Series Seed and Series A

Back in the ‘ol days, the first money that went into a technology startup was called  “Series A”. This not only marked the first money coming in but also set the valuation not to mention the terms of equity which impacts all other types of investment.

However, those were the days where you had to raise $5-10m to get servers up, which you can now do for $10 with companies like Amazon, Rackspace, and Digital Ocean.  It’s a very different world now with the change in cost from marketing to hiring and beyond. During the last half decade, we have also seen an “accelerator” boom and an Angel investor boom where startups can get $20-100k in “seed” financing which accomplishes the same thing as the original Series A but without the traditional terms.

Actually, it’s even crazier than that: entrepreneur friends of mine are raising “seed” rounds now of $1-3m which was what you would raise as Series A. What the hell is going on?

Series Seed

It’s been remarked Series Seed is the new Series A.  Why bother calling something an A-round? Well, for one good reason: there’s a valuation.  A distinguishing difference between raising seed money and Series A money is you price the equity you are selling verses deferring it.  In Silicon Valley, “convertible notes” have become the standard now. You raise the funds from an accelerator or angel investor, but don’t discuss the valuation (as you have no idea about revenues yet which is what you really need for a valuation).   The investment is presented as “short-term” debt that converts into equity.  The option, which always happens, is that the investor will receive shares instead of the principal based on the agreed terms. Another reason: If you’re raising Series A from VC that means you’ve graduated into a different type of startup.  You’re more of a growth business.  No longer testing the market but building to scale.  For a VC to participate as a Series A, it’s a partnership decision that thinks you can be a billion dollar company and not just an idea.  Not more worried about cash in the bank, but that you’ll need enough people to grow quickly (or more commonly, that you can’t grow exponentially without the cash)

Language matters
I know of a lot of people who are forced to price their seed round. So, if the first money you receive is “seed” and the first priced money you receive is “Series A” then this definition doesn’t work.

That’s why I would define Series A as having two of the three following characteristics:

  • Done by a multi-partner venture capital firm, not individuals. Your first real institutional money that also has the potential to lead your Series A round.
    • Important to distinguish is this is not an accelerator or a micro-VC (the latter could be $5-25m with one partner, which for all intents and purposes, is  a VC fund). These are new breeds of investors that aren’t the traditional, and have very different motivations as well as likely not being able to participate in Series A rounds, let along lead it.
  • Done with a price. Your valuation is now defined.
  • Done for the purposes of growth, not “startup”

This isn’t just semantics, language matters for millions (of dollars) of reasons.  Entrepreneurs ask me on a daily basis how to fundraise and this same advice applies.  Understanding these differences could save you from wasting 12 months of your life.  Raising seed money is a whole different ball game to raising a Series A, with entrepreneurs not realising this until they have three months of cash left, a payroll, and a lot of users/customers.

My advice is be sure to know the importance of the bar between Series Seed and Series A:  vision is 60% of how you raise money with Series A (don’t confuse vision for plans.)  Even if you raised $3m seed it doesn’t mean you’re Series A worthy.  More cash in the bank doesn’t mean you’re a growth company and you’ll run out of money before you know it, which is the main reason small businesses fail.

What Vivek Wadhwa taught us

Background
Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen two people I know become involved in an intense situation. They are Mary Trigiani, a board director of one of my companies, StartupHouse, and Vivek Wadhwa, the writer and speaker who I met several years ago and for some time was on his private mailing list.

Separate to the above, as a guy who doesn’t like how someone, on the face of it, was promoting women and was trashed quite explicitly — I’ve been talking to Trigiani to reconcile my own thoughts on what is happening.

I had no desire to enter the public conversation because there are enough people jumping on that bandwagon. But after being referred to a Facebook thread of tech personalities discussing the issue, seeing how Francisco Dao misses the point, and reading “What kind of a message does this give to other men who want to champion women?” I feel it’s no longer a question.  We are missing some perspective here.

Been under a rock? There’s a lot of background to this, like the Newsweek article that kicked it off, Amelia Greenhall’s blog post, the podcast that was taken down, the replacement podcast and the Verge interview. But if you only have time for one, here is The New York Times about the whole episode.

Why Vivek Wadhwa Failed
What Wadhwa did in the wake of Amelia Greenhall’s blog post and NPR chat is a lesson for anyone, male or female, in how not to react to criticism.

The issue is grounded in the fact that Wadhwa decided himself to become the champion for women, using what he calls his research as a platform.  He wasn’t elected, but he has been deposed, I think, because of the lack of leadership — openness, understanding, listening, managing — he exhibited when criticised for his behavior (like for example, how he used his research to claim authority on behalf of women in areas the research didn’t cover).  He caused outrage because he silenced female critics and challengers (what fueled the fight), using bad Twitter and social media etiquette (where the discussions occurred), and what they believe was just his hogging of the limelight (the basis, for some, of their initial frustration).

To put a specific example of showing my point: Wadhwa called women “ token floozies” and Trigiani expressed concerns. Wadhwa then claimed it was due to his non-English speaking background and claimed she has personal issues. That’s not what a leader does.

Wadhwa damaged his own credibility by doing things like this.  As sorry as some of us may feel for seeing what some considered to be a good name trashed (including myself), he did this to himself — and it disappoints me he won’t take responsibility.  As a leader, you need to listen and adapt. You need to own your mistakes and move forward. You need to be aware what you say and do has an impact — but also realise that not responding is a statement in itself. Wadhwa, despite the impression of doing good in the big picture sense, has failed in the details as a champion and has actually done harm to the conversation he claims he was trying to lead by letting his ego get in the way.  As another case in point: after promising quite dramatically that he was exiting the conversation, he continues to return each time someone mentions his name in good favour on the topic.

Let’s stop denying the truth
It’s obvious to say, but I’m going to say it anyway: men and women really are different.  As in every endeavor when people of different cultures, wiring, and experience come together, there is scope for misunderstanding and potential conflict.  So for now, there is at best discovery and at worst tension between the sexes and we’re lying to ourselves if we don’t admit that.

Today’s leaders need to celebrate the differences and make it work for whatever endeavor is on the table.  I’m not using that as a line to make this post cliche-perfect but because I’ve actually seen it with my own eyes. I’ve worked on Sand Hill as a VC, in SoMa at a startup, travelled around the US, Europe and Australia to speak at events and mentor startups. But more relevantly, as a founder who runs two very different businesses (but have in common that they are community-centric businesses) — the global events-based “StartupBus” and the Silicon Valley real-estate based “StartupHouse” — I’ve always felt the need to understand these issues because it concerns my customers, employees and board of directors.

I have seen first-hand how a gender-balanced team leads to a stronger business both strategically and in operations. For example, we’ve attracted and retained a lot more customers because some women feel more comfortable when they see women in staff and management positions.  We’ve also become aware of issues that didn’t even cross the minds of the males on the team — including the board of directors that Trigiani sits on — that we’ve now acted on as a priority, making both male and female customers happier. Female employees bring a different perspective and have brought insights to me before anyone else in the team that affected team dynamics and even insights into approaching the market.  I could list many more but I cannot without giving specific examples that affect the business’s competitiveness.  The point is, it’s good business to have a gender-balanced team. The advocacy of stories like this is what Wadhwa should be remembered for his contributions, despite his failed leadership.

What we can do about it, together
To make the differences work in the female-male realm, both men and women in positions of leadership need to acknowledge the frustrations some women experience (such as unwanted advances and idea thievery). We need to stop denying these are ingrained habits, stop ignoring them, and stop them when we are in a position to do so.  Perhaps most important in this particular situation at this particular moment, all men — not just those in leadership positions — have to honour women’s outrage and support their expression of it.  We have to listen and suppress the “buts” as this anger is based on personal experience.  It is real and we have to welcome the expression of it.

As an executive and as a guy, I have made gigantic mistakes and wound up on the firing line.  What I’ve done differently from Wadhwa is that I took it.  Every shot with no reaction.  I asked what I did wrong and went to great effort to understand what I did to cause my offense.  My lesson from this is when you are criticised, you need to display humility. You need to stop feeding the anger by denying another person’s experience or criticising how they express it.  You need to issue one public statement saying you acknowledge what you did without pretending you didn’t say it or making excuses; simply acknowledge you now understand how you may have been wrong.  Do yourself the favour and make a genuine effort to understand it.

What I learned in this time of reflection is that men need to be conscious of how anything we say or do can be interpreted as patriarchal, intimidating, or sexual.  It may be we are none of those, but by ignoring our tone, we give people ammunition to further pull us down — but this is key, as language matters. Instead, give people what they want:  that we listened and heard them.

You may feel women should not share their personal experiences or express outrage regarding this particular situation with Wadhwa.  That may be debatable, but the presence of and need for women in the workplace are facts of life.  So whatever your position on how people express themselves, make sure you realise that women deserve to be heard.  By defending Wadhwa’s reaction to his challengers and criticising women (who he claimed to represent) for sharing their personal experiences with him and their subsequent outrage, you are denying those experiences and ignoring their voices.  That’s not helpful.

Dudes — let me just make my point super clear. When it comes to women’s issues in technology and society, before you open your mouth, let the women have the mic first. Get comfortable with amplifying their messages and supporting them — rather than putting the message out there yourself. We’ve had our shot at being the messengers, and from my vantage point, not only are women more qualified on the topic, but we’ve messed up enough that it’s time to stand back. There is enough debate between women themselves on how they approach this issue: our role is to listen and support the viewpoints that makes sense for men and women.

Which means the next time something like this happens (and you know it will), do us all a favor and be quiet.  Which is what Wadhwa should have done in the first place.

So to follow my own advice, here are the words of Jamie Roth, a woman on the StartupBus Global Council (what I’m developing to be the community elected aspect of the board of directors for StartupBus, my other company) which is this: “I’m glad you’re posting this — it’s important for men’s voices to be a part of the conversation. I don’t think the answer should be ‘keep quiet,’ though. It should be ‘don’t be a dick’.”

Many thanks to Jennifer Shaw, Jamie Roth, Falon Fatemi, Rose Jeantet and Mary Trigiani for their feedback on the draft of this post

Web 3.0 will not be on the web

It’s Saturday 7pm. A pretty airline hostess friend of mine was in San Francisco for the night, wanting to do drinks. What to do?

I was knocking on the door of a home in Palo Alto that had a Guy Fawkes mask on a Christmas reef. As for why, it was to attend the first ever Decentralized Autonomous Society Meetup, an event with a minimal description other than a title “Let the revolution begin”. The event reads:

In the early 90s the cypherpunk movement held its meetup in Palo Alto, working through many ways in which cryptographic technology could be used to promote human freedom. Eventually Bitcoin was born.

Today we discuss how the second wave of blockchain innovation can enhance human freedom.

The house was packed. Hours earlier, TechCrunch had posted  Decentralise All The Things! and mentions Ethereum and Maidsafe who are leaders in the movement. In my search to find a solution to a business challenge I have, I inadvertently was now at a meetup where one of the speakers was a representative from Maidsafe and another speaker representing Ethereum. But not just that: I found myself after the talks talking to the globe trotting Vitalik Buterin, the inventor and chief scientist of Ethereum.

Although I had been tracking Bitcoin for a few years now and evangelising it behind closed doors to influential politicians, business executives and my network, a frustration I had was that no one understands the true impact.  This is something that has been on my mind every since I become aware of after a talk by former Googler Mike Hearn in 2012.

That changed a few months ago, when I stumbled on Ethereum’s white paper and found it the single best document describing the state of cryptocurrency and its potential beyond being simply a means of exchange as Bitcoin is known. Ethereum’s creator might only be 20, but with his former project being the Bitcoin magazine which has been an invaluable resource to understand Bitcoin, he comes across to me as probably having one of the deepest understandings of cryptocurrencies, their potential — and weaknesses.

Both Vitalik and I hold a mutual view that we don’t know what the future of Bitcoin is and if it will last. But after talking to him, I had in no doubt that I had met a genius that one day may be regarded like Tim Berners-lee who created the world wide web.

Separately, I was talking with one of the organisers, and he was excited I understood the potential of DAO (Decentralised Autonomous Organisations) and similarly remarked at his frustration that most investors in Silicon Valley don’t seem to get it. Given silicon valley investors are beating the drum roll of Bitcoin’s world domination despite the rest of the world not getting it, you can take that to be a sign this is pretty early days of the Decentralised Autonomous movement.

But let me get to the point of why I’m even writing this — both due to something Vitalik said to me and that I separately read yesterday that he pointed me too. He referred me to a recent blog post on secret sharing and where he writes a money quote in the conclusion of the article explaining DAO’s as follows:

If the blockchain is a decentralized computer, a secret sharing DAO is a decentralized computer with privacy

In a world where no one can really explain it yet, that explains DAO’s beautifully. But let’s back it up: blockchain, one of the four technologies underpinning Bitcoin (the others being PGP, Proof-of-work (such as mining which includes hash functions and Merkle trees ), and peer-to-peer)…is a computer? When I prodded Vitalik about what use-cases he was prioritising ahead the Ethereum 1.0 release later this year (March), he eventually responded: “It’s hard to prioritise one use case when you’re building a computer!”.

And that’s exactly what’s going on. This is all software, architecture and philosophical vision for a decentralised world, bringing the Internet back to its roots. In the process, this will enable a weak form of artificial intelligence. If hypertext is what underpins the web and has transformed the world of communications, then cryptography is what underpins the blockchain and will be transforming our world starting with payments but beyond that such as any system where “trust” is needed like elections, contracts and more. The power being the computers manage the “trust” (no humans tampering with it) and can automate the enforcement.

3D printing and Dones are two long term technologies that I regard as inevitable and game changing. It just might take 20 years for us to fully realise it. Well, Bitcoin, blockchain and crypto-currencies is my other main trend — but the externalities of that trend such as the Ethereum project and the ecosytem building around it, is something I think everyone should have on their radar that I think is akin to the web starting.

This year will see Ethereum 1.0 released (roadmap) with a chat application, a browser, as well as the ability for people to build their own applications with javascript — and we’ll also see the Bitcoin foundation be transitioning to a block-chain based voting system for its 2000 members which if it happens will become the highest profile example of DAO principles in action, beyond the Bitcoin network itself and the blockchain voting by the Danish political party.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not something that I’m early to identify rather it’s been in my face: at my business StartupHouse, we host events for Bitcoin developers and its intrigued me in their grass roots support. Combined with my reading, once you begin to understand the value of a blockchain, the power of cryptography, and what you can do outside of currency — then maybe, just like me and thousands of grass roots community support in silicon valley and around the world, you’ll begin see the emergence of something. A something driven by a frustration to emerge from the world post the credit crunch induced recession, government abuse of power with people’s money, and inequality where the few are owning more of our society’s capital.

A vision that, maybe, just might be a revolution in how the world operates that is as dramatic as what the world was like before the web. Stay tuned.

Make a new year’s promise to yourself

I’m reflecting on my business, my life and what I want to achieve next year and the next decade which is at the back of my mind every minute of every day as I work through the days. It’s now lunch time so time to stop: once I’m hungry, my mind is useless — off I go.

My legs take me towards the locality of one of the regular places I’ve been eating this last week, a food court. “What am I going to eat?” I murmur in my mind. “How about just keep walking in that (different) direction where you don’t know what exists to eat, Elias, and work it out”, I say to myself.

I walk, and there’s nothing and turn the block only to enter the department store that hosts the food court from the other side (it’s a Westfield  with two opposite street facing sides). Not knowing how to get there from this direction, I follow my intuition.

Low and behold, I made a discovery: I come across food stores I never knew existed.

I keep exploring fascinated that there is an entirely new food court in the same building and am excited at the chance to try a completely new lunch meal (Brazilian BBQ!). I order, I pay — and off I walk back to the office, once again, not really sure how I get out of here but I just follow my intuition.

Moments later, it turns out it was the same food court I always go to, exiting how I always exit it (and previously entered it). The difference is when I enter I would turn right and would walk to the end of the food stores thinking that was it whereas had I walked straight in previous times I would have found this additional food court that was hidden behind a corner.

I can’t help but think this is a metaphor for life and what we should all try to attempt in 2015. Don’t make resolutions, make instead promises to yourself: walk the unknown path and trust your intuition to guide you. It might end up taking you to the same place, but who knows, you might end up with a completely different perspective.

Ok, I need to finish my lunch now. Happy new year!

How to overthrow the government

For a bit of fun, I wrote my first post on the Medium platform leveraging ideas from my reading of The Economist and my previous post. Go on, have a read!

How to overthrow the government…

A decentralised future

Ethereum, a newcomer this year on the Bitcoin scene caught my eye this weekend. What I like about it is that it’s talking about the future block-chain enabled world that has been introduced by Bitcoin, the true innovation of Bitcoin. If you know nothing about Bitcoin or want to get a update on the latest state of the industry,  I highly recommend you read the white paper.

But the reason I am posting about this is because it talks about one of my other favourite new concepts for the future world: liquid democracy. And it combines it together, under the topic of Decentralised Autonomous Corporations (DAC’s), which I often hear in Bitcoin literature but I’ve only come to appreciate today how they would practically work.

In short, mind blown. Liquid democracy and DAC’s represent two of the most groundbreaking advances in the fields of governance in the last decade.

Scenario
Let me give you a scenario of how these three inventions: Blockchain, liquid democracy, and DAC’s would work.

Imagine an organisation such as a government district representing you or the local supermarket store. Now continue this thought experiment and that you and 999 other people are ‘stakeholders': as a citizen that can elect a representative or you are a member of the organisation that can elect a board of directors, like how non-profits and as for-profits do as shareholders.

Every one of these stakeholders has a “key” and under the principles of DAC’s, if any one of the 551  of the 1000 stakeholders make a vote, it creates a binding decision on the organisation. That itself isn’t the remarkable thing: what’s mind-blowing is that it’s done automatically through “secure multiparty computation”, allowing real time decisions to be processed by computers reflecting the will of the stakeholders.

Now combine that with the concepts under liquid democracy, where these stakeholders can directly vote on any issue — but can also delegate their vote to someone. This concept is called “delegative democracy” and is like a hybrid of the concepts of direct democracy (where citizens get a direct vote) and representative democracy (where citizens elect a representative) — hence the apt term liquid as the direct vote can be delegated to a representative and reverted back to the actual voter in a very fluid way.

And finally, let’s tie this to the blockchain that Bitcoin has introduced to the world: a way to validate decisions.

So let’s say one day, you get an email from your community saying you need to vote on whether to allow a new super market in the area. Or a vote to determine if the super market should sell alcohol. Currently, these decisions are made by shareholders and citizens by their representatives such as management who are appointed by the elected board of directors or elected representatives.

But under the above scenario, you get a direct vote on the matter — along with your 999 other stakeholders. However,  assuming you don’t want to vote, you can allocate your vote to someone else which generalise’s the concept of a board of directors.

Mind blown

If the above doesn’t rattle your brain with its possibilities from how Fortune 500’s operate to the federal government could transform the way they operate from dictatorships disguised as fake democracy where elections simply give the perception of democracy, then it’s because you need to better understand the concepts.

That the (Bitcoin-invented) Block chain is a like decentralised receipt book of transactions that can prove decisions without the need for lawyers, liquid democracy is a new way to make decisions that evolves our current concepts behind direct and representative democracy, and the principles behind DAC’s means we cut the need for people making decisions on our behalf as cryptography has invented a way to determine a group of people (who are pre-authorised) to make decisions in real time.

The significance of Bitcoin is not that it invented this future, but it inspired it as it’s a the first version of  DAC in existence today. Where an entire financial system is controlled by the people, not a government or bank. Humans are replaced by computer algorithms and therefore enabling a decentralisation of power to the very people who are meant to have that power: you and me.

Rethinking capitalism

The economy. Government. How business operates. Whatever your views, I think we all agree something is broken. I’m going to propose a set of ideas that could at their fundamental level change how we perceive the world. (Warning: it’s going to help you read the linked posts to follow the thinking.)

Background
Let’s start with in 2009, how I picked my beef with capitalism:

Money, you see is just a way to sustain something. It shouldn’t be the end-goal of business, and it’s that point that fundamentally irritates me about capitalism. That being the whole focus on it being about returns on capital – not returns on humanity.

In 2011, I said how we are measuring the wrong thing in society as progress. Why is it always about measuring more consumption (GDP), and not generating more ‘actual’ happiness like better health outcomes? Certainly the guy that invented GDP didn’t think of it how we see it now.

In 2012, a thought I had ended up resonating with a lot of people.

…which I then expanded in a post and several months later I explained as a way to measure success.

Last year in March 2013, I asked a question around why do we need money — which linked it to my recurring theme round time and value. Specifically, “money purchases value, but money doesn’t create value (in the ultimate sense)”. Which furthered my thinking that making more and more money isn’t the goal, a pretty big realisation for me.

The five year test
What do I have to say now — after being an auditor for financial markets, a recognised intrapreneur at a big company, a manager in a startup, an investor at a venture capital firm, a foreign entrepreneur with no safety net in the world’s biggest (and most ruthless) economy that made money with no help  and then lost it requiring help by outside investors to get back to where I started.  Where I’ve run a business not only with traditional employee considerations, but an organisation where 40%+ of the 1000+ customers have come back to work as volunteers and run it, like short-term employees but with more passion. And might I add, has radically transformed my views about what motivates people

In short, I now feel like i’ve seen enough where I can apply business academia to real world experience. And so do I read back on all my posts in the last five years and think differently on the fundamental concepts that underpin our society?

Surprisingly, I seem to agree with my thoughts even more.

Today I met up with an old friend Dr Donnie Maclurcan who mentioned how he recalls my first post (the first link) and around that time had begun his own journey that will lead to a book called living in a Post-growth society released next year, which you can read in summary in this recent Guardian piece. Donnie has a very strong view that we need to rethink corporate structures as being the fundamental thing that needs to be changed and his view being they are non-profit. I challenged his ideas with my actual experiences, such as the incentive of an entrepreneur or needing capital when it’s not available by banks, which brought out two interesting points.

The first is actually linked to my freedom dimension of success, where I say you need to define how much money you want to make in life and draw a line. Otherwise, you sacrifice the other dimensions in life. It’s a personal decision, but let’s say for arguments sake you could make you current annual salary (or double) on a recurring base. If you were to make that every year — you could maintain your current lifestyle. And if you could maintain your current lifestyle, but have more time — you could have a better life, right? Why would you need more money? To buy something shiny and feed your ego?

But the second one that I found intriguing, was how do you motivate private investors to want to ‘invest’ in a non-profit. And his idea was that once the non-profit makes, say $1m a year it needs to pay back the loan with a 300% interest rate. Thinking this through, this is what owning equity does as a best case scenario. I know I think every day about how I pay back my investors with a return on their capital, beyond paper valuations and actual cash dividends (that is, when I’m not worried about meeting payroll and operating expenses).

A vision for the future
Assuming you’ve been able to follow the thoughts above, here I’ll attempt to finally patch them together on a new type of capitalism. A type that keeps the current system but fixes it at the fundamental level with better incentives.

  • Make all companies non-profits with entrepreneurs who create them guaranteed a permanent salary for their work as the reward. (Like owning equity, except it’s not equity.) This fixes the incentive issue for the people who initiate the value creation.
  • Private investment can still occur in enterprises, but instead of owning equity, they are simply considered debt with a high interest rate. This fixes the issue of the incentive issue for capital to fund ventures.
    • It’s no coincidence that in silicon valley, one of the most forward thinking places right now when it comes to the global economy  (meaning, new jobs and new industries are being created more so than anywhere else) that the predominant instrument used in startup financing is called “convertible debt” — which means, it’s debt and if it doesn’t convert, it turns into equity (which in practice, is what happens).

Why this is such a big thought, is because it removes the need of “owning equity” which to Donnie’s point is the fundamental problem in our society. I’m not entirely convinced on this, but consider this:

  • As all companies are non-profits, the destruction of value that can occur in the public markets is no longer and companies can instead focus on re-investing profits into things like R&D, customer value, and employee satisfaction. Like Bosche, one of the word’s biggest “big business” non-profits does.
  • Because there isn’t this focus on the mythical “shareholder value”, we can see companies doing what USAA does (one of the biggest banks in America with the best scores across all companies for customer and employee satisfaction) which is talk about “member value” or their customers.
    • If you think about it, the entire point of a business should be to serve its customers. Not its employees or its shareholders (though they have a duty to them), but the people who purchase the value created by the business. And so by changing this tone from the top, we will see a complete re-think by companies on how they operate. We’ll see better run companies.

Let’s now extend this to government just to complete the circle. Why the hell do we measure our progress in society with how much money we spend each year, and not what our average life expectancy is? Our length of life and our health quality I think is a more important measure for society than how much money we spend, which is why we have this materialistic culture that leads us to be on a treadmill of chasing the wrong things. If we no longer focus on profits, then we also need to match that with no longer focussing on consumpsion.

  • Make life expectancy our number one measure of success. GDP growth, unemployment rate — ok cool, I care about that because money matters. But why don’t we make average life expectancy the number one measure? Can you imagine how this could transform our society if politicians suddenly were accountable for our livelihoods?
  • If I sound like a hippy, let me throw this thought at you: one day, when the population growth stagnates and starts declining we are going to have a crisis in our society because we measure “growth” of the economy which is fundamentally dependent on population growth. What are elections going to be fought about then? Let’s drop population size growth and instead focus on population quality growth.

Go ahead. Tell me the thoughts in this post are crazy. And yes, maybe they are  — but just maybe there is something about this being the future. I love capitalism and like democracy, want to keep those systems — but we all agree they are flawed and we can fix them.

In the case of capitalism this is doing it fundamentally at what makes is so powerful: around incentives. If we can rethink some fundamental definitions of what progress is in life, society, business, and government — we may actually create a better life.

(On a related theme: this 2012 post will get you thinking on how we fix democracy at the fundamental level but that’s for another day.)

Be gluey: a leader in function, not name

I just read this great article on leadership quotes. Go on, read it. Which brings me to share one of the first lessons I learned of what leadership is.

In my high school, cadets was a major part of the school’s tradition which basically meant we dressed up in army clothes and got to roll around in the mud every so often. Our cadet unit did an expedition in the Australian outback which was a 40 kilometre trek and we had to travel with our backpacks (filled with camping gear, cooking utensils, etc). In the cadet unit, there was a platoon and each platoon had corporals all responsible for a half dozen cadets in ‘sections’ in addition to the two sergeants and a commanding officer.

This particular platoon had to make its way up the hills in the intense heat, along with an embedded ‘commando’ corporal from the commando platoon who considered himself a ‘leader’, which he was. As corporals, you would assume that they would lead the charge, which is what the commando corporal did. It was, after all, important to have someone navigate where we were going and something the ‘section’ corporal would have done normally,

As the front of pack role was taken up, not to be made redundant in his role as the ‘section’ corporal, he instead  kept an eye on his guys, so would shuffle through the line that was made. It would tun out that as the day progressed, one of the cadets was lagging. Slightly overweight, but also by no means because it was easy to carry 10-20 kilograms on your back in this heat and up a hill, he was practically at breaking point. Not allowing it to be a discussion but with great relief, this section corporal had him hand over his backpack who made it up the hill with both of their backpacks so the crew could make it up the hill quicker and by dusk.

Observing this taught me an important life lesson: leadership is about being the last guy in line. Leadership is not about walking in front of a group of people; it’s about helping the fat guy that’s behind everyone and holding back the group.

In my restaurant waiter days as a teenager, I learned the best kind of waiter is one that is invisible: filling your water without you noticing, clearing your plates without you asking, reading your mind before it has a chance to be processed by you as needing it done. That’s what the best kind of leader is my eyes: like what glue does or like what inspiration provides, it’s invisible but the essential reason why things are happening.

Put another way, be gluey. Be a leader in function, not name.

Bitcoin: the world’s receipt

Bitcoin has conflicted me. I see brilliance and world-changing potential. But its pricing instability leads me to believe it will never stabilise until it has some sort of secondary value to prevent confidence crisis and create predictability on the value as a currency. But maybe that’s the wrong question to be pondering?

In January 2014 (when I actually wrote this post but didn’t publish it) I realised that two of the innovations created by BitCoin is the blockchain and the proof of work, are useful beyond currency. For the uninitiated, every single transaction that used BitCoin is documented in a public ledger that everyone in the world can see. The proof of chain is a process that motivates ‘miners’ to validate the transaction in the blockchain. Together, you have a decentralised trust system that no central entity every needs to mediate in.

But the realisation I had was that Bitcoin is not a currency: it’s an asset. And that asset, is that it is the world’s first global decentralised system that can validate transactions.

Now imagine I sent a bitcoin transaction between two accounts that I owned, say that were valued as 25, 122,013 satoshi’s (about 1/4 the value of a Bitcoin) — numbers that can also be interpreted as Christmas day 2013.

Now go back to my assertion: Bitcoin is the world’s first global decentralised system that can validate transactions. And how many transactions occur, including non-financial records of receipt such as dates or domain name looks ups which are actually IP addresses.

Bitcoin might not be the world currency because it’s protocol isn’t fast enough for real time money spending (it takes 10 minutes to validate a transaction) and its unstable as a store of value. But when you think about it a global receipt book, I hope you now get how this is game changing.

If the entire computing revolution is based on binary code — 1’s and 0’s — so long as something can be boiled down into a number and there is value in validating it, then Bitcoin will have place in the world.

Global citizenship

Due to unexpected events, I’ve had to spend five weeks in Australia in the last six months. I’ve also by no means had time for holidays with a backlog of work so it’s made me wonder how practical a dual location life is.

For one thing, its completely redefined my view on being away from my family and friends. While not without some issues on my business, the upside has been my aging parents are happier, I’m more connected with old friends (and family, which makes me happy), and less home sick. Meanwhile I can continue to chase my ambitions in America.

Why would you want this?

  • Because we can now. Flights are quicker and cheaper. They say in ten years time, Sydney to London will take 4 hours (currently 24 hours). But even then, today it takes 14 hours Sydney to San Francisco; and 10 hours SF to London. With inflight wifi becoming standard (increasingly on domestic flights now, and I’ve done it once before on a international flight over the Pacific ocean so only a matter of time), it’s no longer wasted time.
  • Work is becoming more flexible. For example, smart engineers and designers I know just contract now, and small businesses give you flexibility when it doesn’t hurt the business — like how my old employer Vast had a virtual team for many years to attract top talent. Even our StartupHouse team is currently spread across three continents right now (and it’s a real estate business!) not to mention the entire StartupBus leadership team live in as many cities as we have people. While face time is crucial, I have to say from a business point of view, I’ve unexpectedly discovered having such strong networks in multiple locations opens up opportunities not to mention increased satisfaction from the team in the job.
  • health care is becoming more globalised  where medical tourism is a very real trend. I’ve heard of people I know getting plastic surgery in Thailand; eye laser surgery in Singapore; jaw bone surgery in Bulgaria — all because it was cheaper. Actually just this week, I was getting medical care in Australia for a quick checkup and prescription, which ended up being way cheaper without insurance than what it costs in the US with insurance.
  • Education is becoming more flexible, with remote study for adults and what we are seeing with kids being brought up on iPads is just the start. The success I’ve been hearing about AltSchool (where two former colleagues of mine are now working there) is another example how technology is enabling us to have more flexible and higher quality education

Of course, this isn’t a life for all people. Most people are quite happy to stay in the one location and for reasons of work can’t be flexible. But for those of us like me, with the travel bug or with global ambitions in business or with family spread across the world or with a multi-geography upbringing — the advances in technology are now enabling us to have a richer fuller life we desire.