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 →

If you travel internationally switch to T-Mobile

November 24

I was an AT&T Wireless customers for years. They had worse reception in New York than Verizon but significantly better global roaming agreements. Given that I spend most of the year on the road, international coverage is essential for me. AT&T also has somewhat faster LTE speeds than Verizon in the US so I could not complain.

However, despite maxing out on all international voice and data packages, my phone bill routinely exceeded $1,500 and was never below $1,000. Since I switched to T-Mobile, my bill has never exceeded $200 and is usually significantly cheaper than that.

T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plans cost $50-$70 depending on how much US data you need (500Mb for $50, 2.5Gb for $60, and unlimited for $70). You also get unlimited voice and texting in the US. More importantly on all those plans you get:

  • Unlimited international text messages
  • Unlimited international 2G data (typically Edge)
  • Voice calls for $0.20 / minute while roaming internationally
  • 500Mb of high speed data for 2 weeks for $50

This works in most countries around the world including India, Pakistan, all of Europe and the Dominican Republic. The only country I travel to that is not covered is The Bahamas.

If like me you find yourself in far-flung places T-Mobile is the way to go.

Henry Blodget’s Slides on the Future of Digital: 2013 are a must read

I have had the privilege to see Henry do his “Mary Meeker” impersonation as he effectively flies through 200 slides in less than 1 hour and it’s very impressive. He is articulate, clear and to the point.

His new report on the current trends is fantastic. In brief:

  • Half the world is online
  • Smartphone penetration is increasing rapidly globally, especially in emerging markets
  • Android is the clear platform winner
  • People are consuming media and doing transactions on multiple screens with smartphones and tablets taking share away from PCs and the web
  • The rise of mobile is helping create new opportunities, but you should be “mobile, too” rather than “mobile only”
  • TV revenues have not been displaced yet, but may be next on the list as eyeballs move to other platforms
  • Wearable and the Internet of things are the next big thing

Read all the slides at: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-future-of-digital-2013-2013-11?op=1

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Notes on the future of humanity based on Matt Ridley’s book The Rational Optimist

November 3

By Otilia Aionesei

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Humans tend to be very optimistic about their individual lives – for instance we buy lottery tickets, but we are fundamentally pessimistic about the future of the world. The sensationalist press plays a crucial role in enhancing our pessimism. Bad news simply sells more, so a conflict in the Middle East or an oil spill will more likely make the headlines than a recent development in medicine.

We often seem to forget the extraordinary achievements the human race has made in the last century. In our lifetime, food per capita and life expectancy both increased by one third, while income per capita is up three fold. Child mortality is down two thirds, and global inequality is falling at an unprecedented rate. Moreover, we live in the safest and most peaceful times in history. Torture, for example, used to be a spectators sport in Medieval Europe, but today it is unimaginable in most parts of the world.

You most likely heard of the imminent danger of running out of natural resources, forgetting that we live on a green, abundant planet, covered in water. Ridley argues that dramatic technological innovation will help us use our resources more efficiently and sustain ourselves for many generations to come. The recent developments in fracking, solar energy, and water desalinization are only a few examples.

Ridley’s Rational Optimist is a reminder of how fortunate we are. We, humans, are the only race that experiences prosperity. This happens because we are capable of engaging in exchange of ideas and specialization – the division of labor for mutual gains. Furthermore, specialization encourages innovation. Our ideas are cumulative, they come together and they mate, producing other ideas and furthering progress. Ridely beautifully calls our brains the “mating minds”. Take as an example the device you are reading this post on. It is a result of the collective intelligence of thousands of inventors, engineers, and workers from all over the world. If you are using an Apple device you can turn it over and read on its back “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China”. This is exactly what makes humans special, and what will sustain future progress – our unique ability to engage in the division of labor and innovate. Isaac Newton wrote in a letter to Robert Hooke once: “If I have seen a Read More →

Why we play Moneyball rather than Powerball

October 15

I was reading The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande which shows the efficacy of checklists in complex situations. It resonated with me, because Jose & I use a checklist as part of our angel investing strategy. The checklist does not lead to an invest / don’t invest answer, but it helps us make sure we cover all the bases and keeps us grounded. It’s especially useful when we encounter very eloquent founders or products we love, which tempt us to be less disciplined.

I alluded to the checklist in my last angel investing blog post, And then there were a 100…, but here it is more explicitly:

  • Is the product live?
  • Are the unit economics attractive?
  • Do we like the market?
  • Do we like the team?
  • Do we like the deal terms?

The thinking behind the heuristics

You might argue that as early stage seed investors we should be willing to invest in pre-product companies. However, it’s so inexpensive and easy to launch a site these days, that if someone can’t get the site out of the door with $50-100k of love money, it speaks negatively of their ability to execute leanly and convince others to join them. It also makes us question their ability to raise money if they can’t even get love money from fools, friends and family.

With regards to unit economics, we don’t expect the business to be large and successful. They would not need angel money otherwise. $10k / month in revenues are enough. We don’t expect the business to cover its fixed costs, but we want to make sure the business is profitable on a unit economic level. We typically invest in a company if the net contribution margin per customer over a 12 month period is 2x greater than the customer acquisition cost. We also want to see that the customer acquisition channel can scale. For instance we want to see that there is enough volume in the keywords the company buys such that it can increase its marketing budget from $1k / month to $30k / month without needing to increase the CPCs.

There are counter examples of massive businesses that did not have business models or unit economics for a long time and figured it out later when they got to scale. Google, Facebook and Twitter notably come to mind, Read More →

The cure for hubris

As a species and as individuals we are often shockingly arrogant. We believe, or want to believe, that as a species and individuals we are special. When we take a step back it’s truly horrifying to see how insignificant we are in both time and space.

As is beautifully illustrated at http://htwins.net/scale2/, at a bit less than 2 meters in height on average we are smaller to the universe (1026 meters), than an electron (10-14 meters) is to us. The numbers are also staggering: there are over a trillion galaxies that contain hundreds of billions of stars. A recent article in Nature even gives credence to the idea that the universe may be a giant brain of sorts.

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I find it compelling that there might be more similarities between the very small and the very large than first appearances suggest given that physical patterns have a tendency to reproduce themselves at various scales: electrons orbit the nucleus, planets orbit stars, stars orbit the galaxy…

Our relationship to time at the scale of the universe is eerily similar to our relationship to the space at the same scale. As individuals and as a species we have only existed for an insignificant amount of time. When put in perspective we realize how things that appear old to us – the Industrial Revolution, the Roman Empire, the construction of the pyramids, are in fact extremely recent on a universal time frame. This was wonderfully depicted on an image on waitbutwhy.com a few weeks ago that I am attaching below for your reading pleasure.





As awe inspiring as all this is, I find the conclusions utterly depressing. Funnily enough I find myself less troubled by my irrelevance than by the ultimate “Heat Death” of the universe. For some reason I would find it comforting for the universe to be everlasting in a form similar to the one it currently has or at least to lead to the creation of new universes. Our knowledge in the field is still extremely limited so I still have hopes on this one :)

With regards to our individual lives Read More →

Delusional optimism can go a long way!

As I have repeatedly observed both as an entrepreneur and angel investor if you believe in something strongly enough and fight for it beyond what most would consider reasonable, you can typically achieve “the impossible”.

Bill Barnett eloquently makes the case in his article on winning as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Read it at: http://www.barnetttalks.com/2013/05/winning-as-self-fulfilling-prophecy.html

No Limits to Growth

Over the course of the last few years I resolved the cognitive dissonance between my short term pessimism about the economy and my personal optimism about humanity, the technology world I inhabit and about my life and of that of my friends in general. I realized that over the long run, as painful as recessions are and as long as sovereign debt crisis take to play out, the overall tidal wave of technology driven productivity growth is bound to transform our lives for the better. This will happen sooner than most suspect and can be accelerated by applying best practice economic policies from around the world as I documented in The Economy: An Optimistic Thought Experiment.

I have been spending more time thinking and researching the future of late. The process has made me increasingly optimistic. My upcoming keynotes at Techcrunch Disrupt in Rome, NOAH in London and LeWeb in Paris will present the case for optimism. They will showcase inevitable upcoming technology change that will transform our lives as profoundly as the computer, cell phone and the Internet have transformed our lives over the past 30 years.

Coincidentally my good friend Einat Wilf introduced me to an article written by Tsvi Bisk. He is a former senior researcher for the Labor Party in Israel, is the author of “The Future of Constitutionalism” and director of the Center for Strategic Futurist Thinking. He wrote a very compelling article on the case for optimism in The World Future Review.

Read the article at: http://tsvibisk.com/2013/08/18/no-limits-to-growth/

Absolute must read for all entrepreneurs!

James Altucher just published on Techcrunch a 100 point FAQ on starting an Internet business. It’s straight to the point and very clear. I basically agree with every point!

All entrepreneurs should read it, especially first time entrepreneurs:
http://techcrunch.com/2013/08/24/the-ultimate-cheat-sheet-for-starting-and-running-your-business/

The end of an era!

PC World just exited the print market, marking the exit of the last general-interest PC magazine. I am actually surprised that it did not happen earlier. Magazines readership as a whole is declining as readers are moving online. This is all the more true in technology where tech nerds’ thirst for immediacy is pushing us to sites like Techmeme, Techcrunch, Engadget and The Verge.

On top of that the PC market as a whole is declining as it being supplanted by tablets that are “good enough”. Worse, our PCs are generally “good enough” themselves. We are no longer waiting for the next generation graphic card, hard drive, motherboard or processor. Instead we are waiting for the next smartphone with longer battery life, faster processor, higher resolution screen and next generation operating system. It’s no longer Windows clone makers vs. Apple. It’s Android clone makers (especially Samsung) vs. Apple. The battleground has shifted and Android is the new Windows.

That said the passing of PC World brought about a bout of nostalgia. Growing up I was addicted to PC Magazine, Byte, Computer Shopper, Computer Gaming World and PC Week. They all played a role in my life. PC Magazine had the best reviews and great columns by John C. Dvorak. Byte had Jerry Pournelle’s Chaos Manor. PC Week, which was only accessible to industry professionals, had the best and most current industry news (being weekly instead of bi-weekly or monthly). I was delighted to get access to it after I created Princeton International Computers which exported computer equipment from the US to Europe and helped me pay for my lifestyle in college and provided the capital that ultimately became the seed money of my first real Internet startup. Computer Gaming World introduced me to many of my favorite games. Computer Shopper was like porn for computer nerds. You could find anything and everything and I was fascinating by the ever declining prices of hardware brought about by Moore’s Law and the insane competition in the industry.

While I was running my computer company, I was upgrading my hardware every few weeks. I was replacing the motherboard, hard drive, tape drive, modem, Ethernet card or some other component. I was always tinkering with my computer and tweaking it and those magazines were an endless source of inspiration.

In the mid to late Read More →