Amazon’s streamer is the perfect travel companion

Bring your own (Fire) TV

Last week, we were on holiday at North Captiva Island in Florida. We rented a lovely house right on the beach and got to enjoy beautiful sunsets, dolphins, manatees and a bald eagle from our deck.

One of the things I always bring on trips for the last couple of years is my Amazon Fire TV stick. I even bought a pouch to keep it in since the original box wore out.

It is super convenient to bring your own TV and music streamer. All the apps and accounts are already set up and it is really plug-and-play. Every TV has an HDMI input nowadays. It only takes 1 minute to set up the wifi connection.

Speaking about wifi connections; the Amazon Fire TV is one of the only streamers which properly supports captive portals as you see at hotels.

The Amazon Fire TV stick is also small and affordable which makes it the perfect travel companion. It never happened before but even if I forgot it, it is only $50 (usually $40). The only thing missing is proper Youtube support but that is coming soon.

I think if my Apple TV breaks down today, I probably going to replace it with a Fire TV stick. The new version fixed a major problem I have with my current one and that it has volume control. I only use one remote and volume control is essential.

We’ve come a long way since I was recording TV shows on my computer, transcoding them and put them on my iPod to watch them on the go.

Less is more

Skipping the news cycle

Yesterday, The New Yorker published an article called “The Urgent Quest for Slower, Better News“. The author argues the case for his want of a slower, more in-depth news.

He writes:

Media outlets have been reduced to fighting over a shrinking share of our attention online; as Facebook, Google, and other tech platforms have come to monopolize our digital lives, news organizations have had to assume a subsidiary role, relying on those sites for traffic. That dependence exerts a powerful influence on which stories are pursued, how they’re presented, and the speed and volume at which they’re turned out.

For digital-media organizations sustained by advertising, the temptations are almost irresistible. Each time a reader comes to a news site from a social-media or search platform, the visit, no matter how brief, brings in some amount of revenue. Foer calls this phenomenon “drive-by traffic.”

I had this need too and decided last summer to switch from the New York Times to The Economist. I just read their weekly paper on my iPad. For me, the weekly interval is more than enough to keep up with what’s happening in the world. It also filters out all the misinformation and misinterpretation which creeps into the news reporting including by the NYT because of the urgency to put out the news as quickly as possible.

I like it so far, it works well.

You might ask how I got to this article? It popped on Hacker News. I visit Hacker News and Techmeme once a day to see what people are talking about in tech.

Work hours and productivity have limited correlation

Work-life balance at a startup

One of the most interesting things I’ve encountered when moving to NYC and running a company there is the long hours people tend to work while not being 100% productive. It is pretty normal to take a “long” lunch and go for a haircut. People manage their private affairs like doctor’s appointments while at work. These long hours are a charade and are more for the benefit of being physically in the office than being 100% productive.
The other related thing is “working from home” which is often loosely translates to taking a private day while being ‘available”. It is a direct correlation with the limited number of vacation days people tend to get and they compensate with private days.

I don’t buy into that.

I have a simple rule which I tell everyone in my team. I want you to work 8 hours a day and I want you to accomplish your goals. If you need more hours in the day to accomplish your goals, you need to ask for help. But if shit hits the fan for whatever reason, I expect you to be there 24/7 and weekends.

Another rule I like to put into place is ample vacation days with a minimum of 20. It comes with the strict rule that you take off when you’re off and you work when you’re not.

In my experience, it usually takes 3-6 months for people to adapt to these policies which are a bit foreign in NYC corporate landscape. It sometimes takes a couple of nudges to make them understand that “working from home” really means taking a day off.

The biggest upside for the company and its managers is that there’s less frustration about the availability of people. I hear this complaint a lot where founders complain about their workforce not putting in the time they want them to. I usually ask them a few questions about their policies and more often than not it is the fuzziness of their own policies which causes their frustration. It is better to be more binary.

In general, I notice that the number of hours people put in is strongly correlated with how well the company is doing and how well they feel connected to that success. The best motivator is to make people feel they have an influential role in that success. In general, this applies to all disciplines.

The longer people work long hours, they will eventually get burned out. The point of burn out is different for everyone. It is unfair to put people in a position, they can’t keep up with those long hours and promote people who are more tolerant of it. They’re not necessarily the smartest or best people on your team. It is just one aspect of that equation. Like everything else, it is a balance. It is best to keep it healthy.

A warning sign in an organization

Company or office politics are poison

A big threat to any company culture is politics. Be wary of an organization which is run by politics. I’ve seen too many times in my life and it is really a good indicator of problems down the road whether it is in your own organization, with a major supplier or a major customer.

Politics typically creep up when management does not really have a clear mission for the company. Politics is about power and more specifically about consolidating power. It is a necessity when you need an organization marching without clear marching orders or direction.

I see office politics as similar to bullying in high school. Both are about power and controlling groups of people. Both need to be dealt with in the same way, it is unacceptable behavior.

When the executive team is endorsing and managing through politics, there is not so much you can do except accept it or move on. But often you notice political behavior in middle management or cross-management positions when new people come on board filling those positions. It is learned behavior and it can be unlearned. It requires vigilance and zero-tolerance policy to stamp it out as soon as possible.

Company or office politics have no place in a well functioning healthy company culture. Stay away or change it.

Data ownership is the way to go

Privacy for the sake of privacy

Yesterday, I came across Keith Axline’s post “Privacy Is Just the First Step, the Goal Is Data Ownership“. I wholeheartedly agree with the concept of data ownership. I think we should elevate data ownership as a fundamental human right and take it from there.

This tidbit caught my attention:

Privacy for privacy’s sake is a weak argument, and privacy advocates should abandon it.

It is true that many people have a hard time defining what privacy means and why it is important. People feel it is important, but they have a hard time articulating the reasons for the need for privacy.

First and foremost, privacy is an individual choice. People make their own choices what they think is appropriate. Socialites and celebrities trade in privacy for media attention while others would not want to have their photo taken by paparazzi.

The problem with the internet today is that you are not given a choice at all. GPDR tries to do that, but it is like the T&Cs and cookie permission dialogs, nobody pays attention to those and mindlessly click them away. GPDR is not a solution, not even close.

There is no choice because you do not have any rights to your own data.

But we are not even aware of which data is collected and how it is distributed and sold. I have seen databases of 220M Americans containing 1,000+ attributes per person including religion, political affiliation, gun ownership, etc. It is relatively trivial to build databases like this and corporations do this.

Corporations have access to data about you, you do not even know. This creates information asymmetry in the market place. Companies can decide that you are an unfavorable customer based on that data. Of course, this is in their right. Companies can choose with whom they want to do business. The problem here is two-fold:

  1. You do not know which data is used by a company to determine eligibility and pricing.
  2. You cannot change or update that data.

This is happening today. I think the closest example is credit reports. Now, credit reports are in a highly regulated domain and it is for the reasons above this happened. Similar this needs to happen for other data too.

In short, the reasons that we talk about and find privacy important are:

  • No choice about the collection of data.
  • Unknown which data is collected about you.
  • No control over correctness and distribution of your data.

No privacy law is ever going to fix this. Ever. I am 100% convinced of that. The problem is choice. We need to be able to choose what we want to release and what not. Clearly, my mortgage provider has more rights to information about me than Facebook. I need to be able to choose.

This is the reason it is better to talk about data ownership. You are your own data and nobody can take that without explicit and clear permission. We should just forget about the whole concept of privacy because as a concept it is impossible to define.


There is only today

Live like a child

When I spend time with my kids, I realize they have something we all lost as an adult and that’s to embrace life to fullest and live in the moment.

For a kid, the day ends when they go to bed. They’re excited to wake up and realize there is a whole new day. Young kids do not even understand the concept of next week. Next week does not exist nor even does tomorrow. There is only today.

They live in the present and they do not care about tomorrow. It is not important to them. Even if they know something exciting is going to happen tomorrow, they are still more than content to be excited about what is going on right now. That is only what counts for them.

Along the way, as we grow up, most of us lose that ability. There are bills to pay, there is a job to go to. There are errands to run. We run from moment to moment, but if we are not careful we are not really experiencing them. They become lists of tasks captured in a todo list.

Kids do not have a todo list except when we give it to them. Kids just know what they want right now.

When I am really spending time with my kids, I am reminded that the secret to enjoying life is to just live in the moment and let tomorrow be tomorrow.

Playing it safe

Apple is getting old

It was this tweet from Howard Lindzon which kind of inspired me to write this:

This is something which pops in my mind whenever I see an Apple announcement; Apple is getting old. It is not necessarily a bad thing, it is just is.

With getting old, I mean that Apple has become mainstream. I mean with that, that everything Apple does nowadays is to come closer or maintain its mainstream position. It is not changing the world, it is trying to maintain the status quo.

I have a few reasons for that:

Apple’s design language is safe to the point of boring. I personally call it Volkswagen design, I am sure there is a better – or even established – term for it. Volkswagen designs cars which nobody hates nor nobody really likes. The design is a safe choice. It is good and solid design, but super safe. Apple’s design language is very similar. Everything looks and feels the same. Nobody will take offense.

The Apple Watch is really a mom and dad product. It is also how they market it. The main focus is on health. They can detect heart problems and falling – both problems or worries of the middle-aged and up.

Apple’s media push brings forward people like Oprah and promises family entertainment. Again, it is very safe. I guess we do not see a Californication reboot on Apple TV Plus.

Apple is a reflection of its leadership. Tim Cook comes across to me as a solid, grounded, hard-working and reliable person, but also older and seasoned. Tim Cook acts more like a good-natured grandfather than a dad, let alone resembling a friend. Apple is changing into his image.

Where did all the angels go?

The changed landscape of early stage funding

While raising funding for my new company ENZO, it is interesting to notice how the early stage startup funding landscape has changed in the last few years.

Since the last time raised funding, all the rounds have shifted. What used to be series A is now seed funding. We call the original seed preseed now. Early stage funds who do seed are now doing rounds the size of an original series A.

Also, the impact of accelerators in the startup funding landscape is significant. Since there is an accelerator for every conceivable segment and geography, investors now expect at least a small team and product in-market before they want to move on a seed-type round. Startups coming out of accelerators have those in place and some early market traction data. Accelerators have changed the funding landscape in significant ways. They pushed up the seed round while reducing the risk for early stage funds.

I think this could also be the reason why angel funding has gone down. The seed round went up in size and valuation making them undesirable for angels while the bottom of the market has been picked up by accelerators. In a way, accelerators you could see commodification and professionalization of angel investing.

Companies struggle with this and understandably so

Who decides what is wrong or right?

The last few weeks, this has been on my mind a lot. Who decides what is wrong or right? I have no answer to that question, but this has been on my mind:

Companies have norms like no pornographic content. They ban the content and actively moderate for it.

But how about social norms? I am thinking of:

  • Anti-vax misinformation
  • Political opponent misinformation
  • Flat earthers

Recently Amazon pulled a couple of books which promised a “cure” for autism. It was an “outraged” politician who brought it to their attention.

Spreading information like that is not against the law. No laws are being broken. This means that solutions are sought within the realm of social norms and pressure. The problem is that this process is messy and opaque. It does not scale.

We are navigating a very fine line between spreading of misinformation or hate with freedom of speech. There are no laws against misinformation (besides libel) while there are certainly laws against hate.

We invented the “worldwide megaphone” and now it is used to influence millions of people. It is very effective.

But how do we deal with that? I do not think we should look at Amazon, Facebook or Google (or any other company for that matter) to take charge.

I think this is not a private matter, but a public matter. The only thing I am certain of is that the solution begins there.

Reducing virality, increase privacy and trust

Platform shift in social networking

The other day, Ben Evans wrote a post “Microsoft, Facebook, trust and privacy” on the parallels between Microsoft’s virus problem and Facebook’s viral toxic campaigns problem. It is worth a read.

As usual, Ben makes very astute observations and sound conclusions. But let’s read between the lines a little:
– The impact of using viruses as an attack vector was reduced because we shifted to data storage and access from the PC platform to the cloud.
– Instead of Microsoft fixing the whole problem, the world fixed the problem for them (mostly).
– If you abolish the Facebook Newsfeed, you will not be confronted with viral toxic campaigns which is today’s attack vector for influencing public opinion.

initially, when confronted with a crisis people tend to look from WYSIATI point of view. This is the point where Microsoft decided to harden its software and the world to offer virus scanners.

But we ended up with cloud software. This rendered the virus attack vector mostly useless, but also solved the PC management issue in corporations. No more need to manage and update hundreds of applications across a large workforce. As long as they have a browser, it just works.

If I have to bet on social media or networks, I would expect a similar shift. Maybe Facebook can do it on their own, maybe something else will pop up. Virality made Facebook grow, but Facebook does not have to grow anymore. They are certainly in a position to reduce the virality on their platform without impacting their bottom line or growth.

If we do look at history than unbundling Facebook is probably the direction we are heading to. Instead of one company “owning” social media or networking, we are going to see hundreds of specialized niche social networks. Small groups are naturally better at keeping toxic behavior at bay which solves the moderation problem. Without a single monolithic platform, it is impossible to use virality as a distribution mechanism.

Maybe Facebook will unbundle itself, maybe someone else builds a “Shopify” for social networks. The future will tell.