gramofonI am very happy to announce that Gramofon just went live on Kickstarter!

Gramofon is a new gadget category that blends WiFi and music. It has all the functionality of a Fonera but also works with Spotify to deliver the easiest way to play your cloud music from your existing sound system. On top of that it is social, so up to 20 people can connect via Facebook, and DJ simultaneously. Additionally, it works amazingly with other Gramofon units.

I decided to build this device about a year and a half ago because I found that there was no offering that allowed me to play cloud music in the way that I listen to music – socially and in my living room. I tried everything and wasn’t satisfied with the solutions that were out there because they either made me buy an expensive new system, were expensive solutions to a simple problem, or were poor solutions and hacks.

We put together a prototype early last year in New York and Fon Labs has been working on the product out of Bilbao ever since. We worked with Bone and Black on the design and now have a beautiful device that is finally ready to be revealed to the world!

We wanted to first get it to the kind of people that supported Fon to begin with: the early adopters, the people who believe in the power of new technology. For this reason, we decided to launch on Kickstarter – a crowdsourced network of backers.

So please take a look at the page. I hope you love the Gramofon as much as I do!

escanear0014_2There is a small number of people who grew up poor or middle class and are now rich. I have met quite a few.  This group is divided into two kinds, the ones who realize that being exceptionally gifted yourself does not mean that we live in a fair society and the ones who believe that we do live in a fair society and they are the proof, that all others have to do is try hard and succeed like they did.

I grew up middle class, one of six kids supported by a university professor, and have come to the conclusion that even though I have done very well, the developed world is somewhere in between in terms of fairness.

I do believe that people from any class who are extremely talented at something can do very well in most developed countries, and in that sense life in those countries is fair. But what is not fair is that very few people in society are extremely talented at anything and in many cases the life of those who aren’t is pretty bad. Especially in the USA in which the middle class has not increased its standard of living since the 70s and three quarters of the population have no savings at all.

In general I believe that societies should be judged not by how the top 1% lives but by how the bottom 20% lives. Better than having the richest people in the world it is that your country has the least poor in the world. I want to see countries ranked according to how the bottom 20% lives. To me the most successful and fair countries are not the ones with the most billionaires, but the ones who have the richest poor people in the world. Because if those are not doing so badly, then everyone else is doing better.

But I was never able to find a statistic like that.

I would like to extend my congratulations to the mayor of Es Mercadal, Xisco Ametller, and his team, on the recent launch of CoWorking Es Mercadal – a new center of coworking and investigation in Menorca! The project, which is funded and managed by the city, offers workspace for only 56 euros/month, a value that entrepreneurs on a budget can undoubtedly get behind. I believe startups from all over the country, all over the world, will find much value in bringing their project to this site and seeing how far their runway can go. Menorca is the perfect place to develop an idea and launch a startup.

es_mercadal_menorcaThe entrepreneurial community is growing, and island life certainly helps to inspire.
Additionally, Coworking Es Mercadal is part of the CoWorking Visa project, meaning members of participating sites (of which there are 450 around the world) can have a workspace in Es Mercadal for free for a number of days. Check out photos on their website, with info in English, Spanish and Catalán.

This coworking site joins the ranks of other amazing initiatives already up and running in Menorca. CAEB Menorca, a great startup incubator working in collaboration with ParcBIT Mallorca, has been around since 2008. El Plató de Joves, another incubator and coworking site in Mahón, was founded in 2012 and has 12 companies currently in their network and working from their facilities. And I have been lucky to host tech entrepreneurs from all over the world at my house in Alaior for the annual Menorca TechTalk, where guests get a taste of the many great things Menorca has to offer.

Once again, happy to see Menorca’s entrepreneurial community flourishing!

Yesterday we had a horrible moment vis a vis selfishness of others flying first class from Vancouver to Miami, when Nina Varsavsky myself and Mia were given seats in different rows and everyone on the American Airlines flight refused to change seats with us so a 2 year-old would not fly alone. Moreover, a man became violent over this and Nina ended up crying which made me feel awful. Nina attributed the selfishness to the type of people who fly in first class, she felt they were more arrogant and difficult than the rest and said she wanted to go coach next time. She said it was the third flight in which this happened to her. We also thought it was crazy for airlines to give individual seats in different rows to a 2 year old. The experience was very sad, it was as if everyone on that plane had one thing to say to us: we could not care less what happens to your children.

Now today in the park the opposite happened. We had another difficult moment with kids, potentially much worse, but as a result we reconciled with the world of strangers and kids.

This morning, Nina, Mia, David and I rode our bikes from the Continuum to Flamingo Park in Miami Beach. Once there Nina was feeding David a tangerine when totally out of the blue, he choked. I was nearby and when I realized what was going on, I was reminded of similar situations I had been through: both my second daughter and my nephew had choked and once I had saved the life of a stranger who choked a a restaurant. So I immediately started a mini Heimlich Maneuver adapted for a 1 year-old. At the beginning it did not go well and Nina started panicking. But what happened next was amazing. It was like the whole park organized to save David, an American parent rushed to get help from a nearby fire station, and a whole Italian family took care of Mia and did it so well that Mia never realized what was going on. Finally David started crying, a sign that made us feel that he was breathing again, sort of like his first cry that only happen a year and a week ago at the Baptist Hospital also here in Miami. It took him a while to recover, he was scared, we were scared, everyone around had been scared. But he was fine.

Once I had an idea about commercial flying that instead of people being randomly allocated on flights, it involved seating people according to affinities on planes. And I said that families with kids should seat together. I still stand by this idea. Families with kids are in a way a network of common minded people all devoted to a common goal, the healthy upbringing of their children. And we help each other. I don’t know what would have happened if David had choked while flying on American Airlines but the reaction would not have been the one at the park. Families with kids understand each other. Now the paradox is that everyone was a kid, at some point, and I find it sad that so many adults lose their empathy for children after they grow up. This is reflected in society, I don’t know if you know this but in Western democracies, the highest concentration of poverty by age is among children. Children are discriminated against most likely because their voice is not heard in democracies as they don’t vote and their parents don’t carry a custodian vote for them.  But get families together and they do build a society that is extremely friendly to children. Flamingo Park was to me, how the world should be. I want to thank all the strangers who helped us in that park today.  David is fine.

bitcoin2To me Bitcoin is a coin that if you flip it in 2020 you will have heads worth $100K, or tails worth $0. If it’s heads, Bitcoin by then has become a serious competitor to gold and an exchange currency. If it’s worth 0, it will be either because people lost interest in the digital currency or because a better digital currency was found more suitable. The first case would be akin to what happened to buying land in Second Life, once thought a sure way to make money. The second like investing in MySpace instead of Facebook.

(Photo:  antanacoins/Flickr)

plane60sWhen I trained as a pilot I was appalled at how 1960s aviation is. This will be hard for you to believe, but even when you have WiFi on the plane, commercial pilots in most cases do not have Internet in their cockpit, nor do they have satellite phones, nor GPS trackers. All they have to connect with ground is old style radios. And radios that sound awful. Radios are not safe, anyone for any reason can interfere with them. Indeed any person can buy an aviation radio without any kind of permit and start pretending he or she is a controller and aircraft have no way of verifying that they are indeed speaking to a real controller. Plus there is the confusion factor.  When you train as a pilot, a lot of what you have to learn is how to understand controllers over a radio, a radio which has poor sound quality and leads to frequent mix ups because of the different accents and languages that are spoken around the world by controllers and pilots. While in theory all controllers should speak English, Spanish traffic controllers for example speak in Spanish to aircraft that have Spanish identifiers, or address them in Spanish, sometimes depriving other aircraft flown by non Spanish speaking pilots of information that could be useful to them. Moreover, radio frequencies forces pilots to listen to everything that is said to other aircraft until you are called, something that I find extremely distracting when piloting.   Imagine if you had a telephone system in which you had to listen to everyone else’s conversations until somebody finally spoke to you. Well that is what is happening in the air right now all over the world.  Primitive. In my view  it is indefensible that we send planes loaded with passengers over the oceans without Internet, real time voice communications nor  GPS trackers. And even over land and near the coasts we use radars to know where aircraft are, but radars have very short range so we can’t have radar coverage over oceans.  The radar/transponder system is just obsolete as a way to know where aircraft are.  But still the norm. Then many times pilots are proud of their FMS systems, and in general I don’t know for what reason many times pilots are proud of aviation the way it is.  But that is wrong, for example FMS systems don’t have QWERTY keyboards.  Typing in them is a slow, painful process.  And when pilots make it to airports, many of them are still using paper charts, yes paper charts from Jeppesen to find their way in and out and around airports.

That Malaysian MH370 can disappear over the ocean and nobody knows exactly where, or the Air France 447 flight over the Atlantic went down and it took months to find the black box, is just irresponsible on the part of aviation authorities. My own Citation, a private jet, has a GPS tracker so we always know where it is. It cost less than $1000. We also have a satellite phone that allows the pilots to call for help anywhere in the world on concrete problems they may face that the radio operator may not be able to solve. Those also cost around $1000. And there is now Internet available to planes around in the world. But commercial planes, even when they have it for passengers, do not have it for pilots.  And it is illegal to install equipment that is not approved by flying authorities around the world. Think of a product like the Dropcam and imagine it on all commercial aircraft showing ground personnel in real time everything that is happening in the cabin, cockpit and recording in real time, that combined with good communication with the pilots would make aviation much less of the black hole it is today.

madmen flightIn some cases a passenger with WiFi on a commercial plane can have more vital information than the pilot in the cockpit. For example, weather information. A pilot has a weather radar but the passenger can have real time weather information along the route, and that is as useful and sometimes more useful. But pilots in many jurisdictions are not allowed to use iPads with real time weather information. Private aviation has incorporated iPads and real time weather info much faster than commercial aviation. A commercial plane radar sees the next dangerous clouds (CBs clouds that can bring an airliner down) and that is all they show. But the passenger with Internet can have information about dangerous weather activity all the way to the destination. The passenger sees beyond what the pilot sees. Why can’t airlines have those tools if private jets already do? They cost very little more. Think of all the money we are spending on TSA and its equivalents to make aviation safe — can’t we spend a little more and have truly connected planes? If all commercial aircraft had GPS trackers, at least we would known exactly where  AF 477 or MH 370 went missing.   We should have every commercial airliner install a GPS tracker.  Secondly we should connect all flights to the Internet and provide pilots with real time weather information anywhere in the world to supplement their weather radars as most private jets already have. What I find especially dangerous are flights that cross the Equator, where there are the most high altitude CBs during the night when you can’t see them.  Thirdly, we should connect all FDRs (black boxes) to the Internet in real time so airlines know exactly what is happening to planes and alert pilots via the Internet and or satellite phones of unexpected dangers.  Lastly we should give pilots a way to speak both over radio and over the internet/satellite connection so they can obtain help from their airlines or anyone else and not just that controller which has the radio that they can talk to. In many cases the communication could be via messaging that is directly sent to flying instruments and all the pilot has to do is hit OK.  Right now the way things work is incredibly dated.  A controller for example gives a certain aircraft a flying level while all the other pilots are listening in (in case the instruction is for them), then the pilots of the target aircraft have to acknowledge that they received the instructions, then the pilots of that aircraft have to remember what the instructions were (they are not sent in writing in any way and believe it or not, many pilots carry notepads tied to their legs not to forget and write them down while flying), then they have to go to their instruments, say the autopilot, then they have to input the new flight level in the autopilot, then they have to go to that flight level. Wouldn’t it be much easier to get an instruction over the Internet, hit OK, and have that instruction go to the autopilot and the plane to that level?

Or here is another example, ice detection.  Right now the way pilots fight ice, and let’s remember that ice brings down planes, is by guessing when ice forming conditions could be happening and activating anti icing.  In many cases they have to look at their own wings to see if there is ice building up.  Again here night and day are very different, as at night it is harder to see that you are going through ice forming clouds. Some pilots have to turn on lights that shine on the wings.  All this activity should be improved with sensors and real time weather information.  Sometimes pilots have to navigate, be on the radio, fight ice and fight CBs all at the same time.  This is just not fair to pilots.  Anti ice should go on automatically.  As things are it is an unnecessary burden on pilots.

Now the good news here is that we now have pilotless aircraft, drones, flying more and more frequently.  It is my view that as driverless cars will show how to make driving safer, drones will show how to make flying safer.

onoA Spanish cable company, ONO, built originally by Eugenio Galdon and mostly by my friend Richard Alden between 2001 and 2011, is in the process of being sold to Vodafone for around $9.5bn, and nobody cares. It is sad how entrepreneurial successes that don’t happen in the USA or are not related to the USA get so little press. ONO is a fantastic story of near death, resurrection and now great exit for its investors.  Spain, Europe, needs to learn to celebrate its start ups.

As somebody commented on Twitter: Imagine this headline “Google buys Spanish Ono for $9.5bn to start Google Fiber throughout Europe”. Now that would get huge coverage because there would be an American angle to the story.  And this is true even though the buyer, Vodafone, is also one of the most remarkable entrepreneurial successes of Europe, a company that is about to collect $85 billion from the sale of its stake in Verizon Wireless in the USA. A company that has managed to get half a billion mobile customers around the world and is managed in a very entrepreneurial way by Vittorio Colao.

But we should not blame Americans for this. Americans do the right thing, they recognize and celebrate success.   The blame is exclusively with Europeans who are still uncomfortable with and envious of big exits.  Europeans don’t realize that if a company that went from nothing to connecting 7 million homes is not celebrated, that if building networks, creating jobs, bringing high speed internet is not celebrated, we will not get young Europeans on the right track to create the most innovative region on the planet which is what Europe should be.

(Photo: Angel Navarrete/Bloomberg)

Axel-SpringerI just joined the board of the largest media company in Germany, Axel Springer. It is very courageous of their part to appoint me as I have never served on anyone’s board and I have a very different profile from anyone else on their board. But I accepted this opportunity for two reasons,  because I admire how well Axel Springer has transitioned into the digital world under the leadership of Mathias Doepfner and because journalism was my part time job since I was in college and I am passionate about it. Few of my friends know that I paid for part of my NYU and Columbia education being a US correspondent of Spanish and Argentine publications. For some reason the story that always comes out is that I also was a bike messenger :).  But I am incredibly interested in the subject of how professional journalism can survive in the digital age. On how news will be consumed by millennials. On how to deliver valuable content to people over mobile formats. On how to help Axel Springer globalize.  Plus now we have a reason to go to Berlin four times a year, a city my wife Nina (who is German) and I both love!


money time

When I was a student dreaming of making it as an entrepreneur, I imagined that success would give me a world of opportunity in which so many new possibilities were open to me.

Well, a few billion dollar exits later, this turned out to be only partly true. The other lesser known obvious fact is that the day of an entrepreneur has the same amount of hours as everyone else’s.

After a while, you realize that success means not that you can say yes to so many new and phenomenal opportunities, but that you end up saying no to even more new and phenomenal opportunities. And these rejections keep piling up in the form of not hiring a great person, or not attending a great event, or not investing in a great company, or not taking a fantastic vacation, or even worse, missing the birthday of somebody you love so much.

Because in the end, there is only so much you can do, and the differences among great opportunities are not big enough for the choices to be obvious. Especially if you also love being a husband, father and friend and a lot of your time is devoted to that. Every time Nina, my wife, says we have to go over our calendar, I agonize.

As you do well in life, it’s not the cost of choices that drives scarcity, it’s distributing finite time over them that does. And a good life, as a good product, is not about being able to do everything, but about doing enough, well enough and leaving the rest aside.

facebook-compra-wahttappThe WhatsApp acquisition price sounds high, sky high, crazy high.  But it’s not if you put yourself in Zuckerberg’s shoes and think about it in these terms: Facebook bought a network that was a real threat to its existence,  that is growing much faster than itself (growth drives valuations) and has almost half as many members already, for only 10% of its value. And it prevented it from going to Google.  So from this perspective $19bn in Facebook minted currency makes sense.   If you call WhatsApp a better SMS system, hence an attack on the telco industry, on size alone, it is as big as half of all the texting that goes on in the world. SMS, as Facebook said in its investor conference after the acquisition, is a $100bn industry. Where are Facebook/WhatsApp headed? In my view towards doing with telephone minutes what WhatsApp already did with SMS. WhatsApp killed the I-bill-you-by-text-message telco model.  I would not be surprised if WhatsApp next move is to kill the I-bill-you-by-the-minute model.  It is not reasonable that Facebook, which wants to connect everyone on the planet, still does not have a platform for people to have actual conversations a la Viber or Skype.  I can’t imagine that things will stay this way. And owning the world’s texting and the world’s conversations may very well be worth $19bn.

What we have learned about Facebook is that Zuckerberg will pay whatever he has to pay to stop a rising competitor from eating his lunch.  First Instagram, now WhatsApp. Moreover that he can live and let live, acquire and keep the acquired company in shape. Instagram is still pretty much the same product it was when it was acquired.  WhatsApp is likely to evolve but on its own.

(Photo credit: MusicZine)

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