I have been fortunate to meet some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world and I would like to share an observation with you.
The most successful entrepreneurs… belong to two very different groups. The communicators and the strategists. When you meet communicators you are in awe. Examples are Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos. Their success makes sense to you. They can articulate very well how it came about, you buy it. When a communicator presents, interacts, speaks, their strategy is clear and communicating their strategy is part of their strategy. Communicators need to rally others to succeed, they need the participation and enthusiasm of partners and consumers and they know how to get it. Communicators are great presenters, great sales people.
But when you meet a strategist you have the opposite reaction. You listen to them and wonder how could this person be so successful.
Now the strategists did not become successful selling themselves or building alliances, nor convincing others to buy their products, they made it by making one good decision after another. They don’t make sales calls, they hire others to do that. They basically just think hard. And that process, the introspection, the deep analysis, is impossible to see in another person. The instinct to choose the right members of their team, to go to the core of complex situations, to have a powerful vision of their product, to anticipate competitors moves, that is a process that is clear to them but opaque to the world. Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page belong to the second group. Highly intelligent, amazing analysts and builders, poor communicators.
Cash was essentially replaced by plastic decades ago. Now plastic credit cards are becoming obsolete, especially if you carry a smartphone. They are not dead quite yet, but services like Hailo and Uber are just two examples of transactions in which using a credit card is becoming unnecessary. In fact there are a number of efforts underway to eliminate their need and to have you pay for everything using your smartphone. But if credit cards disappear, unfortunately the wallet does not disappear in turn — there is still everything else that we are obliged to carry in our wallets. The truth of the matter is that we should get rid of the wallet itself: it’s uncomfortable and dangerous to carry around, especially considering how common identity theft is nowadays.
In my wallet for example I have my Spanish national ID, my US and Spanish driver’s license, my medical insurance card, my pilot’s license, my sailing license, my car registration, and a copy of my car insurance. I still need to carry all these things because at various points in my life I may be asked for each one of them. Indeed, in many countries in Europe — and I know this sounds crazy – you can actually go to jail for not having your plastic national ID on you, if asked for it by the police.
Now think of another way of doing this. Think of a website that is a repository of all these IDs, and is government-owned or certified. Why can’t I just visit a police station once, pay a fee (so the government doesn’t lose money on this), show all my documentation, have the government scan and upload everything so that all policemen and pertinent authorities can have access. Then my car insurance company, my health insurance company, the car registration agency can all notify this government repository if I stop paying, or if my insurance policy is not valid anymore.
Estonia has done the most in this direction and its citizens love the system. In 2002 they introduced the most highly-developed national ID card system in the world. The mandatory national card is a legal picture ID and also serves as the digital access card for all of Estonia’s secure e-services:
- National health insurance: Estonia has a nationwide system that integrates data from Estonia’s different healthcare providers to a create a common record for each patient. In an emergency situation, a doctor can use a patient’s ID card to read time-critical information, such as blood type, allergies, recent treatments, ongoing medication or pregnancy status.
- Medical prescriptions: At any pharmacy, all a patient needs to do is present an ID card. The pharmacist then retrieves the patient’s information from the system and fills the prescription.
- Public transport: The ID card acts as a pre-paid public transport ticket in Tallinn and Tartu.
- Digital signatures: Public administration and businesses can freely use the digital signature system, and have applied it to a variety of web-based services.
- And even voting: In 2005, Estonia became the first country in the world to hold nation-wide elections using this method. Estonians can cast their ballots from any Internet-enabled device and connect anywhere in the world using an ID card reader.
This digitization and aggregation of information only streamlines complicated bureaucratic processes that need not be so, and at the same time makes them safer. Imagine a world in which the police has tablets or smartphones that show nice big pictures of you, in which whatever they currently do secretly with NSA-type agencies they do openly instead. If they find you without an ID they ask, “who are you?”, and once you give your name, they can see your photo and a ton of information about you. It would be so hard for anyone to impersonate you.
I find it paradoxical that while some government agencies spy on you and know all about you, others pretend to know nothing until you show them a piece of plastic that if you lose, somebody else can impersonate you with. We need to evolve from this. We need to evolve into a system in which we have no wallets and a safer world!
In the USA business degrees are mostly graduate degrees. And there is a good reason for that. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Europe. And this is not good for European businesses. My advice is that if you are interested in working in business later on in life you should wait and not get an undergraduate degree in business out of high school. Instead, for the first years of your career, it is much better to get a degree in computer science, engineering of any kind, math/physics, biology/biomedical sciences. And then get a degree in business. People who apply to work with us with undergraduate and graduate degrees in business tend to have huge gaps in basic knowledge. This lack of basic education handicaps them. They can talk about products but they don’t really understand how products work. Their shallow knowledge about the functionality of products shows when trying to design or improve them. Probably the only exception to this is banking. As for the rest, a wider scientific knowledge is needed. When you study business you study the language of business, finance, accounting, marketing. But if you can build a product via your engineering skills, biomedical skills, coding skills, and on top of that you have a good command of the business language, then you are really in business.
First learn how things work, then how to create them, then how turn them into a business. People do not succeed talking about money, they succeed talking about product. Learn the language of product before learning the language of money.
I was thinking that there are important things we know about the future and the universe. These are derived from the fact that we have not been visited neither by aliens nor by time travelers so far. If the universe was an exciting and lively place, you would imagine that by now we would have been visited by aliens. Or at least our radio telescopes would have detected amusing radio signals as our TV signals could be received from other places in the universe and find to be entertaining (at least some). But there is nothing. No aliens nor intelligent radio signals. We have been trying to find intelligent radio signals for 40 years now. Nothing. Boring. If there is something it’s too far away.
Secondly if time travel had been invented in the future or something that could travel faster than the speed of light, that would be incredibly exciting. But it hasn’t happened. No time travelers have shown up. This means that humans in the future don’t get to be so smart as to master time travel and come and visit us now, or it could also mean that we never get to the time in the future in which we master that because we blow ourselves up before. Lastly it could also mean that humans of the future find us not worth visiting or that they time travel but not back to our times.
So just by the fact that we have not been visited neither by aliens nor by time travelers we can estimate that most likely the universe or at least the universe that is “near” us is not that exciting, nor the future is as fascinating enough for humans to master time travel.
Now to end on a more positive note: maybe if the universe is uneventful and the future is not that exciting, we can rejoice in thinking that we are lucky to be the only ones who seem to be doing something lively and fascinating in the universe, right here, right now, on Planet Earth. Let’s enjoy it!
My friend Marco Boerries, one of the participants of Founders Forum Menorca TechTalk this weekend, has just shared with me the great news that he has recieved $38m in Series A financing for his project NumberFour from some of the smartest investors in the world many of whom are also my investors in Fon. This include Index Ventures, Allen&Co and T-Ventures among others. The partner at Index who is in charge of the investment is Mike Volpi, one of the only VCs I know who combines tremendous corporate experience from his decade at Cisco with investment acumen. $38m for a Series A round of a product that is not yet out is very impressive and shows the trust that Marco has generated among his investors.
The idea behind NumberFour can be summarize as a software package that levels the playing field between the the little guy (SMEs) and the big corporations. A platform that provides productivity, communication, sales, production, procurement, delivery, reservation and financial tools for offline and online SMEs. With lots of big companies participating in a large number of sectors, being competitive and successful is increasingly more difficult for small businesses. The goal of NumberFour is to put them on equal footing with large enterprises by building a business platform paired with a collection of apps that run on smartphones, tablets and personal computers. While a lot of companies have tried to crack this field, Marco Boerries background as the founder of Star Office sold to Sun Microsystems a decade ago makes him uniquely qualified to come up with a winning product. The company is called NumberFour because it is Marco’s fourth start up. The product is not public but many friends of mine have seen it, including of course the ones who invested with Marco and are all extremely impressed.
Today we had great conversations with my 18 year-old son Tom who studies physics at Imperial. It was great to have him over at our home in Madrid for many reasons, but I will focus on one: yes, there is a “payback” time educating your children, and that is when they educate you back. This afternoon I learned a lot from Tom. We spoke about using ultrasound to charge gadgets wirelessly vs using magnetic induction, we had a debate about how sunblock works, Tom told me about a simulation built on Python using object oriented programming of a diamond that receives different beams of light that a classmate did. And this week I also learned a lot about Aura the company that Isabella is working at this summer, and the fascinating work she is doing in biotechnology using viral envelopes to treat cancer. And recently I learned a great deal from my eldest daughter Alexa, who graduated from Columbia and now works in technology and has her first start up, Modabound. While she is in a field much closer to mine I still learn from her because of her academic approach to things, like she went to General Assembly to study programming, something I still have not done. And she has an amazing eye for product so I informally consult with her on a great new product that we are developing at Fon.
So as you help your young kids with homework remember that there is a time when you will learn from them, learn a lot, learn with pleasure, learn back. As I expand my universe listening to my older kids I wonder what my little ones Leo, Mia and David will teach me in the future. Because while it is true that the future belongs to your children, together with them, a part of that great future, will also be yours to enjoy.
After a childhood in Argentina I have spent most of my life alternating between the USA and Europe. And for good reason. Both are incredible places to live in. But I just can’t choose one over the other.
Europe for our family means a Madrid base, with a lot of London/Menorca and some Paris, Berlin, and sailing the wonderful Mediterranean Sea. The USA means a NYC base with a lot of Miami and East Hampton and some Bay Area. Because of our 3 young children our Atlantic crossings are limited. I would say we can cross “the pond” at most 4 times a year. The crossings are hard because of flying with a 6 year-old a 2 year-old and now a 3 month-old, and also because US immigration is becoming just horrible. To stand in cattle-like lines for 90 minutes after flying 9 hours is tough for a family. Global Entry does not work for children and babies in a family that is a mix of US and non US citizens including Spanish for which there is no Global Entry. Also because of the type of family we are, we like to be together and I can’t spend more than a week away from my loved ones. I just miss them too much. So we travel together and that makes it hard.
My professional life is mainly running Fon, doing angel investments, and teaching entrepreneurship at great universities. Fon is Madrid-based where we have a great team. We now have a phenomenal NY team as well, but much smaller and for engineering resources Spain is now more competitive. So we design in NYC and build in Spain. Now for angel investments (e.g. my recent Tumblr exit) and teaching both at Columbia and NYU it is better to be in the USA. In Europe however I teach at IE which is also a good choice and I have had another “billion plus” exit in Spain in Eolia where I was a blend of co founder and angel. So all aspects of my professional life can be pursued on both sides of the ocean really with some being temporarily better on one side or the other. It is surprising for many Americans to learn that with all its problems, the GDP of Europe is still considerably larger than that of the USA.
So the race is so close that the last 12 months we spent around 9 in the USA and 3 in Europe. The next ones the proportion will be reversed. We alternate which is not hard because we have homes in NYC, Miami, Sagaponack, Paris, London, Madrid and Menorca. Some consider this a sign of instability but for us it is our life. We find hotels tough with little children and in each home we have what we need.
And then there’s the issue of where is it that children grow up to be better people and here the answer is also split. In my view Europe is better for young children and the USA mostly beats Europe after high school. In general I think the USA has an awesome over 18 culture. What I mean here is that I prefer my children to grow up in Europe and then go to college in the USA as two of my older kids have done. On average I like European values of solidarity and camaraderie better at a young age. I admire European culture and what it does to young children’s vision of society. There is much more emphasis on cooperation than competition. As far as I am concerned it is fine if extreme ambition develops later in life but not at the toddler stage! Competing to get your children in a rat race that starts at 2 (getting into NYC private schools and so on) is not ideal, at least not for our family. And in the USA there is also extreme competition of parents through their children. But when kids are older I love what American ambition can do to motivate them to create, to build, to succeed.
We have also given thought to spending more time in London, where my son Tom goes to Imperial College. If you are in love with US culture and Europe then London is probably the best “in between” choice. London is a kinder version of NYC. A top financial, advertising, some tech center but where people are more “civilized”. What has stopped us from moving there is the weather. The outdoors plays a big part in my life and the 300 days of rain compared to the 70 days of rain say of Madrid, make London a tough choice for our family. Madrid is phenomenal weather wise. Four seasons and yet mostly sunny.
As you can see I can’t strongly favor one side of the Atlantic or the other. More than pros and cons I see pros and pros. I love Europe, I love the USA! I can say that in my view these geographies are better overall than any other part of the planet, at least for us. Certainly better than Latin America where I grew up. I find the cultural and geographic isolation, crime, corruption, and economic inequities of Latin America hard to cope with. Argentina, where I lived as a child, is a beautiful country but it can also be brutal, back stabbing country that has had tremendous political and economic instability. As far as Africa and Asia, Australia, well they are just not a choice for our family. China is fascinating yet extremely polluted and hardly a nice place to live.
Pity the Atlantic Ocean is not narrower, the Concorde that I used to fly was amazing but as proof that not all progress is forward, it is now out of service. It was amazing to cross the ocean in 3 and a half hours! Now it’s back to 7 to 10, and we continue doing it because we love both sides.
I am an amateur photographer. I like to post my photos on Flickr and enjoy sharing photo series here on the blog. So as someone who loves this art form, I’m happy to share a unique photography project started by my good friend Daniela Hinrichs.
After many years of experience working in the Internet sector, Daniela has launched a new online project called DEAR Photography, a showcase of hand-picked artists and their works, which are available as unique prints, exclusive and limited editions.
Artists and clients will be able to contact each other directly through DEAR. Artists who are granted access to the platform to broker their works receive 70% of the proceeds from sales, rather than the 50% typical for the industry.
What’s more, the service provides an augmented reality app to see the artwork on your own walls.
The project is based on photography only because, according to Daniela, “photography will be the next trend. Painting has been a much-valued art form for centuries. Photography on the other hand is still bursting with untapped potential”.
Former military leader Jorge Rafael Videla, the man responsible for my family’s forced exile from Argentina when I was 16, and responsible for the death of my cousin David Horacio Varsavsky when he was only 17, died today in Argentina. As a family in exile in the USA we thrived, and thanks to courageous men like district attorney Luis Moreno Ocampo, ex-general Videla spent a lot of his life in jail.
But to him and his criminal military colleagues I paradoxically owe some of my accomplishments in life. Videla and other murderous members of the Argentine military chased us away from our home, forced us into exile in the USA where a generous man, Senator Patrick Moynahan got green cards for all our family and gave us a second chance in life. But as a result of this trauma early on in my life, I was left with an extraordinary desire to prove to these awful dictators that I wasn’t worthless. That I did not deserve to die like my cousin David, that I did not deserve to be thrown out from my country. And I am convinced that I owe a great deal of my ambition to Videla and his murderous military gang. I was just a kid who wanted to prove his worth when all this happened to me. And I did that, and I do that every day I teach a class, I build my companies, I give a speech trying to inspire 20 year-olds to be entrepreneurs or I parent any one of my six children. And for this fanatic desire to prove myself, I am not sorry. We were not useless ex-general Videla. We deserved to live and thrive. And thanks to Senator Moynahan we got our chance.
I will always remember David Horacio Varsavsky.
Here is a link to the story of that year of the exile, my autobiography of the year I was 17.
Cavan.com is an innovative online fashion store. They offer a selected range of designer products and, through a team of fashion experts, give personal advice to create an interactive shopping experience.
Truth be told, Cavan is a fashion guru. And the layout of the site is beautifully done.