Whirling Thoughts

Chewing, swishing, and spitting thoughts out. Personal blog of Nicholas Chan.

Month: May 2017

Creating A Personality for Karl the Cactus

One of the things that I like about business is the idea of experimenting, coming up with new ideas, and testing them out. One thing that I really want to learn is e-commerce. The ins and outs of running a store, building a brand, and running campaigns to get attention and traffic.

Honestly, one of the things has always stopped me was that I needed to be 18 to open a credit card and handle this stuff on my own, and that I never had an idea.

Well today those obstacles are no long that big of a deal anymore. I’m 18, and I have a completely stupid, fun, and goofy idea for an ecommerce store. Really it’s not even an idea. It’s a plant. A cactus.

For no particular reason, I’ve always wanted a cactus. They’re so low maintenance, fairly aesthetic, and cute! Well my cousin was kind enough to give me this cactus for my birthday.

Like any business nerd should, I asked myself: “Can I make this cactus… a thing?? Can I sell stuff with it? Can I build a brand for it?”

I find questions like these really, really fun. So I have made it my side project of the summer to make Karl the Cactus go big. Specifically, I personally want to learn about Instagram, Shopify online stores, master Facebook Ads, and tell a great story. Call it my summer curriculum.


What do I want Karl to be? Easier, what should Karl the Cactus not be:

  1. Streetwear: too many people in that area + I have horrible taste in clothes + I’m not cool enough to wear those clothes + I have horrible taste in clothes
  2. Hardcore: Karl shouldn’t be some threatening, tough, motivational, multimillionaire guy. KARL SHOULD BE YOUR FRIEND
  3. A Plant: Huh?? What I mean is that Karl should be human, he should have personality, he isn’t just another one of those boring plants
  4. American: Come on… Canada > USA
  5. Hyper-realistic: I don’t need HD photos of a cactus. I suck at taking photos. It’s a lot more fun to take half-decent photos, overlay some nice filters / icons on snapchat and have a blast with this guy
  6. Mass Marketed: Karl isn’t for everybody. He’s a unique one-in-a-billion cactus that will cheer you up, and make you happy, and make you fall in love with his story. Not everyone has to love Karl, and that is a-ok
  7. Boring: Karl needs to have fun. Otherwise, he would just be another boring cactus

So let’s get into more detail about Karl. If I want him to have a personality, what should he stand for? What does he love? Where does he live? I wanted to ask myself a lot of questions and flesh out this idea and character a lot more. My thesis is that if I can tell a good story, if I can create a personality that people will love, the rest (sales!) will come.

This took me a lot longer than I wanted to, but a good starting point was given to me by a friend. What do you know a cactus for? We should make Karl the exact opposite.

A cactus is typically:

  1. Prickly
  2. Green
  3. Found in Deserts
  4. Lonely
  5. Loves the heat

So what are the opposites of these traits? What should Karl be?

  1. Prickly vs. Kind and cuddly, gotta bubble wrap those spikes
  2. Green vs … a cactus is always green, but maybe his favourite colour should be orange
  3. Deserts vs the Canadian Tundra, it’s official Karl is Canadian
  4. Lonely vs. Personable and wants to make friends, Karl really, really wants to meet new people
  5. Loves the Heat vs. Heavy Sunscreen User, burns easily

This is a lot of fun. More fun than I have had in a while. Let’s dig a little deeper. I mean, to stand out, Karl has to have a personality and a story that will make him different. It has to be something that a large group of people identify with and can fall in love with. I only get to tell this story once, so maybe I’ll figure out a way to run a few tests to see what people identify with more (if you have any ideas, please comment below)

One thing that comes up is that Karl should really, really have his own fears, vulnerabilities, and insecurities. That’s what ultimately makes us human right? It’s not about how smart or athletic or tall or whatever we are. It’s all the tiny little imperfections and doubts that truly make us unique and human.

I really don’t know what ticks with people, or what other people are feeling, so I figure that it’s best if I don’t worry about that, and give Karl some of the fears and nagging concerns that have bothered / continues to bother me to this day. Hmmm so Karl is probably going to be

  1. Concerned about finding friends and fitting in
  2. Scared of failure
  3. Being judged and criticized by others
  4. Lost

Man, Karl is starting to look like a bit of a downer. Why don’t I do the flip side? What does Karl stand for and believe in? What does he love in life?

  1. Happiness: Karl just wants to be happy and fulfilled
  2. Adventure! Always wants to go out, explore, and experience new things
  3. Curious, never stops asking questions. What is life? Whyyy do I exist?
  4. Persistent, if he can’t grow taller, he’s just going to keep on trying.

Finally, what are his quirks? I would say that this is what truly differentiates one person from the other. You can be twins, with the same DNA and everything, but you might love a lot of different things. For me, my quirk is that I love dancing, hate raw tomatoes, and really like kayaking. For someone like my sister, she loves yo-yoing, LEGO, and playing the ukulele.

This week, I learned how to use Sketch.

Huh, there are a lot of questions that I can ask to get answers to these questions. What is Karl’s favourite ice cream flavour? What is his hobby? Does he have a favourite sports team?

I think that those are the questions that I will have a lot of fun answering in the future. I mean I can totally just come up with all those answers right now and tell you, but where’s the fun in that?

So tell you what, Karl the Cactus is going to be my summer project. It’s going to be a lot of fun coming up with his story, sharing it, and making Karl go big! I’m sure there are going to be a lot of bumps along the way, but hey, that’s all part of the fun. I’ll keep ya posted!

Don’t be a prick 😉 leave a heart if you enjoyed! If you haven’t already, sign up for my newsletter to get more of these random, funny posts.


Slowly and Deliberately Trying To Become a Baller


Hands down, that is one of my favourite sounds. When you shoot a ball that just gracefully arcs into the net, managing to just miss hitting the rim.

For those of you who don’t see me embarrassing myself on the court during lunch time, I have this new fascination with basketball. It’s a sport that I never got around to playing when I was a kid because I didn’t really want to be friends with those “athletes”.

But basketball is something that I just want to get better at. I feel it’s something that can help you get closer with a lot of guys, it’s lots of fun, and it’s pretty good exercise. One of the biggest things that were stopping me from picking it up was my fear of getting embarrassed by other people, but sometime last year, I just stopped caring about that, and started joining a few games.

I would say that since I’ve started, I’ve gotten a lot better. So good, that I can make 10% of my shots. When people are picking teams, I won’t get picked last. Occasionally, my teammates will pass me the ball 🙂

I’ve also reduced the number of embarrassing blocks, “ankle breakers”, and terrible shots from maybe like 7 a game to one or two. Progress!

As a tangent, one question that I always love to ask people when I go and interview them is “What is your superpower”. I don’t ask to get the stupid answers like “I can shoot lasers out of my eyes” or “I can breathe underwater”, but to really understand what these people believe to be their defining strengths. Some good answers that I’ve heard before include:

  • Connecting people with each other and making “magic” happen
  • Empowering others to be the best version of themselves
  • Being Creative and Executing on Ideas

I would like to think that my own superpower is learning quickly, and a belief that if I set my mind to it, I can learn anything that I want to. Including something like basketball. I feel that a lot of that has to do with how I approach practicing, learning, and getting better.

So here I was, Grade 11, I wanted to be baller. Some guy who could hold his own, help the team, and score. There is one small problem I have with playing basketball though. I’m short.

My friends are tall. One of them has freakishly long arms. Whenever I try and go for a layup, he takes a special form of pleasure in waiting under the net and slapping the balls out of my hands.


Read More

Reflections, Gratitude, and a Short Year in Review

This blog has always been a place for me to write down all the stuff that have been bouncing around in my head. With my birthday just having passed, I thought it would be a good time to do a “year in review”! There’s been a lot of stuff that’s happened in the past year, that have really changed my life.

It’s crazy, because when I look back on all of it, I am blown away but how much can actually change within a year. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the small and insignificant day-to-day stuff without realizing all the progress you’ve made and experiences that you’ve shared.

So it just makes it all the more important for me to reflect on the entire year, both the good and the bad. Same as how you get caught up in all the small and useless things, you always seem to lose sight of all the good stuff that’s happened to you until you really sit down to appreciate it and express gratitude.

The Disappointing, the Bad, the Petty Terribleness

  • Broke my thumb, and missed out on an international competition, a competition i had been waking up early for, training a lot, and skipped a lot of fun for
  • Missed OFSAA, provincial school swim meet by 0.01 seconds in a relay event, looking up at the scoreboard broke me on the inside a little
  • Missed OFSAA, by 0.2 seconds in a 100m breaststroke event, I had cut close to 8 seconds since the year before, and I missed a turn that I had hit literally hundreds of time before
  • Didn’t meet my goals in DECA, which was to go to ICDC, an international competition in Anaheim, most of my good friends made it
  • Operating on 6 hours of sleep as stress filled my life, responsibilities started to pile up, and things seemed to spiral out of control. Distinctly remember crying in an English class

There were points during this year where it felt like absolutely nothing was going right. That I had gotten so unlucky, that I had worked so hard with nothing to show for it.

That’s a pretty dumb mindset to have. It’s negative. It sucks you into a dark hole that is so hard to escape. It shows how easy it is to lose sight of all the good things that have happened.

So here’s the counterpoint, the little thought experiment. What if I just forgot all the unlucky stuff that had happened to me this year. What if I only just focused on the good things that have happened?

Read More

Being a Creative Non-artist, Non-musician, Non-Photographer Type Of Guy

One thing that I have always struggle with has been my lack of… artistic abilities. Even after taking art classes from Grade 1 all the way to Grade 9, I still struggle to sketch a stick figure. Musical instruments were something I enjoyed, but was never 100% passionate about. And singing? Let’s not talk about singing.

I think because I never enjoyed all of these art forms or forms of creative expression, I just resigned myself to thinking that I just wasn’t a creative person. That creativity was a gift that you win in the genetic lottery. Once I lost that lottery, I resigned myself to thinking that I would forever be stuck in this boring well of blandness where they toss all the stale popcorn and watered down oatmeal.

But my big realization of the past few months has really been that creativity is not an innate skill, but something that you constantly work at and improve. It’s a muscle that constantly has to be exercised, stretched, and pushed beyond it’s limits.

Why do I bring this up? There are two main reasons. The first one is that quite simply a lot of people believe that their creativity is just a fixed pool. It’s frustrating to see a lot of people limiting themselves like that and labelling themselves as “uncreative”. The second reason is that I truly believe that your creativity, innovation, and ingenuity is going to be the single most important skill to have in the future. Let’s dig into this a little more.

One of the biggest trends of today is artificial intelligence and machine learning. While your terminators are still (thankfully) a few miles away, artificial intelligence and machine learning have already started to slip into your life. Google uses AI. Facebook uses AI. Computers can look at pictures and tell you whether you are looking at a cat or a dog and what breed they are. Google translate is now machine learning based, and learns languages faster than any of us could possibly hope to achieve.

So what? Who cares?

Well it matters for the future. What makes you different from a computer? What makes you special? It used to be that we could say stuff like “I can play chess” or “I can tell you that picture is a monkey” or “I can drive a car”. Not anymore. Computers can do all of those things too. So what skills or voice or spark of creativity do you have that makes you different from a computer? The answer to that matters more and more, especially if the computers are getting smarter by the day.

The single biggest differentiator is creativity.

Read More

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén