I wanted to share my top five of the year. This is not by specific genre, so will be a mixture of fiction and non-fiction.

1. The Gene by Siddhartha Muhkarjee

I received this book as a Christmas gift and was the book I started the year with. I was taken aback by Mukharjee's brilliant ability to write about science as an exciting and engaging story. I have a bachelor's degree in Biochemistry and a Masters in Chemistry and as such many of the concepts were not new to me. What got me hooked from the beginning was the author's storytelling ability. I wish my teachers had been able to explain concepts in the way he did. It was beautiful how simply he could explain cell division, and DNA replication. Then with equal ease, he could tie how it fit with the history of gene.

2. The everything store by Brad Stone

The entrepreneur in me loves reading about history and biography of innovators. Brad stone gives a up close view of Jeff Bezos and Amazon in this easy to read book. The book surely was motivating. A good book to read especially when you feel stuck or you are not making much progress. A good reminder also of sacrifices you should be willing to make when you have a vision as large as Amazon's. While, I enjoyed the book, one thing was clear to me. I would never want to work at Amazon or create a company with similar culture. Of course, that also comes with the understanding that I am ok trading off some of the success for more time with friends and family.

3. Misbehaving, the making of behavioral economics by Richard Thaler

I love reading about decision science and this was a perfect book for anyone who enjoys the topic. If you have read, Thinking fast and slow or Predictably irrational, a lot of the concepts are similar. But the book is still filled with thought provoking experiments and really got me think. I found myself stopping to think and analyze every couple pages, which I loved. Thaler has countless examples of how we are supposed to think/act and how we actually do. I do not know if I got any better at some of those logics, but never the less, thoroughly enjoyed the book. On my list to read again!

4. Beartown Fredrik Backman

I like to read fiction and non-fiction book at the same time. Usually reading non-fiction during morning/day and fiction at night. I read Fredrik's first book, A man called Ove last year and he has quickly become my favorite writer. Beartown was another exceptional book by Backman. Set around a small town tied together by Hockey, this is an engaging read taking on love and culture. Backman brilliantly takes us on a tour of a this small town and humanity at the same time. Even though Backman's books are translated from Swedish, his beautiful expressions are still crystal clear. I found myself highlighting so many phrases that made an impact.

5. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I first found out about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie couple years ago from her TED video titled a power of single story and have been following her writing since. This story of a Nigerian student settling in the US, hit close to home for me. I could relate to the lot experiences with those of mine when I first came to this country from Nepal.

My full 2017 reading list is on Goodreads

Why futures trading might be bad news for Bitcoin short term

rick-tap-110126.jpg

Unless you are living under the rock, you have seen the increasing popularity of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. Whether it is just simple Supply and demand or plain old fear of missing out, cryptocurrencies have seen over 1000% increase just this year. However, I feel like some of the recent mainstream acceptance is likely to send the prices down for a while.

Here is my logic behind why bitcoin might take some short term beating or more accurately a correction. One of the main reasons I see this coming is from the opening of bitcoin futures trading. Both CBOE global markets and CME group launched futures trading recently. Historically, when investors feel like something is overpriced or overvalued, they will bet on it to go down using futures trading. This had not been possible for bitcoin so far.

Now, with the introduction of bitcoin futures trading it would not be least bit surprising if investors started making large bets on bitcoin prices to fall and even starting selling sprees to get the ball rolling. 

Even though the futures trading is only for bitcoin and not other cryptocurrencies, the fall of one will also very likely create a network effect of people starting to sell other cryptocurrencies. Given, that a lot of people who had been buying bitcoin or similar digital currencies were simply jumping on the bandwagon without full understanding, they will likely start selling their holdings of other digital currencies as well when bitcoin starts falling. Like any supply and demand in investment, the more people sell the lower the price could get. 

Good thing about the futures market is, at  certain point the big investors will also decide that the price has dropped enough and start making bets for it increase and slowly sending it back up.

For now, all we can do is wait and see when and how everything will unfold. Historically, investors like to sell equity and hold cash before the holidays. Given that, bitcoin futures trading opened up right before the holidays, we could very likely see a major correction right before. 

Of course, these are just my opinions from the outside. 

My memory of Pocatello as an international student

This is an article I wrote for Idaho State Journal sharing my experience of Pocatello.

Over the past few weeks, I have seen a lot of social media posts and news articles about the horrific experiences Middle Eastern students were having at Idaho State University. It saddens me to see this happening in Pocatello, my home away from home.

Yesterday, I was watching a TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about the danger of a single story. This motivated me to share my experience of Pocatello as an international student from Nepal.

Please, understand that I completely empathize with the students who were victims of discrimination, vandalism and emotional torture. I am not trying to dismiss all the events that happened, but simply sharing my story of Pocatello, even though it’s a single story. Adichie’s talk highlighted how a single story emphasizes how we are different more than how we are similar. I’d hate to see a single story define my beloved college town.

Here is my story of Pocatello. My flight landed in Pocatello airport a little after 10 p.m. on a cold January night in 2003. I was 19 at that time, and even though I had dreamt of coming to United States for years, the reality of being away from home was horrible. I had been traveling for what felt like weeks. My luggage had gotten delayed during a transfer in Amsterdam. So there I was — a 19-year-old boy in a foreign land with no luggage, barely speaking English, tired, hungry and ready to cry.

I could not locate the cab, international office had sent for pickup, and turns out the driver thought I wasn’t the one needing to be picked up since I had no luggage. After walking back and forth the Pocatello regional airport for almost 30 minutes, I noticed a Pocatello PD officer walking towards me. For no apparent reason, my heart started beating hard and I automatically started thinking I was in trouble. He came over and simply asked if I needed any help. After patiently listening to my story, he asked me to just wait while he contacted the university.

Within an hour, Shawn Bascom from the International office was there to pick me up. It must have been close to midnight by then. I was delighted to finally get out of the airport and may be get some sleep. Shawn had received a call from Public safety, and after hearing the story, decided to get out of bed and come help me. Shawn took me to Turner Hall, where a half asleep woman let us in and introduced herself as the resident director.

Melissa found an empty room on the 5th floor for me, and got some sheets and towel. She asked me if I was hungry. I told her I was, but I needed a shower and sleep more than food at that moment. Melissa pointed me to the showers and left. When I returned to my room, I saw a McDonald’s bag with a chicken sandwich, fries, and a drink. I could not help but get teary eyes and gobble up that food as fast as I could.

The next morning, I got up and headed straight to the international office. When I saw the campus/town in daylight, it was nothing like the image of U.S I had conjured from Hollywood movies.

Disappointed, I made it to the international office where Michelle Lewis asked If I had called home yet. After I told her I hadn’t figured out how to do that yet, she immediately called home for me. I don’t think I had ever been that delighted to hear my parents voice. Scared of bursting out in tears in front of everyone, I hung up after a very brief conversation.

At the orientation, I met other Nepali students, who gladly shared their clothes and snacks from Nepal until my luggage finally arrived. Slowly, I was getting acclimated to the new place and people.

Our sociology Professor, Ann Hunter, asked how we were settling in and after some conversation invited us for dinner at her home. We were taken aback by the familiar smell of lentil curry and rice when we showed up. I had never ! realized how many memories a simple smell can bring back.

Ann and her husband Ray later became my friendship family, and Ray was more than happy to help with my English, and show us around the town and the state. Later, we met Fred and Terry— my friend Dhiraj’s friendship family and Keith and Marlene— my friend Bikash’s friendship family. Fred and Terry had travelled to Nepal and surprised us with a delicious Nepali meal and a slideshow of Nepal trip.

We got to meet their equally wonderful friends and family over time. All of whom treated us like their own family, always including us during holidays and celebrations. They all really became our friendship family and our family away from home.

Couple weeks into the semester, when I asked Mellissa where I could find jobs on campus, she offered me few hours working at the front desk. By my second semester, I was able to get 20 hours.

One morning, while at work, I saw this beautiful young girl using the payphone at the lobby to call home. Trying to be helpful, I told her it was cheaper to use the phone in her room if she was using calling cards. She smiled at me and said thanks. Couple days later I saw her using the phone again, and repeated what I had told her before. Again, she smiled and thanked me.

This continued for quite a while. After a while, I started thinking “this girl must really like me, otherwise why would she keep coming back to use the payphone?” After finding out we were in the same chemistry class, we started talking. Anisa is from Albania, and we started talking about our similarities and differences and fell in love in the process.

Twelve years later, Anisa and I live in Colorado with our silly dog Bobo and I have to thank Pocatello for bringing us together. I did find out much later that the reason Anisa kept coming back to use the payphone wasn’t because she wanted to see me. She simply had no idea what I was saying due to my strong accent. She was just trying to be polite by saying thanks and smiling.

In academic fronts, late my sophomore year, I applied for a job with a professor in Pharmaceutical and Biomedical sciences department. I was not qualified for what he was looking for, but he thought I would be a good fit for a colleague of his who was looking for some help. This is how I met Dr. Leslie Devaud. Dr. Devaud trusted me to give me my first lab job, and provided me mentorship throughout the way.

In similar fashion, I found Dr. Jeffrey Rosentreter in the Chemistry department, who welcomed me to his lab with open arms. After I had been learning in his lab for a while, he once said something that has stuck with me till today. He said, “Bikul, I cannot promise you million dollar grants and unlimited travel funds, but what I can promise is that you will have the same opportunity as everyone else, and I will be more than happy to teach you everything I know.” I got my M.S in Chemistry from Dr. Rosentreter’s lab and worked in Dr. Devaud’s lab till the week before I left Pocatello.

Over the years Pocatello had really become my home away from home. I still tell everyone about how wonderful the people are. My brother joined me at Idaho State for his education and some of his and my friends followed. My best friends and mentors are people I met in Pocatello. I have nothing but fond memories of the five and half years I spent there. I could go on for pages and pages about experiences like these but I think you get the point.

I know this might not be everyone’s experience but this is my story. This is what I recall when I think of Pocatello. I want to invite everyone to sympathize with the recent incidents and do their part to avoid incidents like these in future. I want to invite everyone to read multiple stories and have an open mind. I want to invite everyone to not just share the news of hatred and discrimination but also share the stories of love and acceptance. Let’s share a balanced story.

Thank You Pocatello for making me feel welcome and at home. Thank you Pocatello community for helping me shape who I am today. Thank you for teaching me to be open and accepting. And finally, thank you for continuing to share your love and support to all the newcomers.

The Done-it List

done-it-list.jpg

I have never been good with lists and structures. However, after I quit my job to focus on building my business, I have been struggling to stay focused and yearning for some structure.

I experimented with many to do list apps but none of them seemed right for me. I read all the suggestions about not having too many items on your list so you do not feel discouraged about not getting to all of them, but I just couldn't help putting too many things on my list.

So, I decided to experiment with a done it list rather than a to-do list. I have a notebook where I write down items I do during the day as I complete them. To keep it simple and clean, I start a new day on a new blank page and simply list items as I would have on a to-d0 list but the only difference being I write down after I complete the task. This has been an immense help for me to stay focused and productive. I have been doing this for couple months and so far I have found out that the done it list helps me:

  • Easily see what I have achieved in a day/week/month.
  • The thought of having an empty done it list at the end of the day motivates me to stay focused.
  • Makes me feel less guilty when I take an afternoon off to do whatever I want( I usually put that on the list as well)
  • Helps me easily see what tasks or activities I am spending most of my time on and if they align with my goals
  • Since I write the list in the order I perform the activities, it helps me understand if I am more productive when I start the day with certain activities versus others.

For a guy who has never been a fan of lists, this is a huge change in the way I work. I feel like I have a more of a free flowing schedule while creating some kind of structure with a done it list. This approach lets me design my day the way I wish while providing a system for feedback and accountability.

I’d love to hear if there are some simple techniques that help you with focus and productivity

13 Key take aways from One up on Wall Street

photo-1444653389962-8149286c578a.jpeg

Last year I took two Finance classes as a part of my MBA curriculum which got me more interested in understanding investment principles. I had recently decided that I felt more comfortable having a financial advisor manage my investments but this class got me excited about investments again. We had spent a fair amount of or time in Investments class talking about Peter Lynch, I ended up picking up his book, One up on all street. Surprisingly, I found his book quite entertaining and insightful. I felt like, I learned more about investments from this little book than what I had learned in a 8 week course. Here are few general principles that stuck with me.

  1. If you are not willing to spend time doing research, put your money in the market instead of picking individual stocks

  2. If you can not beat the market, put your money in a good mutual fund.
  3. If you can’t find any companies that you think are attractive, put your money into the bank until you discover some.
  4. Invest in fundamentals and not news and rumors
  5. You do not need to be able to pick all winners to have a successful investment portfolio. Most of the times 6/10 is enough
  6. Dont get too attached to any stocks, when the fundamentals /story is no longer good, its time to let it go
  7. Invest in what you know and understand. This a principle Warren Buffet follows and recommends as well.
  8. Price drops in companies with strong fundamentals should be viewed as buying opportunity.
  9. According to Peter Lynch, some of these are characteristics of company worth looking into: The company has a boring name , company is a spin off, the company is a fast growing company in a no/low growth industry, the company produces a product that people keep buying-in good times and bad, Insiders are buying shares, low percentage of shares are held by institutions, the company is buying back shares.
  10. When insiders are buying, its usually a good sign. Of course, do you research and check for all fundamentals and relate news.
  11. Nobody can predict interest rates, the future direction of the economy, or the stock market. Dismiss all such forecasts and concentrate on what’s actually happening to the companies in which you’ve invested.
  12. Everyone has the brainpower to make money in stocks. Not everyone has the stomach. If you are susceptible to selling everything in a panic, you ought to avoid stocks and stock mutual funds altogether.
  13. Market does not always behave rationally.

By no means this is investment advice but simply take aways I found useful from the book.