“Running Against Time”

Closing remarks for Hack for Health Hackathon

Six months ago, when I newly got diagnosed with lung cancer, my yoga instructors told me this “You hardly hear about cancer survivors story because most of them busy living their lives rather than writing anything on Internet” I wondered, ‘How busy could a cancer patient life would be?”

In my entire life, I always run against time, whether in my career, coming to a party, or simply running after a bus in the morning. You might call it’s an frantic life! But to me, it’s a preparation from God for my unexpected journeys.

When I was twenty, unlike most people coming to USC with full preparation for their college. I was the most unprepared person among all, I struggled passing every single CS class that I took. However, there is one thing that I love about USC, that’s the Hackathon. There was not that many Hackathon at USC 10 years ago, we might only 2–3 good ones every semester. I learned most of my coding at those Hackathon event. And that’s where I’ve met my co-founder for my first mobile development company, GreenGar. Together, we won 3 different prizes in all the Hackathon that we participated. However, from college hackathon projects or classroom projects to a company is very far. By the time that I graduated, my co-founder already earn one year USC tuition with the apps that he published on AppStore, while I took a different path to go back to Vietnam. In late 2010, we’ve met again in Vietnam and decided to build a mobile company together.

However, finding iOS or Android developers are ridiculously hard in Vietnam at that time regardless how much money we spend for recruiting ads. Out of frustration, I went to the best University of Science in Vietnam and ask them to let me organize a Mobile Hackathon. I still remember I was sitting in front of the house of President of school at 6.30 am in the morning to ask for his permission. And again, out of frustration with me, he gave me the permit!

However, that was just the start! We had no sponsors, 90% of students did not own a Mac, and more than 70% of them want to learn iPhone development. Moreover, the school WiFi system simply didn’t exist back then — well, technically, it does, just not for 100 concurrent connections. I pull off that event by cooking all the foods 3 meals a day for 100 hackers, all 5 engineers has to setup Hackintosh for over 50 different laptops, and the entire school network and back-end system for the school. Not yet to mentioned, we have to hold 4 different workshops to tech students about mobile development. At the closing ceremony, we don’t have money to give students any meaningful prizes; but the hackers cried because they never thought they could learn and build anything so quickly. We completed 21 mobile apps and games in that Hackathon, and dozens among those 100 hackers of that Hackathon now holding very senior positions in technology company in Vietnam. That was something I did not imagine 6 years ago!

From that Hackathon, we continued building GreenGar with many talented engineers from Vietnam and Los Angles. In 2013, we became the very first Vietnamese company got accepted to 500 Startups Accelerator Program. By the end of 2013, our company has more than 15 million users, and put into the bank over $1 million in cash.

When my co-founder left the company, I then spin-off to co-found another company called Tappy. We raised our seed round of funding from angel investors in Vietnam, Singapore, and Silicon Valley — and exited 10 months after the company founded through an acquisition. It was the fastest exit and the very first Vietnamese company got acquired by a Silicon Valley company.

After a year of working in Silicon Valley, I decided to go off, travel around the world, and persuade my passion in movie. I rent a car, drove across America, go hiking and camping for 2 months in State Parks and National Parks. However, on the day my documentary movie has the world’ first premiere, I was in so much pain because I was diagnosed with lung cancer. I could barely eat or talk for almost 2 weeks. For the first time in my life, I felt the death so close. I went to bed every night and asked myself, “What if I don’t wake up tomorrow?” — And the answer is, “I have nothing to regret about”

The sad truth is, “The chance of any human being to die is 100% whether you have cancer or not” — our death is simply inevitable. Therefore, the only day that’s matter is today! We neither can change the past or predict the future.

So, today, at this closing ceremony, this is not the end, but it’s the start of the entirely new journey for all of us. There are so many unique things and so many people I want to appreciate for pulling this event together. Four months ago, when I walked into Kuhn Lab for a meeting with Jerry. I did not know what to expect beside sharing my personal journey as a patients. However, out of frustration, I created this Hackathon. Instead of me sitting there try to come up with 10 different product and spend 10 months for each (which I don’t know if I will have enough time), why don’t we just ask the people who has the same passion come together, and built 10 different product in one weekend, and hopefully to continue spending the next 10 months, or 10 years to beat this stupid cancer together.

I’m here to welcome all of you to be the proud members (and the very first ones as well) of the CancerBase Community — we hope this community gonna continue growing, attract more talented engineers, doctors, patients, scientist to have more conversation, to share, to learn and to grow together.

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