Russian BBQ, Ritalin, Shaking Hands With Macron, Harassment

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Conference season is over, finally back home. Time to unwrap the news!


We are recruiting the 11th group for our program-based hardware fund. We already funded over 200 companies, and most are alive and kicking (one just raised a nice series B of $30M). Apply here.


I gave talks in Singapore, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Paris, Vienna, Moscow and SF. Russian startups were surprisingly numerous and high-tech, but their marketing and com are quite poor. We'll see if we end up investing in some.

Russian BBQ = Badder than American? A flying thing, a robot and CNC idols


+ Mary Meeker released her annual Internet Trends report. Lots of data and ideas, but not much on the hardware/IoT world. Our very own Hardware Trends report is launching on July 11. Over 200 pages of hardware goodness. That's about one page per startup we invested in!

+ Maybe Kara and Walt will invite us to present it next year at Code? It's one of the very few tech conferences we haven't spoken at (along with TED - I've spoken at two TEDx).

+ Talking about talks, I gave recently "private" talks on the latest trends in hardware/IoT/robotics. They were very well received. The one I gave at Fidelity is here (one hour talk). Depending on the audience and distance, it can be free, cheap or a few $k. I haven't written a book yet so the fee is still below US$10,000.


As if bombing during an open mic wasn't enough (see previous newsletter), I enrolled in a 4-hours workshop (here in HK). It was only about 5 minutes of actual stage time, but the whole thing gave useful insights on the craft. To prep, the host asked to write down 10 things each hated, and 10 flaws others saw in us. I made my research and... it was consistent with my self-awareness - at least there's that ;) The workshop also made me realize that comedy is not about truth, but about... laughs. What a discovery, I know. Change what you need to make it funnier. I'm reading a few things on comedy these days - I have no intention of a career in that but it's interesting.

I went to visit a temple (Tsz Shan Monastery) erected in Hong Kong by one of Asia's richest men: Mr. Li Ka-Shing. It's a kind of VIP place so it was pretty quiet. I got caught up drawing hundreds of Chinese characters in a sutra calligraphy workshop - the first third was fun. Later, we walked around the world's tallest statue of Guan Yin (bodhisattva of compassion or "Goddess of Mercy"). The rule is to walk around it three time. I thought initially it was sort of pointless, but after the first round looking at the statue it really showed the value of iterations: I looked at details, the vegetation around, the craft, the negative space... it reminded me of the excellent drawing approach described by Betty Edwards in Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain. Lines, negative space, connections/relations, light/shadow, 'essence'. It actually relates to comedy above as it's all about repetition to perfect goods ones and weed out others.

Temple, calligraphy, and Guan Yin who might drip on your third round

I had never used it, but when preparing for a talk in SF, a colleague and myself had to do lots of preparation. I flew from Hong Kong (13 hours), worked the whole flight on United WiFi (they didn't throw me out nor broke my laptop), worked a full day and night. I slept about 1h + 30min over 2 nights. My colleague gave me my first, then second (6 hours later) Ritalin(tm). I was so sleep-deprived that I can't really tell if it helped, but it was new. I even mentioned it for fun as I started the talk - it made the atmosphere quite friendly ^^ - I then joined an hours-long meeting with my merciless SF-based colleagues (who slept well the previous nights, and didn't have jet lag). Cruel.

Don't play with that in the hope of productivity if it goes beyond 2-3 days, and if you have paranoid tendencies. The same way you can snap something at the gym, your brain cannot be stretched endlessly, as a friend discovered a few weeks back and ended up at the hospital. On the one hand, his dream came true: 10 nurses jumped on him! On the other, they were all male, and there to restrain him.

One of my friends is training his dog to be more outgoing and confident (the dog has baggage). It seems that it's all about putting the dog in stressful situations (climbing things, mostly) and helping him through it (to show he can rely on you), or ordering him and rewarding him when done well. It's pretty simple: trust the leader! Depending on their breed and character, dogs learn at a different pace. How much of it applies to humans? I tend to think children until a certain age (?) react pretty much in the same way. Surely a good training for parenting! For management (including self-management), it also seems to make sense.

A photo from HK Art Fair / Dog training / "Never give up" says the Mental Ward

My first All-American county fair experience. Good vibes, greasy food (my friend got poisoned), rodeo, pig race, rides... and a flag-bearer with a parachute! Not sure I'll go back but good for one time.

The pig race was over in 10 seconds. Can't remember who won.



With air travel come new movies. The type I wouldn't pay for but entertain a couple of hours between work, sleep, reading and writing. The choice has been poor, unfortunately.

Meeting Snowden** (Documentary on Arte - still free for a few days) - a (French) documentary crew went to interview Snowden in Moscow. Damn, I was there and forgot to say hi! The documentary is quite good.

Dressmaker* - with Kate Winslet. Not that amazing.

Despicable Me 3* (** if you're under 6yo) - as it turns out it's not a silly "Minions 2" movie (it's out in 2020). It's Despicable Me 3. With Gru and all. Well done but really for kids. I realized the director (Pierre Coffin, whom I met years ago in a conference) does the Minion voices! It's true! Just record yourself and play your voice at higher speed, you're a minion. Their language is actually using bits of French, English, Spanish (which I guess Pierre all speaks) and some bits and bulbs of other languages, and lots of nonsense.


Twin Peaks (Season 3)****
David Lynch did not disappoint with the new Twin Peaks season. Odd characters, unexplained mysteries, slow-paced story. Aged Hawk, Log Lady and a multiple Cooper bring a fresh and darker vibe to the show. Does it have any charm for newcomers? TV has changed a lot since 1990.

Silicon Valley HBO***
It feels like work since it's my industry and it's too real, but it has picked up pace. Almost too much, with many plot twists. It covers a bit the investor side, and the heresy of a startup bootstrapping, and trying to gain real customers. Richard shows some new aspects. I used to like Gilfoyle's irony best but somehow Jared and his loyal pragmatism and strong values have grown on me. Also, I met my second, real-life Russ Hanneman. It made me think that someone truly confident might not need to assert himself that much. I met a less intense female version too some time ago.

Better Call Saul**
It's getting slow and somewhat repetitive. Not sure I'll go forward.

American Gods**
Kind of sci-fi thing. Gave it a shot with 2 episodes. Not sure where it's going yet.


Zero to One***
By Peter Thiel. I re-read it and it's quite a valuable book for entrepreneurs. I paid homage to the cover art in a recent talk called "Building Hardware Startups From Zero To IPO".

Invisible Planets**
It's my first Chinese sci-fi book. It's a collection of translated short stories by famous Chinese writers - some of them actually quite good, with a very Chinese social, economic and cultural backdrop. I picked it up after joining the first sci-fi conference in HK, organized by one of the rare successful tech entrepreneurs who were successful in China. I didn't know he was into sci-fi, and I'm glad I went.

Free Will**
By Sam Harris. I'm re-reading this one. Will re-read Schopenhauer's prized essay too (1839 - free). Sam Harris writing and podcasts really try hard but do not always hit the mark. I look forward to his upcoming podcast with Scott Adams (all those bloggers/vloggers/podcasters seem like a very incestuous circle, inviting each other).

I Killed*
"True stories of the road from America's top comics". Don't expect a bunch of jokes. I'm reading it but it's quite forgettable - pages of anecdotes of the heydays of comedy - the 80s in U.S.A. - which show how much work and trouble goes into honing skills in the craft.


I shook hands with the French president! Well, it was in December 2014 at LeWeb, a now-defunct tech conference in Paris. He wasn't president then. I actually had no idea who he was - he crossed the speaker area and shook hands with everyone on the way. He was presenting his, so I presented mine. Funny enough (?) I was speaking right after him at the conference and remember he said he wanted entrepreneurs to be successful and make money - it actually reminded me of Deng Xiaoping's 致富光荣 (zhìfù guāngróng: To get rich is glorious!) - which Deng might not have said but who cares? I also have a selfie with former president Hollande. Please bear in mind that shaking hands and selfies do not equate to an endorsement. It's just something you do (and in my case, not often...).

Recently the startup world has been shaken by sexual misconduct scandals. I personally know a few of the people involved. It's a sad situation especially since one was a champion of equality and actually helped hundreds of female entrepreneurs. There are certainly lines not to cross, but also a vast grey area of networking / semi-informal settings / friendships that might not help. Out of curiosity I checked the law in France and we had a new set of laws in 2012, and a dedicated government site "Stop Sexual Harassment" (at work, in transportation, etc.). There can be fines, jail time, firing, depending. I think overall the U.S. is the most ill-at-ease with gender topics (read The Culture Code).

Now it's another point, but the "chilling effect" might just get stronger - who wants to always second-guess what could be perceived as harassment? Wouldn't that be "reverse harassment"? Society can't align on the most sensitive - or the human race will end - so I hope we reach a reasonable consensus there.

Japan, who is always either ahead of the curve (or on a completely different curve), has many words for harassment types. Among the gems: tech-hara(-ssment, Japanese shorten it): being made to feel inadequate due to technology use, age/silver-hara: ageism, alc-hara: being pushed to drink, or shunned as light- or non-drinker, and "hello-hara": seeing a foreigner and saying "hello". Make your own!

As a final note, I have met women (and some men) in business who were very "high-touch" - kissing hello, grabbing arm, shoulder, etc. Not always welcome, but hard to turn down without being rude. France and latin countries are generally quite high touch (vs. US & Japan, very low touch).

As a famous African-American philosopher said "Can't Touch This".

Over and out,
- Ben