What the fuck is a Start-Up?

Definition: A Startup is a business entity with the aspiration/ potential of becoming a monopoly in the market it competes.

Why do I go with this definition? Because it weeds out the majority of modern fledging businesses that wants to market itself as a startup, yet aren’t. If you’re a new restaurant in town, there is little you can do in becoming the only restaurant serving all the customers: it is not cost-efficient to do so, in fact you have very little incentive to become a start-up of any sort. If you are Theranos, you are only promising yourself (and people) this monopoly-like technology, but ultimately you don’t have the technology and therefore you are anti-startup.

I don’t like Bill Aulet’s definition in his Disciplined Entrepreneurship book — that a start-up must be scalable. Certainly, but that immediately narrows the conception of a start-up towards very technology/ soft-ware oriented paths. I believe a monopoly aspiring business needs to introduce some newness, and something should be copied over and over (so that the founders can profit somewhat from the scaling) but I do not think going all giddy on the zero-cost copying, as in software, is a sustainable idea. A monopoly captures your attention immediately. Everybody has scale at some point.

Take netflix. It is a streaming service. It is not a monopoly, but it will always aspire to be one– by differentiating itself, creating content and culture surrounding its conception. It may not be the first streaming service, but it certainly looks like the last streaming service. Facebook is the last social network ever (otherwise it dies, but we don’t know much about that, and we don’t know that much about the future). Tesla is a car company among car companies, but it also looks like the last network of electric, eco-friendly transportation.

I suppose this is where I and my business partners differ in opinion. We all want to get comfortably rich doing this fitness business, but while I seek the leap to a definitive start-up, my partners see themselves as already working for one.

(not) sleeping

Sleep is for the weak. But everyone has their weak moments. So sleep is for confronting the weaknesses in us. We are mortal, powerless, and prone to sleepy moments. 

Mortality is found in sleep, but sleep is also connection to the divine. One who does not sleep enough, does not wake enough. 

Nhưng chả có gì đảm bảo rằng ngủ đủ sẽ làm cho bạn trở thành một con người của Chúa hay một cái củ tỏi gì đại loại thế. 

High-functioning anxiety is the result of treating sleep like a microdose of some funky psychedelic. Sleep is water, food, air (huh!), however. Then again, metaphors can only go so far. 

I’m sitting here at 4.20 AM, in a car parked 150m from my house, waiting for the gates to open. I had just gotten approximately 2 hours of sleep, a nap, after taking care of my cat and making some food for myself, prior to this moment. The apartment where my cat lives is on an Old Quarter street that’s typically buzzing with activity and business and all sorts of office endeavors in the day, which means there would be no place to park this car, which forced me to be in this current situation, camping out to return the car to its original, usual parking spot, which is not in Old Quarter. 

I’m supposed to have deeper sleep, for my own sake. I have an appointment at 9AM. I have been training hard to have a chance at testing myself at this powerlifting competition, so all the more reason to give sleep some respect. 

My body is aching. Which is good, because sleep did its job, letting some of the muscle to heal itself. 

But this is the reality of my life. The reality is a lot of us will not sleep like we wish to. The reality is that we may vie for consistency and certainty in our lives, but sleep is the last part we care about. And hence a lost belief in the divine. And hence a thankless life. And hence disconnection, and hence uncertainty.

But even lacking sleep is a state we should experience every now and then. Because every now and then we avoid our issues and we may avoid the very chance to confront our weakness, our humanness. 

Lacking sleep induces stress- but not because of the tiredness or the irritation or the anxiety. Rather we stress ourselves because of some arbitrary need to sleep 8 hours a day, without disruption. The reality is we may sleep 12 hours after a long hike, a good cry, or, of course, after 48 hours of no sleep. And sometimes 4 hours is enough, and even beyond enough, for a long time period, so we can carry on god’s work. 

So what are you worried about? Embrace the moment, or sit down and vomit words to avoid overt anxiety like me lah. 


Back in my student days, before all the traveling to great cities, I walked a lot. Our house was a location that was in virtual proximity to most of the best schools (and hence also the test prep and tuition center ecosystem that feeds off the students from these schools). I enjoyed the physical torture of it, because there was also always some kind of new sensation, and the rush of endorphins that came after that long walk, and the variegated thoughts and streams of consciousness that run with them. I still recall how I would often be kinda late to a geometry class in a certain Old Quarter street, only to find myself giving a demo on the black board of the best solution to the ongoing problem 15-20 minutes later. Thank the endorphin rush, or the brief respite from the uninspiring stresses of homework.

Thoughts that form into knowledge, but not in a great structural way. Yes, I am a spontaneous thinker. But yes, I also have a deep appreciation for large systems and structures. I just don’t think that to work and operate within the confines of said large systems and structures one needs to grasp the systems’ entireties. I think my mode of thinking has always been to play on a theme, to find small instances of revelation, of credulous, almost spiritual breakthrough/ certainty that shine on the entire system.

So I find that somehow walking is the perfect metaphor to thinking about systems. Here you have an entire vibrant city with her interconnected peoples and sites and various places and things with their various functions. Yet with all your time and resources, you can only travel from A, to B, sequentially, and not without opportunity cost. And yet the undertaking gives you more than A and B and everything in between. The people you meet on that route, they come with information, with their own interconnectedness, ready to be open or closed and accessed and dismissed, by you, the walking person.

So this is kind of my walk, when I talk and think about personal/ fitness/ powerlifting coaching. I have goals, and we have a bunch of collective goals, and we try to hit them as a group, but in the midst of hitting these goals,

we are liberated from the goals.

I cannot stress this enough.

This is not the escapism of finding how toxic competition (any sort of competition, contention, violence, etc.) is and deciding to not engage in them.

This is the process-orientation that everyone needs. Trusting the process, living the process, and thereby enriching our lives with the process. Routines that give light to true freedom, because from these routines magically we can induce changes, visual, virtual changes to our physical bodies, and our mental state.

This is the working taoism of the realist man trying to operate in this realistic world, with societies and economies that are still functional, productive, and interesting and colorful.

There is no zen in isolation. There is everything in walking.

But thinking back about walking today I also realized some crucial things. That somehow I felt happier, I was performing, and I was acing whatever I took on, back in the day. My life was chaotic, yet balanced, because the chaos back then informed and enriched the balance, and the things that will always require balance were kept relatively simple, and they let me wander off, let me walk and be in touch with the city. Change was happening constantly, but also in a very weird way, with a pacing beat.

There was no other way I could be mulling on the poverty of the cities, being spoonfed with all the best resources. There was no other way I could keep my mind fresh. There was no other way I could take things in, as a young and excitable kid, and really calmed my breaths and mind through it all.

I ought to walk more. I have been walking a bit more. I purchased shoes, I went on hikes (reluctantly) because of the blessing of a new companion in my life. I put away single-lace bags, stuffy, draggy backpacks that could hinder my walk.

I should just start. Start walking. Start writing this blog post. Start starting.

reflecting on the written word

So recently I went on a LSD trip, and it was quite an experience. The most impressive moment was the realization that I was deeply self-aware that I was becoming a lot more sympathetic and conscious of others’ feelings. The second most impressive moment was me trying to form up an opinion and verbalize it, while some 4-5 hours into the ingestion, and finding myself being painfully aware that I was uttering nonsense and trivialities, and nothing coherent came out of my mouth. This was difficult, and challenging, and I realize that the moment I was lighting up on some concept, the very thought took me on a deeper trip, of dashing realizations, but altogether unrecorded and impossible to realize. Maybe the self-awareness was hinging on the very political correctness of it, maybe the very person I was conversing with was someone whom I was very careful not wanting to hurt–but I felt weak, and sad, and awkward, and helpless.

As I am coming back from the experience, I muse on words, and writing.

Written word has been something very important to me. We have a complicated relationship. From a very young age I learned to read and I became a strongly avid reader, and the world felt powerful and different. And yet there were moments where words failed me, moments where words and stories and descriptions took me to a place of nonverbal truths, the signifiers, the signposts, the helplessness in realizing that I might be understood and thought of differently by the hordes of readers without the same experience as mine. With studies in Taoism I learned to deny the necessity of words. I was a pessimist, a naysayer, and somewhat of a spiritual troll. I hated words, for I was (and is and will be) a lover of truth, and I found desperation and hopelessness as I combed through the world of words, where people use concepts to manipulate and rally and empower and weaken others. And so for 2 long years I read nothing, and I renounced all of my fascination with the written word. Novels, nonfiction, essays, anything with substantial thought, any abstraction. To replace the void, I took on studies of the mind, I accepted alternative knowledge – transcendental meditation, spiritual horticulture, prayer, and lifting weights–the latter being an extreme medium for me to find connection to my body.

In 2018 I began my journey back to the real world. Like getting back from a LSD trip, I began to embrace the need to take on real-life responsibilities. What urged the change? I am not too sure. Perhaps it was the realization that I would not survive on my own ideals. Perhaps it was the pain in being labeled a cultist by neighbors and my very own family–that I needed to show people my own reason for being. Perhaps it was the recognition of tradition and humanity and that there has been a deep, long history of ancestors who truly fought for my current time on Earth. Perhaps it was love, or the death and dearth of it. Perhaps it was the disillusionment in realizing that the very folks who were deeply pursuing these alternative charting of spiritual history via meditation were a disorganized, incoherent, and not-held-to-standards-shown-in-the-sciences bunch.

I might not have done very well in mathematics, as a students, due to personal, intrapersonal, and interpersonal reasons, but I understood and embraced its magic. I have surveyed the history of science to an extent. And to me these fruits of civilization were equally if not more magical than the I Ching or the Bhagavad Gita. This is an odd comparison, but it serves to highlight my point: that I was done with confusion, and I want to create real things, and hence I wanted to journey back to the real world.

And so back too was the written word. I became a curator of sorts- of book lists, ideas, readings, filters for me to recapture this changing world and the society that rides on its environment. I read and find reads from the true creators–the people with a modus operandi, a purpose, a reason of being in this world. I looked at the mind repositories of startup founders, designers, legislators, lawyers, investors, science students and teachers, and theorists. And on and on. And the more I dug the more I found how much of our world was still inspired by magic and fantasy and imagination. And I became at ease.

Because no matter how spiritual we are, the future isn’t a return to the agrarian, voodoo-magic ways. It must be synthesis – between the fruits of science and spiritual sense, between carrying nations of people with deep customs and cultures and belief systems into a productive and coherent coexistence and advancing the frontiers of knowledge.

I really don’t know. But I think I know, in a deeper sense, where I am, and where we are headed.

I am no prophet. But prophets are too passive for my taste anyway. Let’s do meaningful things, in good taste.

November News

I think I am finally in a place where I am fairly comfortable with myself. There are things left undone, and there are spaces for something completely new and unexpected in the future, but I am at peace with my non-peace with the world–as in I know what to do, and I know what to avoid, and I know what to try on. This new vagueness is different from the weak vagueness that shrouded most of the months since I got back home from America in 2018.

This is coming back to a point where I have lost my optimism for human nature, but replaced with it is a newfound acceptance of human fallibility, and the virtues that can be maintained at little effort to keep us sane in between political games. I have understood my own pain better, thereby I can see the other person better. This is not the sloppy, immature, dreamy idealism of goodness in a human being, but the sense of understanding that to each our own, and I cannot and should not be held responsible, or take responsibility for the fallibility of others.

My world view pertains to maintaining a flexible vision of goodness, and actively testing and integrating others into my view. I am less reactionary than I am contemplative, and I believe in sincere, passive confrontation–excessive overwhelming expression is psychological bullying, but excessive closedness is egomaniacal denial of others. In short, the dictum here is treat life as constant negotiation. We shift the pieces in us like chess pieces on a board, quite mutable, but chunked in only a collection of statistical viabilities. Much like how there are chess positions that are impossible to have, which confound chess masters when discovered, our world is mutable yet invariant.

I used to take on the world with this sloppy optimism of how anything is possible. This idealism is too close to relativism to keep me comfortable, yet in moments of emotional youthfulness I was to embrace this in full. This costed me, as I was unfocused and taking on a lot of projects, and eventually failing at all of them. Freedom of choice is prison when the choices are not weighted and built upon each other. One person cannot do everything, or anything.

I have now replaced this with something more nuanced. This has mirrors in my understanding of the progress of science, and in business –both areas I have dabbled and read about actively. The idea is this: we can embrace freedom of choice, but only to the extent of the existing adjacents we as a society has created. New theories are not built from nothingness. New knowledge are built from parts we have worked on with frustration and pain. New businesses are not magically meditated into existence, but integrations of processes and products and services of an older time.

I intend to navigate through the chaos with this mediated, more nuanced, and more humbled sense.

Anyway, here are some recent books that I enjoy very much, and has in some ways influenced this post. It seems that the older I am, the better my curation of books becomes:

  • On Intelligence: How a New Understanding of the Brain Will Lead to the Creation of Truly Intelligent Machines – Jeff Hawkins
  • Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life – Albert-László Barabási
  • So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love – Carl Newport
  • The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success – Ross Douthat

10000 hours

Hãy thử áp dụng quy tắc 10000 giờ lên bộ môn Powerlifting. Không giống như Cử Tạ, hay các bộ môn thể thao chuyên và bán chuyên khác, một người tập Powerlifting có thể chỉ kỳ vọng 1 tuần tập 4-5 buổi, mỗi buổi 1h30 đến 2h (nhiều hơn là do người đó đang phí thời gian chat và lướt điện thoại, các nghiên cứu cho rằng thời gian tối ưu để luyện tập cơ bắp là chỉ khoảng 45p- 1h30p). Vậy tính nhẩm ra một tuần 1 Powerlifter có thể mất khoảng 5×2 = 10 tiếng luyện tập, và để đạt đến ngưỡng master của bộ môn thì một Powerlifter cần 1000 tuần, hay 19.23 năm nếu đi tập không sót một tuần nào.

Con số này gần như không có ai trong số những người đang ở level cao nhất của bộ môn này. Và càng không có ai trong số những người đang luyện tập bộ môn này ở Việt Nam.

Giả dụ một người tập bỏ ra thêm 10 tiếng nữa 1 tuần (20 giờ/tuần) chỉ suy tưởng và đào sâu về việc luyện tập + tìm mọi cách để có các phương pháp hồi phục và chế độ dinh dưỡng tối ưu nhất, thì cũng phải mất gần 10 năm để đạt ngưỡng 10000 giờ.

Vậy vì sao phải vội? Vì sao phải tỏ vẻ?

We are all learners in this craft.

Hiatus, and non-hiatus

The new WordPress Block Editor outlook is neat, and I’ve been itching to write, and I have been telling myself I should keep to a more regular pace this year, but alas nothing is going in a normal pace this 2020. I could barely read, and I’m probably have to sprint my way to finish the reading quota I set out. But enough with the disclaimers.

I like what I have, but I don’t like what I have. I think (I’ve been told) any two extremes will converge to something not very nice. If you are extremely optimistic, that means everything is great and perfect and there is nothing more to be done. If you are extremely pessimistic, everything is bad and there is nothing else we could do. So stay mildly pessimistic, or mildly optimistic. 

I think the Flow state in any sort of good work is achieved in the same way. You want some stress, but not so much that the stress overwhelms you completely and you get depressed and panicky and nothing will flow out of that situation. You want some inherent motivation or enthusiasm,  but not so much that it is all wishful thinking and nothing gets done. You aren’t Elizabeth Holmes. You are nothing like that former partner of mine in gym business who was essentially a walking motivational quote dispenser (Spoilers: they walked away because of personal debts and academic failure and generally just being completely lost at what to do next.) 

I think interesting people are also in-betweeners. If you have someone who is too empty and depressed and vague then that person ends up mimicking everyone and everything around them, and that is not a force of good. If you have someone too full of themselves then there is nothing to communicate, nothing to learn, nothing to gain for that person, and they are shut off from your world, from taking your viewpoints, and you cannot resonate, and therefore they are unlikely to be points of interest. 

We should always work in the grey. Be very clear about people, have principles, but these clear things are the mere vanguard, the flickering lamplights we carry into the absolute darkness. Absolute darkness is death, but absolute light is just blinding and inhuman. Perhaps be very flexible with people, give them the chance to construct, fabricate, present any sort of narrative they can conjure to you, and then subject them to the same stern treatments based on fairness, or handle them with absolute kindness and humanity. 

In any case, light and darkness. 

On Progress

One of the important things I noticed while being deeply invested in the dichotomy between Eastern Mysticism and Western Thought is the sense of time and progress. In Eastern thought, there is no emphasis on progress and change, while the products of the West are all aimed at fighting stasis, transforming, growing. The entire history of Western civilisation can be seen as man trying his best to tease out more understanding out of the world. Science, and in a larger and smaller sense philosophies of the West are human constructions out of language, aimed at converging on simpler, deeper, and more insightful constructions further on. In the East, we always return to the same things–an orderly society, a sense of balance, or total renouncement of society and personality, for some form of higher devotion.

When you do not care about progress, you want to be really good at management and control. Control more people, control more resources– since resources are now scarce and people are now only up to the same kind of stuff. There is no new change, there is no creativity, there is nothing that can majorly transform the ways we live and see and think and communicate.

This is the case of China, and also in many minor communities across Asian societies. We are not taught to be progressive, and we are pointed to a dog-eat-dog, territorial, zero-sum game. This is why the state tends toward one-party and surveillance, and there is such a powerful and deep interplay between politics and business, and between criminal activity and police. It’s airtight. It’s all about appeasement. There is no escape, because there is no ultimate transcendence (except maybe in death, which is irrelevant to this discussion).

But let’s look at the West. If you are not progressive in the West, you are the current America, and in a smaller sense ageing European societies. If you are, you are fighting for your life to do knowledge work, or to bring that knowledge work to serve the rest of your societies. There is a sense of urgency, and responsibility, and also a sense of death. That if we do not innovate, it is not our company, our our industry, or our nation that won’t survive — it is the entire world.

The sad thing is that, like societies and advanced civilisations, even the media of creativity in the West – SCIENCE, entrepreneurship, film making, can also tend towards decadence. We did so much science that we don’t do much science anymore. We did so much entrepreneurship that we get lost in the games of investment and internet relevance. We did so many films that we can pretty much expect what the next big thing is now.

In the midst of uncertainty and darkness, any form of light is attractive, and prone to abuse. Religious devotions are crazier nowadays. Working out is no longer merely for the sheer appreciation of the body and mind, we compete and we try our best to be the next internet preacher. Mad men became objects of idolatry, or at least put into positions of leadership. And anything marketed to be new and completely different excites the folks with money. There is religion in business, and there is business in religion.

But I urge you all, friends who truly care about maintaining light to the world, to not worry too much about decadence. Decadence is an organic process. Like scientific paradigms that rise and fall out of relevance, we need to ride the passage of time as minor communities and societies-at-large out of community-ness and societal structures.

Time and time again the West has continued to draw inspiration from the world of no-progress, to find new light, to create new pathways, to keep moving. I imagine there is a better future out of this, even if everything is eternally returning, as told by the painter Nietzsche who only repainted a portion of the Mahayana cycle. Tikkun Olam is not a bleak description of our current state, it is merely a puzzle piece out of the greater continuity of time–we are not rebuilding a broken world, we are reassembling parts perhaps intentionally pulled apart, for a greater and deeper convergence.

This is all I am about. Progress and creation, and looking for light.






Over time, I have been updating the Quotes section on my Facebook page. It’s something very lowkey and yet deeply satisfying to revisit.

Today I post the most current collection, on here.

Hope you all will enjoy it.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” – Gandalf

“We need both focused frogs and visionary birds.” – Freeman Dyson

“I must decline, for secret reasons.” – EB White

“The most difficult thing for and inventor is to design something simple. Structures that are complex and complicated are very easy to design. “ – Michail Kalashnikov

“To gain knowledge of nature means to create nature.” – FWJ Schelling

“Your love for our kingdom joins us to humans. You see, there are no individual egos within us; when you love one beech tree, for example, you love all beech trees, you are connected with the whole genus of beech. Even though it may be one particular specimen that brings out the love in you, taking your regard to itself, and thus you are automatically linked up with the spirit of that species. If the human kingdom could learn this quality, it would mean the end of war and rivalry, competition and strife.” – Angel Landscape to Findhorn Gardener.

“Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” – Joi Ito

“The best protection is always to be working on hard problems. Writing novels is hard. Reading novels isn’t. Hard means worry: if you’re not worrying that something you’re making will come out badly, or that you won’t be able to understand something you’re studying, then it isn’t hard enough. There has to be suspense.” – PG

“In an artificial world, only extremists live naturally.” – PG

“What you call passion is not spiritual force, but friction between the soul and the outside world. Where passion dominates, that does not signify the presence of greater desire and ambition, but rather the misdirection of these qualities toward an isolated and false goal, with a consequent tension and sultriness in the atmosphere. Those who direct the maximum force of their desires toward the center, toward true being, toward perfection, seem quieter than the passionate souls because the flame of their fervor cannot always be seen.” Hermann Hesse- The Glass Bead Game

“To be, in a word, unborable…. It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.” DFW- The Pale King

“desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to reconsider, carefulness to dispose and set in order.” – Francis Bacon, on scientific temperament

“Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion”. – Francis Bacon

“Education makes the wise slightly wiser, but it makes the fool vastly more dangerous.” — Nassim N. Taleb

“Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.”- Benoit Mandelbrot

“Associate with noblest people you can find; read the best books; live with the mighty. But learn to be happy alone.”

“Don’t just read it; fight it! Ask your own questions, look for your own examples, discover your own proofs. Is the hypothesis necessary? Is the converse true? What happens in the classical special case? What
about the degenerate cases? Where does the proof use the hypothesis?” – Paul R. Halmos on doing math

“It’s not even wrong!” – W.P.

“Young man, in mathematics you don’t understand things. You just get used to them.” – JvN

“Perhaps the deepest reason why we are afraid of death is because we do not know who we are. We believe in a personal, unique, and separate identity; but if we dare to examine it, we find that this identity depends entirely on an endless connection of things to prop it up: our name, our “biography”, our partners, family, home, job, friends, credit cards… It is on their fragile and transient support that we rely for our security. So when they are all taken away, will we have any idea of who we really are?” – Sogyal Rinpoche

“Mens sana in corpore sano”

“The internet is everything we can access with a browser.
Discourse is everything we can access with our minds.” – M. Foucault

“Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees an coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the A.M. heat: shattercane, lamb’s-quarter, cutgrass, sawbrier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtain, muscadine, spine-cabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butter-print, nightshade, ragweed, wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all heads gently nodding in a morning breeze like a mother’s soft hand on your cheek. An arrow of starlings fired from the windbreak’s thatch. The glitter of dew that stays where it is and steams all day. A sunflower, four more, one bowed, and horses in the distance standing rigid and still as toys. All nodding. Electric sounds of insects at their business. Ale-colored sunshine and pale sky and whorls of cirrus so high they cast no shadow. Insects all business all the time. Quartz and chert and schist and chondrite iron scabs in granite. Very old land. Look around you. The horizon trembling, shaplesss. We are all of us brothers.” – DFW