Tesla Update

OK, so I admit to not having written a single entry in 2015. It was a year of pretty great change for me.

Small World Group was winding down and I traveled to Singapore much less. And SWG has stopped investing as frequently in seed level companies in both the USA and Singapore

At the same time, my commitment to Phoenix Venture Partners increased and I now am giving this advanced materials focused VC Group most of my time. I am a “general partner” with them. We are nearing the end of fundraising for Fund II. The PVP model is one where we have 8 MNC corporations who invest as the anchor strategic partners. Then we have additional partners in terms of sovereign wealth funds and HNW individuals.

So there are my excuses. But I am going to try and pick this up again and maybe write even more frequently than in the past. So look for my posts to be announced on Twitter with a link … and maybe on FaceBook too.

Tesla update. I have only driven Chevys and Prius for the last 40 years but on March 31, 2015, I bought a Model S Tesla. Wow, do I love it.

The self-driving mode is perhaps my favorite feature. I think it makes the car a much better driver than I am in heavy stop-and-go traffic. It never loses focus, never gets tired, never tailgates! And I have a tendency to suffer from all of these afflictions as a normal driver.

The car is quiet, has plenty of range, I got it with the dual chargers so on my personal front I can charge the car at 220VAC at 80A when at my house so it refills its “tank” in about 2-3 hours for most circumstances.

And then when I take a longer trip the Superchargers (which are completely free to use) can do the same charging function in less than 30 minutes in most cases. I have only gone into a gas station 1x in the last year or so and that was for a rental car. I don’t miss that at all.

Yes, the car is quiet, comfy, has a very nice sound system too. But what really makes it different is the periodic updates that empower the car to be “smarter”. Each one is a delight and sometimes a surprise as well.

It is an American car company that is changing the world. Hurray!

Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Personal Stories

Truly Disruptive Technology

I am in line to get the new Tesla model S 85D.  This is the new dual motor, all wheel drive, some limited self driving capabilities, update of the Model S.

When you sign up to buy one they take a small deposit and then loan you a car for 24 hours to test it out, see how it works for you.  So much nicer than a normal dealer where the test drive you get is with the sales person and it is limited to a few miles from the dealer and for probably a few minutes.  My test drive of the Tesla was 200 miles in length, down freeways/interstates at reasonable speed, down California highway 1 which has twists and turns, through redwoods and up the coast.  In short it was sufficient time for my partner and me to really both drive it to our hearts content, try out the features and really understand how it felt to us.  What a different car purchasing experience.

Some states in the USA will not permit Tesla cars to be sold!!  Can you imagine this in the land of the free?  They do this because Tesla cars are not sold through dealers but through the factory.  Does anyone really have a great dealer experience to tell us?  If they do then it is about a dealer who probably did solid long term service on the car that was sold.

Do you know that Teslas generally are not sold at all on the basis of service?  It almost never comes up in the sales discussion and if it does it is pretty small discussion at that.  Why?

Because Teslas have almost nothing that under normal wear can break.

Car repairs come it 2 flavors – those that are considered “normal maintenance” and those which are just problems that arrive –  here is a list of these from Yahoo

  • Replacing Intake Manifold Gaskets
  • Replacing Ignition Coils
  • Replacing Engine Coolant Temperature Sensor
  • Replacing Exhaust Gas Recirculation valve
  • Replacing Spark Plugs
  • Replacing Mass Air Flow Sensor
  • Replacing Catalytic Converter
  • Loose Fuel Caps
  • Replacing Oxygen Sensor
  • Changing the Oil
  • Changing the Oil Filter
  • Changing the Air Filter
  • Replacing the Brakes
  • Replacing the Coolant
  • Replacing the tires

Of this ENTIRE list only replacing the tires happens on a similar basis with a Tesla.  The rest of the list mainly is not valid because the Tesla’s don’t even have the parts or systems in the car … they have no spark plugs, engine coolant, ignition coils, manifold or manifold gaskets, catalytic converters, oxygen sensors … well you get it.

So repairing the Tesla is something that many people don’t do for years.  They may rotate the tires from time to time to get longer wear from them.  But that is pretty much it !!!

No wonder dealers are wary of Tesla cars … they will kill the dealer model of making money from post sales service.

That is pretty disruptive and it is the kind of idea that comes from Silicon Valley.

When Finisar was started in the late 1980s the entire fiber optic world  was centered on Japan and the east coast of the USA.  20 years later the Japanese are still contributing but honestly at a much lower level.  And the rest moved to Silicon Valley because it was ripe for disruption.  Same for the automotive industry.  Detroit is so embedded in its vision of the past that this industry will change forever soon.

The next disruption is when we get sufficient numbers of pure EV cars that can stay plugged in whenever they are not moving and then become one major element of grid storage to help stabilize a grid where renewable sources are a significant part of the grid.

For example in California if there were 1M Tesla each with 85 KW-hr batteries.  Then theoretically the grid would have about 2 hours of storage in place to help manage transitions from renewables back to other forms of energy generation.  Such transition times are more grid friendly.  And of course this storage also can be used to provide peak shaving at any time.

Go Tesla!

Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Personal Stories

Sticking with Our Tribe or Moving Forward with Logic

Let me start off this essay with a link to a law just passed by the Tennessee legislature.  It bans buses of any type in the state of Tennessee.  It is there because some people feel that a rapid transit system would’ve ran on a 7.1 mile route and served rapidly growing neighborhoods across [Nashville].  This from the same state that once tried to legislate Pi to be 3 and not 3.1415926 …   We are so divided as a country and a planet/people.  We cannot agree to do simple projects for the good because it goes against some embedded interests that for a religious or hidden reason work very hard to defeat it.

There is a terrific program on climate change being shown on Showtime over the next 8 weeks.  The first episode was last Sunday.  The series is entitled Years of Living Dangerously.

The show has 3 revolving stories – one about a drought in Plainview (and Lubbock) Tx, one about the burning of forests in Indonesia and the last about a drought in Syria.  In each case, there are people who are confused and some that are clear.  Of the people who are confused, they are all thoughtful but they have deeply embedded views of the world.  These views come from the people, religions and educational systems that have been with them their entire lives.  After the first hour it is clear that the people in west Texas and Syria are having a drought that will drive deep social and political unrest, change and heartbreak.  And that the corruption of the political process in Indonesia is having an impact on all of the world’s people and there is literally nothing we can do about it.

I highly recommend this series.

I also have been reading a book – The Fourth Turning.  The main thesis of this book is that in the course of human history there are major cycles that repeat themselves about every 80-100 years.  That it takes 4 generations of people (a generation being 20-25 years) before we forget how we forged our last real political and social alignment and then – often in the furnace of large scale death and destruction – we forge a new alliance.

In the USA, these major events happened in 1776 (revolutionary war), 1860 (civil war), 1940 (WW2) and we are coming up to one very soon.  In each case the future of our society hung completely in the balance and we agreed to change directions.  But not without lots of heartbreak.  This will be the first one we have to face with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, cyber warfare, and such.

At the end of each 4 generation cycle, we find that there are groups who are totally at odds with one another.  In the revolutionary war, there were colonists who were deeply loyal to Britain and the King, and there were those just as fervent for change.  In the civil war, it was clearly about slavery and not just states rights and there were people on both sides so at odds that only large scale killing of brothers and families could pave the way forward.

Today clearly (as you see in the first episode of Years of Living Dangerously), we are in a time of deep devision and mistrust between groups in our society.  Many believe that climate change is a lie or worse a hoax by the liberal establishment to be pushed onto others to enhance their own political future.  The governor of Texas does not believe it is real.  Most republicans do not believe it is real.

It is when we get to these seemingly unreconcilable differences that we are in the most horrific trouble.  And now it appears we will have to experience it with weapons and a global interconnectedness that was never present in the past.

Are there opinions you are holding that are so important that you want to risk global chaos more massive than anything we have ever seen?

Think about it.

Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Spiritual Threads

How many functions can you carry in a cell phone?

It is reported that Bill Joy was one of the first to see that smart cell phones could incorporate so many different functions in to a single device.

So it is that today we don’t carry separate digital camera, PDA, music player, video player, compass, GPS/maps/route planner.

So what’s left?

For many people … very little. But for those that create content, they still carry about a laptop so that they can use this tool for their creative amplifier.

So how close are we to dropping that? Closer than you think.

The iPhone 5s has the Apple designed A7, dual core 64-bit processor which is very close to what I am using to create this blog. Now my workstation is a MacBook Pro, has 4 cores instead of 2 and has quite a bit more main memory but the rest of it is ready to fall. If I travel with the iPhone 6S in 2 years how close will they get? Convergence.

I used to need large HDD (hard disk drives) for local storage but the cloud has nullified and made that obsolete. I used to like having a CD/DVD player burner but that too is dying. I do want a keyboard and I need a mouse instead of a touch screen to make many tasks optimal.

But …

Soon we can kill off the laptop complete because it will be integrated into the phone or tablet maybe.

How will this be done? I suspect we will see a phone what can run both OS simultaneously. iOS will be for real time functions including voice and video comms, maps, chats, navigating the real world in real time. And OSX will be there when we drop into creative mode and want big screens, more precise formatting, placement and the tools whereby to explain ideas.

Both could exist and run simultaneously on what I would project would be the A8 but by the A9 it will be fully complete.

Imagine a world where hotels have digital displays where hooking up your phone in some docking cradle that includes charging … oops the rooms today already have that … you only need to make the digital connection. And the Display Share of Apple TV gives you that without any cables or other claptrap. You might still carry a mouse and keyboard but these are light and do not require heavy support on the road. At home you have these 3 elements to transform the phone into the workstation.

But in general you are carrying your workstation with you all the time and it is always there to support your creative moments.

All this has one HUGE benefit for Apple. As they dump Intel, they will reinstate their lost element of surprise pretty completely. Right now all of their workstation Macintosh computers have their roadmaps published essentially by Intel. You want a Mac, today it is basically the Haswell specs. Right?

When a technology is so clearly able to benefits the users and the makers of it – win-win – it will show up. Only question is how quick?

Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Investing

Thoughts on Water and Startups

This past week I gave a talk on  water to a group attending TechVenture 2013 in Singapore.

This is a conference centered on startups in Singapore and SE Asia.  Perhaps about 1000 people were in general attendance, but my talk drew about 50 people.

Here is the presentation I gave.

Generally, the problem with innovation in the area of water technology is that the basic inventions can be made and that is where papers get published, ideas can create buzz.  But water is so basic, so important and so prone to being difficult over time and under different circumstances that  companies mistake innovation for the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts of making a solid long lived product.

Finisar makes fiber optic transceivers and these sell today for well below $20 even at 10 Gb/s.  But what makes these parts so remarkable is that when the end customer gets them they are plugged in, and run 7/24 for up to 20+ years and it is quite likely that every single bit they transmit is received error free for the life time of the product.  They are inexpensive, reliable, accurate and all beyond any normal standards we see in ordinary life.

And it has to be the same for water.  1B, yes one billion, people are without clean drinking water on a daily basis.  And no shiny idea from a small company installed in a village will likely stand the test of time working under mishandling, bad weather, changes in water input quality, etc. that is required to deliver trusted water for drinking to the village year after year.

If you think you know how to do this at the same level Finisar delivers transceivers, then give us a shout here at Small World Group.



Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Singapore Incubator, StartUp Ideas

Photo Fun and Insights




Iraq Power System - Click to Enlarge

Iraq Power System – Click to Enlarge

I recently traveled to the Kurdish portion of Iraq and was able to see many interesting things.  I was in the town of Sulaymaniyah which is about 1M people.  they are all VERY nice and want to bootstrap themselves into a collaborating part of the rest of the modern world.  I visited the American University there which is independent but similar to the ones in Cairo and Beirut.

The Kurds are the largest distinct ethnic group in the world without their own country.  There are Kurds in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.  I learned that the Kurdish language was for a long time primarily used as a way to transcribe Kurdish poetry.  These are an art-filled people with the ability to express themselves beautifully.  While there I attended a poetry reading by one of the most prominent living Kurdish poets.  Fun.

On the last day I was there, I walked around the town with a knowledgable guide who walked me into the oldest part of town where the buildings were constructed using older techniques – mud and straw as building materials.  And there I was able to see a unique electrical power system that is pictured in the photo above.  This post is about that photo.

I took the photo with my iPhone using its new “panorama” feature.  So the photo spans probably more than a 180 degree view of where I stood.  First notice all of the wires.  They are all headed back to the back upper right hand corner of the photo where you can just see an orange fuel tank, probably diesel.  At that location is a internal combustion generator for the local electricity.  All of the individual users of this generator have separate power lines that lead from the generator to their homes!  I believe this is the case because the power meters on the homes may be compromised or even power vampired before the meter so … each individual line is billed based on a meter back at the generator that cannot be compromised. And the people using the power must pay what the meter there says so they police their own power lines for cheating.  Ha.

Now look at all of the power lines, there are hundreds in this photo alone.

Also this photo has 2 artifacts of the panorama software.  A person with a ladder walked through the photo as I was taking it and you can see the ladder but in pieces towards the left side of this photo.  Also a young person dressed like in the USA in jeans and sort of a hoodie walked through and he is at the far right but only his shoes and lower legs and his hoodie.  Ha.

Hope you enjoy all that you can see in this photo.

Write me if you have questions or ideas you want to see discussed.

Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Personal Stories, Spiritual Threads

Natural Gas and Carbon

Rupert Murdock, that scion of conservative publishing actually types his own Twitter feed.  Here was a recent one –

LNG halves carbon emissions. So stop wasting billions on windmills now! On climate change, China is the whole game.

(note – LNG = liquified natural gas)

Its true that burning natural gas saves substantial CO2 emissions over burning coal.  And its true that China is the whole game … to a point.  But let’s dig a bit deeper.

Gas is burned in turbines to transform that energy into electricity; these turbines resemble jet engines so it is not chance that GE is one of the biggest natural gas turbine suppliers in the world.  GE is just releasing new turbines and their key new feature is that they start up and reach full power in 6.5 minutes.

How are these facts related?

Murdock and others around the world are going to push that we now have discovered so much new natural gas that we don’t need to invest in renewables.  You will see that on the USA political agenda too.  For example, we have begun using more natural gas ourselves BUT shipping our coal to Europe to burn.  So that our CO2 numbers improve while Europe’s efforts including all their renewable efforts are diminished due to the burning of our coal.

Markets value materials based on supply and demand but this economic equation has little way to value things in the somewhat distant future.  Natural gas may be plentiful for a few decades even.  And we can burn it in turbines for electricity and in buses for transportation and so forth.

But if we do that we will only postpone the challenges we have today with regards to sustainability.

Natural gas is a VERY good fuel to help manage peak loads and that is a big problem longer term.  Renewable energy will always be unstable in terms of its supply.  The sun shines or does not depending on time of day, weather.  Wind blows with high variability as well.  And we will build storage devices (Small World Group has substantial investments in this ares) that can help balance the grid but standing behind all of this technology, probably for more than 100 years, will need to be natural gas fired turbines.

We will need natural gas to be the final smoother of our power infrastructure until we develop base load power that meets all of the political tests for safety in terms of environment and fuel availability.  The only technology today that is an alternative to natural gas is nuclear – probably thorium fuel and not uranium – and for the moment that is unacceptable.  This will change but it may take many years where we will need to use natural gas carefully.

So in my opinion, Robert Murdock is wrong about mass burning of natural gas today.  We should supply energy from wind and solar on a steadily and strongly increasing basis and let natural gas fill in the differences.  China should do the same.  We all should because there is no other practical way forward.

Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Investing

Singapore Update

A new Blog was launched this week by an early partner in Small World Group’s efforts in Singapore.  It’s author is Chris Vargas and he has moved his entire family to Helsinki, Finland to engage with the start up scene there for a year.  You can read his first post here.

In the post, he argues that Silicon Valley is less a “place” and more a state of mind.  I resonate with that.  See what  you think.  Welcome Chris!

After reading Chris’ first post, I was motivated to generate one of my own.  So today’s post is a summary of where we have come in the 3 years since I returned to Singapore and began working to start an Incubator here.

First a simple summary –

  • we have started 12 companies in Singapore plus 1 in the USA
  • we closed 2 of the companies (or are in the process of closing, more on that in a bit)
  • we raised more money for 3 of the companies in follow on fundings; all were increased valuations
  • 8 of the companies have strong clean tech focus
  • 1 company has a unique sports gadget
  • 3 companies have internet/web roots
  • 1 company brings a unique value proposition to emerging markets for computing and connectivity

Of the remaining 11 companies, 2 are currently seeking funding and have reasonable prospects.

One of the surprising results has been how long some of the companies have been able to stretch the money we invested.  Each of the companies knows that they must finish their initial product, sell it to some early customers and have those initial sales transact at reasonable gross margins for their industries.  We see that now happening for most of the remaining companies.

Our key investment thesis was that we wanted our “saplings” to be frugal with the money, learn how to be a full company with sales and customers and not think like a development group.  We funded our first company 24 months ago in October 2010 and now we see this transformation happening in each of the groups.  Hurray!

In Singapore, so many plans we saw initial had voluminous discussions about “markets” and how the new company would meet market needs.  We have worked consistently to tell them not to focus on markets … little companies have to focus on customers.  And now this is working.  HP and Apple can address markets, little startups must focus on initial customers.

We also have worked to create a “culture” in the Incubator.  Our culture is customer centric technology and business development.  My partner in Finisar, Jerry Rawls, was fond of saying that culture eats strategy for breakfast (lunch) (Peter Drucker is the root origin for this, I think).  And by this he meant, that Finisar’s culture – again one of fanatical customer satisfaction – would always trump us being clever, smarter, first to market.  And it is this same approach which we now work daily to maintain at the incubator.

And it is working!

This week on Wednesday, Sept 26, we will hold our 3rd open house where each of our companies present and tell their evolving stories to potential investors.  Most don’t need money so this session is about investors getting to know them BEFORE they engage.  They can hear plans, talk about customers and sales and then watch the companies for another 4-8 months before any money transacts.  It is a different model that has its origin in our culture.  We sell results not futures, teams and their accomplishments, not so much patents and promise.


Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Investing, Singapore Incubator, StartUp Ideas

What We Pass On

Lately I have been reading books on climate change.

Here is a short list of books that are VERY readable and whose points are well made –

  • Storms of My Grandchildren by James Hansen – Book by one of the leading USA climate scientists.  Starts with the known facts and then extrapolates to consequences
  • Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air by David MacKay – a dissection of UK energy uses and sources today, then projects efficiency savings and new technology for generation; takes all of this and then shows what it will take to make things be in balance
  • Whole Earth Discipline by Stewart Brand – a thoughtful telling of how we must adopt modern technologies by a person who has deep street cred in fighting some of what he now advocates
  • Abundance by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler – why humans tend to be pessimistic and like bad news; how to see the world in more balanced ways
  • Keeping Our Cool by Andrew Weaver – long time Canada member of IPCC, thoughtful telling of science behind climate change told for all including non-scientists
This list should keep you busy and provide some thoughts for your vacation reading.
In reading these, I am repeatedly struck by the immensity of the challenges we are building for ourselves in the future.
Modern new agencies present climate change as a scientific inquiry where there is considerable differences of opinion and where the outcomes are uncertain.  It is clear from all my reading that this simply is not so.  Weaver makes the case most explicitly.  Science is clear as it can be that we are now in the early to middle stages of human driven climate change because we are mining all of the carbon the earth has stored away over millions of years and putting it back into our atmosphere in the form of CO2 in a matter of a couple hundred years.  The impact of this will be global warming, the melting of polar ice and all glaciers, the acidification of the ocean waters.  Any one of these will have dramatic consequences for all life (including human) on planet earth.  There are no peer reviewed journals where there are published articles that challenge these statements in any credible way.
Now the point of this essay is not to go further into climate, but to ask a different question.
Don’t we always seem to pass onto our children and grandchildren the solutions to past problems and the dilemmas of future problems?
In the founding of the USA more than 225 years ago, the constitution allowed for slavery.  It was part of the balance or deal struck in order to create the Union.  But 80 years later we had to fight a civil war that was massively damaging to our still new nation just to over turn that legacy.
In the ending of WWI, the winning nations demanded reparations that broke the German and other losing countries economies and gave rise to WW2.
Even further back we can see that the industrial revolution was the turn of technologies that now gives rise to climate change … it is when we started massive extraction and combustion of fossile fuels.  The industrial revolution is also the moment in time when much more of humanity was able to share in the common riches and simple life enhancing articles that were only traditionally available to the super rich.  Clean water, underwear, dishes and silverware – you get the idea – were once only available to kings and their households.  All developed nations have this as a baseline for all their citizens and this is rapidly spreading to all humanity.
So we are consuming ground based carbon and putting CO2 into the atmosphere in return we are getting a more universally educated, healthy and basic living standards for every person on earth.
My question in this essay is: Are we creating a problem that cannot be solved in fulfilling and providing fairness to all or are we once again not having enough confidence in our children and their children to take care of the future?
The contention by some very thoughtful people is that this time we are running up against absolute limits of the earth’s resources – fully depleted fossil fuels, drained aquifers, too much CO2 in the atmosphere.  And they are marshaling very convincing scientific arguments.
History suggest another outcome.  We have consistently underestimated human kind’s ability to invent and mitigate the perceived risks of the future through greater innovation both in terms of scientific advances as well as social advances.  We are not the same people we were 200 years ago when the industrial revolution started us on the road of climate change.   We have mastered technology and vast landscapes of science.  But we have also built new institutions in terms of governing structures, businesses, philanthropy and such.
When I consider the only the scientific evidence I find very little in the way of comfort.  But when I consider the entire human record then there is hope.

Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Personal Stories, Spiritual Threads

More Less Abundance

OK, every once in a while you get a TIRADE from this website.  But hopefully it is one that teaches you not to believe everything you read on the web or in books.

Today, we take to task the book “Abundance” which was discussed in the previous column.

Here are the claims –

“… imaging toilets that require no infrastructure.  No pipes under the floor, no leach field under the lawn, no sewage system … these high tech toilets powder and burn the feces and flash evaporate the urine … Rather than wasting anything, these toilets give back: packets of urea (for fertilizer), table salt, volumes of fresh water, and enough power that you can charge your cell phone while taking a c**p …

Toilets account for 31% of all water use in America …”

And here are the facts from a US Geological Services report –

USA Water Use - Click to Enlarge

USA Water Use – Click to Enlarge

Different, right?

The fact is that the major uses of water are for power generation cooling and irrigation.  These comprise 80%.  So it is unlikely that “toilets account for “31% of all water use in America”.  Moreover, domestic water use accounts for 1% of the water use and it is quite likely that toilets account for 31% of that use so in actuality toilets account for 0.31% of all water use in America.  Wow!  A 100x mistake!

Moreover if you were really going to make a difference, where would you put your efforts in have more fresh water in circulation?  Clearly into better forms of irrigation and thermoelectric power generation.

And there are efforts well underway for both.  Israel has been developing drip irrigation and its improvements for many years.  Power plants with out using fresh water for cooling is now part of most generating plant proposals in California; there policy change is diving technology innovation.

It has a biblical ring to it … but by knowing the truth, you can set your self free to work on solutions for the real problems in the world.

Got a fact that seems wrong?  Send us your questions and we will fact check!

Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Investing, Singapore Incubator, StartUp Ideas