#28 | Karate vs. Krypto, Thou Shall Laugh, Crystal Balling & more

We met and you got this. Now it's your choice!
About me: Website - Twitter - LinkedIn - Forbes - Medium
Hardware startups go there: HAX

Here is an annoying fact: topics accumulate when I'm busy, and I end up writing a very long email, like this one. I tried to prune the boring bits.

Today's A La Carte
01/ Work stuff | Startup exits, angel deals, trips, talks, writing & breaking up with Forbes
02/ Crypto Fever update | Today: 38.5C
03/ Random Stories | Paris, Karate vs. Krypto, Comedy, etc.
04/ Cultural Corner | Mucho movies, Latest Taleb and more
05/ Thoughts | Gender, and Winnie-the-Pooh



Startup Exits
My day job is investing in (hardware) startups with HAX. As our portfolio matured we have been researching how to maximize the outcome. The most common is M&A, but there is remarkably scarce info on the "end game". To get the ball rolling I organized two events on 'Startup Exits' in Paris and London. Both brought veterans (entrepreneurs, corp dev execs, etc.) to share their experience. We'll likely do more this year, and are planning a bigger initiative on this topic.

Two of my angel investments just raised serious rounds: Yogome (biggest startup in Mexico - Caramba!), making great educational games for kids, and OpenTrons (robots for labs, an HAX alum). I invested in the first angel round of each. I wrote an article on angel investing but am waiting for the wire of a partial stock sale + approval by a startup founder to publish it.

Trips & Talks
Not too many trips since January and my move to Paris: Vegas (CES), Toronto, London, HK/Shenzhen. Quiet. Now, April/May is conference season and I'll be speaking in Warsaw, Dublin, Berlin, Paris and likely Vienna and London. Since I'm in Europe a lot, I'm open to speaking engagements there. Lmk.

I wrote an article on VentureBeat talking about China vs US in response to a rather uninformed op-ed by Sequoia Capital (or did they have a hidden agenda?). It got good comments and mileage.

Forbes gives me the boot!
In case you didn't know I have been writing for Forbes since late 2016. And just 2 weeks ago I received this:

"Unfortunately, due to a restructuring of our contributor network, we will no longer be able to keep your blog active."

Breaking up like that over email after over a dozen articles and 100,000 page views? What did I do wrong? Can't we patch things up?
Well then... It's been fun, Forbes, so long and thanks for all the clicks :) I'm now exploring other media. I've written for TechCrunch, VentureBeat (and recently Hackernoon), but I not-so-secretely ambition to write for Fast Company, Fortune, NYT or WSJ. Op-ed and all. If you know how, email me! I tried to pitch my China piece to a few but I don't have a good contact person - too bad because it was really damn good (read it), as was confirmed by unanimous comments by old China hands.

Crypto Fever Update

Crypto fever goes on. I am now feeling the ups and downs, which comes at a mental and financial cost. I sold my first bitcoin (for a profit) as I didn't like that currency, and doubled down on ETH, which has since then gone way down. I'm 'buying the dip', time will tell if I was catching a falling knife!

A New Crypto Derivative: Parody Writing
I also wrote a humor piece for Hackernoon about the people of crypto. Last, I attended a big blockchain event in London and damn it's hard to know what's not a frog. I'm staying away from investments for now, but curious about experimenting with ICOs. Recos welcome on process & opportunities!

House of frogs

Thoughts On Recognizing the Future
After being involved in over 100 startup investments and have lived through several tech waves, I can tell that:
(1) Timing is hard
(2) Technology is overrated
(3) Recognizing the BIG things early is really hard

Among personal examples:

  • I encountered Bitcoin in 2013 and dismissed it as an 'unfair gold mine for early geeks' (it is, but there was still an opportunity, if you could survive the hacks and the ups and downs for half a decade).

  • I saw Vitalik in Hong Kong at the MIT EmTech event 2 years ago and walked away thinking 'a more articulate geek dream'.

  • Oh, and many years ago I met a budding little Swedish online radio company ('ROI: Radio On the Internet!' - for HBO SV fans) to which I said 'if you can sort out the problem of rights you might have something but it's going to be tough!'. Well done, Spotify :) (though the biz side remains questionable/unprofitable, the user demand and market appeal is there).

My take now is "make several 'risky' early bets on things that could be VERY big". Wait, is that how investors (are supposed to) think? But it's a slightly different perspective and timeframe when it's your own money.

Random Stories

I found a place and moved in - it's a 'secondary residence' but feels like home. I'm in a cozy neighborhood, 4 minutes away from the dojo. Getting insurance and electricity was a quick call, while getting internet required posting documents and waiting for 2 weeks. Wait. what?! Note that the electricity company asked me after I said I was happy if I was open to later answer a satisfaction survey - now you know how to bias your sample!

Drawing From The Artist Within The Kid
I had my 7 years old twin nephews around for a week and decided to get them to level up a bit (also see in "movies" below). I put them on the education games from Yogome for 30min-1h per day. They might have learned more about maths and logic with it than with their homework!
One day they were asking for the iPad to play it, I gave them some challenges to solve to earn their game time: a math puzzle (a bit too hard) to one, and a drawing assignment to the other. Nephew 1 failed the math puzzle and challenged me to chess - I showed no mercy.
The drawing was of a camel head from an Asterix album. Nephew 2 produced a first shitty drawing like a 4yo and I told him to spot the 7 (or more) differences with the original... then gave him some tips to redraw it (from "drawing from the right side of the brain"). Which he did. Twice. Note that I have some drawing skillz to judge, and practice life drawing from time to time. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you 5 years of progress in 10 minutes:

From shit to good in 10 minutes. Next time: from good to great!

Fighting for Valentine
On yet another fine day I went to the karate training I've been attending diligently since January. Surprisingly we were only three people. Then I realized it was Valentine Day. When the training ended I thought 'maybe it's only lonely losers training karate on valentine day'. Then I realized I didn't care ;p

Karate vs. Krypto
Later in March, I was in London and had to make a call between the annual karate combat workshop or attending the blockchain conference above. Crypto won (it felt more of an investment in the future). But who knows? Maybe karate was the better investment if I get mugged (they might not take alt-coins).

Mo'Martial Mo'Problems
In addition to karate I signed up for shorinji kempo in the same dojo to practice locks & throws, and sport my black belt ;) They are surprisingly more brutal than the karate folks but nothing broken so far. After a visionary dream where my HK coach was testing me to enter a BJJ gym (for real) I am also considering signing up at nearby dojos for jiu-jitsu (wrestling type). And kobudo as there is a super-high level instructor who was a student of a famous master I practiced aikido with in Japan - Sugino. Sugino's dad was a 'living treasure' and the technical advisor to Akira Kurosawa for all samurai action. Here is the dad on Wikipedia. He died at 94 and liked to eat natto and smoke under his porch - you know what to do! ... ok maybe I made it up. Something might break but so far it's all fun and games.

I just remembered that, in fact, I already took some damage. We were practicing straight kicks in the air (at high speed) and I heard a sound like that of a picket of a tent popping out in the distance. It came from my upper right thigh @_@; I thought if I continued the whole leg would untie itself so I slowed down. I had a bruise after. It wasn't a big deal but it took about 3 weeks to heal fully, and I'm more cautious now.

Thou Shall Laugh
I went to my first stand-up comedy show in the UK! (after NY, Beijing, Shenzhen, HK, Bangalore, Kuala Lumpur, and Paris). Very last minute sign up. 4 comedians + 1 MC, only one man (black). It was the day after IWD, so that might explain? Anyway, good job by all - including the MC who picked on a front-row man with a golden shirt (for real) and his recruiter colleagues.
At one point she broke into singing and, failing to recruit a choir, had a great line which I felt summed up our times: "sing along if you hate rapists!" - everyone joined :)
... which sort of leads me to the next bit: I was sitting next to a black woman (and her partner) who was laughing a lot. I generally don't laugh much at any show (character flaw? high standards? stupidity?), but I became self-conscious that me not laughing at jokes by female comedians might be a 'giveaway' of sexism, racism, or god-knows-what-ism. I couldn't afford that the day after IWD! So despite the many Brittishisms and unknown local references I made extra effort to understand and laugh, especially when the female comedian with cerebral palsy (!) was up (she did, in fact, a good job, but part of her act was hard for me - and likely for many - to understand).

Mental Training with High-five man
A somewhat inebriated British man (it was Friday around 7pm - but Brits start early) was high-fiving people at the tube entrance. He walked up to me asking for it. I took it as an opportunity to train resistance to manipulation - especially as I don't have a cultural nor personal proclivity to high-fives. After I turned him down calmly multiple times it became clear he wouldn't budge. It wasn't worth it, so I gave in, which made him happy beyond imagination. It's good to train 'to failure'... and avoid injury ;)

I almost never play games (video or else) but there are TWO I'm curious about: Journey and Yakuza 6. Also there is a song in Yakuza 6 with very strange lyrics. If you have a PS4 or whatever plays those, let me know!

A (male) friend was buying perfume (for men - 'cologne' is for cologne water) and that's how I met ilang. I never heard of it before but it's worth smelling. I think my friend eventually paid over $300 for his 100ml perfume (he didn't buy the ilang one).

Cultural Corner

**** must watch *** good time
** so-so * waste of time

I watched a few movies but forgot a number of them...

For kids****
I was annoyed by my nephews watching Lego Nexo Knights animation: it's like you gave Red Bull to Lego-shaped kids with ADHD. I decided to improve their taste and got them to watch Willow, Back to the Future, Pompoko and Karate Kid (with Jacky Chan). BTTF required some explaining but one of the nephews is still talking about it a week later. I think he's ripe for some SF short stories, I'm considering City by Simak as a start.

Million Dollar Baby****
Re-watched on plane. Still great.

Paterson*** (** if you're not a art house lover or French)
I had a good time watching this contemplative movie by Jim Jarmusch. For art house lovers and French people. I liked also his Down by Law and Dead Man movies. Also fairly contemplative. Night on Earth is a nice series of shorts. Ghost Dog was trying too hard to be cool and I didn't like it so much.

Babette's Feast***
A secluded ascetic community discovers accidentally the healing powers of French food and wine. I read the novella and watched the movie adaptation. Overall, it's a celebration of a complete life, which includes a reasonable dose of earthly pleasures. Author Baroness Karen Blixen had a colorful life, and lived in Kenya farming coffee (she wrote 'Out of Africa'). Despite her title her fortune had ups and downs. A colorful character.

Oldie worth watching from 1944 (B&W). Free online. The origin story for the words: a man is trying to make his wife think she's crazy. Scary.

Death Watch***
A surprising dystopian oldie from 1980 with Harvey Keitel, which suddenly seems very relevant in an era of "black mirror". Among the cool things: camera implant, beauty pill, anti-sleeping pills, computers in schools, no teacher, city vs suburbs tension. With a few intriguing bits like the story of a man jumping into the water to save a drowning girl and begging her 'tell me how to swim!', or the one of a pygmy replying 'a dream ? what is a dream?'. Last, I think from this movie as well, one character saying 'I have more courage in French'. Somehow I can relate - behavior varies based on language, but not always.

Spielberg documentary***
I don't remember the name but it was very interesting. Almost as much as those I saw on Disney and Pixar. His family background explains quite a lot of his themes. He was at one time a very young director people didn't take seriously. Then Jaws. Then can he do more than Jaws? Something serious? How times change!

Pushing Hands*** (** if you are not an Ang Lee and/or internal-style martial arts)
I re-watched this, and though it looks a bit dated, the old man is just too good an actor. I didn't realize he was such a big deal in HK. For memory, Ang Lee also did Brokeback Mountain (another interesting movie).

Call Me By Your Name** (rather Watch Theorem by Pasolini which is ****)
While well played and filmed, the story feels like gender theory propaganda. It also has striking similarities to Theorem by Pasolini, which is far superior (and a masterpiece). Pasolini deals with the struggles of sexual desires and identity by an entire family. Here is a gay summer romance, with both pedophile and family sexual endorsement undertones. I haven't watched the end of the movie as the plane landed, which might correct my impression, but I was well past the first half...

The young lead bored by his predictable script

Hugo Cabret**
On plane. An hommage to early SFX genius George Melies. Cute but forgettable.

The Intern*
De Niro needed money and made a movie. Utterly predictable, candyfloss movie.

...Oh, and the HBO show Silicon Valley is starting its season 5. I haven't seen the first episode yet but I'm excited. Apparently crypto is coming!


Skin in the game*** (so far)
I'm reading the latest Nassim Taleb. Another good idea - don't listen to people who don't have a tangible downside in their commitment or opinion + how systems suffer from lack of SITG - and a less painful read than his other ones.

Willpower Doesn't Work*** (so far)
Not done yet, but pretty good - especially since I'm already sold on many of the ideas there. One big reason why I live 4 minutes away from the karate & kempo dojo! That said, the idea was already in the Scott Adams book with "system vs. goals".

Elephant in the Brain*** (so far)
Argues that the human brain was designed to deceive itself so it can better deceive others, for its own benefit. Makes an interesting case.

Global Keynote Speaker**** (if you're a speaker / *** if an event organizer)
The manual to build a successful global speaking career. Just out on Amazon by my friend, pro speaker/writer Fredrik Haren. I wish Fredrik wrote it 10 years ago when I was considering! I've spoken in over 200 events in about 30 countries by now, but always as part of my work rather than a full time pro speaker. Some paid gigs here and there, though.


Men Today
A couple of videos of interest about The Boys Crisis (lack of sense of purpose, breakdown in communication, lack of dads at home and at school) and from the author of My year as a man (issues with empathy, urges, affection - this lesbian author disguises as a man for a year to understand a man's world).

Not my usual fare, but I bumped twice into references to Winnie-the-Pooh (which was NOT created by Disney). First the "Tao of Pooh" (using Pooh characters to explain the Tao)... which lead to dive into the world of publishing after the author's much troublesome journey and ultimate abandon of writing as:

"All the great publishers are gone; only their names remain. [...] The spirit of independent enterprise that once animated those names [...] is no more." (source)

The author has a name similar to mine and makes a strong case.

Poor Pooh, people make use of you right and left!

Another was an article titled 'Epic Pooh' that mocked Tolkien and Rowling, by Michael Moorcock, a fantasy writer of Eric of Menilbone fame (which I read extensively in my youth and, sadly, only keeps a vague memory of). He described them as:

"Fiction intended to comfort rather than challenge" perpetuating an "anti-technological, anti-urban stance ultimately misanthropic, that glorifies a vanishing or vanished rural idyll, and is rooted in middle-class or bourgeois attitudes towards progress and political change".

Just like that! And he might have a point! A colleague of his added:

"A literature of comfort and escapism which refuses to deal with the issues raised by the real world."

Last, I realized I forgot last time to include a pic of the Eddie Izzard show I watched in Paris, so here it is!

Only 24KB for such talent?!

Stay woke!
- Ben