Apple Watch – One Year Later

It’s one year that I’ve had my Apple Watch, and people still ask me “How is it?”

“I love it”, I always reply.

It’s as simple as that. It’s the best watch I’ve ever owned because it’s the one I *enjoy* wearing the most. Other watches just tell time (and maybe the date); this watch does that, plus gives me weather at a glance (that’s important in London) and is my credit card, on tap, on my wrist, always.

Yes, the watch does many more things, but those are the incremental functionality over and above a dumbwatch that have me hooked.

Haters ask “But would you turn around and go get it if you forgot it?” Well, no. But then, I wouldn’t go back for my snazzy Swiss time piece either. It’s a watch – not my primary communications device (aka iPhone).

Will I buy a new one when they come out? You bet. And they’re only going to do more things better, while getting faster, sleeker and sexier.

So, if you’ve been sitting on the fence, I’d say go buy one. And a year from now you’ll be glad you did.

I hear your final doubts: “But will an Apple Watch make me younger, thinner, richer and more popular?” Yes, it absolutely will. It also offers a time travel via a secret key press combo. But I’ll save that secret for another post.

Until then, go get your watch on.

Top 5 Apps of 2015

At the end of the year, I try to stop for a few minutes, reflect on the apps I’ve found (and found useful) over the course of the past year. Last year’s result was surprising (I was very pro Android), and this year’s result is equally surprising:

It turns out that three of the five most useful apps to me are Apple Watch apps. Yes, there are many Apple Watch haters out there (I seem to meet them all and they tell me what ridiculously stupid fan boy I am for wearing one), but I genuinely miss the watch if I’m not wearing it, and using Apple Pay on the tube and in stores has become a motor reflex – I reach for my watch, not my wallet…

So, my top 5 for 2015 are (in no particular order):

  1. Lifesum – health, food and fitness tracker out of Stockholm, Sweden. It’s the only health app I’ve used consistently – and has almost *every* single thing I eat already in the database. Reminders to drink water are reason enough to use the app. They have a great Apple Watch app too. Surprise.
  2. Fitstar Yoga – Yoga is awesome for your back, but getting to a yoga class is always challenging for me. Fitstar Yoga let’s me get in a 15 minute session in the mornings, keeping my back happy and flexible.
  3. Apple Weather (Watch) – The UI for the weather on the watch is fantastic (if you live in a place where the weather changes). I use the complication to check temperature and check % likelihood of rain during various hours of the day. Lifesaver for a Londoner.
  4. Apple Pay (Watch) – I’ve ended up migrating all of my purchases to my watch. I thought it was a neat idea, but never realized how quickly I would start reaching for my watch vs my wallet.
  5. Apple Activity (Watch) – Having an activity tracker on my wrist at all times has made a huge impact on my knowledge of my fitness levels. Yes, I use the dedicated app for running and workouts, but it’s the overall Activity app that’s really given me insight into how much I actually move on a daily basis. Wearing a dedicated tracking device never lasted for me, and using an app on my phone was never engaging enough. Seeing the Activity circles on my watch keeps it front of mind. Fitness tracking and payments are probably the two killer apps on the Apple Watch. And I use them both multiple times every day…
  6. (Honorary mention) Citymapper and Uber – the two apps I use every single day to move around London and can’t live without.

That’s it for this year’s list, we’ll see what 2016 holds… Feel free to add your favorites in the comments section or via twitter.

Investing in Yourself

I gave a brief talk at Slush 2013 on “Taking Care of Yourself”, (slides here). Slush is just around the corner, so I’ve stopped to reflect on which of these habits I’ve kept, lost or added to. This post is an extension of that talk, and focuses on the same fundamental building blocks: Mind, Body and Spirit.

The most important asset in any business is you: the Founder (or co-founder). Without you, the company loses it’s spirit and character. As an investor, I’d kind of like to keep the spirit and character of the companies I’m investing into in tact… Running a start-up is not the lowest stress job on the planet. Long hours, late nights, travel, etc. so, I always encourage the entrepreneurs I work with to take care of themselves – both for themselves and the people around them (friends, family, employees and investors)

Mind

You probably read a lot of stuff. You’re short on time, so quantity over quality is going to be optimal. I’ve spent the last few years trying to refine where I get my information. I discovered AI driven RSS readers ages ago, and never looked back. Zite was my go-to app for getting a personalized news feed. That’s now been bought by Flipboard, which I’m using daily now. I’m not sure the recommendations are as tech-centric, but I still get interesting articles that are relevant to me. Another great source of news is Wired UK’s AWAKE, with 10 recommended articles for the day.

Body

Fuel: A clean diet is the best diet, but not always the simplest. This site, the Whole Life Challenge, is a great place to start if you’re serious about overhauling yourself. I started eating (mostly) paleo about 2 years ago and managed to shed 15lbs over a 9 month period. If you don’t want to do that, try to focus on eating more vegetables and more fish, and cutting booze. Especially if you travel.

Exercise: If you’re working in a start-up, it’s likely that you’re not getting regular exercise. At a minimum, get some type of fitness tracker (or just use your phone) and make sure you’re walking those 10k steps per day. An Apple Watch is a nice one to use since it also tells you when to stand if you’ve been sitting too long. Once your past that, I would recommend bodyweight exercises because you can do them anywhere (home or work). Beyond that, I’m sure you can break the internet looking at training options. The key is to do something active, and track it.

Sleep: We spend 30% of our lives sleeping. How you treat this major component of your life impacts everything else. I started using a sleep tracker to better understand how I was sleeping (Jawbone UP is my favorite – I think it tracks deep sleep the best, and I like their app). Again, you can use your phone to get started with sleep tracking, but there are a few tips that will really help improve your sleep: 1) Get to bed early. Like you’re a kid. I targeted 9:30pm initially. This meant I woke up with no buzzing alarm clock. That alone makes you feel amazing. 2) Turn off your phone and laptop at least 1hr before bed. The blue light is wrecking your circadian rhythms. You can cheat if you use flux – but still, try to turn screens off and read a book on happiness or call your mom instead.

Spirit

This one can take a few different forms: religion/prayer, meditation/yoga, charity work, etc – anything to develop your inner self. Meditation 2.0 became a buzz word in the valley a few years back, but industry legend Steve Jobs was a long time practitioner of meditation. If it’s good enough for Uncle Stevie, it’s good enough for me. I started with meditation actively a few years ago to try to settle down my hyperactive, information overloaded mind and attempt to improve my ability to concentrate, focus and genuinely listen when I’m in a conversation (not just waiting to speak). As a result, it’s improved my social skills, my relationships and helps me with my day job. I try to have some form of meditation daily – I find Headspace to be easy (it’s guided), quick (20 min) and progressive – so it doesn’t get boring, and you can see you’re making progress. There a many options on this front – the point is that you find what works for you.

That’s it – Mind, Body, Spirit. I really encourage you to make these three parts of your life a top priority, and everything else will fall into place. These are essential ingredients to a happy and productive life – if you neglect them, your performance (and happiness) will suffer. We all skip the gym, eat badly, cut sleep etc – but that needs to be a short term exception. Life (and startups) is a marathon – not a sprint. Sustainable, healthy habits form the foundation of success – take the time to invest in yourself – it will pay dividends several times over…

Good luck!

Effortless Experiences

Ahead of the Apple Watch event, I thought I’d take a minute to lay out what it is I’m thinking about these days, what types of companies I’m looking for right now and what I think is coming next:

Effortless Experiences

What, exactly, do I mean by that? The easiest current example of an “effortless experience” is Google Now. If you haven’t used it, it is a contextually aware, predictive computing platform that tries to anticipate what information you need next based on a mix of your location, calendar, email and Google searches. Things automagically appear in Google Now, so – “effortless”.

“Smart services” is another way to start thinking about this. We invested into Waze years ago – this was (and is) an extremely smart service, that optimizes your travel path based on current traffic conditions. Very smart if you haven’t used it – and at times you get very unexpected turn by turn directions. There’s some work involved on the user side, but the results are something you or no human would have ever thought of…

Which leads us to yet another way to describe this: Artificial Intelligence. In the case of Waze, we’re talking about very narrow, domain specific AI (although the service has never been described in those terms) that’s delivering a smart service. But, I’m not suggesting you’re going to get Hal 9000 on your wrist (just yet).

Smart Watches in my view are going to usher in an era of effortless experiences. Why? The form factor is simply too small to be a heavy computing platform; but is a fantastic platform for things to automagically appear. I’m not clever enough to guess what types of great ideas are going to come out of this, but directionally, I’m comfortable stating where I think things are going.

We have the computing power in the cloud and on the handset, but the UI/UX  on a handset just isn’t that great for push services. A watch form-factor is an entirely different matter… Google Now takes on a whole different feel when it’s on your wrist vs taking a phone out of your pocket, unlocking it, opening Google Now to see if there’s something useful there. With a watch – it’s just there. Effortless.

So, where does that leave us? I think we’re on the cusp of some great new services, and that smart watches are going to be a key enabler that unlocks that future. That said, and watches aside; effortless experiences are what’s next in my mind.

P.S. If you really want to read more on A.I., I can recommend the following (lengthy and terrifying) blog post: The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence

Top 5 Apps of 2014

5. Evernote – It just keeps getting better. Simple UI for a complex app. Across all platforms.

4. Carousel –  not that the app is mind-blowingly great, but if you keep your photos in Dropbox, it does make life much better. Especially the latest update. Flashback is cool.

3. Headspace Guided meditation… it’s a paid app after the first 10 days, and it’s one of those things that gets more valuable the longer you use it. 12 months in I value this app *far* more than the first month.

2. Inbox from Google – Still in beta, but there’s no way I’m going back to regular Gmail. Inbox brings a lot of the goodness of Google Now by surfacing what you need vs making you dig for what you need.

Which brings me to my number one App of 2015:

1. Android 5.0 – Lollipop. Yes, technically it’s not an App, but the whole OS works together to make your life better and easier. Google Now continues to be amazing – combined with Inbox and Google Calendar, it’s a major winning combo. And this is coming from a long term member of the Church of Apple. I really like the new UI as well, but that’s form, not function.

Honorable mention:
Mac OS X, Yosemite – Yeah, this isn’t an App either, but I think it’s definitely the best iteration of OS X since it was first released 14 years ago. Everything has been simplified, and it’s a delight to use. It also works seamlessly with my iPhone.

Uber – because I use it *all* the time.

Shameless Portfolio Promotion:

Peak – Addictive games that help with your memory (and I need a lot of help on that front), along with other cognitive abilities. Featured in Apple’s “Best of 2014”

Yplan– Best way to figure out what’s happening, and get yourself a ticket (maybe even a VIP ticket). Currently available in London, New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas.

How to get a job in Venture Capital

I get asked this question a *lot*. I wrote a post about it back in 2006 on the topic that I could point people to, but it looks a little light, so I thought I’d post an update.

There’s no set way to get into VC – it really depends on what you’re starting with (and what role you’re shooting for). So, these are some of the things that are good to start with:

1) Be an entrepreneur. Successful or failed. I helped torpedo a few companies back in the dot com boom. Learned first hand what doesn’t work… This is a sub-optimal path, but it’s valid. Being a wildly successful entrepreneur turned awesome VC is clearly the preferred route. (Reid Hoffman comes to mind here…)

2) Work at a startup, then migrate. Or, work at a big Tech company (Google, Facebook, Twiter, etc), then migrate. Product, Marketing, Sales. You’ll have insight into big company M&A (they will be your customer as a VC) and you’ll have some operational skills. Bonus points if you’re a ninja in your field of expertise.

3) Work in the industry – Accelerators, PR, HR, Design, IP – whatever. Get yourself into the mix, get to know lots of people at various firms. Then transition.

4) Fix a portfolio company- This works if you have operational skills. Every VC has at least one portfolio co that’s not doing well.  Probably more. If you can fix one (or more) venture backed co’s, you will be loved and will probably find yourself a more permanent role.

5) Professional Services – These are the old stand-bys: Investment Banking, Strategic Consulting, Freshly Minted MBA (from a top school usually), Technical background

6) Be lucky. Right place, right time. This applied to me. I had a mix of some the above (startup, MBA, sales, VC intern) when I rocked up in London. And then happened to be in the right place at the right time, so I got my official start as a VC…

I think this pretty much covers the various paths into the industry as an investor… Depending on what level you’re looking to enter at will drive which set of skills you need. Analyst, Associate, Principal, Venture Partner, General Partner, Managing Partner – all require different amounts of the above.

Good luck!

Investing in Grand Cru

Following my previous posts on why I decided to make any given investment, I thought I’d share briefly why I decided to make an investment into the gaming space – an area where many investors fear to tread. The first game from Grand Cru, Supernauts, has been in further development for 1 year since we invested. Without the product in the market, this post was largely meaningless. (You can grab the Supernauts game here and give it a whirl. Just be warned, you might get addicted and end up spending your entire pay check on gems: http://www.appstore.com/supernauts)

Looking at my Three P’s of Venture Capital:

People: The team at Grand Cru has enough successes behind them to warrant an investment on their own: Markus Pasula (ex Mr Goodliving) and Mikko Wilkman (ex Habbo Hotel) are two of the co-founders behind the company (and the ones I interacted with the most during the investment process). We had zero scalability issues at launch (some secrets here)- testament to Mikko’s work behind the scenes for Supernauts. We had great featuring from Apple – testament to Markus’ (and the Marketing team’s) ability to engage with great partners.

Product: When I saw the Supernauts demo, my mouth fell open. Literally. It was easy to see how it could be a hit game – tried and testing building mechanic, coupled with cool space characters and a very user friendly, mass market game play.

Potential: Games either take off like a rocket, or  do a belly flop. Time will tell what happens to the Supernauts, but with 1M downloads in the first 6 days, it looks like they may be taking off…

This is a case where, despite having a great first product to go to market with, I had to take a bet on the team. Grand Cru is a games studio, not a product. They are in the game making business, and I have to trust that the water in Helsinki will continue to produce the types of games that millions of people want to play, and pay for. Supernauts is only the first in a string of titles the Company plans on producing…

Finally, I think a big congratulations to the entire Grand Cru team is in order (not just the two co-founders I single out here) – there has been an incredible effort to bring Supernauts to market.
Blog-photo2-620x413 <– Happy Cru