Hoverboards, Shenzhen, Robots and a 7-days addiction

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A few things happened. Time for an update!

1. HOVERBOARDS & SHENZHEN: Two guest columns I wrote for Techcrunch.
2. JAPAN & ROBOTS: Just back from Tokyo. No sakura, no robots. Why?
3. CHINA. We're getting serious about investing in China!
4. TOOTING THE HAX HORN. Some recent results.
5. CULTURAL CORNER. Pride and prejudice.
6. WORLD TOUR. Dates and locations.

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1. HOVERBOARDS & SHENZHEN

I wrote two articles for TechCrunch sharing "insider" insights from the hoverboard craze and the recent hype around all things Shenzhen. Check them out:

2. JAPAN & ROBOTS

What could go wrong? Well, a lot of things. For the past 2 years I kept visiting Japan to find IOT/hardware/robotics startups to invest in - or even just be impressed. And every time there, people tell me "it's going to pick up this year" (most recently at Pioneers Asia). So not only was I too early for sakura this time, but also for hardware startups...

Why is that? There are many reasons (industry-university ties, risk-aversion, lack of role models, stagnant economy, insular mindset...) yet it's down to the fact that change is hard to come from within. Here are four options. I'd favor the first one but it's a longer shot.

  1. RETURNEES - Japanese going overseas and coming back with broader ideas and perspective (what the Nobel Prize winner and blue LED inventor Shuji Nakamura recommends). That's what the founders of Softbank, Rakuten, DeNA and Globis did over a decade ago. It also worked wonders for China. To me it is a telling sign that the most recent Japanese "unicorn" (billion-dollar startup) was created after a Japanese entrepreneur took a 6-months round-the-world backpacking trip after selling his previous startup: "While traveling, I thought about what to do next. Mobile commerce comes to mind because there is a chance to go global,” says Yamada.

  2. OUTSIDERS - outsiders coming in. It's still barely 1% of Japan's population but foreigners fluent in Japanese are more common than ever. Another chance would be foreign startups entering Japan - not easy but a path to riches!

  3. COLLAPSE - Nakamura: "I think that until the Japanese economy collapses, no changes will happen at all. Just like after World War II, everything changed because Japan collapsed. I think first Japan has to collapse economically." Will Foxconn buying Sharp be enough of a wake-up call?

  4. GUNBOATS - despite all the "anti-Galapagos Syndrome" talk, Japan seems to be partly in sadoku. What would be the modern-day digital gunboats? Google, Facebook, Twitter are already plundering Japan's digital riches. Maybe for hardware it would mean Apple, Samsung and Chinese brands everywhere? Oh, wait...

Undeterred, I'll be back in Tokyo in May for Slush Asia.

3. CHINA

We're getting serious about investment in China and are opening a new accelerator program dedicated to Chinese hardware startups. First batch starts in May. Feel free to apply here!

4. TOOTING THE HAX HORN

Things are going pretty damn well.

  • Crossed 100 investments. 100 more this year!

  • Opened Boost program (sales & distribution) in SF (40 investments for 2016)

  • Opened Urban-X program (smart cities & urban living) in NYC (20 investments for 2016). It's a JV with BMW/MINI (20 investments for 2016). We're honored to have such partners German cuteness and British engineering. Cyril (HAX Founder) bought a MINI to celebrate. The vehicle is currently doing live crash-testing in SF .

  • Opening China program in May.

  • High-profile investors in HAX startups: Sequoia, A16Z, Xiaomi and GGV all chipped in.

  • Over 50 crowdfunding campaigns since start, five over $1M in the past 12 months alone (there has been only about 100 worldwide since Kickstarter launched in 2009).

Competition is waking up = we're doing something right. Full steam ahead!

5. CULTURAL CORNER: Let's agree to disagree!

  • TRUMPETS - the magic of rhethoric
    I keep following Trump's media magic through the acute analysis of Scott Adams. Who knew that a cartoonist had this in him?

  • I'M A PC?
    I thought we had reached peak political correctness - paradoxically spilling out of the most liberal U.S. colleges - but we might be past it. Obama pointed it out in September 2015. Maybe it will help? Maybe we will put behind us the current "Your rights end where my feelings start.", "safe zones" and come back to our senses regarding public debate and inclusion.

  • ​BREAKING BAD - my 7 days addiction
    I rarely watch TV but on a particular evening I took at look at Breaking Bad. Yes, welcome to 2008! What ensued was a partly sleep-deprived week... I had a moment of clarity at the end of Season 3 due to weak dialogues and storyline (one episode was all about chasing a fly). I used that break to read a summary of the following seasons. It seems to have cleared all desire to watch it (knowing the future is so boring!). This reminded me of the fact that while our bodies have immune systems, our minds are not always prepared against the mental warfare of military-grade cliffhangers, story arcs, special effects and more. Beware!

6. WORLD TOUR

Dates are not 100% firm but I'll be in:

Maybe I'll see you there!

- Benjamin