“Climbing Mt. Fuji:” David Walks Episode 13 with Designer Lenny Hu

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David Smooke:         Hello and welcome to a long anticipated return of David Walks. I’m here with Lenny Hu … That’s Lenny. He is a designer, musician/adventurer (and works for Knowtify). We wanted to start this walk with a story I wanted to hear and haven’t heard before. It’s about the day Lenny decided to climb Mount Fuji.

Lenny Hu:                   The story of Mount Fuji, think it’s Fuji.

David Smooke:         Fuji.

Lenny Hu:                   Fuji.

David Smooke:         That’s where the water comes from?

Lenny Hu:                   Yeah, that’s where they say the water comes from.

David Smooke:         It doesn’t come from there?

Lenny Hu:                   I don’t know. I use those Fuji water bottles.

David Smooke:         I read it was their number one export, the water. I don’t think it’s a very big area.

Lenny Hu:                   I don’t know. That’s where [inaudible 00:50] is from. I believe it.

David Smooke:         I’ve heard bits of the story. By bits, I mean, very little.

Lenny Hu:                   What have you heard so far?

David Smooke:         Only what you put on the internet. That’s all I heard. Now we’re going to put more things on the internet about what the story is.

Where does it start?

Lenny Hu:                   I think it was two years ago where a bunch of buddies and I, we were in Japan for vacation for two weeks. One day we woke up and we didn’t have any plans. We were thinking, “Okay, well, we’re in Japan. We ought to do something today. What do you guys want to do?” I’m like, “Hey, wait a minute. We’re in Tokyo. We’re in Japan. Isn’t Mount Fuji in Japan? You guys want to go climb Mount Fuji?”

David Smooke:         For some reason, I pictured the story starting in America.

Lenny Hu:                   No. It was in Japan, because Mount Fuji’s in Japan. It was nine in the morning, I’m like, “Hey, you guys want to climb Mount Fuji?” We looked it up and it turns out that Mount Fuji is only two hours away from Tokyo. Like, “Hey, guys, we can totally do it. Let’s do it tomorrow.” We started planning this out. The more we’re planning, we’re thinking, “Well, you know what? We came all the way to Japan. Why would we waste the day? We don’t we try to climb it tonight.”

David Smooke:         How long does it take to climb? How big is it?

Lenny Hu:                   It’s about an eight hour climb. That’s what it says on the website, it was eight hour climb. I was reasoning that it says eight hours, but that’s pertaining to people who are really slow. We’re a bunch of guys. We can probably do it in half the time, guys. Then we thought it was a good idea. “Yeah, let’s go climb at night. There’s no problem.” People actually do climb Mount Fuji at night and see the sunrise. It was cool.

Then we went to the hostel people and we started talking to them and told them our idea. Those guys were like, “You guys are crazy. You shouldn’t do it because Mount Fuji’s actually closed, actually dangerous.” This was in late May, by the way. We asked them, “Well, what does closed mean? Are there like policemen there?”

David Smooke:         Like an amusement park.

Lenny Hu:                   It’s a mountain. You can’t close a mountain.

David Smooke:         That’s reasonable.

Lenny Hu:                   Right, you can’t close a mountain.

David Smooke:         Was something lost in translation where ‘closed’ is more like ‘dangerous’?

Lenny Hu:                   That’s probably what they mean. Then since we were all the way in Japan, we didn’t want to waste a day. I told my buddies, “Hey, those hostel guys, they don’t know what we’re talking about,” like I know what the hell I’m talking about. I’ve never been to Mount Fuji. Look, it’s late May, it was closed. Why the hell is it closed? There’s not going to be snow up there, it’s summer. It’s late in May. Fuck it. They can’t stop us. We’ll just go. We’ll hop in the bus and we’ll go.

We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping for gear. We got some backpacks, and some bread and water, and flashlights, and everything. Then we got on a bus. It was a two hour ride and we went to Lake Kawaguchiko Station. Then we got off the bus and then we weren’t really sure what to expect. We didn’t have a plan or anything. We didn’t even have a map.

David Smooke:         You figured what? You get off the bus, it’s a pretty big mountain, it’s going to hard to miss. You go where the elevation is higher and before you know it, four hours later, you’re at the top.

Lenny Hu:                   Exactly. We’re like, “It’s a mountain. Why would we need a map? We get off at the closest station and we’ll see it from there.” We’re like, “It’s a freaking mountain. We’ll walk towards the mountain. Easy.” It was raining that night, there was nobody out. It was raining and nobody out, we couldn’t see shit. “Oh, no, what now? We came all the way here, we’re going to go climb the freaking mountain, we’re not going to turn back.” We actually ended up walking around town for like four hours, around town, I remember, it was around probably eleven p.m. We got off the bus around eight p.m., that was Lake Kawaguchiko.

We walked around for about three hours and then there was a 7-11 that was open. One of the guys, he kind of knew Japanese, he was in there. He was talking to them trying to get directions. I was waiting outside. He was talking in there for about fifteen minutes and he finally came out. I asked him, “What happened? Did we get directions to it or what?” He goes, “They said it was dangerous, we shouldn’t go, and they gave him some brochures and told us to stay the night in town.”

We were steadfast on climbing the mountain. We continued. Around twelve o’clock, we eventually saw a sign that said Mount Fuji, this direction. We’re, “Oh, great. Mount Fuji,” and we started walking, going up. It turns out, we didn’t discover this until about an hour and a half into the hike, that this wasn’t the trail you’re actually supposed to take. There’s a trail that goes straight up the mountain.

David Smooke:         Oh, you were taking the scenic route.

Lenny Hu:                   I was taking the route for buses which goes around the mountain that’s like three times as long.

David Smooke:         Did you turn back?

Lenny Hu:                   No, no, because we were like an hour and half hour way in. We were like, “We didn’t go back down, we keep going up.” We didn’t have a map so we didn’t know exactly how far it was. We kept going up. Imagine, it’s raining, you’re going up, there’s no lights. It’s pitch black and it’s raining. I felt like it was, you know how special forces when they train, they wake you up in the middle of the night and take you on a hike?

David Smooke:         Take you out in the middle of nowhere.

Lenny Hu:                   You don’t know where you’re going and you’re just walking. That’s how it felt like. We walked for about, I think, it must have been nine hours, for about nine hours until we reached the middle of the mountain. There was a rest stop in the middle of the mountain with some shops and stuff. Normally, there’s a bus that takes you up there when Mount Fuji is open so you don’t have to hike the bottom, from the base.

Since it was closed, we had to go up. It took us nine hours to get to the middle of the mountain and then we still had another four hour hike/climb to get to the top. We continued the climb. We were super exhausted. We’d been up, at that point, for like twenty four hours already. We walked all night while it was raining. Then we …

David Smooke:         Did you have good shoes?

Lenny Hu:                   We had walking sneakers.

David Smooke:         I’m trying to get sponsored by Nike. Actually, no, I am sponsored by Nike. I’ve been putting it in the podcasts. I’ve been trying to plug them any time I get the chance to talk about how good my Nikes are even though today I’m wearing really old ones because I got burnt yesterday in the storm of the decade, walking to work.

Did you make it to the top?

Lenny Hu:                   There was a really good reason why it was closed. In fact, those guys at the hostel weren’t bullshitting because once I got up to a certain point, it was ice. It was all ice and snow so we couldn’t actually get to the top. We turned back.

David Smooke:         I bet the beginning was like you see a little bit of snow and you just keep going and going and then, at the point where it’s all snow …

Lenny Hu:                   It was all snow and then it was like a wall of snow, like elevation got really steep all of a sudden. You couldn’t see the ground. It was just snow and ice.

David Smooke:         You think there’s a life lesson hidden in there?

Lenny Hu:                   Life lesson is, “Just do it. Just do it.” It was an adventure. It was a good adventure. It was a really good adventure because we did Tough Mudder. A couple of the guys from the Mount Fuji group, we ended up doing Tough Mudder a couple of months later. I think it was in July. Then, I think, Tough Mudder seemed really easy to us because it was fake.

David Smooke:         I’ve never done it.

Lenny Hu:                   It’s this crazy obstacle course that’s like a ten mile obstacle course where you run, run through mud.

David Smooke:         Did you do the whole tires on your knees and the wires? Did you climb over a wall, just like the army movies?

Lenny Hu:                   Exactly.

That mentally felt really easy because we’re like, “It’s fake.” There’s people here to rescue us. Mount Fuji was real. You’re out in the wild. That was it. We ended up walking all night, like twelve hours, more than that actually. We got to the top and realized, “Oh, those hostel guys weren’t bullshitting.”

David Smooke:         Do you feel there’s lessons that you’re now find your startup business?

Lenny Hu:                   Everything is easy. Everything feels easy after Mount Fuji. Then, I forgot, on the way back, there’s a bus that picks you up and takes you down to the base of the mountain. A couple of buddies of mine wanted to wait for the bus, the wait was, maybe, two hours away. For some reason, I had a second wind and I said, “Wait a minute, we walked all the way up, why don’t we run down and save money for the bus.” The bus was twenty bucks, by the way.

David Smooke:         Twenty American dollars?

Lenny Hu:                   Twenty American dollars.

David Smooke:         Did you try and give him American dollars? What’s the situation over there?

Lenny Hu:                   I reasoned, why waste my money. I’m actually feeling energetic for some reason and I decided to run down instead.

David Smooke:         That sounds slippery.

Lenny Hu:                   Ended up taking a wrong road actually. I didn’t know where I was, but I knew I was still going down so that’s all that mattered.

David Smooke:         Somewhat reasonable.

Did everyone else take the wrong road too?

Lenny Hu:                   No, no. They waited for the bus and I told them, “No, we can …”

David Smooke:         You’re the only one running down the hill?

Lenny Hu:                   I was the only one running down the hill.

David Smooke:         That’s independent.

Lenny Hu:                   Save money.

David Smooke:         When did you find them again?

Lenny Hu:                   Some guy who happened to be driving around Mount Fuji that day, bumped into me. Not physically, hit me, but he stopped and said, “Hey, come over here,” and he asked me where I as going. I said, “Well, Kawaguchiko Station.” He was, “Cool, get in my car. It’s great, get in my car.” I got in his car.

David Smooke:         Hitchhiking in a foreign country.

Lenny Hu:                   It turns out this guy used to do business in Houston and Boston, and things like that. He spoke English pretty well actually. He drove me back. Then I showed up at the train station. My friends thought I was going to be gone for good. They thought, “Oh, Lenny, oh. He’s going to be missing now.” Then, all of a sudden, I show my face. He’s like, “Lenny, how did you do that? How did you just appear. I thought you were gone. We were going to call the police.”

David Smooke:         I don’t know about these friends not running down the hill with you. I think they probably should have.

Lenny Hu:                   No, they were dead beat. They were done. Remember, we’d been walking for fifteen hours.

David Smooke:         That’s true. It does seem like a decent time to spend twenty dollars. Very reasonable.

Lenny Hu:                   Maybe they were reasonable. It’s nice out in the Embarcadero area?

David Smooke:         Yep. It’s a lot different than yesterday.

Lenny Hu:                   Some crazy guy doing …

David Smooke:         Think you’ll be okay with the picture? Do you got your phone? I don’t want to mess up my microphone here. Actually, he does have weapons. Unsolicited photography is an interesting debate.

Lenny Hu:                   It is.

David Smooke:         You look at all the good photographers that are out doing it, but I guess if you’re in public, it’s like kind of public.

Lenny Hu:                   That’s why I want to have a gopher on me all the time so I don’t have to feel like I’m being intrusive because I’m always taking photos.

David Smooke:         I have a bad product idea. This one, I’ve said it before, but it was called 24 Selfie. What it was, was a halo you’d put around your head, with, basically one of those Selfie arms coming out of it, but the camera always taking selfies of you.

Lenny Hu:                   That’s great.

David Smooke:         Then what it would do, it would take a picture of your face once an hour for the rest of your life, then upload it to all your social networks.

Lenny Hu:                   That’s great.

David Smooke:         Every single hour of your life, aging, documented.

Lenny Hu:                   That’s kind of depressing.

David Smooke:         I didn’t try to get funding for it or anything, but I used to pitch it like kind of funny. Now it seems a little too real, like somebody would actually sell that to somebody. The whole Selfie thing.

Lenny Hu:                   It’s not bad actually because there’s the Selfie Stick and it requires you to use a hand.

David Smooke:         You’ve got to cut off a hand.

Lenny Hu:                   I feel like we’re trending toward the wearable nowadays so I think it’s a very reasonable product.

David Smooke:         It would also double down as like a halo on your head, probably some good karma there. Maybe it’s the 24 Angel.

Lenny Hu:                   24 Angel. That’s a reasonable product name.

David Smooke:         Sounds like an airplane the military would buy, the 24 Angel.

Lenny Hu:                   14 Angel, like Google missile launchers.

David Smooke:         Probably like killing people and stuff.

What kinds of trends have you been seeing in design lately?

Lenny Hu:                   I’d say, trends in design … I don’t know, Mobile First?

David Smooke:         If you go to any conference, you can start like that.

Lenny Hu:                   Oh, my God, I love Bubble Thirst. Talk about Bubble Thirst. Then ninety nine percent of the [inaudible 16:00] will stand up, “What? Bubble Thirst?”

David Smooke:         I think it’s almost saturating though. I think it’s saturating, almost, for people, I don’t know, it’s at the point where it doesn’t mean anything. I saw something this week, Facebook’s traffic on your browser’s down five percent year over year right now. The article’s accrediting it to the rise of use of mobile apps, but then, at the same time, it doesn’t say how much the use of mobile apps went up. It’s like this article, where you get, “Here’s this situation where Facebook is down five and a half percent over the last year, October to October, but, and you’re accrediting the solution to mobile and how they’re downloading apps, but nobody, but I don’t know … Maybe I’ve just to do more research.

Then, I also wanted to create a study about how to cross reference website traffic with stock prices.

Lenny Hu:                   Website traffic to stock prices. That makes sense.

David Smooke:         I think if you do it, you just spend enough time with those two stats and then you cross reference industry in time periods, you can find something where it’s like … Basically my underlying assumption is that traffic is money. Then if you understand the big macro trends of traffic, in some way, you have a better insight into the stock market …

Lenny Hu:                   That’s true.

David Smooke:         Than a lot of other people.

Lenny Hu:                   You can also argue that you could correlate Twitter followers with [inaudible 17:38] as well. You, for instance, you have like six thousand …

David Smooke:         Yeah, six thousand of my closest friends.

Lenny Hu:                   You have so many friends, David.

David Smooke:         Yeah, my closest friends.

Lenny Hu:                   You’ve got six thousand followers so potentially you could be selling some of your followers, give them to other people. I’ll take some followers from you.

David Smooke:         If I were to give you followers so they wouldn’t be following me and then suddenly you would appear in their Newsfeed, then they would either have the choice to ignore it, taking action and unfollow you, or then interact with you. “Oh, I didn’t even realize I was following you, but, you’re actually cooler than David so this is all working out.” They probably forgot about me at that point.

Lenny Hu:                   Another solution is, you could set up a [inaudible 18:26] account and you could retweet everything I say. You just echo everything of mine. That’s a way around, since he can’t actually give you followers, he can just retweet my feeds, then …

David Smooke:         I actually retweeted myself last night.

Lenny Hu:                   Yourself.

David Smooke:         That’s one of the most absorbed things you can say. How I did it was, I have an account @SmookeWalks for this thing, but I was walking around yesterday and it was raining. I thought this was more appropriate to share with a walk as something I do. Then I retweeted it with my main account. There was a picture of everyone in the rain waiting in line to see a screening of Inherent Vice, the new Thomas Pynchon adaptation. The director was there yesterday.

Lenny Hu:                   I’ve never heard of that movie.

David Smooke:         It’s pretty new. I saw a preview in theaters. Basically, the whole thing’s like a gigantic dream. Pynchon’s really good about creating this whole new world where the next thing they do seems somewhat logical, but when you take a step back, you’re like, “I have no idea why any of these characters are doing anything.” In the very short moment, it makes sense why they’re all taking these next steps, but then as you’re trying to figure out, “What’s this person’s real overarching goal?” You really don’t know.

Lenny Hu:                   That’s amazing.

David Smooke:         Then characters keep reappearing at moments where you don’t think they belong, like a dream, where all these familiar people enter new settings.

Lenny Hu:                   That’s amazing. It’s a sign of a good director. He gets you into his movie where you’re not thinking as much. Where everything seems logical. It’s not.

David Smooke:         Did you cut your hair?

Lenny Hu:                   Yeah. You know what I notice in Twitter is, you could hashtag ‘sass‘ or ‘startup‘ or anything and people, regardless of what your actually Tweet is, there will be some people who will favorite it.

David Smooke:         It’s not a bad move for these early stage businesses and these people desperate for clients. Sass is pretty broad, but I’ll definitely see it. It’ll happen to me sometimes, you click on them and they have five thousand favorites and it’s the last five thousand Tweets with the hashtag.

Lenny Hu:                   I like writing messages, things like, “I like Nazis, #startup.” I get favorites. I get a bunch of favorites.

David Smooke:         You’ve done that?

Lenny Hu:                   I’ve done it before. It’s so random.

David Smooke:         That’s fucked up.

Lenny Hu:                   People favorited it. I’ll see how far to push it. I guess some of these people set up their automatic favorites in a better algorithm to not include certain terms.

David Smooke:         You have to make a long black list of what not to do. If it has this word and that word, stay away.

Lenny Hu:                   Nazis, no.

David Smooke:         You could use that almost universally across the program. You could have a list of the worst words in the world. If they use the hashtag and the worst word in the world, can’t do it. It wouldn’t be that hard.

Lenny Hu:                   Probably wouldn’t.

David Smooke:         Instagram, they announced they passed Twitter this week in user volume.

Lenny Hu:                   They did, yeah. They did.

You see Ev Williams response to that?

David Smooke:         No, I didn’t. What did he say?

Lenny Hu:                   It’s a pretty short response. Basically, he said, “I don’t give a shit.” Basically. I think that might have been a direct quote, but I could be wrong.

David Smooke:         That’s a great quote.

Lenny Hu:                   He reasoned that, “Look what Twitter is doing. They’re changing the world. Look at Instagram, people are just looking at pretty pictures. Twitter users are worth a lot more, or Twitter’s doing bigger things than Instagram is.”

David Smooke:         It sounds true, but … I don’t know. What I do think Instagram’s doing a huge thing, is how quickly they’re getting the picture to the network. Then, what I like, this is also because I tried to build something like it and failed, is, I like that they have pictures all over the world and I can do #Embarcadero. Right now, I can get hundreds of pictures from Embarcadero today. That’s pretty cool.

I say I want to walk over to the Embarcadero, we actually could have, if we cared about that, which we didn’t, so that’s maybe something about the value. We could have seen pictures of Embarcadero today.

Lenny Hu:                   We could have done our walk right from the office.

David Smooke:         It would have been cool to do the walk yesterday in the crazy rain.

Lenny Hu:                   It would’ve. It would’ve.

David Smooke:         Especially with the journey of the climb, some good background noise. Maybe we could put it in, in post-production …

Lenny Hu:                   That’s right.

David Smooke:         Which I’ve never done. Not a big fan. Haven’t done post-production before. Live in the sense that they hear it after we said it, but I don’t edit anything. Live would be kind of fun though.

Lenny Hu:                   Live would be kind of fun.

David Smooke:         Right now, it’s actually live and then …

Lenny Hu:                   Then people would be tweeting you like, “Hey, you guys are really boring.”

David Smooke:         “I thought this journey was going to be more interesting. I thought your insights would have been better.” That also assumes someone would tweet. I think if it was actually live right now, I don’t think people would respond.

Lenny Hu:                   I don’t know.

David Smooke:         Yeah, I don’t know either because it’s not.

Lenny Hu:                   You don’t know until you try it. Maybe you should tweet your six thousand followers and tell them you’re doing a live broadcast.

David Smooke:         I should send them all a personalized message about my live broadcast at three p.m. on Thursday.

Lenny Hu:                   You can totally do that.

David Smooke:         Six thousand personalized message to get twenty attendees.

Lenny Hu:                   That’s right.

David Smooke:         Trying to make my words go far.

Lenny Hu:                   Where’s your office?

David Smooke:         I’m on Tehama Street so basically we can move around yours then I’ll move around the block.

How long have you been in Startup Life?

Lenny Hu:                   Last seven months.

David Smooke:         Seven months? Where were you before that?

Lenny Hu:                   I wasn’t doing startup.

David Smooke:         You’re a professional musician?

Lenny Hu:                   Professional musician. No, I was a professional barister. I was working at Starbucks.

David Smooke:         Starbucks. Then you got plucked out of there to go into the grind?

Lenny Hu:                   That’s right. Ironic because at Starbucks, I was grinding beans, now I’m grinding the Startup Life so I’m still grinding, one way or another.

David Smooke:         It’s pretty much the same.

Lenny Hu:                   It’s pretty much the same. I recommend all Starbucks baristers to do it. I think this company, I’m the first employee of, with Derek and Dane, I would suggest that we hire barristers for the rest of the staff. We would train them to be engineers and designers.

David Smooke:         That would make for an awesome blog post.

Lenny Hu:                   We only hire Starbucks baristers, former …

David Smooke:         I’ll tell you what: If you can find the most talented barristers, it’s a big talent pool and there’s people who are probably willing to do something else, something more challenging. If you can figure out a good way to get the top half percent of those people, you’d probably get them at a good price too. Where you’re like, “Hey, you are a barister. We’re going to open a million doors for you and you won’t be a barister anymore.” Starbucks probably wouldn’t like you, unless you worked for Starbucks. Then you could work for Starbucks.

Lenny Hu:                   Maybe we can partner with Startups as one of the career partners where post Starbucks working.

David Smooke:         You’re taking the barister to more advanced positions in the company. I don’t know. It’s been a long week. This whole rain threw me off. We had an office half empty yesterday because the BART was shut down, half of the power went out in the whole north part of the city.

Lenny Hu:                   Were you surprised that there weren’t any protests yesterday?

David Smooke:         Oh, because of the … It’s the only thing that could have stopped them.

Lenny Hu:                   It would be hard though if they were protesting in the rain. They’re set on that. It’s crazy.

David Smooke:         That would be a, I think, a good sign that they’re actually … Yeah, protests in the rain.

You did nine hours up the hill and then a couple hours back down in the rain? No protests?

Lenny Hu:                   Nope. That was a tough day. That was a tough day. I think we got back to the hostel at around seven p.m. that night. Then, I think, we got in the hostel and someone asked us, “Hey, what are you guys doing tonight?” “I’m going to bed.” They’re like, “What? It’s only seven. Why so early?” “You have no idea. You have no idea”

David Smooke:         All right, man. Thanks for walking.

Lenny Hu:                   All right, man.