Tech Talks, Carnival Tricks, And The Art Of Getting Punched

We met offline or in cyberspace - a swift self-removal option is available below
About me: Twitter - LinkedIn - Forbes, and our hardware startup investment shop: HAX

It’s been three months since the last newsletter so this one is a bit packed. Let’s unfold it.


The work part.

+ Japan's Search For The Next Sony
I was at Slush in Tokyo, where I gave a talk about trends and Japan’s startup ecosystem and wrote a piece for Forbes about it. I tried to apply the “five whys” to understanding” why the local scene is punching so much below its weight. HAX was also featured in Nikkei and Forbes (Magazine) in Japan. NHK also featured HAX, I translated part of their documentary here. Maybe it will wake up some candidates for our program?

+ The Rise Of Robots
I gave a talk in Hong Kong on the Rise of Robots. They don’t look anything like vintage science-fiction.

+ China/U.S. Cross-Border Investment & Innovation
I joined a great panel at GMIC in Beijing with GGV, Qiming, Vertex and 500 Startups. It was actually really good. I wrote a first summary of our discussions on "convergence" for Forbes. My previous article on "50 Shades of Fake: How to Protect Your Product From Copycats in China" gathered almost 10,000 views.

+ Trends in Tangible Technologies
A well-known financial analysis company flew me to Singapore to share the latest trends in "tangible technologies" with their 100+ financial clients. The presentation is here, including videos.

Trendy things

The future is right in there!

I also wrote a piece on VC positioning and marketing and on why investors loved Juicero, the cold-press juice miracle machine (who seemed to pursue "DRM for your veggies")

Upcoming Talks (it's conference season):
- May 9: Shenzhenware IoT event in Shenzhen
- May 17-18: TechInAsia in Singapore
- June 1-2: Pioneers festival in Vienna
- June 6-7: Startup Village in Moscow
- June 15: 121 Tech Investment in Hong Kong
- June 17-20: TechCrunch Shenzhen
- Sep 25-28 SuperReturn Asia in Hong Kong
- Oct 26-27 Hello Tomorrow in Paris

Note: if you want me to keynote at your event on any of the above topics (or other), feel free to reach out. I have given over 200 talks in conferences, corporate and non-profit events, including two TEDx (just google me). The fee/benefits will depend on the nature of the event, the prep work and the location (I am based in Hong Kong). Being at HAX, in Shenzhen and working with the world's best innovators gives me a good glimpse into the future!


The latest and greatest 16 startups arrived in Shenzhen! A solid group with lots of health tech this time again. We’re adding more staff (over 20 already) and new content (branding/messaging, by professionals - as well as “founder psychology”). If you’ve missed the previous batch, here is a trailer with a dozen of the projects that graduated in January.

Last, applications for the September program are now open. Check

Now to the fun part:


About three months ago, Hong Kong hosted its annual Carnival - a kind of county fair - sponsored by AIA (everyone’s favorite and largest independent public-listed pan-Asian life-insurance group).

After trying one of its most high-intensity ride, I switched to games to win prizes.

Like any analytical mind, I tried to figure out the ratio of skill vs. luck for each. I observed other players to get a sense of odds and techniques.

Which is your bet?

Throw a big ring, a small ring, a coin, a ball, or try the evil twisting coil

Soon it became clear most games were designed to give a sense of “near miss”:

  • Your coin or ring rebounds off the target? You almost had it! All those games have had decades of testing to perfect the impression.

  • Some are downright deceptive. The basketball throw generally has an oval hoop, and is smaller than normal (it is indicated they are not standard but still).

  • The most attractive game - and most deceptive - might have been the “coil following” one: you feel you’re doing a great job following it with a ring 90% of the way, and the final 10% are incredibly hard, as the twisted coil is on a rotating base and you can't avoid making contact. I only saw one guy win a prize, after what seemed like a dozen costly attempts.

Eventually, I collected 3 small prizes - bigger prizes required lots more skill or luck (like 3 successful throws, or a toss on a very small location), and customers were only allowed one prize per game. A friend posted on Facebook recently that he lost $100 in a similar fair. I only spent $15 for my 3 prizes :)

And just when you think you wasted your time learning something new: a few days ago I was buying sunglasses and the store had a funky lottery machine offering promotions just like at the fair! Despite the playful pink color, the machine was pure evil: I quickly calculated that the odds to get only the minimal discount of 10% were about 80%, and a mere 0.1% to get the 50% one (three balls falling into the 50% bucket = 10% cubed)! Sadly, the sales girl didn’t care about odds and ignored my attempt to negotiate fairer rules.

The evil contraption


Last time I talked about fitness and karaoke as a way to grow self-confidence (especially for first-timers - which is not my case).

I have some new experiences to share: I had told a friend of mine who is obsessed by productivity and personal growth about an attempt at standup comedy I did a few years back. He decided to sign up for an open mic in Hong Kong, and somehow got me to join too. I signed up at the last minute, with under-prepared material.

There were 12 comedians that evening, and almost no-one else in the audience. One I recognized as a funny guy from a show I had seen. It all looked like the perfect setup for a disaster.

And it was.

Except that - surprisingly - everyone bombed. I have to admit I felt a lot less worried going on stage once half a dozen others had bombed. And I somehow already knew the drill from a couple past experiences.

It is still a good reminder that the dynamics of conferences (where I gave over 200 talks and generally receive very positive feedback) are totally different: in standup you have no authority, no backup and people expect to laugh (five times a minute for pro-level!). Of course you get better response with a larger audience) but your material better be tight! (5 minutes = 25 funny bits; 1 hour show = 300!).

According to the impartial judgment of my friend and, the worse ones were, , the only two girls, and one guy who was a more experienced comedian (he was trying new material that failed).


I had a week break before the start of the new program, so I went first to the Wonderfruit Festival in Thailand. It’s by the organizers of Further Future (an off-shoot of Burning Man). Quite family-friendly, with art installations, well-being workshops and music.

Then I moved to the suburbs of Phuket to join my friend S. who is training Thai boxing and fighting in matches. I trained for a week at his gym. I only sparred very little - with one girl who has done about 100 fights! (an average pro in the West has 30). I was careful not to make her angry...

Getting punched

Get punches for your mind and body - and a nice beach to forget it all

Life there was very easy - super cheap food, housing, massages, sauna (steam and ice bath), and beach right the corner. The most interesting bit was to hop on the back of a pickup truck to go with the gym guys to Phuket Stadium where 3 members of our gym were fighting that night:

  • One was a coach who diligently disposed of his opponent by grinding down his front leg with low-kicks (in 3 rounds I think).

  • Another was a Swedish fighter who was doing very well against his Thai opponent until he accidentally kicked the other guy’s shin with the top of his foot, where all those tiny bones are. He left on a stretcher, and very sad. The next day he still couldn’t walk. I asked him if he got X-ray and he said he went to get a foot massage instead. Not sure how that works… I recommended the X-ray again.

  • Then my friend’s turn came: he was just back in Thailand for 3 weeks and had lost some of his speed. The first round went quite well and at the break I saw the cornerman of his Thai opponent recommend elbows! In thai boxing elbows are allowed, and dangerous as they can cut or knock out. I wanted to tell my friend, but how? The second round started and the Thai guy had largely given up on big punches and kicks, favoring instead knees to score points, and trying to get an elbow in. Fortunately, S. is very careful not to damage his pretty face and kept distance or dodged the elbows, still taking a fair amount of knees in. The match dragged to its fourth round, during which the Thai fighter unsportsmanly spit his mouthguard to get a break. The fifth and last round was still unclear - the opponent scores lots of knees, no big punch. When the gong rang, S. and his crew were packing to leave, when the referee called him back: he had won! Apparently the mouthguard spit cost the Thai fighter a penalty, and the match. Note that at this level a match is paid about $200 per fighter. I am not sure the winner gets more… S. limped for 2 days after the match.


+ Near the supermarket was this "floating center" offering relaxation immersed in a dark pod with salts. I immediately thought of the physicist Richard Feynman and his book "Surely you're joking" in which he mentioned frequent sessions. I thought it might lead to a particular state of mind. Well, it didn't happen. I feel standard meditation works better for working on the constant chatter in the mind. Maybe the pod good as a power nap?

+ I finally went to the Tsukiji fish market! It only took about twenty years since my first trip to Japan. The market was supposed to move to a new location last year but got delayed so I saw it as a sign. I am glad to report that the fish was indeed absolutely delicious (and cheap), and not just because I was hungry at 6am. On the downside, any raw fish from now on will taste worse - that's the curse of knowledge!

+ Last, since I came back from the Muay Thai gym where we had to run 20 minutes before the training ("train tired, fight easy!"), I have been running often (at the gym). I used to hate it - such a waste of time - but with the proper podcast or video it sort of works. I am back to my personal best from 1994 (high-school gym test) at (don't hold your breath) 4km in 20min. When I finished a couple of half-marathons a few years back I ran them in about 2.5 hours. Not my thing.

Eat, Float, Run


+ Donald Trump is moving in the public mind from “Hitler” to “Incompetent”, “Unpredictable” or “Erratic”, and somewhat “Firm” with his missile launch. My favorite commentator on Trump and the media remains Scott Adams. Time will tell how Trump and America fares!

+ Brexit is a reality. Apparently stock market, exports, jobs and inbound investments are up. I haven’t checked but it sounds like it’s good for them? Let’s keep in mind that the UK only exited ONE (large) treaty. There are still thousands tying the country to the world. And various countries in Europe are not part of EU and doing well for themselves.

+ Last but not least: I am sending this as my native France is about to chose its president. I have never seen such drama in a presidential election. The favorite candidates of the legacy parties did not win their primaries, ending up with less iconic candidates, and upstart Macron rose on their ashes. He seems to have the support of the entire establishment (politicians, media, corporations) like Clinton did (not necessarily a good thing), but without the experience, and the baggage. After a crowded first round (11 candidates!), the nationalist/sovereign party has also advanced to the finals. For good or bad, it is hard not to see similarities between Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump, and the dissatisfactions of their supporters with the latest governments. The key difference aside from personal wealth is that Trump brought 15 years experience of reality TV and a mastery of social media. The final presidential debate was a disaster for Le Pen, who couldn't get rid of a sarcastic and fairly un-presidential tone. I am not a fan of either candidate and will not vote (unfortunately a blank vote doesn't change anything - in some countries it has the power to revoke candidates). The only candidate I was supporting for this election was a total outsider and lost in the first round.


+ I finished West World. The production value and acting are good but the show didn’t blow me away. I watched all the Black Mirror, part of Humans, and read a fair bit of sci-fi / anticipation so I’m hard to please.

+ I’m two seasons into Better Call Saul, an offshoot of Breaking Bad centered on a former con-man-turned-low-class-lawyer character. Quite entertaining but not life-altering.

+ David Lynch has shot a new Twin Peaks series. I’m very curious to see what it will be like. He’s one of my favorite filmmakers. It’s a miracle he hasn’t been eaten up by Hollywood. The owls are not what they seem!

+ I watched a few movies. Three stars or more means I think it's worth watching.

  • Whiplash*** - part of it is predictable, and the characters are a bit one-sided, but quite nice movie about how to break mental (and physical wall) to greatness. Here applied to Jazz drumming.

  • In This Corner Of The World*** (Japanese animation) - the story of a working class young girl before WWII who loves drawing and meets both her step-family in Kure, and history. It will come out in U.S. at the end of 2017. While the story is quite depressing (like Grave Of The Fireflies), it is a good one. The movie is an indie production based on a well- that raised about US$300,000 on a Japanese crowdfunding platform, and was a commercial success in theaters (2 million tickets). Oddly enough, I visited the Kure shipyard (the city of Kure is where most of the action takes places) when interning as a mechanical engineer at Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries back in 1998...

  • Snatch*** - an oldie with Brad Bitt and a few other celebs. Entertaining.

Two stars - if you have free time:

  • Ghost in the Shell** - was ok, it lost a lot of the charm of the anime (which is ****)

  • Arrival** - I finally watched the whole thing, and while it has an aura of mystery, I wasn’t too convinced about the final motivations of the main character who decides to have a child, nor how humanity didn't get more predictive powers (especially the husband guy) thanks to the new alien language.

  • The Wolf of Wall Street** - the storyline is kinda slim and not as interesting as The Big Short. Not bad still.

  • A.K.** - a documentary by indie filmmaker Chris Marker (he inspired "Twelve Monkeys") about Akira Kurosawa while he was filming Ran. Somewhat interesting to see a master at work, battling bad weather on mount Fuji. It's probably not for everybody.

One star (don't bother)

  • Hacksaw Ridge* - typical underdog war hero story. The guy is at the front for 24 hours. He probably beat a record!

  • I, Daniel Blake* - it could have been called “Brexit, the movie”. A working-class guy is chewed up by a broken social security system. Ken Loach makes depressing movies, but generally with some redeeming charm and hope. Not here. Unsurprisingly (?), a Golden Palm at Cannes.

  • Your Name* (Japanese animation) - was cute and well made but I thought the storyline didn't make sense.

  • Dr. Strange - an absolute waste of time.

+ I listed recently to a podcast by Sam Harris with a lady from MIT talking about robots where the topic of emotional attachment to robots was mentioned. Is it ok to destroy a robot someone loves? Though it is not a living creature (unlike a dog), but with AI / Machine Learning, it could be “tuned to you” (and likely replicated instantly). It somehow reminded me of Pierre Pinoncelli, a performer/vandal who chipped the famous “ready-made” art piece by Marcel Duchamp called “Fountain” (it’s a signed off-the-shelf urinal). The performer/vandal (depending on how you look at it) offered to pay $100 to replace it. Maybe something to learn for United who recently froze to death a giant rabbit who was en route to a new owner.

+ My Audible odyssey continues: I finished both Sapiens and Homo Deus. I didn’t realize how long they were but it took almost 30 hours (a bit less as I listened to some at 25% or 50% faster speed when narration allowed). Off to the next one!


In Tokyo at Slush, one Western guy wearing a hat of similar shape to mine approached me. He told me a lot of people came to tell him his speech was great. Except he didn’t give a speech - so he wanted to pass on the message. I guess all Western guys with hats look the same? You be the judge.

Absolute doppelgänger

Until next time!

- Ben

PS: this was an exceptionally long newsletter - I'll try to increase to frequency so it's not so packed. Thanks to the kind readers who reached out last time, especially those who gave advice on olive oil, I should be sorted now ;)