2016: The Year of Well-being – Give Your Brain and Body 110% Attention


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I’m attracted to human intelligence and intellectual power. Movies of this gene usually would be my favourites. If you have the same interest as me, you would like Limitless (both the 2011 film, and the 2015 TV series).

Limitless the 2011 film is about a struggling author. His career is facing a stumbling-block, and his girlfriend breaks up with him because of his lack of progress and financial dependence. By chance, he takes a sample of new “smart drug”, NZT-48. After taking the pill, he is able to learn and analyze at a superhuman rate and recall memories from his distant past. Within 24 hours, he is able to clean his messy apartment and writes 90 pages of his book. In just 3 days he becomes a proficient piano player, finishes his book, and masters several languages. He also successfully makes a return of 2 million dollars in the stock market using his enhanced analytical skills, with the help of the drug’s amazing effects which he takes daily.

Limitless the 2015 TV series is a continuous story of the Limitless 2011 film. The TV series is about a 28-year-old guy who has not done much with his life. He is introduced to NZT-48, a miracle drug that opens the full possibility of his brain and gives him access to every neuron in his brain. Within 12 hours after taking the pill, he becomes the smartest person on earth, able to perfectly recall everything he has ever read, heard, or seen, and capable of prodigious leaps of intuition and reasoning. He uses his enhanced abilities to help the FBI.

The movies introduce the theory that the drug allows the pill taker to access the limitless power of his brain. NZT-48, however, has dangerous side effects, such as hallucinations and the sense of time skipping forward (the pill taker notices that several hours have suddenly passed of which he has no memory). If one attempts to stop taking the drug, one will experience several mental rebound effects, and could die.

In reality, there is a possibility that you can maximize your brain power, of course not at a superhuman rate, but at an optimum rate that you can brain can possibly reach. Not by taking drug which will bring along dangerous side effects, but by taking the right food and establish the right habits.

At the start of 2016, let’s make well-being your new-year resolution by applying tips and exercises to sharpen your mind and boost brain power.

A strong memory depends on the health and vitality of your brain. You can boost your brain power at any age. The human brain has an astonishing ability to adapt and change – even in old age. This ability is known as neuroplasticity (or brain plasticity). With the right stimulation, your brain can form new neutral pathways, alter existing connections, and adapt and react in ever-changing ways. The brain’s incredible ability to reshape itself holds true when it comes to learning and memory. You can harness the natural power of neuroplasticity to increase your cognitive abilities, enhance your ability to learn new information, and improve your memory at any age.

#1 – Give your brain a workout

Memory, like muscular strength, requires you to “use it or lose it”. The more you work out your brain, the better you’ll be able to process and remember information. But not all activities are equal. The best brain exercises must have 4 elements: 1 – teach you something new and out of your comfort zone, 2 – challenging, 3 – a skill you can build on (when a previously difficult level starts to feel comfortable, tackle the next level of performance), and 4- rewarding, enjoyable and satisfying. Think of something new you’ve always wanted to try: like learning how to play the guitar, play chess, speak Mandarin, or learn the GMAT. Play brain games; invest at least 20 minutes a day.

#2 – Do not skip the physical exercise

Physical exercise helps your brain stay sharp. It increases oxygen to your brain and reduces the risk of disorders that lead to memory loss, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It also helps to reduce stress. Exercise plays an important role in neuroplasticity by boosting growth factors and stimulating new neuronal connections. Exercise in the morning before you start you day makes a big difference. It prepares you for learning throughout the day. Physical activities that require hand-eye or arm-leg coordination or complex motor skills are particularly beneficial for brain building. Exercise breaks can help you get past mental fatigue and afternoon slumps. Try zumba, running, yoga for 1 hour/3 time per week or 30 minutes every day.

#3 – Get enough sleep

95% of adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleeps every night to avoid sleep deprivation. The key memory-enhancing activity occurs during the deepest stages of sleep. Get on a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. Establish a routine and be disciplined. Avoid all screens for at least an hour before bed. The blue lights emitted by TV, tablets, smart phones, and laptops trigger wakefulness and suppress hormones such as melatonin that make you sleepy. When you have a power sleep, you have a power mind.

#4 – Invest time for healthy relationships and laugh more

Humans are highly social animals. Relationships stimulate your brains. Research shows that having meaningful friendships and a strong support system is vital to brain health. People with the most active social lives have the slowest rate of memory decline. So invest time for healthy relationships through these activities: volunteer, have a pet/or a baby, join a club, make it a point to see friends more often.

Laugh more and laugh with friends because laughter is the best medicine and laughter keeps the stress away. Start with: 1 – laugh at yourself to take yourself less seriously; 2 – when you hear laughter, move toward it; 2 – spend time with fun, playful people; 3 – surround yourself with reminders to have joy; and 4 – play with children and emulate them because children are the experts on playing, taking life lightly, and laughing.

#5 – Eat a brain-boosting diet

A diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, “healthy” fats (olive oil, nuts, fish) and lean protein will improve memory.

  • For mental energy, choose complex carbohydrates. When you need to be at the top of your mental game, carbohydrates can keep you going. However, simple carbs (sugar, white bread, refined grains) give you a quick boost followed by an equally rapid crash. For healthy energy that lasts, choose complex carbs such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, high-fiber cereal, and whole beans. Avoid processed foods and limit starches (potato, pasta, rice) to no more than one quarter of your plate.
  • Get your omega-3s. Eat “fatty fish” such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardine, herring, trout, etc.
  • Eat more brain-boosting fruits, vegetables and nuts including broccoli, spinach, leafy green vegetables, asparagus, winter squash, tomatoes, blueberries, blackcurrants, walnuts, olives, etc. These food will help to prevent dementia.
  • Limit calories and saturated fat. Research shows that diets high in saturated fat (from sources such as red meat, whole milk, butter, cheese, cream, and ice cream) increase your risk of dementia and impair concentration and memory.
  • Drink green tea. Regular consumption of green tea may enhance memory and mental alertness and slow brain aging.

There is no need to take NTZ-48. You can boost your brain power, improve your memory and sharpen your mind through those simple tips and natural diets. Once you can harness the power of your neuroplasticity, you can maximize your brain capacity, reach to new level of success and happiness, and become “limitless”.

To a more successful 2016: The year of well-being!

Published on my LinkedIn profile

Bonus: FYI, a recent article published on Business Insider list down 8 types of intelligence that influence how successful you are, which are most applicable to the entrepreneurial role:

  1. Word-smarts (linguistic intelligence)
  2. People-smarts (interpersonal intelligence)
  3. Self-smarts (intra-personal intelligence)
  4. Number-smarts (logical-reasoning intelligence)
  5. Nature-smarts (naturalist intelligence)
  6. Picture-smarts (spatial intelligence)
  7. Body-smarts (kinesthetic intelligence)
  8. Music-smarts (musical intelligence)

The most successful entrepreneurs are those with the broadest range of interests, skills, and experiences (street smarts).



2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 680 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 11 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

“Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg – My story and 3 things YOU can do to support women


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Gender bias is a sensitive topic and some people may not be comfortable to call themselves feminist. Regardless whether you are a feminist or not, you can always do your part to support gender equality in the workplace and at home, to strive for a diversified society, because diversity will always benefit you as an individual. If we had more women to join men in the race, more records will be broken and our collective performance would improve.

lean in

This book “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg – COO of Facebook is a great source of motivation for me. In my grandmother and my mother’s generation, and especially in an Asian context, men are always valued above women. The male chauvinism is a popular thinking among both men and women in Asia. I grew up seeing my grandmother held the responsibility bearing the children, taking care of the household, and also supporting the family financially. My grandmother is illiterate, but she is very hard-working; she worked as a door to door peddler selling sweet potatoes and tapiocas. I rarely see my grandfather; he didn’t take care of the children or the household finance. Once in a while he would come back giving my grandmother a little sum of money and then would disappear again.

My grandmother has 7 children, 1 son and 6 daughters. She was not fortunate enough to receive an education, so she was also influenced by the male chauvinism. Although the family was poor, my uncle didn’t have to do anything, all of the housework will be shared among my aunts and my mother. My uncle received a full education, while all my aunts and my mother have to work to support their study. Many of my aunts would drop out from secondary school, while my mother persists to university. Upon graduation, she worked as a teacher and supports the family. When she married, she had to work and took care of the children and the household at the same time. It was tough being a woman during my grandmother and my mother’s time.

In my generation, boys and girls are given equal education. I had a strong interest in study and I studied hard. To me, education is the only way to change my life. I had a good result in primary and secondary school and was then admitted to Le Hong Phong High School – the top high school in Ho Chi Minh City. I had a dream to study overseas and took the admission test of NTU and NUS. I was then admitted to NUS (National University of Singapore), School of Real Estate, however I couldn’t go. At that time, my parents didn’t support me to go overseas, partially because of the lack of finance. Instead, they encouraged me to study at a local university. I was admitted to FTU (Free Trade University) – also the top business school in Vietnam. I studied for 1 year with a very good result; I was number second in the school’s end-semester examination. However, I still aspired to study overseas to change my life. I dropped out from FTU and work in various jobs to save for my study. I did private tuition for 3 different groups of students – teaching various subjects Maths, Chemistry, Physics, and English. I also worked at a fashion shop as a part-time sales assistant. I saved enough money, and studied SAT to apply to SMU (Singapore Management University), School of Business. In the end, my effort was paid off; I was admitted to SMU. Going to Singapore to study a degree was a big milestone for me. The education and opportunities helped me to find a job, and advance in my career. I also met my husband here, who is a great partner. He supports me in my career as well as shares the child rearing and the family household.

However, at times, I was still juggling about having children and establishing a career. As Sheryl mentioned in her book, sometimes as women we have to make a choice between our career and our family: “During the same years that our careers demanded maximum time investment, our biology demanded that we have children.” I found myself planning when I should have my first child and when I should have my second child. When I had my first child, I had to slow down on my career. When I was 3-month pregnant, I was called by a head-hunter for a very interesting job opportunity. I went to the interview without disclosing my pregnancy. When I was invited for the second round of interview, I told the head-hunter that I was currently pregnant; I was scared that it will affect my new job, so I turned down the interview. I was afraid of the external barriers and I made a choice to slow down and focus on my pregnancy and child bearing.


Now I’m 30 and I wanted to study an MBA to go to the next level and take on a leadership role. My son is 2 so within the next 2 years, I’m planning to have a second child. But it’s difficult to do both an MBA and having a child at the same time, so I’m thinking very hard to decide on a good timing for each. As women, sometimes we sacrifice our career for the family. I know some of my friends, after they had children; they decided to take time off from work so that they could focus fully on raising the children. 1 year became 2 years, 2 years became 4 years. By the time they decided that they wanted to go back to join the workforce, they faced with external barriers erected by society. Their pay would be cut or they had to accept a job at a lower level than their previous position.

When I was pregnant, I was scared at time that someone will take over my job during my maternity leave. Sheryl shared in her book that: “Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judge. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.” When I finished my maternity leave and went back to work full-time, I felt guilty because I only could see my son 1 hour a day after I came back from work. I would be home at 7pm and he would go to sleep at 8pm. I felt guilty because I didn’t spend more time for him. At times, I felt jealous with the nanny because my son was closer to her. I told one of my colleagues and she told me that she went through the same thing as me. But there was no need for me to feel guilty because my son would soon realize that I am his mother, and the nanny is just temporary. He would learn that I love him and care for him, so I just try my best to spend time with him as much as I can in my capacity and accept that I can’t do it all. So I discussed with my husband; we made an effort to spend more time with our son. I would let him sleep 1 hour later, at 9pm, since now he’s a bit bigger. I would leave the office at 6pm so that I could be home at 6.30pm, then I will have about 2 – 2.5 hours to play with him. During the weekend, we will take him out. My son is much closer to me and my husband now and he would always ask to play with us when we are at home. My fear of being judged by other colleagues about leaving the office at 6 was also faded away, because I know that I work effectively and productively during the office hours. Sheryl continued: “Without fear, women can pursue professional success and personal fulfilment – and freely choose one, or the other, or both.”

After reading this book, I have decided that I will pursue my MBA. I don’t have to choose between work and family and I can do both. I will not hold back.

If you are a woman, below are the 3 things that you can do to support yourself and other women around you. If you are a man, below are the 3 things that you can do to support your wife, your girlfriend, your mother, your sister, your daughter, your female colleagues, and other women in your life.


#1 – Read this book “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg – COO of Facebook and Take Risks

This book explains about the leadership ambition gap. “In addition to the external barriers erected by society, women are hindered by barriers that exist within us. We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives – the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. Getting rid of these internal barriers is critical to gaining power,” Sheryl shared.

It encourages women to build up confidence and believe in our own abilities: be ambitious, work hard, sit at the table, and keep our hand up. More women should aspire to senior roles, take risks, and do not hold ourselves back because “women will tear down the external barriers once we achieve leadership roles”. “Ask ourselves: what would I do if I weren’t afraid? Then go do it.” In short, women should lean in more to our career.

As a man, what you can do to support your partner is to lean in more to your family, be a real partner. As per Sheryl, “a truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.”

As per statistics, of the 195 independent countries in the world, 23 or 11.8% are led by women (as of Oct 28, 2015) – Nepal is the 23th country to get first woman President on Oct 28, 2015. Twenty-three or 4.6% of the Fortune 500 CEOs in 2015 are women (as of Jun 29, 2015). To achieve 50% there is still a long way to go but there is progression year over year.

#2 – Join the Lean In Community at www.facebook.com/leaninorg and start or join a LeanInCircles at http://leanincircles.org/

Lean In Circles are small groups who meet regularly to learn and grow together, as well as to share the power of peer support.

You can also share your stories as I have shared mine here. Both men and women can share your stories as how you have become more aware about gender issues and how you can support women to build a better world.


#3 – Read more tips for managers, men at work, men at home, and graduates, etc. on http://leanin.org/ to support women

For example, the below are the Tips for Managers to support your female colleagues and subordinates as well as close the gender leadership gap in your team and your organization so that everyone despite being men or women could develop their full talents.

Tips for Managers http://leanin.org/tips/managers/

  1. Challenge the “Likability penalty”
  2. Evaluate performance fairly
  3. Give women credit
  4. Get the most out of the meetings: “Encourage women to sit front and center at meetings. If a female colleague is interrupted, interject and say you’d like to hear her finish. Openly ask women to contribute to the conversation. Be aware of “stolen ideas” and look for opportunities to acknowledge the women who first proposed them.”
  5. Share office housework
  6. Make working environment work for parents
  7. Make negotiating a norm
  8. Support mentorship and sponsorship

Tips for Female Graduates http://leanin.org/graduates/#tips

  1. Adopt the mantra “Proceed and be bold”
  2. Shift from a “what do I get?” to a “what can I offer?” mindset
  3. Negotiate wisely
  4. Break long-term goals into short-term steps
  5. Sit at the table
  6. Listen to your inner voice
  7. Don’t ask “will you be my mentor?” – Shift your thinking from “if I get a mentor, I’ll excel” to “if I excel, I’ll get a mentor”
  8. Understand and challenge gender bias
  9. Make your partner a real part
  10. Don’t leave before your leave: “Without realizing it, many women start making career decisions based on family responsibilities they do not yet have. They turn down projects, don’t apply for promotions, or choose more flexible paths—all to make room for children they don’t yet have, in many cases with partners they’ve not yet met. Don’t fall into this trap. Keep as many options open until the moment you need to make a choice. Instead of slowing down for fear of what’s ahead, keep your foot on the gas pedal until you have to make a decision. If you go for it, odds are you’ll end up in a more fulfilling position with more flexibility. And if anyone, including that voice in your head, insists you must choose between work and family, remember that men routinely assume they can have both—and you should too.”

You can also find:

Tips for Men at Home http://leanin.org/tips/home/

Tips for The Workplace http://leanin.org/tips/work/

I would like to end by a quote from Sheryl Sandberg that I like a lot: “We need to be grateful for what we have but dissatisfied with the status quo. This satisfaction spurs the charge for change. We must keep going.”

Let’s #LeanInTogether

#leanin #womenempowerment #womeninleadership #womenforwomen

Published on my LinkedIn profile


Israel – An extraordinary startup nation 


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Israel was in my impression as a country of violence and war. As I can recall when I was small, everyday, on the daily TV news report, there would be at least 1 section about the tension between Israelis and Palestinian, there would be a rocket flare up here and there near the Gaza Strip or the West Bank. There would be some people were killed and some were injured by a bomb somewhere in Jerusalem territory. That’s why it took me by surprise after I finished this book “Start-up nation”by Dan Senor & Saul Singer. It urges me to read more about this interesting country and honestly I would love to travel to Israel one day in near future.

The first Kingdom of Israel was established around 11th century BCE. And its famous city Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world. Moreover, Jerusalem is considered the holy land to the 3 major religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. (That is really fascinating, I will read more and will have another blogpost about it). During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Throughout these events, the Jews was mass slaughtered, forced to be slaves, forced to exile from their homeland. These events scattered the Jews all around the world.

The worldwide Jewish population reached 16.7 million people before WWII but approximately 6 million Jews were systematically murdered during the Holocaust by the Nazi. The Jews during that time have to run away for their life but no country want to take them in, a clandestine movement known as Aliyah Bet was organised to bring Jews back to their original homeland (which occupied by Palestinians).

On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel, to officially establish a country, a home for Jews all over the world. The country shares land borders with Lebanon to the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan on the east, and Egypt to the southwest. It contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area (20,000 km2, compared to Vietnam 332,000 km2). Although the U.S supported the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine, they do not want to intervene too deep between the tension between the Jews and the Arabs. The British, who held a colonial mandate for Palestine at that time, opposed to this creation because they want to keep good relations with Arab countries. War broke out immediately after the independence day, 5 Arab armies from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia join force and invade the territory in the former Palestinian mandate. The fighting keep going on for years and the tension has never gone away for this country and this region.


Despite the chaos politics and military tension with their neighboughs, Israel has risen as one of the top countries that provides most successful startups companies in the world. Tel Aviv ranks at number 2, only after Silicon Valley in the ranking of startup ecosystem. After United States, Israel has more companies listed on the NASDAQ than any other country in the world, including India, Korea, Singapore and Ireland. Almost half of the world’s top technology companies (Google, Cisco, Microsoft, Intel, eBay…) have bought startups or opened research and development centers in Israel. Cisco alone has acquired nine Israeli companies and is looking to buy more.

“Why is all this happening in Israel? I’ve never seen so much chaos and so much innovation all in one tiny place” an NBC universal vice president sent to scout for Israeli digital media companies wonder.


You must read the book to understand how this could happen. In short, since the country is relative small, and the population is small (only around 8 millions), borders surrounding by enemies, their most valuable asset is their people. They are people with different races, speaks different languages, from all over the world, most of them share the same religion (75% Jews, 20% Muslim Arab, 5% Others), come together to build the nation from ashes. And miracle always happens from those challenging situations. Israel built their own military and air force, produce major weapon systems, such as tanks and jet fighter aircraft because they want to avoid to rely on foreign arm supplies an not dependant on anyone else to provide one of the most basic elements for national survival. Their army model is so good that Singapore government has asked for help from Israel to build their army. Along with compulsory service and a career army, Singapore also adopted elements of the Israel Defense Forces IDF’s model of reserve service. Every soldier who completes his regular service is obligated to serve for short stints every year, until the age of thirty three.

In 1988, Israel launched their first satellite into space, which mark their elite advanced technology and let them join the group of leading countries in aerospace technology.

They challenge the nature to make their agriculture revolution. 95 percent of the country is categorised as semi-arid, arid, or hyperacid, as quantified by levels of annual rainfall. Meaning that those lands severely lack of water, to the extend that prevent growth and development of plant and animal life. However, Israelis take that disadvantage and turn it into opportunity. They spend money and effort in research and innovation. Israel now leads the world in recycling waste water; over 70 percent is recycled, which is 3 times the percentage of the Spain, the country in second place. They  turn the area taken by desert, into agricultural fields and planted forests. Now there are an estimated 240 millions tress, millions of them planted one at a time. Satellite pictures show the forest sticking out like a visual typo, surrounded by desert and drylands in a place where it should not exist.


Intel set up shop in Israel in the 1970s is a striking event, in the context that Israel just went through a few wars just a few years before that. This marks a new era that Israel transform itself from an isolated state in Middle East to a thriving and technologically sophisticated country. There are more and more headlines about Israel startups that attract more and more attention and Israel’s technology success stories is becoming more widely known. In a world seeking the key to innovation, Israel is a natural place to look into.

I recommend this book to whoever want to understand where this entrepreneurial energy comes from, where it’s going and how to sustain it, and how we can learn from this extraordinary startup nation.

Steve Pham



“How children succeed” – Paul Tough


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I stumbled upon this book “How children succeed” – Paul Tough when I was looking for good parenting books, and hope that I can learn some good tricks to raise my son, make him smarter (he’s 26 months old now). Who don’t want your children smarter, right? But it took me by surprise that I learned a lot for myself from this book too.

So what make children succeed? Or what make children fail?


Is it true that kids come from poorer families has lesser chance to succeed in academy and in life, compared to kids come from richer families? Although there’re stories about kid from extremely poor family that perform outstandingly sometimes make the headlines but I personally think those are rare exceptions. I believe that kids come from richer families obviously do better in school and have eventually will be more successful in life. Do you agree with me?

People have done a lot of data analysis and find out that children growing up from poverty have higher chance to quit school early, get unplanned pregnancy, commit crime, and die earlier. What makes money or financial material have such huge impact on a development of a child? Do they really need that much? Are they the better milk powder, better nutrition, better childcare, or more educational toys, more tuition classes that make the difference?

It turns out that the stress is the culprit, not the money. What stress can an infant or a baby feel, you may ask? Researcher found out that if a pregnant woman feel stress, the baby in her womb feels it too. Yes, baby can feel stress since they are inside their mother’s womb.

If you want to know the details how the stress can affect the child, you must read the book. It’s quite complicated to explain in 1 blogpost. But in short, there is a fire fighting system that embedded into our brain. When we feel fear or anxiety, our brain triggers this fire fighting system, which makes physical reactions like increased heart rate, glucose levels rise, prepare our body to fight back… Imagine if you’re under stresses all the time, what could happen? The tricky thing about this process is that it’s not actually the stress itself that messes us up, but it’s the body’s reaction to the stress. A child which see his parent arguing or fighting everyday, or a child was physically/mentally abused, they are under stress. And it make extremely damages to his mind, his character and behaviour development. And obviously kids from the richer families have better chance to avoid these stresses.

So if your work is stressful, deal with it at company, don’t bring it home. If you and your spouse wants to argue on something, don’t do it in front of the child. Do think twice before committing any crime if you are parent, it will leave wounds & scars in your children’s heart and mind.

So what can we do to protect our child from these stresses? Yes, there is. And it can’t be bought using money. It’s LOVE. People did an interesting experiment on lab mice. They took the mouse baby (the pups) away from its mother (the dams) and they observed that the pups stress indicator increase obviously. When they returned the pups back to the dams, some dams come near, lick and groom her pups. They measured again the stress indicator of the pups and surprisingly those pups that were licked and groomed by their mother, the stress disappeared. This works the same on human. If a baby was loved and cared, he feels safe and secured. So in the end, a child do not need much material, he only needs basic things and lots, lots of love. Having a secure attachment with parent is not the secret of his success but it is a big, big part of it.


So a child has lots of love, and stress-free will be successful, is that so simple?

We can see a lot of children these days who come from middle-class and rich families who surely are so stress-free that don’t need to do anything except eat, sh*t and study. Some go to school because their parent told them to, and don’t know what to do next after graduating. These children get bigger in size and older in age but they don’t grow up. They have no character and obviously they cannot be successful.

This is common fault of parents, especially Asian parent, who usually overprotect our children. We love the child so much that we want to provide everything for our child, to protect him from all harm. But we also need to know that if we want him to succeed, we need to first let him fall. As a toddler, when he learn to walk, he will fall down, you should be besides him to make sure he is ok but don’t pull him up just yet, let him get back up on his own. As he grows bigger, let him face his own problems. You should talk to him and give him advices but let him solve it by himself, do not solve the problem for him. It might be faster if you solve it yourself but you will steal his chance to face his own problem. We need him to learn to manage failure, learn from failure and avoid making same mistake again. That’s how a child grow up.


After reading this book, I felt thankful for having loving and caring parent who had raised me up in the best way they could. I felt blessed for having my grandpa who taught me chess and play chess with me when I was small. I’m filled with gratitude for all the challenges in life that make me fall hard and make me try harder to get back and to be who I am today. I’m still fighting hard to find success and I know I will be there.

Steve Pham


The competitive landscape in apartment and vacation rentals market – The race with Airbnb


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In my previous post, I have shared a summary on the competitive landscape in the online travel industry which is a game of scale from 3 key players: The Priceline Group, Expedia, and TripAdvisor.

In this post, I will provide a deep dive into an increasingly important lodging sector – the apartment and vacation rentals market. This has become a more popular choice among the consumers, thanks to the rise of the sharing economy.

The rise of sharing economy – The trigger

The sharing economy is people fuelled and cloud powered, according to Daniel Newman, Co-CEO V3 Broadsuite and President of Broadsuite Media Group. People enjoy connecting with others; smartphones, mobile apps, and cloud-based technology have made it easier for everyone. One of the prominent startup of this kind is Airbnb. People used to ask questions such as: Who would want to sleep on an air bed? Or Who would want to sleep on other people’s bed? But right now, doing so has been seen as an innovative way to experience your travel destination and to “live like a local”. Airbnb has been changing the dynamics of the travel industry by adding new capacity that competes with hotels through offering a sharing economy based on people renting out their rooms and homes. Following the “disruption fever”, other industry superpowers have also explored and expanded in this hot segment of the travel market: Expedia acquired HomeAway in Nov 2015; Booking.com invested in organic growth to increase listings from both vacation rentals property owners and homeowners; TripAdvisor acquired FlipKey in 2008 but only invested heavily in this sector recently, integrating FlipKey into TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals single platform and tweaking its business model to target homeowners. This has been seen as an industry-wide move (Booking.com, FlipKey) to focus on individual homeowners who will make up the majority of potential listings.

Apartment and vacation rentals – The game of 4 key players

The overall travel category is a US$1.3 trillion category. The alternative lodging category is US$100 billion and the 4 key players are Airbnb, HomeAway of Expedia, Booking.com of the Priceline Group, and FlipKey / TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals. Let’s look at each of them in details.

#1: Airbnb

Fact sheet:

Latest updates:

  1. On Mar 27, 2015, Airbnb has signed an agreement to be the official alternative accommodation services supplier for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro which will take place from Aug 5-21, 2016. The deal, which saw Airbnb pay an undisclosed amount to local Olympic organizers, means official Olympic sites will feature a link to Airbnb’s website and encourage spectators (estimated 380,000 people) travelling to Rio for the games to use the service to rent space in private homes and apartments (around 20,000 offerings). This is the first time the company has signed on an official partner for the world’s biggest sporting spectacle.
  2. On Nov 3, 2015, Airbnb announced a partnership with American Express, where cardholders can pay for stays using Amex Membership Rewards® loyalty points.

#2: HomeAway (Expedia)

Fact sheet:

  • Founded in 2005, HomeAway provides a marketplace for vacation rentals including home rentals, condos, villas, beach rentals, cabins, cottages, etc.
  • Brands: HomeAway.com, VRBO (acquired in 2005), VacationRentals.com, travelmob.com (APAC short-term rental site), etc.
  • Operations: 190 countries with 1.2 million paid listings 
  • CEO – HomeAway: Brian Sharples
  • CEO – Expedia: Dara Khosrowshahi
  • Niche: vacation rents – second homes (managed by vacation rentals property managers), whole houses
  • Fee: Currently, no booking fee for guests, 10% commission for vacation rental owners. In addition, as the subscription service had a barrier for those who wanted to try it, HomeAway has moved from subscription service to launch of the commission-based product.

Latest updates:

  1. Expedia announces acquisition of HomeAway for US$ 3.9B on Nov 4, 2015 (the transaction would close in Q1 2016). Expedia’s pending acquisition of HomeAway is a game-changer in that it saves Expedia years of building up its own vacation rental supply. HomeAway’s vacation rentals will appear on Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Travelocity, Orbitz, and other Expedia brands.
  2. Starting Q2 2016, HomeAway will follow Airbnb’s lead and add a booking fee for travelers which would average around 6% of the booking. Charging travelers fees will enable HomeAway to lower commissions to vacation rental owners to be more competitive with Airbnb and FlipKey. Vacation rental hosts and managers that pay HomeAway subscription fees to list their properties would get incentives to entice them to make their vacation rentals online bookable. About half of HomeAway’s listings are online bookable and the goal is to get that figure to 90-100% by the end of 2016.

#3: Booking.com (The Priceline Group)

Fact sheet:

  • Founded in 1996, acquired by the Priceline Group in 2005. Booking.com started as a hotel company. Since then the company expanded into alternative accommodations, and now vacation rentals. Currently Booking.com is the world’s largest lodging seller in terms of numbers of hotels, vacation rentals and apartments. However, the Expedia – HomeAway combination would displace Booking.com as the #1.
  • CEO – The Priceline Group: Darren Huston
  • Niche: one-stop shop for hotels, vacation rentals and apartments
  • Fee: no booking fee for guests, unpublicized commission fee for vacation rentals owners and hosts (Expedia predicted the commission fee would be around 15%)

Latest updates:

  1. Booking.com will focus on organic growth. On Nov 30, 2015, Priceline Group CEO Darren Huston says his company didn’t get involved when HomeAway put itself up for sale “because “we’re quite picky” and HomeAway’s model of allowing vacation rental owners to wait 24 hours before confirming a booking and charging travelers a booking fee “just didn’t fit us”. Huston is betting that his Booking.com’s alternative model in vacation rentals – instantly confirmable online bookings with no traveler booking fee – will win out over the Expedia – HomeAway goal of online bookings and a traveler service fee along with letting vacation rental owners vet reservations before accepting them. Booking.com is sticking to the principle of properties being instantly bookable and verifiable, and no consumer fees.”
  2. Give new emphasis to individual homeowners and apartment renters as an industry-wide move. Booking.com wants to answer the needs of “one customer”, the one who books and apartment one day and a five-star hotel the next.

#4: FlipKey/ TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals (TAVR)

Fact sheet:

  • TripAdvisor bought FlipKey in 2008 and in recent months TripAdvisor has transitioned its FlipKey unit’s vacation rentals onto a single technology platform called TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals (TAVR)
  • 720,000 vacation rental home listings
  • TAVR President: Dermot Halpin
  • TAVR General Manager: Tracey Zhen
  • CEO – TripAdvisor: Stephen Kaufer
  • Niche: As compared to Airbnb, FlipKey offers similarly original accommodations with beach, apartment, home, boathouse, and villa listings, except that they do not have shared room listings, only private rooms, and entire property rentals. According to Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi on his Nov 4, 2015 interview, TripAdvisor’s advantage is that they sit at the top of the funnel, and a lot of people go to TRIP just to research on where they’re going, and therefore, they’re able to soak in a lot of demand for accommodations and other things just because they’re at the top of the funnel.
  • Fee: TAVR charges 7% commission fee for vacation rentals managed listings and 3% commission for individual homeowners with a guests booking fee ranging from 5-15%

Latest updates:

  1. On Aug 28, 2015, more than 100 property managers representing more than 14,000 properties have written an open letter to TripAdvisor CEO Stephen Kaufer lamenting the problems and protesting the fact that they deliver high volumes of listings to FlipKey yet must pay 10% commissions while individual owners only pay 3%. On Aug 28, 2015, TAVR responds: CEO Tracey Zhen acknowledges that “ a key change of this year and last has been our increased focus on homeowners as demand to list independent properties continues to rise sharply in vacation rental market. Property managers, which have sometimes thousands of properties and require account managers, custom technical integrations and more, have different requirements than independent homeowners. We’ve set our rates to match these requirements, and these rates are very much in line with industry standards.” So the new emphasis will be given to individual homeowners and apartment renters as an industry-wide move.
  2. Booking.com’s participation on TripAdvisor’s instant booking platform Book on Oct 14, 2015 is a major win for TripAdvisor as Booking.com is the first OTA to do so, , likewise sister brands Priceline.com and Agoda.com will subsequently join in. This will give TripAdvisor a much wider hotel coverage and on the way to become a quasi-OTA.

Some final thoughts…

While Airbnb receives a higher publicity as a pioneer in the sharing economy and disruption services (together with Uber), the other 3 players are still one step behind in this field but their advantage is that they are the superpower houses in the OTA world so they will have more leeway to expand in a wider category of apartment and vacation rentals markets. This would be a highly competitive race that each player needs to answer these questions: What is your positioning, What is your niche, Where do you stand, and Where do you want to go. According to Expedia CFO Mark Okerstrom in his interview on Dec 2, 2015, the websites that have the most comprehensive set of lodging choices, whether they are hotels, vacation rentals, apartments or igloos, will dominate. He predicted this will be the future of travel in lodging.

Published on my LinkedIn profile


The competitive landscape in the online travel industry – Game of Scale


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Online travel industry is one of the most competitive, highly dynamic, and fast-moving industries. There are a lot of M&A activities of the big players to increase their market shares and strengthen their brands.

OTA (Online Travel Agencies): For online travel, this is the game of 3 superpowers – Expedia, Priceline, and TripAdvisor. Google considers being a new but deep-pocketed player. Competition is fierce in this industry and scale matters. Let’s list down their key moves in the past year.

#1: The Priceline Group

Fact sheet:

  • 6 primary brands: Booking.com, Priceline.com, Agoda.com, Kayak.com, Rentalcars.com, Open Table
  • Operations: 200 countries
  • Share price (NASDAQ: PCLN): US$ 1,244.99 (Nov 27, 2015)
  • Market cap: US$ 61.97B (Nov 27, 2015)
  • CEO: Darren Huston

Key acquisitions: The Priceline Group purchased Booking.com (a global online hotel agent with strong foothold in Europe, HQ in Amsterdam) in 2005, acquired Agoda.com (an Asian-based online hotel agent) in 2007, TravelJigsaw (a rental care service company, now changed name to rentalcars.com) in 2010, KAYAK (the meta travel search company that focuses on flights) in 2013, and OpenTable (online real-time restaurant reservation service) in 2014 for US$ 2.6B. Priceline also bought a minority stake in Ctrip.com (the largest OTA in China) in 2014.

The most exciting news of 2015: TripAdvisor and The Priceline Group announce Instant Booking partnership on Oct 14, 2015. Booking.com joins major hotel chains in Book on TripAdvisor to enable users to book hotels right on TripAdvisor. With instant booking, travelers will be able to see Booking.com-branded hotel listings and can simply click on the “Book Now” button to book on TripAdvisor directly. TripAdvisor and The Priceline Group’s partnership could hurt Expedia’s volumes from TripAdvisor.

#2: Expedia

Fact sheet:

  • Brands: Expedia.com (full-service OTA), Hotels.com (hotel-only OTA), Hotwire.com, Trivago (hotel metasearch company), Egencia (corporate travel management company – TMC), Venere, CarRentals.com, Expedia Affiliate Network, eLong, Travelocity, wotif.com, Orbitz, HomeAway, etc.
  • Operations: 60 countries
  • Share price (NASDAQ: EXPE): US$ 123.62 (Nov 27, 2015)
  • Market cap: US$ 16.15B (Nov 27, 2015)
  • CEO: Dara Khosrowshahi

Key acquisitions: Expedia bought Wotif.com (Australian OTA) in Oct 2014, acquired Travelocity from Sabre in Jan 2015, purchased Orbitz in Feb 2015, took majority stake (75%) in Expedia’s AirAsia joint venture (AAE Travel Pte Ltd) in Jun 2015, and acquired HomeAway (vacation rentals service) in Nov 2014 for US$ 3.9B (biggest purchase till date)

The most exciting news of 2015:

  1. Expedia bought Orbitz on Feb 12, 2015 to take on Priceline, seeking to reclaim the lead in global online travel bookings from Priceline Group and fend off new competitors such as Google. This move also continues the M&A trend in the travel industry. But while Priceline has made only a few acquisitions, Expedia has shown more willingness to buy up brands to gain market share and scale (Expedia’s market share will move up to 6% after Orbitz acquisition, according to Euromonitor International).
  2. Expedia announces acquisition of HomeAway for US$ 3.9B on Nov 4, 2015 (the transaction would close in Q1 2016). The Expedia – HomeAway combination would displace Booking.com as the world’s largest lodging seller in terms of numbers of hotels, vacation rentals and apartments. Expedia would offer at least 1.5M properties (officials said), compared with Booking.com’s 821,400.

To answer to TripAdvisor’s booking partnership with the Priceline Group on Oct 14, 2015, Expedia-owned Trivago (a meta travel search company) has launched hotel bookings on its site and app in Germany, and plans to expand it into English-speaking countries. Expedia also plans to test the Book on Google feature (as Google intends to have hotel bookings on its search pages and Google Maps).

#3: TripAdvisor

Fact sheet:

  • A travel review and meta travel search company, with 290 million reviews and opinions covering 5.3 million accommodations, restaurants, and attractions
  • Brands: Viator, FlipKey (US), Holiday Letting (UK)
  • Operations: 45 countries
  • Share price (NASDAQ: TRIP): US$ 82.79 (Nov 27, 2015)
  • Market cap: US$ 11.94B (Nov 27, 2015)
  • CEO: Stephen Kaufer
  • Expedia spun off TripAdvisor in 2013

Key acquisitions: TripAdvisor acquired a majority stake in FlipKey.com (a vacation-rental website) in 2008, purchased holidaylettings.co.uk (UK’s largest independent vacation rental site) in 2010, and bought Viator in Jul 2014

The most exciting news of 2015: TripAdvisor launched its instant booking platform in June 2014. Book on TripAdvisor enables consumer to book hotels on TripAdvisor sites and apps instead of their having to navigate to third-party websites and possibly getting lost in the switch. Since launch Book on TripAdvisor is a marketing channel used primarily by major hotel chains such as Marriott, Accor, Best Western, Mandarin Oriental, Choice Hotels, Carlson Rezidor, and Preferred Hotels Group.  Thus Booking.com’s participation in Book on TripAdvisor on Oct 14, 2015 is a major win for TripAdvisor as Booking.com is the first major OTA to do so, likewise sister brands Priceline.com and Agoda.com will subsequently join in. This will give TripAdvisor a much wider hotel coverage and on the way to become a quasi-OTA.

What does this mean for travelers and consumers?

With the M&A booms that happen in the online travel industry, travelers and consumers will be able to buy everything they need through one platform as travel companies have become more diversified. In addition, alternative lodging sector, i.e. sharing economy – apartment and vacation rentals has become an increasingly important lodging sector that gives travelers a much wider choice of accommodation options. We will see more consolidation in the overall online travel category as the big will get bigger and the game is all about scale.

My next post will focus on: The competitive landscape in the apartment and vacation rentals market – The race with Airbnb

Published on my LinkedIn profile

What do you fear most?


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If asked “What do you fear most?”, most of people will answer “I fear nothing!”. I did this too when my wife ask me recently. After reading chapter 15 of “Think and Grow Rich”- Napoleon Hill, I know that I was wrong & ignorant. I don’t know that I don’t know.

There are six basic fears that most people fall into

– The fear of POVERTY

– The fear of CRITICISM

– The fear of ILL HEALTH

– The fear of OLD AGE

– The fear of DEATH


Any other fears are less importance or can be categorised into these 6 categories. If you want to be success in life, you must avoid falling to any of these 6 fear traps. Because fear creates doubt, it brings negative energy to our mind, give us negative thoughts, leads to bad actions that do harm to ourselves and people around us. Let’s look at each of them

The fear of POVERTY

The fear of POVERTY does not sound familiar to people like you and me, my friend, who read this blogpost because I guess most of us came from middle class family and have never experienced poverty.  But the fear of POVERTY is the most destructive  of the six basic fears. “It can destroy one’s chances of achievement in any undertaking. This fear paralyses the faculty of reason, destroys the faculty of imagination, kills off self-reliance, undermines enthusiasm, discourages initiative, leads to uncertainty of purpose, encourages procrastination, wipes out enthusiasm and make self-control an impossibility. It takes charm from one’s personality, destroys the possibility of accurate thinking, diverts concentration of effort, it masters persistence, turns the willpower into nothingness, destroys ambition, beclouds the memory and invites failure in every conceivable form. It kill love and assassinates the finer emotions of the heart, discourage friendships and invites disaster in a hundred forms, leads to sleeplessness, misery and unhappiness. Nothing brings so much suffering and humility as POVERTY”. No wonder why the poor gets poorer and the rich get richer.

If you are feeling down because of your financial situation, take it as a push factor to learn faster, work harder, stop giving excuses and procrastinate, make plan with determined goal and execute it. It’s not your fault to be born in poverty but it’s your fault to die in poverty.

The fear of CRITICISM

This is the invisible killer. Most people do not feel comfortable when criticised. Too much critics make a person depressed and despondent. “The fear of criticism robs people of their initiative, destroys the power of imagination, limits their individuality and takes away their self-reliance, and does them damage in a hundred other ways.” Parent who criticise their child too much will plant fear or resentment in the child’s heart.

If you are parent, do not criticise your child (especially young kids) but give constructive suggestions. You must not blame them for their failure. The child (especially young kids) might not know what to do or how to solve the problem by themselves.

If you are criticised, don’t feel offended, but try to listen and analyse the critics. We all make mistake, but the important thing is know how to learn from mistakes and avoid making same mistake.


These fears are very common and they are related. We human being are smart but weak. Our life time is limited and it’s very short. Don’t waste time worrying.

If you are concerned about your health, go to see a doctor instead of google, self-analyse and worry. You must start making good habit of exercise, consume healthy food & drink, have a healthy lifestyle.

If you think you are aging, you are not as fast and strong as you used to be, that you are “slipping” because of age, most likely that you are just overthink. The truth is that some of our most useful years are those in later life, when you reach stability financially and mentally, when you experience life long enough to find out the mission of your life.

The fear of death is the most useless. Death will come, no matter what you think about it. Nobody can escape the circle of life. If you have ever concern about death, I suggest that you go and watch a lot of ghost movies, you will see after life might be quite fun.


This is the most painful of all the six basic fears because love is one of the most positive emotion. We all wants to love and be loved.

One of the distinguishing symptom of this fear is jealousy. It’s the state of mind that affect your fair judgment to everything that presented to you. You hate your friend because he/she is smarter/prettier than you. Everything he/she say or do irritates you. That is because you afraid everyone else will love him/her more than you. Does this sounds familiar to you?

Further symptoms are a general suspicion on everyone, absolute faith in no one and finding fault with friends, relatives, colleagues and your loved ones upon the smallest thing or without any cause whatsoever.

Remember that all of the fears are just states of mine, nothing else. Our mind is like a garden and states of mind are the seeds. If you plant the bad seed, it will grow and give bad fruits. Your mission in life is to achieve success. To be successful, you must find peace of mind, live life to the fullest and attain happiness. Then why don’t you fill your garden with the good seeds of desire, belief, confidence, health-conscious , hope, love, friendship… then there will be no space for the bad seed to grow.


Steve Pham