When Halu opened in 2008, it completely changed my neighborhood, The Richmond District, for me.

Aside from the awesome food, the restaurant is owned and run by just about the nicest family around.  Their warmth is something special and I always felt like I was a guest in their home.  To say their restaurant is beloved is an understatement.

So it’s with great sadness to learn that owner Shigemi Komiyama recently passed.  As you’d expect from someone who was a drummer, Shig was always laser focused at the restaurant.  But after hours and on off days you’d see him hanging out at my friends’ music gigs if he wasn’t playing himself.

If you’re in San Francisco, there’s a memorial service tomorrow, March 9th from 11am to 3pm at the San Francisco Culture Center (2450 17th St.).  Also, the restaurant remains open, so if you’re in the neighborhood, I’d encourage you to stop by.  To the Komiyama family, I offer my heartfelt condolences.

More from The Bold Italic and SF Gate.

Entropy and Advice

I’m heading to SF tomorrow to officiate a Valentine’s day wedding between two close friends who I introduced. This is the third introduction I’ve made that has resulted in marriage, so I’m feeling pretty good about being on a roll.

Truth be told, my introductions were not intended to be love connections. They were the result of good manners in pretty casual social situations more than anything else.

So, I look at these marriages more from a place of wonder than one of accomplishment or pride. (Two couples are about to have their first kid!)

It’s often more important to get all the right molecules in the room than it is to be able to determine everyone’s individual path. And then, it’s pretty great to see what emerges.

As my photography teacher used to say: we’re not the architects of an image, we’re the midwives. And so, because of that, if a really beautiful photograph emerges, it’s totally cool and non-egotistical to say “wow, that’s a beautiful photograph”, because it’s not something that was ever in our control in the first place.

We have control over some of the conditions and our actions, but not the outcome. And, the reason to take photographs in the first place is to go along for the ride to see what will emerge. That is where the beauty is.

So, with that in mind, I’d like to ask you all again for your help in soliciting some words of advice that I can pass along to the newlyweds.

If you have any words of wisdom that would fit in the form of a tweet (140 characters), tweet it to me @garychou or leave it in the comments below.

I’ll compile the results and share it with you all.

Announcing: The Product Sessions

Last June, my friend Walter Chen, CEO/co-founder of iDoneThis, invited me to visit him in Las Vegas. Walter had just taken an investment from Vegas Tech Fund and thought it’d be interesting for me to come speak to their portfolio companies.

I’m deeply interested in the work being done to revitalize local economies and communities across the country—it’s some of the hardest, but most important work one could be doing—so I was definitely up for a visit. 

But despite all that, I wasn’t particularly excited about the idea of doing a solo talk. It seemed like we could do something that would be more worthwhile for the portfolio companies.

So, I proposed the idea of reviving an event called The Product Sessions and bringing it to Vegas.

The Product Sessions are a one-day event where startups get quality one-on-one feedback from product & design advisors who themselves have been in the trenches. I used to run these for both the Union Square Ventures portfolio companies and other NYC startups, and part of me was also curious if the format could work elsewhere.

Walter immediately loved the idea and then went to work to make it happen, getting everyone involved in the process. To cover the cost of the event, the participating companies all pitched in with Vegas Tech Fund providing matching funds. Laura Berk and Andy White from VTF brought in The Downtown Project to house the advisors and Work in Progress to host the event.

Less than a month later, Chris Fahey (ex-ZocDoc), Jordan Kanarek (DuckDuckGo), Leland Rechis (Kickstarter), Mike Beltzner (Pinterest), Phoebe Espiritu (Techstars NYC), and I flew out to Vegas and ran the event, meeting with 10 companies.

Everyone had a blast.

For the companies, they valued the opportunity to engage with people from outside their local community. For the advisors, it was both an intellectual vacation and an opportunity to see first-hand the revitalization of the downtown area. For me, it was all of the above plus the fun in getting the band back together.

Given all that, it’s no surprise that we all wanted to do it again.

So, I took that as a cue to officially revive The Product Sessions in 2014, not as an event local to New York, but as a traveling series that visits emerging startup communities across the country, featuring a rotating group of product/design experts who I know and trust.

This past weekend, we kicked off the season by returning to downtown Las Vegas, thanks in large part to our hosts Sara Vainer of Work in Progress and Laura Berk and Shilpi Kumar of Vegas Tech Fund. 

Idan Cohen (co-founder Boxee), Jennifer Brook (ex-The New York Times), Kevin Cheng (Incredible Labs), Matthew Smith (Offset.com), and Mike Mayes (Technicolor) joined me on the trip and we met with 9 local startups.

In February (this coming weekend), we will be visiting Detroit, thanks to Ted Serbinski, Sharon Shehib, and Leah Moss from Detroit Venture Partners. Joining me will be Charles Adler (Kickstarter), Jimena Almendares (Meetup), Leland Rechis (Kickstarter), Martin Eriksson (Covestor), Nick Barr (DrawQuest), and Phoebe Espiritu (Techstars NYC).

This will be my first trip to Detroit, and I’m excited to visit and meet everyone.

I’m starting to plan the rest of our 2014 schedule with March being our next available date. If you’re a startup, accelerator, space, or fund, and would like to bring us out to visit, here’s some more information on how the event works

If you’d like to sponsor an event (perhaps for a group of non-profits that are building digital products or a community of bootstrapped tech startups), I’d also love to talk. I believe that technology can and should be used for more than just high-growth tech startups and that the need for quality critique and feedback is just as (if not more) important there, too.  If you believe in that, too, let’s work together.

I’m also planning to open source the event altogether so that people can run their own Product Sessions locally. You can follow (and eventually fork) the GitHub repo here.

Just as it’s a myth that you need to be living in large technology hubs in order to create impactful work, it’s a myth that great works spring fully-formed from the minds of brilliant anointed geniuses.

I would espouse that the value of critical feedback is overlooked, and further, that it is through the repeated and deliberate practice of receiving and navigating feedback from our teammates, advisors, and the market itself, that we develop the intuition that enables us to make our own decisions

This is a surprisingly difficult thing to do, especially in a world of amplified, dogmatic rhetoric. 

So, if you or someone you love would like the practice, I hope you will invite us to come visit.  

I spent a week in Austin last month and it was both hectic and great.  

I caught up with old colleagues and friends and also gave a talk on what I’ve learned over the past few years, as well as what I’m thinking about doing next.

ICYMI, Scott Gerlach wrote a thought provoking blog post in response to my talk.  (Scott is a student at AC4D and along with his colleagues has done a lot of great work around health care records.)

I was also a guest on Joel Bush’s 5by5 podcast Capital, and we talked a bit about my background in tech, my time at USV and the Entrepreneurial Design class that I teach at SVA.  You can listen to an archive of it here.

Mad props to my homies Ryan and Andrea for hosting me during my stay.  

The trip was the most fun I’d had in a long time.  I’m very fortunate to have the friends that I do and I look forward to seeing you all again soon.

Austin: What I’m Working on Next

I’m heading to Austin for the week to visit some former colleagues and to meet the current class of students at the Austin Center for Design, where I’m an advisor.

While I’m in town, I thought it’d be fun to talk about some of the projects that I’m planning for 2014. So, I’m hosting a happy hour talk on Friday, December 13th from 5-7pm, appropriately titled “What I’m Working on Next”.

I’ll also share some stories and lessons from the past few years, so if you or someone you love is interested in startups + VC, the design of social systems, design education, or independent film/music, etc., I hope you’ll drop by and join us.  It’s going to be a lot of fun.

We’re almost half full already, and from the RSVPs it looks like there will be a lot of great people in the room.

I’ll also be hanging out with Joel Bush and The Regulars the morning of 13th at Mozart’s, so come on by anytime from 8am to 11am.

Some of you may know me from the hit song “To All The Ladies, From Gary Chou”, which my friend Goh Nakamura wrote for me. (The song also features the excellent Jane Lui who you may have seen on the YouTubes.)

You may have thought, “Wow, I wish I had a song like this.”  If so, now’s your chance to commission an original song from Goh via his Winter Song Commissions and Cover Album Kickstarter.

I think my song is clearly the best one, but if I had to pick some others that I like, this one done in the style of Van Halen as well as this lullaby my friend commissioned for her baby girl are awesome, too.

And, if you’re really really ready to rock, you can spring for the $500 reward, which will unlock me as lead vocalist for your track.  It’s expensive because we will need to autotune it.  Also, because it WILL TOTALLY ROCK.  GET SOME!



how i became a music producer, Mountain Brother, & why Strength In NUMBERS @strengthnum @studioapa 

You may know Chops from his work as a producer.  He’s produced tracks for everyone from ODB to Chamillionaire to Keak Da Sneak, and most notably, The Lonely Island (here’s how he made The Creep).

I’ve been following Chops since I was in college (a long-ass time ago) when he was part of the the Mountain Brothers, a rap group from Philly that also happened to be the first Asian American rap group signed to a major label.  There was a time when seeing Asian Americans on stage for anything other than an ethnic or stereotyped reason was mind-blowing, and the Mountain Brothers were pioneers in helping kids like myself see that it was possible.

Take a listen to his story above, which is amazing.  It explains why he’s undertaken his Strength in Numbers project, where he’s assembled some of the best up and coming Asian American hip hop artists.  It’s in its final hours and it’s just a few thousand dollars short, so go back it on Kickstarter!

Boston/Cambridge Event Spaces

I just got back from a great last-minute trip to Cambridge.  I had thought it would be fun to try to put together an evening talk while I was in town, but wasn’t able to pull it together due to the logistics.  Perhaps next time!

That said, I got some great help from some friends on potential event venues, which is really one of the toughest parts of the planning process.  So, I decided to put all of the suggestions into a hackpad for future reference.  It is not at all perfect and my hope is that someone more knowledgeable will add to it and make it better.

Thanks to Martin, Lily, Kawan, Robb and others who contributed to this.  I appreciate the help, and wanted to immortalize their efforts in this hackpad.

My friend Tomo Nakayama of Seattle-based Grand Hallway has been in town the past few days on an East Coast solo tour. I’ve been a fan of his music for sometime and most recently had the pleasure of seeing him featured on screen in Lynn Shelton’s latest film, Touchy Feely, alongside Ellen Page. He doesn’t get out to the East coast much, so it’s a real treat to be able to see him play live.

Tomo won over a crowd of strangers at the Rockwood Music Hall on Saturday, and played to a packed room at Pete’s Candy Store on Sunday.

I’m tagging along on the final leg of the tour via Bolt Bus en route to Cambridge for Tomo’s final show at Middle East (9:30pm). If you or someone you love is in the area, encourage them to come on out. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Tomo play live.

Subsequently, it’s also my birthday today, so by the powers vested in me by the Birthday gods, go to http://grandhallway.bandcamp.com and go buy everything there. You will like it!

Speaking at TEDxPeacePlaza: What’s Possible, November 9th

I’m heading to San Francisco next month to speak at TEDxPeacePlaza.  If you’re around and interested in attending, here’s a discount link that you can use for a limited time.

The event is on November 9, 2013, and it runs from 10am to 5pm at Pa’ina Lounge in San Francisco’s Japantown.  The theme for the event is:

“What’s Possible” - Seemingly intractable problems. Surprisingly ingenious solutions. In a world full of inequality, conflict, and hardships, there are remarkable examples of what actually can be done. What innovations are possible that can help create a world that we want to live in? 

I’m going to share a few lessons learned from teaching Entrepreneurial Design.

I’m honored to be joining such speakers as:

  • David Chiu, President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors
  • Lateefah Simon, Director of California’s Future Program at the Rosenberg Foundation
  • Jon Osaki, Executive Director of the Japanese Community Youth Council
  • Nwe Oo, CEO of Weaving Through Change (helping refugee women from Burma preserve their tradition while creating economic opportunity)
  • Tulio Cardozo, Founder of Collaborative Benefit (helping the formerly incarcerated get hired)
  • Katherine Woo, Vice President of Product at Kiva
  • Valerie Luu & Katie Kwan, Co-Founders of Rice Paper Scissors (pop-up Vietnamese street food)
  • Mark Baugh-Sasaki, Sculptor and Photographer (exploring the link between the natural world and industrial world)

Hope you can make it!

I’ve been the beneficiary of artist Steve Lambert’s work, as I wrote about a few months ago.
One of my favorite projects of Steve’s is his “Capitalism Works For Me” project, which travels across the country and invites people to vote on whether capitalism is working for them.  It also invites folks to share their stories in the process.  Narratives are powerful and his project is a great way to surface them.
The project is in Times Square today (for the last day), so I’d encourage you all to go visit it.  You can also follow along on Twitter via the #CapitalismWFM hash tag.
Read more here and follow Steve on Twitter.

I’ve been the beneficiary of artist Steve Lambert’s work, as I wrote about a few months ago.

One of my favorite projects of Steve’s is his “Capitalism Works For Me” project, which travels across the country and invites people to vote on whether capitalism is working for them.  It also invites folks to share their stories in the process.  Narratives are powerful and his project is a great way to surface them.

The project is in Times Square today (for the last day), so I’d encourage you all to go visit it.  You can also follow along on Twitter via the #CapitalismWFM hash tag.

Read more here and follow Steve on Twitter.

A letter from an independent musician

This past week, I got a pretty gut wrenching email from a friend who is an independent musician coming up on turning 40 and struggling with the question of how to persist as an artist.

There’s a lot personally to relate to: how we navigate the inherent uncertainty in our lives, how we define success for ourselves vs. what we see other people doing, how we balance our own free will against the realities and limitations we come across.

There’s also a lot that concerns me from a macro perspective: outside of those who are grandfathered in as beneficiaries of the old world of music, are creative pursuits for indies only an option for the privileged?

As creators of things on the Internet, how can we evolve beyond the efficiency innovations that we’ve seen to date to make the future we want to see?

Like most, I have no answers to these questions, and somehow, suggesting my friend create yet another Kickstarter project (my friend has successfully completed two) seems to fall short of some bigger issues.  

So, the best I could do was to publish my friend’s email (with permission).  If you’re an artist, musician, filmmaker—anyone pursuing a creative dream—I suspect that much of this will hit close to home, and so at least you have this to know that you’re not alone.

Accordingly, if you are in tech and are looking to understand what life is like for an independent creator, this letter is pretty real.

XOXO 2013

I’m at XOXO in Portland this weekend. The conference is just starting today, but I’ve been on the ground for the past day and a half just getting settled and meeting other folks who are here early.  People love to eat.

Some highlights so far, meeting Brad Sucks whose code I used about six years ago to power Goh Nakamura’s Ulysses digital download; meeting Matt Kirkland creator of The Googly-Eyed Project; discovering Mike Walker’s Infinite Soul Train project; and much more.

I’m looking forward to the next few days.  You can all follow along on Twitter via the #xoxofest hash tag.


I had a great time speaking at Designers + Geeks last night.  While the talk was titled Designing for Uncertainty, at the end of the day it was really a distillation of what I’ve learned over the past three years and a prelude to how I plan to live in the future.

Thanks to everyone who came out, and thanks to the organizers for having me and running such a great event. It was a nice welcome back to NY after having been away for a month.

I’m working on pulling together the appendix of links, as promised and will get that to everyone over the weekend.  I’ll post it here, too so that everyone can see it.

UPDATE: As promised, I pulled together an appendix that links to most everything that I mentioned in the talk, along with quite a bit of background reading:


Also, as the event was sold out, I know a number of folks were unable to make it.  I think it’s likely that I’ll do the talk again, if not expand on it.  I will let you all know when that happens.

If you missed it, here are some of the tweetables.

Also, if there are any follow-up questions, leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to respond.