Hardware Startups, Presidential Debate, PokemonGo and More

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Get ready for a long one! It's been a while. As usual, comments welcome.
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Today's menu:
0. UPCOMING TRAVELS | Europe Oct 13-27
1. SOME STARTUP NEWS | HAX 8 grads did very well + a waterjet cutter!
2. NEW HAX STARTUPS | Much health tech, some robots
3. FINALLY SOSV GETS NOTICED | It only took 500 investments...
4. INNOVATION IN INVESTMENT | VC that really move the needle are the new black!
5. CULTURAL CORNER | Fairly good movies, and even better books
6. NEW EXPERIENCES | Failed meditation, Sports update and Okinawa
7. POKEMONGO | I've seen it before...
8. PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE | As viewed by a European living in Asia...


It's the Mid-Autumn Festival! I was in Victoria Park in Hong Kong and saw the fire dragon. The Scottish pipers and dancers - all Chinese as far as I could tell - the whole intro protocol took a bit too long so I left early. I ate one mooncake, which can last you a year.

Little traveling the past 2 months. It started again... last week.

Singapore (Slush Asia), Beijing (MDCC / Shenzhenware event), now in Seoul (Kyonghyang Forum), next in Paris (Hello Tomorrow conference), Stockholm (Hardware meetup), Helsinki (likely a hardware meetup too), Tallinn (hardware hackathon) and maybe Malmo, Amsterdam, London and Warsaw - in short, Europe from October 13 to 27. Traveling is fun the first few times in new places, after that it's mostly about catching up with people.


The biggest news is probably WAZER, the first desktop waterjet cutter. They are on Kickstarter and just passed $1 million. It is taking personal fabrication and digital manufacturing to the next level. It's like Pokemon, water beats laser any day.

Note to self: don't leave your Rolex on your desk

WAZER was competing at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. For the "Startup Battlefield" they had over 1,000 applicants and picked only 23 startups. THREE of them were from SOSV accelerator programs (2 from IndieBio and 1 from HAX). Not bad! I think one reason why they didn't make the finals is that their pitch - while solid - didn't have the "imagine a world..." boldness that makes investors dream, and see beyond your first product... maybe. Anyway, they're rocking and their machine will change the way things are made. Time will tell if they will put IKEA, Walmart or Amazon out of business.

We have nice results from the most recent batch of HAX startups:

  • Stepp: the first running sensor using advanced biomechanics to help improve your form and avoid injuries.

  • Cell Robot: (just got funded slightly over $100,000) 100 robots in one! Something you can only see in robotics labs, now available to us, mere mortals.

  • Nura: the first headphones with an auto-equalizer. Reached $1.8M. Biggest campaign from Australia.

  • Octopus: a watch for kids to build good habits. Reached a spooky $777,777 number.

  • Trainerbot: a robot to train ping pong! Scored $258,898. The team is from Taiwan, they love the number 8. They demo to, and impressed, an US Olympic ping pong coach and some Team USA members.


  • HabitAware: their Liv bracelet recognizes if you are pulling your hair, biting your nails or other BFRB. Taking pre-orders.

  • Sana: the first sleeping mask that puts you to sleep in 10 minutes.

This booth visitor found out that Sana works as advertised

  • Aire by FoodMarble: this breath analyzer will help you find the causes of your IBS. Pre-orders.

  • Grobo: the home growing system for plants - yes, cannabis too. Pre-orders.

Coming soon: Kniterate, a knitting robot! Putting grandmas out of business.

On a heavier note, a HAX startup founder passed away. While a key question is always "Could it have been avoided?" - it reminds us that we can only contribute while we're here, we'd better apply ourselves since... what else is there to do? To achieve something significant, the pain is the way - most often (more on that below).


The ninth accelerator program just started two weeks ago, following a unique China-focused program.

The HAX 9 gang has invaded Shenzhen. Notice how diverse: some are over 30!

  • The number of health tech teams is growing fast. We also have some news coming. I've also been working on a "Health Tech Trends" report but got distracted so it's still a half-baked draft.

  • ​Among them is our first Indian startup - an all-girls team! - thanks to TechInAsia and their Bangalore event who made it happen. Announcement to come soon.

  • Robots make a good showing too (our first humanoid! Hopefully this one makes sense - most don't - read our free robotics report to know why).

  • Consumer / lifestyle devices are HAX classics.

  • The category we have a hard time with is "Fabrication", which happens to be the favorite of Duncan (MD of HAX Accelerator in Shenzhen). If you come across smart tools, industrial IoT, smart factories - please send them our way!


SOSV, the fund behind HAX is a "B2B brand" since it creates accelerators and rarely invests directly. Until recently it wasn't showing up clearly in rankings and databases and was flying under the radar. Our team worked on getting our 500+ investments listed and finally (drumroll) SOSV came out of nowhere and became the No.3 most active seed fund in the world. Ah! Databases. There is no public ranking for those yet but it is likely SOSV is the No.1 global seed investor for both Life Sciences (IndieBio) and Hardware (HAX).

On top of being active, it's also ranked No.1 for seed investment in female-lead startups (note: MassChallenge, while a great program, is non-profit and does not take equity).

Our data people also reported that our newest fund has over 300 founders from 55 countries:

  • 45% of them are from USA, 55% from outside, including 33% from emerging markets.

  • ​The top 6 countries were: USA, China, Canada, India, France and the UK

  • The top 10 countries (out of 55) represented 76% of founders so there is quite a long tail.

It is probably fair to call SOSV a global investor.

Of course the real deal is cash-on-cash IRR but we'll need a bit more time since exits often take 7-8 years... Let's say that our LPs seem pretty happy with the early IRR, that HAX just scored its 7th million-dollar Kickstarter (note: less than 100 happened since 2009 for technology projects) and that we're looking into possible early IPOs. For the rest, only time - with luck and effort - will tell!

Sean O'Sullivan telling his picaresque story
and spreading the SOSV gospel in Hong Kong


I was recounting the major changes in the landscape and listed:

  • Accelerators: YC being the pioneer, and evolving since then to call itself a seed fund.

  • Angel investors: more active than ever. On the frontline of risk, fortunately with spare cash and less focus on returns.

  • Fundraising platforms: from AngelList to the crowdequity people who seem to be growing.

  • Very Late Stage investors: the "DST model" of finding companies worth $10B already dominating their market but still growing fast - who could be worth $100B within a few years - and offering some liquidity to founders, early employees and investors.

  • Hands-on Investors ("platforms"): far and between... a16z and their large support team. Interestingly, I just came across an article talking about VCs as platforms using a16z as example.

Among investors, few "move the needle" enough on product or business to get startups to the next milestone (e.g. working prototype, first customer, profitable unit economics). SOSV and its accelerators have built ecosystems to do just that with hardware (HAX), biotech (IndieBio) and social/mobile startups (Chinaccelerator/MOX). Raising capital for startups is only a means to an end, which is to build real businesses, and venture capital is a hell of a drug.
"It’s not about being biggest, it’s about being best: the most concentrated ecosystems delivering the greatest value to our startups." - Sean O'Sullivan, Founder of SOSV

Like Avis, we try harder! Anything else in the VC landscape in terms of innovation?

5. CULTURAL CORNER | Fairly good movies, and even better books

A few movies recently - some old like The Wages of Fear (1953, French, pretty good), Blood Simple (Cohen brothers, their first? 1984, also pretty good - announcing the subsequent movies where regular people try to do things too complex for them and mess it up), The Wicker Tree (2011, ok - "sequel" of The Wicker Man, 1973, which was much better).

  • They Live (1988 - ok) has an interesting premise - glasses that show the "hidden messages" behind ads and media but the format of a kind of action movie and the looks are a bit dated.

Keep us asleep. Keep us selfish. Keep us sedate.
They live, we sleep.
Conform. Consume. Watch. Submit. Obey. No thought.
This is your God.

Here, I just saved you two hours.

  • I watched The Lobster (2015) on the plane to HK and the while the idea is interesting - if you're single you have 45 days to pair up or "die" - it suffers from being a bit bland and a few things don't make sense (everyone is too casual about whether they should fight for real or not).

  • I watched the series Extras by Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant (The Office). I rarely watch series so this had to be good! First season a bit grim, second picked up nicely. Merchant's character is kind of cool as the worse actor agent in the world ("If business doesn't pick up I'll have to go full time at the Carphone Warehouse"). I found the ending scene of the special extremely reminiscent of the movie Network (an excellent movie with an amazing cast, by the way). Best anticipation series remains Black Mirror.

On the books side:

  • Dream Big, about the Brazilian guys who now control the biggest brewer in the world, AB Inbev. Interesting story of the making of a behemoth via finance then industry. Recommended by one of my favorite and most well-read Chinese serial entrepreneurs.

  • Pre-suasion, the brand new opus by Robert Cialdini of Influence fame! Both worth every penny. Books to study over and over, and practice.

  • Love in the Western World, a research on the origins of the myth of romantic love (from the legend of Tristan and Isolde to become the standard fare of Hollywood and Disney). It takes unexpected paths via the troubadours of medieval Provence and the little known Cathar ("pure" / "good men") branch of Christianity. His reading of Tristan and Isolde is particularly enlightening. It was a pain to get the original French version - I had to buy a paper book!

6. NEW EXPERIENCES | Failed meditation, Sports update and Okinawa

  • I went to a refresher for Vipassana - just 3 days - 2 years after the 10 days first session. Apparently it's an "in" thing in Silicon Valley now? I first heard about it 10 years ago but took the plunge only 2 years back. Same deal as the first time: silent meditation, wake up 4am, sit 10 hours a day with yourself. In fact, I was only doing about 5 hours a day when I went to the 10 days retreat (they are more lenient on first timers - called "new students"), so this one felt more difficult even though it was much shorter. Overall it was sort of a failure in meditation terms - I was so distracted and kept fidgeting - but it "worked" in helping gain some clarity work and life-wise (which is NOT meditation). I am also glad that the internal work I did last time on my past - friends, family, relationships, various work and life decisions - seemed cleared so I didn't have to do it again :)

    As I had some back pain throughout again, I asked for a support at the end of the second day - which I got but did not use - and the last lecture told us "if you're trying to enjoy the tingling sensations, or avoid some gross sensations, that is not Vipassana. You have to seek equanimity." - it felt as if he was talking to me! Pleasure and pain are guides yet both dangerous: pleasure can make you forget your goal of equanimity (I was seeking the "tingling sensations" I never got) while pain can be a difficult barrier. However, pain is a better guide because you can't lose yourself into it (Pain is the way!). It's like magic: some use wonderful pixie dust, some swallow a toad. You can't know if you'll be sorted into Slytherin.

  • Sports-wise I mostly skipped the Wing Chun trainings. It's just too slow progress and I don't think I'm enough into it. I was mostly curious but I'm not sure it's worth 2 years of slow practice to get anywhere. Boxing is occasional but still going. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the one making the most inroad - I finally understood a few things, such as what truly matters when you're standing or on the ground. To put it simply: standing, keep your balance, pass the legs (the first line of defense), don't break your posture or get grabbed on the upper body. On the ground, defend with your legs and try breaking the posture / put off balance. I finally won a few bouts! To get you started :

Guard passing is most problematic

  • Being a yoga adventurer, I tried Acro-yoga. Yes it's a thing. I add it to the list alongside aerial yoga, hot yoga, pilates, barre and pole dancing. The acro thing was ok - kind of strange a bit like Chinese circus. Not sure about the yoga benefits there but it was sort of fun. I might try again.

The only pose I learned in acro yoga

  • I switched from many years of Apple from an iPhone 5 (too slow and memory full) to Android - a Xiaomi Note. First impressions:
    (1) it's all the same apps!
    (2) the Note big screen makes the iPhone 5 feel like a toy
    (3) it feels much more open (no need for iTunes!)
    (4) why pay so much for iPhone? (tell me)
    (5) I didn't bother checking in details the Oppo / Vivo / OnePlus (all brands from the same group company BKK, btw) / Huawei / Samsung / etc. - it looked mostly the same and commoditized.
    Am I missing something amazing?

  • Okinawa! 18 years after my first visit to Japan I finally visited Okinawa during a long weekend. White sand beaches and turquoise seas... get pretty boring to me after 10 minutes unless there is something to do like snorkeling, water sports or else. The best parts were a hike in a river to reach a waterfall, an art museum, trying out PokemonGo (including beating a gym) and... oh my god sashimi. Speaking Japanese definitely helped. I played "shima uta" on a sanshin (I thought it was a shamisen but I saw a cat roam freely in a shop).

Hydrogen water, unreasonable amounts of fresh sashimi, and a few things,
also a sign on the rental car saying "Foreigner at the wheel" - is that a micro-aggression? ;)

7. POKEMONGO | I've seen it before...

Over a decade ago, I was involved with this game. Tell me if you don't see similarities.
I even wrote a chapter in a book about pervasive gaming (that's how we called AR back in the day). Here is a presentation about it - please forgive the many slides, it's made for a talk not reading online.
I've tried PokemonGo for a bit and it felt the same... without the sense of connection with other players that the older game had (it had messaging, trading, etc.). Maybe it will come later? Anyway, I'm out of it now.

8. PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE | As viewed by a European living in Asia...

I listened to it on my way to Hong Kong airport. Overall nothing much new. My take was that Clinton scored more debate points - especially the stamina statement - but Trump managed to look calmer and reassuring that he took seriously the nuclear risk. He might have won the body language, appearance and tone of voice battle too - I did not watch the video but read notes of "patting on the back" to Clinton, and a few others things...

Now, from what my boxing coach said (to a guy who was training for his first match), the first round is to observe the opponent and notice patterns to exploit later. This is the first debate, there are two more if both candidates agree to it. They will be much closer to the election date and more strategic. Wouldn't you keep your best shots for those? I wonder what each candidate will show then.

Until next time,

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