Stanford Tennis Memories

March 2023 Stanford Update:
Last Summer, I was able to attend Stanford's Commencement Week.

Proud to support photography at the Bryan Brothers' Foundation Charity in Indian Wells last week.

Excited to be back in Palo Alto at Stanford GSB for Me2We 2023!
It's our biggest LEAD class reunion in years.

The plan is to meet the Men's Head coach and escort a small group around the tennis center. 

JC at Stanford's Main Quad

June 2006: Nike tennis training and DVD featuring Coach Gould

Signed: "To Jacky - Best Wishes, Dick Gould (6/18/06)"

Team USA Calendar - March 2021
The start of my Stanford GSB executive postgrad 

Stanford's Cardinal Red
The color of "JC" on all my avatar logos 

In the summer of 2006, I had the great privilege of playing tennis at Stanford University.

Former home of the Bank of the West Classic, where I played at Dick Gould's Nike Camp.

Coach Gould helped me refine the kick serve that has paid dividends 100x over the years.

Paragliding the Matterhorn: Startup Symbolism

Northern Italy (ATP Finals - Part 2)

I flew into Venice, then rode the Le Frecce high-speed train to Milan towards the ATP Finals.

The pitstop at ATP NextGen in Milan was showcasing the top young stars (aged 21 and younger). I stayed a couple days to see the famous Domo and Last Supper. Milan is a very fashionable and hipster-friendly city.

ATP NextGen Arena

The location itself looked like a large indoor high school gymnasium. Lots of Italian kids and families. Fans enjoyed the flashy light and sound show. It's the junior version of the ATP Finals event. Serendipitously, I met up with the mom of our hometown San Diego Open champion Brandon Nakashima! My mother was also born in Vietnam originally. He concluded the season by winning the tournament, beating several top players along the way.

A couple of days left before arriving for the ATP Finals in Turin...I still needed to decide where to go next. My eyes scanned the map and the weather forecast.

In that region's shoulder season, November is typically known for rain and cold weather. Not yet cold enough for snow, yet too cool for most fairweather tourists.

Stresa, Italy - 11/11 @ 11AM

From the Stresa central train station to my Italian castle on 11/11 - Armistice Day. It was the day when the guns fell silent at the end of World War 1.

Overlooking the island, I spent the night across Isla Bela. It was an Italian Castle near where Ernest Hemingway wrote "Farewell to Arms". With no car, I decided to cover the entire area on foot. Its downhill roads weren't designed with sidewalks in mind.

The following day I decided that instead of going South back to Milan again, I would detour North towards Switzerland. Near the Italian/Swiss border was a lifetime bucket list.

The Mountain peak in the Swiss Alps called the Matterhorn was pinned with a heart. Like a siren beckoning me on my Google Maps, it was calling out: Matterhorn!

Paragliding and the Matterhorn. Soaring through Zermatt for the first time.

Mapping and Mountaineering

"No matter what you do, building a start-up will be a very challenging journey…if you don’t start with enough passion, you won’t get to the other side. If you don’t fall in love with the problem, you simply will not be able to get through the journey.” 
- Uri Levine (Co-Founder of Waze) "Fall in Love with the Problem" (2023)

The key luck factor was the weather forecast. It was nothing short of a miracle in November to get clear skies and 50s a high temperature! With just a short 48-hour window, it was now or never. Time to go.

Eagle's Nest

I booked a last-minute little AirBnB. One only crazy backpackers (or last-minute cowboys like me) would even consider. With this once-in-a-lifetime chance, the detour is the adventure. The Obstacle is the Way.

This began the first leg of many to reach Zermatt (basecamp for the Matterhorn). Several trains, buses, shuttles, and lifts later - I would reach the snow.

Lost in Translation

Nobody was working at 6:30 AM in the Stresa train station. I only had the option of using the automated Italian train ticket machine. I typed in my destination, "ZERMATT." The error screen flashed back. I tried several times again with the same result: "No route found." Uh oh.

I pulled up Google Maps again and saw I'd have to make a few transfers. Reaching Zermatt would take a few different transportation systems (Italian Train, then a Swiss Train). I ate a quick Italian cafe breakfast sandwich, then waited outside for the train. It had 2 platforms - A and B.

Still, no staff working yet at the station I could find and ask for assistance. Nobody was working at the window counter. Outside, I found one lady also waiting. She stood posed like a regular local rider.

Me: Is this the platform for the train to Brig? (on Google Translate)
Her: "Brig? No, you need to take the other platform..."

She pointed me to the other side. Unfortunately, the "other platform" was for regional trains only. My 30 Euro ticket was supposed to be an express one. But because of common rail delays, it was running 15 mins late.

Even the printed train schedule on the signpost listed Riga listed a departure time difference. It was only 3 minutes from the ticket's time. Close enough, I thought.

So I hopped on. Immediately I should have noticed something was wrong. The creeky rail car doors were so old it barely even slid wide open as one rider tried getting off. Inside, the car was nearly empty. Dusty windows.

Leaving my bags, I head to the front of the train for help. I don't see anyone. The adjacent 4-5 cars were empty. I quickly realized that this was the regional train with a knot in my stomach. After a few more stops, I knew I would have at least 8 more stops to go. Definitely missing my transfer in 30 minutes.

An elderly gentleman on board kindly explained that my best option was to rebook once I arrived at the town of Domodossola.

Accepting my fate, I sat back down and enjoyed all the little towns and cows I saw along the way.

Switzerland's land of Ski Resorts

After my transfer from Brig to Riga, I noticed a big contrast between the surroundings and passengers. This was ski country and early season, so many were going there for a weekend getaway. The Swiss trains were noticeably cleaner, quieter, and better staffed. Young train staff wore satchels, serving as mobile kiosks with point-of-sale card readers around their necks. 

On the train, I received an Airbnb text from my host after I told him I'd be an hour behind.

The text reads: "no problem. hey, do you still want to go paragliding?"

My host knew a local guide who could often take his guests up if the weather was clear. Days before, he cautioned this was only if the winds were favorable. Apparently, fate wanted me to go fly that day.

Scaling the Startup - one part grit, two parts Audacity.

Anyone can pay for a magnet or postcard at the shiny tourist shop. The rich come to the ski resort town of Zermatt and take a lift ticket to the top. Reaching it on foot, as one of my Stanford mentors did as a youth, is another matter. Fundraising angel or seed capital rounds takes enormous perseverance in facing repeated hurdles, uncertainty, and rejection.

With group vacation planning over the years, I had wasted so much time. Pitching, explaining, educating, and then trying to persuade others to bring them along.

Change is hard. New is risky.
Many desire the glitter of glory with rainbows and unicorns.
However, most either have no appetite for the grind or the stomach for risk.
Don't ride with someone unless they clearly show you both.

In our social media world, daily IG travelers live vicariously through the photos or comments of others. To truly separate between the hype and the reality requires you to put boots on the ground with due diligence.

CES 2023 Eureka Park - Gallery of Flops - the Startup Graveyard

In the book "Cold Start Problem", Andrew Chen describes the hundreds of thousands of new startups in the US annually. Linking sufficient self-propelling supply (the Hard Side) with increasing demand is often the challenge in Network Models. It is like empowering the East and West teams of the Transcontinental Railroad to join up at Promontory, Utah. When done successfully, it links the East Coast with the West, thus connecting a nation - or a unicorn's horn and horse.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” - Beckett

Why is the first MVP only the first of many iterations. But you need to start somewhere.

Do you need funding before launching? Even picking the "easy fruit" among the 3 F's: Friends, Family, and Fools, relatively few ideas actually make it out of the base camp. You must be ready to hit many road bumps in those first few months. Adapting, learning, adjusting, and rolling with the punches.

How many strangers or VCs will take the plunge with you? Less than 10% get sustainable funding. Will you continue to iterate, test, fail, and repeat as long as it takes?

The "Desert of no Traction" - the Saraha of startups.
This period tests the Founder's heart. After the honeymoon phase, there are sometimes long lulls. Weeks or months where revenue flatlines. You are sometimes blinded with no KPIs to find directional progress.

At that point, you can only put one foot in front of the other - day in and day out. Until you finally hike it out alive or your cash tank runs dry. This is the sacred test of the Soul of a start-up.

Beware of false promises - the checks that can't be cashed.
Some will tell you that your idea sounds good when you're presenting. Then disappear. Nobody doubts your conviction. But when it comes to crunch time, how many would put down their own money to go on that one-way ticket with you? How small things are handled is often a microcosm of the large. 

"If you don't like extreme sports, maybe a start-up is not for you" (Uri Levine, page 36)
Don't listen to the naysayers and fearmongers.
Anchors are everywhere - ready to ground you down to their level.
Prepare for people ready to tell you it won't work and why you're crazy.

"People don't like change, and your new start-up is a change." - Levine

What you need to find are the light feathers for Wings.
Build a solid team that reinforces the other like bonding glue.
It takes a leap of faith, some luck, and being able to endure the long ride.

It takes weeks, months, and even in my case, years to map out the route and get close to VC investing. The "small fortune" you need to spend just to arrive is an obstacle for most and a barrier to entry for all but accredited investors. Sifting the wheat from the chaff.

You must risk stepping off the safe path and forge into the wild.
The secrets of real discovery await you in these dark woods (of Tal).
"The door is going to open for a slipt second. 
Whether you choose to jump through it or not, it's not going to be there very long." 
- James Cameron (MasterClass)

The Climber doesn't get to pick the date - it's the date that selects the climber...

Before the trip, I saw the 14-day forecast had a 25% chance of making a launch window.
Often, the forecast is grey with a rainy mix of gloom in November.

Study the forecasts and have a backup route when things go wrong.
Always understand the odds - even if you choose to ignore them.