Wednesday, September 25, 2019

accidental marketer

An application essay (disguised as a blog post) where the author attempts to uncover his career motivations by examining his professional path.

My name is Raman. I’m an accidental marketer.

While this piece may answer what I hope to achieve with The Marketing Academy - the truth is, I’m still figuring it out. “IT” being what I should be doing for a living.  While my professional life has been interesting and rewarding enough (I must be doing something that works?), I increasingly find myself wrestling for ways to make “it” more intentional and meaningful.

The real question: How might I use my “powers” for (more) good?

Let’s start from the beginning.

I was born in Alabama, a child of immigrants. No one could pronounce my name. Outside of going to school, reading lots of comic books, and just being a kid, I snuck in lots of writing, hacking, and art. I wanted to be an architect like Dad - but my (Asian) parents said “doctor or engineer.” The college compromise was Computer Engineering. I got the grades, saw lots of live music, and did web/graphic design on the side. But as most Alabama engineers go into missile defense, I opted to go to south Austria (to minor in German, write for the Uni’s newspaper, and backpack around Eastern Europe), soon returning to get an MBA (as one does). Still unsure of what I was doing, I figured I’d just become a consultant.

A company called “Procter & Gamble” saw my resume. I thought they were a law firm. They flew me up to Cincinnati to interview for a “Digital Marketing” role. After an internship, I fell in love with the work, the company, the people, and the city. In 2003, I started doing what I thought was the coolest job in the world.

Over 8 years working on billion-dollar brands (Tide, Ariel, Pantene, Herbal Essences, Head & Shoulders, Gain, Downy) - living in the US, Europe, and Asia - I picked up more than a few brand/media skills. I even met my future wife, a fellow engineer, but she soon moved to NY. During our distance (2008), I filled my newfound free time volunteering in southern Ohio. First, with a local creative arts non-profit, then field-work for a guy with a funny African name - who had the audacity to run for President. When Hamilton County tipped Ohio, which won the race, we knew we played a big part. A few years prior, I had set a goal of setting foot on all 7 continents. The week after the election I went to Antarctica (#6).

P&G was gracious enough to let me follow the girl to NY - and put my media skills to work. I helped build out our programmatic stack (which I code-named “Hawkeye” because, comic books), and worked on some top-secret eCommerce joint ventures. But eventually, all roads led back to Cinci, and we were making a life in NY. Somehow, Danone came calling, so I made the jump to the yogurt culture (2010), spending 2.5 years building out an integrated marketing team. I learned the ins + outs of traditional media, but remained puzzled by its inherent limitations. On nights and weekends, I took community sailing classes with a non-profit school in our sleepy Hudson River town, soon joining their Board and taking over their marketing efforts.

By 2012, I had fully realized the inherent dilemma (slowness) of big “traditional” companies. I was hitting a mental wall - a professional point of diminishing returns.

On a trip to China visiting my wife’s ancestral village, I had a revelation (as one tends to do when no one is speaking English). After 10+ years accelerating tech/media strategy for brand marketing, my sanity demanded I flip the equation. Why not accelerate marketing strategy for tech brands?

After many conversations (and lots of homework), I found three paths before me: work for a big tech company, start my own thing, or something in-between.

That "something in between” took shape after a chance, in-flight encounter with my longtime mentor Bob - an ex-P&G’er who had just sold his agency to WPP - and was working on his next thing. Having literally written the book on “Marketing with Meaning,” Bob planted the seeds of my becoming employee #7 at Ahalogy, a leading social content/intelligence platform.

My first startup experience was professionally-defining in many ways. More than ever before, I now had to “bet on me,” more than the logo on my business card. Everything was on the line - the company’s survival depended on our success. It was a roller-coaster that taught me how to roll with the punches better than anything else. In that first year (2013), Bob + I wore many hats - we were the only guys doing Sales, Marketing, and Biz Dev  - all while building out a CS function and hacking with the product team on nights and weekends. I probably pitched more Fortune 100s in 6 months than most marketers have visited during a careers’ worth of "doctor’s visits.” I grew with the company - soon leading Ahalogy’s marketing & Pinterest partnerships - scaling our industry presence.

And yet my professional energy was still restless. Along the way I (somehow) landed on 2 more Boards: (1) the P&G Alumni Network - a global non-profit focused on connecting ex-P&G’ers through events and philanthropy, and (2) Ciao Andiamo - a boutique Italian travel firm founded by a former Danoner obsessed with sharing his cultural passions.

Then my daughter was born (2016).

Time stopped, I got off the road, and negotiated an early exit (and vesting). My wife had decent maternity leave, so we spent 3 months full-time parenting. I’ve done some amazing things in my life, but that choice, taking the time to pause and focus on my family? That takes the cake.

But then reality set in. While we had no aspirations (delusions) of being independently wealthy, we didn’t want to be co-dependently broke. After helping my pal Seth think through some of his startup’s challenges, I found myself interviewing with his Co-founders. This led to an exec role heading up Partnerships (and later Marketing) at RevTrax, a leading incentive tech company.  The gig was interesting...enough. I got to work with smart people, and got home (almost) every night for dinner, reading my daughter lots of books before bed.

In 2018, a young marketer I mentored asked for my advice over coffee. Jon was finishing his MBA (I wrote his recommendation letter) and was killing it at an early stage startup (I advised him on joining). But Jon needed some help scaling strategically - “managing up” with the 2 young (and insanely smart) co-founders, to whom I was introduced. I was ultimately recruited to lead marketing at TVision, where I currently work. I’ve been there for ~1.5 years. We’re MIT-born, venture-backed, and revolutionizing how the stagnant TV industry is measured, using cutting edge technology and a decidedly digital approach. It’s cool, and I get to work with really smart ninjas on really hard problems. I’m interested...enough.

This entire ride sounds pretty awesome, so why do I hope to join the Marketing Academy?

I’m seeking a peer group as curious - and maybe even restless - as me. I think my experiences, approach, and world-view could bring something to the table as well.

I do believe Marketing can add value - real value - to the world. But I question every day if I am really approaching it the right way? While the companies I work at are interesting (enough), I’m becoming increasingly less interested - whether it be big B2C brands or fast-moving B2B startups. It’s not the companies, it’s me. I’ve grown from the experiences, skills and results, but they motivate me less and less.

What do I enjoy? Making a real difference with what I’ve picked up as a marketer over the years.

  • That creative arts non-profit from the spring of 2008? We opened a second location in a more working-class neighborhood, and got savvier about our digital content strategies. Enrollment skyrocketed.
  • That aspiring politician in the summer/fall of 2008? We won Ohio (and the country) - in part by knocking on doors in Hamilton County and making the compelling case for economic and social change to our local community.
  • That non-profit sailing school? By my second year involved (2013), I 10x’ed enrollment and revenue (to $50k), helping more locals experience the beauty of the water.
  • That alumni org I joined in 2015? I led a sponsorship team that raised $500k, much of which went to funding economic empowerment initiatives in 7+ countries annually.
  • That little girl born in 2016? We have read her 3-6 books every night since she was born, have done countless weekend art projects, and are there to honestly answer her every “why?” (she usually stops when I get down to quantum physics). She continues to become as curious, restless (and precocious) as her father. For her I was inspired to write, draw and self-publish a book about my grandparents’ refugee journey, and am currently working on a second book about the migrant journey of my wife’s family.
  • All those people I mentioned along the way? Before I turned 40 (~two weeks ago), I interviewed 50 of them and am privately publishing an oral history of our conversations - for only us in 20 years. I’m currently working on 2 more (public-facing) podcast concepts to launch in 2020.
I’m not going anywhere. I’m keeping my day job. I’m good at it, but know I can be a better marketer and leader. But it’s the things that I find more compelling that quench my restlessness. Things like  Cortico (Deb Roy), Solving for “Echo Chambers” (Glenn Otis Brown),  Fair Fight 2020 (Stacey Abrams), or Humor That Works (Drew Tarvin). This is the direction I will one day take my marketing career.

Whether it’s someone else’s brand (big or small) or my own, my increasingly intentional career experiences demand that marketing be at the core. But I know I have more to learn before I’m ready to take the real leap.

I’ve long since accepted that my career journey won’t follow a straight line. So I don’t worry (anymore) about how I get where I’m going. But while I’ve led many colleagues, peers, and mentees, I find myself continuing to follow others’ journey, VS leading my own.

From what I’ve heard, the Marketing Academy might be a good place to start learning how to lead - myself.

Monday, September 16, 2019


It's funny that no matter how old you get, all of your life's...stuff...can be fit into boxes, big and small.

In college it's the boxes you fit in your (parents') car. Soon, you become more independent and maybe it's now an apartment, which is a series of rented boxes. You get some money, so maybe start traveling with carry-on boxes. You eat a lot of cereal, which is in boxes. Maybe you meet a special someone and choose to make it official with something in a box. And if/when there are kids, there are bassinets, and cribs. Also, they are more likely to play with (in) the box the toys came in. Your front door is regularly littered with boxes from the internet, a little Christmas surprise you treat yourself to every other day. 

Along the way, you will move, one, two, three, or many more times. You go through everything you own, and it goes (back) in boxes, which you put in a box on wheels, to go to your next box. And hopefully this next one is your last, because while the adventure of moving can be exciting, the act of moving can be the worst. I've done it far too many times. I'm may be far from done, but for now I am weary.

But it's a healthy exercise, packing boxes. It's a reminder not just of what you've done, and collected over the years. It's an excercise, a reminder, that this is all just...stuff. These things are not which matter most. It's the people you're packing with, moving to, moving from. The experiences you had with them that resulted in the thing that is going in the box, or being left behind. But it is just stuff. The stuff is a totem to the memory, which you had most likely forgotten about until you put it in/took it out of that box. It is just stuff. Put in a box.

And then, the years go on. You get more boxes. You forget about the boxes, and the things in them, until you stumble upon them. But hopefully it is people, not boxes that are on your mind most days. As that is a life fulfilled.

And as a far smarter person once said, you find yourself in the final box, and someone has put you in it. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

should i stay or should i go?

Worth saying and leading with: I'm ok and I'll be fine. But some big changes, and big decisions are on the horizon. Hopefully, for my sake.

For the past few years, there's been a slow tension of indecision on many fronts - continuing to affect me more and more as the months go on. Either I'm just getting older or I'm finally wising up.

Whether geographically or professionally, I'm not sure if I'm where I should be.

Geographically. I hate to jump on the bandwagon of "maybe we should just move to Canada" but that's actually an option. It's getting terrible out there, and I think it's going to get worse before it gets better. And when I look north, I see a society that exhibits values I hold dear, sometimes more than the ones we declare so proudly here. We have family just a few hours north, there's a cultural community for my kid. Though, worth noting, I have thoughts on too much VS the mix of forced assimilation/diversity I experienced growing up in the South. Also, Toronto/Montreal is not as far away as California (and less risk of falling into the Ocean). 

But then I think about my (partial) regret for leaving the South. Our country is not going to get better any faster with people like me leaving. It's those who stay (and return) who are going to accelerate a long overdue change. Just by being there and raising their families, and bringing their values to the local communities. I also think about what a home we are slowly making in the Northeast, and the access to jobs we have being on top of one of the greatest cities in the world, where I go daily, and the pizza and bagels are far superior. Also, buying a house, though for us, that does not yet indicate the permanence that others chose it to be.

Career. A (more successful) friend recently told me that he hopes he wasn't put on this earth for advertising technology - which happens to be the industry I've slipped into over the years. When I try to explain what I do to friends and family, they kind of get it. And franky, what they distill about it at the macro level, is more accurate. "So you help sell ads?" It cuts through the makreting BS we tell ourselves (few companies/industries are innocent here). Don't get me wrong, being at a small company I often enjoy what is afforded me - the perks, flexibility, and sometimes-autonomy (when politics/culture don't get in the way, which they rarely don't). And while shifting gears every couple of years keeps it interesting, despite a theme/thread/story I can weave about my career journey (to a founder, investor, or recruiter), I question if I can maintain this level of enthusiasm as the years pile on.

Job/s. 8, 2.5, 3, 2, far. That's how many years I've been in each gig out of school (not counting the handful of other worthwhile jobs I had across the academic years). 
  • My first job was a good run, having me do big things all over the world - but following the girl to NY, I chose life (per Irvine Welsh), as I often do. 
  • I thought my next job, my second run at a big company, would be as long as the first, but I simply hit my "satisfaction point of diminishing returns" faster. If anything, quitting the first big company gave me the courage to quit my second one, something I fear many of my friends who are still at the first (20+ years later) lack. 
  • The third company - my first startup - gave me even greater confidence on who I am beyond my company, especially since know one had heard of the logo on my business card. Probably one of my best (and challenging) career experiences, which made me even more  of who i am today. And for that I'm grateful.
  • In the most recent 2 gigs, while interesting enough, seem to have me hitting that pleateau faster - based on what I'm sense and observe. Is it me or them? Probably a mix of both. Maybe I just need to pick better?

But I am becoming more certain of one thing: this pattern is not sustainable, especially in the long term. I'm sure i can find another gig, but will that really change anything for me - professionally, mentally, spiritually? Doing my own thing doesn't feel like an option, as it has its own risks (and I don't care about anything more than my personal state), but is it the better path?

I'm not worried. I'll figure this out. I always do. And I usually have a way of convincing myself that it's all ok. 

I just hope I'm more skeptical whenever this next go round comes around.

Friday, August 16, 2019

uncles & aunties

Growing up I had a lot of Uncles and Aunties

Most of them are gone now.

Joe, Vijay, Touchi. Countless others in faraway places who i briefly met but did not really know. Many more were not actually family, but part of my parents' adopted diaspora, living in a strange foreign land of Lee's Chickens, Winn Dixies, and Southern Baptist churches on every corner. For good measure, throw in a few of my mom's fellow teacher buddies who helped raise me after school.

I think about my parents' departed siblings, and the relationship I had with them that my wife and daughter will know little about. I sometimes miss them so much it hurts, because their deaths were too soon.

My daughter has 3 actual aunts and uncles she has met. Six if you count their respective spouses. The number goes up when you count extended family - our cousins, aunts and uncles our daughter has had the good fortune to meet. But then often closer is her always strange and silly "Cha Cha" from California who has visited her more than all her other aunts and uncles, despite the distance and his own dramas. And the old Jewish godmother on the Upper East Side who we don't drive down to see often enough. A classy lady I have become very fond of, who reports back on our well-being to her old roommate who happens to be my mother-in-law. Only in New York. 

Countless other close friends have earned the title of Uncle or Auntie for my daughter because they are our close friends, and even a few just because they are brown, yellow, or foreign - and that is part of our parents' culture we have chosen to carry with us. If you're not Asian and have achieved this title, i hate to inform you that you're stuck with it, and us.

Will my daughter continue to be spoiled by useful, amazing gifts from her "real" Uncles and Aunties like I was? From comic books, card games, Palm Pilots, salt & vinegar potato crisps, to strawberry ice cream, pink desks, micro scooters, and flowery dresses.

Will she be confused as she gets older? Who are her "real" aunts and uncles? Why do some of these non family members earn the title, and others don't? As she gets older will these cause her to seek meaningful friendships that are as close, and sometimes closer, than family? Will she grow to reflect on her relationships with the many visits to/from her many aunties and uncles, comparing who she is becoming as an adult to those adults that always were always visits for - like her parents, but seemingly cooler? 

Will she consider who her parents are - as people - in relation to their actual siblings? Will she feel remorse when they pass, and she realizes her family is shrinking?

I hope so. I also hope that she grows up with the privelage of being surrounded by the love, good and bad examples of her many aunties and uncles, related and otherwise.

Also, that she learns the trick of simply calling any friend of your parent (or brown/yellow oldwr person) whose name you cannot remember "Uncle" or "Auntie" - that one never fails.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

race to/from fear

Have you been ever been told "Go back where you came from?" 

I have. And it wasn't a cab driver telling me to go back to Alabama.

The first time I must have been 8 or 9. Walking in my upper-middle class suburban neighborhood to my best friend's house. Some teenagers pulled up in a Camaro (?), beat up and old. They start shouting a lot of garbage at me, telling me to "go back," and calling me a sand n*gger. They threatened to take their gun out of their car and shoot me if I didn't "get out of here." Having found guns before in the back of my friend's parents cars, it didn't seem an idle threat.

One of them, seeing me shaken and confused, got out and start yelling at me and shoving me around, slapping me upside my head. I was on the verge of tears or crying by that point. I honestly don't remember. He laughed, jumped back in the car, and they peeled off. 

As they sped away, I memorized their license plate through shuddering tears. That's what people did on TV, right? I tore into the nearby woods in case they came back, and stood there looking at the street for what was ten minutes but felt like an hour.

Humiliated, embarrassed, and confused, I couldn't go back home. I ran to my friend's house. I tried to compose myself as I rang the back doorbell. I broke down and told his mom and dad. We called the police. My friend and I played Mega-Man in the kitchen while we waited and I calmed down. Eventually a police officer came by, telling them they pulled over the teens - who had been drinking - and they were given a warning. I remember angrily thinking "that's it?!?" - but I definitely didn't want to go in and make a statement. To this day, I don't remember the rest of that afternoon. I don't know how I got home or if I even told my parents. But for many moments after - weeknights eating dhal and rice, every other Sunday at temple chanting mantras - I felt even more different, like an "other" hiding something from the town and people around me, that the color of my skin only teased.

That was 1985-86. 

Over the years, it happened several other times. Nothing as violent. Just words. Direct, veiled, or in passing. Heard on the radio, at grocery stores, in locker rooms, and by girls' or their parents. But an adolescent's confused identity gave way to a teen's projected indifference, and soon a college boy's rebellious anger. No matter what, I would (somehow) get out of the South.

Then, I did. And the world changed. I traveled the world. Got a job. Did well. Met people. Found the girl. Had a kid. The ugliness in the air was receding, but still always lurking, as you'd hear the occasional thing from an idiot on TV, or a guy with a Confederate flag in those places you didn't go. But now our President was a cool black man, and now there was a Panera near my parent's suburban house. 

For awhile my parents often asked when I would move closer to home. "So-and-so [who's white] just moved back." But somehow, maybe because of our then (black) President, the rhetoric started showing up more, coded in veiled media messages. The backlash was worse in the places I had gotten out of. I guess racism was more OK if we could all afford a panini or a latte? So I'd give my parents a weak excuse about jobs, career, and my industry (tech) being up north and on the coasts. My wife and I were going to go sailing in Croatia. We wanted kids, and they were going to grow up on the East coast, to which eachof us had escaped. 

Then, the black kids started getting shot. In Florida. Where my half-black nephew lives. But these were isolated incidents. He'd be OK - he was also half-Indian, right?

Then, it was 2016. A racist was elected to the highest office of the land. The weekend after we got away to upstate NY with our baby, who was not even one. At our hotel, I saw a swastika on the cover of the USA Today. I swore off social media, stopped talking to some faraway friends, and read my daughter lots of books as she sat in my lap every night. It was going to be OK, right?

Then, a year ago, they started locking up brown kids. Toddlers that, when I close my watering eyes, somehow still look like my daughter. I shuddered with anger, or was it fear? 

We lived in NY, and I worked in (one of) the greatest cities in the world. We are (safely) in a bubble, right?

Then, a few weeks ago, some of our elected leaders - all black and brown women - were told to go back home by our President, not surprisingly. The media exploded (again), but nothing really happened. 

Then, surprisingly, against all hopes, people at a rally chanted those words back to the President. Many of my coworkers and friends - almost all of whom are white - were outraged. So this time it was too much? 

All of my brown and black friends just shrugged our shoulders. This wasn't the first time, as we calmly recounted the many times we had heard it before. Our anger doesn't do much.

Then, last week, there were more shootings. I couldn't look at the details. Because it keeps happening and we do nothing. I'm numb. I make my daughter a spaceship out of cardboard boxes. We are moving into a new house soon. She'll have a backyard, which I'm not sure how I feel about. The American Dream, or so I've been told.

Then, last night I ran into the older Indian man who works in my building. His name is Edwin. He's in his late 50's, likes cricket and Chinese food. Despite being very blue collar, Edwin is always well dressed - often in a sweater over his button-up shirt, even in the summer. Edwin has grandkids that are my daughter's age, and he dotes on her when she stops by his desk to ask him questions (she really just wants a pink sticky note). Edwin is from Burma, is a dark brown, and speaks with a thick Indian-British accent. He's become a friend, has met my parents when they visit, and I plan to have a beer or two with him before we move out. 

In our brief mailroom chat last night, Edwin told me he cancelled a (well-earned) big family vacation - grandkids and all - to Pennsylvania. I figured it was a work thing, but then he cited El Paso. He's scared, and tells me "it is not worth the risk with my kids."

I don't understand anything anymore. 

Monday, January 28, 2019


"it’s been a while man, life’s so rad! 
this band’s my favorite man, don’t ya love ‘em?"

So I like Weezer, quite a lot. They’re easily among my top ~10 bands*. Is everyone on my list equivalent greats? Of course not. But when it comes to my preference of consistent music enjoyment, I always come back to them (there’s actually an 'in-drafts' post there). 

This amusing SNL sketch came out a few weeks ago, resulting in a LOT of renewed chatter about the band, and messages from friends asking what I thought. The premise is Leslie Jones and Matt Damon arguing about which is better - the band’s old or new stuff. For me this purports a false, binary choice (reflective of our current society?), which for reasons I’ll get into, I don’t fundamentally agree with.

Am I a “ride-or-die” fan (like Matt)? Goodness, no. Have I seen the band live 10+ times - in multiple countries, including their first cruise. Certainly. I simply enjoy listening to them, and seeing what they come out with next. 

Is the Blue Album one of the best rock albums ever? Yes. Is Pinkerton the band's best album (defining 'emo' before it was a thing)? Hell yes. And while that presents its own conundrum, once you’ve heard both albums, you just kind of accept it.

Some say the band peaked early with Blue and Pinkerton, and never got 'it' back. I slightly disagree with the latter premise. Those first two albums ARE excellent — despite my dismissive first album listen in 9th grade, and the critics' panning of their second album. I would agree that the band hit 2 amazing peaks early on, and while they’ve not since they’ve not made a truly excellent album (a big deal for me), they continue to make some really good (sometimes great) music, which I can’t same for most other bands.

I think many people’s dismissiveness/hate of Weezer as a viable band anymore is telling of our society. It's bandwagon-ism, seeing history through “rose-tinted glasses”, MAGA, and the like…which is a dangerous path. Sure, the band made amazing stuff early on. And for many, nothing can live up to it. Which sets people’s expectations up for failure, VS simply allowing themselves to enjoy something for what it is, and being more present, in the moment. 

There’s a parallel point to be made about another one of my nerdly passions - Star Wars. While the prequels were an empirically pretty bad, all-too-literal CGI-spectacle, the more recent films (esp the Last Jedi) are not. And these newer entries into the canon continue to face the interwebs' ire. I frankly think it’s all based on false ownerships, built-up expectations that the years have only made steeper. some of these sentiments are well-explained in this excellent film essay, and this slightly less highbrow one (spoilers). 

So sure, some of Weezer's new stuff has been not-so-good (I’m looking at you Raditude). But why must our judgement of an artist be a standard of excellence VS enjoyment? Are any of us as excellent as our best days? I’m reminded of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speechGet with it pop culture!

For me, quite a bit of 'new' Weezer has been pretty good…in fact, downright enjoyable. And I’m not talking about popcorn radio nothingness - while there is some of that - the new stuff some genuinely well-made stuff, despite how you may feel about Rivers' confessed meticulous/OCD song-writing process (though seriously, much respect for the strong spreadsheet game!). Through the effort of new albums, the band continues to unearth a a few gems*** for all of us to enjoy. We'll likely never get another Blue or Pinkerton - and need to be OK with that.

Weezer is a band I came of age to (15 into my 30s). Sure there were other bands I enjoyed equally as much over the years** - but all made a few good albums, a few so-so albums, and then kind of stopped. And not in the 'stop while you’re ahead' way - they just gave up. Weezer hasn’t given up. They've grown up, and continued to make good music that pushes and remains relevant. Some are hits, some are misses. But they’re still around doing what they like doing (and having fun), which is something we should all aspire to. 

"watch me unravel...lying on the floor, I've come undone."

*Among my Top 10 bands: the Beatles, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Radiohead, Miles Davis, Elliott Smith, the Dandy Warhols, the White Stripes, the Beastie Boys

**Bands that came...and went (for me): Toad the Wet Sprocket, the Gin Blossoms, MXPX, Goldfinger, the Strokes, the Shins, Muse, Interpol, the Postal Service, the National, Brendon Benson, Broken Bells, Portugal the Man, Andrew Bird

***Here are some really good Weezer songs on every album since their dynamic duo. Enjoy.
  • the Green Album (2001): Photograph, Hash Pipe, Oh Girlfriend
  • Maladroit (2002): Dope Nose, Keep Fishin, Slob
  • Make Believe (2005): This is Such a Pity, We Are All on Drugs, the Damage in Your Heart
  • the Red Album (2008): Troublemaker, The Greatest Man That Ever Lived, Pork & Beans
  • Raditude (2009): If You’re Wondering, Can’t Stop Party…ok this album is terrible. But everyone gets one lemon
  • Hurley (2010): Trainwrecks, Smart Girls, Where’s my Sex (hilarious when you find out it was originally about socks), Smart Girls
  • Everything Will Be Alright in the End (2014): Ain’t Got Nobody, Eulogy for a Rock Band, Foolish Father
  • the White Album (2016): Thank God for Girls, Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori
  • Pacific Daydream (2017): Mexican Fender, Beach Boys, Weekend Woman
  • the Teal Album (2019): Scrubs? 
  • the Black Album (2019): ???

Sunday, January 06, 2019


earlier last year, in the span of just a few months, my grandfather and my wife's grandmother passed away. they were the eldest remaining member of their generation in each of our families.

my daughter knew of them, but never really knew them. she knows little or nothing of her heritage, and the refugee's journey each of these immigrants took to start their live over again here.

there is lots of noise going around immigrants about refugees. whether in the Middle East or our own border. it's humbling, paralyzing, infuriating, and heartbreaking. i see my daughter. i see my grandparents.

when our daughter was born, the one universal thing we heard was "read to her" - which is a consistent tradition. 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 books nightly. it's usually the best part of our day. as most people know about me, i have strong opinions about content creators - books, comics, films (Chabon, Eggers, Horby / Bendis, Moore, Waid, / Anderson, Scorsese, Nolan)

reading to my daughter each night, i slowly formed the same preferences - Beatty, Boyton, Carle, Lim, Muth, Lim, Willems.

then it hit me.

on a crowded commute into the city, I decided to do the same for my daughter.

i would write about my grandparents journey. from India to Africa, as migrants. from Africa to England (as refugees). from England to America, as immigrants. I would not be here if it were not for their journey.

i started writing. 
first an outline, then some art direction, then some words, then some rhymes.

then i started drawing.
pencils, inks, colors, layout. late nights and long weekends with a lamp, sketchbook, pencils, and sharpener. i filled with"easter eggs" - family and cultural touchstones that mark things that the words could not. the UK phone number or MGM address here, the Beatles reference there.


then i printed it. 

10 copies - for my daughter, my mom, my sister (and her kids). and finally the remaining family who shared my maternal grandparents. a couple extras as "thank yous" to the children's authors that inspired me.

now we read it regularly. and my daughter asks lots of questions. the story is hers now.

the next book? about my wife's family journey (China to Jamaica to Canada to America). it will definitely take more research and more effort. i'd better get started.

Monday, November 26, 2018

living lists + a NY story.

A few months back, while prepping for yet another move, i couldn't sleep. so staring at the dark ceiling, i did a count of of how many different places i've lived. here it is...

  1. Parent's house (MGM)
  2. Nerd boarding school (ASMS)
  3. Freshman dorm (Paty)
  4. Co-op apartment (HSV)
  5. Sophomore dorm (New Hall)
  6. 2nd Co-Op Apartment (HSV, again)
  7. Junior dorm (New Hall, new posters)
  8. Senior apartment (Bryce Lawn)
  9. Study abroad (Uni Klagenfurt)
  10. B-school apartment (Reed St)
  11. Internship apartment (Xavier)
  12. 1st grown-up apartment (Clermont)
  13. 1st house (Fulton)
  14. Asia ex-pat apartment (Orchard Scotts)
  15. 1st NY apartment (Nyack)
  16. 2nd NY apartment (Swashington)
  17. 3rd (favorite) NY apartment (Tarrytown)
  18. Current apartment (CT)

Despite the seemingly constant moving, there's a relevant song that i keep coming back to.

We just moved a few months ago. Not sure who had a harder time with it - me or my daughter. After thinking we had found the town/area we wanted to buy / settled down (Hudson Valley), jobs took us in a different direction - still int the tri-state area, but with traffic, etc - in a completely different part. Rather than buying, we got an apartment - location convenient - so we could get a feel for the area. It's just far/near enough to be new. So all the previously established advantages of local friends, community, etc is mostly out the door. We're starting from scratch, and now have less time to build anything back up (having a kid does has that effect, said every parent, ever)

Now as a family, we continue to go back and forth between staying in the area (love the culture/diversity, great job market, but damn it's expensive AND we're far from family/support network) OR packing up and moving somewhere else (the opposite - cheaper and potentially closer to family). But we keep kicking the can down the road. The recent (local) move from the Hudson Valley to CT didn't help tho - going from somewhere we know/love to...something

So here's a fun aside - as an EX of some of the earlier above points (written on a long train ride, standing room only).

This past Sunday we drove ~45 min down to Brooklyn - surprisingly no traffic, likely bc of no bridge construction the BQE for the holiday weekend -  to visit another ex-coworker (French) friend + his rockstar (Spanish) wife ...and finally meet their 1.5 year old daughter before they move (back) to Spain. There's an anchor baby/chain migration joke somewhere in there.

We walked along the waterfront and found a hidden playground for our kids to go down big slides, climb ladders, stomp in the sand, and collect bamboo sticks. My kid saw a nice (familiar looking?) lady with her kids. Said lady had sand buckets, so naturally mine asked if she could play with one. She said 'please' and 'thank you.'

Before leaving, we wanted a photo of our group - since no idea when we'll see our friends again - so asked the husband of nice sand bucket lady. The dad was pretty good at making faces and getting both our kids to (mostly) look at the camera.

After we said our goodbyes, we drove across the Brooklyn Bridge and up the FDR to the Upper East Side for lunch with my wife's Jewish Godmother. My kid bought her $12 pink daisy's from a Food Emporium on the ground floor of a nearby Trump brand apartment building (the guys name is all over the place). I bought 4-cheese mashed potato packets for our Thursday post-Thanksgiving office potluck (as that's when my startup's counterparts from Japan are visiting). After lunch, decaf and a chocolate babka was served.

Later that night, i got text from our Brooklyn friends. Turns out the lady is an actress on a number of shows/movies we like, and her husband (who took the picture) is plays a young Jim Gordon on television. We didn't know at the time, nor did we care, and are especially glad we didn't interrupt their family day with celeb BS. But the picture turned out pretty good.

There's a similar (funnier) LGA → MCO story where my better half punked* the airline pilot asking us to take a jetbridge photo of him + the soon-to-be Ant Man, while Mr. Lang just wanted to be left alone with his family + pick up his luggage gateside.
*She instead took a selfie...bc my wife is awesome.

That shit happens all the time here. But man it's expensive!

Who knows, maybe I'll stand behind Henry Golding in the hot dog line at a Montgomery Biscuits game and we can just move home.

Imperius Rex, indeed. 

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

shared experience?

With many things happening lately, the idea of shared experiences has been on my mind a lot more. but fair warning, this isn't an optimistic post...

As a daily commuter in a pretty urban place over the years, I've always found ironic the quiet anonymity many folks, myself included, prefer.

A few years ago I started taking a much earlier train. New job, new family, new routine. Becoming a real grown up - as opposed to the mostly self-concerned, fake one I'd been pretending to be for much of my twenties and thirties.

My daughter was not even one, and i was still dealing with all the stresses and anxiety that come with being a new parent. My own insecurities, uncertainties, my newfound daily (hourly?) worry for my little girl, and of course, constant concern for my wife, who was bearing arguably more of the stress than me. I found myself being more "quietly empathetic" to other parents I now noticed more.

On the train platform was a pregnant woman. In her I could see my wife and all the trial and tribulations she had, and would continue to manage.

The thing about daily rush hour trains, is that it's mostly everyone for themselves. While it's not quite Lord of the Flies, you're on your own. When the train arrives, everyone queues (crowds?) up by the door to pile on and get a seat, which isn't always guaranteed.

So in the case of the pregnant lady, I made sure she always got on before others and got herself a seat. The casual, passive step to block a more unconcerned commuter from cutting ahead, the slower walk to get her room to move, etc. I'd like to assume many others made the same choice, but this wasn't so obviously a frail old person - she was just another thirty-something commuter - so it's safer to assume not. So this became a daily, unspoken, morning ritual of mine. Make sure the nice pregnant lady got a seat.

Anyhow, one day she wasn't riding the train, so I hoped for the best, and forgot about it, back to my shoving my way on the train each day.

A few months later, she showed up again, cheery, but clearly tired. So recognizing a new mom, now commuting, I did what i could to make sure she could get a seat. One day we struck up a chat, compared notes on daughters and daycares, and slowly became local friends (we've since moved, so we'll see if the friendship worries if not).

I don't tell this story to pat myself on the back to say I'm a nice guy. If anything, quite the opposite, a damning on our collective society. If I didn't project my shared experience on the lady, she probably wasn't getting my help to get a seat. I've got lot of stuff going on! Let's be clear, i wouldn't have pushed her out of the way, but maybe I wouldn't have stopped to help. Think whatever you will about yourself, but it's probably the same for most of us. It's an unconscious thing. We are so wrapped up in our own stuff (moreso now with our tiny blinking distraction devices in our pockets, headphones optional).

We recently moved. 
From a quaint river village to a true commuter city. 
From a small old house with a few rental units to giant modern complex. 

In the old place, especially after our kid was born, we knew everyone by name, and usually quite a bit more. The recently married gay couple next door thinking about kids. The young couple downstairs who moved back to the region to console an ailing parent. The divorced guy upstairs with two boys in college. The married mom upstairs living apart from her family during the week for the job of a lifetime. The old cranky widowed guy above them who once lived in Asia with his wife and a giant sailboat model that had a story behind it I'd not yet heard. We even knew some of the folks in the buildings next to us. There was a neighborhood dog. Not that our town only had just one canine, but this lady and Bob the dog were local celebrities.

Then we moved to the giant urban apartment complex. Arguably even more people we have things in common with...we see them every day in the hallways, trains, and local shops and restaurants. We're not the only new parents both juggling work and family. We are not the only mixed couple. We are not the only one in geeky tshirts. But no one talks. Everyone minds their own business.

And this isn't some suburbs/city thing. My folks live in a suburban subdivision in the South. Over the years, many of the neighbors i grew up with have moved out, save one. All the new neighbors, my aging parents complain about barely knowing. 

That worries me.

In India, and much of the developing world I've had the privilege of traveling, poverty confronts you at every turn. The crippled man on the ground, the begging child in the street, the old resigned woman on the corner. The upwardly mobile middle class (that's the developing part), walk by ignoring's part of their every day life. But as a visitor (locally or internationally), if you know someone - have some mutual connection - doors are open, tea is served, rides are given. In this context, I've been invited into practical strangers' homes, and wound up leaving close friends for the time being, happy to return the favor should you be in my neighborhood. You are family. I feel like there's a Sanskrit saying that more or less translates to "...guests are God," but with a narrow definition of who gets to be guest

Is that a more honest assessment of how the world works? Is that the way it should be? 

Or can we be better?

The recent acrimonious confirmation hearings brought this to life on an even more macro level. I have been fortunate to have experienced, or know anyone who has,  something as traumatic as sexual assault. But the testimony was harrowing and gave many of us pause. 

And yet. 

Many people didn't buy it, our outright dismissed it. Certain people voted otherwise. Is this because, like me, there was no shared experience? Was the woman's calm, often emotional recollection not enough?

Should it have to be required that we have something in common before we can empathize? Do we have to much going on in our worlds that we can't try to feel or process more for the fellows beside us on the train, hallway, or street?

Life is only going to become busier. 

Our worlds are only going to become more complex. We know this. Are we willing to let something more slip, because we didn't have anything in common?

For all of our sakes, I really hope not. 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

dads crying.

to honor Father's Day, a holiday which Michael Chabon once called "the Chanukah to the Christmas of Mother's Day" (i concur*), let's watch 3 "dad ads" that i coincidentally get something in my eyes each time i see them.

"Dear Sophie" - Google, 2011
we weren't even close to thinking of kids when this ad came out. but man, things have a way of burrowing into your subconscious.

"Father & Daughter" - Extra, 2015
i still need to learn to start folding these, so my little monster can eat them. 

"School Talk" - Ram, 2018
i literally took notes. now i have a playbook.

so as i'm getting older and have less time, but more patience, i spend more time reading than watching. as such, let's counter the crass commercialism shown above for web browsers, gum, and full-size pickup trucks, to share a few books that speak to Fatherhood well, and also someone get something in my eye.

the Namesake - Jhumpa Lahiri, 2004
upon first reading this, it was from the kid's perspective (because well, obviously), which made it one of the best books i ever read then i saw Mira Nair's film adaptation, where the boy was played by Kal Penn, and the father by Irrfan Khan. while the film was "meh" to such a great book, both played their parts to a tee, Penn as the ungrateful son wrapped up in his own drama, Khan as the immigrant father who sacrificed all and ignored said drama. upon walking out of the theater, i called my dad to apologize.

Knuffle Bunny - Mo Willems, 2004-2010
a series of three kids books, but damn if they're not good. and if the final epilogue in book 3 doesn't move you, well you're cold inside.

Pops - Michael Chabon, 2018
a compilation of essays Chabon, who's quickly becoming one of my favorite American contemporary authors, writes on fatherhood - his experiences and observations. what originally drove me was a (featured) article about travels with his son, of which is a mostly an eclectic tale, until you reach the final paragraphs' potent observation.

so that's my piece. watch some ads, and go buy some stuff (for your dad/kids), perhaps some books? 

i'll see you soon for my next obligatory Arbor Day post. now if there were only more books about trees. 

oh wait, that's ALL of them.

*i love my dad, and now have a greater appreciation of parenthood, but come on, moms do/deserve more. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

what’s in a (brand) name?

like many posts wasting away in as “drafts” - this one occurred to be walking down Fifth Ave on the way to work one cold morning, and began to coalesce over a lunch conversation with a good friend considering launching her own new brand/company. as i’m now between brands (next gig, starting 6/25), felt like as good a time to flesh this one further out and push it live. so on we go...

the most successful brands / companies (not necessarily one in the same the same) are the ones that do the thing well (and make $) in the era they were in, and continue to innovate. few of succeed beyond their founding era. for every one you've heard of below), there are tons that did not make it.

but in terms of what they call themselves - their "brand name" - across broad eras (with some overlapping),the motif is always oscillating/evolving between “what we do” and “who we are." oh, and by the way, this is all conjecture and anecdotal, i actually don’t know what i’m actually talking about, so consider all these silly thoughts with a grain of salt. it's not that there are not exceptions to these examples (that's another counter-post by someone else), but my observation is that the brands that made it beyond their founding era adhered to the brand-naming trend of the time (as mapped out below). so here we go... 

originally, brand names were more in the "what we do” camp - most literally
  • American Express (1850): originally a courier service!
  • Standard Oil (1870)
  • Nintendo (1889): 任天堂 in Kanji means ‘the temple of free hanafuda’ (hanafuda = Japanese flower cards, which is what they originally made.
  • General Electric (1892)
  • General Motors (1908)
  • IBM: International Business Machiness (1911)
  • BMW: Bayerische Motoren Werke (1917): not British, despite what Will may tell you.
  • VolksWagen (1937): literally “people’s wagon”

soon, people started incorporating their names to add some credibility. “who we are” in the most literal sense.
  • Procter & Gamble (1837): Co-founded by William Procter & James Gamble, brothers-in-law
  • Levi Strauss & Co. (1853): Co-founded by, Levi Strauss
  • Macy’s (1858): founded by Rowland Hussey Macy
  • The Campbell Soup Company (1869): founded by Joseph Albert Campbell
  • Gillette (1901): founded by King Gillette
  • JoS. A. Bank Clothiers (1905): co-founded by Joseph Bank
  • Kellogg Company (1906): founded by Will Keith Kellogg
  • Danone (1919): named for founder Isaac Carasso’s son Daniel
  • The Walt Disney Company (1923)
  • Mattel (1945): co-founded by Harold "Matt" Matson

then, brands started to go back to “what they do", albeit more product-specific
  • Radio Shack (1921)
  • DC / Detective Comics (1934)
  • Hewlett-Packard (1939)
  • Circuit City (1949)
  • Toys R Us (1957)
  • Advanced Idea Mechanics (1966)
  • MasterCard (1966)
  • Advanced Micro Device (1969)
  • Tailored Brands / Men’s Wearhouse (1973)
  • Office Depot (1986)

then things slowly started to start getting abstract about "what we do" ...moving back to "who we are" with smart use of metaphorisms (not to be confused with metamorphisms)
  • Ivory (1879) - P&G’s first real “brand” (ok, this one is from a much earlier era, but was one of the first, so give credit where it’s due)
  • Marvel (1939)
  • Visa (1958)
  • Pampers (1961)
  • Subway (1965)
  • HBO / Home Box Office (1972)
  • Microsoft (1975): 
  • Apple Computers (1976): Steve used to work on a commune/CSA (seriously)
  • Staples (1986)
  • Netflix (1997)
  • Google (1998)
  • Facebook (2004)

so where are we now? today's "new" brands use real words that evoke something else indirectly. sure many of them are/have been disrupter brands (many new entrants flush with VC cash): 
  • Patagonia (1973)
  • Image Comics (1992)
  • Vertigo Comics (1993)
  • Tesla (2003): while named after the man (1856-1943), he’s obviously not the co-founder, but his technology inspires the company’s approach 
  • Yelp (2004)
  • Chobani (2005) - derived from the Persian “چوپان“ meaning “shepherd"
  • Uber (2009)
  • Quip (2012)
  • Lyft (2012)
  • Casper (2014)
  • Parachute (2014)
and sure, along the way there are of course the brands that mash-up words in a sometimes punny way. i’ve worked with more than a few of them, so you know their names (Pingage/Ahalogy, RevTrax, TVision, etc). all great companies (with some cool co-founders), and while some of these names make you think, others make you cringe. but the Ad/MarTech landscape is filled with more companies that fit the above "real-ish" words that evoke something (Moat, Percolate, Braze, etc.)

and sure there are even a few brands that are exceptions in our modern era, taking a page from their long-past predecessors: Dollar Shave Club, Warby Parker (a completely made up name, that guy doesn’t exist...he's derived from 2 Jack Kerouac journal entry characters!)

so what? does any of this matter?
well, if you’re creating a new brand (i’m not), i think it does. 

either be hip to the era you’re in, and go with the flow, otherwise your brand might create subconscious friction in the hearts of minds of your future customers. while this is not necessarily a bad thing, but know that your brand has an immeasurably high bar to be the exception to the “brand name trend” of the time. 

but more importantly, your product shouldn’t suck (i’m talking to you V-Tech).

so there’s that.
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