When was the last time you felt truly alive?

While I was walking home tonight I was listening to a podcast episode as my subconscious was reliving and contemplating upon the lessons of the conversation I had earlier today with a successful bar/restaurant owner in Bogota.

The episode, from a highly recommended podcast called Invest Like The Best,  was a fascinating interview with a man called Boyd Varty who runs safari treks in which a group of people trek through the bush on foot; the trek then serving as a metaphor to put people in touch with their “inner wild self”, helping them sniff out the clues and signs of a path they should track and maybe pursue in life.

The conversation had been about hiring practices in Colombia, and how this guy thinks about hiring good staff.

As the mind is want to do, the combination of the conscious and subconscious brought to the top of my mind a question I had put a lot of thought into over the past 2 or 3 years during moments of both existentialism and exaltation: what makes me feel truly alive?

Having put a good amount of thought into it, my answers are as follows:

  • Feeling the natural high during a crisp morning run with the sun and the breeze on my face, or upon reaching a peak on a bike and getting ready to enjoy the downhill.
  • Sharing a communal dinner with interesting people, known and unknown.
  • Hosting a party in which friends are connecting with myself and one another in a very genuine manner.
  • Having amazing, mind-expanding, one-on-one conversations with some of my brilliant friends and family that can last hours.
  • Creating genuine value or uncovering a novel approach to a problem through back-and-forth brainstorming and building upon different ideas. Engaging in intellectual arguments with friends is also a lot of fun but not quite as fulfilling.
  • Eating and sharing food that I have a connection to: either I have grown it, made it, or have shared in the story about how it came to be.
  • Finding the beauty in everyday life: the dance of a butterfly, the genuine joy of a good doggo, a glimpse of nature where you wouldn’t expect it, the hug of a pair of best friends, the kiss of a loved one.

This process has served me well as I have thought about what I want my life to look like; much more so than the more vague “what are your passions?” or “what problem are you passionate about solving”. In articulating when I have felt alive I have been able to point to specific examples rather than vague, generic notions. Feeling alive is a very primal and innate sentiment – it isn’t something that can be rationalized or arrived at through logic and as a result there is something very pure and transparent about recognizing it in oneself.

Now I want to apply the question to my business and use it as a tool both to find good people to work with and also to try and be a great boss. I want to understand what makes the people I will be hiring feel alive; I want to hire people that are capable of seeing how beautiful the world can be and engaging with that world; and I want them to be motivated to come to work and feel that even though it’s a job there is still the potential to create that spark that makes life worthwhile.

Now let me posit it to you – when was the last time you felt truly alive? Genuinely, I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time!

Rambler-in-Chief

 

 

 

Food for Thought: Andalusian Cuisine

I’m writing this from a lovely coffeeshop in Rabat, Morocco, but I wanted to reflect on the wonderful few days I just spent in Andalusia, Spain.

KC and I arrived in Sevilla (via BlaBlaCar from Madrid) during the hottest days ever recorded in Spain, with temperatures reaching 48 celsius / 119 farenheit. Fortunately the Andalusian lifestyle has long adapted to summer heat, and between our time in the historic cities of Sevilla and Ronda and the stunning little town of Montecorto we were able to get a true taste of what makes life in Southern Spain so appealing.

That the quality of life there seems exceptionally high is not necessarily surprising – the French and Spanish have long been envied for their manner of living. What did surprise KC and me as foodies was the cuisine.

The food in Andalusia is notable for it’s simplicity and freshness. Jamón ibérico, prawns, fish, bread, and olive oil comprises about 85% of the cuisine, and the preparation of these ingredients tends to be exceptionally simple, either grilled or fried. It makes a lot of sense, given the quality of the ingredients, the abundance of fish and olives in the local vicinity, and the pride associated with the tradition of producing the finest ham in the world; however, it also explains the reason that you don’t find Andalusian cuisine all over the world the way you would find Mexican, Chinese, Indian, French or Italian – the quality of the cuisine is 100% determined by the freshness of the main ingredients and cannot be made up for with spices or sauces.

KC, while recognizing the freshness of the ingredients, lamented that the prawns were simply fried and the sandwiches were simply bread, ham and oil – she finds interesting combinations of flavors to be more exciting, and likes to use spices and herbs in her own cooking tho accentuate and complement the flavor of quality ingredients. I generally agree, and over an extended period I’m sure I’d find the lack of variation boring, but for the few days I found it to be a refreshing change of pace. Neither of us, however, were as disappointed in the cuisine as the Mexican guy with whom we were sharing a hostel room. His take on the cuisine: “Can’t they use the prawns to make a ceviche or something? How hard would that be?”

The simplicity of the cuisine may in fact just be a reflection of the Andalusians attitude towards food and drink, namely that rather than something to be savored itself it is rather a vehicle to facilitate social interactions. It seemed as though Spaniards loved to engage in leisurely meals in which a couple of plates of tapas and a small glass of cold beer, rioja, or tinto de verano (red wine and sprite) served as an excuse to sit on in a lovely plaza with a group of friends. It’s not as though that concept doesn’t exist in the US or UK, but the whole set up of cheap small plates and cheap drinks (often for about €1) seems designed to allow Spaniards to eat out casually and frequently.

KC and I are strongly of the opinion that quality food can be the destination itself and not necessarily just part of the journey. We’re willing to pay for a memorable or creative experience and believe that creative, local, seasonal, plant-based, chef-driven food can be an important factor in building a sustainable quality of life anywhere around the world. But in order for it to scale, it has to be accessible, and the simple Andalusian cuisine demonstrated how accessible food can drive social interactions and community building.

The closest equivalent we have in the US or UK is a coffee shop, where food and drink items tend to be more affordable and social interactions can occur on a frequent basis. It gives me hope that we can offer a potent combination of quality and accessibility as we seek to build out Mesa Salvaje in the coming months.

Just some food for thought 🙂

P.S. I’ve not published much recently as I’ve been ruminating on a longer post that is taking a while to come together. Hopefully it will be worth the wait!

My Tesla Thesis

Disclosure – I own Tesla stock and am very optimistic about the Company’s future

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Scenario One —BMW/Mercedes but with better long term margins
  • Overview: Tesla is unsuccessful at disrupting the entire auto-industry, instead scaling to become a mid-sized luxury auto maker, similar to BMW group, by 2022 (eg. ~1 million vehicles per year, up from ~100,000 in 2017 but much smaller than Volkswagen’s ~10 million per year). However, Tesla should have higher operating margins than other automakers due to vertical integration (Tesla’s lack of a dealership model makes the biggest impact, but also the more heavily integrated manufacturing/supply chain). Energy storage / solar roof grows into a decent sized business (maybe equivalent to ~$10bn standalone valuation or 4x Solarcity), but the economics are not as good as originally hoped for. 100% ownership of a new Chinese gigafactory allows for upside. Software powered services business (self-insurance, entertainment system, an API to access Tesla’s dataset, supercharger network) also offers incremental revenue and margin upside, but these remain modest businesses.
  • Financial takeaways : certain investments today (eg. in Autopilot) may not realize their full potential, but Tesla has a clear path towards revenue and margins greater than Daimler/BMW (ie. >$100bn revenue, >$20bn EBITDA). Capex efficiency becomes more important over time to the long term value of the company.
  • Hypothetical long-term stock price target (5–10 years): $400–450
  • Ross’ estimated likelihood of this scenario playing out: 25-30%

Read More

Abundance & Decentralization Part III: The Great Decentralization of Everything

Part 3 of a series on Abundance and Decentralization. View part 1 here and part 2 here.

Energy generation and food production are next

The revolution will be decentralized. This has been the rallying cry among technology’s early adopters since bitcoin first exploded into the mainstream consciousness in early 2013, and it is the guiding principle for those building “Web 3.0”, the next generation of web services that intends to use the technological insights underpinning the decentralized, open-source nature of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

With the rapid proliferation of decentralized platforms and applications — computing power (Ethereum), decentralized storage (Filecoin), decentralized asset exchanges (0x Protocol, Airswap), decentralized social media (Numa, Peepeth), decentralized room-sharing (CryptoCribs) and more — new web services promise to empower individuals to own their own data, confidently exchange with third parties without a “trusted” intermediary, and participate in a resilient web less susceptible to hacking, censorship, and fake news.

But this revolution is not limiting itself to web services.

Two of the economy’s largest subsectors, energy generation & transmission and food production & distribution, are ripe for a decentralized revolution. Around the US (and across the world), products and services are beginning to emerge and make their way to market, with much of the infrastructure now in place for these aspirational disruptors to grow exponentially over the next decade or so. Read More

Abundance & Decentralization Part II: Sustainability in the age of Bitcoin

Over the past few months I have encountered various discussions and analyses on what is required to make a system, product, organization or organism last a long time - not just 5 or 10 years but 100+ years:

  • In Money, blockchains, and social scalability, Nick Szabo argues that the most valuable trait of bitcoin and other blockchain projects is its in-built inefficiency: massive energy consumption by custom-built computers solving cryptographic puzzles for which the “sole output of the computation is just a proof that the computer did a costly computation”, and the need for every full node around the world to maintain the entire blockchain. In Szabo’s words, “the secret to Bitcoin’s success is that its prolific resource consumption and poor computational scalability is buying something even more valuable: social scalability.”
  • The Energy Gang podcast spent time dissecting how US Energy Secretary Rick Perry conflated grid reliability with grid resiliency - today we have grid reliability (at least, everywhere but Puerto Rico), but it remains fragile and needs increased resiliency with distributed, local generation and localized storage capacity.
  • Dan Barber’s The Third Plate makes reference to the Mennonite philosophy that you start raising a child one hundred years before he or she is born - that the environment, systems and traditions in which a child’s parents and grandparents were raised help to define the environment in which the child itself is ultimately raised. In order to achieve his quest of building a better food system, Barber looks for examples in which humans and human technology compliment and enhance natural ecosystems in a virtuous cycle rather than using technology to force an ecosystem to bend to mankind’s will.
  • In Alex Danco’s Snippets newsletter he describes the way the human immune system has been designed to tackle problems that it has never encountered before by making a huge number of “random” antibodies. Most of these are wasted, but when one detects a new threat the immune system “scales up a huge, often unnecessarily over-reactive defense, and chases away the germ threat. And then, forever onward, the body has infrastructure available to deal with that kind of threat. So if that same germ ever shows up again, boom. The immune response is swift and massive.”

The extent to which inefficiencies and in-built redundancies are crucial parts of what makes these systems sustainable is notable, and serves as a rejection of the prevailing management theories of the last century which today permeate our economy. Read More

Ross’ NYC Top 5 List

After 7 years in NYC, I’ve been to a lot of places and seen a lot of things; most have been great, but some are definitely better than others. Recognizing that in a city like NYC there is always going to be 100 things I have missed, here is my NYC Top 5 list:

Tourist Attractions

  • Walking the Brooklyn Bridge
  • The Whitney Museum (and the High Line)
  • Visiting Liberty Island
  • Smorgasburg
  • Running/cycling through Central Park
  • Shoutout to all Broadway shows

 

Parks

  • Central Park (duh)
  • Brooklyn Bridge Park
  • Fort Greene Park
  • Inwood Hill Park
  • Bryant Park
  • Shoutout to Washington Square Park, which is more concrete than greenery but full of amazing people

 

Outdoor Bars

  • Westlight (rooftop of the William Vale hotel – Williamsburg)
  • Brooklyn Barge Bar (Greenpoint)
  • Bar 65 (at the top of the Rockefeller – same view as Top of the Rock)
  • the Frying Pan (Chelsea)
  • 1 Rooftop Bar (DUMBO)
  • Special shoutout to drinking on the roofdeck of the East River Ferry

 

Sitdown Restaurants

  • Bistro Petit (Williamsburg – $$)
  • Annicka (Greenpoint – $$)
  • Cosme (Flatiron – $$$)
  • Birds of a Feather (Williamsburg – $$)
  • Nix (Washington Square Park – $$$)
  • Special shoutout to Marlow & Sons, an all day cafe that punches above its weight (Williamsburg – $)

 

Quick-bite Restaurants

  • Superiority Burger (East Village – $)
  • Vanessa’s Dumplings (Lower East Side – $)
  • Daily Provisions (just north of Union Square – $)
  • Bagelsmith (Williamsburg – $)
  • Delaney Chicken (Urbanspace, Midtown East – $)
  • Shoutout to Xian Famous Foods

 

Pizza

  • Pugsley Pizza (Fordham)
  • Williamsburg Pizza (Williamsburg)
  • Full Moon Pizzeria (Fordham)
  • Roberta’s (Bushwick)
  • L’Industrie (Williamsburg)
  • Special shoutout to Tony & Tina’s Pizzeria (Fordham) – NYC’s most underrated slice
  • Second special shoutout to Emmy Squared (Williamsburg), which didn’t feel right including as “Detroit” style pizza, but is delicious :)

 

Coffee Roasters

  • Parlor Coffee
  • Cafe Grumpy
  • Toby’s Estate
  • Devocion
  • Birch Coffee
  • Shoutout to George Howell as my favorite coffee roaster overall, but Boston-based

 

Breweries

  • Other Half (Gowanus)
  • King’s County Brewer’s Collective (Bushwick)
  • Grimm Artisanal Ales (East Williamsburg)
  • Sixpoint Brewery (Red Hook)
  • Greenpoint Beer and Ales (Greenpoint)
  • Special mention to Bronx Brewery/Brooklyn Brewery, which introduced me to good craft beer and are great breweries, but didn’t quite make the cut. 
  • Extra special mention to the Bronx Beer Hall, the OG craft beer bar of my heart.

 

Daytime Activities

  • Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club (Gowanus)
  • Board games at Berg’n (Crown Heights)
  • Cycling the Hudson River Parkway
  • People watching in Washington Square Park
  • Watching Manchester United at Smithfield Hall NYC (Flatiron)
  • Shoutout to all boozy brunches

 

Nighttime Activities

  • Comedy at Upright Citizen’s Brigade
  • Jazz at Blue Note / Jazz Standard / Smalls
  • Cocktails at Please Don’t Tell
  • Dancing to a band at Pianos or Baby’s All Right
  • Getting in the jacuzzi at Le Bain
  • Shoutout to House of Yes – I haven’t been clubbing there but have heard ridiculous stories

My favorite New York things

An incomplete list of experiences that make NYC my favorite city in the world.


1. The morning rush hour dance through Grand Central — streams of humanity intersecting in a coordinated fashion as they try to take the path of least resistance towards their destination, the twinkling starry sky watching over them.

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2. Late night pizza. All varieties, but especially dollar slice.

3. The thrill of reaching the peak of the Williamsburg Bridge by Citibike and taking in the skyline as you speed up on the downhill.

4. Enjoying a glass of wine and strolling out to the rooftop at the Whitney Museum.

5. The simple but unexpected joy of having a barista, bartender or yoga teacher remember who you are, reminding you that you are a part of the tapestry of NYC and can make a lasting impression on others.

6. Subway jazz at W4th st, string concertos at Union Sq, and my favorite charismatic Latin guitarist at Bedford Ave.

7. Raising a liter of Dunkel to sing the Bierhaus song at Hofbrau House with the rest of the bar.

8. The cheers and support strangers offer as you run through the streets of the city (most frequent in The Bronx).

9. The utterly magical experience of running the New York Marathon.

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10. Walking with non-New Yorkers or Manhattanites past the casket factory enroute to, and then seeing their reaction as we walk into, Royal Palms Shuffle Board Club.

11. Seeing a friend’s band at an intimate venue and seeing people who don’t know the band members fall in love with their music.

12. All you can eat sushi in the East Village, pushing your body to the limit with salmon sashimi orders at Groupon prices.

13. The build up to a Man Utd game at Smithfield Hall, home of the New York Reds, with chants and beers before breakfast.

14. Group Karaoke at the Bronx Beer Hall, Sing Sing, in K-Town, or any bar across the city where we can get on a microphone.

15. The unparalleled respect New Yorkers show to the the pockets of nature throughout the city, and how they fully utilize those spaces throughout the Spring, Summer and Fall — Central Park is the ultimate playground.

16. Mid-afternoon strolls from the office to Bryant Park for a game of Connect 4 or simply to stretch the legs under the arching London plane trees.

17. Showtime on the subway, especially when the showtime artists are mediocre but trying their hardest.

18. Revelry (food, drink, laughter and more) at The Farm on Kent, run by the wonderful people from North Brooklyn Farms.

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19. Catching moments of brilliance in between the average at Upright Citizen’s Brigade improv nights.

20. “Commuting” via the roofdeck of the East River Ferry on glorious Summer/Fall evenings.

21. The cool nonchalance with which New Yorkers embrace the fact that the world’s most creative and innovative projects can be found in their city.

22. Late night sessions at Flushing Meadows during the US Open, drinking Grey Goose Honey Deuce cocktails to cool down in the summer heat.

23. Dollar oyster Happy Hours at Crave Fish Bar with JPM colleagues.

24. Befriending a world class chef at the local neighborhood French-Korean fusion joint.

25. The glamor of attending a theater or musical production and weeping with joy at being in the presence of incredible artists.

26. Feeling like a true Brooklynite – listening to Subway Sets at Brooklyn Grange, the incredible rooftop farm in the Navy Yard; attending a late night sermon of funk from Reverend Vince Anderson and the Love Choir at Union Pool.

27. Epic summer sunsets viewed from the Brooklyn bank of the East River, in DUMBO, Williamsburg or Greenpoint, with the silhouette of the city skyline set against an orange and pink-hued twilight.

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It’s so good they named it twice.

Thank you, New York, New York.

The Transport sector is now more polluting than Power plants. Electric cars are not the only answer.

It sounds unorthodox, but networks of dockless electric scooters and electric bikes could prove to be the technology that finally allows urban city dwellers to reduce dependency on cars, and in turn allow for cities to finally evolve into sustainable hubs with improved quality of life for its residents.

Last week I cycled across San Francisco to a brunch in the Marina on a JUMP Bike, a pedal-assist e-bike that can be rented for just $2 for 30 minutes. With the electric assist I cruised up SF’s notoriously steep hills and arrived at my destination without breaking a sweat. It was a truly delightful experience I couldn’t stop raving about.

Two days later I read about Fred Wilson’s similar experience using Bird Scooters, the shared electric scooter company launched in Santa Monica in 2017 which lets customers cruise at up to 15 mph for just $1 per ride and 15 cents per minute.

Both Jump Bikes and Bird have recently raised impressive funding rounds (particularly Bird’s $100mm round) with a goal of expanding within their existing markets and into new markets, following the land-grab playbook first executed by Uber and subsequently emulated by dockless bike-sharing companies Ofo and Mobike.

I’ve been interested in Ofo and Mobike for a while, but electrification increases both the convenience and accessibility of these transport alternatives.

Traveling within a city by electric bike or scooter allows for comparable performance to traveling by car (time to destination, minimal effort etc…) while costing less, producing zero carbon emissions and a delightful experience for the rider. The opportunity to scale this form of transport into a fully fledged alternative to cars is both massive and ripe for the taking.

Transportation is the biggest source of US CO2 emissions

This potent combination of accessibility and delight may finally help to make a dent in emissions from transport, which today is the biggest single contributor to emissions in the US.

In the US, carbon dioxide emissions from transportation exceeded those from electricity production in 2016 for the first time since 1978, according to data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, as increasing demand for SUVs and trucks has offset efficiency gains in transportation, while power plants have made headway in reducing emissions.

The grid is on pace to continue reducing emissions as the economics of renewables and natural gas have improved to the point where it will soon be cheaper to build new renewable capacity than run existing coal capacity. This is a stunning development and a testament to the growth of the clean energy economy, but unless we reduce transport emissions simultaneously, we won’t achieve self-imposed emissions targets.

Electric cars help with emissions, but don’t make life better

Many people, myself included, have turned to electric cars (specifically Tesla in the US and BYD in China) as the primary hope for reducing transportation emissions, but my experience with JUMP has made me question that. The transition to electric cars may reduce transportation emissions, but it doesn’t change the way we live our lives. The daily inconveniences associated with driving won’t disappear; and while we have been promised a utopian world of self-driving, ride-sharing, electric vehicles, that vision is unlikely to be fully realized for decades.

We should instead be reevaluating how we commute, optimizing and incentivizing for a commute that is both clean and can improve our lives; electric scooters and bikes offer a chance to materially improve both the way we commute and how we feel about it.

The above survey was taken by more than 3,000 students who commuted to McGill University in Montreal, which is not to say that it is representative or free from bias; however, one of the conclusions to this research made it clear that people prefer “active” or “productive” commutes vs. unproductive commutes in which time must be budgeted in case of delay.

An opportunity to build a world that doesn’t prioritize cars

I intend to never own a car again in my life, and I believe that many people could improve their quality of life (and finances) by following suit.

By increasing the convenience and accessibility of short-mid range transport options, JUMP and Bird can help to make a limited-car world possible, and in the process accelerate the ongoing change in urban infrastructure to prioritize people, not cars.

To be clear, the explosion of dockless bike sharing networks elsewhere in the world has already caused its own problems, but these pale in comparison to the negative externalities we suffer in a world designed for cars, and can be solved with an expansion of pedestrian and bicycle-friendly infrastructure (check out the world’s biggest bike garage in the Netherlands).

A taste of the future

It may not be the future of flying cars we may have imagined, but next time you get the opportunity I recommend you ride a JUMP bike or Bird Scooter: as you cruise past traffic and effortlessly arrive at your destination with a smile on your face, it’s hard not to believe that the future is already here.

 


 Bonus pic of me riding my JUMP bike with a big smile on my face:

It wasn’t until I attended the under-reported and casually dismissed Women’s March that I appreciated how Women must feel all the time

It wasn’t until I attended the under-reported and casually dismissed Women’s March that I appreciated how Women must feel all the time.

Feelings of hope, empowerment, and unity I had first felt in Washington DC a year ago came rushing back as we inched our way down a sunny Central Park West on a beautiful Saturday morning three weeks ago. This was a hybrid protest/parade, both a condemnation of the words and actions by the Trump administration and a celebration of female empowerment, epitomized by activists registering attendees to vote and many signs urging people to “grab them by the midterms”. Read More

A Year in Review 2017: Personal Growth Amidst a Fragile Macro Environment

 

I’ve had a number of iterations of the same conversation with friends as we have reflected on 2017 in the year’s waning days: despite it being a very, very bad year for the institutions, policy makers and civilians that work to uphold the democratic conventions upon which all of life as we know it rests, it has been a successful year of personal growth and development.

Now two and a half years out of University, friends have been promoted, moved onto new opportunities and to new geographies, found love or made important next steps in their relationships. And for those whose life doesn’t look too different from this time last year, many have used 2017 to lay the groundwork for changes in the year ahead. I find myself in the latter category, but I still consider 2017 to have been a year of growth.

But I want to make it clear to my future self that I am aware how fragile this platform is: civilization and civic norms enable the knowledge market economy which has provided the opportunity for my friends and I to prosper and grow, but 2017 has shown me that we can’t take anything for granted. When White Supremacists can feel bold enough to reveal themselves and protest and not be condemned by the President of the United States it is important to take action and speak out – this is not normal, so we can’t carry on as normal. It may seem like the riskier move in the short term, but the tail risk of inaction is far, far greater. Read More

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