Finding Purpose in the Pursuit of Profits

What is a Company’s purpose? To be profitable, and self sustaining, while providing a product or service.

But can it make a difference, not just make money?

The answer is yes, and this has been the key question in my mind for the past few years. Both personally and professionally, I’ve gone through a process where I’ve evaluated how I work and what I work on, and how I might be able to make a difference within my sphere of influence.

This isn’t a navel-gazing or self promotion post, so I’m not listing the things I’ve done or am doing, but rather posting this in case you are thinking the same thing. Maybe my process can help with your thinking. Or maybe you’re way ahead of me on this, and you write back with some tips for me. Both would be super.

See, I was deeply unhappy with work. I have one of the best jobs on the planet – I get to meet, and sometimes work with, amazing visionaries almost every day of my life. Directly and indirectly I’ve been involved with some of the best tech companies of our time. So why would I be unhappy? Well, I realized it was all really just about returns. Making money.

Was it a mid-life crisis? Probably. I didn’t always think like this. Once I did, it took me a solid 3 years to figure out how to achieve my personal objectives within the confines of my corporate life. I defined the problem very quickly – but working out the way to *solve* it was really the tricky part. But it’s all obvious now in retrospect.

Personal Health and the Environment. Pretty important areas in general, and two things that I’m really passionate and nerdy about.

How do I take those areas, a desire to make a difference and marry that with my responsibility to my corporate world? Answer: focus on technologies that achieve both objectives.

Many of you will know, I spend 80%+ of my time looking at autonomous car technologies. This is very central to my corporate world. Does a new sensor or an innovative Lidar component or maybe some smart path planning software change the world? Nope. Absolutely not. But it DOES enable autonomous vehicles to become a commercially viable reality. 

And this is where I get very excited. 

Car related deaths are a top 10 killer in every country on the planet. In some cases it’s a top 5 killer. Any part – big or small – I can play in reducing that number is a huge win. Millions of lives. Every year. Lost. Self driving cars means that number will change radically. And THAT is something I can get really excited about. I’m also a cyclist, and have had many near misses on the roads. Many friends haven’t been so lucky. This is another great by-product of self driving cars. No (or limited) car / bicycle related accidents or deaths.

I hear what you’re thinking – “But Jason, you’re a VC and of course you can do things like that! I can’t”. 

Let’s assume for a second you’re a waiter at a restaurant. You dislike plastic as much as I do. It’s poison for our planet. So you say to the manager “Hey, I found these cool straws that aren’t actually plastic – they look like plastic and act like plastic, but they decompose. Could we start using these instead?” Small win, but it’s a big win. That’ a LOT less plastic in the world. But maybe the manager says “No.” Ok, what are the recycling policies of the restaurant? Can you make an impact there?

When you stop and look at where you can make a difference in your daily activities, you’ll find all kinds of things you can do. Things that are meaningful to you. And then you’re not just making money (for you or for someone else) but you’re also making a difference.

And that’s something to be really excited about 🙂

If you’re doing some cool things, please shout – tweet, DM, comment, etc. I’d love to hear how anyone reading this is changing the world one straw at a time.

How to Save Four Hours this Weekend

Yes, that title is click bait. Gotcha. But keep reading, it actually could save you four hours tomorrow and make you happier.

Question: When is the last time you looked at your phone?

For me, it was 4 minutes ago. 

And I’ve already picked my phone up 41 times today (Saturday, May 5, 2018). It’s only 10:34am. Over the course of the day, I’ll clock in over 100 pickups, and over 4 hours of screen time. For me, this is is a problem. A problem I’m solving with a $50 device: the Nokia 3310.

Yes, I’m ditching my iPhone X for a Nokia 3310. Goodbye Whatscrapp and Instaself, hello four hours of leisure time.

First, some background: 

August 2015, Sri Lanka. For 10 days I lived in a hut on the beach with no electricity, no hot water and … no internet. I was doing my favorite thing (surfing) with my favorite people, so felt I only needed to be reachable by phone, in case of emergencies. I notified my family and turned data roaming off. Calls and SMS only. Ten days of surfing and lying around in hammocks reading paper books later, I felt like a new man. For the past 3 years, these 10 days have stood out in my mind like a Golden Age for many reasons, and a key ingredient was NO INTERNET.

July 2017, London. I read an interesting article about Tristan Harris, and his Ted talk on how technology is hijacking people (https://www.wired.com/story/our-minds-have-been-hijacked-by-our-phones-tristan-harris-wants-to-rescue-them/). Interesting enough to share on Twitter, not interesting enough to adopt…

September 2017, London. I tried a “Device Down” challenge where I turned my phone off at 7pm every night for a week. The first few nights my brain went NUTS, interrupting my dreams with people saying “Jason! Your phone is OFF!!”. WHAT?? If that’s not a key sign of addiction, then I don’t know what is… (and I don’t sleep with my phone in the bedroom – already a “best practice” approach). My concern grew.

March 2017, London. I finally download Moment and see in glorious detail how much of my life is spent on my phone: on average 4 hr 42 min per day, or 29% of my waking life. 

29% of my daily life??? Houston, we have a problem.

Enter my new Nokia 3310:

Nokia-3310-Hero.png

I’m starting with weekends (work week is hard given how much I hop around, and I’m on the phone constantly for work). It will be with me at all times – so I’m still 100% contactable. Call me or text me. I may not text back thanks to the wonderfully limited non-qwerty keyboard, so I may call instead.

The objective is to focus on what I’m doing while I’m doing it. Not having an iPhone in my pocket means I CAN’T check it 100 times a day. I can check it on Sunday night and see what all I’ve “missed”.

I love my iPhone (and my Apple Watch, going back to my wind up watch). But I love them a little too much… and I don’t have the willpower to simply not pick it up. 

So I’m to leaving it on the shelf for now. One day soon hopefully forever.

Hacking Sleep (Part 2)

In my last post I focused on how I went from mediocre sleep to solid sleep by simply adding ZMA to the equation. And all things being equal, ZMA improves the quality and depth of sleep.

There are two further changes I’ve made in the past few months that have made an additional impact to my sleep that are worth sharing – one is an easy win, one is much more of a challenge. Both have improved the quality of my sleep, but incrementally, not by leaps and bounds like ZMA.

First, the easy win is adding a mattress topper. While reading one of my favorite self improvement hero’s book, Gorilla Mindset, Mike Cernovich (good book, and his podcasts are fantastic), where he talks about sleep- he mentions how much a memory foam topper can improve sleep. So I ordered one from a UK company called Eve since it seemed to offer a good balance of price vs quality.

I already use (and love) my Tempur memory foam pillow, so adding a memory foam topper seemed like a good idea. And it was. For £199, I wake up feeling even better than I used to (which was pretty good)

Second, the hard one – kicking the coffee habit. I quit coffee cold turkey a few years ago in an effort to improve my sleep. It was possibly the worst 5 days of my life – foggy brain, low energy, irritable…squeaking by on decaffeinated coffee to get a tiny bit of caffeine in my system… awful. But after about day seven – I slept like I hadn’t slept in decades. I think there’s still an imprint of my body in that mattress – I slept so deeply. But travel and life conspired to get me drinking coffee again – and I love coffee.

But then life and travel conspired again to make me kick the coffee habit again (3 months now and counting). I spent three weeks in Japan at the end of last year and started drinking matcha lattes in Kyoto (the home of matcha). No, matcha lattes aren’t authentic, but they are very yummy. And matcha does still have caffeine (25mg vs 150mg+ for filter coffee). Since I was there, matcha was local, I made a point of only having matcha or hojicha (roasted green tea).

Since I had already kicked my decades old coffee addiction, making this transition wasn’t very difficult. I also noticed after 4-5 days that I was clearer in the mornings, with no “gotta have that first cup” craving/fogginess that comes with coffee. Matcha is well known for it’s mental clarity qualities (and health benefits) which I won’t go into here. After 2 weeks I ordered some brewed coffee, and after half a cup I was sweating, felt jittery and my stomach ached – I realized in that moment that coffee and I don’t mix, and that was that. I haven’t looked back.

Dropping coffee appears to be permanent this time, because I made a lifestyle change by substituting it with matcha. I still have a cup of warm liquid in the mornings, but it only has 25mg of caffeine, and I only have one, sometimes a second one on weekends. This is still only 50mg of caffeine before noon vs 2-3 cups of coffee with 150mg of caffeine each.

I wake up feeling clear headed, with no craving for a cup of coffee (or matcha in this case). If I don’t have anything, it’s ok. Not having coffee a few years back was catastrophic – instant headache and irritability.

Quitting coffee is hard. But if you really want to improve your sleep and mood, you should do it.

There you have it – three key tips to improving your sleep: ZMA, mattress topper and quitting coffee. Good luck.

Escape Velocity

I posted my Three P’s of Venture Capital a few weeks back – Product, People and Potential.

There’s another component that I take into consideration as well: Escape Velocity

In physics, escape velocity is the minimum speed needed for an object to “break free” from the gravitational attraction of a massive body.- Wikipedia

E.g. you need to be going fast enough to overcome the Earth’s gravitational pull. Or, for startups, you’ve got to have enough momentum and acceleration to break away… There are several components to this, and they don’t all have to be there, but one of them gives you the fuel you need….

1) Lots of funding. This is pretty straight forward – you have cash to do everything fast – and if you really raise a lot of money, implement the King Maker Strategy, e.g. raise so much funding you can guarantee your own success.
2) Office in the US (or plans to have one quickly) – either NYC or SF. Depending on where customers and partners are. This also gets you closer to your most likely acquirers. Keep R&D wherever you have it, and head West.
3) Connections. You need intros and doors to be opened. What’s that you say? “But that’s your job Mr VC to make intros” True, it is, and it’s something that all VCs do to varying extents. But you need your own networks – maybe you’re an ex-Googler or you went to Stanford, Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard or your co-founder did, etc. The old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” still matters. More than you possibly realize. You can borrow this from your investors, but you need to bring some of your own connections to the party. If you don’t have them, start making them. You will need them.
4) Chutzpah. Use this if you’re short on any of the above. With enough will, charisma, sheer determination and a bit of luck, you can break away. But this one is more of an art, but I have seen it in action – and it’s impressive.

I’m sure there are a few more I could add (great design comes to mind) – and feel free to add any in the comments below.

Hopefully this gives more color on what’s going on inside my head when I’m thinking about an investment…and what you need to make it as an entrepreneur.

If you can’t take it with you, it’s not yours

I picked up an Android device earlier in the year – I’ve been watching the platform and app ecosystem develop, and decided it was time to make the jump…

That’s a huge deal for me, the Apple Fan Boy, bought a non-Apple piece of hardware. Turns out, the hardware switch wasn’t as critical as the software switch. And I don’t mean the OS.

I stopped buying any content from Apple a long time ago. Sure, I used iBooks to test it out, but that’s all. No Apple content lived on my iPhone. When you buy digital content from Apple, you don’t actually own it, so getting your iTunes library, iBooks library, etc onto an Android device is a no go.

Having options (for portability) is very important; owning your data (or content) is more important. And, as we all know, if you can’t take something with you, it’s not yours…

In many ways, I now care less and less about owing content, and more about content portability, or more importantly accessibility. Cloud services like Spotify and We7 have made my music life so much easier. Password = Music. What could be easier?

Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader is all about accessibility (and circumnavigating the 30% Apple App Store tax). Via Amazon’s Cloud Reader, Password = Book Collection. On my iPhone, iPad, Android and Desktop. Easy.

Photos are slightly better than purchased content, but Apple still makes your life difficult. Photos on your photo roll in iOS will live there (mostly) thanks to restrictions by Apple. The new iCloud sync means they get backed up, but online access/sharing would be better. Password=Camera roll restore, which great, but… for Android, Lightbox is pioneering the way with an awesome “connected photo roll”. Lose your phone, log back in, and all your pictures are there.  And there’s a great online gallery where you can edit and share, so Password = Photos. Easy.

Everything else I use lives in the cloud anyway…  which I can get ubiquitous access to. The implication there is, data security will mean everything in the future. Both Google and Facebook (!!) will allow you to export and backup the data you’ve stored with them. Definitely a good alternative if you’re storing all your pictures and memories online.  Look for a future post  on data security-“it’s 4am, do you know where your data is?”.

hot or not?

hot or not?Facebook is going to be irrelevant in 10 years time. Google has lost the search war. Microsoft has lost the desktop war.

We live in exciting times. Change is in many ways the only constant we have. I started the post with what many would consider heresy- if you don’t believe me, or disagree, you have forgotten the rise and fall of all tech companies.

Altavista. Yahoo! – these were the kings of the search engine mountains before a little company called Google arrived. Google was the king of search on the web, and I would argue they still are. But they’ve already lost the mobile search war… Foursquare is far and away my favorite mobile search tool – I need to find a place to eat nearby, figure out if it’s good, and then move on to my next stop. Google fails miserably at this task, and fourquare shines…

Facebook connects you with lots of people you lost contact with 10 years ago. You’re so excited to reconnect. And then you remember why you forgot about them: “Just gave kitty some more milk!”. Yay. Please kill me now… I posted ages ago that the future of the web was all about privacy and intimacy… group chats are still trying to figure themselves out, but current examples are beluga or groupme. They’re amazing and very useful for communicating with small groups of people that matter. I’d be willing to bet you spend more time in this class of apps in 5 years time than on Facebook (or rather that anyone under twenty will. That may or may not be you in 5 years time.)

Finally, in my mind, there are two reasons we use any given app or service 1) raw utility. it works, you use it. Wikipedia is a great example. 2) peacocking. Part of what makes apps gain great popularity is an ability to make a user appear cooler than his/her peers. Using facebook 4 years ago was very cool, very cutting edge. Today, you’re one in 500 million. Using beluga? Congratulations! you and many thousands of other people are using it too (oh wait, facebook acquired beluga. smart move. maybe it will take a little longer to become irrelevant)…. Using google 10 years ago gave you a search edge, today, you’d better be using Quora, etc.

The list of companies is endless, but one of my final favorites is Myspace –> which has been replaced by Soundcloud…. a large part of my job is to try to figure out what’s hot next… the problem is no one can actually see beyond the event horizon. The mobile is a huge disruptor right now – and is driving the up and coming companies I’ve mentioned in this post. It’s a fun game to play, trend spotting and finding cool, useful apps… if you’ve got favorites as well, post them in the comments, or send them via twitter @jasonball. I’d love to know what’s hot. or not. but please don’t send me a note about geocities.

Gowalla – building a business model

I spotted today that Gowalla is innovating on the business model front:

Companies (or anyone really) can get a custom stamp for their spot (vs a generic coffee cup, etc), plus the spot gets special promotion inside Gowalla. Prices vary, but a spot tomorrow in Austin is only $150. But, if you want to promote your spot for next August in San Francisco, it’ll cost you a little over $1,000.

I’m thinking these could make great Christmas presents. Find out more and get your own badge here.