Sightseeing in Deep Cove and Mount Seymour

Deep Cove, BC

My family in law is still visiting and they will leave later this week, therefore we decided to do a bit of sightseeing. I had planned to go to Deep Cove with them on my boat, but because I sprained my wrist on Friday when I slipped outside the office (never read emails on your phone while walking…) we could not to do that. But of course you can also drive your car to Deep Cove, so that’s what we did.

Deep Cove, BC

Deep Cove is at the eastern end of Vancouver’s North Shore, at the entrance of Indian Arm and at the foot of Mount Seymour, just a 25 minute drive from our house. It’s a great village to visit in summer because of the combination of mountains and a peaceful bay. I actually looked at a house on the water here before we bought our current home, but because it rains a lot more in Deep Cove in winter I decided not to consider the place.

But of course the summers here are just as great as in most places in British Columbia, with temperatures in the mid-20s Celsius and clear blue skies most of the time.

Deep Cove, BC

Deep Cove has a marina with mainly small boats (at least compared to Vancouver’s downtown marinas), even on the public dock the maximum length for boats is just 36 feet. So if I had taken my own boat I would have needed to anchor in the bay. Also I would have had to call the railway bridge over the Second Narrows as my mast is too tall to pass under it. So going by car was actually a good solution.

Deep Cove, BC

We walked along the beach at low tide and looked at the many people in their kayaks and canoes. The water is normally very quiet here, so ideal to paddle around. It’s also the best place to venture into Indian Arm, a 20 km long glacial fjord with steep mountain slopes on both sides and several water falls.

Deep Cove, BC

After a lunch of sushi, sashimi and teppanyaki at a local Japanese restaurant we decided to drive up Mount Seymour. In winter Mount Seymour is Vancouver’s third ski resort (next to the ski areas on Cypress Mountain and Grouse Mountain), but in summer it’s a great place to go hiking or to enjoy the views.

View from Mount Seymour with Mount Baker in background

Because my parents in law are a bit older already we did not do a real hike, but instead enjoyed the views over Vancouver with snow covered Mount Baker in the distance. If my hand would not have hurt so much from the fall I probably would have done a short hike up and down one of the ski slopes. I’ll leave that for next time.

View from Mount Seymour with Mount Baker in background

Only in China…

The downside of a real estate boom is that a lot of downtown buildings will be demolished after 15-20 years to make room for other (=more profitbable) buildings. In China that happens a lot, and sometimes the safety measures are a bit less than you would expect.

In the video below a tower at a busy intersection in downtown Qiqihar (Heilongjiang) was blasted without any warning for the public. A car coincidentally recorded the whole scene while standing at a traffic light. No police cordoning off the area, no spraying of water to reduce the dust, and not even a warning that an explosion would take place. Makes me wonder if a worker accidentally pushed the demolition button too early. Only in China…

Note: the video starts after a 15 second commercial that you can’t skip. It also seems the video starts playing automatically, I am trying to figure out how to change that as it’s quite annoying.

Source: Shanghaiist

The Ethereum hype

As regular readers know I am passionate about anything related to Bitcoin, especially applications that use the blockchain for more than just monetary transactions. One company that I have been following since their launch in January is Ethereum, a platform and programming language for applications built on top of a new distributed ledger (blockchain). Business Insider named them the most hyped digital currency since Bitcoin, and I think that is a correct title.

Vitalik Buterin (Ethereum), North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami (Jan 2014)

Vitalik Buterin introducing Ethereum at the Miami conference

After Ethereum was introduced to the world in January at the Miami Bitcoin Conference, its 21-year old genius founder Vitalik Buterin became an instant rock star in the Bitcoin world. People even started comparing him to Bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto. Vitalik announced at that time that Ethereum would launch its crowdsale IPO on February 1, and I had planned to buy some Ether during that time.

However, right before the IPO should take place the sale was cancelled and since then there have not been a lot of official announcements. Because of how they handled their potential investors I decided not to put any money into Ethereum if they would try to do their IPO again. When you can’t even handle a simple crowdsale well, I wonder if you are mature enough to run an altcoin platform that should change the way we do business.

Vitalik Buterin (Ethereum), a star is born - North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami (Jan 2014)

People all wanted to talk to Vitalik after his talk in Miami

Well, this week Ethereum finally launched its funding, this time without any advance notice. At least, I did not get the message and I also don’t think Vitalik mentioned it at the Chicago conference last weekend. But that did not matter, because the IPO was a HUGE success: after 2 days they already raised almost 7000 bitcoins, which is about US$ 4.8 million at current prices.

To me that was a surprise, I knew the company was hyped but I had not expected such a major hype. Why? Simply because the company is still purely a powerpoint and a couple of geeks talking at conferences about their ideas. Very good ideas I have to say, but there is no product yet and there won’t be a product until at least 6 months later. But that’s not all, because they are selling Ether (their currency) without announcing how many Ether they will selling in total (it’s an open-ended crowdsale). That means you have no clue what percentage of the company you will buy or, in venture capital language, you invest without knowing the valuation of the company.

Ethereum logo

And what do you get for that? Moe Levin put it well in a podcast interview today in which he called Ether “Casino chips that can only be used in one casino”. It may be a huge casino eventually, or maybe there will never be a casino. Or they will just keep printing new chips for new users, diluting the value of the current chips.

To make matters worse, anybody can copy Ethereum’s source code (it’s open source, so anybody can see it) and start a copy of Ethereum that works exactly the same. And that’s already being done, last night Aethereum (Yes, just one letter difference) was announced and this platform will give its coins away for free based on how many Bitcoins you own.

USD 4.8 million is a lot of money, a lot more money than the company needs to build its product. They are a low cost operation, basically just a bunch of young but very smart developers, who all get Ether as well for their efforts (if I remember correctly 9.9% of all Ether is set aside for the founders).

As a rational investor I would never put money into such a venture, but it seems most Ethereum investors are not rational. Ethereum uses an interesting incentive to get people to buy quickly, because after 14 days the price of Ether will go up. That means you’ll have a limited time to buy at the current price. This may be part of the reason why people want to put money in as soon as possible. On social media people are arguing that they just invest to help the team, and that may be true. However, I believe 4.8 million is a lot of money to give away to help a young team to build a good product, even in the Bitcoin world.

Ether sale

To be fair, the Ethereum team did nothing wrong (well, they botched their first IPO and are terrible at investor communications) and they are very clear about the fact what they offer. It’s not a pump and dump. They mention it’s not a regular investment, you just get coins that do not even exist yet. Maybe Ether will become very valuable or maybe it will never have any value, to me that’s gambling.

And that’s fine, but you won’t see me put any money into Ethereum until after they launch their coins and until they get some traction. The Bitcoin world changes so fast that by then another competitor may have emerged that is better or faster. Congrats to the team for raising so much money so easily, now the pressure is on them to deliver on the expectations they created.

Chicago & the North American Bitcoin Conference

Chicago (July 2014)

This weekend I was in Chicago for the 2nd North American Bitcoin Conference, the same conference that I spoke at in Miami in January. I’m writing this post on my phone on the plane back home (United Airlines did not have power outlets on its seats in biz class, and I did not recharge my laptop before boarding), so hopefully not too many typos.

It does not happen often that I travel for business to a city I have not been to yet, but I had never visited Chicago so I looked very much forward to the trip: a conference about a topic that I am very passionate about combined with the chance to see a new city.

Chicago (July 2014)

Chicago turned out to be a very nice city that reminded me a lot of New York City (esp. the building style), but more open and directly on the huge Lake Michigan. It felt very friendly with lots of bars, clubs and restaurants and with several marinas close to downtown.

Although there was not a lot of time to see the city (the conference lasted for 2 full days on Saturday and Sunday), I still managed to see quite a lot of it from Uber taxis on my way to dinners or parties and from a architectural sightseeing boat trip on the rivers in Chicago.

Running in Chicago

I also started the day on both Sunday and Monday with a run along the lakeshore. There is a flat concrete trail that follows Lake Michigan’s shoreline, with parks, beaches and marinas along it. The trail offers excellent views of the Chicago skyline as well, especially north of Museum Park. One of the nicer places to run in the world, especially in warm, sunny summer weather (it was about 30 Celcius while I was in Chicago).

The conference itself was once again very interesting. Moe Levin (the organizer) told me that there were about 800 participants, similar to the number of people in Miami (the other Bitcoin conference that he organizes).

Venture Capital panel at Chicago BTC conference #tnabc

The topics were similar to other conferences, with as usual a venture capital panel (on which I was invited to speak) and panels on topics like mining (Ghash’s crossing the 51% mark (twice!) and solutions for that were discussed), and regulation (the timing of NY’s draft Bitlicenses last wek was perfect).

But the topics that fascinated me most were Bitcoin 2.0 and the talks by China exchanges Huibi and OKCoin. Both companies seem to have overcome the Chinese anti-Bitcoin sentiment and are actively internationalizing. The speed with which they are doing that is incredible (possibly another post on that later this week). BTC China, the former leader in the exchange world was not at the conference and seems to be lagging behind fast.

The Bitcoin 2.0 discussion was super interesting, although there was nothing groundbreaking new. The time for new exchanges and wallets is over, the future are the companies that live on the blockchain. Smart property and smart contracts are the new keyword in Bitcoin land.

Of course the price of Bitcoin came up as well. Consensus was that the current stable price is due to the fact that more merchants accepting BTC are coming into the market (welcome Dell!) but they all change to fiat currency the moment they receive the crypto currency. This means more supply which follows the rising demand for BTC. But once a Wall Street ETF comes onto the market (e.g. the Winkelvoss fund that is waiting for SEC approval) prices might explode. The VC panel thought the price will be in the $1200-1400 range by year end in case ETF’s will be available by then.

The Shreminator (Charlie Shrem's robot)

Charlie Shrem also had a guest appearance at the conference. He is waiting for his trial in New York and has house arrest, but he solved that by sending his robot. He could control the Shreminator robot and in that way walk around, talk to people and even give a speech on stage.

For me Chicago trip was worth the time (no weekend at home) and cost, I had a good time and met many of my global Bitcoin friends again. Thanks for another great event and the excellent organization Moe!

Sea to Summit Trail & Sea to Sky Gondola

A couple of weeks ago the Sea to Sky Gondola started its operations, a new cable car just outside of Squamish that opens up a new high altitude hiking and snowshoeing area next to the Stawamus Chief. I heard good things about it, but I was a bit worried that it would be very busy on a weekend (some blogs were saying that waiting times for the gondola were 45 minutes on weekends). However, because the weather was very nice (30 degrees Celsius!) and my family-in-law is visiting we decided to go there anyway.

My family taking the brand new Sea to Sky Gondola

It turned out that it was not busy at all, the parking lot at the gondola entrance had a number of empty spaces and there was no line at all at the gondola. I think the weekend lines may have been due to the fact that the gondola had just opened and many people wanted to try it out. My family bought tickets to take the gondola but I decided to run (actually, mainly hike and climb) up the newly built 1o km Sea to Summit trail to the top at over 900 meters altitude.

Hiking the Sea to Sky Summit Trail

The trail starts right behind the parking lot and merges with another trail after a few hundred meters. At that point the path got really busy, but I soon found out that these were all people hiking up to Stawamus Chief and not to the top of the gondola. After about 20 minutes the Sea to Summit trail turned to the right, following the Shannon Falls trail, and it was quiet again.

Hiking the Sea to Sky Summit Trail

The Sea to Summit trail is similar to the Grouse Grind in terms of its vertical distance, but where the Grouse goes up 900 meters in less than 3 km, the Sea to Sky takes 10 km for that. A large part of the trail is relatively flat, meaning that you can recover easily, which is never the case on the Grouse Grind. But part of the trail is very steep as well and reminded me of the Grouse, I even had to climb over rocks using both my hands (on Grouse that’s hardly ever needed, only when it rains or when it’s freezing). The Sea to Summit is not a trail you want to do with young kids!

Selfie at the Shannon Falls (Sea to Sky Summit Trail)

The Sea to Summit has some beautiful sights along the trail, among others the upper Shannon Falls that are located about halfway to the top. I heard the waterfalls from far away already and was happy that the trail passed by them so I could check them out.

View over Howe Sound from the Sea to Sky summit trail

Ten minutes past the Shannon Falls is a great viewing area, where you can see Howe Sound and part of Squamish. It’s a good place to rest before tackling the final 3-4 km to the top. I just stopped for a minute for another drink: I was dehydrating fast because of the hot weather and kept on drinking water during the work-out.

Some parts of the Sea to Sky summit trail are quite hard and ropes are needed

At the final part of the trail I took the Wrinkle Rock trail shortcut, which is about 1 km shorter than the normal route but also a lot more difficult. You have to go over some rocky terrain where the fixed ropes (see picture) are needed to get to the top. From there it’s another 20 minutes of relatively steep trails through the woods to the top of the gondola.

Arrived at the top of the Sea to Summit trail, Scott & Elaine were waiting for me

After 1 hour and 57 minutes I arrived at the summit where Scott and Elaine were waiting for me. I was completely exhausted, not only because of the long and quite difficult trail, but especially because of the heat. 30 degrees Celsius is actually too hot for a hike/run like this and I drank about 2 liters of chocolate milk, water and smoothies before I started to recuperate a bit.

Made it to the top of the Sea to Sky summit!

After about 15 minutes I felt good enough to walk around at the top and so I did a bit of sightseeing with Scott. The summit area looks great and the views are stunning. I think this may become an important tourist destination in the future.

Scott looking at the map at the Sea to Sky gondola summit

It’s also a good start for some new trails that were recently built. However, because it’s high mountain area you have to watch out where you hike: last weekend a hiker died after falling only 6 km away from the top of the gondola. Easier accessibility to the backcountry does not mean that it’s less dangerous.

Top of the Sea to Sky gondola

Although I was too tired to try any of the new trails (next time!), I did join Scott on the suspension bridge that’s close to the gondola.

Suspension bridge at the top of the Sea to Sky gondola

After that I joined my family in the gondola to go down to the parking lot again. I would not advise anybody to hike down if you’re tired already. The downhill fee for the gondola is only $10 (the same as on Grouse Mountain), so that should not be a reason to hike down.

Taking the gondola down with my family after hiking up to the Sea to Sky Summit

The Sea to Summit is a much nicer hike than the Grouse Grind, but also more time consuming (it takes approximately twice as long, my Grinds normally take 50-55 minutes). It only took me 30 minutes to drive home from the gondola station, so I think I will come back here more often. However, I’ll probably wait until it cools off a bit, in the height of the British Columbia summer it’s actually too hot to do a 2 hour outdoor work-outs.

Because of its proximity to Vancouver the Sea to Summit could become a competitor to the Grouse Grind, especially for weekend hikes (a 2 hour after-work hike instead of 1 hour, plus extra travel time, will be too much for most Grouse Grinders). So far there is no official timer yet like on Grouse, so you’ll have to time yourself, but once the hike becomes more popular that may come as well. I’m looking forward to doing this one a couple of times per year!

Mini break in Victoria, BC

Grace’ family is visiting at the moment, so last weekend we decided to take the ferry to Victoria on Vancouver Island to spend a few days there. I enjoyed the trip a lot, because I had not seen a lot of Victoria during my last trip there and because of the great summer weather.

We decided to take the ferry instead of a seaplane so that we would have our own car while in town. That was a good idea, because there is a lot to see outside of Victoria. Below a couple of pictures from the 3 days and nights we spent there.

Ferry from Tsawassen to Swartz Bay

On the ferry from Tsawassen to Swartz Bay

On the ferry to Vancouver Island

View during the ferry ride to Vancouver Island. The Gulf Islands are beautiful, I hope to come back here soon on my own boat. Lots of places to anchor and so quiet! Happy to have this kind of places within one day of sailing from home.

Sidney, BC

Sidney, BC. A small seaside town between the ferry terminal and Victoria. We walked along the waterfront and looked at some of the shops.

Kids looking out of the window in the living room at Fairmont The Empress, Victoria, BC

Scott and Elaine enjoying the view from our living room in the Fairmont hotel. There was always something happening in the harbour and it was nice to see the ferries, seaplanes, sailing boats and whale watching tours arrive and depart continuously.

Fairmont The Empress, Victoria, BC

Fairmont The Empress, one of the best hotels I have stayed in in North America and in a great location in the center of town. I will likely stay here again on future trips to Victoria.

View from our room at Fairmont The Empress, Victoria, BC

Sunset view over Victoria Harbour, taken from our room

Fairmont The Empress, Victoria, BC

Fairmont The Empress at night

Parliament Building, Victoria, BC

Parliament Building at night, taken from the harbour

Craigdarroch Castle, Victoria, BC

Craigdarroch Castle, the former residence of mining tycoon Dunsmuir. Highly recommended to visit this huge house that was put back in its original state. 

Royal BC Museum

Royal BC Museum, explaining and showing the history and nature of British Columbia. Even Scott and Elaine liked the museum a lot.

Victoria Parliament Building

Parliament Building, next to Victoria’s inner harbour.

Victoria Parliament Building

Inside Parliament Building. The Parliament is open to the public, either on a guided or a self-guided tour.

Sooke, BC

Sooke, on the Pacific Coast. It was much colder here because of the clouds that came in over the ocean. A relaxed atmosphere in a beautiful setting, I plan to come back here.

Lunch in Sooke, BC

Lunch in a restaurant on the water, just outside of Sooke

Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC

The Butchart Gardens, about 20 km outside Victoria. Planted in a former mine, this is a nice park to stroll for an hour or 2. The park has among others a rose garden, an Italian garden and a Japanese garden.

Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC

Japanese Garden at the Butchart Gardens, Scott and Elaine posing for pictures.

Scott in the lounge at the Fairmont The Empress (Victoria)

Scott in the lounge of our hotel. We spent quite some time here every day for breakfast, drinks, high tea, appetizers and wine before dinner, and for a last glass of wine after the kids were in bed.

Horseshoe Bay from the ferry

On the ferry right before arriving in Horseshoe Bay.

More pictures of our trip are here on this set on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chijs/sets/72157645572454626/

Bitcoin close to a tipping point? An overview of all the recent positive news

Bitcoin

Today’s warning by the European Banking Authority for banks not to sell, hold or trade Bitcoin was reported as negative for Bitcoin in mainstream media. I think these media are wrong, the fact that even the EU is now asking for regulation of Bitcoin means that cryptocurrencies are actually getting much closer to a breakthrough than I had assumed just a few months ago.

I believe Bitcoin regulation will be needed in order for it to succeed, so I applaud the fact that more regulation will come soon. Only then the average Joe will start using Bitcoin, so they might as well start regulating it sooner than later.

Mainstream media are very biased in their Bitcoin reporting, it reminds me a bit of how they report about China: mainly negative, stereotypical stories make it into the media. Over the past weeks so many positive, important things have happened to Bitcoin that I feel that it’s coming close to a tipping point. But of course you don’t read these stories in your daily newspaper or on the national news. Therefore here an overview of some of the most important Bitcoin news stories from the past weeks, that show how far Bitcoin has come already.

California makes Bitcoin legal currency
Last week California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that makes “various forms of altnernative currency such as digital currency” legal in purchasing goods and transmitting payments. A major step for Bitcoin!

Russian may legalize Bitcoin
After basically banning Bitcoin a couple of months ago, Russia is seeing the light. Bank of Russia deputy chairman Luntovsky said this week that the Bank of Russia is ready to legalize Bitcoin. At a conference he said: “One can’t ignore this instrument, maybe this is the future”. However, “We advocate a careful approach to bitcoin and are monitoring the situation along with the Bank for International Settlements,”

Newegg accepts Bitcoin payments
Newegg, the multi-billion dollar online retailer of computer hardware and software started to accept Bitcoin this week. According to Newegg: “Our customers have been asking for Bitcoin as a payment option for months. We believe there is a pent-up demand just waiting to be served and we are happy to open this payment option to them.” Newegg is using Bitpay to convert its Bitcoin into traditional currency.

Winkelvoss Bitcoin Trust getting closer to launch
Wall Street can still not buy Bitcoin because there are no Bitcoin instruments available to them. Therefore it’s imperative that ETFs (electronically traded funds) come onto the market. The first one will most likely be the Winkelvoss ETF, because they (again) handed in an amended S-1 to the SEC. They also announced that the ETF will trade on the NASDAQ under the symbol COIN. Once this ETF will start trading I expect an immediate big increase in the Bitcoin price.

Successful US Bitcoin auction
The big news in Bitcoin land this week was the succesful auction of 30,000 BTC that the US government seized from Silk Road. Venture Capitalist Tim Draper turned out to be the winner of the auction, but he did not want to say how much he paid for them. The Bitcoin price had gone down after the auction was announced, but right after the auction was over it increased again to pre-auction levels. For me the auction is signficant not only because it was successful, but also because it signals that the US does not see Bitcoin as an illegal asset. If they would have seized drugs they certainly would not have auctioned it off!

South Korean payment processor Galaxia integrates Bitcoin
I have to admit that until a few days ago I never heard of Korean payment processor Galaxia, but after they announced that they will integrate Bitcoin most people in Bitcoin land will remember them. They are in the top 3 of largest payment processors in Korea and because of their Bitcoin integration Koreans can now pay in cryptocurrency on more than 10,000 domestic and international websites.

Bloomberg, Yahoo Finance and Google Finance add Bitcoin
A few weeks ago Bloomberg suddenly added Bitcoin to its terminals for financial professionals. An important prerequisite for traders to start paying attention to the cryptocurrency. And for people like me who don’t want to spend $3000 per month on real time financial news and data, both Yahoo Finance and Google Finance also added Bitcoin price data.

Apple allows Bitcoin wallets
When Apple started to ban Bitcoin wallets last year I was seriously thinking to switch back to Android, despite all the drawbacks for an Apple junkie like me. But it looks like that won’t be necessary anymore, because Apple changed its mind and started to allow Bitcoin wallets again. Great news for me and many other people who are married to the iOS infrastructure. Bitcoin now even appears in the official iPhone stock quotes app, but that’s likely because of the Yahoo Finance integration (Yahoo delivers the data for this app).

Bitcoin Bowl
Bitpay and ESPN signed a 4-year deal to rename the college football bowl in St. Petersburg, FL to the Bitcoin Bowl. Heads off to Bitpay for not naming it Bitpay Bowl, because now a 100 million Americans will hear about the Bitcoin Bowl on ESPN. According to CryptoCoinNews the Bitcoin Bowl agreement has the potential to: “To win over a public still skeptical of digital currencies and to get some good headlines in a year marked by bad press for its falling price and bankruptcy scandals, Bitcoin promoters are turning to America’s favorite pastime – football.”

Coinbase Vault
If you mined some Bitcoin a few years ago or spent a thousand dollars in 2010 or 2011 on Bitcoin, you would now be a (multi)millionaire. The problem is that if you keep your money in Bitcoin (as most would stilll do of course) you may suddenly have sleepless nights because you wonder how safe your Bitcoin really are in your online wallet. Several of my friends who intend to buy serious amounts of Bitcoin did not do so yet because of the same problem, they worry about the people stealing their coins. Of course you can keep them in paper wallets, but they can get lost and most non-techies don’t even understand what a paper wallet is yet.

Coinbase has now solved this problem with a new product called Vault. They will store your coins offline and withdrawals are time delayed, meaning that if someone threatens you and forces you to give them your pass codes they can’t access your money until after 48 hours. Also you can add multiple signatures to your account, so that you need more than one person’s password to access your money. An important product that will lead to a higher Bitcoin adoption.

MIT students all get $100 in Bitcoin
What happens if the smartest technical students would all get $100 worth of Bitcoin? We’ll find out, because all undergraduate MIT students will get $100 this fall when they arrive back on campus. The money for this was privately raised through MIT alumni and the Bitcoin community and will likely not only lead to more Bitcoin awareness but also to a lot of Bitcoin projects by MIT students.

Expedia allows Bitcoin payments
One of the largest online travel agencies, Expedia.com, now accepts Bitcoin as payment. To start with for hotel bookings only and only on its US site, but it’s a good start. Expedia uses Coinbase for its Bitcoin transactions. Expedia announced this week that the bookings in Bitcoin have exceeded their expectations.

Dianrong offers 10% guaranteed investment return in Sina partnership

New Dianrong.com product: 10% guaranteed return!

Update: Unbelievable, the product below was so popular that it sold out in just 2 minutes! Only in China, finding lenders for 3 million RMB (about US$ 500K) in 2 minutes. I love it!

Last week Grace and I visited the offices of Dianrong.com (formerly SinoLending) in Shanghai, a p2p lending company where I’m a board member. They have some innovative products coming up and one of them will launch today.

In a cooperation with Sina, Dianrong will now offer lenders a 10% guaranteed annualized return on their investments in a new product that they offer. Anybody can join, the minimum amount that you need to lend out is RMB 500 for a period of 6 months. However, the offer is only available until Monday or until 3 million RMB has been lended (whatever comes first). You can check the progress here: https://www.weicaifu.com/v/p2p/detail/30004

I think this will be a very popular product, because the principal and interest are guaranteed and because it’s offered in cooperation with leading portal Sina. The product will introduce more people to the concept of p2p lending in China, where the savings rate is traditionally quite high and banks like anywhere give low interest rates on deposits.

Dianrong is growing extremely fast and I am proud of the strong team that comes up with these new products and implements them quickly. Expect some more innovative products over the next couple of weeks.

Sold out in 2 minutes!

Chinese entrepreneurship

During our meetings over the past days in Shanghai it became once again very clear to me that there is no country for entrepreneurship like China. Things just go so much faster than in most other parts of the world. Just one example here, judge for yourself if this would be possible outside China:

Grace and I were meeting with an entrepreneur for breakfast. Grace had known him online for about 3 years and met him once in real life, but so far I had not seen him in person. Grace talked highly about him, because he was smart and had a lot of potential.

He indeed turned out to be a very smart guy in his early 30s who spoke fluent English. Not surprising considering his tech degree from one of the top 5 universities in the US and his work experience there. He mentioned that Canada had given him a permanent residence but that he let it expire because of the opportunities in China. This actually reminded me of Grace not taking a Singapore permanent residence after getting her INSEAD degree (at that time Singapore offered this to all INSEAD MBA graduates).

After ordering food and drinks on the terrace in Xintiandi he started telling us about his start-up. I hear a lot of pitches in my job a venture capitalist, but this was one of the best I had ever heard. The guy was extremely passionate about his idea and I immediately got what he was planning to do and how it could disrupt a major industry. The idea was a relatively simple (tech) execution play and I realized this was a potential multi-billion dollar idea. I can’t talk about the idea here because he is in full stealth mode, but if it comes out and becomes as succesful (as I think it will be) I will likely blog about it.

He started the company about 6 weeks ago and now already has 15 people on his payroll. Not just average developers and operations people, but top people from China’s leading online companies. I was very impressed but I understood how he had managed to convince them to join him in his start-up.

Although it was not an ‘official’ pitch I became intrigued and decided on the spot that I wanted to invest (something that’s highly unusual for me by the way). However, he then told me that 2 weeks ago he had had lunch with a partner of one of the leading Silicon Valley venture capital funds (a fund that I can’t name here either), where he had informally mentioned his plan. Although he wasn’t ready to raise money yet, he also offered to invest immediately and within 5 days all documents had been signed and the deal was closed! I guess we were just 2 weeks too late. Maybe there is a chance to get in at a later stage, but likely at a very inflated valuation.

Two months ago this was just an idea, and now it’s already a fully operational and well-funded company that will grow to 20 employees before its launch later this month. Wow, just wow.

When hearing this kind of stories I sometimes wonder whether I made the right decision to leave China. Of course I know I can’t really live in China anymore with my family because of the pollution, the food scandals, the traffic jams and the censored, slow Internet. Also I am very happy with my new life and job in Vancouver and I would not consider leaving. But as an ambitious investor and entrepreneur I realize the quality of life in Canada comes at a price. You can’t have it all, so it’s great to be back every now in the place where things really happen.

Back in China for a few days

View over Xintiandi

View over Xintiandi (Shanghai)

Grace and I landed in China on Sunday afternoon for a couple of days of meetings, dinners or drinks with companies, friends and family. The longer we live in Canada the longer it takes to get used to China again. Things that were normal just 15 months ago now seem so foreign to me. But it’s great to be back and to see what’s going on in business – and in the Chinese Bitcoin world!

The love/hate relationship I used to have with China is still there, but I feel more of an outsider now. My driver’s license here has expired so I can’t drive myself anymore (probably a good thing), I have trouble finding my way in Beijing because the city changes so fast, and I seem to have lost much of my Chinese so I have trouble communicating.

Taishan (during train ride from Beijing to Shanghai)

Taishan (Mt. Tai), during train ride from Beijing to Shanghai

The good thing is that because I am only here for 10 days I don’t take things so serious anymore. People jumping the queue don’t bother me as much as before and the endless traffic jams in Beijing are a pity, but then I just leave a bit earlier. When I ordered a cafe mocha during a meeting in a hotel lobby yesterday and the waitress came back 20 minutes later telling me that they don’t have mocha, I just smiled and ordered a black coffee instead. Vancouver made me a lot more patient it seems.

That doesn’t mean that things don’t bother me, the slow and censored Internet is still a big nuisance, but I know it’s just for a few days. I started coughing again a bit a few hours after I landed in Beijing (despite the relatively low smog levels), which is something I am not too happy with. But also there I know I’ll be out of the bad air soon again, so it’s just part of the package.

What I still love is the speed of business here, businesses keep on developing much faster than in Canada. People in China just execute better and faster it seems, and not just Chinese entrepreneurs but also non-Chinese ones. That’s what I still love (and miss) most about China, things just get done here and every week you see progress. Bitcoin gets blocked? Companies find a way around it, and if the way around it gets blocked they will come up with something else.

Taking the bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai

Boarding the bullet train in Beijing

I am now on the fast train from Beijing to Shanghai, my favorite mode of transport between these 2 cities. After the Xinjiang terrorist attacks the security at the train station has become as much of a nuisance as at the airport. We had to go through train station security twice, once at the entrance to the station and once before going to the train tracks. Twice we were stopped because we had a Swiss army knife in our suitcase. The first time we had to register the tool (just sign a document) but could keep it, not sure what the value of that is. Would a terrorist not use a knife after he signed a document for it? We were told to make sure not to lose the knife!

At the second security we had to give them the knife and they put tape around it before handing it back. We were not allowed to take the tape off until we arrived in Shanghai. What’s the use of that? Do they think people with criminal intentions would now not dare to use the knife?

A carpenter got into an argument with security because they wanted to take away his hammer. How can people who need to take the train for their jobs take their tools with them? I understand the country is afraid of a new attacks but either provide a different solution (you can’t check luggage on the train, so maybe provide a temporary solution where you can check in knives and tools?) or just let people take tools anyway (taping them doesn’t help much anyway).

So China has not changed much, but I certainly have. I am more relaxed and don’t take things too serious anymore. Maybe that will change in a couple of days again? I don’t know, but if so I’ll probably update this post. For now I am happy to be back in my former home country.

Dancing on the ceiling in Vancouver

Lionel Richie concert in Vancouver (May 29, 2014)

In China we regularly went to concert and events, but in Vancouver we spend most of our nights at home (mainly working or reading work-related materials, some things never seem to change…). That’s actually not because we don’t want to go out, but mainly because we don’t have live-in staff, so we can’t leave the kids at home at night. But because my parents were in town we decided to watch the opening concert of Lionel Richie‘s North American Tour last night at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver.

IMG_2252

Grace managed to get us front row seats, which is a special experience because you are so close to the artists and you can really feel the music (because of the speakers that are literally right in front of you). Next time I’ll bring ear plugs though. Lionel may not be one of the loudest acts, but my ears still lack some hearing the morning after the show!

Lionel Richie concert in Vancouver (May 29, 2014)

The tickets were not cheap, but I guess that’s supply & demand at work. In Shanghai we were normally invited to concerts, so tickets and even backstage events were for free, and I did not always realize how expensive this can be.

Lionel Richie concert in Vancouver (May 29, 2014)

I grew up with Lionel Richie’s music in the 80s and remember among others that my first slow dance in high school was on a Lionel Richie song. I had his albums on cassette tapes and later owned a couple of his CDs, but I had never been to any of his concerts, so this seemed like a good chance.

Cee-Lo Green, opening act of the Lionel Richie concert in Vancouver (May 29, 2014)

The opening act was Cee-Lo Green, who gave a decent (but not great) 40 minute performance with lots of covers of old R&B and soul songs, but also with his hit Crazy. The scarcely dressed girls that surround him made the show fun to watch, but did not add much to the music. Cee-Lo understood very well that most people were not there to see him and referred to Lionel Richie a couple of times. I like him a lot better now than before, but I can’t believe he is only 38 (he looks 20 years older, partly because he is so obese).

Lionel Richie concert in Vancouver (May 29, 2014)

After the opening act the stage was rebuilt, which took about 30 minutes. That gave me some time to post pictures to social media, answer some emails and to have a beer. And then Lionel Richie came up! Although he will turn 65 next month, he looks and acts much younger. He seems to be in great shape and gave a fantastic show for all ages.

Lionel Richie concert in Vancouver (May 29, 2014)

Of course all of his greatest hits were on the playlist (from Hello to Dancing on the Ceiling and from Penny Lover to Say You, Say Me), but also a lot of Commodores hits. The light show was pretty good as well, which colorful background images and animations. Lionel is a good actor and did quite some talking in between songs (introducing songs, making some jokes), which made the evening even more interesting.

Lionel Richie concert in Vancouver (May 29, 2014)

The interaction with his band was great, he gave them a lot of room to perform and they did a great job. Especially the saxophonist gave a super performance, he was really amazing but Lionel did not introduce him.

Lionel Richie concert in Vancouver (May 29, 2014)

I had expected the last song to be All Night Long, but Lionel Richie and his band came back on stage after that song to perform We Are The World. I did not know that he co-wrote that song with Michael Jackson, but it was the perfect ending for a great night in the Rogers Arena.

Lionel Richie concert in Vancouver (May 29, 2014)

First Grouse Grind of the year

Grouse Mountain after my first Grind of the season (May 20, 2014)

Top of Grouse Mountain, completely snow free already!

Last weekend the Grouse Grind opened for the 2014 season, but because I was in Holland I could not do the climb on opening day (like last year). I love Grouse Mountain and ran/hiked it many times last year. It’s a great work-out because it only takes an hour (or less) and the nature on Grouse is beautiful. There are not many views during the climb, but because you are normally so focused on where to put your feet for the next steps that’s not a big deal. The views from the top are fantastic of course.

Today I drove over to Grouse Mountain after work and did my first Grind of the season. I expected it to be hard, because I had not done any mountain hiking or climbing activities in months and because of too much travel over the past days. But the opposite was the case: the Grouse Grind was relatively easy and I did the trail without stopping once. I finished in 52 minutes and 39 seconds, a decent time for the first climb of the season.

After the first Grouse Grind of the season

Happy that I made it to the top

Probably the fact that I ran a full marathon just over 2 weeks ago makes a big difference. I especially noticed that I was able to control my breathing most of the time (just like while running a marathon), meaning that I still had some reserves. That was not always the case last year during my Grouse Grinds, so this is a good incentive to keep on running long distances next to climbing Grouse Mountain.

For people in Vancouver: there is no free parking at the bottom of Grouse Mountain anymore. The former free parking spaces close to the start of the trail now cost $2 for 3 hours (which should sufficient for a Grouse Grind plus the gondola back down), or you can park at the gondola for a bit more than that. I opted to buy a yearly parking pass for $42, considering the number of times that I’ll be at Grouse that’s probably money well spent.

Bitcoin conferences

Dutch coastline

Flying over the Dutch coastline

I am a big fan of financial tech, especially technologies that will disrupt the current financial system. For that reason I went to the peer 2 peer lending conference Lendit2014 in San Francisco 2 weeks ago, where it became clear to me that p2p lending has really made a breakthrough over the past year. Banks and funds are entering the market, by investing in it and by inventing new products (e.g. securitization of loan portfolios).

But where p2p lending (started around 2007) already made its initial breakthrough in finance, Bitcoin (started in 2009) still has some work to do. I personally believe that Bitcoin and its related technologies will have a much bigger impact on the financial world than p2p lending, but because it’s more difficult to understand and more controversial it takes longer to take off.

Over the past year I probably spent almost half my working hours on bitcoin and bitcoin related things. This includes looking at companies’ business plans, reading most bitcoin related blogs and going to bitcoin conferences. Over the past days I went to 2 conferences in Amsterdam, the inaugural Dutch Bitcoin Conference and the global Bitcoin Conference, organized by the Bitcoin Foundation. I spoke at both conferences.

The Dutch conference was held at ABN AMRO, probably a first for a bitcoin conference to be organized at a bank. Banks are still very wary of bitcoin, which is logical because if bitcoin breaks through it will be a huge risk for their business and they probably see that by now. So it was great to talk about bitcoin at a bank’s facilities and to hear banker’s views as well.

Marc driving a Tesla

Tired and jet lagged in a Tesla

The Dutch conference was organized in just a few weeks by Rutger van Zuidam and Vincent Everts, 2 well-known trendwatchers and serial entrepreneurs in Holland. Vincent picked me up at the airport when I arrived, let me drive his Tesla to my hotel and immediately did an interview that he recorded while I was driving. The fact that I was jet lagged after a long flight did not play a role :-)

It’s quite something what Rutger and Vincent pulled off in this very short time. They managed to get top speakers on board such as Dutch former finance minister Jan Kees de Jager, Mike Hearn of the Bitcoin Foundation, Bitcoin economist Tuur Demeester, and even a representative of the Dutch Central Bank. Despite the short time they had the conference was sold out and there were not even enough seats! There was also a lot of Dutch press representatives: TV stations, newspapers and several bloggers were present at the event.

First Dutch Bitcoin Conference 2014

Panel at Dutch Bitcoin Conference

The level of the discussions and conversations at this conference was quite basic, because for most participants and bankers bitcoin is still something they need to learn about. But it was a good introduction for them to learn what bitcoin is and how it might change their world. The basics of bitcoin were discussed and everybody even received some free millibits (a fraction of a bitcoin).

I had a great day at the conference, spreading the bitcoin gospel and talking to many people that I had not seen in years. Vincent Everts interviewed me on stage about my view on bitcoin and investment opportunities and I participated in a panel with 2 bankers and with Tuur Demeester. The panel was interesting but too short, it would have been good if we had been able to discuss a bit more about the potential of bitcoin for banks.

Bitcoin conference Amsterdam

Financieel Dagblad article about the Dutch Bitcoin Conference

My main conclusion at the end of the day was that there is no real need for bitcoin yet in well-developed countries like The Netherlands where everybody has a bank account and where mobile and Internet payments are very easy. The real growth will come from the developing world, and after innovation there, bitcoin will likely change the financial system in the Western world as well.

During a TV interview with RTL I decided to talk about the price. I strongly believe that once hedge funds, PE funds and pension funds can start investing in bitcoin (through ETFs for example) the price will explode. A 10x price increase to USD 4000-5000 would be quite possible, because these funds will put tons of money and the bitcoin float is still very low. Among my friends who watched it several afterward asked how to buy bitcoin!

Jon Matonis @ Bitcoin2014

Jon Matonis opening Bitcoin2014, the global Bitcoin Foundation Conference in Amsterdam

The main program of the Bitcoin Foundation’s conference Bitcoin2014 took place on Friday and Saturday. In total about 1200 people from 50 countries flew to Amsterdam to attend the event. It was probably the best bitcoin conference that I have been to so far, mainly because almost all the top speakers were there and the level of presentations and conversations was very high. I learned a lot during the 2 days and I met a lot of people that I had only known virtually so far.

#Bitcoin2014

Before the opening of Bitcoin2014

The highlights for me were Gavin Andresen‘s State of the Bitcoin 2014, his annual speech about the core development of Bitcoin and some risks that need to be discussed (esp. the block size is a potential problem that might lead to higher transaction costs), and Circle’s product launch. Circle.com is the first bitcoin exchange/bank that is not only very easy to use (you can even transfer funds to and from your credit card!) but that also insures your bitcoins in case they should lose them or get hacked (Circle holds your private keys, which is likely what the masses will want). There were tons of other good sessions, but many are too difficult to talk about here.

Bobby Lee at Bitcoin 2014

Bobby Lee talking about Bitcoin in China

Another session I enjoyed was Bobby Lee‘s presentation about bitcoin in China. Main take away is that even though the PBOC (China’s Central Bank) prevents banks to work with bitcoin and bitcoin exchanges, people keep on finding ways to trade bitcoin, it’s unstoppable. Roger Ver mentioned later that last weekend’s bitcoin conference in Beijing was a huge success, despite the fact that the press and all websites were told not to report on the conference (the CEOs of the bitcoin exchanges were not even allowed to speak there!). It’s a real pity that China is trying to stop bitcoin, but in a way it’s understandable (they want to control everything and bitcoin got out of control for them). I hope they don’t shoot themselves in the foot when bitcoin will break through.

Speaker's dinner at Bitcoin 2014

Speakers dinner

I also participated in a panel about bitcoin investment opportunities, which I really enjoyed. The New York Times journalist Nathaniel Popper led the discussion with Roger Ver (Bitcoin Jesus), Nick Shaleck (Ribbit Capital), Steve Waterhouse (Pantera Capital) and myself. Among others we talked about centralization vs. decentralization, the price of bitcoin, and new ideas for killer apps. A detailed write-up of the discussion can be found here on Coindesk.

My hotel in Amsterdam

Venue of Bitcoin2014

I had a great time in Amsterdam, although I probably should have stayed a few days longer. Luckily I did not have a real jet lag this time (despite the 9 hour time difference between Vancouver and Amsterdam), but I will need to catch up on sleep over the next 1-2 days. I even slept on the plane for a couple of hours just now (I am writing this while flying home), which is unusual for me on a daytime flight.

IMG_2132Flying home again

Without a phone for 3 days

On Sunday I did the Vancouver Marathon, which was a painful experience. I ran a couple of marathons over the past years, but this one was by far the wettest and coldest, and as a result my time was not great (3 hours 52 min for the 42.2 km). Until the halfway point things went very well, I managed to stay in the 3:30 pace group and at 21.1 km we clocked 1 hour 44 min. Around km 24 there was a hill where I slowed down a bit, but I could not get back to the group afterward. From that point onwards the run became harder and harder, and the last 10 km around Stanley Park were not fun. I was so cold and wet that my muscles started to cramp and every step hurt. Anyway, although the time could have been better I managed to finish.

After the race I walked over to my boat which was moored close to the finish line. I put the heating as high as possible and took a hot shower. Slowly my body temperature went back up and after an hour I felt okay again. I recharged my phone, had a lunch on board and took a short nap, before repacking my things to drive to the airport and catch a flight to San Francisco. Because I wasn’t sure what airline I was flying I wanted to call Grace from the car to check it for me, but I decided to just look at the screens at the airport. I wish I had called her, because now I only found out while checking in that I did not have my phone with me…

I checked FindMyiPhone on my iPad and noticed that the phone was still on the boat. It was too late to drive back and pick it up, so I went through US immigration at Vancouver airport without my phone. I never realized how important a phone is for my daily life, you take it as a given that you have one on you all the time. During the past 3 days in San Francisco I realized that I am sort of addicted to it. I keep on checking my jeans pockets for my phone for example, even though I know I don’t have it with me.

If I want to take pictures (which I normally do continuously, many of them end up on my Flickr photostream) I normally use my phone, but now I can’t do that. Luckily I have my iPad mini with me, but it’s different. Its camera is not as good and it feels more awkward to take pictures with it, but at least I can record some of the things that I see. I also normally don’t walk around town with my iPad because it does not fit in my pocket. Next to that my iPad does not have a data SIM card in it, so I need wifi to go online. So outside the hotel I can’t check my email, use Google Maps or upload pictures to Flickr, FB, Twitter or WeChat.

Without a phone you’re more focuses on the here & now, I realized I was less distracted during the Lendit 2014 conference by incoming mails or messages. That’s a positive thing and can of course also be achieved by putting the phone in do not disturb mode (I may actually do that more often). But the downside is that you miss your ‘second brain’. I am so used to quickly checking things on my phone during conversations, for example when talking about a person I like to find out how I got to know the person or what email exchanges we had. Or while talking about a certain company I normally quickly check their website or their Crunchbase profile.

When you don’t have a phone you notice much more that others do have phones and are constantly using them. While at the Lendit conference everyone around me was using their phones, and in a way I felt left out. During the breakfasts, lunches and dinners many of the people were on their phones at least part of the time. I normally would not notice that because it’s normal and I do it myself as well, but without a phone you suddenly realize this.

The good thing is that it’s quiet without a phone, because nobody can interrupt me with a phone call or a text. But I also feel a bit guilty, because I know I am missing a lot of calls and texts and people probably don’t understand why I don’t get back to them. In a way it was an interesting experience but I look forward to having my phone back in a few hours in Vancouver. I don’t think I will easily forget my phone another time when traveling!

Peter Diamandis event in Vancouver (X Prize, Singularity University)

Peter Diamandis talk for EO Vancouver (April 14, 2014)

Earlier this week I was invited to a talk by Peter Diamandis at the Vancouver Aquarium (thanks for the invite Praveen). I read a lot about Peter and his activities over the years but I had never attended one of his talks, so I was very excited to see him in real life.

In case you don’t know Peter Diamandis, he is a well-known serial entrepreneur who among others co-founded companies like the X Prize Foundation and Singularity University. He is both an engineer (MIT) and a physician (Harvard) who thrives on disruptive technologies that can change the world and outer space. And he is a great speaker!

The event was extremely inspiring to me and was probably among the best presentations that I have ever seen because of the topics he discussed. It’s one of those talks where I could imagine that one might end up quitting his/her job right after the presentation – at least when you happen to work for a large company in a job where you are not doing anything that could potentially change the world. I am lucky that in my daily business life I am able to make a difference in at least some of the investments that we do, but not nearly as much as Peter is doing.

In his talk Peter discussed 3 topics, Exponential Technologies, Incentive Competitions and Abundance. I will try not to go into too much detail, but just write down some of his statements and examples, and combine those with my own thoughts.

Exponential Technologies

The world’s biggest problems are the world’s biggest opportunities. Humans are linear thinkers but technology is exponential (=doubling year over year), which leads to disruptive stress and opportunities: 10 years from now 40% of the Forbes 500 companies will likely no longer exist!

As a VC I see new ideas every day and I see the world changing around me, but most people are so focused on their daily lives that they totally miss what’s happening out there. Especially large companies underestimate the rate of change in technology, they think that they can keep up with their R&D, but that’s a big mistake.

A good example is the digital camera. The first digital camera was developed in 1976. Between 1976 and 2014 the resolution of a digital camera increased 1000 times, the camera has become 1000 times lighter and the device is 1000 times cheaper. That means that current cameras are 1 billion times better than the first ones developed. But the exponential growth does not stop here of course, technology keeps on improving so in a few years from now resolution, size and price will be many times better than they are today. Fascinating!

The same thing you see with sensors, they are so cheap and small nowadays compared to just a few years ago, that they can be used for things that nobody thought of before. Artificial intelligence and robotics are other examples where you see exponential growth. My kids may never need to get a driver’s license because by then all cars will drive themselves. Is that boring? No, not only does it save you a lot of time (it’s like having a private driver, something I sometimes miss from China), but autonomous cars can race as well as you can see in this YouTube clip.

Artificial intelligence develops so fast that supercomputers like Watson can now easily win game shows like Jeopardy from human beings. Last month at SXSW Watson was given 35,000 cooking recipes and information about 1000 chemical flavor compounds. Based on this it created amazing recipes, for example with unusual combinations of chocolate, coffee and garlic. A normal chef would likely never try these, meaning that Watson is in a way more creative already than expert human beings. And this is just the beginning!

Peter gave 5 critical insights that he discusses with multinationals that are spot on in my opinion:
- The rate of innovation is exploding
- Innovation comes from everywhere
- If you don’t disrupt yourself, someone else will
- Competition is no longer a multinational overseas
- If you depend on innovation inside your company you are dead

So where do you source your innovation? Well, for example through incentive competitions!

Incentive Competitions

I am not sure if Peter is the inventor of incentive competitions, but for sure he is the one who made the concept big with the X Prize Foundation. It basically means that you define a challenge and give a huge prize for the person who can first solve the problem. The first and probably most well-known example is the Ansari X Prize for the first team that would be able to send a 3 person crew to space (=at least 100 km altitude) twice within 2 weeks. The winner would get $10 million. The result: 26 teams participated and together spent more than $100 million, and within 8 years a team won the prize. In total there were 10 billion media impressions worth more than $120 million because of the competition!

X Prize

It turns out that giving a huge incentive can solve a lot more challenges that otherwise may be neglected, and that’s what Peter is working on with the X Prize Foundation. He focuses on big problems, for example putting people on the moon (the Google Lunar X Prize, $30 million dollar prize)or finding better ways to clean up oil spills (the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Challenge, the winner improved the technology by a factor 6!).

Other examples of prizes that have been launched or will soon be launched are for example a prize to increase global literacy, a competition to make carbon dioxide from waste into an asset, one to predict earthquakes, and a prize to cure Alzheimer’s.

It’s amazing to hear him talk about these grand challenges. Big companies are not interested or not smart enough to solve these problems, but incentive competitions might do the job. They tap into the world’s smartest people and cost a fraction of what it would cost corporations to try to do this.

Incentive competitions can be used for both local and global problems, and for that reason Peter helped to co-found another company, HeroX. This business calls itself the world’s problem solving platform and already has quite a number of interesting ideas and challenges on it. It’s as simple as defining a goal, fund the challenge (through name sponsors for example) and others might solve the problem. I love the idea!

Abundance

The third and final theme that Peter talked about was Abundance: the future is better than you think. This is also the title of a book that he wrote (and that I bought but did not read yet), in which he argues that the progress that we make in exponential technologies will allow us to make greater gains in the next 20 years than in the past 200 years. Every basic need of all human beings on this planet can soon be met and we will live in a world of abundance.

Abundance - The Future is Better Than You Think - Peter Diamandis & Steven Kotler

I tend to be a bit more pessimistic about whether we can achieve this, but according to Peter that is likely because of the negative tone in the media. He says that media are drug pushers: we are fed massive amounts of negative news, because that’s what people pay more attention to. The ratio of negative to good news is 10:1 according to him.

I feel we are on a downward slope in the way we rob our planet from its natural resources and hope it’s not too late to make changes. But Peter is very optimistic and is sure that technology will solve all problems.

Energy? The sun provides 5000 times as much energy as we need, we just need to find a way to tap into it. Not enough water? We are close to new technologies that can make salt water or even highly polluted into drinking water for just 1 cent per liter. Three billion people will come online in the next 10 years and because of the Internet we will able to tap into their collective minds to find solutions for the world’s problems.

I for sure hope he is right, and given his achievements he may very well be. It’s quite something what he has done in his life so far and he keeps on working on new things. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I am very inspired by him and I hope to learn more from him at a Singularity University program later this year.

Bitcoin price predictions

Government banning BTC picture

(Picture source: Reddit)

This is not investment advice, but just my personal opinion!

After China made it even harder for Bitcoin exchanges to do business the price dropped significantly today. Lots of people who don’t follow Bitcoin on a daily basis are probably afraid that this is the beginning of the end, but I completely disagree with that. This blog post gives some background on what I see happening in the market right now and where I think Bitcoin prices will go.

The past couple of days I was in New York City for the Bitcoin conference there (see here for coverage on Coindesk, day 1, day 2). It was a very different conference from the ones that I attended in Las Vegas (Dec. 2013) and Miami (Jan. 2014), because the audience were mainly people from the financial world and lawyers.

Bitcoin is growing up quickly and not everybody likes that. The Bitcoin pioneers love the cryptocurrency because they do not like the financial system and want a (semi-) anonymous currency. However, the recent months have shown that the financial system is slowly getting interested in Bitcoin and governments are starting to regulate it. That is something the early adaptors are not too happy with, but which is probably unstoppable.

New York Bitcoin Conference (April 2014)

A few pioneers who were at the conference were clearly not amused with what was said on stage in most of the panels and keynotes, and in a way I felt a bit sad for them. They truly believe in freedom without regulations, and they had not expected that Bitcoin would develop in the direction of a regulated asset. At least they probably got rich from the coins they mined or bought when prices were still at much lower levels.

I think regulations are a good thing if Bitcoin wants to become a global currency or a new asset class. At the Miami conference I already mentioned on stage that I think regulations are necessary in order to make Bitcoin big. Without it venture capitalists will be hesitant to invest in it and the financial institutions won’t touch it. I therefore think it’s positive that there is some more clarity on how Bitcoin will be treated and taxed by financial authorities. The downside is of course that people will need to pay taxes on their Bitcoin (capital gains tax), at least in the US.

Now that initial regulations are in place I think a new era of Bitcoin has started. The past 4 months have seen a gradual decline in Bitcoin prices, mainly due to the potential ban of Bitcoin in China, but also due to the non-stop flow of negative news about Bitcoin. A lot of the early entrepreneurs turned out to be frauds, crooks or criminals, and even some of the newer ones seem to be doing the same thing (unfortunately the CEO of the Cyprus Bitcoin bank NEO BEE seems to be the next example).

Most of the decline in price is due to the fact that speculators left the market and that the Chinese BTC holders are selling their coins. People see the news, don’t fully understand it, get scared and decide to sell their holdings. Typical behavior in a market crash.

Bitcoin has shown that it is quite resilient. After the Mt. Gox disaster many people predicted the price would go back to mid-2013 levels ($100), but that did not happen. Each time the price dropped others started buying. That happened for a while at the $400 support level, but that was broken today. Nobody knows what will happen over the next days (especially China news can give BTC another dip), but because there is a lot of smart money waiting to buy in I think it might be back above $400 sooner rather than later.

The short term is not so interesting, however. Where it gets interesting is what will happen to prices once Wall Street gets on board. After the New York conference it’s not a question anymore of whether it will happen but only of when it will happen. It seems almost inevitable to me.

Panel at the NY Bitcoin Conference 2014

And what does that mean for the long term price of Bitcoin? In my opinion it’s simple: the only way is up! It’s Economics 101, supply and demand. There are currently only 12.5 million BTC on the market, which gives BTC a market cap of around $5 billion. That is nothing, it’s about the same as the value of Youku Tudou right now. But if you compare how much the media and analysts write about Youku Tudou and how much they write about Bitcoin it is clear there is a huge discrepancy there!

Out of these 12.5 million BTC maximum 1 million coins are in the float (meaning that they are not stored in cold storage wallets by investors, but that they can be traded). If Wall Street gets in these firms will not invest just a million dollars in the currency. They may start off relatively small with maybe $20-50 million in BTC for the early firms. But what will happen if a few firms would do that?

It’s simple, if supply is more or less fixed and demand goes up, the price has to go up. I learned that an order of 1000 BTC (less than $400,000) can already move the Bitcoin price up by $10. What will happen if people try to buy 10,000 or 100,000 BTC? The price will have to go up. The float is too small and in order to convince others to sell BTC the price has to go up even further.

The exact same thing happened when China entered the Bitcoin game in October and November this year: the price went up 10 times from $120 in early October to $1200 in early December because of increased demand. In my opinion this will happen again, but then the price won’t stop at $1200.

When will this be? That’s anybody’s guess, but I would not be suprised if we will see the start of it this year already. What’s needed is a trigger, until then the price might remain quite flat. It looks like Bloomberg might add Bitcoin data to its terminals in the near future, which could be the first trigger for the financial world. Once prices start increasing they may quickly go up 5-10 times again, just like a few months ago. A price of $3000-4000 at the end of this year is therefore not unlikely if instruments to invest in BTC become available (they are not there yet).

At a cocktail party at the SecondMarket office in New York City

At a cocktail party at SecondMarket’s headquarters in NYC

At the conference predictions were made about the long term fair value of Bitcoin and insiders like the Barry Silbert (CEO of SecondMarket) think that the price may go to $500,000 or even $1 million per coin if BTC becomes a new asset class. These figures are mind boggling right now, but because BTC is so scarce and truly unique it may indeed happen one day (within the next 10 years according to some well known people in the Bitcoin space). I personally don’t see that happen yet, but because of limited supply and potentially huge demand it is theoretically possible.

For me buying BTC is almost comparable to buying a call option right now: there is limited downside (you can lose your investment, but not more than that), but the potential upside is virtually unlimited. And Bitcoin has an advantage over a normall call option in that there is no expiration date!

Despite the lower prices and all the problems Bitcoin faced over the past months I remain extremely bullish on the cryptocurency. The New York conference convinced me even more of the fact that more regulation will be a very positive thing and could lead to a price explosion.

Rockefeller CenterRockefeller Center, NYC

There are still risks that Bitcoin could be ‘banned’, but the more regulators and governments learn about Bitcoin the smaller that chance is. There is also a chance that other altcoins could take over, but because of the network effect I don’t really see that happening either. A fatal flaw in the Bitcoin protocol is still possible of course, but it’s more and more unlikely and the community has shown that they can solve these problems if they occur.

We live in interesting times and I will keep following Bitcoin news closely over the next couple of months!

Lost iPad

I lost my iPad mini

The Find My iPhone app

When we were staying in the Legoland Hotel 2 weeks ago I could not find my iPad mini. I looked everywhere for it, but it seemed I had lost it somehow. I knew I had used it the night before in our hotel close to Disneyland, but I was quite sure that I had not left it in the room. I used to travel so much that I have a standard routine of checking my hotel rooms before checking out and I normally don’t forget anything.

Luckily I had the Find My iPhone app installed on my laptop, so I ran it to see where my iPad was. Turns out it was still in the Hyatt Regency next to Disneyland. I had not idea how I could have missed it and I questioned Scott whether he had hidden it somewhere. He had done that once with my iPhone: I thought I lost it in Whistler but he had hidden it in his playroom and had totally forgotten about it.

I remembered using the iPad before going to sleep the night before. I normally read the New York Times from the next day (that’s the advantage of living in the Pacific Coast time zone) and that’s what I did there as well. But I could not remember what I had done with it after that.

Hyatt Regency, Garden Grove, CA

Hyatt Regency Orange County

I called the Hyatt Regency to check whether they had found the iPad, but they said the cleaning staff had not seen it and there was no iPad at lost and found either. I normally tip the cleaners well (also when leaving the hotel), so I hoped that they would hand in an iPad that they would find.

With the Find My iPhone app you can play an alarm on the iPad, but because it was quite late already I decided not to do that. New guests had checked into our suite already and I did not want to wake them up or scare them late at night.

The next morning we called hotel security again and they sent someone to the room. There were no guests present in the room, but the security person did not want to enter. He listened at the door while we played a sound on the iPad, but he said he did not hear anything. My app, however, showed that the iPad was still in the hotel and very likely still in our room (the app is quite accurate with the location).

I decided to forget about it, but when the kids were in bed at night I started to play the sound again remotely. From about 8 pm to 10 pm I played the iPad alarm every 15 minutes, but nobody seemed to hear the device. I put a text on the iPad screen as well, offering a $100 reward to the person who would find it (in case the cleaners had found it and had hidden it this may be an incentive to hand it in).

The next day we drove to Palm Springs. I could see on my iPhone that my iPad’s battery was draining quickly, it was below 10% during the drive and less than 5% after we arrived in Palm Springs. I had sort of given up on the iPad and wanted to remotely wipe all data and apps from the device before it would be completely empty. But right before I did that I decided to let the alarm sound one more time.

Three minutes later my wife’s phone range and guess what: someone had heard the sound and found the iPad! A woman from Florida had checked into our former room and heard a sound coming from the room safe. Turns out that the iPad had ended up against the back wall of the safe, and I had not seen it while emptying it. The safe had been closed the day before, so security could not hear the sound.

My iPad mini was found!

My iPad was found!!!

I was very happy, especially because I had almost given up on the device. I offered the finder the $100 reward, but she said she was not interested in that and was just happy that I had my iPad back.

By sheer luck my parents had just landed in Los Angeles and would drive by close to Disneyland the day after, so I gave them a quick call. They did not mind to make a short detour and picked up the iPad for me the next day.

When I installed Find My iPhone a while ago I didn’t really think the app would be very useful, nor that I would ever need it. But it turned out to be the most ‘valuable’ app that I have, because without it I would have lost my iPad.

I was thinking about changing my iPhone and iPads to Android devices because of Apple’s rejection of all Bitcoin wallets (I hate Apple because of this and think they made a huge mistake), but after this experience I have become a bit more reluctant to change. Does Android have apps like this? I assume they do, but do they work as well as Apple’s own app? I have tried to switch to Android several times already over the past years (and some of these attempts are recorded on this blog), but so far I always went back to Apple.

Interestingly, after losing my iPad mini and finding it back I started using it more frequently. When you don’t have something you suddenly realize the value of it. I mainly used it for the New York Times and occasionally for Twitter, Facebook or to try out a new game. But now I also put NextIssue on there (Netflix for magazines) and I synced my Spotify playlists with it. Last night I was on a flight from Vancouver to New York and spent half the flight reading magazines on my iPad while listening to Spotify!

If you have iOS devices and don’t have Find My iPhone installed, do it right away. It’s free and it just works!

Spring Break in California

Laguna Beach, CA

Laguna Beach, CA

Last year we stayed home during Spring Break, but this year we decided to take the kids to a warmer destination. We decided on California, because it’s in the same time zone as Vancouver and the flights are relatively short.

Disneyland California

Scott’s favorite part of the park was Cars Land

We flew to Los Angeles where we started our holiday with a visit to Disneyland California. The kids had been to Disneyland Hong Kong a few times, but this was their first time to the park in Anaheim. Disneyland California is quite similar to HK, but the kids loved it anyway. We bought tickets for both Disneyland and the California Adventure park next door, and we visited both parks.

I personally like the California Adventure better than Disneyland. I had been there a few years ago with my sister during a road trip in California, and since then the park had grown a bit and now also includes Cars Land (from Scott’s favorite Disney movie Cars & Cars 2).

Disneyland California

Scott and Elaine with Mater

What surprised me is how many obese persons there were in the park. Not just overweight, but really obese, in the sense that many of them needed an electric scooter to get around the park. So many people were using these things that it almost became normal to ride on one. Good for them I guess, but it’s kind of shocking to me. This kind of obesity is still a typical American thing (mainly thanks to the food and sedentary lifestyles), but I see a trend towards it in Europe and in China (especially with spoiled kids in one-child families) as well.

Because we booked quite late we could not get decent rooms in the Disney Resort anymore, but the Hyatt Regency where we stayed turned out to be a good alternative. Most people stay there for Disneyland, and the suite we booked had a bunk bed for the kids in their bedroom. They loved it, but it was a bit hard to get them to sleep the first night. The kids also loved the outdoor pool, so even after a full day in the resort they still insisted to go for a swim with me.

Legoland Hotel (Carlsbad, CA)

Legoland California Hotel, Carlsbad CA

After Disneyland we drove along the coast on Highway 1 to Carlsbad for a visit to Legoland. There we stayed in the Legoland Hotel, which was a big hit with the kids. Not only was every room full of great Lego models, but there were Lego bricks to play with in the room and the kids had their own TV next to their bunk bed. Our room had a medieval castle theme, and the decoration was very well done. We had a room next to the pool, so the first thing Scott wanted to do upon arrival was to swim. If you plan to go to Legoland with kids you should consider to stay in the hotel, it’s next to the park’s entrance and your kids will be very happy.

Legoland California

Entrance of Legoland California

Legoland itself is very different from Disneyland. It’s a great park for young kids, but for parents it’s less interesting. Everything feels a bit less well maintained, especially after just spending time at Disney where everything is perfect. The attractions are not as good, but the park entrance fees are also a lot lower than Disney. For young kids it doesn’t matter, however, and Scott and Elaine had a great time.

Legoland California

With Scott in one of the Legoland rides

After the 2 parks we drove to Palm Springs where we stayed in a villa with a nice pool. Palm Springs is one of those places that you either love or hate. 10 years ago I probably would not even think of going there, but right now I love it. The climate is great, 350 days of sunshine and it’s always warm (except maybe at night during the winter months). While we were there temperatures averaged about 28 Celsius during daytime, which I find very pleasant.

Downtown Palm Springs

Palm Springs, CA

My parents also joined us in Palm Springs and it was nice to have them around. The main thing we did during the few days there was relax at the pool, play with the kids and have dinners in good restaurants. Palm Springs and Palm Desert have some very good restaurants, actually better than the restaurant scene in Vancouver (which is already not too bad). When the kids were in bed my dad an I often had a nice bottle of wine at the outdoor fire place in the back garden.

After a 22 km run in Palm Springs

After running with my dad

We compensated the food and wine with some running. I found a nice 11 km route around the airport where there were hardly any traffic lights or side streets. My dad an I ran it a few times and one morning even ran the loop twice. Because Palm Springs is almost completely flat running was quite easy there, very different from the hilly courses that I normally run back home in Vancouver.

Grace went shopping a few times with my mom. There is a great designer outlet close to Palm Springs and El Paseo in Palm Desert can compete with Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Lots of high end brands of course, but also a lot of nice galleries. We didn’t buy any art this time because Scott and Elaine are not big fans of galleries, but maybe we’ll do so in the future. The cars on El Paseo are great as well, there were more Rolls Royce and Bentley Convertibles there than I had ever seen before in one day!

Working in the shade @ Palm Springs

My temporary office in Palm Springs

I also did a bit of work, and created my own office in the shade in a corner of the backyard. From there I had a good view of the pool where the kids were normally playing, but they would not interrupt me too often.

Malibu, CA

Malibu Beach at sunset

We flew back home again from Los Angeles and spent the last night there. In the late afternoon we walked around Marina del Rey and Venice Beach and later had dinner in Malibu, which has some nice restaurants and obviously great ocean views. It was a nice end of a great holiday!

More pictures of our holiday here in a set on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chijs/sets/72157643198799293/

OKCoin Raises $10 Million to Become China’s Largest Exchange

Bitcoin is far from dead in China and that was proven by the fact the Bitcoin exchange OKCoin just announced that they raised $10 million in a Series A round. I wrote an article on Coindesk about this, that I copy/paste below. The original article is here.

OKCoin, the exchange claiming to be China’s largest by trading volume, has announced a $10m Series A funding round.

The investment round was led by Ceyuan, one of China’s earliest venture capital firms, followed by Mandra CapitalVenturesLab and numerous high-profile angel investors.

Despite the nation’s recent crackdown on cryptocurrencies, it seems Chinese venture capitalists are still bullish on bitcoin exchanges and the currency itself.

Bitcoin in China

Back in November 2013, the focus of the bitcoin community was on China – the world’s hub for bitcoin trading. At that time, BTC China was the biggest exchange in the world, having managed to raise a $5m Series A funding round from Lightspeed Venture Partners (Snapchat, Nest). There were even rumours that a bigger round was in the works for the young company.

However, things change quickly. After the Chinese government began regulating bitcoin in December, trade volume plummeted and the world’s top exchange was no longer Chinese.

Local exchanges came up with creative solutions for customers to continue to buy and sell bitcoin, and players like Huobi and OKCoin claimed to pass BTC China in their daily trade volume, although these figures have been the subject of much dispute.

OKCoin has grown rapidly over the past few weeks and is now the biggest Chinese exchange, according to its CEO Star Xu. He claims the exchange’s current daily trade volume is approximately 50,000 bitcoins per day.

Interestingly, on top of that, the exchange allegedly trades 5 million litecoins per day. The company claims that at its peak it reached over 300,000 bitcoin and 13 million litecoin trades.

Future growth

Mr Feng Bo, founder and partner at Ceyuan, commented that he has a tremendous amount of confidence in the future of bitcoin and the continued growth of OKCoin:

“We are delighted to invest in the pioneer of China’s bitcoin exchanges; given the company’s leadership under Star Xu and his team, we know there is much more good news ahead.”

Ceyuan is a well-known fund with investments in successful Chinese companies like Qihoo 360 (NASDAQ: QIHU), Light in the Box (NASDAQ: LITB), UC Web andVANCL – among others.

Interestingly, Silicon Valley investor Tim Draper was involved in the round, as a partner of VenturesLab. He and his son Adam remain active in bitcoin-related investments, mainly via Adam’s Boost.vc incubator where Tim is a mentor. Tim also invested in OKCoin’s angel round.

OKCoin overseas

The investment in OKCoin will be used to expand the team, fund product research and development, further security enhancements, but also to expand OKCoin’s operations beyond China.

This a different strategy from the other Chinese exchanges and it may prove to be a smart move, given the current regulations in the state.

Mark Mai, VentureLab’s China partner, stated that as the regulatory environment in regions such as Singaporethe US and Hong Kong becomes clearer, it will open up opportunities for OKCoin to operate in geographies where it can offer maximized safety and protection for OKCoin clients.

Mai said that the growth of virtual currency is inevitable, and that many countries are coming to terms with the fact that they have to regulate these currencies, because their citizens are using them regardless.

He added that OKCoin welcomes oversight because he believes it will help the company to serve its customers better, allowing them to open up regulated bank and trading accounts so it can engage in third-party clearance and settlement.

All eyes will be on OKCoin’s global expansion in these uncertain times. Will the exchange make it as a large player outside China? Only time will tell.

 

Auroracoin: Innovative experiment or innovative scam?

Auroracoin logo

A new cryptocurrency was created in February, the Auroracoin. It is comparable to Bitcoin (actually it’s based on Litecoin, but that would be too technical for this blog post) and on March 25 every citizen of Iceland will get 31.8 Auroracoins. For free. Just by using their ID number.

That in itself is an interesting experiment, because what will happen when everybody gets a small amount of a crypto currency? Will people start using it and create a second economy or will it not take off? When I first heard about it last month I did not really believe it would work but I still followed the coin a bit.

When Auroracoin was launched the value was very small, so 31 coins did not have a lot of value. But then something unexpected happened: people outside Iceland started to buy the currency before it was even distributed to the citizens of Iceland and the price shot up. Last Friday it was worth about $7 I think, so the total value of the 31 coins would be about $220. At that amount of money it would be likely that most people would claim their coins and maybe start using them.

Auroracoin market cap

But what happened over the weekend is unbelievable. The coin’s price exploded, and from $7 on Friday it is now worth over $66 per coin! (Update: while writing this post the price went up to $80 per coin!!!) That means that each person in Iceland will suddenly get over $2000 at the current market value. What might happen now, is that most people will sell the coins the moment they receive them and so the price will plummet. And of course traditional media will pick up the story saying that a Bitcoin experiment showed that people do not want to use Bitcoin.

Or something else might happen: maybe, just maybe, the hackers who created Auroracoin are just some very smart guys who created a hype to get rich quickly. The total value of the coins that they created last month is now worth over $700 million. Today over $17 million was traded, so they have a huge incentive to just forget about the whole experiment and slowly start selling their coins. They could earn a few million dollars per day over the next 22 days (until the coin should be launched on March 25). Not bad for a few weeks of work.

I am not saying that this will happen, but after the Mt. Gox disaster last week nothing surprises me anymore. It turns out that the name of the person that created the coin does not exist in reality. That does not mean that this is a scam, because Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin’s creator is also a pseudonym. Coincidentally Sathoshi holds about 1 million Bitcoins which as today’s market prices is alos worth about $700 million!

Let’s just say there is a big incentive for the creators not to distribute the coins and make themselves rich beyond belief. If they decided to do so, probably nobody would even be able to sue them. The perfect financial crime!

We will find out on March 25 whether the so-called Iceland airdrop will really take place. I personally think it will happen (I still believe that most people are intrinsically good), but I would not be surprised if the whole idea turns out to be a big scam.

Page 1 of 7312345»10...Last »