HAX Global Partners Tour, Hoverboards, Liptstick Robot and a Slovene Philosopher

(If you want those emails to stop, the exit is at the bottom. I will still love you)

Gung Hey Fat Choy!

🐒猴年吉祥 ! 🐒 Gung Hey Fat Choy!
Happy New Year of The Ape! (or is it a large lemur?)

This year I am in Hong Kong to celebrate.
I also have a quick recap, an announcement and the usual bits and bulbs.

1. RECAP OF 2016: what came out of HAX’s factory of awesome?
2. GLOBAL PARTNERS TOUR: your chance to meet with us and 100 startups!
3. SHOCK & AWE: a few amusing hardware things
4. QUESTIONS FOR THE YEAR AHEAD: a few things I think about
5. CULTURE CORNER: a movie and MMA as ecosystem

Let's get started!

1. RECAP OF 2016

HAX crossed 100 investments (mazeltov!), about half of which happened last year. We’ll be adding at least another 100 in 2016. We also published a few reports and articles, totaling hundreds of thousands of views.

We had amazing runs as our portfolio includes more and more deep science. We have disruptive startups (such as the Carry ground delivery robot by Dispatch and LIVIN home insect farm), consumer (e.g. Revols custom-fit earphones), IOT tools (the CHIP $9 computer is already shipping!) and the growing health tech category (for instance: Zenso tackling anxiety and Berkeley Ultrasound fighting depression).

As usual, banana is for scale

Let’s remind everyone that most of these startups are raising funding. Some already have, some are in progress. They are also hiring, looking for partners, etc. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us (or to them!).

We’re "simply" trying to solve - alongside other SOSV accelerators like Indie.bio, Food-X and Urban-X - the big challenges of our time around automation, health, nutrition, urban life, and more using hardware, software and wetware. We launched two new accelerators (Boost in SF and Urban-X in NYC) and have at least one more coming this year: HAX China in Shenzhen, for local hardware startups with global ambitions. A warm welcome to Karina (karina@hax.co), our new China Program Director. Contact her if you'd like to apply/partner/buy her lunch and talk business.

In closing, some keywords for 2016:

  • Service robotics

  • Personal robotics

  • Wearapeuthics

  • Mobile hospital

  • Disposable computing

  • Micro-factories

If you want to know more, see below how to meet with us!


Hardware is eating the world, and Cisco’s CEO of 20 years John Chambers said last year that 40% of companies will be irrelevant within 10 years because of IOT. Don’t be like them! Remember that even the secretive Apple and Google/Alphabet regularly use new technologies they did not invent, partner with, invest in and buy companies (close to 200 for Google).

Cyril (founder of HAX) and myself are going to Japan, France, Germany and USA (NYC/SF/Seattle) to meet with YOU to explore cooperations with our growing portfolio of 100+ startups. We’ll be there in late March/early April, flying coach.

Meanwhile, Duncan (duncan@hax.co), Managing Director of the HAX Accelerator in Shenzhen is full on with Batch 8 (beware!). He is also building up our 5 specialty tracks (Robotics, Health, Lifestyle, IOT Tools, Advanced Manufacturing) and supporting the launch of our new program for Chinese startups. Reach out to engage. You can also read our best-selling free robotics report to see how serious we are about this.

Much buzzwords. Very future. Wow!

This trip is to give opportunities to MNCs to partner with us and succeed like audio specialist Onkyo (cooperation for our audio-related startups that lead to two multi-million-dollar crowdfunding campaigns) and BMW/MINI (the new Urban-X accelerator program in NYC).

Q: Which industries?
A: All of them! Health, beauty, automotive, retail, insurance, home, F&B, etc.
We invested in over 100 startups and will be at least tripling this number over the next 24 months. It’s about plugging into a pipeline of innovations.

Q: Where and When?
Between March 21 (Tokyo, joining Pioneers Asia) and April 7 (SF). We also stop by Paris, Munich/Berlin, NYC and Seattle.

Q: Who?
On our side: Cyril (founder of HAX) and myself (General Partner).
On your side: decision makers (C-suite / Strategy / Corp dev / etc.).

Q: What?
A: A closed-door discussion about ways to work with us and our startups. From sponsoring to cooperations, investment, distribution, you name it!

EMAIL ME to fix a date.


We see so many projects (1,000+ a year) that it’s rare to still be surprised by something. And a surprise does not make a startup (I’ll expand on the “Dogs and Demons in Startups” another time - let’s say flying cars and jet packs lose to Tesla and hoverboards). Still, without going into deep science, here are a few I found interesting:

  • Babypod - stimulate vocalization of babies before birth with music. Will it be popular? Will babies learn languages before they are born?

  • Axent Wear cat ear headphones - not really high tech but interesting as a fashion thing. I did not expect those to reach mass market yet they are in Brookstone and I saw them on shelves in Hong Kong too.

  • Hoverboards - I tried one back in 2014 (!) in Beijing, it was the “original ancestor” named Hovertrax. Who could have guessed the price would drop by 90% from over $1,000 to just above $100 (in China). It's not a one-off anecdote and certification/licensing issues: it is a testimony of the changing pace of innovation and the growing role of China's supply chain. I have an op-ed coming on the topic soon, a first version is here under the title “Those are not the hoverboards you are looking for”.

  • And of course the lipstick robot. She should have used KATIA.


I don't have the answers to those questions. I am interested in rational discussions about them.

Why so serious?

A professional clown, a German philosopher and a pop culture critic.
Oops I think I mixed them up.

- Jobs vs. Robots: let's figure it out?
I am not talking about AI killing humanity here but about the ongoing debate about "robots stealing jobs". I was picking up my laundry at the store when it dawned on me that store was operating "service robots" all day long. Some argued that the washing machine had a huge impact on women's lives by freeing their time. Wasted time kills: there are about 100 usable waking hours per week so saving one hour a week is like saving one life per 100 people. So while those currently at risk (in low-skill, but also high-skill ones) may not qualify easily for another job, there is an overall benefit in freeing humanity from tedious tasks. Note that even Chinese factory workers are being replaced by robots - I am not sure where the million Foxconn workers will go but it will surely reduce the number of suicides (which was, btw, below national average in China). Should we just hope to either support, retrain people or phase out gracefully (for older workers)? Any other alternative?

- Have we reached peak political correctness?
Political correctness has brought more awareness about the mistreatment of various groups and improved their lot (I watched this great play in France about France's Women Rights since the 50's - they came a long way!). Now I wonder if the pendulum has swung too far on the over-protective and over-self-censoring side of things. First, breaking the thermometer doesn't change the temperature: self-censoring prevents real discussions. Second, we might be gradually losing the benefits of humor, offense (which includes the creation of closer bonds) and dissent (which is key to free speech). And in the name of equality and respect, the trend seems to be the negation of cultures, faith and biology, which are realities and hard to ignore. How to balance all this without falling into outragism? My newfound favorite Slovene philosopher Slavoj Žižek has an interesting take on political correctness and jokes/insults as conducive or even necessary to friendship. Monty Python John Cleese said "as far as I’m concerned, you’re living in 1984.”, which is not to reassure me. What's your take?

- Will personal mobility get a boost?
2015 saw an explosion of those mostly electric devices (sometimes literally). It is interesting that many countries decide to forbid riding hoverboards on either pavement, bicycle lanes and roads when many people so obviously want them. Interestingly, Hong Kong does not allow e-bikes anywhere either. Maybe allowing a first "pilot" location to measure the impact would help? This is a more affordable future than Teslas. Well, maybe except in Hong Kong... which has the highest number of Teslas per capita (thanks to overall high GDP/capita, and government subventions for electric cars - most of HK's 4,000 electric vehicles are Teslas).

- What's going on with Donald Trump?

I didn't know much about Trump before this whole presidential thing started, but I found quite fascinating to observe his messaging, treatment by the media and overall performance. From where I stand (I don't live in USA and I am not an US citizen), mainstream media apparently agreed on portraying Trump either as Hitler, a sexist, a racist or simply an idiot. So far they are only missing "pedophile" and "terrorist" to get the "four horsemen of media apocalypse" grand slam. It raises an eyebrow as the classic "reductio ad Hitlerum" is hardly a sign of a rational debate, and often used as the last-resort go-to stratagem (see in particular No.32 and No.38, but also a flurry of others used against him). I enjoy the meta-conversation even more than the actual thing (here is my favorite source for commentary). On media and presidential elections you are welcome to (re-)watch Network (1976), Wag the Dog (1997) and The Manchurian Candidate (2004). Other suggestions are welcome.


- Slavoj Žižek: my new favorite Slovene
This 60-something hyperactive Slovenian psychoanalytic philosopher and cultural critic gentleman was recommended to me for his documentary The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. He's sort of "my boom" マイブーム now. I enjoyed it greatly and dived into more of his work. He’s quite a quirky fellow. I feel his critics have a point saying his rapid-fire speaking style might be used to conceal a lack of structure at times. Anyway, watch the guide (and all the movies he comments on!). His other one on ideology was ok but less exciting. Let's give him a pass as we lack notable Slovenes. My friend Tomaž told me there was only one notable national hero, Martin Krpan, whose accomplishments revolve around smuggling salt and tax evasion. No, he wasn't giving any to the poor. Oh, and apparently Krpan is not real. We wasted our time.

- Missing the wave? MMA as startup ecosystem
MMA is booming, but France does not allow MMA matches, deemed too violent. Meanwhile, judo, wrestling, boxing (all components of MMA) are declining (it’s out of fashion + you can’t easily make a living from those). More, judo coaches are not allowed to teach MMA.
French MMA athletes are leaving the country. I wonder if we could find a parallel with startups and innovation ecosystems: the local talent is there (engineers, entrepreneurs), but the potential to make it big evades due to lack of cash, coaches and community (and regulation). Sometimes it’s just a matter of realizing that times have changed, that you already have what it takes and that you just need to take action! A first event was held recently- let’s see where it goes!

That's all for now!


PS: Apparently, working on the first day of the Chinese New Year means you will be working every day of that year - a kind of “workaholism” curse. I heard it only applies to Chinese so I guess I’ll be ok (I’ll just assume I don’t have enough Chinese DNA - at least to my knowledge! 23andme might prove me wrong and find all sorts of other odd things - and it is above my pay grade to determine how Chinese you have to be. More informed opinions are welcome).