I’ve lived in Central London for almost two years. During this time, I’ve experienced plenty of situations to dispel many of the preconceived notions I had about life in the UK. It’s not as if I’d never been here before; I spent a few months studying at a university in the mid-1990’s and have visited on dozens of business trips since then. But it’s one thing to visit — it’s another matter to live somewhere with no intention to leave, which changes your mindset and what matters on a daily basis.
Here’s a tip: tipping may not be expected, but it’s quite common.
When paying by cash in black cabs, the round up to the nearest £1 still applies. But who pays with cash anymore? Card readers are installed in almost all cabs and although I’ve encountered the rare cabbie who claims that his reader is broken, it’s the fastest way to pay. I haven’t seen any studies on whether riders are leaving more tips by using plastic, but it’s been proven in the US.
In restaurants, tipping has taken a more passive-aggressive approach. Many restaurants add an “optional 12.5% discretionary service charge” to the bill without asking. But does that actually go to the staff? Maybe, maybe not. So if you really want to do the right thing, ask for the optional charge to be removed and leave cash instead.
It seems that many of the service workers in Britain aren’t British.
A visitor might stop into a pub — perhaps a Red Lion, Black Horse, or Green Man — and seek to refresh oneself with a proper pint of basement-temperature cask ale. Sure, you’ll find a stout wooden bar and old musty carpet, but the drinks on offer? Most likely a lineup of AB InBev brands. The person serving you? Probably not British either.
According to Ben Judah’s 2016 book This Is London, “at least 55 per cent of people are not ethnically white British, nearly 40 per cent were born abroad, and 5 percent are living illegally in the shadows.” A related book that dives deep into the world of low wage Britain is James Bloodworth’s Hired, which illuminates much of the tension that exists in pro-Brexit UK.
Inside this box is the biggest LEGO set ever produced — the UCS Millenium Falcon. But why is it wet and ripped? Because the the delivery person opened the outer and inner boxes, removing all of the valuable eBay-able minifigures!
In another lower stakes example, I ordered some socks and they were promised with free two-day delivery. When they weren’t delivered on the expected day, I called the delivery company. They said they I should request a refund from the brand and they’d file a claim against the driver. File a claim? Yes, because the driver was technically a contractor to the delivery company. Speaking of tension in low wage Britain, this issue represents one story of many that reflect the global capital vs. talent crisis that’s well underway.
Has brick-and-mortar retail been impacted? You bet.
Globalisation has made its mark here and any American would be hard pressed to feel homesick in London, with retail therapy available to soothe any sadness of what was left behind. Take a walk down Oxford Street and you’ll find Niketown, Disney, and The Gap, in between Selfridges, John Lewis, and Debenhams.
In smaller towns, you won’t find a Starbucks on every corner but you won’t find a pub on every corner either. Every high street seems to have estate agents, newsagents, a cafe or two, maybe a Tesco Express, some hair salons, and always betting shops. It’s Las Vegas in convenience-store format and the lure is addictive.
However, it’s important to not judge other cultures too quickly as “rude” or “inconsiderate” — rather, it’s more instructive to reflect on one’s personal inclinations and how that perspective shapes expectations of others.
For twenty years, I wore the same mix of what most white-collar workers wear to work: “business casual” on most days and a suit once in a while, depending on the day’s meetings. Maybe even “casual casual” when going into the office on a weekend, when few people would be around and the air conditioning turned off.
In 2014, I moved to Korea and started working for Samsung Group, which has a rigid corporate culture (by Western standards) and dress code to match. I started off wearing grey, navy, and black suits five days a week in the middle of monsoon season, the kind of weather that leaves you dripping sweat down the insides of your suit sleeves and dress slacks. Most people would look forward the office air conditioning at this point, but Samsung adheres to government energy guidelines and its office buildings will not be cooled lower than 26c (79f). Moreover, every day feels like I’m getting dressed for a wedding or a funeral, which is a weird mindset to carry into work. I’m not Big Shaq. Man was hot.
The weather got to me, along with my dry cleaning bill. When the seasons turned, I had to plan ahead for the next round of summer sauna. Well, Steve Jobs was famous for wearing the same outfit every day. I read about Obama and Zuckerberg doing the same. So I decided to simplify things and when I returned to the U.S. for the holidays, I bought five white shirts, five blue shirts, and five pairs of jeans. Two colors of shirt? They look the same to my dogs, good enough for me.
Starting in January 2015, I started wearing the same thing to work (and work functions) every day. Pictures or it didn’t happen?
March 2015, the seventh year in a row and last time I spoke at SXSW in Austin
May 2015, work dinner in Dubai
June 2015, on stage at Cannes Lions
June 2015, at the Samsung seeing eye dog school outside of Seoul
September 2015, Global Network Team photo at Cheil
March 2016, SXSW
October 2016, at LEGO in London
May 2017, spark.me in Montenegro
June 2017, internal digital conference in Billund, using Google Tilt Brush
Any lessons learned?
Like other people who’ve done this, I can tell you that it keeps everything simple. Fewer decisions to make; it’s easier to get out the door in the morning or pack for business trips.
The same clothes don’t fit so well if you put on weight — I don’t need a scale to tell me that I should eat fewer bagels.
I do try to wear a different pair of shoes every day. I once met a podiatrist who told me that shoes need a day to regain their cushioning. So I’ve rotated every day ever since.
If people care about what I wear to work, no one’s saying anything about it. I haven’t heard a word about this for three years and counting!
During the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, it seemed like everyone who worked at a “traditional” company was waiting for the right opportunity to leave and join a startup. Many did. For example, George Shaheen left Andersen Consulting to join Webvan. Lou Dobbs left CNN for space.com. They wanted to be like Jeff Bezos, who had left a job in investment banking five years earlier to start amazon.com.
In Michael Lewis’s 2012 book Boomerang, we learn about how national economies are connected on a global level, hearing stories from Greece, Iceland, and Ireland leading up to the 2008 recession.
The lesson should be obvious, but in case it isn’t: despite nationalist pride, economies are all connected. Even after 2008, we learned in summer 2015 that a Greek debt default would still have hugely negative implications on the Euro. The decline of the Chinese stock market and yuan devaluation also sent ripples worldwide. America is not immune.
3. Who’s the boss?
In 2010, my Austin, Texas-based startup held a meetup/recruiting event at a Rainey Street bar. About an hour into the evening, I met a guy named Caleb who was quick to mention that he knew all of our company’s executives and investors. Later, he started ordering people to get him drinks because he was “their boss.”
It turns out that Caleb was a junior accountant with the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). TRS is one of the largest pension funds in the U.S. and like many others puts its capital to work in venture capital funds. Although TRS wasn’t even an investor in the Austin Ventures fund that bankrolled my startup, we invited Caleb to subsequent parties for comedic value. He never showed up again.
4. What, me worry?
Startup fever is at an all-time high, driven by greed, envy, and ego. Pride comes before the fall and lately companies are trying to back down before it’s too late.
However, even if you’re an “Underground Man” and find solace in not having wasted your time and energy at a failed startup, don’t get smug too soon. The ripple effect of a dying unicorn to venture capitalists to fund investors to individuals seeking returns for short-term income rather than long-term growth will impact you and the economy that you live and work in, regardless of nationality, industry, or speciality.
Today marks one year of living in Seoul. To update some thoughts from my first month here:
A lot more Instagram, a lot less Twitter. Snackability applies to posting and to reading.
It’s been interesting to see censorship in the media and how freedom of the press is limited in South Korea. For example, when the government refused to release the names of hospitals involved in the MERS epidemic, rumors filled KakaoTalk and message boards. Eventually, citizens created their own “MERS map” mashup to spread information that institutions wouldn’t. Native advertising / sponsored content is typically not called out either.
It’s still tough to get used to the price of coffee.
Traffic is awful. One of the reasons traffic is so bad in the city is that double parking happens everywhere. The police never seem to ticket violators (perhaps it’s not actually illegal). Taxis are the worst offenders. They wait anywhere for a fare; a popular spot is in the middle of crosswalks.
The internet is fast and carriers here are working on 5G wireless. Korea Telecom has already taken a step in this direction; Samsung Galaxy S6 users on their network already have access to LTE+ speeds.
The South Korean government finally announced the phase out of ActiveX by 2017. But with the cost involved, I won’t be surprised if it takes longer for legacy websites to update to a more modern infrastructure. Maybe some owners will realize that there’s a competitive advantage to interoperability and allowing users of many different platforms to actually buy the stuff that’s for sale.
Some of the unexpected things that I’ve encountered:
Heated things. In the winter, heated floors. Heated toilet seats. Warm tap water served in restaurants.
Für Elise. This song is often used as an alert sound. When someone needs help with a subway gate. When an electric cart is driving through the airport. When you need help getting out of a parking garage.
Where are you from? This can be a tricky question to answer. This TED talk from Pico Iyer starts to explain why.
Over the past year, when seeing people I’ve known from the past, the question I’m most surprised to hear is “how does it feel to be back?” As in “how does it feel to return toKorea, country of your birth?” Others, upon meeting me for the first time, comment “your English is really good!” As the world seems to be getting more open-minded every day, it’s interesting to see how deeply held and unassuming most stereotypes reside within most people.
A first-person journey into the Collaborative Economy.
A FIRST-PERSON JOURNEY INTO THE COLLABORATIVE ECONOMY
I’ve been keeping an eye on the rise of the “collaborative economy.” In a nutshell, I see it as a progression of social business, where individuals use technology to harness cultural trends and change commercial market dynamics. But rather than just read and write about this new movement, I wanted to experience it for myself. After all, experiencing is believing.
FACEBOOK ADVERTISING WORKS
It started with an ad on Facebook. You know, the kind that stands out because it’s in the middle of your newsfeed and references a couple of your friends who have liked the brand’s page, but probably have no idea that their profiles are being referenced for this particular message. In this case, I kept seeing an ad for Uber related to SXSW: drivers wanted!
I’ve been using Uber as a passenger for about a year, spending $443 on rides mostly in New York. The convenience is unbeatable, especially when you need a specific type of vehicle. For example, I called my first Uber ride when I was by myself and needed a large enough vehicle to transport six boxes of workshop materials from the Meatpacking District to the office.
So I clicked on the Facebook ad and signed up to become an uberX driver during SXSW. The application consisted of a background check, a 30-minute online training session, and upload of license, registration, and proof of auto insurance. I assume that all checked out, because I was invited to an orientation session to pick up my phone and get activated as a driver.
BUT WHAT IF SOMEONE THROWS UP IN MY CAR?
I walked over to the first offered orientation session, which was a few blocks away from my (soon-to-be-former) office. There were two guys in a conference room, part of the activation team based out of DC. Each seat at the table had a padded envelope, paperwork, and pen; I sat down and began reviewing the driver contract. The young man next to me started photographing the pages with his iPhone. One of the Uber guys said, “hey, you can’t do that.” Young guy: “but my mom would be really disappointed if I signed this without consulting a lawyer first.” Uber guy: “don’t worry, it’s just standard legalese.” The young guy stopped taking pictures and signed.
For the most part, it was a pretty straightforward agreement making clear that the executor was 1) not becoming an Uber employee and 2) not going to discuss how the system worked, especially with the media. The contract was primarily in place to protect trade secrets, as we would be using a custom software application. Moreover, Uber and their marketing promotions partner had no intention of violating Austin’s ground transportation city ordinance, as volunteers would be paid by a third party marketing promotions firm.
I looked around while waiting to finalize my application. One guy was having trouble clarifying some issues. “But does your car have commercial license plates? If so, you can’t drive that car as an uberX.” Another guy had on a Roto-Rooter shirt; hopefully for his passengers he wasn’t going to be leaving straight from his day job to drive people around. Another woman came in and said in a breezy tone, “I saw your ad on Craigslist!”
My documents were verified pretty quickly and the discussion was direct. Did I take the online test? “Yes and I passed.” Okay, here’s your phone. Any questions? “Actually, yes.”
“What if I arrive to pick someone up and they want to squeeze six people in my car?” You can tell them you can only fit four.
“Since the service is free, what if someone wants to be driven back to their hotel in Round Rock?” You can call them to verify their destination and if it’s someplace crazy, you can decline the trip.
“What if someone throws up in the back of my car?” Save the receipt from the cleaning and we’ll reimburse you.
“Umm…” Anything else? Just call or email us.
A week later, I was set up and ready to drive. UberX service began on Thursday evening at 5 pm, the day before SXSW started. I finally got out of my house, on the road, and heading downtown at about 7. I figured I’d give a couple of rides and then stop by a few of the opening night parties that were on my calendar.
I turned on the iPhone that served as the dispatch device. After opening the driver app and taking a few minutes to register, the madness began. I started getting pickup alerts from all over the city. 24th Street. Barton Hills. Congress Avenue. I thought there was no way I could be the closest available driver for some of these requests, but later on I would be able to guess why — the demand for cars was far greater than supply of drivers.
I picked up my first ride outside of Civitas Learning on 5th Street. Capital Factory had organized a “startup crawl” at various startup offices around the city and a couple of venues were on the outer reaches of the downtown area. Four guys piled in my car to be taken back to headquarters. They had never used Uber before and were all part of local startups, except for the one who worked at Tocquigny. It was a quick and easy one mile, eight minute trip.
I picked up my second ride outside of Speakeasy, a group of three guys who were also on the startup crawl, one of whom worked at FeedMagnet. They were heading to the other startup crawl on the outer edge of the map; a hassle to walk, but a pretty quick drive. After I dropped them off, there was a minivan taxi stopped in front of me that refused to move. I got out of my car after a few minutes to talk to the taxi driver, with five cars waiting in line behind me. The driver rolled down his window and gave me a blank look and I explained that he was blocking traffic. It appeared that he was having a problem processing a credit card; without saying a word to me, he rolls up the window, the passengers close the sliding door, and as I get back in my car, he finally pulls forward and out of the way so all of us can drive past.
I should’ve stopped then as I had originally planned, but there was something energizing about the experience. It certainly wasn’t about the money. The rides were short, the service seemed useful, and the riders seemed grateful to have a free ride. Then…
ARE YOU A CEO OR SOMETHING?
I headed back to the center of downtown to park my car and go offline for the night. But then a ping came in that was just two blocks away…so I answered the call. I picked up my third ride at the corner of 7th & Congress right at the Roaring Fork. He had a duffel bag and was the first of many riders going to or coming from an AirBnB. As we drove over to the east side, he told me about how he worked at a social TV startup and had made the mistake of flying into Houston instead of Austin. He wasn’t a huge fan of Uber, but taxis were impossible to find. When I told him the ride was free, he was in disbelief; as someone coming from New York, he had just assumed that the service would work like it did back home. As we pulled up to the apartment complex where he was staying, he asked why I was driving, because I didn’t seem like a regular driver…”I thought you were a CEO or something when we started talking!”
WE WOULD GLADLY PAY TO HAVE MORE CARS AVAILABLE
Not being able to find a taxi became another recurring theme during SXSW. I decided to take one final trip before logging out and I had a momentary sense of regret: the rider was downtown and needed a ride to her hotel, the Westin at the Domain. It wasn’t very far away in absolute terms, as Austin is a fairly small city. However, it was certainly felt like one of those situations I asked about in orientation where someone might ask to be driven to a faraway place. I decided to pick up the rider — actually two sisters, one who worked at Google and the other at Yahoo — and make this my final ride.
They were from the Bay Area and told me that they had tried various methods of finding a car: calling taxi dispatch phone numbers, using the Hail-a-Cab app, and repeatedly calling for Ubers. While getting an uberX ride for free was nice, they both agreed that they would gladly have paid for the ride if that meant that more cars were available and in service. When you’re on the road, you don’t want to be stranded not knowing how you’ll make it back to your hotel…or waiting indefinitely for a taxi to pick you up.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER FLOCK TOGETHER
On Friday, after getting some work done and attending a corporate brunch, I decided to go online on my way back into the city. I picked up a couple of guys on the east side of town from a small house. I asked them if they were staying at an AirBnb…yes. And coincidentally, they both worked for AirBnB. In the collaborative economy, birds of a feather flock together. I gave them a ride over to the southwestern suburbs, dropping them off at Tacodeli.
DID WE JUST SEE THE START OF SOMETHING AWFUL?
I was out east past the airport for personal reasons on Saturday morning and decided to go online while I drove back in. Again, a pickup from an AirBnB on the east side. I define the “east side” of Austin as east of Interstate 35 where many of the neighborhoods are in transition/early stages of gentrification. I picked up a rider from a small house located in a neighborhood that I’d never been in before…for good reason. My rider was going to the convention center and as I looped around the narrow side streets to get back on a main road, a black SUV stopped, a man jumped out of the passenger side, and ran off into the woods, under the elevated roadway near the train tracks. At first I thought he was going to relieve himself…but then he stopped and was looking for something.
We drove on and I joked with my rider, who was a strategist at ChiatDay attending her first SXSW, about how we had just seen the start of something illegal. She told me about how she had walked home from downtown the night before. It’s not a terribly long walk — only about three miles — but it’s not the nicest part of town to be walking through alone and drunk, late at night. So why did she walk? Because she couldn’t find a taxi the night before or get an available Uber…so she started walking.
Later that evening, I met someone who lived a block away from where I had picked up my rider…who told me that a few years prior, a dead body had been discovered in those woods. Yikes.
IT’S A MIRACLE YOU SHOWED UP
I was under the weather and busy with work, so I didn’t give another ride until Wednesday morning. As I was driving towards downtown, I got a ping from a neighborhood and swung by a house (another AirBnB) where three people were waiting outside. They work at Patagonia and were heading to the airport to fly home, but the taxi they had reserved the night before decided to not show up. Upon calling the company, they said the best they could do (despite the prior reservation) was to get a car there within an hour…well beyond their flight’s departure time. One of them decided to try Uber and luckily was able to secure a ride. “It’s a miracle you showed up.” Coincidentally, I had been reading a field report in the latest Patagonia catalog the day before. They expressed their gratitude by giving me a discount coupon and hopefully made it on time for the flight to Los Angeles.
Probably the most mellow ride of all. A group of four Brits staying at an AirBnB on the east side. They worked for Playstation and had flown over on the new British Airways nonstop 787 service from London. Today, they were heading in separate directions with two flying west to SF and two east to the UK. However, the first order of business was to stop by Magnolia Cafe for a proper Austin brunch.
My last ride of SXSW was my first passenger who was in town for Music, not Interactive. She was the manager of a band from North Carolina called Messenger Down and staying at a friend’s apartment. She told me that all bands are on YouTube, Facebook is a necessary evil, and Tumblr is increasingly the place for bands to be. As I dropped her off and told her about the static between Austin and Uber, she said, “don’t worry. I drive uberX in Charlotte and I know the deal.”
As I was waiting to turn at a red light heading back to my parking garage, a taxi starts honking at me. I point out the window to a sign on the traffic light that reads “NO TURN ON RED, 7 AM – 7 PM, MON – FRI.” At the next light I roll down my window and ask the taxi driver why he was honking at me. “Those rules don’t apply because it’s a special day today.” I told him to be more patient and we both drove away.
LOOKING BACK ON THE ROAD TRAVELED
SXSW is a huge conference and attendees have solved the hotel room shortage by turning to AirBnB. But when it comes to ground transportation, there was much more rider demand than hired car supply, due in part to the city’s regulations. Taxis, the beneficiaries of from government intervention, were unreliable (e.g. not showing up when called), often unavailable, and their drivers don’t seem like the most pleasant people to ride with.
A simple market dynamic in play: with constrained supply and high demand, the equilibrium price of a ride rose and many people complained about surge pricing. Microeconomics 101. Watch for this to creep deeper into society as more businesses and buyers realize this is how free enterprise works, in online auctions, travel pricing, and coming soon to baseball seating.
All of the people who rode with me were cordial and willing to chat, most likely due to SXSW. Otherwise I’m not sure that either they or I would’ve actually enjoyed this experience. As I was waiting in traffic, I was reminded of one reason I enjoy living in Austin more than Boston: traffic.
For two days in January, the Dachis Group office was transformed into “Pittman Digital,” the setting for a flashback scene in NBC’s Revolution.
For two days in January, the Dachis Group office was transformed into “Pittman Digital,” the setting for a flashback scene in NBC’s Revolution. If you watch this week’s episode, you’ll see a lot of familiar buildings in downtown Austin.
The view from my desk.
A sign next to the elevator directing cast and crew to Pittman Digital, along with a quote from Friday Night Lights.
The reception area, complete with a faux blue glass PD similar to the usual DG.
The video screen at reception usually shows real-time news. At Pittman Digital, the video screen at reception shows real-time news.
Some of the artwork brought in to replace the usual artwork on the walls.
Workstations at desks ran video loops of compiling code.
The background included code written all over the glass surfaces. Not sure where it came from, but according to the script it’s pretty important.
A couple of months ago, I noticed a string of fraudulent charges on my credit card. Someone had used my credit card number to complete five transactions within 13 minutes at the Target Cityplace Dallas. Here’s what they bought.
A couple of months ago, I noticed a string of fraudulent charges on my credit card. Someone had used my credit card number and created a physical clone to complete five transactions within 13 minutes at the Target Cityplace Dallas.
Thankfully, when I contested the charges my credit card company issued a credit immediately while investigating. Unfortunately they sent a letter six weeks later stating that “after reviewing this documentation, the charge(s) appears to be valid.” The documentation included charge receipts that didn’t include my name but did have a copy of the scam artist’s signature:
Now, I’m not a CSI agent but it’s hard to believe that anyone would recognize that scrawl as “Peter Kim.” I guess that the cashier never bothered to look at the fake card that had cloned my number or asked the scumbag for the card’s security code.
So what did this person buy?
8:35 pm. Register #81.
R&B CD by “Jaheim,” $9.99.
Brach’s candy, $2.69.
$50 Target giftcard with a $5 processing fee.
Total with tax, $77.15. Tried one AMEX, rejected. Tried a second, accepted.
8:37 pm. Register #81, again.
Target giftcard, $25 + $4 processing fee.
Another Target giftcard, $25 + $4 processing fee.
R&B cd, $13.99.
“Boy card,” $3.99.
Total with tax, $77.46.
8:46 pm. Register #113.
Pull up diapers, $8.99
Target giftcard, $50 + $5 processing fee.
Total with tax, $64.73. You would think that by this point, the Target loss prevention algorithm and/or credit card company would have flagged these transactions. Nope.
8:47 pm. Register #113, again.
Target giftcard, $50 + $5 processing fee.
Total with tax, $60.41.
8:48 pm. Register #113, again!
Target giftcard, $50 + $5 processing fee.
Grand total: $334.75 of gift cards, greeting cards, candy, diapers, and “300.”
Seems like this person was doing some birthday shopping. Who knows. I assume that the person operating register location #113 really didn’t care that anything sketchy was happening. I’ve disputed the charges again with my bank.
Next time you get a call from your credit card’s fraud detection department, be glad that they actually noticed something — even if it’s a false alarm.
A couple of months ago, I got a speaking inquiry. The highlights: during SXSW, technology-related, and involves dogs. The first two parts were typical for me. The last wasn’t. Call me intrigued.
It turns out that Purina launched a new line of pet food earlier this year along with a companion training app called P5. Their first event was at the Super Bowl featuring Daryl “Moose” Johnston, who taught his 3-year old dog Gunner to catch frisbees and had his 11-year old daughter run Gunner through exercises they had learned leading up to the event.
So the ask was easy – use the P5 app to train my dogs and show them off at a SXSW event. Although we only had about six weeks, it seemed possible…except for one thing.
That’s not all. Purina wanted my dogs to learn new agility exercises and show them off in six weeks. At SXSW.
As the saying goes:
“The dogge must lerne it, whan he is a whelpe, or els it will not be: for it is harde to make an olde dogge to stoupe.” – John Fitzherbert’s The boke of husbandry, 1534. Source: The Phrase Finder
In other words, centuries-old wisdom tells us that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But centuries ago, the world didn’t have iPhone apps and geniuses with Ph.D’s in canine nutrition and physiology.
UPDATE: Download the P5 App | Help a Pet in Need To raise awareness of their P5 dog training app during SxSW, Purina Pro Plan will donate $1 for every download of the P5 app during the conference (March 8th-March 17th 2013). You can use the hashtag #greatdog to amplify awareness of this great cause. Purina Pro Plan will donate a maximum of $50,000 to the nationwide Rally to Rescue pet adoption organization.
UPDATE 2: Event recap video!
Disclosure: I’m being compensated to participate in these activities, just like I am for every speech I give. That said, no amount of money is going to make a dog run faster, jump higher, or more obedient.