#29 | U.S. + Euro Tours, Strange Things, Enigma Machine, Bullshido and that Jordan Peterson guy

Some news and opinions you maybe didn't expect when we met!
About me: Website - Twitter - LinkedIn - Forbes - Medium
Hardware startups go there: HAX

< 1 month between 2 letters = More digestible !
Also, what better moment than a 5 hours United delay to write it?
(I am claiming a 600 euros compensation under the EU Denied Boarding Regulation 261/2004 - wish me luck!)

Gourmet Menu:
01/ Work | U.S. + EU Roadshows, Exit Masterclasses, Trends, Writing, The wire is in!
02/ Crypto Fever | Today: 37.5C
03/ Culture Corner | Strange Series, HBO, Jordan Peterson... and watch Isle of Dogs!
04/ Random Stories | Bullshido, Rich Dad lied, Women's plight, final thoughts and a Poem



U.S Roadshow
I'm off today to Chicago, Champaign, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston and NYC until May 2 to meet hardware startups and local connectors. The logistics are tight but lmk if you have intros! (ben@hax.co or twitter @benjaminjoffe)

European Tour
After London, Warsaw and Berlin I'll be speaking in Berlin (CubeTech), Vienna (Pioneers) and Paris (VivaTech) next month. See you there?

Hardware Trends
Our annual and acclaimed 'Hardware Trends' report (which I wrote most of during the past 3 years) is changing format, authors, and hosting presentations in San Francisco! It's on May 17. Sign up here.

Upcoming Masterclass on Startup Exits
We're prepping day-long events in Paris, London, NYC and SF in June. Great speakers will talk about how to successfully conduct an M&A or IPO. It's for hardware startups who already raised a seed round or series A. We might have a few spots for non-hardware ones too.

Better exit through the gift shop!

I was quoted on TechInAsia in their article on Xiaomi and wrote a longer one here, comparing it to P&G and talking about the challenge for its affiliates to exit by M&A. They also published my piece on 'how hardware startups succeed or fail' (a post-mortem of a number of HAX startups) and my guide on 'how to name your startup'.

Semi-Work things:

I received the wire for some angel shares I sold to a new investor (75x yo!). I'll finalize my piece on my 10 years of casual angel investing very soon (looking for a media to publish it- maybe Hackernoon?).

Lessons for Life
I gave a talk in Hong Kong to university students. Part was about my very unplanned 'career', and part was about 'things I've learned in my life so far', ending with a list of exercises and experiences I recommend (from easy to hard). It's likely turning into a blog post soon.

Crypto Fever Update

It's a short one. After the currencies dropped massively (my poor ETH in particular), I cooled down and only check it once in a while. ETH went from $1,000 to 800, 600, all the way to 400 ("the ground is the limit!"). It's back at 600 now (+50%... from the bottom). I guess I'm HODLing now?

Culture Corner


Isle of Dogs ('I love dogs'?)****
The new Japanism stop-motion opus by Wes Anderson. I loved his previous works, especially The Life Aquatic (anyone who watched large amounts of documentaries by Jacques Cousteau might relate), and Grand Budapest Hotel. I liked this one too. It's very rich visually and the Japanese voices added to my enjoyment (I'm not fully fluent but understood quite a bit). It reminded me of Lost in Translation - it's a love letter from to Japan (I also liked how he used Kurosawa's music too). I enjoyed both but Coppola's one was quite superficial while Anderson's is much more subtle. I read some articles on 'cultural appropriation' - I think they're quite misguided: it's a cute cartoony fairy tale, where every character is a tenderly depicted caricature - even the 'exchange student' activist (whose name is only mentioned quite late). Watch it!

The hero Akira has a loose screw

Stranger Addictions***
A friend recommended the series Stranger Things. I started to watch it and relived some of my childhood playing paper-and-dice roleplaying games. The series claims connected with Dungeons & Dragons but I think it has more similarities with Call of Cthulhu. The actor kids are doing a great job. Eventually it felt like a remix of the Goonies, Stand by Me and a few other movies I liked as a child. Watching it was quite addictive (many billions have been spent on perfecting the TV series cliffhangers formulas...) so I tried to 'inoculate myself' against it by reading summaries of the remaining episodes (including the second season). It helped me calm down but... I eventually watched everything ;p (in a more relaxed way) - including the extra commentary with the crew.

The real deal

HBO Silicon Valley** then ***
The first 2 episodes of the new series were a bit dull but it has picked up pace now and is going a bit insane, which is more fun. If you've been working with startups long enough you will recognize *everything* that happens there.

Okay, so Jordan Peterson is my new interest. I heard him on the Sam Harris podcast, then watched the Channel 4 interview, where he manages graciously multiple derailing attempts (one commenter wrote 'on behalf of all women, we do not claim her'). To be fair, I like his other videos better. On the interview he said a lot of things, and mentioned there were more female than male physicians now. Doubting, I checked the data and while the total is 60% male in Canada (where he's from), it's concentrated in older (45+) doctors and strongly trending female for younger ones (50% for 35-44 and 60% below 35). So it's likely that in 20 years it will be 60% female or more. He also made a point on agreeableness correlating negatively with career success. Likely something to think about... He has a number of interesting videos on YouTube, including with Joe Rogan. As always, better see for yourself to form an opinion.

Can't we all disagree more constructively?
by Jonathan Haidt
I'm a bit behind on books (I have a few unfinished - some I actually do want to finish - the roadshows will help). I think I came across him from a Jordan Peterson podcast (I'm hooked). This one is an essay about the difference in moral foundations of political groups. It explains how discussions could be improved by acknowledging the differences and recognize the values of each side (and the value of those values).

Random Stories

I've been practicing various martial arts over the years (sometimes only a few months). These days I restarted both karate (beginner) and shorinji kempo (1st dan black belt). I was looking for something else as a complement - likely Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (I liked it in Hong Kong - thanks Chris!) but decided to visit a few places.

I went to try an aikido (aikibudo) dojo, a katori shito ryu (ancient sword style I knew from Japan) one, and a traditional jiu-jitsu class. I also bumped into a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training (what I was looking for). I liked all of them (BJJ more than others).

Then I came across a video on YouTube in which a guy who trained aikido for 14 years tries it against MMA and realizes his skills are useless - hence, bullshido. I thought again about what I wanted to get out of trainings - and it wasn't beautiful choreographed moves (there is dance for that). Some styles are just not as effective as others, and don't do "pressure testing" with non-cooperative attackers, or have too many unrealistic rules. So I'm signing up for BJJ again.

To be honest, I also doubt the effectiveness of my karate and kempo trainings... but I already paid so I'll keep going for a while :p Overall I doubt I'll ever *need* fighting skills, and I want to avoid damage to my brain and eyes, so boxing/MMA are out for now. The BJJ guys were really cool. I did some light sparring with a 120kg guy about my height (I'm 175cm/65kg) and... moving a heavy guy is an effort!

Rickson Gracie in the finals of Vale Tudo in Japan in 1995
Many years after his grandpa, Rickson proves again BJJ is no joke
Free "Choke" documentary here

Irish Comedy
Funny or not, comedy shows are often a good window into the local culture. I saw one during a brief biz trip to Dublin. What was unique in this show was... the number of breaks to buy drinks! And I paid 26 euros for this - I guess the joke was on me ;p

Rich Dad Lied!
After seeing an ad for it on Facebook (!) I went to a (free) Rich Dad Poor Dad seminar in Paris. Of course Robert Kiyosaki wasn't there, and it was thin on insights, trying hard to sell a real estate investment training (there was no lunch but there's no free lunch). I took the meta view of appreciating the salesmanship of the presenter. I'm one of the few who left before the end. Note that Robert Kiyosaki's book woke me up about 15 years ago making the clear distinction between assets and liabilities, and 'escape velocity from the rat race'. It's good to know, but afaik the books lack practical solutions.

On my trip to Wolves Summit in Warsaw I stopped by Gdansk to visit a friend. It's a very pretty city, with an award-winning brick church, scenic old town, and a seaside hotel that was apparently a Hitler favorite.
I visited the Second World War Museum (war museums have common narratives: I visited the Korean war museums in South Korea, China and North Korea - they all agreed that they were attacked, they won, and won mostly on their own!). I learned there that Polish mathematicians did foundational work on decrypting Nazi codes and the enigma machine, though Turing got all the credit (which didn't prevent his ultimate chemical castration and death).

We all know the story of the ugly duckling - becoming a beautiful swan. Well, I also saw a flock of swans with one lone duck standing out. It made me think. Imagine the duck grows up with a bunch of ugly ducklings. Does it matter to the swanlings (official name: cygnets) that there is a duck among them? Do they feel ugly? Then what when they all become swans? How does it feel to be a duck then?

Duck represents

Russian Suprematists
I went to see an exhibition of this little known and short-lived art movement (a 'pure artistic feeling' vs the depiction of objects, and against constructivism & materialism). Most of it was rather unimpressive. The movement lost government support, suffered from internal battles, and mostly disappeared.
Still, we are left with "White on White" by Kazimir Malevich (1918), which wasn't even at the show!

How can you top that? (well, they did "black on black").
Still better than Jeff Kuntz balloons!

Women in Business
I had a quick conversation (it was late at a Paris picnic) with a female entrepreneur and another in finance. The one in finance just wrote a book talking about how the finance world forces its members to change their values to be more aggressive, competitive and 'bro up' (it's as much about values in finance as it is about women). So joining this industry might be like accepting to "die to your old self" to be reborn richer... but compromised? I haven't read the book so can't tell how the female perspective differs.

The entrepreneur mentioned how even people she met in business events or interviewed for jobs would sometimes follow-up for a date. Some men derail the interaction, taking advantage of the fact that the first interaction is not the "default rejection" women generally use. The entrepreneur complained that it was not just unpleasant but also a waste of time to engage with someone who was hiding ulterior motives. Then there is the default assumption of lack of competence / credibility and the "mansplaining" that sometimes goes with it ('let me tell you what an algorithm is'). I don't know if it's ever going to be possible to remove gender and biology from professional interactions but there is some way to go to improve the situation (office romances - which I don't advocate for, but people tend to like people they spend time with - will be the first to suffer ;p).

"What do you mean: you only applied because I'm cute?"

When the front row stands
I read an interesting post about how bad money drives out good money. It also talks about the "cinema phenomenon" - how a few people standing in the front can force everyone to stand up. I thought it could apply well to activist minorities. The key for effect is thus to understand (1) what is the 'cinema' (2) where is the front row. Gene Sharp (whom I realized passed away in Jan. at the ripe age of 90) wrote the manual and has been the go-to source for the many 'colored revolutions' (Eastern Europe, Middle East, etc. - free documentary here). Btw, anyone else feels like the current Syrian story feels a lot like Wag The Dog? (a fantastic movie btw)

Found in Translation
I just saw this - I think it is significant: "A team of Microsoft researchers recently announced they’ve created the first machine translation system that’s capable of translating news articles from Chinese to English with the same accuracy as a person."

Kipling & Twain
I sometimes read the Brain Pickings newsletter (been on it for years, but often ignore...). One caught my eye as I like Kipling a lot (I bought Kim second hand for 2 euros randomly and it blew my mind - then I realized the man got a Nobel Prize in Literature - at a time it actually meant something!). Anyway, I came across his interaction with Mark Twain (Kipling was the younger one and a fan - but Twain became a fan of Kipling too, re-reading Kim every year!). From link to link I saw this post on their critique of the media (sounds familiar?). Twain wrote a cute little poem expressing his annoyance:

The Press

Why don’t you write a play —
Why don’t you cut your hair?
Do you trim your toe-nails round
Or do you trim them square?
Tell it to the papers,
Tell it every day.
But, en passant, may I ask
Why don’t you write a play?

What’s your last religion?
Have you got a creed?
Do you dress in Jaeger-wool
Sackcloth, silk or tweed?
Name the books that helped you
On the path you’ve trod.
Do you use a little g
When you write of God?

Do you hope to enter
Fame’s immortal dome?
Do you put the washing out
Or have it done at home?
Have you any morals?
Does your genius burn?
Was you wife a what’s its name?
How much did she earn?

Had your friend a secret
Sorrow, shame or vice —
Have you promised not to tell
What’s your lowest price?
All the housemaid fancied
All the butler guessed
Tell it to the public press
And we will do the rest.

Why don’t you write a play?

I write but also work regularly with media for HAX, our startups or else, and can see where he's coming from. It inspired me to write an updated version. Imagine Elon Musk or the next big thing.

Tech Media

When will we go to Mars?
Did you regrow your hair?
Do you use a mattress
Do you sleep in mid-air?
Share it on social media,
Past fake new and liars
But, en passant, may I ask
When will we go to Mars?

What has been your North Star?
Is your philosophy stoic?
Do you favor keto, fasting, organic?
What hacks have you designed
to be more productive?
Does 'fluctuant' for gender
feel micro-aggressive?

Can your wide legacy
find a receptacle?
Are STEM and Mandarin
fields your children tackle?
When did you buy crypto?
Do you use Reddit?
Is it the end of a cycle,
or a dip?
All the young grads fancied
All the founders guessed
Tell it to tech media
And we will do the rest.

When will we go to Mars?

...Not quite Twain but it was fun to do. Took hours!

Next up
Energy / Motivation. We all know people with super high energy and endless motivation. I am trying to figure out what sets them apart ('born this way'? special background/trauma/insight?), and whether it is possible to change our 'default energy level'. So far it seems people who faced major challenges in childhood have more motivation - but it could be a variety of patterns like in Victor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning"? I suspect that like electrons orbiting an atom or a satellite in space, it might require an impulse of energy to change orbits.

Oh, and it's getting warm in Paris!

Apple can't handle Paris!

- Ben