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I write with no particular theme in mind, because I am random like that.

Dec
17 2013

1:02 AM

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A world where numbers define your reputation

After taking a hiatus from Carousell, I’ve decided to go back on it in a whim of boredom. My reasons for leaving previously was simple – there was no buyer/seller rating system in place. I’ve had my fair share of buyers backing out after confirming an item (which can be extremely frustrating for sellers), and eventually I decided enough was enough.

Since then, Carousell had implemented a ratings system and I noticed that things have become more civil. In fact, I was just quipping on Twitter earlier today that I’m enjoying Carousell much more than before.

I was really starting to enjoy the community. Most of my buyers were really personable, and the sellers I’ve dealt with so far have been amazing. Through Carousell, I’ve discovered home-grown handicraft artists such as Hanxi from Fresh from the Kiln and young, entrepreneurial girls as young as as 15 who DIY gift ideas such as Kerensa.

Not to mention the several others who have direct links with suppliers and conduct pre-orders on the platform to share the discounts with others – with a slight profit to themselves of course. (And honestly now, what else was I doing back then at 15 apart from whining about school?)

It was nothing short of wonderful… until I received my first negative feedback this evening.

It was a revenge feedback.

The feedback was left in response to a neutral feedback I’ve given a user for backing out after confirming for an item on my list over the weekend. (Though I was tempted to give a negative initially – I thought it was respectable of that user to at least inform me that she no longer wanted the item, so I gave a neutral.)

I’m not going to name the user since that would be ridiculously petty on my part, and we’ve since sorted things out. (Apparently, it was a misunderstanding – I’ve decided to just trust and let go.)

But it did get me thinking. About how rating systems could potentially backfire.

My response to this whole saga already says it all. I do pride myself in my ratings – because I always make an effort to make my buyers happy. Before leaving that neutral feedback, in fact, I did consider the possibility of my ratings being destroyed by a retaliatory feedback from an angry user. (And sure enough, it did happen.)

Now, I do wonder – exactly how many sellers have been in my same position before, and avoided leaving non-positive feedback for fear of receiving retaliatory negative feedback.

In fact after this, it is unlikely I will be using the rating system for anything other than leaving positive feedback, which will then defeat the purpose of a rating system to begin with. This whole negative feedback for negative feedback mentality is breeding an unhealthy culture around this rating system.

People think twice about calling out improper behaviour from other users, because that will mean putting their own reputation score on the line. While for every person who avoids giving negative feedback, means there’s someone else out there with a perfect reputation score who might be causing annoyance to the community.

Of course, it’s not easy to build a foolproof rating system. Such ‘retaliatory negative ratings’ can happen literally anywhere – I’ve seen it happen (although a lot less) on SGSellTrade (a Livejournal community for Singapore-based second-hand sellers) and a little on eBay (although I can’t gauge the extent for eBay because I very rarely use it – although a quick search on Google reveals some results). Although methinks Carousell is in a very ripe position to innovate on the feedback system since they are a very talented fellow startup.

Some ideas off-my-head;

1. Allow sellers to submit feedback for users only when that user has made an offer for his/her item.

2. Conversely, only allow buyers to submit feedback for users only when an item has been “marked as sold” to him/her.

3. Have a “dispute feedback” feature where buyers/sellers may start a private chat in relation to a neutral/negative rating they are unhappy about. This allows them to channel their angst elsewhere and reduce the number of revenge feedbacks.

In an ideal world, a user’s rating will be a true reflection of his/her trustworthiness and reliability. Unfortunately, this is reality where emotions (specifically, anger) usually triumph rationality.

Meanwhile, revenge negative ratings or not, I’ll just continue putting the human connection into every interaction I make on Carousell.

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Nov
26 2013

2013: Confessions of a workaholic + a year of regrets

This is the turning point. It will have to be.

I originally thought 2013 will be a much better year. It turned out to be much worse than 2012, and perhaps the second worst in my entire life. Sure, there were great moments here and there – travelling overseas and being a bridesmaid at my best friend’s wedding. But on the whole, 2013 was just … bad.

And there is no one to blame other than myself.

Losing my grandmother in April brought me down. Way, way down. During her death and the subsequent funeral, I was basically expressionless, numb to everything that was going on around me. Not because I wasn’t close to her, but because I was in shock. And everything happened too fast.

Prior to her death, I only knew she had stage 4 cancer 5 days before.

And I hated myself for it. Chinese New Year 2013 turned out to be the last ever Chinese New Year I would ever have with her. And what was I doing then? I WENT HOME early during the festivities at her place because I had a client deadline to meet, and I actually put my client deadline as a higher priority over Chinese New Year with her and my extended family. What the fuck was I doing?

And even while I was physically there, mentally I wasn’t. My mind was someplace else. Even when I was speaking to my cousins, I was basically bitching about how I have stuff to do at home, as if my work was more important than all of them combined.

But seriously, even if she turned out to be well this year, it shouldn’t have made a difference. Must someone come down with cancer before I realize that I should be spending more time with him/her?!

It’s a bloody huge wake up call. I’ve made some horrible decisions which I’m still bitter about until today.

It was this year when I realized my priorities were wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.

It was only after my grandmother’s death when I began to evaluate my own life more closely, and I realized I have not been treasuring the people around me enough. How many times have I turned someone down for dinner or a weekend out because I wanted to do my work? Way too many times.

Meeting my extended family at my grandmother’s place used to be a weekly affair. How many times have I gone there last year and this year? Apart from Chinese New Year, zilch.

How many times have I promised to have dinner with my parents only to have my coding work overrun (usually due to bad time management and over-zealousness, like starting a new task at 6pm) and end up cancelling, promising to have dinner with them “next time”? I have lost count.

Here’s me announcing on Facebook in 2011 that I won’t be free for an entire month because I had stuff I wanted to do.

screenshot_facebook2011

And here’s another status update from last year when I mentioned that I’ll be missing my grandmother’s birthday because I couldn’t finish what I had sought to do for the day.

Facebook status on November 25th 2012.

That turned out to be her LAST BIRTHDAY.

Seriously. What was I thinking? Has my workaholism blinded me to the fact that other people exist?

Ironically, I started becoming extra-paranoid that I might lose anyone at anytime. In fact, I started to worry about every single damned thing.

When my favourite cousin flew to Vancouver, I was left there wondering whether the airport send-off be the last time I see him. When any of my parents go to the dentist/sees a doctor for any reason, whatsoever, I’d be worrying up a storm. Worry, worry, worry – that was what I kept doing.

Health-wise, it’s been major roller-coaster ride which hasn’t yet ended.

(At this point, let me pause to add a little disclaimer: Cousins and relatives, after reading from here on – please do not approach my parents with questions. I just want to be left alone. Thanks.)

I have a chronic autoimmune illness which went into remission early last year after I painstakingly fought it for a year and a half since late 2010. It relapsed early this year after a bad bout of flu, brought upon by an entire week of late-nights to meet a client deadline (same old story). Needless to say, my immune system into a decline for the rest of the year and since then, it’s been a never ending cycle of falling sick – getting well (briefly) and falling sick all over again.

Being someone who has had chronic illnesses since 2008, I should be no stranger to “pacing myself” and “taking rests were necessary” by now.

Apparently not. I still went at full force. It was only from the later part of this year where I started to slow down a little – but somehow, my immune system just wasn’t holding up even with my slower pace.

Recently, faced with a couple of spotty lung x-rays and abnormal blood test results, I am now at a point where I realize I may have just done irreversible damage to myself.

—–

I always pride myself in loving what I do. Even today, I remain just as passionate for entrepreneurship, the start-up scene, and what I do in general – which is a myriad of writing code, designing, web marketing, giving talks about gamification – all the things I love.

Whenever anyone asked me whether I was “undergoing stress”, my answer was usually a straight-out no. And I wasn’t lying. I actually enjoyed it.

But still, there is still something called “overdoing it”. Passion can be a silent killer that blinds you from reality, and you don’t realize that you’ve overstepped the mark until you get hit from behind.

And from the looks of it, I’ve overstepped the limit.

2013. It was a huge (probably, much needed) emotional, physical and mental jolt. The cumulative effect of everything that has happened this year has drained me entirely. I’ve lost all motivation for everything. What I love to do, suddenly doesn’t seem as appealing. I’m just completely demoralized at how I’ve just lost complete control of everything – my own health included, which I cannot stop worrying for right now. I’m just so angry at what I’ve done.

Yet somehow, I’m rather amazed at how I can still put on a close-to-normal front when facing other people. Although from the looks of my recent Facebook posts and this blog entry, that facade is fast disappearing.

I have to start re-evaluating my priorities.

I love my work. But I also love my family, my friends and myself.

2013 has taught me way too much:

1. About the importance of treasuring the people I have around me and not take it for granted that they will always be there.

2. That if I lose my own health, I basically have nothing. And it WILL be a long struggle back up.

I used to think I was superwoman, or an “Energizer Bunny” – a nickname given to me by many people. But today, I know who I am. I’m a human being. And like everyone else, I am not infallible.

I will bounce back eventually. I’m certain about that. The only thing I’m not certain about is when.

As for 2014, I only have one resolution right now. To stay alive, and to live as if 2014 will be my last year on Earth. (Okay, that’s two resolutions.)

Nov
25 2013

Flea markets are fulfilling, but tiring.

So I participated in what is (hopefully) my last ever flea market. Not because it was a bad experience. But it was tedious, tiresome and absolutely dusty. And on top of that, I was into my 8th consecutive day of running a fever.

The flea market venue was at Level 6 of Lucky Plaza, with ForFleaSake as the organizer. Venue wise, it was in this old, rather unkempt warehouse-like area which was extremely dusty. All of us were wearing face masks and yet we were still sneezing our noses off. It was that bad. (Warning: face masks are a must should you ever do a flea at this place.) I don’t quite see how it justifies a booth rental of $100/table.

But venue aside, let’s talk about sales.

This time round, I went with a slightly different mentality. Formerly, I’d attend each flea market with the intention to maximize the amount of moolah I could earn per item. I had this mentality for the past 5 flea markets I took part in and eventually realized the hard way that I was simply spoiling the fun of flea markets both for the shoppers and myself.

For the shoppers, the thrill is in the hunt for good, cheap buys. And as a seller, most of us go with the intention of clearing our wardrobes of clothes which would otherwise be left sitting there for months or even years. People are offering you cash to get all these junk out of your rooms. LET THEM. For you, the thrill is going home with an empty suitcase.

The clientele of this particular flea market is 90% Filipinos and the remaining 10% comprising a mix of local youths and young adults. Normally, this makes for a rather cheapskate crowd with weak buying-power – but not if you shift your perspective a little.

Indeed, it is ridiculous how they’d bargain for an item to be $2 when you’re selling it at an already low price of $5. Or how they’d be bargaining for $1 when you’ve already dropped your price to $2 before. I still faced this today (some things never change), but I was trying to look past all that.

Instead, I chatted with some of them to learn more about them and discovered that hey, these people don’t necessarily bargain because they are trying to get cheap fashion buys for themselves or to resell elsewhere.

Like this lady whom I offered a mirror to, who rejected me gently, informing me that she was “choosing clothes to put in my box to send to my family back home”.

And this other young-looking Filipino who sheepishly told me that she liked my clothing because she has a young daughter who has the same style as me. She wanted to get some for her because “she would really like it.”

As soon as I heard their stories, I began slashing my prices like crazy just for them. There’s no greater satisfaction knowing that my things are going to people who will appreciate them. And that counts a lot more than an additional dollar’s earnings or two.

The latter Filipino also brought several of her friends (who eventually became customers) to my booth because “I was nice and she really liked me”.

These people are not cheapskates. Most of these Filipinos are maids on their off-day and here they are, spending their hard-earned money on things for their families back home. And it’s not like they earn a lot to begin with. (Three digit monthly salary, anyone?) These people are amazingly generous. And they bargain because they only have this amount of money, and they want to use this amount to send as many things back as possible.

Of course, I’m not speaking for the obviously rich people who flaunt their branded handbags and refuse to spend $2 more on your brand-new dress. (I didn’t manage to speak to them to learn about their stories – not that they’d even want to talk to me anyway. :P) But for them, they’re still in the thrill of a good bargain-chase. We can’t fault them (too much) for that I guess.

As for how I performed today, I went with a huge luggage full of clothes, shoes and bags and returned home with an empty suitcase and only around 75 buckeroos for my time and effort (after deducting the booth rental price, split among 3 friends and myself). Still, I’m amazingly happy.

But I’m so physically tired I don’t think I ever want to do this again.

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