How I survived my 20th Consumer Electronics Show

My CES combat gear.

I survived another Consumer Electronics Show. I believe this is my 20th time at the biggest tech trade show in North America. After five days in Las Vegas, I’m tired but not sick. I’m still writing stories from all of the events and booths I saw at the event, which drew more than 170,000 people to view 3,800 exhibitors across more than 2.47 million square feet of space.

But I’d like to take a moment in this post to explain the small arsenal of gear that I used to survive the show. I’m also open to ideas on how I can do it better in the future. So please supply me with your feedback.

I’ve written 69 stories about CES, during the event and a period leading up to it. But sometimes there’s a story behind the stories. Did you ever wonder what it takes to bring readers the best coverage you can at a massive event full of 6,000 other tech writers? That’s what I’m here to tell.

Parachuting into Vegas

The crowded press event that opened the whole affair.

Above: The crowded press event that opened the whole affair.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Our team (four writers, a freelancer, and a surprise guest writer) prepared early. So early, in fact, that I booked my arrival for Sunday instead of Monday. The show was pushed back a day this year, and I decided to come in early. That was a lucky decision, as storms and fog hit Las Vegas on Monday, resulting in a lot of canceled flights.

I brought two bags with me, a backpack and a shoulder bag. I also brought my roller cart, but those bags were banned this year. I kept the shoulder bag as light as possible, and left the backpack and roller cart in the trunk of my car. I finished off some stories on Monday morning and made my way to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. I drove to self-parking with my colleague, Stephen Kleckner, who was at his first CES. I logged exactly where I parked by dropping a pin on my Apple Maps location. I also wrote it down in my notes. I’ve had to search for rental cars in multi-story garages before, and that’s not fun.

We walked a quarter mile to the convention center and got my badge. Mine wasn’t actually ready. But I was verified soon enough, and they stuck a green “security approved” sticker on my bag. That was the first time since 9/11 that I had my bag searched at CES.

The line for CES Unveiled party.

Above: The line for CES Unveiled party.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

I went to the press room, huddled with my colleagues, and then went on to three events. The first two were talks about CES trends and global tech forecasts. The third was the annual CES Unveiled party, where the press could gorge on food and tables of new tech products. My Dell XPS 13-inch laptop survived that challenge easily, as I never had to break out the spare Toshiba Satellite laptop. I rolled my roller bag around at that event and eventually just hid it under a table. I took pictures with my Nikon Coolpix 610 point-and-shoot camera, and I took occasional pictures with my iPhone 6 and shared them to Facebook and Twitter. I went on to Nvidia’s press conference.

That’s where I had my first trouble, as I couldn’t get on the Internet on the hotel WiFi or on my T-Mobile MiFi modem. T-Mobile, by the way, has pretty bad reception just about anywhere I go, at least compared to Verizon. I’m thinking about switching back, if Verizon ever gets its data plan together. Our content management system was slow, and it took forever to post. I had to write offline in Notepad and then post when I could. I was only able to post by moving to the back of the room, where the WiFi worked. Overall, the first day was a breeze.

Press day

Ford's CEO Mark Fields on stage at CES 2016.

Above: Ford’s CEO Mark Fields on stage at CES 2016.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

The second day was the Day of Days for a tech writer. (Yes, that’s my reference to the D-Day episode in Band of Brothers). It’s the press conference day when 6,000 journalists descend upon CES. I had to get up at 5:45 am and head over to the Mandalay Bay for a 7:30 am press conference by Ford. My colleagues went to the FitBit press event at the same time. That was the beginning of a nonstop day that would last until 1030 pm.

The Ford event lasted for a half hour. I wrote two posts during the middle of it and moved on the 8 am LG press event. It was crowded, so I didn’t get a great seat. But I was able to knock out a few stories, even while my colleagues watched on livestreams. During the day, my off-site colleagues helped by capturing screen shots during the livestreams, so I wouldn’t have to post images at times when the WiFi was bogged down.

I made my way to the Panasonic event, the Qualcomm press conference, and a Ford interview. During all of these events, I had my trusty Sony IC Recorder, the ICD-UX533, a voice recorder that captures sound with pretty good quality. As a backup, I had my old Olympus WS-311M recorder. I didn’t have to change batteries for the Sony recorder during the entire length of CES. I fueled up for lunch at a Johnny Rockets, but they lost my order. They eventually gave me my food for free, but it made me late for the Qualcomm press event.

In between events, my colleague Harrison Weber and I listened to a Google Hangouts staff meeting call on his Mac, as I couldn’t get it to work on my machines. Then all five of us went into the Samsung press event. Surprisingly, we had good Internet connections with the Mandalay Bay conference center’s WiFi. So we wrote our hearts out. If you notice that we did more stories on Samsung that day than at other press events, it is because we had good Internet access. Not because we were all Samsung fanboys and fangirls.

Next, as soon as Samsung was over, I had to rush to the Sony event at the Las Vegas convention center. During that ride, my colleagues noticed their phones were getting low on battery. Mine was fine as I had a Mophie case that charged my iPhone 6. The Mophie case, as well as a separate Zendure charging battery pack, turned out to be lifesavers during CES. Not once did I run out of phone juice.

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Keurig Kold can make good seltzer water and bad margaritas

Keurig Kold can make cold beverages, from strawberry margaritas to Coca-Cola.

Keurig Green Mountain made its name for making coffee at home using pods that it brews with hot water. But the Keurig Kold can do the same for cold beverages. I tried it out at the 2016 International CES, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas last week. Now the machine can make Rita’s & Tina’s margaritas and Mojitos.

The Keurig Kold can make Coca-Cola from pods.

Above: The Keurig Kold can make Coca-Cola from pods.

Image Credit: Keurig

You peel a foil sticker off the pod, place it in the machine, and hit the button to brew. The pods have little beads that create the carbonation. You can make everything from Coca-Cola to strawberry margaritas. It takes 60 to 90 seconds.

I tried out a seltzer water pod. It turned out to be good, complete with carbonation. My friend Chris Morris said he tried the strawberry margarita — and it was terrible. Cnet’s editors did blind taste tests, and they said they found they could almost always tell the difference between the real thing and the Keurig versions.

The Keurig Kold ranges from $300 to $370. The pods are $4 for a pack of four. So you’ll have to make a lot of drinks at home to justify the cost of the Keurig Kold. Across Keurig Hot and Keurig Kold can together make more than 575 beverages. You can make Snapple drinks, iced teas, flavored waters, sodas like Dr Pepper, and sports hydration drinks.

The Keurig Kold cocktail mixer pods do not contain alcohol. You can add your own alcohol if you wish. The idea is to create “perfectly portioned ingredients to ensure quality cocktails without time-consuming, messy preparation.”

So there you have it. Keurig Kold: Just in case you don’t want to shake your drinks, I guess. Or just in case you don’t want to reach into a refrigerator to get a can of a possibly less-expensive real drink.

Keurig Kold machine makes cold drinks from pods.

Above: Keurig Kold machine makes cold drinks from pods.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Here’s a video of the Keurig Kold in action.

CES2016 - 6    

A Vegas Drone Rodeo In The Rain

tito is cold Just like last year, we paid a visit to the annual Drone Rodeo in the Nevada desert ahead of the first day of CES this year. Unlike last year, though, the weather was horrible. As we arrived at the Clark County Shooting Complex (and no, drone shooting wasn’t on the program), it was already windy and miserably cold. After about ten minutes, it started raining. Unsurprisingly, drones… Read More

The craziest party at CES: Microsoft at the Omnia nightclub at Caesars Palace

The Microsoft party at CES 2016.

Only in Las Vegas would you expect to see a party like this.

The craziest party that I attended at the Consumer Electronics Show was the Microsoft event on Thursday night at the Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace.

The room was jam-packed, and it was clearly the place to be at CES, the biggest tech trade show in North America. I’m not sure how the branding psychology goes here. But without a doubt, this was a party full of cool people having fun. They were at a Microsoft party. Therefore, Microsoft is cool. And that’s why it spent a lot of money on this thing. There were lots of folks from the public there too, and they presumably paid their way in. So it probably wasn’t quite as expensive to put on as it looked. Still, there was evidence of money thrown around everywhere, like the women in Stormtrooper outfits.

When I got there, a huge crowd of people were waiting outside. I had to text a special VIP escort with a secret message. “Forward Unto Dawn.”

The man called me back on my smartphone. He came walking out, gave me a yellow wrist band, and then escorted me to his boss. The boss stamped my wrist. He took me into the club and handed me off to another man, who also stamped my wrist.

He took me to two VIP tables that were fully occupied. By fully occupied, I mean there were people dancing everywhere, and others were standing on the seats in order to get a view.

There was expensive stuff there, like a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne.

Dom Perignon bottle

Above: Dom Perignon bottle

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

I didn’t drink, except for a couple of orange juices. This was not a party for talking. Steve Aoki, a world-famous DJ, was the headliner.

Darth Vader descended from the ceiling on a trapeze-like thing.


Darth Vader at Microsoft party.

Above: Darth Vader at Microsoft party.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

He came down and took a selfie with a guest. Then he returned to the ceiling. After that, a group of sexy women in Stormtrooper outfits came out, carting what I believe was a very expensive bottle of whiskey to the VIP tables. They carried the bottle in a special Darth Vader Tie Fighter.

Microsoft CES

Later on, scantily clad women descended from the ceiling on trapezes.

A woman hangs from the ceiling at the Omnia nightclub.

Above: A woman hangs from the ceiling at the Omnia nightclub.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

This was standard Las Vegas. Then Aoki came out and the crowd started yelling, “A-O-Ki, A-O-Ki, A-O-Ki!”

A countdown ensued. Aoki came to the turntable and keyboard. He started jumping up and down. And the crowd went wild. I sat on the top of the vinyl chairs, soaking it in. The place was filled with beautiful people — and a bunch of nerds. They occupied every inch of space, from the dance floor to the second floor balcony.

They were inches apart and jumping up and down. One woman pushed past me, tugging along a visibly sick friend. They just brushed past without a word, nearly knocking me off the couch.

Later on, I left with another guest. He said, “Can you imagine people live like this every day here? This kind of party is going on in every nightclub in every hotel, every night.”

For me, it was a rare glimpse into a side of the tech world that I hadn’t run into in 25 years of tech writing. And it was a crazy scene. I am sure it lasted hours after I left. Thankfully, I missed the part where Aoki threw full sheet cakes into the crowd.

The host from Microsoft said, “By design I allow folks from the public to attend, so it is already well-documented on social media. My intent is that my guests truly kick back and relax and have fun vs. have a more work-oriented corporate party, so lots of folks are sharing pictures/videos as part of their fun.”

Parrot’s glider-like Disco drone can fly 50 mph and stay airborne for 45 minutes

The Parrot Disco at CES 2016.

Parrot has created a unique drone that can fly for 45 minutes on a single charge and reach speeds up to 50 miles per hour. The Parrot Disco was unveiled at the 2016 International CES, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas last week. It is the Swiss company’s latest entry in one of tech’s fastest-growing markets.

About 2.9 million drones are expected to sell this year, according to an estimate by the Consumer Technology Association. Forecasts suggest the civilian drone market could be a multibillion dollar market in a few years. And Parrot’s booth was one of many in a whole section of exhibits for drone companies at CES.

The Disco is like a flying wing, but it has a motor. It can fly itself or follow instructions from you on an app. The drone can take off and land by itself, using its own autopilot. If you use the Parrot Skycontroller, you can get a first-person view on a tablet screen. You don’t need any training to fly the drone.

Parrot Skycontroller (sold separately) flies the Parrot Disco drone.

Above: Parrot Skycontroller (sold separately) flies the Parrot Disco drone.

Image Credit: Parrot

The drone has a wireless range of 2 kilometers. If it goes outside the range, it is smart enough to return on its own. It has built-in navigation that enables it to return to where you are located. When it returns, it can land in a linear way, or circle in on a landing site.

If you pilot the drone, you simply control the direction it flies, and the auto assist will keep the aircraft stable. The ultrasound sensor and camera on the bottom help keep the Disco stable, and it has a sensor in the nose that can slow it down if it goes too fast. The nose camera can take 14-megapixel images or record high-definition videos. You can record the video or stream it to another device.

“You can fly it to the ground yourself,” said Frederick Pirat, one of the designers of the drone, in an interview with VentureBeat. “Or it can land in a linear way or circle down.”

The drone can shoot video in 1080p video. You can wear 3D glasses and view the screen. It will make you feel like you are flying in the air. Parrot uses its own processor to power the drone and its camera.

While the drone is big, it is surprisingly light at 1.5 pounds.

“We wanted to fly a long time, up to 45 minutes, and that’s why we needed the big wings,” Pirat said.

The Disco will debut in 2016, but the price hasn’t been set yet.

Check out the Parrot disco below, in a video with music that could win an Academy Award.

CES2016 - 6    

4 investment mistakes I won’t make in 2016


The start of a new year is a good time to reflect on what went wrong in the prior year and how to avoid making the same mistakes again. For early stage venture capitalists like myself, some degree of failure is inevitable. But, with the clarity of hindsight, here are a few mistakes I plan to avoid in 2016.

1. Founder red flags

The first and largest mistake in my venture capital experience as a whole happened again last year. It’s an easy mistake to identify in retrospect. Sometimes we get excited about the prospect of the problem being solved or the disruption that a particular startup is promising and we don’t listen to that nagging voice in the back of our heads raising concerns about the founder. If there are any doubts about the founder’s character, passion, or investment in the startup’s success, then give credence to that voice raising concerns and move on — do not invest. At my firm, Sand Hill East, we made a couple of investments this past year in management teams that we had some concerns with, but we allowed ourselves to be persuaded because the technology was so impressive or the space was red hot.

Leading a startup is hard and requires the right team. Never settle for anything less than a strong, properly-focused management team from the start.

To borrow and adapt a philosophy from Warren Buffett, my New Year’s resolution is to employ a “20-slot rule.” His rule states that an investor has a 20-slot card for his/her investment lifetime. Every investment made should qualify as a founder and company I view as top 20 for my investment lifetime. Under this approach, you learn selectivity. Don’t invest because it’s a hot space or the technology seems impressive. If the founder/founding team isn’t top 20, then pass on the deal.

 2. The “almost done” product

Investing in any technology company that does not have a shippable product is a mistake. Unless the founder is Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, you are investing too early with way too much risk. Don’t believe it when founders say the product is “almost done.” I have seen “almost done” take anywhere from 3 months to 3 years. Wait.

Warren Buffet said, “I’ve never swung at a ball while it’s still in the pitcher’s glove.” And that’s good advice to follow.

Unless the product is a cure for cancer or a self-charging iPhone, wait until the product is out in the market before investing. I can almost guarantee that you will have another chance to invest in the company at a very similar level after the product has shipped.

Let me qualify this point by saying products are never “finished.” In the words of LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

Some founders acknowledge the Lean Startup principles of the minimum viable product yet find many reasons to prolong making their product available to the general market. Your product will not be perfect; there will be bugs, there will be dissatisfied customers — that’s a fact. But experience has shown that some early stage companies cannot ship a product that they don’t view as near perfect. In these situations, regardless of how much pressure you apply, they will not ship a product and iterate in rapid fashion.

3. Outsourced tech

Technology is a strategic tool that cannot be outsourced. Think of the situations where technology isn’t a core asset and you most likely have a business that is easily replicable.

Early on, I made the mistake of investing in a company that outsourced the development of key parts of its software product. The developers were top notch with a sterling record of working with many blue chip technology customers, many of whom were public. Their work never had any issues, the problem was, they were not employees of the startup. They were learning and building up skills for other clients while working on the startup’s product.

Regardless of how closely you work with outsourced developers, they are not your employees. Their number one priority is their company, not yours. They are working on your product because you are paying them. The knowledge base and experience they gain while working on the product should be an asset to your company. Rather, it becomes an asset to their development studio. Furthermore, when times are tough, which is quite often the norm in the early-stage world, these developers will not be the ones who will persevere to bring your company through the challenges; they will likely move on to the next job with little regret.

4. Investing outside core competency

The core competency at my investment firm is technology with a particular focus on FinTech, software, and the enterprise. Technology is such a large and ambiguous term that it encompasses companies that are on the periphery of being labeled a “tech company.” We have had some successes investing outside of our core competency. But when you invest in something outside your core competency and trouble sets in, there is little you can do to help, and that can lead to big failures.

I invested in a music technology company that was well outside my core competency, but I was wowed by an amazing video they produced that showed compelling applications of the technology. Instead of stepping back and reviewing my core competencies, I jumped in to be a part of the next SoundCloud without the usual rigor i apply to new investments, partly because I did not know the right questions to ask. Down the road, I showed it to a friend in the industry who was skeptical, asking questions about the music labels’ involvement that I had not thought were germane. The questions were important, and the company did not have good answers. I immediately felt that sinking feeling in my chest that I hadn’t felt since I was a portfolio manager watching helplessly as one of my investments was halted for pending bad news. Lesson: Don’t lose your discipline regardless of how cool and sexy a technology appears.

When you invest in a company that is solving for issues and opportunities in business segments that you know well, you are well positioned to help them navigate when they hit the inevitable twist or turn. Whether it is the right person to talk to inside of a customer prospect, the right hire to fill an identified gap, or simply strategic advice on a product – you are in a position to provide grounded and helpful advice. You lose that edge when you reach outside your core area.

Staying grounded

I’m optimistic about opportunities for 2016. Early stage investing is full of twists and turns and, yes, oftentimes failures. But by being reflective and honest with ourselves about past mistakes, we can move forward with greater awareness of our blind spots and help bring some exciting new technologies into existence this year.

Josh Burwick is a managing partner at Sand Hill East Ventures. He previously managed technology portfolios at Moore Capital, Pia Capital, and GLG Partners and worked at Goldman Sachs in the technology sector for the Investment Research and Institutional Research Sales departments. He blogs at, and you can follow him on Twitter: @jburwick.

The $79 Endless Mini aims to reach billions without PCs

Endless Mini is a $79 computer.

There are still billions of people in the world who don’t have a personal computer. The Endless Mini is for them.

The new ball-shaped computer from Endless is a $79 machine aimed at bringing the next four billion people into the information age, said Matt Dalio, CEO and chief of product at Endless. He showed off the Endless Mini at the 2016 International CES, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas last week.

Dalio, who spoke with VentureBeat in an interview, started the company in 2012 to create a fully functional desktop PC with an elegant design. It looks like a small bowling ball, with a strip of color, and isn’t intimidating. The PC supports the latest Bluetooth and Wi-Fi standards and is built to work in regions where there are low-bandwidth broadband connections, or regions without access to the Internet.

Matt Dalio shows off the Endless Mini, a $79 computer at CES 2016.

Above: Matt Dalio shows off the Endless Mini, a $79 computer, at CES 2016.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

The Endless Mini comes with 100 preloaded applications, like Wikipedia. All that you need to get started is a keyboard, mouse, and some kind of monitor — most will use their TV as a monitor. Storage is available in two options: 24GB or 32GB (for $20 extra). The machine has an ARM Cortex-A processor (Amlogic S805 quadcore), 1GB of random access memory, three USB ports, HDMI output, composite video output, an Ethernet port, and its own Linux-based operating system, dubbed Endless OS.

As for why it is shaped like a ball, Dalio said, “We do a ton of user research and what became clear through all of our research is that people [in these markets] want things that are bold, shiny, colorful. They want things that will draw attention and make thems proud to have it standing proudly on their desks. We designed across a range of aesthetics and this was the one that clearly jumped from our users’ mouths as their favorite.”

Dalio said there are 75 people in the company, with only three dealing with hardware. Most are focused on the operating system, which has a full window system. Applications include word processing, presentations, spreadsheets, games, and Khan Academy educational lectures.

“If people don’t have Internet, what do they do?” Dalio said. “We need to make a computer with Internet, without Internet, and something in between where it is spotty.”

Endless is targeting emerging markets and has hired new people in China, Brazil, and Mexico.

Of course, there are lots of cheap computers out there, like the Raspberry Pi. And there are smartphones aplenty too. But not everyone has access to cellphone service, and Dalio pointed out that a Raspberry Pi computer winds up being more expensive, at $91, with all of its components.

“The truth is, hardware is a commodity,” Dalio said. “The real value of our company is in the people who are focused on the applications.”

Here’s a video of Dalio explaining the Endless Mini (along with photobombers).

Reimagining In the wake of the recent suspension and growing calls for permanently banning’s app (called Free Basics) in India, it seems a course-correction is now unavoidable for the initiative. A step in the right direction was announcing the developer platform in May 2015, allowing developers to submit their web apps for consideration. Read More