2013: The Dawn of a New Beginning

January 3

I spent most of 2013 living with the consequences of the life changing decisions I made in late 2012 (2012: A Transition to New Beginnings!) of leaving OLX (Why I am leaving OLX) and radically simplifying my life (The Very Big Downgrade).

For the first time in 7 years, I was finally able to spend over 30 consecutive days in the same country several times during the year. I ended up spending around half the year in Cabarete in the Dominican Republic which I elected as a base of operations. It allowed me to find a good work / life balance. My typical day involved working from 8 am to 2 pm, kiting from 3 pm to 5 pm and playing tennis from 7 pm to 9 pm, before reading, writing or playing video games.

I was finally able to take the time to invest in my friends and family. Around 45 of them joined me for two weeks in Anguilla at the beginning of the year in late January and 35 of them are visiting me right now in Cabarete. I was pleasantly surprised by the constant stream of friends who came to visit alleviating my fears of social isolation from not spending much time in New York in 2013.

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This setting allowed me to finally put aside most of the health issues that had been plaguing me for years and I was finally able to play sports with renewed gusto. The year started with a bang as I joined Richard Branson on Necker Island for kiting and tennis. I then went heliskiing with Mica in Februadry and March, before spending most of the rest of the year in Cabarete kiting and playing tennis. The only snafu came when a beginner kiter crashed into me in August, fracturing one of my ribs and putting me on the sidelines until November.

On the professional side, I did not yet take the plunge and become CEO of a new company as I am still looking for an opportunity big and compelling enough. Instead, I helped incubate two next generation marketplaces which I joined as executive chairman. I built a tech team in Bucharest. I was also given the chance to give the closing keynote at LeWeb in Paris where I shared Read More →

The Case for Optimism

We live in difficult times. Financial crisis, sovereign debt crisis, euro crisis, Syrian conflict, global warming. We are bombarded nonstop with despairing news. In Europe, the mood is morose and the prospects seem dire. The general consensus is that things are going to be bad, the only conversation is around how bad things will get.

Well, I have good news for you for the consensus is dead wrong! We are in fact facing a wonderful future and I want to explain to you why. Let me take you back in time to the late 1970s for they seemed to mark the beginning of the end of Western Civilization. OECD countries were suffering from stagflation with inflation and unemployment above 10%. We had suffered from 2 oil shocks. The US had lost Vietnam. The Shah had fallen in Iran. The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. Dictatorships were the norm in Eastern Europe, South East Asia, Latin America and even Southern Europe. The Club of Rome had made dire predictions that the world would run out of oil, coal and many natural resources within 40 years.

No one predicted that over the next 40 years there would be democracies across Latin America, Eastern Europe and Southern Europe; that inflation and unemployment would fall dramatically; that we would see the greatest creation of wealth in the history of humanity as 1 billion people came out of poverty. 650 million came out of poverty in China alone, completely changing urban landscapes across the country as a whole. Despite 40 years of record consumption of oil and natural gas we now have more reserves than we did then. The way we work and live has been profoundly transformed by computers, the Internet and mobile phones.

If we take a further step back, we can see that over the last 100 years economic downturns, be they recessions that occur every few years or bigger crisis such as the great depression, as painful as they are while we live them, barely register in a background of unabated economic growth. In fact over the last 100 years human lifespans have doubled from 40 to 80, average per capita income has tripled and childhood mortality has divided by 10. The cost of food, electricity, transportation and communications have dropped 10 to a 1,000 fold. Global literacy has gone from 25% to over 80% in the last Read More →

Video of my LeWeb Keynote: The Case for Optimism

Last year I finally resolved my internal cognitive dissonance between my profound optimism about humanity and my pessimism about the near term economic outlook in the West. It’s ultimately hard to be pessimistic given the long term secular trend of technology led productivity growth. Moreover, as I mention in The Economy: An Optimistic Thought Experiment, and as I tried to point out to Montebourg, most of the economic problems we are facing are reasonably easily solvable. We are just missing the political will to fix them.

Last June over dinner at Martin Varsavsky’s farm in Menorca we had a discussion where he presented a pessimistic vision of the future, which I vehemently challenged. Two days later, during the tech conference he organizes, he asked me to give an impromptu speech about my optimistic vision of the future.

The subject matter resonated with the audience and I realized that the world, and especially Europe, needed optimism. When Loic asked me to speak at LeWeb, by sheer coincidence the theme was “the next 10 years”, which fit perfectly. I formalized the speech to turn it into a keynote and prepared the supporting slides.

I don’t have a specific “so what” or next step post the keynote. I just wanted so share my optimistic vision with people who needed to hear it. I am also thinking of how to participate in this new wave of innovation either as an investor or entrepreneur.

Enjoy the keynote.

LeWeb 2013 Interview of Arnaud Montebourg

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Loic Lemeur asked Jeff Clavier and me to react to Arnaud Montebourg’s presentation at LeWeb and ask him a few questions. I suggested France might adopt some measures that would make the economy more efficient, while preserving the French progressive social model, but I fear he misunderstood the question.

It’s a pity given that France has so much potential: a talented, creative and productive labor force, a reasonably large market, good entrepreneurs and angels. There is a real opportunity for France to take a page from the Nordic countries: capitalizing the retirement system, promoting labor market flexibility by eliminating work contracts “CDI” and moving to at will employment, eliminating the regulatory requirements for companies above 50 employees that push most small companies to want to remain small, indexing the retirement age with life expectancy, and much more. All this can be done while actively helping the needy, which France actually does not do a very good job at, especially for minorities who live in “les banlieues.”

In fact given France’s centralization it’s in a better position than most to even go a step further and take a page from Estonia to introduce online medical records for everyone and online access to homework assignments, grades, attendance records, etc. for all K-12 students.

His suggestion that innovation should only be allowed if it does not disrupt existing industries shows how unaware he is of how innovation actually works. He supports passing a law requiring preventing Uber drivers from picking up passengers less than 15 minutes after they are called. Imagine how ridiculous it would be for a car to show up within 5 minutes, and having to wait another 10 minutes before being allowed to get in. All that to protect a cosseted taxi monopoly. As he made clear, he feels the incumbents have to be protected from the innovators. The worst part is that he is sincere and means well, but as I pointed out to him: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

At least it was fun translating for him at the end. His answer had the merit of being precise and well-constructed. Next time instead of interviewing him, I think I should be given equal time to debate him, in French to avoid misunderstandings.

Fun interview at LeWeb 2013

December 11

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Philippe Guerrier whom I had the pleasure of knowing during the crazy Internet bubble days of the late 1990s. We talked about what I have been up to since I left OLX earlier this year.

Business Code: Ces Francais qui ont conquis New York

I had the pleasure of being followed for a few days by Business Code who decided to share my New York adventures with budding entrepreneurs in France. It also illustrates my life post The Very Big Downgrade and the activities I like to do for fun.

You can watch my section of the show below:

Good karma

December 4

I found a wallet on the floor in the Promenade des Anglais this Sunday. I was thinking of giving it to a cop, but felt the owner would not get it back in a timely and hassle-free fashion. The wallet was full: driver’s license, health insurance, credit cards, etc.

I looked the guy’s name up on Facebook but found way too many results – none of which looked like the guy. I added his city of birth, but the results did not match either. I messaged a few just in case.

I started going through his receipts, many of which were for the day of, but they did not appear all that useful. I considered calling his bank, when I realized he had a keycard for Hotel Ibis and a receipt for that hotel. I figured he might have checked out, but that they would know his contact information. I called the Hotel Ibis in Nice, but they had never heard of him. Upon further investigation, I realized there was also a Hotel Ibis at the airport. I called them and found out he was still checked in. I gave them my number and offered to drop off the wallet.

Five minutes later the guy called me and told me he was still on the Promenade. We met up, he called me his savior; and for a fleeting moment I felt like Sherlock Holmes after a successful mission :)

Office 365 Home Premium is the way to go if you are in the market for Microsoft Office

December 3

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For $99.99 per year you get the access to the full Office suite including Outlook, Publisher and Access. You get access to the latest version. You can install the software on 5 PCs or Macs and 5 mobile devices. In case you are on the road you can use Office on Demand that allows you to run Office apps on any computer with an Internet connection without needing to install the full Office suite.

This compares to $219.99 for Office Home & Business 2013 that you can only install on 1 PC, does not include Office on Demand or Publisher and Access and that you will probably want to upgrade in a few years anyway.

If you are in the market for Microsoft Office, Office 365 Home Premium is the no brainer choice.

2013 Holiday Gadget Gift Guide

It’s that time of the year again, so I am sharing my recommendations for all gadget lovers of the world to be happy this holiday season!

Video Games: Lots of Great Choices!

There are so many great games that came out this year that I am making several recommendations, organized by genre.

  • Third Person Action Adventure: Grand Theft Auto V, Tomb Raider, The Last of Us and Assassin’s Creed IV

This category was by far the best represented this year and the one I spent the most time playing. I finished Grand Theft Auto V, Tomb Raider and The Last of Us (the last two on “Hard”) and just started Assassins Creed IV. All four games are amazing in their own right and highly recommended.

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If you could only get one (which I don’t recommend), I would opt for Grand Theft Auto V. It’s the most innovative game in the genre. It has a huge, beautiful open world. You can play three independent protagonists and switch on the fly between them. It has a huge assortment of activities and the missions are exhilarating. The characters are complex and interesting (though completely psychotic) and the interplay between them is a lot of fun.

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That’s not to sell short the other games. Lara Croft’s origin story of how she went from being an unsure academic to adventurer extraordinaire is fantastic. The story is believable and Lara’s character is rich and nuanced. The setting is befitting the story and is extraordinarily rich in detail and history. The game also balances beautifully exploration with action.

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The Last of Us takes the Playstation 3 to its gorgeous limits. The story is extremely rich and shows how the downfall of civilization redefines moral boundaries. The characters are deep and interesting. The gameplay is flexible as you can often choose between stealthy or violent approaches. The atmosphere is suffocating and despairing. The story drags you in as you read letters from people who have long since disappeared, while keeping aware of how fragile your existence is given that you are always low on ammo. The ending, while controversial, is also fascinating as it is possibly the only way Joel can save the last remnants of his humanity. Read More →