Last day in San Francisco: ART

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Saturday, September 17, was my last day in San Francisco, and the only one I had with some spare time.

After breakfast, I went to but some gifts from Japan Town and then headed to Union Square, for the Korean Day (Chuseok) culture festival.

Then I went to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to check out Tom Sachs’ Space Program: Europa. As I feared, after the failure of Sony Outsider, Tom Sachs’ obsession with demonstrating his hand-made “bricolage style” continues. Further more, it feels like yet another bourgeois manboy “fun” exhibition. It is as if the art world is taking a more and more polarized position as if an artist and her work can only fit one of these buckets: escapist detachment from the hardships of everyday life, snobbish detachment from popular accessibility, or rejection of any institution or establishment.

My suspicion that Space Program: Europa was all about the first option was enhanced by the fact that I did not see any African-American person there, although I was there for quite a while. So I decided to test my thesis.

I wanted to go to the Museum of the African Diaspora, but someone told me it was closed today for a private event (later I found out it closed early, but I could have gotten in), so I went to the nearby San Francisco Museum of Modern Art instead.

The lack of diversity was beyond appalling. It was mesmerizing. In the SF MoMA store everyone was white, many blonde, tall, with perfect teeth… are you kidding me? After reading everywhere about it, and visiting so many tech companies, I knew this city has a diversity and divide problem, but this was ridiculous.

I walked into the museum, and the lack of diversity remained apparent, although diminished by the presence of a healthy number of tourists. Very sad, but it was time to focus my attention on the art.

What a collection! Of course, I enjoyed the usual suspects (Rothko, Calder, Judd, Warhol, Serra, Picasso, Mondrian, Kelly, Martin, Twombly, Sherman, Murata, Duchamp, etc) but I also got to experience some works from Roy Lichtenstein and Gerhard Richter that were not their best known (most certainly I did not know about those pieces), which gave me a completely new appreciation for them, and reminded me that you can’t judge an artist by one piece, just like you can’t judge a book by its cover.

I also enjoyed very much the exhibition “Typeface to Interface”, which had it been exhibited in NY it would have been packed with hipsters, but here it was full of techies (interface designers perhaps?). Special mention: the mesmerizing Sagmeister & Walsh video “Now is better”:

So with one delightful overdose of art, I headed to the airport to fly back to London.

In Silicon Valley for bilateral meetings with Uber, Berkeley and General Electric

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  • Group photo at Berkeley
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Friday, September 16, I attended 3 “bilateral meetings”.The first one took place in downtown San Francisco, in Uber HQ.

The first one took place in downtown San Francisco, in Uber, which is in the same building as Square and across the street from Twitter.

That same morning there was a big story about how much money Uber is losing, and how artificially high their valuation is, but of course, nobody wanted to talk about that. Instead, we focused on big data analysis, regulation, and the interesting angles that Uber is taking.

As you can see from the photographs, they have amazing offices. They have put the truckload of cash they received from VCs to use: a ton of geeks walking around with laptops, huge screens with snazzy ads and dashboards, designer furniture…

After Uber, we took the bus to the number 1 public university in the world: Berkeley University. At the Walter A. Haas School of Business, we attended lectures and met with Prof. Alexandre Bayen, Prof. John Zysman, Prof. David Charron, Gigi Wang and Peter Minor.

Most of what they explained is public knowledge, although Prof. Charron’s packed talk about the history and idiosyncrasy of Silicon Valley was quite enlightening. Two interesting points he made:

  • The growth in investment was largely motivated by low interest rates, which led to an abundance of cash, and greed fueled by previous unexpected tech investment successes.
  • Corporate VC reduction in investment is not caused by a perceived bubble, but because it is cyclical and now they want to see how the big group of recent unicorns are going to fare out, before going back in.

After having lunch with them, we went to the Sutardja Dai Hall – Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology, where they explained a bit more about the Citris Foundry.

To end the day we went to GE Digital, General Electric’s world HQ for software, where their Chief Experience Officer told us all about their new platform (Predix). Then we got to see first hand how an industrial-base company is trying to be “cool and hip”, by touring their Connected Experience Lab, and their Customer Design Center.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand and love the fact that corporations that are over 100 years old want to stay relevant and cool. But somehow it feels “fake” and “forced” when it is not embedded in your company DNA. I mean a Yoda post-it portrait, an Arduino-dispensing vending machine (next to three never-used 3D printers), a retro-arcade, or a mural that says “insert garage here” can be seen as “decoration” and following (not setting) trends. But trying to convince visitors and customers that your researchers are top-notch because you can interact with Google Maps on a huge screen panel via a Microsoft Kinect, or asking your customers to play Candy Crush on a giant touch-screen so they can “relax” in a break between long work sessions, felt insulting to the spirit of true innovation and research. But then again, that’s clueless copy-cat marketing and mindless corporate clones following directives for you.

On the way back to San Francisco we got to experience one of SF’s legendary traffic jams.

In Silicon Valley for meetings with Microsoft, Google Ventures, LinkedIn, and party at Idean

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Thursday, September 15 I had several meetings in Silicon Valley.

The first one was with the Director of Strategic Investments at the Microsoft Technology Center in Mountain View. Since it is business related, I won’t comment anything about that very interesting meeting.

The second one was with a Partner at Google Ventures. The discussion was to the point and provocative. It is interesting to note that Google and Google Ventures are NOT the same company. Not only they are independent, but quite often their interests in startups collide. As a matter of fact he considered that given the stage of my company, and that they have already invested in a company in a similar space, it was better to contact directly with Google (I am already in contact with them).

The third meeting was more of a workshop at LinkedIn where they gave the whole group an in-depth presentation about Human Capital and Deep Economic Graph. I’m glad I told my buddy Spaniard entrepreneurs Javier and Juan from beBee to get a picture taken as if they were “kicking LinkedIn’s butt” on stage and in the front logo monolith because I truly believe their professional social network is more interesting.

After that long day, we still had some strength left for a party. Risto, Founder & CEO of Idean (a UX company) threw a nice party with DJ, several VR sets for everyone to try, and a few speakers, like the VP of Innovation at Ericsson, and the VP of 20th Century Fox Interactive. A great way to end the day with remarkable hors d’oeuvres and networking!

San Francisco, day 5

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  • At KandL
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Wednesday, September 14 I spent the whole day at K&L Gates, one of the largest law firms in the world, which has customers like Microsoft (the “Gates” in K&L Gates is for Bill Gates’ father), Amazon, etc.

It was a typical upscale law firm setup: expensive video conference equipment and giant screens (I liked their “rear projector and mirror” trick) in a high-rise building with impressive views, and some art, like the “flying dildos” in reception.

I met with some of their top lawyers, all partners, and we had meetings around Data Protection, Term Sheet terms, Corporate Governance, Immigration, M&A, and Patents (that was the shortest meeting, although an extremely interesting and very open-minded debate 😉

I learned a lot, and it was extremely useful. Of course, these people are quite sharp; you have to be to charge $1,000 per hour.

Lunch was just “average”, but the wine and cheese they served at the end of the day were really awesome.

On my way back to the hotel I had a telephone call from Chinese investors I had to take. While talking on the phone and walking I realized a short homeless man was following me very closely, in an erratic pattern. Concerned that I might accidentally trip him, or that he would become distracting to my call, I entered the Saks Fifth Avenue store on Union Sq. Then he stood outside, with a frustration look in his face, banged the glass door, and left.

I did not make much of it and apologized to the three store attendants that witnessed it. What surprised me is how horrified they were. They wanted to call the police, and tried to persuade me to not go back out the door! What kind of irrational fear is this? Are the class divide tensions generated by a growing inequality leading to fear/aggression? We need to put an end to this sad situation where the 0.1% militarizes the secluded public areas where they transit in order to feel secure until they reach their luxury bunkers.

Ironically, I also saw “fanboy homeless”: rich brand-obsessed young people sleeping in the street in order to queue so they can have the “privilege” of owning the next gadget by a particular brand.

But, oh the marvels of a simple mind, all that was easily left behind as soon as I stepped into Kinokuniya bookstore, and later sunk my teeth into a homemade green tea daifuku filled with amazingly silken anko at Kissako.

I won the Anti-Patents Policy Hackathon

On September 13, Mind the Bridge hosted a policy hackathon sponsored by Dell at the MTB Innovation Center in San Francisco. The Dell PolicyHack™ brought together entrepreneurs and U.S./EU policy experts to solve policy challenges. The goal is to productively brainstorm and to provide top-line thinking that can inspire and serve as basis to develop and implement full policies.

My team was formed by:

  • Sara R. Klucking (Section Chief, Innovation & Programs, Office of Science and Technology Cooperation, US Department of State)
  • Bogdan Ceobanu (Policy Officer, Startups & Innovation, European Commission)
  • David Hodgson (CEO, Hummingbird Labs)
  • me

The five teams had 75 minutes to come up with a policy solution to issue areas that impact entrepreneurs. Each team was then be given five minutes to pitch their solution to the panel of judges formed by:

  • Pēteris Zilgalvis (Head of Unit, Startups and Innovation, European Commission)
  • John Zysman (Professor Emeritus, Political Science, UC Berkeley)
  • Burton Lee (European Entrepreneurship, Stanford University)
  • Richard Boly (Principal, Beaurichly Llp)
  • Alberto Onetti (Chairman, Mind the Bridge and Startup Europe Partnership).

Master of ceremony was Kristen Mattern (Senior Government Affairs Manager, Dell). The issue areas were: funding, trade, migration, patents, and privacy. Obviously, I chose patents.

When I started telling my team my ideas about patents (basically, how to effectively end the system, since it is so broken and dysfunctional, and what would happen), they thought I was out of my mind. But I ended up convincing them with evidence. So finally my proposals were the ones I presented . We were supposed to present as a group, but Sara and David fled right before we were up for the presentation, and Bogdan “let me do the talking” and the answering of questions.

Although the other teams did a great job, my team won!

The award: to have my ideas written in a paper that will be presented to the European Commission as “expert policy advice”.

It’s ironic: over a decade after I was lobbying against software patents in the European Commission in Brussels, having Microsoft’s lobbyist as my main adversaries, now the European Commission takes my anti-patents ideas as expert advice, and Microsoft is my free-software company’s main partner. I guess time puts everything in its place.

That’s how you hack the system from inside.

Although I never believed that was the way to real and meaningful change, at least now I can say “been there, done that”.

San Francisco, day 4

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Tuesday September 13 was a day devoted to workshops, a policy hackathon, and a visit to Pinterest HQ.

As I have mentioned before, we have been fortunate to have a great group of mentors. In this case we enjoyed the following sessions in small groups:

  • Market growth with: the CEO of CorkBIC, a former Microsoft BizDev VP, and the co-Founder & Director of Blippar
  • Funding with: the Chair of Global Venture Forum, a Director at Woodside Capital, and a Partner at Delta Partners Group
  • M&A/IPO with: the Principal M&A Integration at Google, a Managing Partner at Woodside Capital, and a Partner at Penningtons Manches
  • Communication/PR with: the President of ActiveMedia, and the Associate Director at Oxygen PR

After that we had a policy hackathon competition (more about that in the next blog post).

To top the, yet again intense day, we went to visit Pinterest’s HQ.

EID at Computer History Museum in Mountain View

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Monday, September 12, was the European Innovation Day (EID) at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.

Although the museum is not open on Mondays, we had access to a few of the exhibits, like the one about the IBM 1401, the awesome PDP-1 (Creating the Hacker Culture), and autonomous vehicles (and yes, of course, I go into a Google driverless car, and took a selfie).

But the reason why we went there was not (only) to see the museum but to participate in the EID event.

In the morning the selected EU scaleups pitched their companies to a big group of Silicon Valley investors (from Google, Twitter, Samsung, Microsoft, Delta, Sky, etc) in a closed-door invitation-only event. They asked me to present Kanteron Systems the last because we have such a powerful story. And as a matter of fact, right after the pitch, I had investors from all over (USA, China, India…) talking to me and scheduling follow-up one-on-one meetings.

After a lunch break, we went into the auditorium for a packed session of talks. The roaster of speakers was top notch:

  • The keynote was by legendary investor Tim Draper
  • Paul Timmers, Director DG Connect, European Commission, talked about EU Policies
  • Betsy Masiello, Senior Director, Uber; and Melissa Blaustein, Allied for Startups, discussed Tech & Entrepreneurship vs. Policy in the EU
  • Rashmi Gopinath, Microsoft Ventures; Deepak Jeevankumar, General Catalyst Partners; and Michel Wendell, Nexit Ventures, discussed SV investors
  • Alberto Onetti, Mind the Bridge, introduced the very interesting research paper “EU vs. US: A deep analysis of exits from Mind the Bridge/Crunchbase
  • Lutz Finger, Quantum Physicist & Director Data Science & Data Engineering, LinkedIn; and Giovanni Iachello, Head of International and Data Products, LinkedIn, talked about The skills and economic graph
  • The Women 2.0 panel was formed by: Elizabeth Gore, Dell; Jessica Butcher, Blippar; and Camille Sailer, European American Chamber of Commerce; moderated by Nora Poggi, She Started It
  • How EU corporates are cracking Open Innovation” was discussed by Ernesto Ciorra, CIO, Enel; Prith Banerjee, CTO, Schneider; Giovanni Loser, Former GM, Illy Caffé; Eduardo Dominguez Puerta, COO, Airbus-SV; and Moderated by Henry Chesbrough, UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, “the Father of Open Innovation”
  • Krysten Jenci, Director, Office of Digital Services Industries, U.S. Department of Commerce; Audrey Plonk, Director, Government and Policy, Intel Corporation; moderated by John Miller, Vice President for Global Cybersecurity Policy and Law @ ITIC, discussed Perspectives on Privacy, Security & Data Flows
  • Willem Jonker, CEO, EIT Digital, talked about turning EU research into business
  • The “colorful note” was the panel titled “Startup heavens in Europe“, formed by Mikk Vainik, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Estonia; Francisco de la Torre Prados, Mayor of Malaga, Spain; Penny Harwood, London & Partners; moderated by Burton Lee, Stanford University
  • Pēteris Zilgalvis, Head of Unit DG Connect, European Commission closed the sessions

Nonetheless, the best part of all was to talk and network with all speakers and some other VIP guests afterward.

It was, definitely, quite an intense day.

San Francisco, day 2

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One of the things that strikes me the most in this trip is how many homeless there are in SF. The income inequality is so obvious and insulting, it hurts. I know this is not a “SF-only” problem, but here it is a lot more visible than in many other cities.

As I walk from Union Sq. to Tender Nob through Geary or O’Farrell streets, or as I go to work in SOMA, I see homeless and people in need all over the sidewalk. From all races, genders, and ages. But if you look at the street, you see Ferraris, Teslas, BMW and Mercedes-Benz all over. With their tinted windows “so they don’t have to endure the look of reality”.

I almost took a picture of a line of homeless people laying down on the sidewalk, next to a “dog day-care” building, but I did not want to make them more upset, and there were too many of them to ask for permission.

With my heart shrunk from sadness and fury, I reached the Mind the Bridge and Founders Space building where I spent the rest of the day in a workshop with mentors to prepare my presentation for tomorrow’s event, trying to focus and narrow our pitch (limited to 4 minutes).

The level of mentors was pretty good. People like the Managing Director at Woodside Capital, the Director of M&A at Opera, the Marketing Lead at VMWare, the Principal at Orange Silicon Valley, the US Partner at Salesforce Europe…

Once the long day was over, I bought some takeaway dinner from the Japanese supermarket around the corner, so I could get some work done in the room.

San Francisco, day 1

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After over 11 hours of flight from London in Virgin Atlantic, in which I caught up with movies I had not seen yet, I arrived in San Francisco Saturday, September 10.

Being as I am a sucker for all things Japanese, I got a room at the Hotel Kabuki, located in the middle of Japan Town.

I was tired from the long flight, but I took a walk around the Japan Center, and I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed going into Kinokuniya Bookstore, Daiso, Ichiban… so hard to resist not buying everything!

I had a light dinner (takoyaki and mitarashi dango) at Kissako Tea, watched how the sumo wrestlers finished their autograph signing, and walked back to the hotel with them (where I had fun calculating if the elevator’s capacity sign took into account those “extra-large” individuals).

3 days in Madrid

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August 22-24 my wife and I went to Madrid, since she had not been there before.

We stayed at the wonderful Hotel Villa Magna, in Paseo de la Castellana. A very discreet luxury hotel where every single detail is just right, from the room amenities to the “just right” breakfast buffet.

The first day we visited the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS), where the budget cuts really show, although it continues to be a reference in contemporary art. Picasso’s Guernica still moves me every time I see it.

We had dinner at the trendy creative tapas place Sala de Despiece with our friend Alvaro.

The next day we went to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in the morning, were invited to lunch at the brand new and awesome Gran Melia Palacio de los Duques, after which we walked to the Royal Palace, saw the Almudena Cathedral, and then visited the Prado National Museum, where organization is so terrible, they make visitors wait for over half an hour under the sun to buy tickets. We had cocktails while listening to live piano music at The Ritz Hotel, and then we walked through El Retiro Park (and its whimsical Crystal Palace) to reach our dinner destination: Mercado de Ibiza.

The last day we had a very hearty buffet breakfast before doing a car tour of the city and heading back to Valencia.