14 Nov 2011, 4:38pm
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Vertical Farming and My New Obsession

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Every so often (more often than I’ll admit) I delve into a subject that captures my imagination and interest so much that it becomes part of my life for a long time. Most recently, it was the Criterion Collection and then business school and reading.  This time, I think it’s different.


The day I graduated college (December 17, 2004), I remember sitting on my bed and thinking: “now what?” I quickly glanced over the industry options that would put my degree to good use: defense, enterprise engineering, consulting, banking, industrial automation, electronics, etc. Nothing was really speaking to me. I went back to the drawing board. I realized that I had been on a journey to reach that day for my entire life. Now that I was there, I had no idea why.

Our basic needs are met. Our second level needs are met. Humans invented commerce, agriculture and written language. I took me five years of reading and searching to realize this. After realizing that my degree and any short term goals I had wouldn’t allow me to realize what I needed to do long term, I thought about what I would go back to school to study. Law? Too focused. Neuro-prosthetics? Not really on my moral compass as there’s too much potential to do harm. Ecology? I’d have to take 2 years of biology and chemistry before even applying to grad school. More engineering or computer science? That would only make me a specialist – and possibly not in a way that I’d want to be. Business? Hm. I could do one of the thousand things I was thinking about. And I can do it part time. That sounded like the best option economically and logically.

But it wasn’t a solid enough idea to convince the admissions board at Haas last year. I wasn’t ready to apply when I did the first time. I needed one more year to ruminate and self discover.  I’m ready now.

Dickson Despommier’s The Vertical Farm is just a book with a rather inspirational title. Most of what I took away from reading it was the idea. Taking the idea a few steps further, I came up with a list of engineering problems that I’d be interested in solving. I have the seed of a business plan in my head and in my new goals essay for admission to Haas. I think that I could cater to my personal goals of working in a city, in something to do with agriculture by owning a business that is executing specifically to the triple bottom line. I also think I can help solve one or more really big problems: job creation (here and elsewhere), feed the world, secure food, provide a viable plan for squatter cities, etc.

In school, I will want to focus on my business plan, building connections to help solve some of the engineering problems, learn about entrepreneurship, global business and continue doing research around helping the world. There’s a quite a bit of learning to be done and I’d like to keep this blog as a record of my progress. I won’t promise to update every week or month, but when I feel like I need to record something I will come here. My next post should be either the list of engineering problems I need help with or a high level framework of the business plan I will be working on. Hopefully we’ll get to see the evolution of that.

7 Nov 2010, 10:31pm

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Business as Usual

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The company I was working for was acquired by Cisco in May of this year. Since then, the group that has been given offers, signed, and transitioned over to the corporate behemoth have had mixed feelings about how this all went down. It was interesting hearing people outside of the company’s reactions as well. Some of my friends asked me how I felt. Others flat out congratulated me with a lot of enthusiasm. But my real friends and acquaintances that also like working for small companies had the same reaction: “oooohhh. Shitty. Are you going to stay?”
The transition was pretty difficult. The major growing pains for me personally have been to find my new role without stepping on too many toes, to deal with politics and working with people I don’t know and who don’t know me, the extra commute (granted it’s only 20 minutes each way) and food options near the office. I come to work every day and write down my goals for the day. Sometimes they’re aligned with the project I’m working on, sometimes they’re personal projects that few people know about and sometimes I straight goof off. There’s a lot less productivity, I think by most of us, since we’ve moved over. That could be because of lack of direction by our leadership, or even lack of confidence in what the company is doing as a whole by our leadership.
One day I took a step back to look at my life and the direction I was on. It wasn’t something I believed in. Fundamentally, life is about survival. Sustaining life is about ensuring survival of future generations. Designing consumer electronics that have a lifespan shorter than that of any pet is not necessarily helping the environmental condition, economic condition or psychological condition of, well, anyone in the world.
I believe, on a fundamental level, that consumerism is killing our future one iPhone at a time. Sure, some electronics companies are taking steps to ensure that their products are more recyclable, less waste, etc. But there is no electronic product made today that doesn’t have something bad to contribute to the environment – be it in mining materials, in manufacturing, in logistics of getting it to market, in the short lifespan, in the “recycling” of the product, or in the breakdown of it’s basic components. Thus, I arrive to work every morning with “I do not believe what I do is right” in the back of my head. I’m not happy with my job, and it’s no one’s fault but my own.
I started looking at options and where I could go. Ideally, I’d work on a farm somewhere and raise a small family, but I have to solve the problem of the fact that I can only live in SF, LA or NY because of the girlfriend. I’m ok with that. Now, what can I do to contribute to the cause that I believe in, make enough money to support a family and have it be something that I can actually do? I haven’t figured that out yet.
So I’m applying to graduate school. MBA programs to be exact. I’ll be applying to Berkeley, UCLA and NYU. If I don’t get in, I may apply to Presidio and/or SF State University, since they have well known sustainability programs.
In the meantime, I’ve taken the GMAT, started reading books on the personal MBA list, and taken a few personality tests. I will try to make this process more transparent as I proceed if only to improve my writing skills. Why MBA and not agriculture or ecology? Because I would have to start from the beginning with either of those paths, and with an MBA, I can focus on businesses that hire people who have studied ag, ecology, sustainability and the like. I’m more interested in being able to solve the business problems than in addressing the actual problems.
I’ll continue to keep up with my other goals – losing weight 1lb. at a time, and watching Criterion Collection movies one at a time. Stay tuned.

19 May 2010, 7:11am

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My job

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The company I work for, MOTO Development Group, was acquired by Cisco this week. The entire team has been waiting for their offer letters before we really make any conclusions, but this is going to be detrimental to the cohesion of the existing team. Already, there are about 10 people who will not be joining us at Cisco(CSCO) either by choice or by redundancy. Some of them were ready to retire, so it was a great opportunity to get out ahead.
Personally, I’m extremely excited about this opportunity. If it means everything they say it means, then I have no problems. I cannot get into what our role is going to be there, but it’s assumed to be an important one.
Does anyone have experience with mergers from my point of view? How did it go? What would you’ve done differently if you had to do it again?