reDesign

June 29, 2014

The smartest question I was asked by an entrepreneur and team member

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rakesh Agrawal @ 7:15 am

I’ve been quite active behind the scenes with some angel investments and building up the team for redesignmobile.

A big part of that has been having deep conversations where I ask questions about what they want to do and they ask me questions. I evaluate people as much as by what they ask me as how they respond to the questions I ask.

The smartest question I was asked recently was “What happens if you lose all of your investment doing this?”

It shows me that the person I’m working with is not immoral or amoral. They care about a partnership, not maximizing their personal gain.

My answer: Although I will take big risks, they are always calculated risks. And I don’t take risks that I can’t afford to take.

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June 6, 2014

Why I retweet racist assholes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rakesh Agrawal @ 10:43 am

You’ll often see me retweet the racism that is directed my way.

Why do I bother? Because I think it’s important to be reminded that racism still exists, even though SCOTUS and Fox News like to pretend that we’re in a post-race world.

The racists comments roll off my back because I just don’t care. Most racists I’ve encountered are just looking to blame others for their own lack of success. (People like Sterling being an exception, of course.)

I’ve dealt with racism my whole life. In elementary school, I had people call me “Gandhi”. Well, if you consider that an insult, you are the ignorant one. I’d be thrilled to be compared with Gandhi. (Though I in no way consider myself worthy of that comparison.)

May 13, 2014

Mental health is an important issue — and here’s what I’m going to do about it

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rakesh Agrawal @ 12:26 am

Some people have taken to making light of mental health issues. Without any medical training or without even speaking to me, they’ve decided to make claims about my mental state. Besides being highly actionable, this is reckless and irresponsible. It does a disservice to people suffering from mental illness. It also does a disservice to me — because of the stigma around mental illness, it has made starting my company infinitely harder.

I will be donating $20,000 from my personal funds to a mental health charity. (I haven’t done enough research on this to know which one, yet. If you represent such a charity, please send a pitch to redesign@agrawals.org.)

I’ve already committed to my team that I will donate a percentage of the equity in the company to a charity of each team member’s choosing. (For the first 5 team members.) I will add a mental health charity to this list.

May 12, 2014

A response I sent to a friend just now

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rakesh Agrawal @ 11:46 pm

I’ve been receiving messages of concern from my friends. Here’s a response I sent to one of them.

Thanks for the concern. Farhan’s post is way off base and I’ve told him that many times. I’ve told him more than half a dozen times now that I wasn’t fired or forced to resign. He refuses to believe it. He won’t change his blog post. I think he’s being utterly irresponsible.
i have been depressed a few times in my life; that’s not the case now. It’s the most excited I’ve ever been. All the things I’ve wanted to do over the last 20 years — but were blocked by management — somehow seem possible. I had a Eureka moment and got really really excited.
I feel great. I’m building an important company w/o the usual challenges:
  • I don’t need to write a pitch deck.
  • I don’t need to raise money. The company I designed is so capital efficient that I can fund it with my own bankroll. I’m accepting money from a few select friends and family as well as people who I think are brilliant. (And that’s a very small list — I had to cross off one name earlier this week.)
  • I don’t need to screen and woo people — I’ve already got my initial team and they are amazing.
My biggest challenge right now is Farhan and Marcus’ idiotic blog posts about mental illness. Mental illness is definitely a problem in our society. And it’s stigmatized as much of the media coverage seems to be pointing out. I have told Farhan he is wrong. We haven’t had a real conversation. Marcus — wow, I mean just wow. The president of a huge public company questioning the mental state of someone who resigned voluntarily from his company? That’s incredible. The lawyers have been filling up my Inbox.
Because of Marcus, I now have to fly around the country convincing people I’m not mentally ill. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that — mental illness shouldn’t be stigmatized. It’s another disease, like cancer.) That’s a huge waste of my resources. Talk about kneecapping your opponent at the starting line. He is today’s Jeff Gillooly.
By the end of the week, this will be obvious. But in the meantime, please hang tight.
I will see a psychologist. But that’s to placate those who are concerned; like I said, I feel great and I’m super excited.
I will be in SoCal Wednesday through Friday. If you know any good psychologists out there, please refer me.
Thanks,
Rocky

April 27, 2014

Social media and the new world of work — my take

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rakesh Agrawal @ 5:04 pm

I’ve been on Twitter since 2007. According to the stats, I have 39.8k tweets in that time.

In those seven years, the feed has changed a lot. It’s gone from a largely personal feed with friends and a few colleagues to a feed that is followed by CEOs, journalists, industry experts and venture capitalists, among others. The content has changed from random events — my first ever tweet was “Breathing” (thanks, Jason Del Rey for looking it up) — to a period where it was mostly about Groupon. Now it’s a mix of things that I’m passionate about.

I’ve always been a call-it-like-it-is person. I try to be thoughtful, critical and (at times) funny.

People have the usual disclaimers on their feeds: these aren’t my company’s views; retweets aren’t endorsements; etc. When I was independent, running my own company, the “these aren’t my company’s views” disclaimer was unnecessary. Although I’ve never explicitly said it, retweets haven’t been endorsements. I try to retweet things that are interesting and thought provoking. Sometimes I agree with them; sometimes I don’t. I tweet out things that are in direct conflict to my views, if I think the author has made a cogent argument.

Now that I work for a large public company, I try to be cognizant of how people might misattribute any given tweet. Here’s my thinking so far; it will likely change as I tweet and get feedback on it.

PayPal-related tweets

I joined PayPal because I believe in the company and what we’re trying to do. I will tweet about things that I find interesting. No one at PayPal gives me a list of things to tweet about. It’s stuff that I’m genuinely interested in. In many cases, I find the stories through reading my Twitter feed or because a journalist sent it to me or a friend sent it. Sometimes, it was on an internal distribution list and I thought it was something I think my audience might find interesting.

PayPal has a culture of being honest and direct. (Great fit for me!) I’m a big believer that the best products come from very smart people passionately debating products, rather than people blindly sucking up to a “visionary”. But those debates belong inside the company, among colleagues. You do a big disservice to the process if you air those differences in public.

You’ll see more PayPal tweets than you did before. This feed has always been about what interests and excited me — and my job really excites me! But this isn’t a PayPal PR feed. If you want that, follow @paypal. For the record, PayPal PR does not edit the content of this feed. They have no pre-approval of what I tweet. (Given how much I tweet, that would be a big job!)

Payments industry-related tweets

Because a lot of people have followed me for how closely I track the payments industry, I plan to continue to tweet about the industry. But a lot of these tweets will just be links to interesting content about the payments industry, without comments. (Especially in the case of direct competitors.)

All other tweets

As you might have noticed, I have strong opinions on things like net neutrality, equality, finance, venture capital and the state of journalism. These are all outside the scope of my job. I don’t even know the company’s position on this stuff (or if there even is a position). I’ve got a big role as it is without tracking down all of this stuff.

But I think have important ideas and commentary to contribute to those debates. I plan to continue those tweets as long as there is engagement and interest.

I recognize that it can be confusing because in some cases, I will actually be speaking on behalf of PayPal. But that’ll be in media outlets, on the official PayPal blogs or when I’m speaking at conferences for PayPal.

If you’re a journalist and are ever wondering whether I’m speaking on behalf of the company, please email me at rocky@paypal.

We’re all living in a grand experiment where the lines between work and personal; public and private are blurring. Fun times.

 

November 16, 2013

Batkid, San Francisco and my brother’s experience with the Make-A-Wish foundation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rakesh Agrawal @ 9:19 am
Neptune pool at Hearst Castle

Neptune pool at Hearst Castle

It is so heartwarming to see all the pictures and video from Batkid saving Gotham City (er, San Francisco). For those who missed it, a California kindergartner with leukemia wanted to be Batkid and the Make-A-Wish foundation made it happen. San Franciscans lined up to cheer him on. San Francisco’s police chief and even President Obama got involved to show their support. http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2013/11/15/police-chief-greg-suhr-on-how-batkid-saved-san-francisco/

I missed the event in person because I was at the ostentatious Hearst Castle in San Simeon. As part of the castle, they have two oversized swimming pools, including an indoor one. The castle is now a California State Park. I asked one of the docents if anyone is allowed to swim in the pools. She said that occasionally the Hearst family uses it and they never say no to the Make-A-Wish foundation. (They also auction off four pool parties a year to help pay for restorations.)

My family had our own experience with the Make-A-Wish foundation. My brother had been sick pretty much since birth. Early on, he had a kidney transplant. In his high school years, that one went bad and he had a simultaneous heart and kidney transplant. The Make-A-Wish foundation sent our family on a trip to Washington, D.C.

That was more than 20 years ago and my brother is now doing fine.

October 31, 2013

Why I’m joining OLO’s advisory board

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rakesh Agrawal @ 7:59 pm

I’m pleased to announce that I’m joining the advisory board of OLO. You can see the press release here. Forbes recently had a great write up of OLO.

OLO provides online ordering for companies such as Five Guys, Noodles & Co. and Cold Stone Creamery. Guests can order from their smartphones and pick up their order in store without waiting in line.

I met founder Noah Glass earlier this year and was very impressed by his commitment to helping restaurants incorporate mobile technologies.

Mobile has changed a lot of spaces already; I think there’s a lot of potential to improve the restaurant experience for both consumers and operators:

  • A better consumer experience. We’ve all experienced the lunch rush. Your stomach is grumbling and you just want to eat. With order ahead, you can bypass the line and get straight to your food. Mobile ordering also increases order accuracy because you can see what you’re ordering. I was recently at a bar in Utah and ordered a Hop Notch IPA. The bartender thought I said half nachos. Oops.
  • Increased throughput for restaurants. People who know what they want aren’t turned off by a long line and go elsewhere.
  • Reduced operational costs for restaurants. Miscommunication in ordering and unclaimed orders cost restaurants money.

As I’ve noted repeatedly in my writings, local is a hard slog and OLO has shown the dedication and perseverance necessary to succeed in local. The company started off with mobile ordering by text message in 2005. It is also well financed, having recently received a strategic investment from PayPal as part of a $5 million round.

Noah and team are off to a great start and I look forward to working with them to help restaurants take advantage of mobile.

April 17, 2013

My bet with Ryan Kim on Yahoo!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rakesh Agrawal @ 12:25 pm

I have a bet with Ryan Kim on Yahoo’s mobile site, specifically Yahoo! Finance.

I discovered an important flaw in the Yahoo! experience. It’s something that most people would immediately acknowledge is problematic.

It should be a high priority issue and should be relatively easy to resolve.

My bet is that Yahoo! will not resolve this issue in the next six months. If they do, Ryan wins.

Given Marissa’s emphasis on mobile and the importance of Yahoo! Finance to Yahoo!, I should lose this bet.

The loser buys lunch or dinner at a Mexican place next time we’re in the same city.

Disclosure of the specific issue by Ryan means I win by default.

March 20, 2013

How I choose what I write about

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rakesh Agrawal @ 10:01 am

I’ve done a lot of writing over the last two years and it has spanned quite a few topics. Some of it may seem kind of random; that reflects my diverse interests.

But there are a few themes that I’m trying to focus on:

  • Analysis that can help entrepreneurs build better products.
  • Companies whose business models are largely exploitative. This includes Groupon and Yelp.
  • Companies whose businesses can put consumers at risk.
  • Companies that violate consumer protection laws and regulations. Yes, there are some laws that are outdated and don’t recognize advances in technology. But many laws were put in place to help protect consumers from cheating by merchants. Too often, companies are looking for a free pass around these and gain an unfair competitive advantage.
  • Tech companies that are about to go public.
  • Travel and travel technologies.
  • Technologies that can create a more efficient or environmentally sound world. This includes things like car2go.
  • Technologies connected to the digital living room and connected devices.

I generally avoid writing about criticizing small projects or entrepreneurs who are just getting started. It’s unfair to criticize ideas before they’re reasonably baked. (The exception to this would be if they’re doing something dangerous or illegal.) I will write positive stories about companies that are starting up if the company is worthy of attention. Once a company reaches around $500 million in valuation, I think criticism is fair game.

I also don’t write about vanity metrics. That’s one of the scourges of the tech press. They’re lazy and easy stories to write; they drive page views; they let reporters suck up to PR people and CEOs they want access to. But ultimately, vanity metrics stories do a disservice to entrepreneurs because they de-focus from what really matters.

September 9, 2012

Mitt Romney’s healthcare comments flunk basic economics

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rakesh Agrawal @ 2:37 pm

I am trying to stay away from politics as much as possible this election cycle, but pandering, economic nonsense and journalistic incompetence get under my skin.

Mitt Romney said today on Meet the Press that he wants to preserve the requirement of the Affordable Care Act that insurers cover pre-existing conditions. From the Reuters story:

“Of course, there are a number of things that I like in healthcare reform that I’m going to put in place,” Romney added. “One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage. Two is to assure that the marketplace allows for individuals to have policies that cover their family up to whatever age they might like.”

Romney has also said that he would repeal ACA because of the individual mandate. That’s like saying I am going to eat all the cake I want and I won’t get fat. It doesn’t work that way. Economically speaking, the individual mandate and coverage for pre-existing conditions are tied at the hip.

Any sort of universal coverage (and forced coverage of pre-existing conditions is a form of universal coverage) requires that healthy people pay into a system to help offset the cost of treating the sick. Without the individual mandate, insurance companies would go broke paying for sick patients who had pre-existing conditions because there wouldn’t be enough healthy people paying premiums.

In fact, forcing insurers to cover pre-existing conditions in the absence of an individual mandate would make health insurance’s adverse selection problem even worse. Right now, many healthy people purchase individual coverage because they’re worried that if they get sick they won’t be able to buy insurance. When I lived in Malaysia, I bought U.S. health insurance even though I was healthy because I wanted to continue to have the option for coverage in case I did get sick. I paid $110 a month for high deductible, catastrophic coverage and never made one claim on that policy. Take away that deterrent and healthy people would wait until they got sick to buy health insurance. Imagine buying car insurance only after you got into an accident.

The fact that Romney would make such a claim indicates that he’s:

  • A terrible business person who doesn’t understand basic economics.
  • Will say anything to get elected, even if it’s economically impossible.
  • Both.

It’s also ridiculous that David Gregory didn’t challenge Romney on the notion that he could keep the requirement to cover pre-existing conditions while eliminating the individual mandate. Either Gregory didn’t understand that the two are inextricably linked or he didn’t want to appear to be biased. Neither scenario paints a good picture for the state of journalism today.

Too often, journalists let claims like this slide. In this election cycle, more than ever, journalists have off-loaded that work to “fact checkers”. Sorry, but that’s a key part of a journalists job. It’s a sad state of affairs when Jon Stewart is doing more to challenge his guests than the host of Meet the Press.

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