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Bold predictions for the next 10 years

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Chris Schroeder, author of the book “Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East”, asked me the following question at the Abraaj Forum in Istanbul a few weeks ago:

“What are some bold predictions this audience needs to hear?  What will happen in the next 10 years”. 

The audience included heads of state (Mexico, Turkey, and other Presidents/Prime Ministers) and highly influential wealthy business leaders (founder of Aramex, chairman of Airtel Nigeria, etc). What could I possibly say that would cause them to look up from their cell phones?

I decided to make some provocative predictions based on many companies that I have met around the world.  Bold, and slightly crazy, so they would at least listen.  The following 5 predictions are the ones I made, and I strongly believe at least 3 will happen…although I don’t know which three!

Within 10 years…

1) Driverless cars will be on the road and owned by consumers…and within 15 years, you will be able to press a button on your mobile phone to call one to pick you up.  That app could be Uber or a whole new system.  Within 20 years, driverless cars will make up 25% of the cars on the road.

2) A 3D printed organ will be transplanted into a human being.  Likely a liver or skin.

3) Bitcoin will become the official currency of certain countries with high volatility.  Already, in Argentina, companies like Bitpagos are allowing merchants to accept pesos and cash out in bitcoin because some would rather hold BTC due to inflation.

4) A tragedy like the disappearance of MH370 will never happen—because we will have drones in the sky that will be able to take a picture of nearly any spot on earth within seconds of receiving a command, likely administered through a mobile phone, and not subject to orbital revisit time, unlike our satellites.  Regulations are already changing in this space to open up the use of drones commercially.

5) Part of our food supply will come from genetically modified micro-organisms that secrete, as a waste product, various types of amino acids and proteins.  Companies are already doing this at a lab scale and by 2025, this will be at a commercial scale.

Let’s see what happens.  Hopefully I’m not 0/5.

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Written by sheeltyle

October 7, 2014 at 11:16 am

Quotes from the Academy

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I had the privilege of attending the Academy of Achievement thanks to the generosity of Wayne and Cathy Reynolds 2 weekends ago in San Francisco.  There were 150 extraordinary people all staying at the same hotel and interacting, dancing, and eating with one another for a full weekend.  I thought I would share some on-the-record nuggets of wisdom or shocking quotes from the honorees.

Admiral McRaven, former Commander of the US Special Operations best known for leading the operation that killed Bin Laden:

  • “At best, there was a 50/50 chance Bin Laden was in that compound.  In fact, some very intelligent folks thought it was 10%.”
  • “It’s the little things you control…the words of encouragement, the phone calls…that will define you.”

David Boies and Ted Olson, Boies represented Gore and Olson represented Bush in Bush v. Gore, but then they joined hands to fight Proposition 8 together in California:

  • “If two people agree, one of them isn’t needed.”
  • “It’s more credible to work with folks who are known to have different beliefs.  Us coming together drew a lot of attention, simply because we stand for opposite sides on many issues.”

Athol Fugard, South African playwright

  • “Beware of false pride.”

General David Petraeus, former Director of the CIA

  • “Get the big ideas right. Communicate them effectively.  Implement them.  Then repeat.”

Thomas Keller, Creator/Owner of French Laundry, Per Se

  • “My first introduction into the world of cooking was as a dishwasher.  It was critical. It taught me discipline (without it, where will the food go?), organization (knowing where the plates go, where the bowls go, saves critical time), efficiency (have to do it quickly), repetition (which equals perfection), and teamwork (everybody needed everybody, including me)

Francis Collins, Director of the National Institute of Health (NIH)

  • “My mother’s life advice ‘do whatever you want, but whatever you do, don’t become a federal employee.'”

And many, many more.

 

 

Written by sheeltyle

September 24, 2014 at 4:02 pm

The Non-Wealth Optimizing Move

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After a wonderful trip back to San Francisco, the learnings of which will be the subject of my next blog post, I’m officially writing this post from Cambridge, Massachusetts…where I now live.

Wait, what?

Earlier this year, I walked into the offices of few General Partners at NEA and told them I was thinking about doing my JD/MBA at Harvard.  The responses varied from “you’re out of your mind, stay at NEA” and “this isn’t the wealth optimizing move,” to “the JD is a commodity degree today” and “do you know how many MBAs call me and want your job?”  But as I described my rationale—one that had nothing to do with my company-building and investing career—they slowly became enthusiastic.

For years, Silicon Valley has in general responded to government with a signature brand of techno-libertarianism, flourishing alternately condescension, ignorance, and a deliberate apathy. But in the birthplace of innovation, such a response is inimical to everything that this community stands for: knowledge, progress, and collaboration. Indeed, if Silicon Valley is to continue to lead the world in innovation, rather than rebuff government, we must work to reform it.  Allocating capital and reforming policy the way a venture capitalist would—with a high risk tolerance, potentially massive impact, and a long-term orientation—could do wonders in the public sector.  But in order to enable these shifts in the law, one needs to understand where the law came from– hence the JD.  Tack on the MBA, which is only an extra year in the combined program, and it can’t do more harm than good, right?

Of course, I could be completely wrong, and this expensive long-term call option— considering both tuition and opportunity cost– could expire worthless if I never decide to enter public service.  Alternatively, I may find the lure of Silicon Valley and the opportunity to build the next generation of companies too enticing and drop out, which many people are betting on.

But so far, I’m having an intellectually enriching time learning about the law and, more importantly, meeting the people.  My classmates are diverse: a former member of the CIA who did special operations in Yemen, the sons and daughters of Heads of States around the world, the former head of the NFL Players Association, many brave and deeply selfless military personnel.  And I haven’t given up investing: in fact, I am still actively investing and taking board seats/becoming an advisor to a few companies, some which will be announced soon.

Let’s see where this takes me.  At worst, I will have dropped out of Harvard– that can’t be that bad, right? 🙂

Written by sheeltyle

September 15, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Tombstones, Billions, & Dreams

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The past four months have been a whirlwind.  Yet from the maelstrom of experiences, three themes have emerged: tombstones, billions, and dreams.  Each one of these could encompass multiple posts on their own, but I’ll do my best to highlight the key points briefly here.

Tombstones

Perhaps the greatest insight from the past few months came from a simple statement:  I was having lunch with one of my closest friends, Ben Rattray, whose company Change.org is one of the best examples of a purpose-driven, for-profit organization.  Change.org is the platform that spurred the Boy Scouts to end its anti-gay policy, that empowered Trayvon Martin’s family to unveil their side of the story, that has equipped citizens from almost every country  on the globe to campaign for change.  And they also happen to be a tremendous business, doing tens of millions in revenue.

Like usual, we were talking about all sorts of stuff, from capitalism and impact investing to that perennial best city debate: New York, Boston or San Francisco.  But the question that most changed my thinking was this:

“What do you want your tombstone to say?”

That question has fundamentally changed my outlook on careers and money…which is for a future post.

Dreams

  • The Portuguese Dream: In March, I was invited to speak at the GoYouth Conference in Lisbon, Portugal alongside the founders of HotelTonight, Cloudflare, and Siri.  Portugal is plagued by a 35%+ youth unemployment , yet  GoYouth’s organizer, 19-year-old Tiago, expressed  zero interest in hearing it and thus created a forum for entrepreneurship to lead Portugal out of a deep recession. At both the conference and Startup Lisboa, which we later visited, I was blown away by the hospitality, hope, and capabilities of the Portuguese.
  • The Immigrant & Refugee’s Dream: At the end of 2013, I joined the board of Business Center for New Americans, a burgeoning nonprofit that provides  microloans to women, immigrants, and refugees building companies in New York City. These are individuals like Sonnie Selma, a Liberian refugee who founded an African specialty foods business that imports products like African Palm Oil and sells them locally. For immigrant heritage week in New York, we brought together 100+ of our entrepreneurs just like Sonnie into one room to recognize the transformative role of entrepreneurship– from the mom-and-pop laundromat in Queens to the taxi cab company in Brooklyn– in changing their and their families’ lives.  I have never seen a better representation of the American Dream than on that day.
  • A lover’s dream: India is a country whose Supreme Court recently ruled that homosexuality is a crime.  That made this 1st place dance by Northwestern Anubhav at Bollywood America that much more powerful.

Billions

  • Pinterest – The company, which Bessemer invested in when I was employed there, recently raised at a $5 billion valuation despite just starting to monetize.  In due course, this will prove to be a steal of a deal.
  • Snapdeal – My first venture deal was Snapdeal, a company I have written about before as a study in America’s broken immigration system(summary: the founder of Snapdeal wanted to start a company in the USA but couldn’t get a visa).  They just raised at a $1 billion valuation, taking yet another step closer  to becoming India’s Alibaba/TaoBao.
  • Berkshire Hathaway – I was at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in Omaha thanks to an invitation from Tracy Britt. It was a great dose of investing reality (who would think that businesses could be valued off of free cash flow or EBITDA instead of users and eyeballs?).  And on Sunday night, I had dinner at a steakhouse that apparently is good enough for these two.

And so much more.  In general, I’m not a fan of these diary-like posts as opposed to more substantive ones, but as I resume my blogging cadence, I hope to revert to the latter.

Ungrounded

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A few weeks ago, a company in an industry known for it’s lack of innovation did something pretty innovative.  British Airways took 130 innovators, entrepreneurs, and policymakers on a chartered 747 from San Francisco to London to hack solutions to “the global misalignment of talent“.  We then presented our solutions at the G8 Innovation Summit in London.

At 30,000 feet, and without much sleep, we were split into small teams that would tackle 4 separate problems:

1) Meeting US demand for talent globally

2) Expanding STEM

3) Growing STEM in emerging economies

4) Fostering Women in STEM

Some pretty amazing concepts were developed on the plane, and some are even being put into action (like AdvisHer, an online community that leverages the power of pipeline programs to advise, advocate, and accelerate women into STEM university programs and STEM companies.)

Yet, what I found most unique about this whole trip was the selflessness of it.  It was unlike the majority of conferences where you network or learn on behalf of, and for the benefit of, the company or organization you represent.  Instead, British Airways spent between 6 and 7 figures USD to advance solutions for a problem we face as a collective society.  And, they invited 130 people who wouldn’t talk about their own backgrounds, but would use their experiences to solve a problem often far different than their organization’s.

A great trip, truly proving that the sky isn’t the limit.

Watch the Ungrounded highlights video here!

Written by sheeltyle

July 1, 2013 at 10:11 pm

Unveiling Innovate for America

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Almost four hundred years ago, 102 English Pilgrims set sail westward toward an unknown land.  They didn’t know whether they would survive their harsh journey, but they believed so strongly in their pursuit of freedom, and in their hopes for economic prosperity, that they dared to do what very few had done before.  They became one of the first sets of immigrants to arrive at a frontier that would soon become the United States of America.  Over time, the United States became a nation of immigrants—an eclectic cultural collage, a melting pot of ethnic groups, and a vibrant microcosm of the world.

Today, America embraces a full spectrum of heritages, from those whose families have been here for centuries to those who just recently immigrated.  All of us, at essence, are immigrants.  And increasingly it has been immigrants who have empowered our country’s founding promise, and its perhaps most cherished ideal: entrepreneurialism. America has let them innovate, and in return they have innovated for America. In 1784, the second-generation immigrant Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals; and in 2003, first-generation immigrant Elon Musk, who himself was born in South Africa, founded Tesla, building on the shoulders of thousands—if not millions— of inventions and companies launched by immigrants in between.  Today, more than 40 percent of the Fortune 500 are companies founded by immigrants or their children.   And myriad of America’s most iconic brands are the brainchildren of foreign-born, first-generation Americans. Consider merely Pfizer, Google, and Procter & Gamble as a few examples.

These are the companies, the entrepreneurs, the ideas that make America what it is: a beacon of bold innovation for millions across the globe—a city upon a hill—an inviting shore. And this is the reason I am so thrilled to announce the launch of Innovate for America, a nonprofit aimed at educating Americans about the staggering impact of immigrant entrepreneurs, by measuring the number of jobs they have created.  My co-founders Scott Sandell, Carmen Chang, Chetan Puttagunta, and I reached out to a little over 35 of our friends who are building transformative companies as immigrant founders.  These companies are now sharing the number of active U.S. employees they have hired across multiple locations.  And we are aggregating this data and packaging it into a shareable widget that blazons the total number of jobs enabled by all companies participating.

As the IFA network grows to more companies, and companies hire additional employees, the total number of jobs IFA immigrants have created will continue to rise.  Many of the participating companies, as well as non-immigrant-founded entities, have already begun to place this widget on their homepage.  Incidentally, the Innovate for America widget, as well as its website, workflow, and back-end, were designed by a hard-working team at another immigrant-founded company, Bloomreach.

With the public launch of our effort, today marks the beginning of Innovate for America. Yet already we have mustered 38 venture-backed private companies hailing from over 20 countries, fueling more than 3700 jobs.  This ship has just set sail. And we cannot wait to see how far it goes.

You can read about the launch here in a story covered by The Economist.

A 6 Month Recap – Downtown Project, Techonomy, Knocking Down Buildings, and more

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It’s hard to believe the last time I wrote a post was 6 months ago, after I returned from my trip to India. There have been so many experiences about which I wanted to write, but I just haven’t had the time.  I thought, therefore, I would offer a quick recap, compressing each of my experiences from intended points to bite-sized, informative bullet points.

  • Visited the Downtown Project in Las Vegas and stayed at one of Tony Hsieh’s crash pads at the Ogden.  The Downtown Project is on a mission to revitalize Las Vegas and make it a startup hub by accelerating collisions, community, and co-learning.  Tony has invested hundreds of millions of dollars of his own money into this, has an exceptional team, and is trying to make it so that every person leaves Las Vegas more deeply inspired and  fulfilled.
  • Met amazing people at Techonomy in Arizona, many I am blessed to now call  friends, from Steve & Jean Case, Padmasree Warrior, Matt Van Horn, and Alec Ross.  My brother and I spoke on youth, employment, our upbringing, and our life goals.
  • Here at NEA, we led deals in 42floors, DeveloperAuction, and a soon-to-be-announced third.  42floors is disrupting the world of commercial real estate, and DeveloperAuction (where Sujay is the COO) is revolutionizing the world of recruiting.  Stoked for both.
  • Was sitting in NEA’s conference room waiting for our partnership meeting to begin when I heard I was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 for finance.  Was honored and blessed, but most of all excited to see many of my close friends be honored, too, like Sejal, Muthu, Alexis, Jeremy, and others (even Sujay!).  Got to meet many of the other honorees in Austin, TX, at a party at the house of John Paul DeJoria, who reminded me a lot of the most interesting man in the world.  A remarkably diverse group, from actors, producers, hedge fund managers, to big data analysts, all incredibly driven and talented.
  • Attended the Indiaspora Inaugural ball on Inauguration Weekend in DC, and hung out with the Mayor of LA (and taught him bhangra!).
  • Read that the flat I come home to every time I visit Mumbai, in Midtown Apartments, will soon be demolished for the misdeed and bribe of one misguided man  30 years ago.  Families have been living in this complex for 25+ years and yet were deigned a mere 48 hours’ notice before their years-old properties were razed.  This is absolutely ridiculous.

And so much more.  I hope not to be taking this long a hiatus again.

An Unreasonable Group

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I spent the past week in Boulder, Colorado at the Unreasonable Institute.  It’s a six week incubator, an accelerator, and a one-of-a-kind life-changing experience for some of the most inspirational and courageous entrepreneurs solving big problems in some of the toughest places around the world.  It was founded by three visionary people—Dan Epstein, Teju Ravilochan, and Tyler Hartung—and supported by an army of volunteers, staff, mentors, and capital partners.  It is based on George Bernard Shaw’s quote about the unreasonable man:

“…the reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man [and woman].”

This batch had 22 companies.  Here is a quick snapshot of 6 of them:

1) Aquaphytex (Spain) – purifies wastewater through plants; have generated $4 million in revenue, employs 45 people, and currently provides clean water for 300,000 people in Mali, the Bahamas, Kenya and Spain.  Pedro, the CEO, didn’t speak a word of English a few months ago but was nonetheless the most popular Spaniard in Boulder.

2) Liberation Chocolate (Liberia) – Reinvigorating the once abandoned practice of cocoa farming due to civil war, Liberation Chocolate empowers Liberian farmers to take back their fields and provides former child soldiers jobs by supporting production and bringing their products to market.  Founded by a man who fled Liberia during the war then returned 14 years later.

3) Musoni (Kenya) – Making microfinance cashless for the first time in history, using mobile payments to disburse over $5 million to 7,500 clients.

4) Own Your Own Boda (Uganda) – Establishing a pathway out of poverty for Ugandan moto-taxi drivers by providing loans in the form of a new motorcycle, eliminating dependence on indefinite renting. In two years they have dispersed over 70 loans, with 22 of them already paid back in full.

5) Mobile Agribusiness (Congo) –  Run by a former Congolese child soldier turned entrepreneur, Mobile Agribusiness connects farmers, who make up 80% of Congo’s population, to vital information via mobile phone that enables them to prepare, produce and price their crops effectively and competitively.

6) Quetsol (Guatemala) – Quetsol brings light to the poorest homes in Guatemala through a solar powered box. They’ve sold over $500,000 worth of solar home systems in 16 months, illuminating over 3,000 homes and benefiting around 16,000 people.

I’m absolutely blown away by what the entrepreneurs have accomplished, and by what Unreasonable has become.  I can’t wait to keep supporting them and am so proud of the Unreasonable founders & team.

On Cue 2012

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Hats off to Tony Tjan, Tony Pino, Richard Harrington, and the rest of the Cue Ball team for an amazing On Cue 2012.  On Cue is “a private salon gathering of leading thinkers, creators, business and cultural luminaries – coming together for one day of shared conversation and connectivity.”  It reminded me very much of a TEDx conference, except more mingling, cooler entertainment, and shorter & fewer talks.  There were a little less than 300 people at the event held at the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston, and the Aston Martin, Fisker Karma, Lamborghini, and other exotic cars parked outside as we walked in was quite the entrance. 

Here are my highlights:

– Listening to Michael Bronner unveil his new company Unreal, which aims to start a health revolution through junk food

– Watching mentalist Gerard Senehi perform his amazing tricks, including bending a metal fork in my hand without touching it, with the CEO of NPR on my right and former CEO of Ticketmaster on my left! 

– Hanging out with Elliott and Jeff from Summit Series, Nico and Fabian from Sandbox, Stephanie from Her Campus, my brother Sujay, and many more.

My only qualm was that the event was too short.  There were so many amazing people there – like the President of MSNBC, the founders of ZipCar and Palantir, and the former President of Ann Taylor – but I didn’t get to meet even 10% of the attendees given that we only had ~8 hours together, with only ~3 hours for real mingling. However, you know it’s a good event when the only problem was that it was too short!

Very much looking forward to next year’s event as this was one of the best events I’ve been to all year.  

Written by sheeltyle

June 22, 2012 at 7:07 am

My Next Move

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A lot has changed over the past month.  I bought a gym membership in New York, then had to cancel it.  I made some really great friends in the city, then had to have quick good bye dinners over the span of a week.

I have decided to join New Enterprise Associates, or NEA, in Menlo Park.  It all happened really fast; in fact, it happened over the course of essentially 72 hours and most of it in New York, over Skype, and phone calls. And I’m really excited.

The past two years that I’ve been a part of the Bessemer family have been an absolute blessing and privilege for me.  I started in Summer of 2010 as a Summer Analyst in New York and never really left.  I stayed involved during the 2010-2011 school year while working for BVP’s portfolio company, Skybox, and coming into the BVP Menlo Park office multiple times per week.  I was running around the bay area and on my phone all the time speaking with companies, and the day after my graduation from Stanford, we issued an investment recommendation for Snapdeal.  I spent just as much time outside the country (mainly Asia) as in the USA while at BVP, and ended up being actively involved on a number of deals that went through (Matrimony.com, Skybox, and Black Swan Solar) and even more that didn’t.

The more time I spent at Bessemer, the more in awe I became of the people and the firm’s history.  A hundred years is a LOT of time in the venture business, an industry known for its risky investments and high turnover & churn.  And it has everything to do with the type of people that Bessemer hires.  They are some of the most genuine, down-to-earth, caring people in the industry.  They also happen to be really, really good investors.  I wish I could tell you some of their numbers, but all you need to do is look at some of the acquisitions, IPOs, or massive financings from the last year to get a taste: Yelp (IPO), Pinterest (Series A), Millennial Media (Seeded & Series A before IPO),  LinkedIn (IPO), Traffix (acq. F5 Systems), Vertica (acq. HP), OMGPOP (acq. Zynga), Verastem (IPO), and the list goes on!

Leaving wasn’t easy.  I know everyone at the firm, and I have a close personal relationship with a majority of the investment professionals.  It’s never easy to leave a place you love.

Still, every once in an a while, an opportunity comes along that you feel like you have to take.  Something in your gut tells you that the people are something special.  That was the case with NEA.  I’ll be a part of the US tech team (specifically the consumer team, led by Scott Sandell and Tony Florence) and the India team, while continuing to look at other emerging markets.  NEA is an investor in Groupon, Bloom Energy, Workday, and many others.  And they are a really great, welcoming bunch of people.  I could go on about the NEA people and their investments, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

I’m excited for a wild ride ahead.

Written by sheeltyle

May 22, 2012 at 5:46 pm