#26 | Some Robot Stuff, World Tour, A Black Eye and Sunburn, And My New website

You got mail! We must have met. If not for you, unsubscribe low below
About me: New Website! - Twitter - LinkedIn - Forbes - Medium
Our hardware startup fund: HAX

Where am I? For a few seconds, I couldn't recall. Fortunately, conference season has ended. Jet lag, not yet.

Today's Menu

01/ Quick News | Talks, Writings, New Website!
02/ Speaking Tour | Paris (x2), Shanghai, Shenzhen, San Francisco, New York (almost)
03/ New Experiences | No Show, Smart Toilet Paper, Toothache and First Exit
04/ Cultural Corner | Robot shenanigans, Another food betrayal, Good and bad comedy, and one Jazz song

Quick News

+ Conference season is over for 2017. Time to nurse the jet lag!
+ I wrote a detailed piece on TechCrunch about the history of Venture Capital innovation, showing how SOSV and HAX fit in. It was well received.
+ I wrote for Forbes about Razer's IPO and what to learn from it.
+ A few blog posts on How Hardware Startups Succeed Or Fail, How to pitch stories (not your product) to tech media and digged out a Tencent report I had published almost 10 years ago with my former company.
+ I finally put something on benjaminjoffe.com.

Speaking Tour

+ Keynote in Paris at Hello Tomorrow and MC an entire day of startup pitches. It's a great show for science startups.
+ Keynote "Becoming Six Million Dollar Humans" in SF at the New Context Conference about "augmented humans". I was flying from HK and pretty jetlagged so I took a nap in the afternoon, hoping to refresh for my morning keynote. I woke up and looked at my phone: Eleven! I overslept and missed my keynote! No, it was 11pm...
+ ‎Another keynote on Hardware Trends for Honeywell (their annual global event in Shanghai) and Credit Suisse (annual China show in Shenzhen)
+ Another talk in Paris at ATOMS, a hardware-focused event. Topic was "why hardware startups fail" with some ideas from the 200+ HAX investments
+ Ran a workshop on "PR for Startups" with some practical advice at SOSV's annual event.

The New Context Conference included some food stuff. No lab-grown food, though.


Show But No Show
I was in NYC at an M&A conference to speak about the impact of tech on industry. I was a very last minute addition to the speaking roster. A writer wanted to do an interview and I sat down with him during the break before the panel, enjoying the conversation... until I realized time was flying and my panel had started! They had looked for me but couldn't find me in the venue (which wasn't that large...) and it was now too late to join. I watched the panelists discuss one of my favorite topics without me. It was quite embarrassing.

Also, it took me a while to figure out what happened (I only missed one other speaking gig out of hundreds over 10+ years - I had forgotten the right passport to cross from Hong Kong to Shenzhen) . I am still unsure but I have a suspicion of how I might have unconsciously made it happen. Will you find out why? Here are the hints. On the upside, I met this speaker/writer/consultant who had a great talk about conducting successful change in corporations based on his book "The Change Catalyst".

No Money For Ex-Cons
I was having lunch with a friend at the Delancey Street Restaurant near the Embarcadero in SF. It is part of a foundation / not-for-profit which helps ex-convicts, drug addicts and more get back on track by learning a trade. The food is good, the setting nice and very reasonably priced. I paid by card and was walking out when one of staff - they all wears suits and are... quite muscular - walked up to me and asked "was there something wrong with the service?". I had just landed from Hong Kong and had forgotten to tip ^^;

She didn't forget to tip

Smarter Than Thou
I finally tried the Cafe X in SF - I guess I should call it a vending machine? - where a robot arm serves you coffee. A staff was on site to offer free codes and collect feedback. The machine worked well. Improvements I suggested were: make the movement smoother and "less rushed" and add some visual indicators to each action the machine does, and maybe dress up the arm somehow, or add a pair of eyes looking in the direction of the action. I also stopped by the Target Open House which displays dozens of "smart home" products. The smart toilet paper holders and its cousin the smart paper towel holder were the highlights of my day. The showroom only had few visitors.

Welcoming the future with both ends

Three Bites
Generally all goes quite well and I'm in luck. I tend to think luck is a function of attitude. But sometimes not everything goes according to plan. Last month I worked remotely from Thailand (true #digitalnomad) and joined my friend's morning Thai boxing training every day. On the first day I went pretty much straight from the airport after an overnight flight. Not the best timing for a light sparring... First day: a glove ripped and I earned a small black eye - it definitely adds some mystery to your gaze.

On the last weekend I tried kite surfing, two years after my first (quite successful) attempt. This time was more of a struggle and the sun was high. After two hours the initial sunblock was no match for the sun's death rays, my sparse clothing got its frame painfully tattooed. A month later, the lines are starting to fade.

There was still a silver lining (no pun intended) to this trip: I could have been attacked by a snake! I spotted a fairly large snake at a hotel I was visiting for the pool. The staff deftly captured it. Apparently small and not poisonous (the snake).

They said it's small

Uncle Rob Has A Farm
My friend Rob Laing started a urban farm in NYC, growing rare herbs for Michelin-star chefs. I tried two dozens plants, most I couldn't event name. I brought back to France some mustard greens and toothache plant to the questionable delight of some family members. If you want to own a piece of the farm (or just see what it's about), Rob just launched an equity crowdfunding campaign.

The majestic toothache plant, and some unknown flowers

First Exit?
Talking about investment, a new investor offered a nice multiple to buy the shares I owned in one of my angel investments. I wasn't sure whether to sell all or none; I settled on half. It's in process.

Cultural Corner


A robot got given citizenship, now wants to start a family
A successful PR stunt. Followed by another where the robot declared it would like to have a family. Will it need a surrogate? It also said:

"Robots can be built without the more problematic emotions, like rage, jealousy, hatred and so on. It might be possible to make them more ethical than humans." - Sophia the robot

Aibo, Sony's robot companion dog, is back
The first one came out in 1999. Still expensive ($1,700 + 3 years subscription at $26/month vs. about $2,500 for the very first model in 1999). Will it perform as a companion robot if not as a toy? I remember playing with an early version in 2001. It got old quickly.

High expectations on you, Aibo!

What's cooler than a jet? A backup jet
GE's former CEO had one.

Friend & Family Rental
Japan is ahead of the curve, again. And again too, we don't know if we'll share the same future. What do you think of the ethics of renting an "actor" to pretend to be either:

  1. Your boyfriend

  2. Your ex-hushand to take care of your child part-time

  3. Another "staff" to apologize to a client for a mistake you made

  4. Your yakuza-looking lover, to confront your partner and apologize to him

  5. The groom at your wedding, to calm down your parents and keep secret that you're a lesbian (cost: $20,000, including fake friends)

  6. Your friends to make you look more social online

  7. People who respect you, to impress others

  8. Your deceased partner (includes a pre-briefing of important shared memories)

“There’s no conflict, no jealousy, no bad habits. Everything is perfect.” - The company's founder

Tu Quoque, Ritter Sport
Adding "sport" to a food product name doesn't make it healthy. Forget about the antioxidants unless you eat pure cacao (the candy-makers-backed studies are more than questionable). The 100g chocolate square (divided in 16 smaller squares) sports 50g of sugar (which sugar?). That's a dozen regular-sized sugar cubes.

Of course it's hard not to eat it in one sitting... 25 years ago I knew one person who had the discipline to eat only two squares of a chocolate pack, but he had less discipline when I caught up with him a few months ago.

Truly guilty

Harassed by Harassment
After the investment world (where I know some of the actors), it has spread to show business, media and politics. Even France saw several (famous) heads fall. The target of harassment is always male (so far), but sometimes from other males. There seems to be no time limit (Kevin Spacey's story goes back to 1986 - that's 31 years ago) Will the scope expand to include past moral harassment and racism?


A king without distraction***
An 1963 movie by Jean Giono about a mysterious series of murders in small French villages during harsh winters. Boredom is the mother of invention, and maybe murder? The aesthetics (white snow, red blood) and atmosphere are great. This movie is said to have inspired the great "Element of Crime" by Lars von Trier (also a very good one).

Curb Your Enthusiasm***
I feel the characters are overacting in this new season, and the first few episodes were a bit dull, but the latest ones are good. Especially Ep.6 with the "Accidental text on purpose" and the "Call everyone 'honey'" tricks. Ep.8 is quite funny and out of control with the Fatwa story (note: "fatwa" is a general term for "ruling". One was issued in UAE against children playing Pokemon).

Office space **
An office worker gets hypnotized and starts to speak his mind. A cute story by Mike Judge of Silicon Valley (and more) fame.

Misery Loves Comedy*
A documentary about comedy. Looked promising but ended up being quite boring. Rotten Tomatoes agrees. Another airplane movie. I heard Jerry Before Seinfeld was good so I'll try that one.

Now You See Me*
Four magicians team up to perform heists shows. A forgettable airplane movie.


Comedy Cellar****
I am still exploring the topic of comedy and took advantage of a stop in New York to visit the legendary Comedy Cellar (and no, Louis C.K. wasn't there). I just showed up and was put on standby at the stand-up (book in advance if you go). Eventually got in and was pleasantly surprised that every single comedian was funny. The place is really world-class. The opening act was a black woman who did great; the one who impressed me most was an older bearded guy with a baseball cap who did 15 minutes of pure crowd work. It feels half the jokes are sexual ones (and generally self-deprecating) but there are good insights on behavior and society.

I saw in Paris a theatre adaptation of Stefan Zweig's 1922 novella. A German doctor of questionable ethics stuck in a Malaysian village for 5 years falls in love with an upper-class woman who visits him to have an illegal abortion. Drama and death ensue, as it should in a classic romantic story. Despite the serious and exotic backdrop it sounded to me like a typical adolescent love storyline. That said, I enjoyed it as the solo actor did very well and will probably be famous soon.

West Side Sorry**
The show came to Paris and my family organized an outing. I am generally not keen on musicals - it's not a big thing in France, and might be an "acquired taste" - but went along. The performers were good but I did not feel much emotion, largely because the performers didn't display much either. Some of it might be due to the story itself. Most didn't seemed that saddened by the deaths. The gang rape scene (!), though only suggested, was a surprise.

SF Moma**
Quite a disappointment. "It's a small town", said another visitor I talked with. The vertical garden was nice, as well as some installations on the top floor but I suspect the broader problem is with modern art from Andy Warhol onward, even given the context of the time. No emotion at all, and sometimes barely any skill on display. Are other visitors impressed? Or just told this is great art and feel ashamed they can't relate? The actual best part was on the lowest floor, with European art (including a "Fountain" for the LoLz - in case anyone forgot, 2017 is the piece's 100 years anniversary).

Marcel Duchamp capturing an important part of the next 100 years of art

Museum Of The African Diaspora*
I was staying across it in SF and stopped by. There was an exhibit on carnivals in the Caribbeans, but not much else.


Win Bigly***
The latest book by Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) who sums up his learnings and analysis of the Trump election, notably Trump's persuasion skills. I had read most on his blog but there is some extra material and it's a nice package. Also a way to pay back the excellent work he did for free.

Women in Love***
An analysis by a French psychoanalyst of women in love in three movies: The Virgin Suicides, The Lives of Others and Mulholland Drive (I watched the last two). A nice job (in French) despite the frequent call to authorities like Lacan and Freud. Also quoted the timeless classic of Denis de Rougemont, which I vouch for.

Trevor Noah - Born a Crime and Other Stories**
I am visiting family in South Africa for Christmas and bumped into Trevor Noah's book at an airport bookstore. It's about his life growing up there, racism and all. One anecdote that stood out for me was how the apartheid dealt with Asians. There were already white/black/colored categories so they decided Chinese would be "black" but the government wanted to do business with Japan (electronics and cars) so decided to make them "white". Hilarity ensued. Or not. Another, maybe more useful, takeaway is how he realized proficiency in language makes people see past your skin color. "Language opens people". Mr. Noah is apparently a skillful polyglot and used it in South Africa to blend with blacks and whites. Funny enough (?) it seems the group he had the most trouble to relate to where his fellow "colored". Keep in mind that race relations in SA are very different from those in USA. Read the book to know how!


I generally don't listen to much music (it's true). Jazz, in particular, is a style where I feel the performers have more fun than their audience (improv in particular). Yet, I've been quite obsessed by this jazz electronica piece by a German trio. It's called The Long Tomorrow by the Tied & Tickled Trio.

Well, we're done!
- Ben