Perfect food (and overhearing conversations) at Lorenz Adler Esszimmer

Lorenz Adler EsszimmerLast week I spent some time in Germany’s capital Berlin. I like the city, it has both great old architectural gems such as the Brandenburger Tor, the Reichstag and the Gedächtniskirche, but also brand new buildings such as the ones around Potsdamer Platz or the new German parliament. Lorenz Adler Esszimmer

The city has undergone a complete transformation since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and it’s now often hard to know whether you are in the former East Berlin or in West Berlin. Of course there are still a lot of former communist buildings, for example along the Karl Marx Allee, but even most apartment buildings in the East have been completely renovated by now. The city feels like one city again.

Lorenz Adler EsszimmerI am a fan of very high end cuisine, the kind of restaurants that you don’t find in Vancouver. Berlin has a couple of “over-the-top” restaurants and so one night we decided to try out Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer at Unter den Linden. The restaurant has 2 Michelin stars, which guarantees you the very best food and service. Problem was that you normally can’t book a table on the day of your dinner, but with a bit of luck and some phone calls I managed the get a table at the window, looking out over the Brandenburger Tor! Lorenz Adler Esszimmer

Grace and I arrived at exactly 7 pm and it turned out we were the first guests. The Esszimmer (which is German for dining room) is a relatively small restaurant. There are just 7 tables, set in a beautiful classical setting with a fireplace and windows with great views.

We were welcomed by the head waiter and the sommelier and were given the choice of several Champagnes. To start we opted for a glass of rose Champagne. They then gave us the menu, which had the choice of either a 6-course or an 8-course tasting menu. Because we had no important plans for the next morning we decided to go for the 8-course one with 8 paired glasses of wine (at least for me, Grace stayed with Champagne).

Lorenz Adler EsszimmerBefore the 8 courses we first had 3 rounds of amuses, which gave us an indication of what was to come. Beautifully designed small dishes with amazing combinations of ingredients and aromas. Lorenz Adler Esszimmer

While we were having our amuses the restaurant slowly filled up. Most tables were just 2 people, but one table was set for 4 persons. There was also one table for a single person. Most of the guests were in their 50s and 60s, and all were well very well dressed. That’s what I like about this kind of restaurants, having dinner here is a special occasion, even for people who eat more in restaurants than at home.

Lorenz Adler EsszimmerThe 4-person table turned out to be 2 older gentlemen and 2 young good looking Thai women. A bit of a strange combination of course, but who am I to judge. They spoke English and some German among themselves, and I didn’t think much of it until I realized that the accent of the men was Dutch. I took a closer look at them and then realized that I actually knew one of the men. He was a well-known former CEO of a large public company and I actually had had a business meeting with him once. (Given that the Thai girl was not his wife I won’t mention his name here.)Lorenz Adler Esszimmer

He looked at me as well, but I think he could not place me. He certainly did not realize I was Dutch, because after a few glasses of wine the 2 businessmen switched to Dutch. They talked quite loud and I could understand everything they said. Unfortunately the topics they discussed in Dutch mainly involved their accomplishments with young women. I am not easily embarrassed, but some of the things they said I really did not want to hear. I am sure they would have never discussed these topics in either German or English in this setting. For a moment I considered walking by their table and making a remark in Dutch to show them they were not the only ones speaking that language, but in the end I just let it go. The details sure make for a nice story over beers with friends in the future (most Dutch people know his company).

Lorenz Adler EsszimmerThe dinner itself was fantastic and the wine pairings were excellent. The creations were like art on dinner plates and they tasted even better. Top chefs are really highly skilled artists! Some of the dishes reminded me a bit of Ultraviolet in Shanghai (which is still my #1 restaurant in the world). The wines were mainly European ones and there were some real gems in there. What I like is that they give you decent sized glasses and every now and then refill your glass if you really like the wine. Not every top restaurant does that, but in this price range (about EUR 700,- for 2 people) I like it if they are not stingy. Lorenz Adler Esszimmer
The only downside was that it was almost too much for me, and Grace stopped eating her full portions after 4 courses already. You actually should not eat more than a soup and a salad at lunch when you know you’ll be having a meal like this.

Lorenz Adler EsszimmerI had a fantastic evening at Lorenz Adler’s Esszimmer. The combination of the food, the wines, and the view was just perfect. Observing the Dutch business people actually added to the fun, although it was difficult to ignore their loud talking sometimes. If I would live in Berlin I would probably go here at least once a year on a special occasion. I highly recommend this restaurant if you’re a foodie and don’t mind spending a lot of money for an amazing meal in a great setting. Just make your reservations well in advance! Lorenz Adler Esszimmer

Traditional industries don’t see disruption coming

There are many well-know tech predictions that turned out to be completely wrong, and over the past week I came across a couple of new ones that (I think) totally miss their mark.

First a few of the old ones to have a good laugh:
– “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
– “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.” Western Union internal memo, 1876.
– “There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television or radio service inside the United States.” T.A.M. Craven, Federal Communications Commission commissioner, 1961

What they have in common is that these statements were made by people that work in the industries they make predictions about. They all fail to see that industries constantly change and that these changes also apply to their own industry. They are probably surrounded by people who don’t see these changes either, or who don’t want to see them because they can cost them their jobs.

My job consists of spotting trends and disruptive change before others and by placing bets (=making investments) based on that. I am certainly not always right and I am often too early, but I feel I have a better helicopter view of certain industries than some of the CEOs running the leading companies in those industries. Often when I read their interviews I wonder if they really live in the same world as I do. This week I read 3 articles that I totally disagreed with and that may eventually be added to the list of disastrous tech predictions.

First one article about the hotel industry: Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta said “I strongly do not believe that they (AirBnB) are a major threat to the core value proposition we have.” He is confident that AirBnB is not stealing his hotel guests. Right, maybe not many yet, but given that AirBnB has far more rooms than Hilton, that will likely change soon.

I have stayed in AirBnB’s over the past years instead of staying in luxury hotels. And given that AirBnB is now focusing on the business market as well, Hilton could be in for a surprise. Mr. Nassetta stated that Airbnb cannot match the amenities that Hilton hotel rooms come with, so business travelers won’t stay there. If that’s really the main differentiator (it’s not, AirBnB has better choice, is often much cheaper, and has better facilities such as kitchens and laundry) that’s easy to solve. In China the first AirBnB clones with personal concierges and chefs have launched already, I am sure the US will see this soon as well. The hotel industry won’t change overnight, but it’s a process that is unstoppable. Good luck competing Hilton!

Second, the remittance industry. MoneyGram, a huge global remittance company, doesn’t see Bitcoin as a threat. Peter Ohser, the executive vice president of business development feels digital currency doesn’t pose any threat or solve pressing problems. What? Does he not talk to his customers? Does he not follow what’s happening in the real world outside of MoneyGram and Western Union?

He believes existing payment behaviors are too entrenched, and that bitcoin is unlikely to offer enough utility, because people trust paper more than data and that behavior is not going to change (my emphasis). Especially that last sentence makes clear that he is out of sync with the real world. It reminds me of Kodak, that did not believe 15 years ago that people would stop using photo cameras with film. Well, I don’t think my kids even know what paper photos look like. Disruption happens fast Mr. Ohser. Good luck competing MoneyGram!

General Motors
Third, the car industry. I started my career at Daimler-Benz (now just called Daimler). I loved the company and did not believe it would ever lose its place as one of the top companies in the world. So far they haven’t and I still like the brand, but given how slow they are with implementing new technologies I wonder if they won’t lose their place to Google, Apple or companies like Tesla. I was in a Mercedes showroom last month, and although I loved the models I would not consider buying one of their cars anymore until they would have a pure electric car with a range like Tesla’s.

Bob Lutz, former vice chairman of GM, wrote a column for Road and Track with the title ‘Is Tesla Doomed‘? It is clear that he does not see what differentiates Tesla from the traditional car companies and he gives Elon Musk some fatherly advice: Cut costs and build a small car with a hybrid drivetrain. I had to laugh at that. Because of its current investments in the Gigafactory and in the Model 3, Tesla will eventually print money. But if they would cut back costs now they would never be able to get there. The idea for a hybrid drivetrain is ridiculous, Tesla sets itself apart with its electric-only engines with a great driving range.

Next to that, Mr. Lutz compares Tesla’s showroom strategy to that of BMW in the 1970s, but totally misses that you can’t buy Tesla cars in a showroom and drive away (you order them and wait 2-3 months, or longer, so there are no inventories).

In a few hours Tesla will publish its Q3 results and they will likely show bigger losses. Not sure how the stock price will react (I believe investors expect it and it’s reflected in the current price), but I believe these losses are necessary for huge profits a few years from now. My biggest concern is that they can’t scale up production, but maybe that is something where the traditional players can help Tesla: as their future car parts suppliers! Then Tesla can focus on its software, R&D and design, just like Apple does (they don’t produce their own products either). I am long Tesla and fully believe in Elon Musk. Good luck competing General Motors!

Why is bitcoin going up again?

Bitcoin Oct. 28, 2015

I stopped following the Bitcoin price on a daily basis a couple of months ago, mainly because not much was happening to the price. I still read the analyses on the Internet and in Bitcoin chat groups on WeChat and Telegram, but I was waiting for a a big event to happen before Bitcoin would get into a major uptrend again.

That uptrend started just over a month ago, and since then the price has gone up by about 35%. Not a lot compared to the price increase 2 years ago, but very different from the boring horizontal price trend that Bitcoin has shown for most of the past year. There were 2 other rallies in February and in June/July, but this month’s price increase seems much more stable. No big up and downs, just a steady growth of 1-2% per day at much higher average volumes than we have seen since the Mt. Gox crash in early 2014.

But what caused this price increase? There was a chain of separate events over the past weeks that explains why Bitcoin is becoming more prominent again. I list the reasons below, with the most important one at the bottom.

– MMM Global Republic of Bitcoin: This is a ponzi scheme from Russia that is suddenly becoming very popular, especially in South Africa and Indonesia, but also in China. It promises people returns of 100% per month, which should be a clear sign that it’s a scam… The interesting thing is that people don’t transfer money in fiat currency anymore, but that they switched to Bitcoin. So a lot of people are starting to use Bitcoin now for the first time. I don’t think this has a big effect, but it could lead to a lot more people finding out about Bitcoin. Of course when the whole scheme eventually falls apart they will blame Bitcoin, even though the cryptocurrency has nothing to do with it.

– The European Union announced that Bitcoin is VAT-exempt, meaning that you can legally buy and sell it without having to pay tax on it, just like any other currency. This kind of news shows that governments are getting a lot closer to accepting Bitcoin as money and it gives people more confidence in the future -and the future value- of Bitcoin.

– Banks are working on private blockchains for their transfers and transactions and 25 of the world’s top banks (incl. JP Morgan, HSBC and Citi) have formed a blockchain consortium. This may seems like negative news for Bitcoin, because banks likely won’t use the Bitcoin blockchain, but I think the market sees it as a big net positive for 2 reasons. First, it’s better that they use a private blockchain than no blockchain at all, because they will learn how blockchains work and what they can be used for. And second, eventually banks will realize that public Bitcoin blockchain is far superior to any other private blockchain because it’s much more decentralized and secure. Private blockchains are a necessary step for banks to get into Bitcoin.

– Several money transfer companies that use the Bitcoin blockchain to instantly send money from one country to another have launched over the past months. I think this is the next big thing for Bitcoin, even though most people using these services won’t realize at first that their fiat currency to fiat currency transaction actually takes place over the Bitcoin blockchain. Companies to watch in this space are Abra,, Bitpesa and ZipZap, but many more will likely appear over the next 12 months. Banks will likely also get into this space as well, although they may not use the Bitcoin blockchain at first. If you have shares in Moneygram or Western Union it’s probably time to start selling them.

NASDAQ is launching a private shares exchanges using the blockchain. This is a clear validation of Bitcoin technology and might eventually lead to NASDAQ using the blockchain for all its transactions. That will take a while, but this announcement came a lot quicker than I had imagined.

– The most important reason for the increase, however, is China. I was just watching all transactions happening on the major exchanges in the world, and about 80% of all Bitcoin transfers took place in China. This reminds me a bit of what happened exactly 2 years ago, during Bitcoin’s first mega rally. China led that rally until the government stepped in with a warning. Bitcoin was never banned, however, and the biggest Bitcoin exchanges in the world are still in China. It seems that more people in China have (re)discovered Bitcoin and are using it either as investment or as a tool to get their assets out of the country. The recent devaluation of the Renminbi was a sea change for China’s monetary policy. It was followed by a increased capital controls, including a crack down on underground banks and money transfer agents, making it even more difficult for money to leave the country. It seems therefore likely that Chinese are now increasingly using Bitcoin to transfer money out of the country, and I believe this is what is mostly driving prices up at the moment.

I stopped speculating about the Bitcoin price a long time ago, but looking at the volumes this seems like a very healthy uptrend that may continue for a while. On the other hand, if China suddenly decides to crack down on Bitcoin (hard to do, but still possible) prices may suddenly crash back to the lower 200s. I don’t really see that happening though, so I would not bet against Bitcoin right now.

Why P2P marketplace lending is so successful

For years I have been investing in (and on) p2p lending platforms such as LendingClub, Prosper and Dianrong, and I have been writing about it on this blog (e.g. see this post from 2012). Although people were skeptical at first a lot of my friends now invest part of their savings there, simply because returns are so much better than what you can get at banks or in other debt investments.

To give you an idea, at LendingClub I have made consistently over 8% net (=after write-offs) for years. I also invest in funds that do leveraged investments in platforms, where you make 3-4% per quarter (13-16% per year). These are fairly liquid investments, so your money is not tied up for years like in most of my other investments.

In China, where I am on the board of one of the leading marketplace lenders, returns can be even higher. That’s mainly because there are no other sources of capital for most borrowers. Maybe I am biased, but I feel p2p lending is much more common in China than in N-America and Europe, especially because it’s so easy to lend money through mobile apps.

I think there are a couple of reasons why marketplace lending has taken off so fast globally and why it is better than traditional bank lending. Samir Desai, founder and CEO of Funding Circle, a UK based marketplace lender gave a talk at the Lendit conference in London this week in which he focused on this. I embed a video of his speech (via and summarize his main points below.

Why are marketplace lenders better than traditional banks:

-P2P marketplace platforms don’t need to have money on their balance sheets to lend it to consumers. It’s direct p2p lending, so the platform has no inventory. In that way platforms are truly aligned with investors, for example they can’t invest in loans themselves, so there is no incentive not to put the best loans on the platform. Next to that it leads to platform being faster and cheaper.

– Platforms are completely transparant. On most platforms data about all originated loans is available in detail. Try that with traditional banks!

– Platforms only do loan origination and many platforms focus on a certain type of loans (e.g. student loans, or loans to specific categories of people). By doing this over and over and over again, they get better and better and better at it. That leads to even higher returns for investors.

– Platforms generally give the same investment opportunities to small and large lenders. It may be easier to lend as a big player because the platforms service you better, but if you are a savvy small investors you have access to the exact same loans at most platforms.

– Platforms have no systemic risk, because the maturity of the investments is the same as the maturity of the loans. This is very different from banks where short term deposits may be used for long term loans. In case of a bank run the whole bank may fall apart because of this mismatch, as was the case with Northern Rock in 2007-2008. On a p2p platform a bankrun is impossible because there is no maturity transformation.

Conclusion: P2P or marketplace lending is far superior to bank lending, is more secure, and has higher returns because of efficiency. We will therefore see a lot more growth in this kind of lending over the next couple of years. Being a shareholder in these platforms or putting money on these platforms as a lender will continue to give investors outsized returns.

Testing Tesla’s autopilot mode

Testing the Tesla autopilot (self driving mode)

I am a big believer that the near future will be full of self-driving cars. So Tesla’s announcement this week that it would roll out its first self-driving features in a software update to its cars was super exciting.

My business partner’s wife drives a Tesla Model S P85D (the one with the insane mode, going from 0-100 km/h in just 3.1 seconds) and her car received its autopilot update on Friday morning. Because of my Facebook posts about autonomous driving they dropped by my house today to show me the autopilot’s features. Of course I made some videos and I uploaded one here on Youtube.

Once you drive over 30 km/h you can turn on autopilot (by pushing the cruise control handle twice). At that moment the car keeps on driving the same speed (like in cruise control mode), but it also starts steering for you. On the highway that works very well and the car keeps its lane and adapts its speed to other cars in the same lane.

Also passing other cars is easy, you just turn on the your signal light, then the Tesla will check if there are no cars close to you and move over to the next lane.

It start getting tricky if you get to an area with construction though. At that moment the car gets confused, gives a warning and you have to immediately take over manual control. The current version of the Autopilot software is far from ready to drive through a construction area, and that’s kind of scary.

On secondary roads it’s even worse, because many streets don’t have outside lines or the middle lines are too faded. We had quite some problems using the autopilot features on two-lane roads and one time we even started to drive into the lane with oncoming traffic! Also the autopilot doesn’t recognize stop signs (they are everywhere in Canada) and traffic lights yet…

To be fair, the software is only in beta version and you should actually keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times. If you do that you can turn on autopilot on non-highways as well, but what’s the use of autopilot software if you still have to pay attention to the road?

My conclusion after a short test drive is that this is a major step forward in the direction of autonomous vehicles, but that this software is not ready for non-highway use yet. Maybe it’s useful in traffic jams downtown, but for now I would only use it on highways. For long distance drives it’s great though. Just put your destination in the GPS, start driving and once on the highway let the car take over the controls. Keep a thumb on the steering wheel and look up regularly (e.g. to see if there is construction ahead!), but you can then start doing other things as well.

I am a bit worried that we’ll see some accidents caused by Tesla drivers using autopilot software soon. Although Tesla makes clear that you are still responsible for your car, some people may not realize its current limitations and rely too much on the car not making mistakes. The autopilot will get constantly better because the cars send feedback about road conditions to Tesla, so if you’ll wait a few weeks it will likely be much safer already.

My current cars feel suddenly very old fashioned, my next car will likely be a Tesla.

Hernia surgery

This year’s Vancouver Marathon was not the best marathon I ever ran. A week before I could still hardly walk because of an injury, so I could not participate in the 10K Vancouver Sun Run. But I still decided to do the full 42.2 km marathon the weekend after that. The result was an even worse injury (but I finished, which is the only thing that counts), however, there was more.

I think our housekeeper washed my Vibram running shoes before the race, because while at the start I felt they were suddenly too small. During the race my big toe was very painful, but I continued anyway. I will spare you the details, but about 3 weeks later I lost my complete toenail because of this. I never realized how important even a toenail can be, I could not even swim for a few weeks because of that (too much pain).

But the strangest thing was that after the marathon my lower abdomen was hurting and it looked like I had suddenly grown a big tumor during the run. Kind of scary, so I went to see a doctor a few days later. He told me that it was a hernia, something that 10% of the people develop during their life, which was a bit of a relief. This marathon had been too much for my body it seems.

I did some research and managed to get an appointment with the best hernia doctor in Vancouver, Dr. Scudamore. He told me that it was an inguinal hernia. A surgery was not immediately necessary, but that not doing it could lead to potential complications such as strangulation (cutting off the blood supply to part of the body). Because the full recovery of such a surgery would be 6 weeks I decided to postpone the operation until after the summer (I wanted to go swimming and sailing in summer), and so last night I went in for my operation.

I have always been very healthy and never had an operation before. The only time I spent some time in a hospital was when Scott and Elaine were born in Shanghai. So I looked forward to it actually, I like to learn new things and this is the best way to observe how a surgery works.

While being tied to my bed in the operation room I asked the anesthesiologist a lot of questions and looked at all the monitors and other instruments surrounding me. I was put on an IV, which I had never experienced before. I was hungry and dehydrated (I had not eaten for 20 hours when I entered the hospital), but the IV makes you feel better soon. The view from the operation room was great, on the top floor of the building with windows all around and views over the city. Too bad I could not take a selfie!

Dr. Scudamore walked into the surgery room just before 7 pm (I already had a short chat with him 30 min before the operation in which I could ask him all kinds of questions) and informed the staff of the procedure. Then the anesthesiologist put a mask with 100% oxygen over my mouth and told me I would be asleep in 20-30 seconds. Breathing was kind of hard so I closed my eyes and took deep breaths. After 30 seconds I felt I was still not asleep and opened my eyes to tell the doctor that it did not seem to work. But I was surprised to see that I was suddenly in a different room and that the clock at the end of my bed showed it was an hour later! The surgery was over already and I had not noticed anything.

I felt fine and wanted to get up, but the post operation nurse told me to stay put. I was completely awake and asked her for something to read, but that was not possible. I had to lay down for at least another 45 minutes. That was very boring, because I felt great (thanks to the IV and all the medicine in my body) and I am not used to doing nothing for 45 minutes. There was a man in the bed next to me who had also had surgery and who seemed to be doing a lot worse. I could not see him because of curtains between the beds, but I understood that they had needed a lot more medicine to bring him to sleep and he was not in good shape when he had woken up right before me.

After a very boring 45 minutes in which I asked the nurse questions about the instruments, the surgery itself (the whole operation had lasted just 35 min), and post-operation procedures, and in which I was trying to come up with improvements for patients (why not put a simple muted TV screen above the bed to at least you can watch something without moving or hang some posters on the ceiling), I was finally allowed to get up. The nurse wanted to bring in a wheelchair but I said I wanted to try to walk myself. That went fairly well, but the nurse warned me that if I would fall she may not be able to catch me. After leaving the post-operation area I was told to go to the toilet (they don’t let you go until you prove you can do that!), which was kind of weird because the whole middle part of my body was completely numb.

Then another nurse came and put me in a wheelchair. I did not see the necessity for that but wanted to go home and just obeyed. She took me to Grace’ car and with some pain I managed to get in. I thought I would sleep most of the drive back home, but I was not tired and could even tell Grace how to drive (she prefers my directions over her navigation system).

At home I decided to walk around slowly instead of lie down because I felt fine. But all of a sudden my legs felt like jello and I fell backwards on the ground. I still don’t know what happened exactly, but it was a good lesson that I may feel okay but I was not yet okay just 2 hours after the surgery.

From then on I just sat down, had a lot of clear soup and then went to bed where I read some emails, wrote a couple of text messages and tried to read a book. By 11 pm I was supposed to take new painkillers, but I felt the pain was manageable so I did not take them yet.

The night was not easy because I could only lay in one position and woke up each time I moved. I was thinking about taking painkillers at 5 AM, but in the end decided to try to get through the night without them. The result was not much sleep, but I still felt quite rested. I also had a lot of time to think about the things I experienced in the hospital and what could be improved. Especially the information flow is quite limited, if you don’t ask you just don’t hear a lot of things. Also the waiting time at the hospital before the operation was unnecessary. Why let me arrive at 3:45 pm and not start the operation until 7 PM (I was told other operations took more time than planned)? Just give me a call in advance so I could have worked 2 hours longer. A simple app could have solved this. And maybe I am different from others, but I would have liked to see pictures or video of the operation, that would be a nice memory.

It’s now 9 AM, the kids are in school and I am sitting in the living room doing emails and WeChat messages. Pain is still manageable so I still haven’t touched my painkillers. I may do so later if I want to get some sleep, but if I can handle the pain without medicine I prefer that. Actually, the pain is a lot less than I thought. Several people told me it would hurt like crazy, but it’s actually not much worse than the pain during or after a full marathon. The main difference is that after a marathon you can lie down on your bed and feel much better, here the pain is very concentrated and doesn’t really stop.

Recovery will be quite slow, it will take about 3 weeks before I can do light activities again and it will take 6 weeks for a full recovery. Biggest problem is that I can’t drive for 2 weeks (time for self-driving cars!), but I believe I should be able to beat that time if I walk around a lot instead of hang on the couch. I am in pretty decent shape, so I assume that with healthy food and drinks my body should recover a lot more quickly than the average person would. We’ll see. At least it was an interesting experience that I actually enjoyed (I realize that might sound strange), I just wish there would be a bit less pain involved.

Autonomous cars: what the near future will look like

Google prototype self-driving car

One of the things that I enjoy most is to talk about disruptive technological trends and how they will already impact our lives 5 years from now. I use this in my investment decisions, both for start-ups and for public companies.

One of the most interesting areas for me is how quickly autonomous car technology and robotics are developing. My vision on this has evolved quite a bit since I moved to Canada in 2013, especially my view on the time line in which changes will happen (within the next 4-5 years) and the effect of robotics (more positive than I originally thought).

Robotics and autonomous cars are actually the same thing, because an autonomous car is nothing more than a robot. I have predicted for years that robots will take over most of our daily tasks and that the majority of people will lose their jobs over the next 20 years. I now believe that this will go much faster, but I also believe that this does not need to lead to mass unrest if society prepares itself well for the coming changes. This post will focus on self-driving cars, I plan to write about the effect of mass unemployment later.

Autonomous cars are a good way to explain the effects of robotics to people, because most of us use cars and can understand the changes that self-driving cars will bring. Within 5 years the first completely autonomous vehicles will hit the road (in 2013 I thought it would be in 2023, now I think it will already be by 2019-2020). Many cars already have limited self-driving features and these show how far we have come over the past years.

Last month my wife bought a new car with some of these self-driving features and it’s quite interesting to try them out. Among others her car can parallel park itself or it can back into a parking spot. It is kind of scary the first time you use it, and I even braked because I thought her new car would hit the car next to us (message from the car: “please release the brake”), but once you have done it a few times you realize the car is a much better parker than most humans.

The car also has automatic brakes in case the car in front of you suddenly slows down. When I was testing her car I drove up to a stop sign where a car was waiting in front of me of me. I saw that the car would start driving because there were no other cars at the intersection, so I drove up to him quite fast. About 15 meters before the stop sign, and right at the moment the other car started driving, Grace’ car suddenly took over the controls and started braking hard while making a beeping sound. It was very strange when it happened, but it’s actually assuring that the car forces you to drive more carefully.

For me the big take away is how quickly you get used to these features. It makes driving easier and safer, and after using them a few times it feels totally normal. I think that once cars will become more autonomous we will immediately accept it and will let the car do all the driving.

It will change the way cars look and feel. I don’t believe that fully autonomous cars will need a steering wheel and pedals. Once you have given control to your car you won’t feel the need to drive yourself anymore. That’s the mistake the big car manufacturers seem to be making, most still believe that people will want cars where you can take over from the computer if needed. It reminds me of the first cars in the late 1800’s that looked like coaches, so you could still put a horse in front of the it! Google doesn’t have this bias and its autonomous vehicle prototypes are just sit-and-go, without any controls for passengers. They redesigned the concept of a car bottom-up and that may turn out to be a very smart move.

Given how much better electric cars have become over the past 3 years (Tesla cars are among the very best vehicles on the road right now) and how quickly battery technology and solar power are developing, my prediction is that the first autonomous cars will be completely electric. No more engines with moving components that need maintenance and can break down easily, but a simple but powerful battery powered car.

This will have huge implications for the car industry, because many companies are still focused on gas- or diesel-powered engines, instead of focusing all their energy on electric technology. But not just that, once autonomous vehicles become widely available, car sharing concepts will take off and the whole automotive market will collapse. Why do you need 2-3 cars per household if these cars sit in parking lots 95% of the time?

I believe that most people won’t own cars anymore but will subscribe to an Uber-like concept in which an autonomous vehicle will show up at your door whenever you need one. The number of cars will go down dramatically and if you are the operator of a parking garage you might as well start looking for a new career. Self-driving cars will park themselves outside of city centers to recharge their batteries, or more likely, immediately drive to the next person that needs a ride.

Costs will be much lower than current taxi services, because there are no human drivers involved anymore (the majority of the costs for a taxi are salaries), because cars will become much cheaper (mass-produced luxury taxis without complicated engines will probably be produced for $15-20,000, and because of their electric engines you can drive them for more kilometers than normal cars) and because they don’t need expensive gas anymore (with better solar power and batteries the variable costs of driving will go down to almost zero).

My prediction: transportation will become almost free. Hard to imagine right now what impact that will have, but for sure it will change the way we live. People might start to live further away from downtown for example. And supermarkets may disappear because ordering online will be faster and cheaper (immediate delivery, no delivery costs, and the supermarket doesn’t need expensive real estate).

Traffic jams will disappear, not necessarily because there will be less cars on the road, but mainly because autonomous cars drive more efficiently (no sudden brakes) and will communicate with each other so that traffic lights are not necessary anymore. Check out this YouTube video to understand what will happen in intersections when you only have self-driving cars: This assumes that there are no human driven cars anymore, which will not happen 5 years from now, but it will be the case in 15 years. Possibly older cars will be have to retrofitted with autonomous systems or they will not be allowed to drive during rush hour or on certain roads.

Another big advantage is that there won’t be many accidents anymore. Driving is one of the most dangerous activities, but that will change once autonomous vehicles take over. Insurance companies should take this into account, if you are a car insurer your business may go away over the next couple of years.

I am very positive about the changes that will happen in the automotive industry over the next years and the additional freedom and free time it will give many of us. It will completely disrupt some industries but it will also create a lot of new opportunities. I look forward to these changes and hope to drive (or better: be driven in) an autonomous car by 2020.

Ad blockers and 21 Inc: a major business opportunity

The 21 Bitcoin computer

Over the past days I have been closely following the ad blocking discussion. For those who did not pay too much attention to it, the issue is that Apple released iOS9 and that this version allows ad blocking apps. That means that by installing one of these apps you won’t see ads anymore.

Great, right? Well, maybe yes, because it makes the user experience better, but also maybe no, because ads are the main revenue driver for most websites on the Internet. Within a day the top paid apps in the app store were ad blocking apps, so there clearly was a big need for it.

I don’t want to go into too much detail, but it means that many websites will need a different business model if they want to survive. The current model where you are often bombarded with ads that you do not want to see or that load much more slowly than the site itself is not working. It’s the ad industries fault, because they assumed consumers could not avoid the ads. With more relevant ads, that are less annoying, load faster and don’t block part of the site, I believe people would be less inclined to download ad blockers.

I never put any ads on this blog (and never will), nor did I ever accept any paid posts, because I blog for fun and make my money in other ways. Indirectly this blog has earned me a lot more than I could have ever made with ads, however. That’s my business model, but obviously that doesn’t work for sites with high overheads.

Some websites charge monthly fees, which is a model I don’t believe in. The only paid subscription that I have is the New York Times, because their content is unique and far superior to that of most other newspaper websites. But I don’t want to pay a monthly fee for 10 to 20 blogs and media sites, so earlier this year I deleted all the ones that charge for content from my RSS reader.

I believe in a model like Blendle, where people pay for content on a per article basis. However, the model should be seamless (no ‘pay now’ button), ubiquitous (it should work on any paid website, not just a few) and you should pay less if you don’t finish reading the article. Next to that an article should be cheap, I think the Blendle articles (at on average $0.20 per article) are still too expensive.

I have talked about this for about 8 years already, but so far I have not found the business model that I am looking for. Partly because big companies like Apple (iTunes for News?) and Microsoft (Skype with its pre-paid credit would be a perfect candidate) didn’t see the market or did not want to enter it, or in the case of Google because it would hurt their main business: advertising.

But the main reason the model does not exist yet is that there was no good machine-to-machine payment tool that can automatically send and receive money. Until now that is, because yesterday 21 Inc. released the data for its upcoming “21 bitcoin computer“. This Raspberry Pi with an added black box is the first tool that can make machines talk to each other and exchange value (=bitcoin) between them. Each 21 bitcoin computer contains the full blockchain and mines bitcoin as well when you use it.

The 21 bitcoin computer is 21 Inc.’s first product, but there will be many more products to come. Their vision is that everybody will in the future own one of their devices and will automatically mine small amounts of bitcoin every day. This money can then be spent automatically on products developed with the 21 bitcoin computer.

The first use case I see for this right now is automatically paying for web content. You read an article on say The Wall Street Journal and automatically a few cents are deducted from your bitcoin wallet. You don’t need to approve it (you probably don’t even realize that you are paying) and you can never spend more than you mine, unless you add bitcoin to your wallet yourself. In case you don’t like the content and stop reading after a few seconds or if you don’t scroll to the end of the article, you’ll get a partial or full refund – all done automatically.

This will solve a big part of the current ad blocking problem, because it gives content owners a new business model. 21 Inc. could be the ad blocker of the future: turn it on and you don’t see ads, turn it off and you’ll be served ads. Anybody can monetize their own content in the future and there is a huge opportunity here for a start-up.

Although lots of people dismiss 21 Inc.’s bitcoin computer (too expensive, ugly, just a Raspberry Pi, you can’t earn money with their chip, etc.), I think they are missing the bigger picture: we finally have an Internet protocol for payments! Automatic machine-to-machine payments will lead to new business models which will change the web as we know it. It’s hard to predict the future of the Internet, but I believe automatic payments are almost as disruptive as the first webbrowser was. Changing the online ads business model will just be a first step.

Robbery at Metrotown

Today is our 10-year wedding anniversary (time flies, we were still so young during our wedding…) so I decided to take the day off and spend time with my wife. She wanted to do some shopping after bringing the kids to school, so we drove to the Metrotown mall in Burnaby, mainly because we had never been there.

We walked around inside the mall for a few minutes when we heard a loud scream behind us. My initial reaction was to ignore it, but the screaming continued. I turned around and saw an older Chinese woman laying on the ground outside the BMO bank. She seemed to be in shock and could only scream, but I noticed she was pointing in my direction.

I looked around and at that moment a big well dressed black guy with a panama hat walked by me. He carried a woman’s hand bag and walked a bit faster than normal.  I looked at him and then noticed he was the only one not paying attention to the screams. At that same moment he suddenly started running away from me, and I realized that he must have just robbed the woman and pushed her onto the ground.

I didn’t hesitate and immediately ran after him. He was quite fast but I am a decent runner so he did not manage to run far away from me. Within moments several other people followed me as well (Grace later told me about 20 people were running behind me and the thief). I shouted “stop the thief, stop the thief” and that scared the black guy, and he threw away the bag.

He probably hoped that I would stop running after him, but he was wrong. I knew that I would eventually catch up with him, these guys are generally fast at first but because I am a long distance runner I can run at a high speed much longer than they can. So I kept following him.

Problem was, the other people were not as fast as we were, so it was just me and him and some other people at least 20 meters behind us. He ran into Sears, which was virtually empty, so I screamed to the staff to stop the guy. But because he looked like a decent guy people did not immediately realize he was the criminal and let him pass.

He went around a corner, but when I rounded the corner he was suddenly gone. I first thought he may be hiding behind some racks, but then a shop assistant told me that a black guy just ran out the emergency exit. The emergency door had a sign saying that an alarm would go off if you opened it, but that was not the case so he managed to get away.

There was no point in going after him anymore, because I had no idea where he had run to, but at least the Chinese lady got her bag back. Grace was happy that I was not hurt, she had seen me running after the guy and saw from a distance that I was the only one close to him. She was quite worried that he would have a knife and stab me if I would have come too close, so seeing me safe made her quite relieved.

We were not in the mood for shopping anymore after that and left the building about 10 minutes later. By that time police cars had surrounded the mall, but I doubt that they were able to catch the guy. He was probably the only black guy in the mall, so he would have been an easy catch, but he was likely already off the premises before the police even got the call. It’s a pity, but it was a good reminder to be careful, even in shopping malls.


Raccoons in the garden

Lots of wildlife around our house these days: 2 weeks ago we saw 2 whales while sailing close to our home, last week a black bear visited our garden, on the weekend I had a close encounter with a deer, and tonight a family of 4 raccoons walked around our pool!

After dinner Elaine walked to the window to look at the sunset and suddenly started screaming: “Daddy, daddy, look, look, look!”. I had no idea what was going on but because she sounded shocked, I immediately ran towards her and saw a raccoon family walking on the deck next to our pool.

Raccoons in the garden

Two of them started eating some of the plants and 2 others jumped on the pool cover (I am glad we closed it!). We took a few pictures through the window, because I thought they would run away when they would hear or see us.

Raccoons in the garden

But when 3 of them had left the garden I opened the door to the garden and the last raccoon did not run at all, but turned around to look at me! I made some hissing sounds and pretended to throw something at the animal to scare it away, but instead it took a step towards me. That actually scared me a bit. The raccoon then slowly walked into the bushes and kept on observing me from there. Raccoons in the garden

It’s not the first time I see a raccoon and it’s also not the first time that raccoons don’t run away when I encounter them. I once saw a huge one at dusk while running in the woods in Stanley Park, it just looked at me like I did not belong there (probably true!). I was more scared to see him than he was to see me running by.

Raccoons in the garden

I had assumed that if you see raccoons at home and try to scare them, they would at least have the natural reaction to flee. But that seems to be a wrong assumption. Maybe they are too used to human beings? Luckily raccoons are generally not dangerous to people, although they can attack pets or damage your garden. Let’s see what wild animals will visit us next week – I heard there are coyotes on the golf course behind our house!


Back to school after a busy holiday

Egmont, Sunshine Coast

Egmont, Sunshine Coast, BC

On Tuesday Scott and Elaine’s summer holiday will be over after more than 2 months of vacation. They are very excited to go back to school after such a long period of time. I think they had a great holiday in which they not only had some fun trips and summer camps but during which they also learned a lot.

Sailing around Bowen Island with Val & John

Anchoring at Galbraith Beach (Bowen Island)

We didn’t have time for a long holiday this summer, mainly because I was too busy with work related activities, but we made a few short trips to the wineries in Kelowna, the Rocky Mountains (Banff & Lake Louise), Southern California (LA & San Diego, incl. Legoland and Sea World), and in British Columbia (a trip to the Sunshine Coast and several sailing trips). Quails' Gate Winery, Kelowna

Visiting a winery in Kelowna

When their holiday started in late June I made a list of things that I wanted to teach the kids during their summer break. For Elaine I put learning to swim and learning how to ride a bicycle on top of the list, for Scott it was sailing and learning a first computer language. Next to that they would practice piano every day, write their journals on a weekly basis and read books for an hour per day. Rockwater Resort, Sunshine Coast

Rockwater Resorts, Sunshine Coast, BC

Looking back most of these goals were met. Elaine is now a great swimmer, she can do breaststroke, crawl and backstroke and she has no fear at all of water. Before June she mainly swam with one inflatable armband, but now she won’t need that anymore. She hang out in our pool on most days during the holiday, next year I’ll also let her swim in the sea with me. Elaine learning how to ride a bicycle

Learning how to ride a bike with daddy

Biking took her a bit more time, but once she got the hang of it she immediately wanted to ride up and down hills! Just like with swimming she not only has no fear, but she also doesn’t see any danger. So she had a few crashes, but that’s the only way to learn. Scott has his sailing camp

Scott at his sailing camp

Scott took a sailing camp early in the holiday and there he learned to sail an Optimist on his own. He now knows the basic concepts of sailing, so when I took him out on my yacht a couple of times he enjoyed it a lot more. I even let him steer my boat sometimes, he loves it! Captain Scott

Captain Scott!

For Scott I had decided to teach him Python as his first computer language. Python is not that hard to learn (we only did the basics of course) and is a good basis for other languages. I realized soon that most of the key concepts are still quite hard for someone who just finished 1st grade (e.g. things like Boolean operators and expressions, variables, loop functions), but after several weeks of working with them he understands what they are and can work with them to write simple code. My plan is to do one lesson a week with him during the school year, and eventually to build a simple computer game with him. Bow lake & glacier

Playing on the shores of Bow Lake

The kids also loved to play piano, they normally practiced without us telling them to do so. Elaine even played at some public pianos in Vancouver during the holiday, attracting a small crowd of onlookers. Because she memorizes all her songs she can play without sheet music, which is helpful when giving a mini concert in the open air. Hitting golf balls in the backyard

Elaine learns how to play golf

The kids both wrote long journals about their holidays, describing the trips we took and the things we saw. Elaine wrote that her highlight was her visit to Legoland California in late July, she especially loved the rollercoasters (Scott not so much). Scott’s highlight was an overnight sailing trip that he took with me and my dad. We sailed in the Strait of Georgia where we saw 2 whales close to our boat (very impressive!) and then anchored for the night in a bay at Gambier Island. Nice to spend quality time withy my dad and son, and even nicer that Scott liked it so much as well. Scott read 122 books in August!

Scott’s amazing reading results for August

Scott’s main activity this summer was reading. It’s unbelievable how much he reads. He has his own Kindle with an unlimited Amazon subscription and that was the best present ever for him. I just checked the statistics on his Kindle for August and it turns out he read 122 books this month, for a total of over 10,000 pages! I used to read a lot as a kid, but this beats everything. He is an extremely fast reader and already reads books for grade 4, so he will likely have an easy time in school this year.

A bear in our garden

It has been extremely dry in British Columbia this summer, I can’t even remember the last time it rained here. The downside is that there are a lot of water restrictions now (you can’t even water your garden or wash your car anymore) and there have been many forest fires because of the drought. Also animals are affected, because there is not enough food for them high up in the mountains, and so they come down to look for it.

And that’s what happened today at our house. Our neighbour was walking her dog when she suddenly saw a bear in front of our driveway! We do get a bit of wildlife in our area, such as cougars and coyotes, but bears are very rare. Since we moved here we had not seen any, and neighours later told us that the last time a bear was spotted in our street was in 2009. 

A bear in our garden

The black bear is hardly visible below the bushes

The bear was standing below some bushes when a car drove by, and because of that it walked up our driveway. Luckily the kids were not playing outside! Or more likely, if the kids would have been playing outside the bear might not have entered our garden.

Coincidentally our housekeeper just arrived in her car and she drove up to the bear to scare it away. That didn’t really work and the bear decided to sit next to our house before walking into our neighbour’s garden.

From there the bear managed to climb over a fence onto the golf course. A woman playing golf got a good scare when she suddenly saw a bear jump onto the fairway in front of her. The bear then ran away and we have not seen it since. 

Living in Vancouver’s suburbs is certainly interesting!

Soylent, trying out the future of food!


Many of my investments are in companies that make products or services that have the potential to change the world. It’s therefore a real pity that I never had the chance to invest in Soylent, a product that may redefine what food is. (Note: If shares should become available on secondary markets please let me know!)

Never heard of Soylent? It’s a powder that you mix with water to get a drink that has all the nutrition and vitamins you need to live healthy. It takes less than 5 minutes to make Soylent and it costs less than $10 per day! Soylent saves you time and money and makes it easy to get all the right nutrition elements that you need for a healthy life. 

I first heard about Soylent 2 years ago and found the idea intriguing. However, you could not buy the product yet at the time (it only started shipping in the US around April 2014), so I could not try it out and therefore sort of forgot about it. Every now and then I read an article (either very postive or very negative: disruptive technologies are always quite controversial and lead to lots of online discussions. Just like Bitcoin!) and I decided to order Soylent if it would become available in Canada. And indeed, a few weeks ago I read that Soylent was now for sale in my new home country, so I ordered a batch of the product.

My first shipment of Soylent arrived earlier this week and the past 3 days I lived mainly on this product. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical when I started this food experiment, mainly because I like to eat good food and I spend quite a lot of money on it. I could not imagine that a cheap powder-based drink would change the way I would eat for more than a day.


Preparing Soylent is very easy. With your first shipment comes a big jug in which you put half a bag of Soylent powder, then you fill half the jug with water and you shake the mix for 30 seconds. You then add the remaining powder, fill up the jug with water and shake again for 30 seconds. Done! It’s best to drink Soylent chilled, so I put it in the fridge and started my new ‘diet’ the next morning during breakfast. In October bottles of Soylent will go on sale as well, meaning that you don’t need to prepare it yourself anymore.

I live fairly healthy, with lots of exercise, not too much stress, and good food (plus several vitamins and mineral supplements, based on the results of my human genome sequencing). So I assumed Soylent would not make me more healthy, it would merely make eating faster and cheaper.

I got up a bit too late and had an early meeting in my office, so I did not have a lot of time for breakfast. Normally I would have a large glass of water (I start every day with a large glass of warm water), make some yoghurt with fruit and eat some bread with jam or cheese. Now I had my glass of water as usual and then I drank a smaller glass of Soylent. I finished breakfast in less than 2 minutes and jumped in my car to drive to downtown Vancouver.


Soylent tastes a bit like pancake batter or possibly a kind of oatmeal, not a bad taste actually. It was not something I needed to get used to, and over the past days I started to like it more and more. It was very easy to drink, it reminded me of having a milk shake, partly because it has the same texture and it came straight out of the fridge so it was very cold.

When I arrive in the office normally the first thing I do is to make myself a strong coffee. But now I did not really feel like drinking coffee, which is very strange for me. I normally drink at least 2 cups of coffee in the morning and on average about 4 cups of coffee per day. A workday does not really start until I finish my first coffee. But today I was a bit thirsty and decided to have a glass of water instead.

2 hours later I made my first coffee, and that was actually the only coffee I had that day. I wasn’t sure whether not drinking coffee was related to Soylent, but after 3 days I recognize the pattern: I only drink 1-2 cups of coffee per day now instead of 3-4, and I don’t miss it at all. I actually prefer an extra sip of Soylent instead of a coffee and the main reason I drink coffee is because I am so used to making one that I don’t really think about it.

After 2 meetings, around 11 AM, I normally get hungry and start looking for a cookie or a banana. But instead I decided to have half a glass of Soylent and my craving for other food was gone right away. And I started to really like the taste of Soylent!

Lunch was simple as well. Just a big glass of Soylent followed by a glass of water. For some reason Soylent makes me more thirsty, despite the fact that a jug of Soylent contains 1.6 liters of water. I drank my lunch while doing emails, so I did not have to stop working, saving me at least 30-45 minutes (if I don’t have a biz lunch I normally I walk out to a restaurant, buy some take-away food and eat it in my office).

I had a bit more Soylent during the afternoon and had no craving for other food at all. And even better, I felt a lot more energetic. Normally I start to get a bit sleepy after lunch, but with Soylent there was no dip at all. The next day was exactly the same, so it seems Soylent is at least part of the reason for it.

When I came home I had a normal dinner. I decided not to go cold turkey and completely stop eating food, but to just replace breakfast and lunch with Soylent (except for business lunches). At home we try to have breakfast and dinner together every day, so I don’t want to change our daily schedule by suddenly just drinking Soylent. Dinner is more than just eating to me, it’s a good time to talk about the day with the family and to listen to Scott and Elaine’s stories. That ritual won’t be changed by Soylent.

I actually realized that because dinner is now the only ‘real food’ meal of the day, I tend to enjoy the food more than I would normally. It also feels like I eat more slowly. After not chewing for most of the day it feels good to eat some solid food.

I have now been drinking most of my meals for 3 days and I am very positive. There were no side effects for me because of Soylent. If you search the Internet lots of people say that their bodies and digestive systems have to get used to Soylent during the first days, but for me that was not the case. I felt at least as healthy as usual and slept very well. I suspect that not drinking as much coffee and not eating any sugary products are important reasons for this.

As a bonus I seem to be losing weight as well. Likely because I eat less calories, especially during lunch. Also there are no snacks in between, I totally lost my cravings for something sweet or some carbs in the late morning or mid-afternoon. When I want to eat something I just take a sip of soylent.

Based on my very limited observations and based on my personal taste, I do believe there could be a huge market for Soylent. The food seems to be healthy, at least more healthy than the food that most people in the (Western) world eat. It is also relatively cheap compared to buying fresh foods: for about $10 per day you can have the equivalent of 3 meals and some snacks per day, and this price may come down further if the soylent production scales up.

And not only that, the food can also save you at least 2 hours per day, assuming you only eat Soylent. No more grocery shopping for fresh food, no more cooking dinner (and cleaning up afterward) and not spending more than a few minutes on eating the food.

I have only tried Soylent for 3 days now, but I am convinced that I will keep eating it on a semi-regular basis. Not for all my meals, but possibly a few days per week for breakfast and/or lunch. Although many hardcore Soylent users have been eating just Soylent for weeks or even months, I won’t give up good ‘real’ food for Soylent. But I could imagine that when I should be alone at home for a few days that I would eat just Soylent to save time.

Soylent is certainly not for everyone, and most people will be very skeptical at first. But over time I think more people will try it out and will realize that it can be a good partial alternative for their normal diets. It saves time, is healthy and cheap. It may even help to solve the problem of hunger in the world. Soylent is disrupting the food industry, it could very well be the future of food!

Business trip & mini-break in SoCal

Palisades Park, Santa Monica

This summer I’m too busy with work to go on a long holiday, so we’re just taking a few shorter trips. In early July we spent some days in Kelowna and Banff, and last week we did a trip to Southern California. I had accepted to speak at 2 conferences in Los Angeles so that was a good reason to bring the family along and plan some activities in between the conferences.

The Langham Huntington, Pasadena, CA

The first conference that I spoke at was the Silicon Dragon conference in Pasadena, a conference about tech and investing in China. We decided to stay in The Langham Huntington, where I stayed a couple of monts ago as well when I did 2 talks at Caltech and in Burbank. It’s a beautiful classic hotel with great service and nice views from the rooms (especially those on the backside of the hotel).

Pasadena, CA

We did a bit of sightseeing in Pasadena, which is very nice place with some older buildings and nice shops. We also took the kids to the Caltech campus close to downtown Pasadena. We’re showing the kids all world-class universities when we are in the area: for example a couple of months ago when we were in the Bay area we went to Stanford and to UC Berkeley with them. Not sure if universities will still be around when they are ready to go there in 10-12 years (also education is being disrupted!), but it’s always good when they know what the campuses of these universities look like.

Speaking at Silicon Dragon in Pasadena, CA

The Silicon Dragon conference was interesting and a good way to catch up with a lot of people (a lot of friends from my China days were there). The venture capital / dealmakers in China panel was fun to participate in and I even did an interview with CCTV (China’s main broadcaster) about investing in China and about online entertainment trends in Asia.

CCTV interview at Silicon Dragon Los Angeles

After the panel I picked up my family from the hotel and we drove 2 hours south to the Legoland Hotel in Carlsbad. We stayed there last year as well and it’s a good base when you plan to visit Legoland. However, the hotel is very much overpriced (almost $600 per night for a room without a balcony) and is super crowded in the summer months. The service is mediocre as well, it’s basically a 3-star hotel with 5-star prices. But the kids love it and that’s what count. But after last week’s experience we very likely won’t be back anymore, and certainly not in high season.

Legoland Hotel California

Legoland on the other hand was great and the kids had a fantastic time. As usual in theme parks we got VIP passes, but the park had changed the system. Last year when we visited Legoland we just got special tickets so that you did not have to wait in line at any of the attractions, but this year they changed to electronic devices. For an additional $25 per person you would have a 25% shorter waiting time, for $50 a 50% shorter waiting time and for $100 per person your waiting time was 5% of that of normal ticket buyers.

Legoland California

Pretty decent pricing (esp. compared to the price of the Legoland Hotel), because the waiting time at the most popular attractions was between 60-90 minutes. With the devices we had to wait max. 5 minutes at each attraction, and if you input the next ride while walking there you have almost no waiting time. We saved many hours of waiting because of the devices, so it was totally worth it for us.

Legoland California

Scott and Elaine both had their first rollercoaster experience in Legoland. They both liked it, but Scott felt one rollercoaster ride was sufficient for a day while Elaine was really excited and afterwards wanted to try every scary ride that we saw. Interesting to observe how different siblings can be.

Elaine's first time in a rollercoaster!

After a couple of hours we left the park and drove down to San Diego, where we had booked a suite at the Hyatt next to Sea World. The place was quite nice, with a balcony overlooking the Mission Bay marina and a (bit crowded) pool with slides for the kids.

Mission Bay, San Diego

The next morning we took a water taxi from the marina to Sea World, the quickest and easiest way to get to the park. The boat captain made a little detour to show us some seals and then dropped us off at the back entrance of Sea World. So no waiting lines to enter the park. The only problem was that we had to pick up our VIP passes at the entrance of the park, so we first had to take a walk.

Sea Lions in Mission Bay, San Diego

Sea World still had the old system where you could bypass all the lines, but because of all the negative publicity after the release of Blackfish ( there were not that many lines anymore. Even at the top attractions waiting times in the middle of peak season were just 15 minutes! But the tickets were still quite useful for the shows: most of them are fully booked if you don’t come at least 15-30 minutes in advance, but with these tickets you get the best seats even if the show is full already and you can show up any time.

Sea World San Diego

After Legoland Scott and Elaine were not too impressed by Sea World’s rides, but they liked the shows a lot. The orca and dolphin shows were both quite impressive, and the one with the sea lions was a big hit with the kids as well. We left around 4 pm and took a water taxi to the hotel from the back entrance.

Sea World San Diego

In the hotel we went for a swim and then we drove along the coast to downtown San Diego. The city is very nice (I had only been there once before) and has a very relaxed feel. I especially like all the marinas, it seems like everybody has a boat in San Diego.

San Diego

After dinner we put the kids to bed and then I worked a couple of hours in the living room. Although I try to keep up with important emails during the daytime I get so many mails that there is no way I can answer all of them on my phone. Even on my laptop I can’t answer all of them anymore and these days chances are you don’t get a reply anymore if you mail me. For a long time I tried to answer all my mails but I have given up on that. So if you ever try to get in touch and don’t get an answer, just send a follow-up mail (they do get priority!).

Scott in Newport Beach

The next day we visited friends from Hong Kong in their holiday home in Newport Beach. They are both in the traditional finance industry, so we talked a bit about the latest developments in blockchain land (still one of my favorite topics) and the p2p lending world. I also took Scott to the beach, just a 2 minute stroll down the lane from their house. Many of the beaches in Southern California are wide and sandy, and the one in Newport beach was no exception. Great places to hang out and spend a lazy afternoon!

Running from Santa Monica to Venice Beach (and back)

Late in the afternoon we drove to the Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica, a very nice hotel overlooking the Pacific. I went for a run on the beach while the kids went swimming in the ocean, and after that we had a quick dinner in downtown Santa Monica. After dinner the kids were tired and went to bed straight away, while I worked for a couple of hours.

Speaking at Keynote 2015 in Los Angeles

The next morning I got up early to drive to downtown Los Angeles for Keynote 2015, a distributed ledger conference, where I was invited to speak on investing in blockchain tech. The conference was held in the main ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, an amazing location! In the 1920s the first Oscar award ceremonies were actually held right in this place, and the hotel had several pictures from events in those days on its walls.


The blockchain conference was very interesting and gave me some new insights on what’s happening with bitcoin, and I enjoyed discussing the investment opportunities in blockchain technologies. The crowd was very different from the ‘old’ bitcoin conferences, where most people were very familiar with bitcoin already. At this conference I met several people from banks and other multinationals who were still new to the bitcoin world. Also a couple of speakers were pretty much anti-bitcoin, which made for some lively discussions. Thanks for organizing this Moe, it was great to be part of one of your events again.

Palisades Park, Santa Monica

The next morning I made a walk around Santa Monica before packing our suitcases and driving to the airport. I handed in my Silvercar and one of the Silvercar employees drove us to departures (great service!). We had a quick lunch in the lounge and then boarded our flight back to Vancouver. I had a fun and productive couple of days in SoCal, and the family enjoyed it as well!

PR and Digital Marketing Job Opening at CrossPacific Capital

Lots of ships today in Vancouver Harbour

Our fund CrossPacific Capital has a job opening for a public relations and digital marketing manager, based out of our Vancouver office.  Below are the requirements for the job, if you’re interested or want more information please contact Ms. Rui Habib at


  • CrossPacific is an asset management and advisory firm, strategically headquartered in Vancouver, BC Canada, North America’s Gateway to Asia.
  • CrossPacific invests in Canadian and select US technology companies and creates value through cross-border business expansion into China. CrossPacific also invests in companies that would be investment targets for Chinese companies looking to expand their presence in North America.
  • CrossPacific is managed by 2 Managing Partners and 1 CFO. The team is strengthened by 2 Venture Partners, Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, and Advisors.
  • CrossPacific is expanding rapidly and we are now looking to hire a Public Relations and Digital Marketing manager for our Vancouver office.
  • The nature of our business means that potential candidates must be fluent in Mandarin Chinese (spoken and written).


  • Digital Marketing
  • Managing Public Relations for portfolio companies
  • Original digital content creation
  • Translation support (Mandarin to English and vice versa)

 Required Expertise

  • 3-5 years of experience working in public relations or related social/digital marketing fields
  • Experience with mobile, online interactive and social media tools, techniques and best practices social media advertising, SEO, user analytics, blogs and email campaigns both in China and in North America
  • Experience managing a budget
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills
  • Proven knowledge of graphic design principles, layout and production of high quality print and online material
  • Eager interest in technology
  • Prior start-up experience a plus – not a requirement

Education Level

  • University level undergraduate degree from recognized university
  • Native Mandarin
  • Fluent English
  • Other languages a plus

Compensation & Perks

  • Salary negotiable
  • MSP
  • Medical and dental insurance
  • Awesome Gastown office with waterfront views, accessible by Canada Line, Expo Line, Millenium Line, and many downtown buses

CONTACT: Ms Rui Habib,

Mini break in Kelowna and Banff

BanffGrace’ family is visiting at the moment, so we decided to take them on a trip to Kelowna and Banff. The holiday was relatively short (we left on Thursday and came back on Tuesday), but it was totally worth it despite the long distances that we had to drive. View from Delta Grand Okanagan Resort In Kelowna we stayed at the Delta resort on Okanagan Lake, one of the nicer places in town. The kids were happy that we went back to this hotel because they like its pools, and I like it because of its location (you can walk into town and you can run along the lake right outside the hotel room). Quails' Gate Winery, Kelowna

Upon arrival in the hotel we had a drink  in the club lounge on the 9th floor, with a great view over Kelowna and the lake. After that we drove to Quails’ Gate winery for a visit. As with many of Okanagan’s wineries the vineyard is located close the lake with nice views.

Quails' Gate Winery, KelownaI played tag with the kids (they needed to get some exercise after hours in the car) and the family took pictures. We bought some wines in the shop and checked out the restaurant (a good one, but no kids allowed…) and then went back to Kelowna. Night time view from Delta Hotel in Kelowna

At night I worked a bit in the hotel room and enjoyed a bottle of Quails’ Gate rose wine with the balcony doors open. It was really warm in Kelowna (close to 40 degrees Celsius during daytime), but at night the temperatures were just perfect.

Beach & playground close to 50th Parallel WineryThe next morning we drove to Lake Country (15 min north of Kelowna) for a tour of the 50th Parallel Estate winery. We were a bit early so we first drove to Coral Beach, just down the road from the vineyard. Beach & playground close to 50th Parallel Winery

I really liked the small beach, the water was blue and super clear and there was a small playground for the kids. I could have stayed there a bit longer actually, but we made an appointment that I was looking forward to, so had to leave.

50th Parallel Estate Winery

At 50th Parallel Curtis and Sheri-Lee (the owners) were waiting for us, they had just arrived by boat with some friends. That’s a nice way to travel to work! After short introductions they showed us the ins and outs of the winery while we all enjoyed a glass of chilled Pinot Gris.

50th Parallel Estate Winery50th Parallel has a great location with its vineyards right on Okanagan Lake, meaning that in winter there is normally no snow (it can get pretty cold in the Okanagan in winter). If you would go up another 300 meters the climate would be completely different. 50th Parallel Estate Winery

The winery only started in 2011 but they now already have some award winning wines. We among others tasted their Gewürztraminer, the Chardonnay, the Rose wine and of course their Pinot Noir. I especially liked the Gewurztraminer and the Pinot Noir, I found them better than most of the Okanagan wines that I have tried over the past 2 years.

50th Parallel Estate WineryIn the caves Curtis let us try their latest, still unbottled, Pinot Noir, directly from the barrel. Really interesting to drink this new wine and to see how its color and taste are already developing. 50th Parallel Estate Winery

After almost 2 hours we left the winery and went for lunch at a nearby restaurant before driving to the Mission Hill winery in West Kelowna.

Mission Hill Winery, KelownaIn terms of architecture Mission Hill is by far the nicest winery in the Okanagan, but I am not a big fan of all of their wines (their Pinot Noirs are great though). I was a member of their wine club for a while so that I would receive their best wines every 3 months, but I decided to cancel it earlier this year. Mission Hill Winery, Kelowna

Scott and Elaine running around at Mission Hill

After 2 winery visits in a day the kids were obviously getting a bit tired, so we went back to the hotel where I went for a swim with them. On the way back we suddenly saw huge smoke clouds coming out of the mountains to the south east of Kelowna.

Forest fire close to Kelown

The first smoke from a big forest fire Turned out that a forest fire had started on the outskirts of Kelowna and that is was growing very fast in size. Many houses were evacuated and one of the 2 highways out of Kelowna was closed because of the approaching fire. I followed the news on Twitter, which is still the best way to get up to date ‘breaking’ news. The next day the fire brigade managed to contain the fire, but at the same time many other fires in British Columbia had started and parts of the province were covered in smog. Glaciers close to Banff

Saturday morning we drove from Kelowna to Banff, a long but beautiful ride through British Columbia’s interior and across the Rocky Mountains. I was aware that it was quite a distance to drive, but what I didn’t know was that most of the road would be just 2 lanes. Even Highway 1, the main highway that basically goes from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic is mostly a 2-lane road until the Alberta border. That, combined with several road construction sites, didn’t make for a smooth ride. However, the amazing scenery compensated for that and by late afternoon we arrived in Canmore.

View from the hotel balcony

The next morning we had planned to visit Banff national park, but the weather wasn’t great (just 20 Celsius and overcast).

Driving from the Rocky Mountains through the Alberta plains to Calgary

Therefore we decided to drive to Calgary instead, where the weather was supposed to be nicer. I had only been to Calgary once on a business trip and had not seen much of the city, so this was a good chance to check it out.

Calgary, Alberta

I was surprised to see how quiet the city was. Downtown hardly anybody walked around and the shops were virtually empty. Very different from Vancouver, even though we even find that a quiet city (after China it’s hard to consider a Western city vibrant…). I assume it’s mainly because of the recession: Alberta relies on the oil and gas industry and has some major problems because of the low oil price.

As usual I also checked out the housing prices, for the price of a small bungalow in Vancouver you can here get a huge mansion! Not that I would want to live here, especially the long, cold winters would drive me nuts.

Scott and Elaine at the river

In the afternoon we went back to Canmore where the weather had cleared up and drove the Kananaskis Trail. Highlights were the lakes along the route and a white water river with kayakers. Pretty cool to see them in action in the fast flowing river, I had never seen this before. White water kayaking on the Kananaskis Trail

Monday we spent the whole day sightseeing in Banff National Park, a huge park on the border of Alberta and British Columbia. Entrance to Banff National Park

We started off in Banff where we drove up to the hot springs and later checked out the Bow river and the golf course of the Fairmont hotel. Fairmont Hotel in Banff

After that we drove the Bow Valley Parkway to the famous Lake Louise. I had seen many pictures of the lake and the Fairmont hotel next to it, and I had high expectations. However, I was a bit disappointed to see the lake in reality. It was beautiful, but I had seen so many other beautiful lakes, mountains and glaciers over the past days that I did not find it very special.

Lake Louise

The hotel looked a bit out of place to me, without it the lake would have been much nicer. Also it was way too crowded. This is the place that everybody wants to see, so it’s probably the busiest place in the whole area.

Fairmont Lake Louise

We left Lake Louise after half an hour to drive the Icefields Parkway. This is a road through the mountains, following the Continental Divide, that connects Lake Louise with Jasper. Along the route there are many glaciers and (ice cold) lakes, it makes for a fantastic ride with lots of sightseeing places. It reminded me a bit of areas in Western Xinjiang, along the Karakoram Highway.

Bow lake & glacier

Throwing stones with Scott at Bow Lake

Among others we stopped at Bow Lake, which is probably even more beautiful than Lake Louise, with incredible colors and 2 magnificent glaciers above it. And the best thing? Hardly any other tourists!

Bow lake & glacier

Family picture at Bow Lake

The ride back went relatively easy (I was prepared for a much longer drive), and within 11 hours (incl. several stops) we were back home in Vancouver. Kelowna to Canmore

There are tons of wildfires in British Columbia and we saw quite some areas with thick smog. But luckily no fires close to the highways, so we did not have to make any detours. Vancouver is also quite smoggy because of fires on Vancouver island and north of Whistler, but not as bad as the smog that we were used to in China!


Back home in Vancouver: smoggy skies because of wildfires

Volvo Ocean Race stop-over in The Hague

With my dad and sister at the Volvo Ocean Race

Over the past 9 months I have been following the Volvo Ocean Race on an almost daily basis. I love sailing and this is the biggest ocean sailing race in the world. The race organizers designed a great mobile app and have a good website, so you can follow the participating boats continously. All boats have their own on-boat reporters who file daily articles and videos for the site. There is a live race tracker where you can see in real time where the boats are, with among others their speed and the distance to the race leader, making you feel like you’re part of the race.

Scott and Elaine also love the race and each have their team that they support: The Chinese Dongfeng team for Elaine (just like Grace) and the Dutch Team Brunel for Scott (just like me). On many days the first thing Scott would do after getting dressed in the morning was to check the Volvo Ocean Race app on his iPad for the standings. If there were any overnight changes he would immediately let me know.

Volvo Ocean Race stopover in The Hague

I had planned to visit one of the stops of the Volvo Ocean Race with the kids, but none of them fit my and their schedule. But then I realized that there would be a stop-over (not a real stop, just a one day pause during the last leg) in The Hague right when I would be in The Netherlands. Unfortunately I could not take Scott and Elaine because they still had their last week of school, but I decided to go with my sister and my dad instead.

On Friday morning I drove from Amsterdam to The Hague in Vincent Everts’ Tesla. Vincent, who is a well known Dutch trendwatcher, wanted to interview me about the latest developments in Bitcoin and blockchain land. He offered to take me to The Hague in his car so he could ask the questions while driving. That was of course fine with me, because in that way I could avoid taking a train. Vincent did 2 video interviews, this one and this one (sorry, both are in Dutch).

Trains are not too bad in Holland, but for some reason I often seem to have trouble with them. For example, over the past week in Holland my public transport card stopped working, causing me to miss a connection. The next train that I could take was a slow train and eventually had a big delay, meaning that I was 10 minutes late for my meeting instead of 40 minutes early (if I had waited 30 minutes for the next fast train I would have still been on time).

Entrance of the Volvo Ocean Race

Vincent had never been to the Volvo Ocean Race and didn’t know much about it, but I guess he liked how enthusiast I was about it, so he decided to join as well. After picking up my dad and Sonja we drove to Schevingen harbour where the boats had arrived a few hours earlier. It was great to see the racing yachts in real life. They are 65 feet, so considerably longer than my 48 foot yacht, but if you see them there they actually look relatively small. Racing all over the world’s oceans in these boats looks easy on a video on your laptop, but in reality it may be quite scary.

Marc and Vincent Everts at the Volvo Ocean Race

The boats have a very spartan interior, there is almost nothing inside the hull in order to make them faster. In one of the exhibition tents you could walk/crawl through a model of one of the boats. I didn’t want to wait in line for that, but if you watched the people doing that you realize there is hardly any living space inside. And they live on these boats for 9 months in all kinds of weather, from hot tropical (no air conditioning!) to almost Antarctic cold in the Southern Pacific Ocean, while going super fast through huge waves. Quite amazing actually, I never realized this until I saw the boats in front of me.

Bouwe Bekking, skipper of Team Brunel at the Volvo Ocean Race

I bought a couple of t-shirts and caps for the kids and looked at some of the team’s tents (mainly selling team products). Coincidentally Bouwe Bekking, the captain of my favorite Team Brunel, was there giving a speech right when I was in their tent. I have come to respect him a lot over the past 9 months, he is a very professional sailor who keeps his cool in difficult situations. He has become a minor celebrity because of the huge media exposure of the race (the race even made the Dutch evening news a couple of times) and it must have been strange for him that people suddenly ask for his signature.

Team Brunel at the Volvo Ocean Race stopover in The Hague

After a good lunch (all kinds of fresh fish, Scheveningen is a Dutch fishing fleet harbour) we decided to drive home before the regular Dutch traffic jams would start. Although I did not get to go onto any of the boats and although I did not see any of them in action, I am glad I went over to The Hague for this. I now respect the sailors even more and I have a new item for my bucket list: one day I want to sail on one of these ocean racing machines!

The 24 hours of Le Mans

In the Rebellion garage at Le Mans

Last weekend I traveled to France with my parents to watch the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the oldest and possibly the most difficult endurance race for both racers and their cars. We arrived in Le Mans on Friday afternoon to pick up our tickets and to check out the race track. It was my first time at the 24 Hours and it had been on my to do list for a couple of years already.

Two of my friends were racing this year, Alexandre Imperatori in the LMP1 class and Ho-Pin Tung in the LMP2 category. I have been following Ho-Pin since 2003 when Grace and I produced a program for Chinese TV about him in London and at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. He has had an impressive career since then, among others winning the Formula BMW Asia, the German F3 and the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia.

Ho-Pin Tung & his Le Mans LMP2 car

Alex I got to know a few years later in Shanghai, and his wife Karen is now actually a venture partner in our venture capital firm CrossPacific Capital. Alex is also a very accomplished race car driver, who among others won the A1 Grand Prix championship and the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia. This year he focuses on the World Endurance Championship and the VLN Endurance Racing Championship Nürburgring.

It was quite warm on the drive over to the circuit, but once we were there it suddenly started to rain hard! Luckily we brought umbrellas, but my shoes still got quite wet. Because there were not many people yet on Friday (the race starts Saturday at 3 PM) we used the time to get a feel for the place. We visited the village and went to take a look at both Ho-Pin and Alex’ pit lane garages. Behind the pit lane we coincidentally met Karen, who was on her way to see Alex in the driver parade in downtown Le Mans.

In the Rebellion garage at Le Mans

The next morning we arrived at the track by 10 AM, so we would avoid most of the traffic jams. That turned out to be a good idea, because it only took us an extra 20 minutes to park our car. We walked around a bit and then met Alex at the hospitality area. His racing team, the Swiss watch brand Rebellion, had 2 hospitality lounges and they were great. We spent quite some time in these locations over the next 36 hours.

Champagne with my dad in Le Mans

The food in the lounges was excellent, with many different hot dishes being served all throughout the day and night, plus tons of desserts, many different cheeses and lots of snacks. Of course the wines and Champagnes on offer were great as well (this is France!). I think I had about 6 meals per day while watching the race in the lounge, so when I’m back in Vancouver I will need to run a bit more.

We had a quick lunch with Alex around 1 PM, I was surprised to see how relaxed he was 2 hours before the start of the race. He would be the starting driver for his car (the #13 in the LMP1 class) so soon after he had to leave. Then Karen came over and I talked with her about some business deals that we had looked at over the past days.

Le Mans pit lane

 Pit lane before the start

Half an hour before the start we went over to the Rebellion pit lane garage to watch the start of the 24 Hours from there. That was quite exciting, the atmosphere is obviously very different from when you’re outside on the grandstands. After spending the first few rounds on the ground floor we went up into the main grandstand ourselves to watch the race from above.

Watching the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans from the Rebellion garage

Watching the start of the race in the Rebellion team garage with the other drivers

While there we saw on the screens that a car caught fire and leaked oil and that another car crashed into it from behind. When the cameras zoomed in we realized that the car that had crashed was Alex’ car! It soon became clear that it was not a major accident and that he hadn’t been hurt, but the car had to be get back to the pitlane to be repaired.

Rebellion pit lane garage

Alex’ car gets repaired

We went back there as well to watch the repair process from the back of the garage. The atmosphere was quite stressful, but I was surprised to see how well organized the mechanics were. Because of the accident the safety car went out, so the team did not lose too many rounds to the competition, but having this happen to you early in the race is bad luck of course. The crew managed to repair the car in a couple of minutes and we left to have a drink in the lounge and watch the race unfold from there.

With Ho-Pin Tung during the race

With H-Pin Tung behind the pit lane

Then I got a WeChat message from Ho-Pin, whose pitlane garage was just next to that of the Rebellion team. He had not driven yet, but when we met up he was also quite relaxed. I guess that’s what sets the professional drivers apart from the rest. I had not seen him in a while (he lives in China and Holland, and I am now mainly in North America) and it was good to catch up.

With Alex during the race

Alex during a break in the race

Back in the lounge Alex had changed to jeans and a t-shirt for a meal with Karen (pasta again for him). Despite his accident (which wasn’t his fault) he was in good spirits, he just felt unhappy that his car had the bad luck to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Pretty cool, I guess for him it’s kind of normal that these things happen.

After that I went for a walk to one of the curves with my parents. It’s pretty cool to see the cars braking from 300 km/h to below 100 km/h in a split second and then accelerate again. If you see the cars coming up to the curve you think there is no way they can brake on time. Super spectacular!

View from the grandstand in Le Mans

The LMP1 class had mainly hybrid vehicles and they are faster than the normal LMP1’s like the one Alex was driving in. They are also much more silent, and you can especially hear the difference when you are at one of the curves where they accelerate out of it. Not sure if I really like it though, the raw sound of Alex’ and Ho-Pin’s machines sounds much better to me and fits better to car racing.

Alex' LMP1 car at Le Mans

Alex’ LMP1 car

Just before it got dark Karen and I took a helicopter ride over the Le Mans circuit. When you’re only in the main grandstand area you see just a tiny part of the 13-km track, so taking a helicopter is excellent to get a better view of the circuit. The helicopter was quite fast, but the race cars easily outaccelerated us on the track below. Very cool to experience this, especially during sunset. We made one full round over the circuit and then did another half lap over the woods at a lower altitude over the circuit.

Helicopter ride over the Le Mans circuit

After that it became dark and the cars put on their big headlights to drive through the night. At night Le Mans looks very different from during daytime, more spectacular but also more dangerous. Alex took over as the driver of his team’s car around sunset and so he would be the first one to drive at night. When I asked him about that half an hour before was going to drive he said he actually liked it. You feel like you’re going much faster, he said, because you don’t see as much. Race car drivers are different from other drivers I guess!

Late at night we went back to the hotel for some sleep and the first thing I did when I woke up the next morning was to check how all the cars had been doing during the night. Luckily both Rebellion cars and Ho-Pin’s car were all still in the race, but they all lost some places during the night. On our way back to the circuit I checked all the news about what had happened during the night so I was well-informed by the time we got out of our car and heard the sounds of the engines again.

Back at the track I immediately noticed how tired most people looked. Many had probably stayed overnight and others had spent the night drinking and partying. That’s the nice thing about Le Mans, there are concerts at night and everybody is having a great time both during the day and at night. But of course in the morning it may be a bit harder to get adjusted to daylight.

View of the pit lane from the Rebellion lounge

We started with some coffees and a second breakfast in the lounge, before walking over to the pit lane garage. There had been a problem with Alex’ car and the mechanics were repairing it. When also the other Rebellion car came in we left, there is not enough space for the mechanics to work with visitors disturbing them. We decided to walk over to the main grandstand opposite the garage boxes and watch the repair process from there. It took quite some time but eventually they managed to get both cars back on the road again.

We walked for an hour along the track watching the race cars and then went to the lounge for lunch. We joined Karen and Nick Heidfeld for lunch, although I was still full from breakfast. Nick, who used the be a Formula One driver for many years, now drives the other Rebellion car. He still looked quite fresh 21 hours into the race. Nick told us he would drive the last stint of the race in the Rebellion #12 car, and Alex would be the last driver in the Rebellion #13 car.

View of the pit lane from the Rebellion lounge

I did a few emails (I had hardly done any work since arriving in France) while watching the screens and then about 30 minutes before the end of the race we walked over to the team lounge above the pit lane. That’s probably the best place to watch the race.

View from the Rebellion team lounge at Le Mans during the finish

Watching the finish of Le Mans 2015

You are literally rigth above the pit lane, so you see all the action below you, and just a few meters from the track. We watched the last laps from there and saw the Porsche team win the LMP1 one race. I was happy for Porsche, they hadn’t had a win in years (and of course the fact that my main car is a Porsche also helps!).

Selfie with the crowd on the pitlane

Selfie before the winner’s ceremony

Then we went down to the pit lane to watch the award ceremony. A huge crowd had formed, not sure how all these people suddenly got onto the track, but it was great to be cheering with them for the winners. Alex team finished 18th overall but they were best non-hybrid LMP1 one team, so they got trophies and bottles of Champagne on the podium as well.

Alex' view from the podium

View from the podium (taken by Alex!)

Then we walked over to the Pegasus garage box to congratulate Ho-Pin with finishing the race. He said it had been a tough race and he was obviously not too happy because of all the bad luck his team had had (last year he had a much better result), but I guess that’s life in endurance racing. At least his car made it to the finish line, but for a pro that’s not enough.

Marc and Alex with his trophy

After the race with Alex and his Le Mans trophy

We didn’t want to leave at the same time as the crowds, so we had an early dinner in the lounge with Karen. There we waited for Alex, who was still busy with a briefing and interviews. When he came out the team was just starting a celebration party on the terrace of the Rebellion lounge. I took a picture with Alex and his trophy and then we left the Le Mans circuit around 5 pm. Most people had left already so we had no traffic jams at all.

I look back at an amazing weekend in Le Mans. This was a truly great experience, actually much better than any Formula One race I have been to. Of course it was extra special because we had access to many areas that the general public can’t visit and because my friends were driving, but even without that I think it would have been a great event. But being able to get away from the crowds and have nice drinks while watching the race made amazing instead of just great. I am very happy I had the chance to experience this and I hope to be back one day for another race!

Richard Branson’s Necker Island And The Blockchain Summit (Part 2)

Blockchain summit on Necker Island

(See here for Part 1)

The vision of the blockchain summit was “We are gathering top thinkers in the world of blockchain, digital currency and bitcoin to help define the future”, and the organizers indeed put a very interesting group of people together. A combination of entrepreneurs, investors, journalists, regulation experts, scholars, laywers and academics. See here for a full list. The sessions were moderated by 3 people: First of all well-known economist, advisor to many heads of state, and author of The Mystery of Capital, Hernando de Soto. Next to that Michael Casey from the Wall Street Journal, and author of The Age of Cryptocurrency. And finally Matthew Bisshop, the US Business editor of The Economist magazine. Three very different persons, who did a great job moderating the event.

Preparing for a Blockchain Summit group photo on Necker Island


Preparing for a group picture

It was not a summit about bitcoin, but about the blockchain. That is the underlying ledger of bitcoin that is put together by the miners and that can be used for a lot more things than just keeping track of all transactions. This doesn’t have to be the bitcoin blockchain, it could be the blockchain of another cryptocurrency as well. For now that seems unlikely because of bitcoin’s network effect. But because of bitcoin’s bad name (mainly its association with Silk Road, Mt. Gox and the fact that people still seem to think it’s criminal money) another cryptocurrency could still appear and beat bitcoin. Or there could be different blockchains based on different cryptocurrencies. But in the end every blockchain is similar: it is a ledger and once you put something on it you can never take it off anymore. So to stay in Necker Island spirit: what happens on the blockchain stays on the block chain!

Blockchain summit at Necker Island

Most things that were discussed during the summit could be tweeted or put on social media. There were just a few topics that we agreed not to talk about (Chatham rules), so I won’t mention these here (mainly government related or related to specific confidential projects). Generally everybody was very open with sharing their information. All sessions were recorded, so you should be able to see most of the content online in the next couple of days.

Looking back, there were 4 main themes that came back regularly and that we discussed in detail. These are (in random order): identity, property rights, elections and the Internet of Things. A summary of the main ideas for each theme:

Identity: We discussed that the identity stack is a core application for the blockchain, it’s a critical piece for further development and needed for a trusted information economy system. This can be achieved by putting verified personal data on the blockchain. One project in this space is the Open Mustard Seed project, Patrick Deegan gave us a presentation about this. One of the other participants, Marshall Turber, is working on a similar idea. He is creating an integrity index using Ethereum, his project is called the Bucky Integrity Index.

Lucy Liu skype interview


Actress Lucy Liu joined via Skype

Property rights: Hernando de Soto wrote in his book The Mystery of Capital that many assets in developing countries can’t be capitalized because there are no titles for them. Having property deeds could make a lot of dead assets into assets that can be capitalized, meaning that they can more easily be sold to outsiders or that they can be used as collateral for a loan.

Having a system for property rights can make a poor country grow, and can help the lower classes to start businesses and grow more prosperous. So far that was quite hard to do, however, but the blockchain suddenly gives us a tool to easily put these rights in a database and to (for example) build smart contracts on top of them. The company Factom is doing this for Honduras already, where all property deeds will be put on the blockchain. The potential of this is huge!

Blockchain summit on Necker Island


Hernando shows us the documents needed to get property rights in Peru

Elections: The blockchain can be used for voting, making elections complete transparant. You could watch the voting in real time, but you would not know who voted for whom. Someone mentioned that it can bring democracy to the world (I’m not a fan of democracy in every situation, for the simple reason that it leads to slower decision making, so that argument is not very strong IMHO), but if it can replace existing voting systems I’m all in favour of it. I would not be surprised if a lot of democratic countries would strongly resist this, and if that’s the case it is clear there is a need for blockchain elections. On a smaller level it can get people to participate in decison making, even for example for a parent teacher association.

Blockchain summit on Necker Island

The Internet of Thing (IoT): IoT will connect all electronic devices, it will do with the physical world what the Internet did for the digital world. All devices could be put on the blockchain and they could communicate with each other and even pay each other with smart contracts. The killer app for this will be the Economy of Things, meaning that exisiting ‘things’ can be used more efficiently. For example, at the moment cars are only in use about 4% of the time. If they can communicate with each other people can car share more easily, especially when autonomous vehicles will hit the market over the next years. Another example is that currently 20% of all trucks on the roads are empty, the IoT could reduce that number.

A list of some other things that we discussed during the past 3 days and things that stood out for me:

– It turns out that wallets may be one of the main hurdles for bitcoin adoption. Last year MIT gave all of its new students $100 in bitcoin and we talked a bit about what the effects of that. Soon a report about this will come out, but one of the important findings is that even MIT students (who are young and smart) struggled with wallets. Students that have easier-to-use wallets adopted bitcoin more than people who used ‘difficult’ wallets. Good news for investors but not so much for
Corporates worry that competitors can hack their blockchain and that’s holding them back from looking at blockchain solutions. Education will be needed.
– Although it should be well known for most people in the bitcoin community, we should keep on spreading the word about the fact that bitcoin is not an anonymous currency. One of the speakers remarked: despite media saying the contrary, any criminal that uses the Blockchain is a moron.
– Organizations like Western Union and payday loan companies are almost criminal. What they charge is ridiculous and we should find a solution for the poor people that now rely on their services. Oliver Luckett of theAudience made a documentary for American Express last year and learned that the average payback of a $400 payday loan in Mississippi is $1400, after on average 2 years! These people just don’t have access to other sources of capital. They often can’t get a bank account and therefore need to use check cashing services ($7 per check) and to pay bills ($7 per bill). That adds up after a while. These are the people that should be interested in bitcoin accounts, because it can solve some big problems for them and will save them a lot of money.
– Although most people at the summit talk online about bitcoin on a daily basis only 300,000-400,000 people engaged in online conversations about BTC so far (since BTC was introduced to the world in 2009). We tend to think that it’s much bigger because we live in an echo chamber, but it also means that there is a huge opportunity out there that we need to grab.
– A blockchain idea that came out of smaller group discussions is something that we called the sensor chain. This is a low cost sensor to measure weather data all over the world (e.g. temperature, air pollution, water quality) and which data is automatically stored on the blockchain as part of the Internet of Things. In this way we can help to save the planet and get independent data on what is really happening in the world. The data can’t be hacked or manipulated (once it’s in the blockchain it stays in the blockchain). A very interesting idea that hopefully can become reality.
– Related to this are personal carbon credits on the blockchain, e.g. you get these credits if you have solar panels on your roof. There is enough solar power to deliver energy to the whole world, but there is no decentralized grid yet.
– A fun part of the summit was when Bitfury introduced a mining lightbulb with an iPhone app. The idea was born last year (coincidentally on Necker island as well) when a few people were trying to get a Raspberry Pi to mine bitcoins. It was so hard to set it up (it took them 4 hours) that Bill Tai made the remark that mining should be as easy as screwing in a lightbulb. Well, one year later the lightbulb is there. The Bitfury guys hooked it up to a wind power generator that they rigged on the rooftop of the Great House and managed to mine some bits using just windpower.

Bitfury lightbulbs at the Blockchain Summit on Necker Island

It was a fun side project for them, not something that is core to the business. When I posted it on Twitter it got retweeted hundreds of times and I got tons of questions about it, it seems people did not realize it’s not a serious product. The chip is super efficient, but given today’s hashrate and the low bitcoin price you should not expect to make more than your electricity cost. However, it’s a good way to start mining and it may inspire others to build other easy-to-use miners. The gadget (because that’s basically what it is) also has an interesting feature: there is some kind of random lucky draw for users, meaning that if you mine you may suddenly get the ‘petasplash’: suddenly all the hashing power of Bitfury’s network is redirected to your lighbulb, meaning that you can suddenly earn a good number of bits. A cool project, especially when you should hook it up to solar power or to a Tesla battery, so that you don’t pay cash for the electricity.

Richard Branson and Hernando de Soto


Hernando de Soto and Richard Branson

What’s next?

If you made it until here you will realize that we discussed a lot of things and that we have a lot of ideas. However, what really counts is the follow-up. What might happen over the next weeks and months? We talked about writing a white paper for congress, because it’s important that the politicians have a better understanding of the blockchain and what can be done with it. Spreading the word on social media is also important, I guess this blog post is part of that strategy. We also discussed that academia should be more involved, as the link between entrepreneurs and the government (MIT now already pays some of the core developers, they took over this role from the Bitcoin Foundation). For that reason a textbook for students (Michael Casey joked that his book might be a good fit) and a PhD course are needed. The group will stay in touch through email (this morning we already received all email addresses) and through Facebook group to try to achieve these objectives.

The blockchain summit is now over and looking back I think it was totally worth my time. It was not cheap to attend and it took me almost 2 full days of traveling, but the value I got out of it was much higher than the real monetary cost and the opportunity cost of the event. First of all I learned a lot and we came up with many new ideas. Next to that I met tons of interesting people whom I often only knew from the Internet. As an added extra I even found 2 interesting companies that I may invest in. I am glad I took the time out of my schedule to attend.

Valery, George, Bill and Richard, thanks for hosting this fantastic event!

Leaving Necker Island


All pictures of the Blockchain summit are here in a set on Flickr.

Richard Branson’s Necker Island and the Blockchain Summit (part 1)


The past 3 days I spent on Necker Island, Richard Branson’s private island in the British Virgin Island, with about 30 other people who are active in the bitcoin and blockchain world. It was an amazing experience, not only because the island comes very close to what I think paradise would look like, but also because the summit was very productive and gave me lots of things to think about. If I would not be a venture capitalist and if I would not be involved in Uvamo I might consider to work on blockchain themes full-time. It is clear to me now that the blockchain is the future and is already starting to change the world.

This blog post consists of 2 parts, this is part 1 in which I will talk about how I experienced spending time at Necker Island. Tomorrow I will post the second part, which is about the blockchain summit itself.

Despite the fact that most of the companies that I was involved in in China were incorporated in the British Virgin Islands I had actually never been there. The group of islands, located about 150 km west of Puerto Rico, is more unspoiled than I had imagined. Road Town on Tortola (the place where most BVI companies seem to have their P.O. Boxes) is a small town, likely with a ratio of at least 10,000 companies per inhabitant. It’s a great tourist destination, although a bit off the beaten path (something I like).


Getting there is not easy. From Vancouver I took the redeye to New York, then I flew to San Juan in Puerto Rico and from there I took a very small plane to Beef Island (which is connected by bridge to Tortola). At San Juan airport I already met several of the participants in the lounge and later a few others at the gate. Not all of us took the same plane, because each plane only fits about 8 people, but there are air services at least once an hour. On my plane there were 2 other participants, Mike, a bitcoin trader from Chicago and Danny who runs a fund that invests the money of the founders of Alibaba.


After arrival at the BVI airport one of Necker’s staff picked us up and we took a minivan taxi to the marina (next to the airport terminal, we could probably have walked it in 5 minutes). I quickly understood that on Necker you don’t have to do anything, so even for a short walk transportation is always arranged. We arrived at the jetty where one of Richard’s 600 horsepower speed boat was waiting for us. We stepped on board and were immediately offered a drink. The bottle of champagne looked inviting, but because it was hot and we were thirsty from the long trip we opted to start with a cold local beer.


Then we took off. First slowly because of all the anchored sailboats in the bay (which immediately inspired me to go sailing here one day), and then full power onto the sea. The guy who drove our boat told us that the boats go up to 90 km/h. Not sure how fast we went, but it was faster than I had ever gone on a boat. We jumped over the waves and it was actually hard to drink the beer from the bottle! I took a few pictures but had to watch out not to lose my camera because of the wind.


About 20 minutes later Necker appeared on the horizon. When we got closer to the island a drone circled above the boat so the participants on shore could see who was arriving.


Necker is a beautiful island, with white beaches, tropical vegetation, tons of wild life (including 7-8 feet long iguanas and a large flamingo colony) and of course 5-star accommodations.


Danny and I shared a Balinese villa and after a short stop at the Great House (the main house on the island with a large lounge and great views), we got a electric golf cart to drive to our villa. Our place overlooked one of the beaches and a lake full of flamingos (they can be quite loud in the morning!). We quickly freshened up (our luggage was already in the room) and then went back to the Great House for cocktails with the rest of the group and for the official opening of the blockchain summit.


Necker Island is about 300,000 m2, so it’s not a very large island (I sailed around it on a Hobie Cat in less than 30 minutes). Only about half of the island is cultivated, the other half still looks like most of the other islands (quite dry with not a lot of vegetation). The part where the 6 villas and the Great House (with 8 additional bedrooms) are located has undergone a complete metamorphosis, the vegatation is lush and Richard built decent roads. The beaches on this side are beautiful and there are several swimming pools and hot tubs. The best hot tub is on top of the Great House, the highest point on the island. There you feel literally on top of the world!


You can actually rent the island, with prices started at $65,000 per day. That may seem expensive, but the island can house up to 30 people, so it’s actually quite reasonable for such a place. Of course you can’t just rent it for one night (the minimum seems to be 5 nights), so you’ll always be looking at at least a few hundred thousand dollars, similar to what you would pay for a super yacht.


Many of the world’s celebrities have stayed at Necker over the years, although the staff don’t talk too much about who they have met. I understood that Google co-founder Larry Page got married on the island. He liked it so much that he bought the island opposite Richard’s. I sailed there to take a look, it seemed like a nice place to live as well.


For $65,000 per day you get everything you can imagine. All food and drinks are included and the island has a total of 120 staff, so you don’t have to do anything yourself. The service is extremely good. Not only do you immediately get everything you want, but the staff also anticipated your needs.


Most of the staff are in their 20s and clearly chosen because they love to party and because of their looks (especially many of the girls were stunning). Richard likes blond girls, that was clear! But they also work hard and seem to be very happy to work in one of the nicest places in the world. The manager of the island is a cool guy as well, my impression was that he runs the island very well.


Virtually everything is possible on Necker and some parties go on through the night. When I left this morning at 6 AM the last people had just left the beach party (I wisely left the beach before midnight, I can guarantee you that spending almost a full day on planes with a hangover is an experience you do not want to have more than once in your life).


At 6 AM we saw a staff member walking along the road with a big wound on his forehead. When we asked him what happened he said that while dancing a tree suddenly popped up in front of him! It’s all part of life on Necker. The previous manager on Necker did not allow the staff to drink or to (fill in the blanks yourself) with the guests, but that did not fit well with Necker’s culture so he only lasted for about a week! Anyway, what happens on Necker stays on Necker, but you probably catch my drift.


The villas are very nice as well, on par with the best accommodations in other parts of the world. You have total privacy in the villa even when the island is ‘crowded’. The bathrooms are partially outside but they are built in such a way that you can see the island but nobody can see you. Of course that may change now that drones are on the island!


The mini bar was well stocked with nice bottles of wine and champagne (all included in the price of course), but there was no opportunity to drink any of it. The only thing I drank in the room was espresso, all rooms have a very good espresso machines.


Having your own private island seems like a nice thing, but after staying on Necker for 3 days I am not so sure if it’s really something I would like to have (assuming I could even afford it). I actually subscribe to a private island newsletter so I paid a lot of attention to the details of what it takes to live here. I think Richard made a smart choice to build small luxurious villas on the island and rent these out. Not only does it make living a lot more affordable (I am sure he makes decent money with the prices he charges, even with 120 staff on the payroll), but it’s also nice to meet interesting people all the time (most visitors seem to be celebrities or business people). Living on an island on your own will likely be quite boring after a few days already. Good to know that I can take one that off my bucket list.


Richard Branson was the host, but he was not very much involved in the event. He showed up at some sessions and at some of the meals, but most of the time he was doing other things. Part of the reason was that he has recently become a grandfather for the first time (actually 3 times in the past 6 months, one of his kids had twins, and another had a daughter), and the grandkids were on the island as well during the event. Richard even took his 3-month old granddaughter to breakfast one day.

Richard is very charismatic and I think that’s one of the reasons of his success. He is always laughing and interested to talk to everyone. Interestingly he also seems very knowledgeable about the companies that he runs: during one breakfast I happened to sit next to him and he was talking to the lady opposite me. She is a bitcoin miner in her free time, but her day job is at Virgin Galactic designing the pressured spacecraft cabin and training astronauts (so she actually works for Richard). He seemed to know a lot about the details of the spacecraft when others asked questions about it and he wanted to see the latest pictures.


Richard seems like a great guy to work for. He is also very sportive, I was told he runs and kitesurfs in the morning and in the afternoon I saw him playing tennis with his personal trainer.


Anyway, back to the reason why we were at Necker. Although it may seem we only drank and partied that was certainly not the case, the main focus during the 3 days was on bitcoin and its underlying ledger, the blockchain. Tomorrow I will talk about the main themes we discussed, our findings and our plans for the future.

You can find part 2 of this post here.

A set of all pictures that I took during the Blockchain Summit is here.

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