Cuba study abroad trip

It started with a text message from my buddy, Joshua. “Wanna go to Cuba for a week…”

We’d actually talked about the possibility of the trip at lunch a week before. He’s working on a venture doing short-term study abroad trips and was doing a few weeks of testing and making marketing materials and pulled together some students with last-minute time to go.

Day One: Baltimore to Havana

Late Saturday night I caught the last Greyhound from Union Station up to Baltimore after beginning the packing process to late in the evening and missing the last MARC train up. Thankfully, I made it with just a few minutes to spare. Early the next morning I made it into BWI for my connecting flight in Fort Lauderdale.

It started raining on our descent in Ft. Lauderdale, a trend that would continue into that afternoon. At the gate, they sold visas for 55 USD and it took them just a few minutes. JetBlue seems to still be figuring out demand for the route to Cuba and I had the entire row open on my flight.

It was a quick 45 minutes from takeoff to landing in Havana. The airport is well outside the city and you could only see rural land surrounding the runway which battled back creeping overgrowth along the concrete seams. We had to wait for a covered set of stairs to meet the airplane as it rained steadily.

Off the stairs and into a waiting bus we packed like sardines. As one of the last on the bus, I was the first off. I was nearly pushed into a huge puddle beside the sidewalk, but stepped over and was into the security and immigration processing.

The age of the security staff was very surprising, no one could have been more than 30 years old and their casual attitudes and short hemlines highlighted this. Underneath the poorly kept uniforms the girls wore stockings of various fishnet thickness and design to accompany the skirts that weren’t longer than the ones girls in high school wore from Hollister.

Through the security checkpoint and after turning my forms, I was released from the quiet of that area to the teeming mass of Cubans waiting the arrivals of tourists. Most held up signs with specific names on them looking for someone. I navigated through the crowd toward the Cadeca (money exchange) to turn my dollars into CUCs, one of the two types of currency in Cuba. CUCs were used by foreigners and were about equivalent to 1 USD. However, that didn’t include the 10% fee they charged, effectively turning every 100 USD into about 87 CUCs. The landlady warned of this and said that she had a better rate near our rented home. So I exchanged about 40 USD to last that day and evening.

At the airport I met Joshua De Gastyne, the trip organizer, and Thomas Bright, an incoming law student at UVA. We had planned to share a taxi together out to our rented house.

We negotiated our taxi from 75 CUCs down to 30 (we had been warned of how much they overcharge) and began the trip. The airport is far from the city center so we travelled more than 25 minutes to get into Regla, which is on the south side of the Port of Havana (Puerto de la Habana). Those 25 minutes gave us a good sense of the rural parts of Cuba. Farms dotted the land around the road like the potholes we avoided. Some livestock ate amongst the fields and on occasion we saw roads large enough to indicate there was a significant population at the end of them. One memorable mural painted on the side of a massive abandoned factory was a portrait of an indistinguishable man in Cuban revolutionary military garb. Below the mural were painted the words, “Socialismo o muerte!”

We found the rest of our group and settled into our rented home. Rounding out the team for this week: Christian Say, a senior at Princeton; Miklos Szebeni, a recent graduate of Princeton; Brooks Powell, a senior at Princeton and the videographer; and finally, his wife Shelby, a recent graduate of the University of Oklahoma and the photographer.

Once we dropped off our bags and unpacked a bit, we took the first of many ferry rides across the bay and into Old Havana (Habana Vieja). Immediately off the ferry there’s the Casa Bahia Habana hotel which we’ve stopped by many times for Wi-Fi cards and at least once a round of beers. We followed the coastal road northwest leading out of the bay into Old Havana to find food. Less than a few hundred yards down the street, we came to an ancient Russian Orthodox Church, Basílica San Francisco de Asis. It bordered a large square with a fountain in the middle.

We continued walking and eventually stopped at La Imprenta, a fairly touristy restaurant that caught our eye because of the plates they served with smoking coals in small bowls. At the bar we waited with rum and mojitos for twenty minutes before our table opened. Once we sat down, I noticed one of the menu items was “Moors and Christians.” We asked and found out that was a euphemism for rice and beans. We finished the night there and headed back for much needed sleep.

Day Two: Havana

This morning we had orientation. Joshua walked us through the week and what to expect. Because this was their first week and the point was to capture everything on film and produce marketing materials, he wanted to explain that and what they were trying to do. We had a brief icebreaker, playing Bananagrams using only Spanish words. The two that I played were pan and pene.

We ate breakfast at the apartment. It consisted of bread buns, jelly, and butter. The buns are bought daily at a local store. For 1 CUC (about $1.05), you get a full grocery bag of 24 rolls.

After our spartan breakfast, we took the ferry into Havana and headed to the Capitol. You can see the top of the dome from across the bay and it’s striking in the way the Duomo is in Florence. The dome rises above the rest of the city and is strikingly elegant from a distance. Once you get close though, you see the truth. The dome rises amidst a yard of dead grass and broken concrete. The streets around it are dirty and ungoverned. Across from the steps of the capitol are apartments falling apart with laundry hanging from the windows. In the words of one Cuban I spoke to, “Es Cuba.”

A few gardens surrounded the capitol, adjoined by a cigar factory and the remaining facade of an old apartment. In one we found a statue of a large bust of Abraham Lincoln. Throughout the week we saw statues of foreign leaders and wondered why they were there. The common theme was that they were liberators of some group and that the Cuban government wanted the people to view Castro and the revolution as the  liberators. Liberators from what remains unclear to me, but the US has been cast as the oppressors.

We walked through the city to La Guarida, one of the places recommended by friends of mine who had visited Havana over winter break. It turned out to be our most expensive meal but was completely worth it. The smoked marlin tacos were phenomenal although different than other tacos I’ve had. They were cold and small, perhaps no more than four inches long. We had orders of honey baked chicken, fried plantains, and chicken tikka. From there we had the afternoon open and continued exploring La Habana Vieja, We went to Cafe O’Reilly, a quiet bar on O’Reilly. We also tried to stop by O’Reilly 304 but it was completely packed. We found our way from there to El Dandy, a bar with an equal mix of tourists and locals. Just in time for a second dinner, we had the pulled pork tacos and pimieintos padrón – some kind of grilled or roasted peppers with large flakes of salt on them. Absolutely delicious (in fact, I’m going there after this for an afternoon snack).  By chance we ran into Christian and Myklos there – they had run into Catholic friends of theirs and were eating in the next room.

We walked back to the ferry from there and stopped at a hotel by the port for a wifi check in. It was incredibly slow.


Day Three: Ambassador, Museo de la Revolucion

This was our most educational day of the trip.

We had a meeting scheduled with the “Chargé d’affaires ad interim” to Cuba from the United States, Jeffrey DeLaurentis. He has ambassadorial status but isn’t an official ambassador. He explained it as a way to show the seriousness of President Obama’s intentions toward Cuba without sending an actual ambassador.

The Embassy is in a building the United States built in the 50s on land leased from the Cuban government. When relations were suspended in the 60s, the building was occupied by Switzerland and the DR occupied the Cuban building on 16th Street in DC. When it was built, it faced a green plaza. During the 60s, the plaza was replaced with a venue specifically for demonstrations agains the US government. In the ambassador’s office, we could see the fastenings for a ticker type sign that ran around the building and displayed pro-American message. In response, the Cuban government built a sea of flag poles to block the display from being readable.

The ambassador told us about his two assignments to Cuba before the current one and his experiences at the UN. He explained quickly the history of Cuba and how he sees relations going from here. The comments were in confidence and off the record so I can’t say more than the topics he touched on.

At the end, I noticed a few lapel pins with the US and Cuban flags on them and asked if we could have some. They said they were out but happened to find a few as we were leaving and we each received one. What a trinket to return with to the US.

We walked across the plaza after leaving and found a small bicycle-themed cafe, Cafe Rueda. Occasionally in Cuba you can find extremely cheap and good food. Cafe Rueda was one of those places. We had three or four entrees for less than 10 CUCs (about $10 USD). Common here are small pizzas and sandwiches, which we ordered in addition to a number of egg dishes – fried, hardboiled, etc.

We walked quite a long way through Centro Habana before coming to the Universidad de la Habana and seeing the small campus with some beautiful buildings. Most captivating were the seven or eight large flights leading to the street from an open walkway.

We continued on, eventually making it to the Museo de la Revolucion (Museum of the Revolution). It was similar to the capitol in grandeur and disrepair. The three floor building held some sparse exhibits mainly focused on the story of the Castros and Che Guevara overthrowing the Batista dictatorship. It leveled many accusations against the US, mainly the CIA, for attempts at interfering with matters in Cuba. Conveniently left out was the Cuban Missile Crisis. One particularly striking paintings was of the “Cretins” – the dictator Batista, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and George W. Bush. W. was portrayed in a Nazi uniform. They weren’t subtle about their feelings at all.

We walked across the street to another recommendation – Ivan Chef Justo. We ordered what came with the recommendation – platas bravas and gazpacho. We also ordered the sangria which ended up being nearly half of the 65 CUC bill. The sangria was good but not worth that at all. Neither was the food.

A post shared by Chris Cottrell (@cottrellchris) on

We walked down toward Plaza del Cristo, the spot around our favorite spot – El Dandy. We discovered a place in the same square, La Familiar, with extremely cheap food. Entire plates of rice, beans, and shredded beef for 2.50 CUCs. I was skeptical but decided to give a chance later in the week.

Along the walk down, Brooks and Shelby had a young lady greet them enthusiastically and remembering them from customs. This became suspicious considering the language she used – “group” came in “Saturday or Sunday”. She talked to us for a while asking how the trip had been. We started seeing red flags when she tried getting us to go buy cigars at a friend’s house. This was a common technique the Cubans used on tourists. It would be a employee holiday, a national festival, or the like, and that would result in some special discount which we had to use today. It came for cigars and salsa lessons most frequently.

One particular interesting thing about this young lady was that she wouldn’t let her photo be taken and kept pointing to a thin red bracelet on her wrist when trying to explain it. She eventually said that her religion believes that if a photo is taken of you, it steals your soul, imprisoning it in this world. She Afrocubanism, but Google didn’t return results confirming this was a popular belief.

The group winnowed down to a few who stayed late and we went to a small bar with live music and bare walls with signatures from all over the world on it. A few were more uncouth than the rest.

Day Four: Hemingway’s hotel, late night out

Before departing for the day, Thomas, Brooks and I walked down with Lauren (our house coordinator) to exchange the remainder of our USD for CUCs. We found the house and entered a small living room with two elderly occupants in their 60s. They exchanged at a much better rate than the Codecas

Once we had crossed the bay, we set out on one of my missions – find a high quality panama hat. These are the straw kind that were classic in the 20s through 70s and are only regaining popularity now. I had asked a few tourists during the week where they had purchased theirs and even managed to ask a young waitress where the good ones were sold. All had pointed me in the direction of a market on the western side of the bay just south of where the ferry landed. We walked down and found a huge market of many vendors, including many who sold the type and brand I had admired. I tested a few and finally settled on a beautiful one. It was not the bleached white straw but a more natural color, but not too tan. It had a wide brim unlike the fedoras but a similar crown shape. It sat on my head in a different way than a ball cap would which took some adjusting but became quite comfortable and light after a few days of wear. I was expecting a more fragile hat but the salesperson confidently rolled the hat into a small packable size and unrolled it with ease. I decided it was a worthwhile purchase. It cost 30 CUCs.

We walked from there through Habana La Vieja to the hotel where Hemingway stayed when he visited Cuba. On the way we stay a gorgeous plaza and a statue of Christopher Columbus – credited with discovering Cuba.

The hotel had clearly overplayed its affiliation with Hemingway but the tourists didn’t seem to mind. Pictures (often repeated) of Hemingway lined the downstairs bar and lobby leading to a small elevator that transported us to the fifth floor where we toured the room he stayed in. In it, he finished three novels but none of the more popular ones. The entire experience was romantic and reminded me how much I need to finish reading through Hemingway’s books. I should start by re-reading The Old Man and the Sea.

The hotel had smartly added a rooftop bar where one could enjoy the same view Hemingway did and it was quiet popular with the tourist crowd. Importantly for our group it had very good Wi-Fi which we had not found yet. I uploaded a video that day to Instagram which was quite the feat.

We decided to walk down to El Dandy and La Familiar and stopped for street side churros along the way. The wait was long but well worth it. A cart with a large bowl for boiling oil was situated amongst a crowd of onlookers and patrons. The attendant had a dough mix that he would squeeze in circles into the bowl and with a long iron stick he would begin rotating it to form large loops of dough to cook together. We waited until our batch and walked the rest of the way sharing the churros. We should have ordered two.

We had lunch at La Familiar and walked from there to the cigar factory where we purchased cigars for later that night when we planned to go to a few bars with live music. The factory store was old and beautifully well worn but the building was falling apart around it. It was directly behind the capitol.

From there we visited a locally owned t-shirt store we had heard many people mention – Clanedestina. It was beautiful but low on stock (a good sign) and we spoke for a few minutes with the owner. It is a privately owned business, part of a growing contingent as Cuba starts allowing private business to run and operate.

One of the shots we wanted for the trip was a ride in a convertible taxi. We walked down to the capitol and caught one to take us down to the ferry port. We put into practice the negotiation techniques we’d learned throughout the week and talked our way down from 30 CUCs to 12. This is a significant amount still for 15 minutes of driving that we needed. We ended the afternoon with beers at the Hotel Armadores by the ferry.

Day Five: Free day

Today we didn’t have any activities planned. Our hostess had recommended a place for lunch in Regla, Eddie Chang’s, so after a slow morning we had lunch there. No one explained how a Chinese-Cuban restaurant ended up in Regla. I ordered the fajitas and was given the Cuban chicken fingers with sweet and sour sauce. I didn’t more than half of it.

Christian and Myklos went to meet some Catholic friends they knew and the rest of the group went to the beach. I decided to go into Havana and back to the hotel Hemingway had stayed at to sit at the rooftop bar and write. It’s a rare occurrence that I actually write down all the experiences of traveling and I wanted to be sure that I did on this trip. I spent a few hours there, enjoying the shade, the sunshine, and more than a few mojitos.

The rest of the day was spent walking to El Dandy to get another bowl of the roasted pimento peppers and walking through Plaza Vieja again before heading back to the apartment.

Day Six: Video shooting

In the morning, we shot recap interviews for the trip to capture each of our thoughts on Cuba and The Fellowship. Eddie Chang’s was visited again for lunch as the cameras charged. This time, I skipped the fajitas in favor of grilled pork. A unique drink was had there, a German-made drink called Hyper Malt. It’s a non-alcoholic malt drink rich in vitamins and nutrients. In small quantities it was delicious.

We walked that afternoon into Plaza Vieja for drinks and had street-side churros along the way, the first and only time we risked street food. It was absolutely delicious and worth it. We stopped again in La Familiar for cheap dinner. For the most part we had run out of cash and had to keep enough for the taxi to the airport the next day.

Day Seven: Flight home

Early this morning we took the ferry from Regla into Havana and caught a cab to the airport. In the dark, it was hard to see the road speed by under us. We were quiet most of the way as we looked at the broken infrastructure and natural beauty in the dim morning light. Cuba is changing and as we drove through the night I wondered what the future held for this country. I don’t know what Cuba will be like years from now but I do know that when I return it won’t be the same.


The program put together some videos together capturing our experience. (They aren’t paying me or asking me to put them here.)


A Guide for Incoming Entrepreneurs at Georgetown

Yesterday I spoke with many new students at Georgetown during their orientation about my experience with entrepreneurship and what resources I recommend. In the post below I’ve written out what I’ve found valuable at Georgetown, in DC, and in following entrepreneurship generally.


Get on Twitter. Twitter is very actively used by entrepreneurs and those in tech. You’ll see the honest opinions of very powerful people in tech and VC posted here. Here’s a list of who to follow to get started. My top five are @marca, @sacca, @jason, @sama, and, yours truly, @chriscottrell.

Follow Jason Calacanis and subscribe to Launch Ticker. Launch Ticker is a daily email of the biggest news in tech curated by Jason Calacanis (one of the people you should follow on Twitter). There are great insights here about the big shifts. You won’t get these kind of insights at this speed from any other resource like Fast Company or Fortune, etc.

Follow Andreessen Horowitz. This is the most well-known VC firm in the world. Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz are the two founders and are both elsewhere on the guide. Read this article in The New Yorker on Marc to see why. They have a ton of great content on their website.

Follow Gary Vaynerchuk. Awesomely inspiring guy and very successful entrepreneur. Check out his TED talk and sign up for his emails.

Read Paul Graham’s essays. Paul is a VC and one of the founders of Y Combinator. His blog has some great writing that is often cited by successful technologists and entrepreneurs. Some good essays to start are How to Start a Startup and The 18 Mistakes That Kill Startups.

Follow Mattermark. Mattermark is a new(ish) software that lets you get insights on companies. Subscribe to their emails here and download their app here.

Follow Tim Ferriss and check out his podcast. Tim is a crazy guy worth knowing about. His website has some insanely (not a word I use lightly) valuable resources and his podcast is one of the best – guests like Tony Robbins, Gov. Schwarzenegger, Chris Sacca, Jamie Foxx, Rainn Wilson, etc etc etc.

Apply to attend Hive. Hive is an incredible organization of leaders started by a young entrepreneur in San Francisco. They just started hosting events on the east coast. I attended a few years ago and learned an immense amount while getting to know incredible people. My roommate was an astronaut.


Visit 1776 often. Georgetown has a membership at 1776 so you can go work in their campus around other entrepreneurs and teams building businesses. They put on some good events and is the hub of entrepreneurship here.

Join the University Club.* This is one of the capitol’s oldest social clubs and is worth joining if you plan to stay in DC. If you plan to relocate after school, it’s probably not worth it. This is especially valuable for those taking a full-time job in DC after school but with an interest in entrepreneurship. It’s a good way to get to know successful people in DC. A number of students established in DC are already members.


Join StartupHoyas MBA.

Do VCIC. We are hands down the best school at preparing teams to compete on the national level for VCIC. Jeff Reid was a founding part of the competition and runs this really well. These are some really intense weekends but I learned more from this than from a few classes.

Get to know the Entrepreneurs in Residence. Georgetown has some world-class entrepreneurs who volunteered to help you. Have an idea you want to flesh out? Go ask. Not sure how to transition after business school? Go ask. Come with smart questions, know their background and become known to some of DC’s best entrepreneurs.

Apply for InSITE. The best part about InSITE are the classmates you get to know much better and identify with as peers. It’s challenging but if you’re considering the consultant route as you build towards starting something of you’re own this is really perfect. If you already know what you want to start and you’re ready to go, then don’t do this. Go get your idea off the ground.

Go on the Cal Trek. The companies we visit on Cal Trek are typically tech-focused, although most are well-established and not entrepreneurial. The experience is worth it because you get to know people and experience San Francisco.

Do Venture Fellows if you’re interested in VC. I’m not a Venture Fellow but I’ve heard good things.

Do Startup Weekend. Startup Weekend is a challenge and is worth doing to experience the headiness of starting a new venture. You’ll say pivot more times in that weekend than the rest of your life.

If you have an idea, consider Summer Launch Program and Rocket Pitch.

General Advice

Read. A lot. You will get more from reading regularly than any other habit. Warren Buffett read “between 600-1000 pages per day” at the beginning of his career and “still devotes about 80% of his day to reading.”

You’ve decided to pursue the harder path. No one will instruct, demand, decide or measure for you. You do all that. The bar is so much higher and you have to respond by being that much better. So take lessons from history, read the great philosophers, think deeply about life.  You are the pioneer of our age. Equip yourself with everything you can. Learn life lessons from the mistakes and victories of others. Get the wisdom of a thousand lives in one. </rant>

My first recommendations: Zero to One, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, and Ego Is The Enemy. Or get the Harvard Classics for free online and read these for 15 minutes a day for a “classic liberal education”.

Realize entrepreneurship includes stuff outside tech and is less competitive and is often ripe for someone who knows tech to come in and crush it.

Stop thinking about Steve Jobs.


Don’t Buy This Shirt Unless You Need It

This essay is from a Patagonia catalog in 2004. This ethos has resonated with me lately as I’ve seen more and more of the inside of the business school classroom. I hope to do a lot more thinking about the future of our economy and consumerism in the next two years and come out with a clear philosophy and model of what could work.



Don’t Buy This Shirt Unless You Need It

by Yvon Chouinard & Nora Gallagher
Late Summer 2004

Near the headquarters of Patagonia, on the central coast of California, the Chumash Nation enjoyed a good life for thousands of years. They lived in small villages and possessed fur blankets, intricate baskets and soapstone pots decorated with shells. They painted elaborate abstracts in mountain caves. In every village were game-playing fields and sacred buildings. Almost every day, most Chumash enjoyed a cleansing sweat in the village temescal. In each village was a granary for stockpiling food that would later be distributed to those in need.

Chumash traded exquisite olivella shells for black pigment, honeydew melons, pine nuts, wild tobacco and various herbs and salt. By the 16th century, theirs was a complex society of hunters and gatherers with a far-reaching, sophisticated trade network.

Other nations along the western coast shared this life. Gerald Amos, a member (and former chief) of the Haisla Nation in Kitamaat, northwest Canada, recalls a friend of his father who would leave home in the dark to paddle to his trapline four miles by water. He would spend the day walking the lines, checking and resetting the traps. “Along the way back to the boat, during the late fall and early winter, the coho salmon would be still in the creeks that they passed, so they would stop at one of these creeks and take a couple of coho, which they would clean and pack home in their backpack together with what-ever animals they had taken in their traps. The fish provided them with their supper later that night.”

Such lives are often called subsistence, which brings to mind the barest, hardscrabble survival. But there is another way to look at them. At Patagonia we choose to call them “economies of abundance.” In an economy of abundance, there is enough. Not too much. Not too little. Enough. Most important, there is enough time for the things that matter: relationships, delicious food, art, games and rest.

Many of us in the United States live in what is thought to be abundance, with plenty all around us, but it is only an illusion, not the real thing. The economy we live in is marked by “not enough.” We once asked the owner of a successful business if he had enough money and he replied, “Don’t you understand? There is never enough.”

We don’t have enough money, and we also don’t have enough time. We don’t have enough energy, solitude or peace. We are the world’s richest country, yet our quality of life ranks 14th in the world. As Eric Hoffer, a mid-20th century philosopher, put it, “You can never get enough of what you don’t really need to make you happy.”

And while we work harder and harder to get more of what we don’t need, we lay waste to the natural world. Dr. Peter Senge, author and MIT lecturer, says, “We are sleepwalking into disaster, going faster and faster to get to where no one wants to be.”

We might call this economy, the one we live in, the economy of scarcity.

Lest you think the economy of abundance is gone with the old Chumash, consider Europe. Europeans still buy only a few well-made clothes and keep them for many years. Their houses and apartments tend to be smaller than ours; they rely on public transportation, and small, efficient home appliances and cars. Europeans enjoy a 25 percent higher quality of life than Americans (while we consume 75 percent more than they do).

Or, look at the people of Bhutan, whose king insists on measuring “gross national happiness.”

Any person or nation can grow fatter and fatter, richer and richer, sleepwalking toward disaster. Or we can choose to remain lean and quick, wealthy in beauty and time and, that word that inspired our forefathers, wealthy in happiness.

In Patagonia’s environmental campaign this year, we looked at the plight of wild salmon and what it might take for us to become what Ecotrust calls “a Salmon Nation,” a nation of people who make choices that contribute to the health of whole watersheds and the economies of the people who live in them. A salmon nation is a nation of abundance, where people live in a way that fish can thrive. If you think this is an impossible dream, check out Seth Zuckerman’s essay “The Gift: Salmon Recovered”and learn how wild salmon rebounded in Alaska after the state employed sophisticated tools like sonar, stream bank counters and airborne spotters to ensure their salmon were not overfished. In the last two decades, commercial catches in Alaska have more than doubled.

At Patagonia, we are dedicated to abundance. We don’t want to grow larger, but want to remain lean and quick. We want to make the best clothes and make them so they will last a long, long time. Our idea is to make the best product so you can consume less and consume better. Every decision we make must include its impact on the environment. We make ski jackets that are the right jackets, with no compromises, yet they are elegant enough to wear over dress clothes in a storm in Paris. (Most ski jackets sit in the closet nine months out of the year.) We want to zero in on quality.

In the economy of abundance, wild salmon are given back rivers in which to run. Trees grow to their natural height. Water is clean. A sense of mystery and enchantment is restored to the world. We humans live within our means and, best of all, we have the time to enjoy what we have.


So run that you may obtain it.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”

(1 Corinthians 9:24-25 ESV)


Icon Ambulance

Found this great story about Steve Jobs from Vic Gundotra on Google+. Enjoy.

One Sunday morning, January 6th, 2008 I was attending religious services when my cell phone vibrated. As discreetly as possible, I checked the phone and noticed that my phone said “Caller ID unknown”. I choose to ignore.

After services, as I was walking to my car with my family, I checked my cell phone messages. The message left was from Steve Jobs. “Vic, can you call me at home? I have something urgent to discuss” it said. 

Before I even reached my car, I called Steve Jobs back. I was responsible for all mobile applications at Google, and in that role, had regular dealings with Steve. It was one of the perks of the job. 

“Hey Steve – this is Vic”, I said. “I’m sorry I didn’t answer your call earlier. I was in religious services, and the caller ID said unknown, so I didn’t pick up”. 

Steve laughed. He said, “Vic, unless the Caller ID said ‘GOD’, you should never pick up during services”. 

I laughed nervously. After all, while it was customary for Steve to call during the week upset about something, it was unusual for him to call me on Sunday and ask me to call his home. I wondered what was so important?

“So Vic, we have an urgent issue, one that I need addressed right away. I’ve already assigned someone from my team to help you, and I hope you can fix this tomorrow” said Steve. 

“I’ve been looking at the Google logo on the iPhone and I’m not happy with the icon. The second O in Google doesn’t have the right yellow gradient. It’s just wrong and I’m going to have Greg fix it tomorrow. Is that okay with you?”

Of course this was okay with me. A few minutes later on that Sunday I received an email from Steve with the subject “Icon Ambulance”. The email directed me to work with Greg Christie to fix the icon. 

Since I was 11 years old and fell in love with an Apple II, I have dozens of stories to tell about Apple products. They have been a part of my life for decades. Even when I worked for 15 years for Bill Gates at Microsoft, I had a huge admiration for Steve and what Apple had produced. 

But in the end, when I think about leadership, passion and attention to detail, I think back to the call I received from Steve Jobs on a Sunday morning in January. It was a lesson I’ll never forget. CEOs should care about details. Even shades of yellow. On a Sunday.

To one of the greatest leaders I’ve ever met, my prayers and hopes are with you Steve.



Startup advice, how to build a $100m business, how to build a world-class network – What I’m Reading (9/17/15)

Earlier this week, my first class essay posted from pre-term. Here’s what I’ve been reading over the past few weeks.

How to Build a $100 Million Business – Boris Wertz
The Ten Most Important Books to Expand Your Brain
 – James Altucher
Paul Graham’s Startup Advice for the Lazy – Stelios Constantinides
The Secrets of living to 200 years old – BBC
Ben Horowitz’s Best Startup Advice – Product Hunt
How to Give Advice So That People Will Listen – Ramit Sethi
Want to Design a Mobile App That Feels Like Magic? Start here. –
The Ten Most Important Books to Expand Your Brain – James Altucher
The Education of Airbnb’s Brian Chesky – Fortune
How to Build a World-Class Network in Record Time – Tim Ferriss


Georgetown Class Essay – The Structure of Global Industries, Pt 1

I’m writing class essays while I’m here at Georgetown to ensure I translate everything I’m learning into my own words and assist with deep learning. After orientation, we began a three-week, two-class intensive with 4.5 credits packed into thirteen days of classroom time. The below covers my main learnings from the economics-focused class, Structure of Global Industries.

Credit for good material goes to Georgetown and their faculty. Mistakes or omissions are mine.

The Structure of Global Industries, Pt 1

1. Economic Frameworks

Supply and Demand
Over and over again the concepts in class came down to different applications of supply and demand. The law of supply says that increased price increases quantity produced and that a decrease in price decreases quantity produced. This is coupled with the law of demand that says the a increase in price decreases demand and a decrease in price increases demand. These fundamental laws interact with each other to find a price and quantity equilibrium, where the price entices producers to make this quantity (supply) and the price entices enough consumers to purchase (demand).


Quick examples:
– A finite of supply of gold plus an increased demand for gold has led to an increase in price
– Long lines outside Apple stores when new phones release (price increase here is normal phone cost + hours spent waiting)

If the price changes on a good, what will the response be? Will demand suddenly increase? An example of inelasticity would be a 10% increase in the price of Netflix. For most of us, that wouldn’t change our purchase of that subscription. This means the demand here is inelastic. A counter example could be a $0.50 increase in the price of Orbits gum. Many more people would switch to a different brand of gum if the price increased.

High elasticity often happens at the upper end of the price axis, where price is high and quantity produced is low (think luxury goods). Low elasticity often happens at the upper end of the quantity axis, where price is lower (think commodities).

Production possibility frontier
This was a helpful thought exercise in understanding international trade. Imagine a country that can produce only two things. Let’s keep it paleolithic and say this country is made up of a caveman and a cavewoman who can catch fish and pick berries.

If the caveman picks berries all day he can pick two units of berries. If the cavewoman fishes all day she can catch two units of fish. For the sake of the thought exercise, assume a unit of fish and a unit of berries are equal.

1 caveman day = 2 units of berries
1 cavewoman day = 2 units of fish
2 total days = 4 total units

Let’s say now that the caveman goes to help the cavewoman catch fish. Unfortunately he’s too slow and only can catch one unit of fish per day. The next day, the cavewoman goes to help the caveman pick berries. She’s not very good at picking berries so she can only pick one unit of berries per day.

1 caveman day fishing = 1 unit of fish
1 cavewoman day fishing = 2 units of fish
2 total days = 3 total units


1 caveman day picking berries = 2 units of berries
1 cavewoman day picking berries = 1 units of berries
2 total days = 3 total units

It’s clear that most they can produce is four units. This is the production possibility frontier – the maximum units they can produce.

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Productivity and the two-good model
Now we’ll assume that there are two paleolithic countries, each with one caveman and one cavewoman. Country A has an abundance of rivers and lakes and together they can catch 6 units of fish per day, but they don’t have much fertile land so together they can only pick 2 units of berries per day. Country B has the opposite and can catch only 2 units of fish per day but can pick 6 units of berries.

This is where trade becomes beneficial for both countries. Country A benefits by trading 2 units of fish (1/3 day of work for them) for 2 units of berries (a full day of work for them). They have the same total units of food but with trade they have the berries they would have picked in a full day plus 4 units fish. The reverse is true for Country B. They have 6 total units of food (4 units of berries and 2 units of fish).

Country A’s comparative advantage in catching fish gives them an incentive to produce that and trade it for berries. This advantage can come from a number of things: factor abundance (your country naturally has a lot of something), institutions (school, etc), policy (tax incentive to produce something), and sometimes just luck and chance (discovering the wheel).

Purchasing Power Parity (PPP)
This is an economic theory that says the same basket of goods in one economy should cost the same relative amount in another economy. Relative is typically measured as a percentage of GDP. For example, a gallon of milk costing 1% of your average daily wage in Country A should cost the same 1% of average daily wage in Country B. This is helpful when determining exchange rates.

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Parts two and three covering policy and strategy are coming up soon.