Holiday Hacks for Founders

I blew it. Everything was going so well. I started a 30 day blogging challenge, and was religiously disciplined about posting every day. I even posted after a 2-hour visit to the hospital when my...

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How to get your dream job

Ultimately, success in your dream job is about setting up your own parameters. Managing yourself. Measuring yourself. Planning yourself. It will not only help you get the job, but also to succeed...

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Water Tech in Israel

I embarked on a 30 day blogging challenge to restore my passion for writing (more about it here ) Please sign up to my newsletter to receive the latest updates. This was day fourteen. There is no...

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10 things I wished I knew when I first became an entrepreneur

“This defines entrepreneur and entrepreneurship?—?the entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.” – Peter F. Drucker I embarked on a 30 day...

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It’s the Culture, Stupid

Often, the founders project their own values on the company, shaping the culture. Many successful CEOs consider culture as the number one risk to their startups. Learn why it's important and what you...

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Jason Calacanis and European Unicorns

I embarked on a 30 day blogging challenge to restore my passion for writing (more about it here) Please sign up to my newsletter to receive the latest updates. This was day Ten. I was typing this on...

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The Rise of Intelligent Assistants

I embarked on a 30 day blogging challenge to restore my childlike curiosity for writing (more about it here). Please sign up to my newsletter to receive the latest updates. This is day nine.

Today I’d like to cover Intelligent Assistants. Perhaps this is cheating a bit, because it’s a post I originally published on Medium on June 22nd. Then I had played with my first two home assistants (Amazon Echo I bought for my mom and a Google Home I received as a gift) and realised the potential these devices have not only in the home, but very soon also in the car

This year, 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant at least once a month, doubling last year’s figure, forecasts eMarketer. I don’t normally like to predict things, but here’s one: Home assistants are here to stay.

Home assistants (connected speakers and screens used at home) will become mainstream and will join the list of basic appliances for the home.

It will be partly contributed by rapid decline in prices and bundles with mobile operators, cable /ISP providers etc. The manufacturers will just want you to have one. The use case will start as basic: they will power shopping for the home, digital media plays (images, videos, music, podcasts) and perhaps be the hub for managing all other connected appliances.

Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Alibaba already have a play in the space. Who’s next?

I predict that Facebook will come out with a home assistant in the next year, based on Mark’s pet project “Jarvis” (learn more about it here). The product will either be Facebook made hardware (maybe by someone from the Oculus team?) or a powerful digital app for Google Home, Apple’s Homepod and Amazon Echo/ Alexa. Microsoft will eventually launch one too, who knows, Maybe Twitter will have its own flavour with breaking news alerts and real-time updates: highlights from your sports games, live streaming and TV reminders. Of course, soon enough we’ll find the cheap Chinese version at Walmart.

Will Mark Zuckerberg’s pet project become the next big market for Facebook?

What’s at stake for the large tech companies? Data primarily, but also premium subscriptions and engagement. The first thing you’re asked when installing Google Home is to connect to a music service. There are currently only two options?—?Google Music (one month free, £9.99 thereafter) or Spotify (you must have a paid subscription to use it on Google Home). They are adding Soundcloud and Deezer soon, as announced on Google I/O in May. There’s no option to connect to YouTube, because it’s free. Same goes for the Echo?—?unless you’re a Prime subscriber, you’ll get limited usability with the Echo, but paying £79.99 unlocks TV, Music and other content.

Google home is positioned as “it’s your own Google, always there to help”. Google invested a lot in voice recognition is connecting the speaker to a long list of compatible partners.


Apple just joined the market with the HomePod, and is trying to differentiate on the quality of the speaker and the beauty of the design. You can see the differences in this helpful chart by Business Insider:


Apple Homepod - “A breakthrough speaker all round”

Apple Homepod – “A breakthrough speaker all round”


Amazon, the pioneer in the space, recently introduced Amazon Echo Showand added a screen to the speaker, as well as new capabilities like Alexa calling (Google just announced hands-free calling from Google Home at Google IO in May). Google is likely to follow with its own screen product shortly, but for now it’s focusing on connecting Google Home to the TV and showing content on the TV using voice commands. Google is already trying to catch up with the Echo’s 10,000 skills.


Amazon Echo Show - “Voice control your world”

Amazon Echo Show – “Voice control your world”

Amazon Echo Install base – source: Business Insider


On July 24th (about a month after originally publishing this post), my prediction came true! Facebook is rumoured to be working on a smart speaker with a 15 inch touch screen, according to Digitimes. The news were leaked though sources from the “upstream supply chain”. Instead of voice recognition functionality, the company will focus more on image display. The development of Facebook’s intelligent assistant is being handled by Facebook’s Building 8, under the leadership of Regina Dugan, former Google vice president of advanced technology and projects (Google ATAP) and veteran of DARPA. More on Techcrunch.

The Facebook smart speaker received a further boost yesterday, with the announcement of Facebook’s acquisition of Ozlo, a self described index of knowledge about the real world. Users can ask Ozlo’s bot questions and its AI-powered assistant can quickly answer thanks to “a knowledge graph containing over 2 billion entities”. This technology will no doubt be instrumental to power the new Facebook Home Assistant. You’ve read it here first folks! Ozlo will be joining the Messenger team. More on Business Insider.

Facebook’s conversational UI will fit well in the world of Smart Assistants


On July 3rd, Alibaba announced its own Alexa competitor which only speaks Chinese addressing the local Chinese Market.

The Tianmao JinglingX1 (Mandarin for “Tmall Genie”), offers voice-control over other connected smart home devices as well as on-demand weather, news updates, and streaming music. The Tmall Genie can also order products from Alibaba’s Tmall online shopping site. Amazon does not currently offer Chinese-language support for its Echo device.

Alibaba’s Tianmao JinglingX1 smart speaker


On July 4th news came out that Samsung is said to be making a smart speaker powered by its digital assistant Bixby. While Samsung already has a line of smart speakers, today they can only play music. Needless to say that this future smart assistant device will face steep competition from the get go, as Samsung is coming late to the party.

Samsung's Multiroom 360 speaker - a predecessor of a smart assistant speaker?

Samsung’s Multiroom 360 speaker – a predecessor of a smart assistant speaker?

Microsoft and Harman Kardon

On May 8th, a leak confirmed that Microsoft is also coming out with the Invoke speaker, a Cortana-powered smart speaker for the home and the car in partnership with tier one supplier to the automotive industry, Harman Kardon. The Invoke speaker will include 360-degree sound, Skype calling, and the ability to ask Cortana questions. Microsoft announced the product on May 8th, and it will be available this fall. More about it on the Verge.

The Invoke Hero is a Cortana powered smart speaker by Harman Kardon


On July 26th, Xiaomi announced a $45 smart speaker, called Mi AI. The Verge points out that it’s $130 cheaper than Amazon Echo. the six-microphone Mi AI Speaker features a digital assistant and lets users control IoT devices from Xiaomi and select third-parties; available in China from August; unclear if or when it will launch it other markets.

Xiaomi MI AI speaker – costs $130 less than Amazon Echo

Where is the Intelligent Assistant market going?

AI powered assistant, always on, connected to devices… sounds familiar? The connected speakers of today, will be the control hub for the smart home of the future, replacing our use of phones at home and perhaps being the predecessors of home robots. Think about it, if the Robot can fulfil our every request, stream in HD, chat with your pets, clean and run errands around the house, we’re pretty close to that already. In fact, an early version is already here: take a look at Kuri, by Mayfield Robotics.

That said, there are still significant  limitations in the voice human-machine interface, namely that we still find it a bit awkward talking to a device, especially in public. As AI improves along with voice recognition and the ability of these machines to understand accents and increase the functionality, I can imagine my kids growing with smart assistants in a natural way, and continue to use them in the car and home throughout the day. The new search interface may not be a google homepage/app.


Going with the Flow

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them—that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like“—Lao Tzu

I embarked on a 30 day blogging challenge to restore my childlike curiosity for writing (more about it here). Please sign up to my newsletter to receive the latest updates. Today is day eight.


Yours truly, July 31st 2011, San Francisco

Facebook Memories reminded me of this picture from 6 years ago today. I thought I’ll make it my daily blog post on going with the flow. It’s also an entertaining story.

InJuly 2011, while working at Google, I was on a business trip to San Francisco. I used to live in the city before I moved to London, and was happy to be back in town. I booked a hotel close to my old neighbourhood (Russian Hill) so I could hit my old coffee shops and restaurants.

I was totally jet lagged and woke up around 3:45 AM. Out of boredom, I turned on the TV, and the only program that wasn’t depressing news or infomercials was Jersey Shore. To be honest, I don’t know what’s worse. I watched two episodes out of boredom and felt I’m literally getting stupider so I have to get out of the room. The problem was that it was 6AM on a Sunday so everything was closed.

I used to love renting a bike and crossing the Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito, have a margarita by the water and take the ferry back. So I got dressed for the occasion and walked to the bike rental company. They were closed, and only due to open at 9:30 AM. Not wanting to go back to the room, I thought to myself, I’ll go for a quick run to Fort Mason, turn back around an get an early breakfast. So I started running.

Very quickly, I see a sign on the side of the road that said “Mile 2”. I figured I must be part of some kind of race, but I didn’t see anyone else running. Very quickly, people with numbers on their jerseys were running next to me, so I thought to myself, just keep going till I get tired. I had some money in my pocket for the bike rental, so worst case, I can get in a cab and get back to the hotel (this is pre-uber!).

The run was tiring but running alongside a large group of people filled me with adrenaline. The group was super diverse?—?young/old, male/female, I ran next to a woman for like 5 minutes at the same pace, and had to do a double take when I realised she had a prosthetic leg! By the time I got to Fort Mason, parents of fallen soldiers were cheering on the side of the road, encouraging people to continue and celebrate life. I felt like I had to go on.

When the adrenalin level came down and the sweat was pouring, I was able to refresh myself with a bit of water from one of those stands on the side of the road. There were also some healthy snacks (bananas) and gels. I was crossing the Golden Gate bridge, but instead of cycling, I was running it with thousands of other people. I felt connected to them somehow.

Long story short, I finished the San Francisco half marathon. But since I wasn’t planning for it, I wasn’t properly dressed for the occasion. Apologies in advance for this mental image. I was wearing a polo shirt. Not only it was drenched in water, but the chafing it caused on my nipples was so extreme, that even the water in the shower felt like too much friction. I had to literally throw baby powder on it and sleep without any covers for a couple of days ;-)

My conclusion: sometimes, you just want to go with the flow and as my friend Danny says “ride the weird wave”. I just went with it, and it stands out in my mind as one of the best experiences. The default state is not to do it.

I’d love to hear your stories of going with the flow. When is the last time you got out of your comfort zone? Did you experience positive results? Would you do it again? Thanks for reading!

Creating a movement

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” — Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

I’ve started a 30 day blogging challenge (more about it here and please sign up to receive the newsletter). This is day Seven.

Techbikers 2017 – finish line

Today let’s talk about movements. You must have seen Derek Sievers’ three minute TED talk, on how to create a movement. It’s an amusing video of a guy dancing shirtless in the park.

  • The leader needs to be willing to take a risk?—?you need to nurture your first followers as equals, it’s really about the movement, not you.
  • The first follower makes the leader a leader. Have the courage to show others have to follow. Leadership is over glorified.
  • A movement must be public. Be easy to follow!
  • Adding more people creates momentum?—?that’s the tipping point.
  • As more people join in, it’s no longer risky. Those who were watching things unfold, stand up and join the movement, as they don’t want to be ridiculed.
  • As so a movement is born :)

Of course, movements can bit a bit more complicated than a dance in the park, but very similar principles apply. I did a quick search online and came up a bit short. Fast Company came closest in the 4 Steps to Building a Successful Movement (Feb 2013).

To add more colour, I’ll draw examples from Techbikers, a non-profit bringing together the tech community around endurance cycling challenges, to bring education to children in the developing world, in partnership with Room to Read. We’re now over 500 strong, and have raised over $500,000 which were used to build 6 schools, 14 libraries and 300 scholarships for girls in Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam and Tanzania.

  1. A community forms around a common goal
    Great movements must have a broad human appeal. For your movement to really take off, you need to ask the question: “what mission could you pursue that society would care about?” note that this isn’t about making the best X in the world. It’s about social appeal. For us at Techbikers, we shared Room to Read’s belief that world change starts with educated children. All of us in tech are only there thanks to the education we received, and we hope to pay it forwards by helping kids in the places where help is needed most.
  2. The community has the power to mobilise resources
    To get s**t done, it takes a lot of work. You need a website, you need content, there’s logistics to take care of, payments to make… it’s often impossible to pay people with money, so movements use a different currency; the opportunity to do good. And so on Techbikers, we were fortunate to have participants. I love this quote:

“There are all kinds of power, but the power of ‘good’ is the greatest and most growing source in the universe”

3. The community finds solutions

Problems are inevitably going to arise. Create a brain trust, a small group of collaborators that gets together regularly to discuss the problems and propose solutions. Here’s the question to ask:

How can you create the structure – a daily work-out session, a brainstorm team – to creatively tackle problems as they appear?

4. The movement is accepted by (or replaces) the establishment

In the best case scenario, your movement is going to succeed. But starting and scaling require different skills. Think about what changes need to take place to take the movement to the next level. At Techbikers, we’re still figuring this one out!

While movements can have great power, I’d like to point that the obvious that not all movements are good?—?think about ISIS, Nazism, etc. Please use your power to change the world for good. Whether you’re a social entrepreneur, politician, or just a citizen making a difference, do good – it’s contagious!

Help us build more schools and libraries in the developing world by donating any amount, big or small. All proceeds go to Room to Read.

Creating a movement