Friday, December 09, 2022

Dan. 1969-2022.

someone i knew passed away yesterday

Dan was 53. he left behind a loving family, who i can't help but mourn for as i sit in my comfortable home with my own family.

one of our mutual friends called me earlier today to give me the news. it was after an afternoon walk with my wife on a rare day where we were both work from home. i've spent the afternoon and evening trying to distract myself with work, interspersed with a few texts and phone calls among the many folks who Dan similarly befriended and mentored.

i met Dan when i was an intern, in an emotionally tumultuous part of my early 20s. he one of the first "digital" guys at my new, big company. back then i remember thinking he was a really, nice, smart, cool dude. then i found out before starting work he traveled the country in a rock band. my mind was blown.

i eventually started working at said big company. Dan was one of the few folks i always modeled my approach after. i could barely hold a candle to his accomplishments, but when i tried to do and be more like him, i really shined. he gave me so many examples and advice that i carried through other parts of my career. i'm not sure he knew that, and i probably didn't thank him enough.

after i left corporate life, we stayed in loose contact. i'd head back to Cincinnati for work trips, and he'd always be one of the folks i wanted to reconnect with for advice, usually outside on one of his smoke breaks, which all of us who he mentored were accustomed to. he was always gracious to help me make further connections. when he found out the name of the new town i lived in, he introduced me to a pal, who soon became a big part of my NY life. 

several years ago, Dan called me because his career was about to connect him with a lot of folks i used to work with in a past job. we reconnected on work and life. once his thing became more official, i introduced him to a few more of my friends from that part of my work/life after him, who i knew he'd be working with. it felt really nice to be able give something back to him professionally.

we traded emails and calendar invites, but they became more interspersed. kind words and short moments, and scheduling gymnastics to find time to reconnect. kids made it harder for me. i know i could have made a greater effort. Dan and his family stayed on our silly holiday card list, with an occasional email here and there over the years. other friends we had in common were much closer to him. i kinda envied them, but didn't sweat it. i knew we'd always find time to connect here and there (maybe even on a podcast), and it would always be great.

i find myself filled with regret that i won't get to talk to my pal Dan again. this feels like a selfish thing to be writing down. i can't help but miss you brother, and send my love to your family and friends who mourn and celebrate your life. 

rest in peace brother,

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

8:21am peak train

It's been nearly 2.5 years since I've "gone into the city." Don't get me wrong, we've made a few cautious weekend road trips to see close friends, and drive the kids down to the Bronx to the Botanical Gardens and/or zoo. But for the first time in what feels like forever, I packed a banana, dusted off my backpack, zipped up my 'nice' hoodie, and jumped on a commuter train for a day full of important meetings.

While I'm by no means the first to return to this routine, i could sense a nervous energy of the fellow commuters on the platform. Some standing with their backs facing the crowd, others making sure their masks were snug, all eying each other cautiously. And once on the train, fortunately most were masked (baller/dick move of the maskless girl who got to have a seat to herself amongst a crowded train). And while every morning commute is always a Zen crowd of considerate and quiet workers, sleepers, and podcast listeners - there is an erie calm and exhausted trepidation. The only similar vibe is from years ago, the days after a derailment, when we all sat silent all the train, quiet but not restful.

I'm probably reading too much into this. Writing to calm my own nerves.

A lot has changed in 2.5 years since I abandoned this daily work routine. Sure, a pandemic and variants and vaccines. But a radical change to my work, a long overdue racial reckoning, an election, an insurrection, a new child, a somehow older child, lots more podcasts/comics, and a new routine to match it all. All of which I skipped writing about here because I found other ways to expend my nervous anxieties and creative energies

So as I sit here on this peak rush hour train hurtling towards my favorite building in the world's greatest city (and back again), I find myself sincerely wondering: Am I ready to do this, again?

I guess I'll find out in a bit.

I wonder what the subway is going to be like?

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Colin Yu-Lang


7 pounds, 6 ounces.

everything changes, again. 

Monday, March 08, 2021

why my daughter rocks.

this is not meant to be a “wives & daughters” post (AOC FTW), but rather a “getting older” reflection on some funny things with my daughter, as she approaches FIVE.

When i was in grad school, reeling from a some self-inflicted, female-related drama, i went for a drive to clear my head, as i often did in those younger years. i somehow ended up in the toy aisle of a local Target, and found a“Playskool” Spider-Man figure. $7 of retail therapy later, Spidey would sit on dressers and desks for the next few years, cheering me up with his super hero cuteness. 

More than a decade later, awaiting the birth of our daughter, Spidey moved from next to my keyboard to the ledge above the door in what would become my daughter’s nursery (it was the same room, as i was giving up our home office, and all the comics and toys that had filled it =). Joining Spidey perched on that high ledge from which he would watch over my daughter were a few other “super friends” collected over the years - my prized Japanese super-deformed Boba Fett & Chewbacca, the Mighty Mugg of Johnny Storm, a Funko Groot (who once sat in a houseplant), Ganesh (obv), the Mighty Thorbz (o.g. big hat), and even some custom Cubecraft figures of my wife + i (thanks Kickstarter!)

My daughter was born, and every day I would walk+rock her to sleep - strolling between her room and the adjacent kitchen of our small apartment, singing whatever words i could put to lyrics - rock songs, ad jingles, the co-mingling recycling instructions on our fridge, and the names, secret identities, and secret origins of all the heroes protecting her. 

As she got older and could start to form words, she’d point to each figure and ask for their names. Our Mega Man dorbz became known as “boy” (he was blue), and our Naruto dorbz became “girl” (that hair). In the less than two year old language that only we could understand, she’d ask for all of their real names - Peter Parker, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner. And i quickly soon realized one thing: they were all boys (even Naruto, believe it!)

The woke, Uber-nerd Dad in me was taken aback. This was the guy who, upon the credits-roll The Force Awakens, had his 6-months pregnant wife turn to him and say “we’re not naming her Rey.” The guy who rolled his eyes at every little girl in a Wonder Woman costume*, bc that was “too obvious” (esp if you understand the troubled history of WW’s creator). 

eBay and Amazon made a lot of money from me in the months to follow. Starfire, Gamora, Katana, Jean Grey (Dark Phoenix, obv), Barbara Gordon (purple Yvonne Craig version, obv), Kara Zor-El - all quickly crowded out the boys on that ledge above my daughter’s door. I even begrudgingly bought a Wonder Woman figure found in the $1 bin at the local toy store. I eventually found a dollhouse at a local yard sale, and all the ladies had some pretty epic house-parties over the years (boys were allowed with chaperones, obv).

As my daughter got older - she went in and out of playing with her action figures as her interests evolved. But to my delight, a curiousity about super-heroes and comic books persisted (that award-winning, and always great Tiny Titans, Smile, and Calvin & Hobbes have become favorites. Rey, Ahsoka Tano, and Princess Leia (the only acceptable princess) also moved into the dollhouse, alongside Hawkgirl and Raven. 

And somewhere in there we finally let her start watching videos (don’t judge unless you have kids and are working full time / don’t pay a nanny =). We discovered the often cute, always silly antics of Bluey, PJ Mask, the Octonauts, the Rocketeer and many more. But best / worst of all were the animated film soundtracks. Trolls, Trolls 2, and Sing, in particular. Don’t get me wrong, those are some fresh, catchy beats, but after playing them exclusively in the car for any road trip, I found myself longing to for the monotone voices of Teri Gross, Jad Abumrod, and Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vitor.

After about the 11-thousandth time of singing along with Justin Timberlake (“Can’t Stop the Feeling!”), confirming my platonic dad crush on Anna Kendrick, Rockin out with Barb, Going off the rails on a Crazy Trainhearing 2 Pigs channel Taylor Swift, or the last straw (needle?) Scarlett Johansson rocking the porcupine, my daughter was feeling the pull of my other great love - rock music. Don’t get me wrong - in the early years we fed our kid a steady diet of Casper Babypants, Flaming Lips, and Pharrell…but nothing sticks the landing quite like animated creatures singing pop/rock songs***)

As we made her listen to REST of these soundtracks, she started to ask questions about the singers, and other great songs. DESPERATE to listen to anything else in the car, i mined my MP3s and playlists for songs I knew we could both enjoy rocking out to. And while i could - and would - easily default to my favorites - the Beatles, Weezer, the Dandy Warhols - i was not going to make the same superhero mistake as before. Especially because it was clear - be it Anna, Barb, Ash, Scarlet, or even Taylor - that she had a preference for the girl rock (bonus thanks to Grandma + Uncle Mike). 

the Breeders, the Bangles, Blondie the Cardigans, Elastica, and No Doubt.

Alanis, Ani, Bjork, Fiona, Lauryn Hill, Joni Mitchell, Josie & the Pussycats, Liz Pahir, Neko Case, and more. 

And whatever kind of guitar she wants to play - electric, bass, or air - we’re going to start rocking out - and turning it up to ELEVEN.

*i clearly had not received the Christmas card from myself +1 year in the future**
**i over-corrected with a home-made Bat-Girl costume for her the following year
***though FWIW - the song “Zombie Bastards” (Weezer) appears on a mix CD frequently played in my wife’s car, and my daughter thinks its called “Zombie Wetzlers” after our family dentist (it’s catchy!)

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

MODERN Minorities - a podcast.

Last year i started thinking about race (more). 

wrote an op-ed that i chose NOT to publish in my hometown paper (a longer consideration). More recently, a close friend (KP) recently said "If all you're saying is 'I'm not part of the problem,' then I guarantee you, you're part of the problem." Basically, a provocative way of saying "work on solutions."

Let me back up. I’ve always thought about race, but it’s been in the back of my head more in recent years. Maybe because I’m now a dad. Maybe it’s the prevailing tone we now find in our society.

So I embarked on a very personal project, which has become a very public podcast, as of today.

Model MODERN Minorities is a podcast where we speak with many different folks about work and life thru the lens of race, gender, etc.

Alongside my longtime NY industry pal Sharon, we’ve recorded and mixed 15+ episodes, and have lots more conversations scheduled (entrepreneurs, corporates, athletes, reporters, politicians, entertainers - of all stripes). The first 3 episodes are live, and you can subscribe here. These are serious, interesting conversations, but there is also humor, some sadness, and most of all - honesty. 

This project is important to me - but not because it's mine. If anything, I shied from putting my name on it, but someone’s name HAS to be on it. What's important is that these stories need to be heard.

To me, the big problem has often been a lack of empathy and understanding. Perhaps because we don’t hear each other’s stories enough. Which naturally presents the solution. The more we hear each other’s stories, the more understanding we create out there. And then things get better. Maybe slower than I’d like, but this is my way of putting my foot on the gas pedal of life.

So I hope you’ll listen (and subscribe) to our podcast, Model MODERN Minorities

PS: Some of you already know, I actually have another podcast launching next week, along a similar vein (stories) with a more professional angle. Don't worry, I won't be bugging as many of you about it =)

PPS (Aug'20): a few months after launching we changed our name from "Model Minorities" to "MODERN Minorities." Lots of reasons, we even recorded an episode about it :)

Thursday, February 27, 2020

comic book morality.

There is right and there is wrong in this world, right?

I got into an argument with my parents earlier today. More like I lost my cool with them.

In our modern world, it is not uncommon for many progressive, adult (or adolescent) kids finding themselves at odds with their family - across the dinner table, during a weekend visit, a phone catch-up, a group text, or worse, Thanksgiving. There's always the uncle with the red hat, the in-law with the crash joke, or the grandmother with the outdated views. In America, today it's most likely rooted in our ever-worsening political divide, exacerbated by the man in the oval office. But before our reality TV president, it was also with our first black president, and before that, the man who lied us into a war. I could totally point fingers about who was at fault each time, but that's not the point of this post. You probably know where I stand here (spoiler alert, I listen to a LOT of Pod Save America).

Growing up, I read a lot of comic books. Be it the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Green Lantern, or the Flash, these heroes did what was right, every time. Even if it was the harder choice. All life was sacred, and everyone got a fair shake, with the often exception of the misunderstood hero. As a young boy, this left an imprint on me. You always did the right thing, no matter the consequence. 

I also grew up in a religion whose language I literally did not understand. The righteous, colorful figures whose stories I was told in temple and song were larger than life. Be it blue man with a bow, or a monkey carrying a mountain, they vanquished villains and always saved the day. My parents even got me some comic books about them (thanks Amar Chitra Katha).

It was this combination of stories - telling right from wrong - that founded my moral fiber. There were no explicit lessons decrying about racism, misogyny, or violence. If anything, my history books - be it world, American, or Alabama - painted a darker picture about the world that came before me. I would later get my regular dose from the news of the world as it is.

My family is probably bit different from yours (but we're all the same). My wife is Chinese American, and quiet. I'm Indian American, and loud. Our daughter is American, and a riot. Lately, the current arguments we have with our parents, while occasionally about the American political climate/situation, have more often been out our parents motherlands. Whether it's Xi or Modi, we frequently find ourself in disagreement with our elders' points of view. 

Be it a breakfast argument about my wife's cousins protesting in the streets of Hong Kong, or an evening quarrel about the Indian President's troubling nationalism, the attitudes have become more heated, and voices are often raised.

In India, there is a leader who, thru legal maneuvering, wants to take an entire segment of his population - poor Muslims - and rob them of their citizenship. And he's riled up his base - and proxies - to take action. "It's not that simple," my parents say. "Besides, look at all the corruption he's cleaned up. You're not from there, you don't understand."

Later on, via group text, they forward a tasteless, nationalistic joke about a neighboring (Muslim) country. I chastise them, and they simply say their friend sent it. I try to explain that sharing these things gives them life and makes the more ok.

During our most recent heated exchange, I posed the following hypothetical to my parents. "What if when I was a teen, I would mow the lawn and take out the trash for everyone in our neighborhood, for free. Wouldn't that be great? But what if I also made racist jokes about our black neighbors? I'd then get our (white and Indian) neighbors in on the harmless fun. And when one of them (maybe their kids) escalated to some eventual worse, maybe violent action? Would it still be ok that I swept the driveway? Would I not be complicit? What about them that never told me to stop in the first place?"

I tried to explain that after September 11th in Alabama, it didn't matter that I was a model minority - I was brown. I tried to explain that in when they started pulling over people of color in Alabama and Arizona and asking for their papers, I worried about my dad, with his thick accent, forgetting his wallet at home (bc something similar happened to my father-in-law in NYC in the 70s). I tried to explain that when pictures started showing up of migrant children being separated from their parents and locked up, i couldn't help but see my young daughter's brown face. 

I once heard a saying. 2 scoops of ice cream and 2 scoops of shit, is really just 4 scoops of shit. charming i know, I grew up in Alabama. But the saying holds true. 

There are lines you don't cross. Things you don't do. 

Look, I'm not worried about my world. I live in a blue bubble. But the rhetoric, the things we let slide, the things we refuse to call out? That sets a precedent. An increasingly slippery slope. And 5, 10, 20, 30 years later, when our parents' generation has passed, my brown daughter will be a woman in this world. What will be considered normal by then if we let certain actions and rhetoric go slide? What sort of things will my half-black nephew and niece have to deal with? 

The moral arc of he universe does not bend itself, we must exert pressure, as a society, to make it bend towards justice. Otherwise other pressures will pull it back.  

Or is there a spectrum? Are we actually living in the grays of a black and white world?

My best friend, someone I've known since my adolescence, is as close as a brother to me. We have shared some of life's most terrible losses, and celebrated together some of the continued joys and adventure of life. He is a vegan, and more recently, become committed to zero waste. He is a man not without his flaws, but he is one of my favorite people in the world. 

On recent visits, we have discussed more deeply his moral motivations, and his frustrations with the world. He asked me to imagine that I found myself in a world where it was ok to kick dogs. How, in this world, no matter what I said, people kept kicking dogs. It would be frustrating and heartbreaking that no one would listen to my sane pleas to stop. They would persist. That, he reminded me, is how he feels in our world. 

The point of that story is not to shame anyone who does not follow his beliefs (as someone who is not a vegan, or even a vegetarian, it does me), but just to add relative perspective. I've just gone on and on about my moral certainty of certain things we should not stand for, and yet am reminded with every interaction with my best friend, that there is yet another scale of morality.

I love my parents. They are good people who have done a lot of great things in the world. I like to thing most of us are trying to do the same, for ourselves, our families, and our communities. But if we don't hold ourselves, and each other to a higher standard, aren't we all complicit? Don't we all have great responsibility?

At least that's what my pal Peter Parker once told me.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Podcasts – It’s What’s for Dinner.

(originally published in Advertising Week 360)

Have you heard? 2020 is going to be the year of podcasts.
Never mind all those headlines from 2019. Or 2018. Or 2015 really.
For those already obsessed with audio content taking the world by storm, you’ve no doubt heard your millennial co-workers (and kids) telling you how it’s the next big thing – and now you’re trying to figure out how to use podcasts to sell more shampoo, yogurt, and/or ad tech software.
I have a pretty strong POV here. Probably because I spent most of my career selling shampoo, yogurt, and/or ad tech software.
Here’s my advice: Don’t.
Please, DON’T.
Still here? Well, I guess you didn’t get promoted to Assistant to the Director of Omnichannel Marketing for Disruptive Branding Innovation without being persistent and scrappy.
Podcasts – here’s all you need to know as you get 2020 started:
Stop what you’re doing. Quit reading articles by “thought leaders.” Start with the consumer. More importantly. BE the consumer.
Answer me this: What are your top five podcasts? If you have an answer, skip to the bottom, you already get it. Your Cannes Lion is in the mail.
Can’t name a top five? Read on.
Want to know my top 5 podcasts?
  1. Pivot
  2. Pod Save America / the World
  3. The Infinity Podcast
  4. Conan Needs a Friend
  5. AdExchanger Talks
In case you’ve never heard of any of these…
  1. Industry rants by the scolding mom + dad of the internet, Kara Swisher & Prof. Scott Galloway.
  2. Political punditry by these insanely smart (and surprisingly funny) ex-Obama staffers (“It’s not great Dan”).
  3. Tangential discussions on the impact of comics and sci-fi on the monoculture – by 3 beloved internet nerds.
  4. Long-form interviews by a scarlet-haired late-night host (and his non-Andy assistant Sona) – giving Terry Gross and Stern a run for their money.
  5. Ad Tech show going deep on digital trends with industry leaders.
Not your cup of tea? Maybe you’re a fan of topic deep dives (“How I Built This” or “Hardcore History”) or true crime (“Serial” or, increasingly “The News”). Maybe you are old school and prefer some “This American Life”, “RadioLab”, or “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.” These acclaimed shows are leaders of the pack for compelling audio content, having masterfully transitioned from radio to your phone.
Your clear great taste aside, what does everything in this no-longer nascent medium have in common? They’re personal, cater to your interest, and whisper sweet somethings in your ear(buds).
And most of them have great advertising. And this is where 2020 is going to go off the chains – ads you actually want to listen to.
The best advertising in all media isn’t a Super Bowl car ad or viral display/video campaign. Try listening to Jon Faverau and Dan Pfeiffer riff about ZipRecruiter or the Cash App (by Square).
You won’t fast forward through it because the improv-like experience is just as good as – and sometimes better than – the humor and commentary in the actual podcast. And I remember, like, and try almost all of these brands (sorry Tommy John). Hell, even AdExchanger has great 5-minute interviews with their sponsor CEOs during the ad breaks.
Authenticity? Dial it up to 11.
Ad Awareness/Recall? Through the roof.
Purchase Intent? Top Two Box.
Reason? Because it’s real. It’s entertaining. It’s personal. It’s in your ears.
Sex sells. But Audio allows brands into your heart.
Marketing in this medium is so effective because it’s native to the platform. Yes, it’s a great ad copy – but also marketing with meaning. Because while it interrupts, it doesn’t annoy and fits beautifully into each program. If that experience were jarring or disruptive, you’d have your thumb on that :15 skip button in a heartbeat.
So, what should you, the modern marketer, do about this in 2020?
LISTEN (and learn).
Stop what you’re doing, open your podcasting app of choice (Apple, Spotify, Stitcher), and subscribe/listen to one. Which one? I suggest any of the ones above to get started to hear how the masters do it.
Then, assuming your product doesn’t suck and your brand is willing to be authentic, call the guys @ Crooked Media (Pod Save America, Lovett or Leave It), Vox Media (Pivot, Recode/Decode), AdExchanger (The Big Story, AdExchanger Talks), and maybe even the Infinity Podcast (sorry Conan). Write some good, podcast-friendly ad copy, but let them take the reins. Your ad reader (podcast host) needs to be a believable advocate. If your brand can operate as a native podcasting brand, the audience will engage with their ears and vote with their wallet.
Also be sure to tell your boss some buzzwords about reach, impressions, influencers, ROI, and conversion – she loves it when you’re all over that stuff.
You probably won’t get that promotion by pouring all your marketing budget into podcasts (and please don’t try launching a “branded podcast”), but the millennial kids at home and work you’re trying to impress will think you’re the bee’s knees.
Hurry up and start listening. That’s what the rest of us are doing.
Raman is a recovering marketer from big brands (P&G, Dannon) and startups (Ahalogy, TVision). Raman’s the founder of, a strategic ninja factory doing non-evil marketing and soon-to-be launching new podcasts that don't suck, like "the P&G Alumni Podcast" - where titans of industry talk, and "Model Minorities” - where all gender/race issues will be solved.

Friday, December 20, 2019

space wizards.

"This is a movie about space wizards intended for children.” -PHW

I don't remember the first time I saw Star Wars. Kind of surprising for something that's been around as long as I can remember. My first memories - ever - are actually in my childhood backyard for my third birthday - which was Star Wars themed. I have other memories of being on a beach and losing a stormtrooper action figure in the waves. I remember going to a library in my grandparents’ small English town and seeing a bunch of Star Wars vehicles on display. I must have watched the original movie (III) tens - but what seemed like hundreds - of times, on an old VHS tape of the original movie recorded off TV. I actually don't remember ever seeing the Empire Strikes Back (V)as a kid. The earliest memory of actually seeing Star Wars in a theater is Return of the Jedi (VI) at the dollar movies with my Touchi Uncle. One of my prized possessions is still the X-Wing fighter my Dad bought me, though it is now missing a wing. 

In high school I finally watched ‘Empire.' In college I later discovered Kevin Smith movies - many of which often, and hilariously, referenced all of "the holy trilogy." In fact I'm pretty sure around then Empire finally became my favorite (sorry RoTJ, not the be confused with RTJ). I finally also made it to the theater for all the re-released “Special Editions" during those years. I even ate a little too much Taco Bell for some really cool toys. I read all of the original Timothy Zahn trilogy, which are still the best of all the books - which I can say with conviction, because I read ALL of the other garbage like only a true fan would. And when a local department store was going out of business, my valuable find was a NEW X-Wing fighter on clearance (which for many years sat atop my bookshelves). 

Then there were the prequels.

When the first trailer for Episode I came out, I went to some other movie just to see it in the previews. I eventually downloaded it on a 28.8k modem - freezing every frame for analysis, and making wallpapers for my PC. There's actually an old local news clip of my friend Paul and I skipping work from our engineering co-op to stand in line to buy our tickets for opening night. I had caught the hype and went to see it multiple times. Were they particularly good? That wasn’t the point. It was Star Wars - my old familiar friend.

Episode II came out during some hard times I faced in college, and the post-9/11 world wasn’t making much sense either. The film was particular troubling for me. Not just because of lackluster cliffhanger, or that it wasn't any good - but because of whatever was going on in my head. I almost didn’t make it through those years, but one of the many stupid threads that I hung onto was that I couldn’t miss the end of these new Star Wars movies - with the final chapter not coming out for another THREE years. And when Episode III did come out? I was actually in a much better place, so I don’t actually remember watching it, though I recall the movie well. Beyond the sadness of this being the last movie, there was a sorrow to some of the dark themes reflecting the politics at the time (which pales in comparison to our current situation). It even had it’s own “you're with us or against us” moment.

And then I was done with Star Wars at the movies.

And now a word from our sponsor. Please enjoy responsibly.

I became a real grown up - did some cool work, travelled the world, met the girl, and had lots of experiences. But my love of Star Wars was a lens through which I looked at a lot of things - not dissimilar to my love of comic books. These were cultural touchstones that were part of who I was. And as I became more comfortable in my own skin I was unabatedly unashamed of my love for all things Star Wars, Trek, and sci-fi related. It was a part of who I was. It did not so much define me, so much much is inform me. I later came to jokingly realize this was something I would soon call my own "comic book morality,” something I would frankly still argue is much more consistent than what many others apply from other sources (but that's another post).

Then a big mouse-obsessed corporation bought the rights to my beloved Star Wars. And they said they were going to make more movies. “Take my money, please,” I thought to myself. Around the same time, there were a bunch of cartoons that came out - most of which were more than pretty decent. Lightsabers, spaceships, and of course Obi-Wan - who would soon become my favorite (sorry Luke).

And then they announced the final trilogy. I won’t even begin to describe all the feelings stirred up in those months of anticipation of the first movie (VII). It was as if a friend had come back from a long trip (to a galaxy far, far away). When that first “new sequel" arrived - I went to a morning showing at a local mall with my then-pregnant wife. It was a thrill ride reminiscent of everything that came before it. As the credits rolled by, my wife turned to me and said, "We are not naming our daughter Rey." it's like she had Force powers, could read my mind and was pulling a Jedi mind-trick on me. That actually came a few months later after my daughter was born it's clear she inherited her mother's powers.

I actually wound up seeing The Force Awakens (VII) twice in theaters, the second time taking my dad and brother-in-law over the holidays. During that next viewing I found myself enjoying the film, but more enjoying watching my father laugh and clap his hands at something he was only vaguely familiar with (because of his son). Seeing him enjoy himself for an entire 2+ hours is not something I can say my dad admittedly does for many things - much less a Hollywood blockbuster. Everything was awesome (again).

When the The Last Jedi (VIII) came out, we had a new president and the tone of the world was quickly changing. My wife and I looked forward to seeing a new Star Wars, a distracting light at the end of a dark tunnel. We dropped my daughter off at daycare and went to go see a morning showing. All our old (and new) friends were there on the screen, but the tone was darker, the plot more winding. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. As we ate our went our North Vietnamese lunch afterwards, I kept playing back in my head everything that I had seen on screen. It was different and I was intrigued. It's probably how confused everyone felt after watching The empire strikes back, which I had never seen with raw eyes. While it turns out most people really didn't like it, I was ok with this new direction. I later I watched it again and knew this movie would hold up as the years went on. But I’m not sure the world has come around to my point of view yet. I’m patient

There were a few other "in-between" Star Wars movies that came out around the same time. And for me, they were mostly good! They entertained me by taking me back to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away - in a very different way. A few people were  more articulate explained why everyone just needs to get over themselves, or tried to figure out what we really want from a Star Wars film.

So this was the mentality I took into the final movie of the Skywalker saga (IX). There are no real spoilers here, so you’re safe to keep reading. I’d originally planned to go with a couple of friends - but they had an unfortunate emergency - so i found myself going alone on today's cold winter morning. At first It was really hard for me to turn my brain off for the opening scenes, as i could not stop thinking how this was really the end of something special for me.

The last new Star Wars movie that really mattered (because let's be honest - the big mouse company will make many more). But this has been a weird year, on so. many. levels. Beyond the current climate and my own happenings - this has been a year of many big pop/mono culture icons coming to a close, whether it be film about avenging superheroes, books about the walking dead, or shows about dragons and ice people. This Star Wars movie was effectively the last of them all for me. I'm sure there will be many sequels and reboots of so many other things from my childhood - some of which I will enjoy. But for me - staring down the barrel of adulthood - this is the last one of my childhood that I care about.

For me, it was another grand adventure, and it did not disappoint. It didn't stop - which gave me pause. So I decided to let go and just enjoy. There were moments that touched me (“I know”), and of course moments where I cringed. As the film came to its inevitable close, I had a feeling of satisfaction. That I got what I wanted after all these years. Nothing specific, but just a conclusion. As the final scene faded to credits, I felt the sense of closure. I walked out of the theater and started writing. 

There have been a lot of things going on in my life and the past few years in the past few months. They're more significant than anything set in a galaxy far, far away. But I'm looking forward to what's next.

Also, I’m waiting for my kid to get old enough so we can start watching Star Wars together. As I often tell her,

"May the force be with you."


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

taking punches

over the last several weeks i’ve taken a few (proverbial) punches. 

first there was this safety thing. basically, an auto accident. could have been so much worse (we’re fine, the car, not so much). BUT my kid was in the car with me (she’s fine). if anything, i continue to be more emotionally shaken by that fact of what. could. have. happened. we got lucky.

then there was this honorary thing. i didn’t get it. but it’s all good, i had low expectations, and wasn’t sure if i really wanted it (until i made the 2nd round of interviews).

then there was this volunteer thing. an extra-curricular activity, so to speak. i was on the fence about it, but gave it a solid go. circumstances out of my control have it in the air. i may eek out a win here, but it won’t be without a bit of drama which makes me question the whole thing.

then there was this friend thing. nearly lost the reigns on a relationship that has meant a lot to me over the years. but we had it out - and while it is not fully resolved - we have a better understanding of each other and will muddle through the rest. 

then there was this family thing. someone i deeply care about is going through some things. but they are far away, and i can’t help them until they can help themselves. i’m watching something happen in slow motion, and it concerns me. but i’m doing the best i can here. 

then there was this career thing. i’d already been thinking more broadly here, but now face an accelerated decision on my side. 

then there was this health thing. nothing life threatening, but nothing (financially) insignificant. a literal, and rhetorical pain. 

here’s where it gets interesting. any one of these things, and definitely the sequence of them should have me more down (e.g. “why me?”).

but here’s the thing:

i’m OK.

i don't find myself not apathetic. nihilistic. or even lethargic. in recent years, my perspectives on expectation-to-outcome has shifted. but the three things that matter most to me in my life...

1. family time.
2. me time.
3. fulfilling projects. 

...are still there. and i think i'm doing alright in all 3 departments (always room for improvement).

any/all of the afore-mentioned developments may or may tax things on my side a bit more, but in the end, they were simply all means to an end (fueling my recently realized “list of 3”). i've got some stuff to figure out, but fortunately have the support (and means) to do so.

in recent years years, i’ve made efforts to shift my personal (and professional) perspective on everything. don’t get me wrong - i still care about what is done 9-to-5 - as well as some select "extra-curricular" stuff in-between - but all of these things hardly define me the way it did in my earlier years. 

to quote a really good rock lyric,

"everything will be alright in the end."

Thursday, November 21, 2019

companion pod.

The other day i was talking to someone quite accomplished in the world of podcasts, and they made a really interesting point. They articulated the recent resurgence/success of podcasts framed not as an element of technology adoption, but in their ability to provide a companion.

And it got me thinking. 

How or why is this different from television? My sister felt like her friends had moved away when Monica, Rachel, and Ross left the building. My wife and I mourned the retirement of our oft-visiting uncle Jon Stewart (though we occasionally grab a late night snack with his pal Stephen Colbert or Jon Oliver). If there is time, we often escape to the Silicon Valley or Xadia, watch a Morning Show, or even go to a Galaxy Far, Far, Away. Sometimes we let my daughter have Elena, Peppa, or Doc McStuffins over, but usually when we need to get something done.  

But these are guests, house visitors who entertain us from the comfort of our couch.

Today's days are busier than ever, and - especially as a new parent - I find myself watching increasingly less and less TV...even on the go (despite us living in a golden/peak era where I find myself "banking" lots of stuff I'll watch later). 

Wherever I am - sitting on the train, running errands, or sometimes in the dark waiting for my daughter to fall asleep - I can pop in my headphones, close my eyes (not while driving, of course), and let my new pals whisper sweet nothings (or calmly exchange intelligent commentary) in my ear. Kara and Scott, the guys at Crooked Media, and occasionally Terry, Dubner, or Ira.

Unlike music, which I hear (and work, sing, and/or dance* along to), podcasts are something I want to really listen to. Because they get me. And they are with me, even if I'm just a fly on the wall listening.

And I guess that's companionship. 

*Only in the presence of people under the age of 10. MSRP. Subject to state and local guidelines. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

heritage day

It’s Columbus Day. My kid’s school is closed (again), our work is not. So my wife and I are splitting 1/2-day with a little work-from-home. The privileges of white collar employment.

By now I assume you’ve read some of the controversy surrounding Columbus Day (Oatmeal, NY statue / Italian Americans). To me, once you know a little bit more about the man, it seems obvious that a holiday celebrating him probably isn’t the best idea. But again, I grew up in the South, where we celebrated MLK / Robert E. Lee day - and I didn’t know that was strange until after I left. 

In this country, we have another of other great days that ask us to pause and think of how we got here. Memorial Day. Veteran’s Day. Labor Day. Even President’s Day (present company excepted). These are more than just excuses for awesome furniture and used car sales (nevermind that we really should get Election Day off)

So how could we update the second Monday of October more relevant, keeping a day to reflect on the calendar? 

Heritage Day. 

No matter who you are (save the Native Americans), your ancestry did not originate from here. Someone before you (or yourself) made a great sacrifice to come from far away lands. That’s what makes this country unique, apart from all others. 

Sure, I probably should’ve called it “immigrant day” - but that’s insulting to both Native Americans, African Americans, and frankly even people on the far right (the latter to whom I’m sensitive, but not sorry). So Heritage works. Let’s all celebrate our shared heritage / ancestry of “otherness” and accept the melting pot that makes America great.

Our heritage is what makes this country great. That, and fried foods. 

Happy Heritage Day. 

Oh wait. All these people were way ahead of me. Great minds think alike.

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.
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