From Kazakhstan to Paris, with Mexico, DC, Sacramento and Los Angeles in between.
Warning: this post covers almost six months, so its a bit long. Skip to the pics if you want a scan.
This is how we spent the second half of 2018: We took four RV trips, I gave four speeches at a m/c rally, attended a climate summit in SF, took two train trips, flew to PV a couple of times, went to Pakistan for the first time, I worked with the Trump Administration and to top it all off – I go under the knife for a 4 1/2 hour surgery.
One of our pleasant surprises of the second half is we use Thor (25 ft Class B RV) much more often than we expected and in a totally different way. We bought it for long, meandering trips as well as a second bedroom in PV. But most of our trips have turned out to be short stints to beaches and lakes in which Bogart and Squirt can run free. We’ve made a “Thor Weekend” really Plug & Play as we can be packed and ready to go in under an hour. There’s an RV park on a beach 45 minutes from downtown LA.. We go there most often despite being directly beneath LAX’s runways and across the street from a huge sewage treatment plan and oil refinery:)
Going to Pakistan wasn’t on my bucket list. The Taliban. Radical Islam. Osama bin Laden and the land of the Burka sums up what I knew of Pakistan before getting the invitation to speak at the 021Disrupt conference in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. I could only stay 3 1/2 days, so KR didn’t come along.
Let me cut to the chase. Here’s what I encountered in Karachi.
- I continue to be surprised that there are young, enthusiastic entrepreneurs in most emerging countries and Pakistan is no different. The 021Disrupt conference drew 500+ entrepreneurs, students, and investors. I met with a great many very fine young people who were all earnestly trying to build a company. But, like most every other developing nation, Pakistan’s entrepreneurs have little support from government, businesses, investors, universities and other stakeholders. It’s this “ecosystem” that accelerates innovation in developed nations.
- Pakistan is country of paradoxes for an American entrepreneur. First, the country was created specifically so that Muslims could live the life that their religion specifies. This is not just a country that has a Muslim population, its a country that was created for them. It’s a country which is tightly controlled by its federal government and military. Yet, I didn’t see a country that looked 100% traditional Muslim. At least at the events I went to — diplomatic, entrepreneurial, academic, social — there was a mix of traditional and Western dress by both the women and men. The women I spoke with were smart, articulate and independent. Net net, it felt comfortable. I discovered to my surprise that no alcohol is served anywhere except private clubs and only available for sale in black market stores.
- I was more aware of security in Pakistan than any country I’ve been to. It wasn’t blatant, no armed soldiers on street corners and in hotel lobbies as in Ethiopia. No, it was a serious consideration whenever outside the hotel. For the first time, I learned what US Green Zones, Yellow Zones or Red Zones meant. Green = an American government employee on station can go there anytime without permission. Yellow = an American can go with the permission of their immediate boss. Red= an American only can go with the permission of the Ambassador. This was the first time I’d been to a Red Zone. Yet, it was pretty heartening to listen to Pakistani government officials at a lunch meeting discuss the causes — and potential solutions — of radicalism in a realistic, long-term way. There was no white-washing.
- Physically, Karachi is a lot like Mumbai or Delhi. At 20+ million people, all three cities are of similar size. Karachi looks a lot like India, except possibly less depressing, slightly less garbage, with more cars vs Tuk Tuks. Karachi is located in a desert — it gets 2 days of rain each year! There doesn’t appear to be a lot of infrastructure (sidewalks and things like that) and like Delhi, it doesn’t feel like a walking city compared to Mumbai.
- Finally, Pakistan provides a real-life prism into the immigration issue. Pakistan is one of the biggest supporters of radical Islam and supports terrorism against the US in Afghanistan. Its one of the last countries I’d want someone immigrating from. Yet, the young entrepreneurs I met would be welcome additions to our country. All you have to do is look into the eyes of a young Pakistani who visited US once, thinks its a magical place, and desperately wants live here to know what “I want to escape a bad place for the opportunity of America” looks like. Go figure.
On a lighter note, KR and I went to the annual Horizons Unlimited meeting of motorcycle adventurers in Mariposa, California this September. Its a three day event filled with training sessions, war stories, how-to sessions sprinkled around meals with fellow motorcyclists. We all camped in tents at the county fair grounds. We spent five days to and from the meeting, riding around California’s gold country. I was asked to make four — count’m four — presentations: “How to go to the Isle of Man TT races”, a travelogue of our two trips through Europe, unusual places to ride in California, and how to “rewire” your life for travel. While I was sure the last one would be the least popular, it was actually the most popular and generated the most interaction. Apparently getting one’s life under control in order to pursue your passion is a pretty important subject no matter the passion..
I finally got the chance to take the Amtrak train down the coast to San Diego and then north to San Luis Obispo. It was unique mode of transportation from our norm and I highly recommend it. The view is great, not worrying about the drive was terrific, the food was acceptable, and it made for great scenery — inside and outside the coach. If any of you are contemplating this trip, email me and I’ll give you some pointers.
I’m writing this post from bed two weeks after going through a 4 1/2 surgery to resection my colon. Basically, they cut a six inch section out and re-attached the ends. It’s been quite an experience that I’m glad to have come through fine. I have one peace of advice for everyone reading this over the age of 50 – get a colonoscopy now if you haven’t had one for a year. It saved my life.
OK, enough with the words, here’s what all of this looked like in pictures.
That’s it for now. I’ll try to write more often.
PS: One fun fact for 2018: We took 18 trips this year, which is the fewest number in the last four years. We’re at 42 countries and counting. We need to pick up the pace : )
Trying to start a company isn’t for the weak-kneed. I’ve tried eleven times so far, with NGIN being No. 12. Measured by money, and most would argue there’s no other measurement worth calculating, only one of them has made a lot of it. Two of them have been truly special places to work, having a lasting effect on all of us. Just one of them has might make a lasting impact on something greater than those who have worked there.
Building companies is a young man’s (and woman’s) game as only they have the energy and are blind to the risks. Being resilient is essential if you’re going to push through the daily set-backs. “Peaks and valleys” is too kind of a phrase to describe what its like. There is nothing remotely valley-ish about the life-changing, gut-wrenching consequences of the failures that inevitably happen. Nor does peaks describe the pure, unadulterated joy of succeeding, even for a moment.
Which brings us back to No. 12 — NGIN. I’m old enough to know the chances of success are low and the risks of failure (it will be expensive). I get exhausted quicker and it takes longer to recover. I’ve already had too many “What the f__k am I doing?” sessions while nursing a screwdriver and ruminating over some lost opportunity. Geez, who needs this?
Well, that’s the rub because I think the whole world needs what NGIN is trying to accomplish. I keep thinking that if we can build a global innovation ecosystem, we can slow climate change, help the poor, and spread the entrepreneurial spirit. The other part of the answer to “who needs this?” is apparently, reluctantly, sheepishly — me, I need to be doing something that’s challenging. So, we’re going to run at this pretty hard and see where it goes.
Which brings us to the last 26 days as KR and I have been traipsing through Europe looking for funding for NGIN. This is not an academic exercise as NGIN has at best a couple of thousand dollars in the bank and isn’t paying its team of three much of anything but the satisfaction of knowing we’re doing something “good.” NGIN runs out of money in September.
When we got on the plane to DC, I only had a vague notion of a plan. I was going to go to as many conferences, speak on every panel I could find, talk to as many potential sources of funding that I could corner, and come up with as many fundable ideas as I could. Basically, the plan was to hustle, just like FMIG or LACI or whatever else I’ve done.
Twenty-six days, seven cities, seven countries, six plane rides, two train rides, dozens of Ubers, a bus ride or two, miles and miles of walking, five conferences, three speeches, and 26+ meetings later… I still don’t know if I found us some money. That’s just the way these things roll, you never know until you know.
Yet, I’m f___king proud that I found three real, serious (as in $100M serious) chances to get NGIN funded. I did what I set out and now its time to drag one of these over the finish line. The biggest thing we accomplished was giving us some hope that we have a chance.
We moved around like we were on the run from the law, never staying in one place very long and changing our mode of transportation constantly. We packed light (considering those 26 meetings), got conversant in the language of trains, subways, trams, taxis et al – all of which were in something other than English, and learned to not unpack if not needed. We ate well, drank at will, crammed in as much prowling around as we could, and met tons of nice people. Note to self: scrambling around Europe is a lot nicer than scrambling around India or China.
There were lots of firsts on this trip. Of the seven cities/countries we went to, four countries (Austria, Hungary, Denmark and Finland) and five cities (Vienna, Budapest, Malmö, Copenhagen, and Helsinki) were new. I’d never packed for a twenty-six day BUSINESS trip, with suits, ties, shirts, et. al in sufficient quantity to look fresh at every meeting. I’ve never made a pitch for a $100M program in a train station before and I’ll remember Malmö’s train station for a while.
We went to our first Mozart concert in a marvelous Vienna theater. We went to our first bar in a converted canal control tower in Copenhagen (and it was a non profit too!). Speaking about bars, we went to our first “Ruins Bar” in Budapest and the “First American Bar” in Vienna. The most unexpected great meal, of many great meals, was a Swedish restaurant tucked in a shopping mall in the party district of old Budapest.
Being an AirBnB guest rather than as our normal role as a host was new as well. It’s not an accident that KR gets lots of great reviews for Corona Adobe as our guests get treated to a whole other level than we generally experienced. Finally, we did not lose one item, although we might have come close a couple of times. KR and I have a workable “have we got everything” and “always look back” routine.
Here’s the speed dating version of our trip
- DC, Vienna, Budapest, Malmö, Copenhagen, Helsinki, and London (in that order)
- Vienna was regal, pretty, clean, well-organized, a bit formal, the locals were kind of cold and there were a ton of tourists even in May. Probably not our favorite place.
- Budapest was gorgeous, both physically and architecturally, it looked lived in, has a great vibe, faster paced, and the Danube is, well the Danube. Definitely on the return list.
- Malmö was, well, Swedish. The land of IKEA architecture, clean lines, homogeneous people, lots and lots of runners and bikers, and is worth a half day to see (we were there two). Everyone was outside as it was warm and sunny in May, a phenomena not usually experienced, if at all, until July.
- Copenhagen rivaled Budapest for beauty and KR would argue it was prettier. Canals, charming neighborhoods, the first rush hour traffic jam of bicyclists I’ve seen, people were edgier (there were five tattoo parlors on our little street). Ditto for the sunshine impact – the canals and cafes were lined with sunbathers.
- Budapest was the easiest on the pocketbook, bordering on inexpensive. Copenhagen was by far the worst, followed closely by Helsinki. Copenhagen is so expensive that I wouldn’t go back for that reason alone.
- All the Nordic countries are clean, modern, pleasant and white. I’m not talking about snow. Only “service” people were a different shade, and the number of African Americans we saw on this whole trip could be counted on both hands.
- If you want to see what a city looks like whose primary mode of transportation are bicycles, go to Copenhagen. Everyone rides, in all manner of dress, in all directions, all the time. Maybe its because there’s a 150% tax on new cars. I wonder what it looks like in mid-March when it gets dark at 3:00PM and its snowing?
- All of Europe, and especially the Nordic countries, were celebrating truly spectacular weather for May. We only had a day or two of rain, the rest was great. We love traveling in May as it’s a “shoulder” month in which prices are still not the high season and you can get lucky with the weather.
Here’s what our twenty six days looked like in pictures:
Part 4: What’s the problem, anyway?
All scientists, researchers and engineers should skip this article
Today, most of the world’s leaders (not You Know Who) acknowledge climate change’s threat and have committed billions of dollars to research new sustainable energy technologies or scale existing sustainable solutions (e.g., wind and solar). Unfortunately, much – if not most – of this investment will be under-utilized because there is no mechanism that can efficiently get new technology solutions out of research labs into the market on a global basis. This has created a global innovation gap between technology and the markets that desperately need its benefits today.
The Innovation Gap
There is no coordinated, efficient, comprehensive way of bridging this gap today – it’s all ad hoc with loosely connected efforts. Incubators, or other innovation centers, are most often regionally focused with sporadic connections to other parts of the world. Existing “networks” are usually only skin deep and concentrate on periodic convening events.
Don’t look to the national labs or the research universities to bridge this gap, because they have a “Not my job!” attitude when it comes to commercialization. Researchers are not incentivized to focus on the application of their invention and frankly most of them don’t have the skills to build businesses quickly. Despite what happens behind their lab doors, most universities aren’t flexible, fast-paced, and creative enough.
Why isn’t it the role of the private sector – specifically the venture capital and start up communities on the Left and Right Coasts — to bridge this gap? Well yes and no. Capital – especially venture capital – flows to the use with the best return in the quickest amount of time, which is not impact technology. We bend metal, build products, do chemistry. The average impact technology exit for a VC fund is 10+ years vs. 7+ years in the App and Mobile worlds. Hence, most VC money – and their well-developed support systems – has moved downstream on the impact technology market. As a result, the “flow” of risk investment capital to early stage clean technology entrepreneurs is best described as a trickle.
But the lack of money isn’t the only thing that’s causing in the innovation gap. Where are the entrepreneur assistance programs that cover the full range of cleantech start up issues needed to grow a clean technology company? There are some stand-out examples – Greentown Labs in Boston, the Austin Technology Incubator come to mind – but not many and certainly not around the world.
The kind of “ecosystems” that are needed are very different from those that support for the digital and media technologies. Condensed programs aimed at getting an investment in a couple of months’ time just don’t work for chemistry or hardware based technology companies. We need longer incubation, we need pilot programs with large customers or government agencies, we need help in scaling up manufacturing, expertise in developing a distribution network, a supply chain, etc., etc. The number of organizations that attempt this kind of assistance can be measured on two hands.
An ecosystem of ecosystems
We need to connect scientists with entrepreneurs with investors, with customers, with policy makers in 40+ countries. (yes, you read that right – 40. More on that later). At its core, our envisioned network is a collaboration of entrepreneurs and other innovators driven by a common mission to slow climate change and build economic wealth at the same time. Globally. In real time. At scale.
We are already working on this and have made significant progress in the last 24 months with supporters in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Germany, Italy, Finland, India, China, and Japan. This is just a start – significant for sure – but we know the road before us will be challenge.
We’re looking for the few who have the guts to tackle the earth’s biggest problems by building the world’s greatest impact technology companies. And, we don’t care about your age, gender, sexual preference, religion, or race or whatever else might make you special.
If you want to help build this network, then I want to talk to you. Anytime. firstname.lastname@example.org
Part 3: Late to the Climate Change Game
Can a Newbie make a contribution?
I’ve come late to the earth-is-in-danger party. While I started thinking about clean technologies in 2008, I looked at it as a great business opportunity that could also bring much needed economic development. My mantra was: “Let’s take advantage of this huge business opportunity and diminish our dependence on fossil fuels from parts of the world that don’t like us.” I didn’t look beyond the business side of it.
That was turned upside down on my first trip to China. Beijing’s smog was at a level I’d never seen before, at a scale that was hard to imagine. Then I went to Shanghai. Singapore. Seoul. Delhi. Mumbai. It was the same everywhere in Asia. Like most people, I equated pollution with GHG’s (green house gases) because we can see how smog is making the atmosphere worse. The unfortunate truth is that where there is one, there is usually the other. Even on this most basic level, how could we not think what was happening in Asia wasn’t going to impact us in the United States?
My first trip to Africa taught me something else about climate change – its impact on the poor. Women and children in Ethiopian villages still spend much of their time walking to and from the village water well to fill buckets. And they literally farm their lands with the same type of tools we were using in the 1600’s. Ethiopia is not unique, like much of Africa, they farm with basic hand-made tools, partially because they don’t have access to cheap energy. Today, more than 500 million people in Africa alone still don’t have access to electricity.
These are the same people that suffer first and hardest from the effects of climate change. Storms. Draught. Flooding. These weather events are literally life-threatening. There’s no backup plan because they can’t afford Plan A, let along Plan B. The World Bank predicts that more than 100 million people will be thrust into poverty from climate change by 2030.
I’ve seen first-hand how a little bit of technology can change people’s lives. A 20-watt solar panel held on a thatched roof by some wire enables a family in Peru to do homework at night, to read at night, to listen to a radio. Electricity literally changes lives. And it changes our lives as well, since this family isn’t burning kerosene lamps that contribute to GHGs. These same micro sustainable technologies are beginning to be implemented in Kenya and Ethiopia and throughout Sub-Sahara Africa.
My “Aha!’ moment came when I connected these dots: there are two sides to climate change – the climate side and the economic side. IF we can help entrepreneurs get their sustainable technology products/technologies to the markets most in need, then we could fight climate change and poverty at the same time!
In the past 20 years, 4.2 billion people have been affected by weather- related disasters, including significant loss of lives. Developing countries are the most affected by climate impacts. (The World Economic and Social Survey 2016).
Poor people and poor countries are exposed and vulnerable to all types of climate-related shocks – natural disasters that destroy assets and livelihoods; waterborne diseases and pests that become more prevalent during heat waves, floods, or droughts; crop failure from reduced rainfall; and spikes in food prices that follow extreme weather events. (“Shockwaves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty”, 2016).
Impoverished communities tend to be more dependent on climate-sensitive sectors and natural resources for survival, so climate change poses an extreme threat on the livelihood, food security, and health of the poor; women are particularly vulnerable (The Science of Adaptation; a Framework for Assessment, Mitigation, and Adaptation).
In Africa today, more than 500 million people live without electricity. Without effective climate action, 100 million more people will live in extreme poverty by 2030. (Shockwaves, 2016)
Here’s a radical thought: climate change isn’t going to be solved only by scientists and engineers. In fact, if you’re a scientist or engineer, its best that you don’t read the next part of the story.
Part 2: In Search of Entrepreneurs
The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in lots of unexpected places. Ecosystems that help those entrepreneurs? Not so much.
In most countries, I’d be in jail or minimally be an outcast from my family and friends because I’ve lost other people’s money while trying to start a company. Aside from societal punishment, failing at being an “entrepreneur” is gut-wrenching. Laying off people who’ve bet their future on you is one of the worst things in life. I’ve tried to build eleven companies and countless other things. None of them were “Unicorns,” but of the eleven, seven got off the ground, six got market traction, five made a bit of money, and one made a lot of money. And the jury is still out on one of them. Running hard at something is a lot of fun, and it’s pretty addictive.
I’ve spent a good part of the last six years looking for bright entrepreneurs who we could help. At first, it was in all the usual places: Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, Boston, Houston, DC and lots more. Then I went to China, India, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Italy, Germany, Ethiopia, UAE, Mexico and Egypt among others. In each instance, I went looking for entrepreneurs and organizations committed to helping them build sustainable businesses. As a result, about 40% of the companies that LACI has helped have been from outside Los Angeles.
I didn’t expect to find much in places like Ethiopia or Morocco. I was mainly looking for business opportunities for Los Angeles companies, not expecting to find much in the way of home-grown talent. I was surprised at most every stop — the fact is that entrepreneurs aren’t just born in California or Boston or NY, but in pretty much every corner of the world.
These are bright young people looking to build companies to support themselves and create products that will help their countries. In India, I came across a poster in one of its most prominent universities that was a take-off on the UK WWII “Keep Calm” posters that says it all: “Keep Calm and Hire Yourself”
Spend a couple of hours with the Girls Can Code (left) club in Addis Abba and its impossible not to be excited for our collective future. Or the young woman architect who’s designed simple, scaleable homes with a material that is in plentiful supply in Africa: plastic coke bottles. I met an English entrepreneur at the “Rise Up” entrepreneurial conference in Cairo that had an off-the-grid solar energy pack for Kenyan farmers for less than 50 cents a day! Very very cool.
Finding effective support systems to help these entrepreneurs around the world is a much more difficult task. Having the desire to start a company is one thing. Being willing to take the risk is essential, of course. But what about having the confidence to take the step? About even knowing what the first step is? Getting help, encouragement and practical advice is in very short supply anyplace outside the First World.
Many countries just don’t know what it takes either. Their policies restrict capital and/or just starting a business They have no history of successful company-building, hence they have no successful mentors to help the next generation. Failure/bankruptcy can land you in jail. Literally.
This is where the U.S.’s leadership is most apparent. We have the culture, the experience, the knowledge, and the support systems to assist entrepreneurs in making great companies. Yet, most of the time this knowledge just doesn’t get through to the developing countries that need it.
IMHO, its mainly because the NGO organizations that offer this type of help aren’t very entrepreneurial. Their staff is well-meaning, highly intelligent, but taking a class in entrepreneurship and being an expert on “competitiveness” doesn’t mean you know how to be an entrepreneur.
So, what happens in these countries when entrepreneurs have no supporting ecosystem? These countries are forced to buy innovation from others since they can’t develop it on their own. They buy it from China or Germany or the UK or the US or Israel or Finland. This helps their country insofar as they get new sustainable technologies that address key problems (energy, food, water, waste).
Unfortunately, they along the way they under nourish their home-grown entrepreneurs, perpetuating the big-corporations-selling-into-the-emerging-markets cycle that is so dominant in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In other words, it doesn’t help them build a domestic supply chain, nor the entrepreneurs to supply it, that can lift them out of poverty.
And here’s why this is important to you and me. Without entrepreneurial ecosystems to get new inventions into the market in every corner of the globe, we won’t slow climate change fast enough to save our planet. The data is pretty clear: the whole world is polluting and generating GHGs and the whole world needs to slow itself down.
“Why not let GE or Siemens or SAP or any of dozens of global companies solve the world’s problems?” you might be asking. After all, they’re the ones with the might, the knowledge, the connections, the scale to tackle these huge problems. Yes, but they’re also slow moving, incredibly expensive, risk adverse and politically attached.
We need to move fast. We need to move boldly. We need to fail fast and invent a better solution. Now!
So, I ask you this: What would happen if we built a global entrepreneurial ecosystem dedicated to impact technologies? My answer: We would fight climate change. Reduce poverty. And help entrepreneurs develop around the world.
All in one fell swoop.
Part 3 of this series looks at the connection between climate change and poverty. And it asks a basic question: can entrepreneurs – not climate scientists – slow climate change?
Part 1: The Journey
From the Garage to Around the Globe and Back Again
One Sunday morning in March of 2011, I was recovering from a night of partying in La Paz Bolivia. The Bolivian’s throw a pretty wicked Carnival. Karen (my wife) and I could never resist a good party, especially a street party in a new city. We’d spent the winter in South America riding our motorcycle. I felt we were just getting started on our m/c journey, while Karen felt it was about time to call it quits. Then the phone rang and everything changed.
Jim called to ask if I was interested in starting up a new incubator in Los Angeles focused on clean technologies. Jim was a consultant to the City of Los Angeles, preparing the RFP seeking candidates to lead the project, and he was pretty persuasive that I should apply. Three weeks later I was in LA, interviewing for the job. In June 2011 my partner, Neal Anderson, and I got the contract to build a cleantech incubator for Los Angeles. I would become CEO and Neal would be COO.
Three weeks later I was standing in a gutted 2000 sq. ft. bus repair garage, wondering one thing — how could this empty building become anything? Frankly, few people believed that we could/should build a business incubator dedicated to clean technologies in Los Angeles. Most thought the concept of LACI wouldn’t amount to much. What was cleantech? What was an incubator? Why should the City spend its money on this with all its other problems? I went through 1,500 business cards that first year trying to answer those questions and many more.
We sold our house in the Hollywood Hills and moved three blocks away from LACI. We needed to be all in if this was going to work. Not because I wanted to make a lot of money, but because I thought it was the right thing to do, that it would help the citizens of Los Angeles, and primarily the citizens of Boyle Heights, East LA, Lincoln Heights, and South Central. It was my way of giving back.
Over the past six years the team at LACI has figured out how to create an ecosystem that helps entrepreneurs make their ideas a reality. I’ve seen the power that creating a nourishing environment and providing practical support can have on the entrepreneur, on the community, on the country, and on students. We’ve helped build these “things” for the City of Los Angeles, the City of Fremont, Mexico City, the State of Washington, CSUN, the Port, and Ethiopia.
Here’s a touch of background on LACI for those of you who don’t know much about it and want to. The Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator brings together capital, universities, research, government support, entrepreneurs, corporate partners, and business leaders to drive innovation throughout the regional, state, and (now) global economy. LACI has helped 100+ companies raise $135M+, create 1,500+ jobs, and delivered more than $340M in long term economic value for the City of Los Angeles. As a result, LACI has ranked in the UBI Global’s coveted “Global Top 10” in 2014, 2015 and 2016. LACI was also selected as the Department of Energy’s clean energy incubator for the State of California and the California Energy Commission’s manager of its Southern California Clean Energy Innovation Cluster.
In December 2015 LACI moved into the 60,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art La Kretz Innovation Campus which houses all of LACI’s Portfolio Companies as well as providing chemistry and electronics labs and prototyping center. LACI is the only incubator that is housed in the same facility as the R&D department of a major utility (the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power).
Building LACI has been the most rewarding work of my life. I’ve learned a lot about government, how to grow economies, what cleantech entrepreneurs need, and what I’m good at (and what I’m not). Building a complex entrepreneurial support system is part hard work, part smarts, and a whole lot of “magic.” How do you get all the pieces to click? I’ve spent six years figuring that out.
Now it’s time for my “Next Big Thing”.
Strangely enough, I first glimpsed my future when visiting one of the oldest places on earth – the Cradle of Civilization. Frankly, visiting Ethiopia was pretty much a shock to the system. It’s a country where women spend the majority of their day getting water and preparing food, while the men and boys farm with truly ancient farm tools. How could this ancient, backward country represent the future of cleantech? Well that’s for Part 2 of this story.
After more than five years at the helm of LACI, I offered my resignation as CEO on December 22nd of last year. The Board asked that I stay with LACI running our international operations, so I’ll still have something to keep me busy for bit longer. We’ve been conducting a search for my replacement ever since and I believe the new CEO will start early this summer. Freedom here I come!
I’ve been pretty schitzo about this whole subject for a long long time. I first tried to stop working full time about seventeen years ago after my Internet Titan phase ended. I figured we had enough money to scrape by and I was anxious to get on the road. But then I fell back into bad habits and tried to buy a company, start a couple of others, and was lured back to the start-up world full time at Idealab a couple of years later. I quit again two years later, but that didn’t last long either as a couple of friends and I started a management consulting company. That lasted four more years and I finally said “ENOUGH! – I’m outta here!” Karen and I sold the our house in Hollywood, bought a base of operations in Mexico, packed up Now Voyager I (our m/c), and went down to South America for an extended “adventure riding” get-away.
How far does a guy have to go to get away? Obviously, Bolivia wasn’t far enough as that’s when I got a call about building LACI. Frankly, I just found it impossible to resist the pull of building things. LACI was both an irresistible challenge and a chance to do a good thing. It’s been fun, all consuming, stressful, invigorating, challenging, tiring, fairly lucrative, and immensely rewarding.
I first wrote my letter of resignation in February of 2016. I didn’t send it in. Every time I got close, I’d edit it and put it away to think about it. I went through eight drafts:) before sending it off nine months later. So, this is really it.
Ohhh man, this is both exciting and pretty damn scary.
Let’s talk excitement first. I’m pretty sick and tired of my friends having all the fun. You know who you are, Sam, Chuck, Bill, Larry, Keith et al. How come you get to have so much fun and I’m still pulling on the oars of commerce? Geez, they seem happy! What the F____ am I missing? I want IN!
As readers of this blog will attest, Karen and I like to travel. Long, sometimes hard, but always interesting travel. This is less a hobby and more like a compulsion. Our 800 sq. ft. loft in LA has three or four globes and a dozen or so maps taped on the walls. We have more space dedicated to travel paraphernalia than we do to normal stuff (like furniture:). Not too may days go by without feeling the pull of Let’s Get Out There!
Now, let’s talk scary as in I’m scared shitless that 9 months into this I’m going to be stark, raving bored. What happens if everyone is right about me — I can’t possibly not work because I’m a f____g workaholic! The common view is that I’ll be so bored that I’ll rue the day that I hung up my keyboard.
I’m sure the first among the “Are you sure?” crowd is my dearest wife. Karen doesn’t need a lot of “help” in her daily routines. (She’s probably thinking, Geez, now I’m going to make lunch and dinner every day for Him?) This could end badly:) Yet we have experience in being together 24/7. We built FMIG together. Much of my Eat-What-You-Kill work has taken place at a home office. Spending lots of time on a m/c or in an RV doesn’t leave a lot of room for much personal space – either literal or figuratively speaking. So, there’s hope that the Boss of Factory Place, Corona and LBS can learn to Love Her Man even if he’s around a lot.
The other elephant in the room is money. How much does one need to make it all the way? It’s the unanswerable question as there are lots of ever-changing moving parts. Like how long? Like how healthy? Like how well? I’ve read all the papers on what to do financially when you stop working full time. They’re all kind of mundane and pretty obvious. My answer of course is that I’m not going to stop working, I’m just not going to work 24/7 anymore. One really pleasant surprise on the money front is that our home in Puerto Vallarta –Corona Adobe — has turned into a real source of extra income. This is 100% due to KR’s decoration and hostess talents. Who would have thunk it? By the way, the Sales Pitch by KR for getting Thor (our RV) was that we needed something to live in when Corona was rented out. Yah, and I also bought a bridge…
Seven years ago I wrote a series of posts on “Rewiring,” a concept I didn’t invent but one I took to immediately. To me, Rewiring means getting control of your life by re-configuring how you live and work to get more freedom and enjoyment. The idea was to turn the work-drives-lifestyle rule upside down: figure out how to live the life you want and then rewire to get there. Here’s the first post: “Rewiring your Your Life” In 2010 we had embarked on a rewiring job so that we could earn a living while traveling far, wide and long. I’m pretty much still there:)
But now that we’re approaching Launch Time, I’ve been giving some thought to what all of the guys mentioned above do — have fun. So here’s Fred’s everyday bucket full of fun:
Astute readers might notice a few themes from above, like he certainly doesn’t like to do much that does involve going places, fast. Hard to argue that one. But that’s the good thing about The Next Step, I get to be passionate about the things I want to be passionate about, when I want. The more I think about this, it could be a very good thing.
I don’t know where to start after being away for seven months. There are so many high and low-lights that its tough to figure out how to put a theme around them. Maybe its just that we continue to live an interesting life? One of contrasts, unpredictability, playing hard, working harder, and traveling by almost every means imaginable which now includes a few yards on the back of a camel:)
Here’s a speed dating summary of the last half of 2016
- Lots of travel — twelve trips in the past six months to India, Africa, the East Coast and Mexico. You know something is weird when you know which terminals to avoid at Heathrow and where the best lounges are at most of the airports we hit.
- Two huge events for LACI — the Grand Opening of the new 60,000 sq. foot La Kretz Innovation Campus and the less than grand election on November 8th. Both will shape LACI for years to come. I won’t be going back to DC any time soon.
- 2016 will be LACI’s best year as measured by almost any metric: we’ve grown the number of companies we serve by 40%, the number of jobs created by 70%, the long term economic value we’ve generate by 40%, and the size of the NGIN network to 20 members in nine countries. Our 2016 budget is 8X the budget we started with five years ago.
- “El Diablo” — aka Bogart — has driven KR to the edge of sanity, forcing us to put him through a two week intensive training session. The result; the family has a leadership problem. No s__t!
- Our Mexico places –the Corona Adobe and Little Big Sur — continue to draw guests from near and far. KR has turned into the Innkeeper with the Most-est and our 2016 rental revenue is 2X that of 2015. Onward and upward!
- Life in the Arts District continues to get more and more interesting. The addition of a scooter, a 2006 Aprila Scarabeo, has made getting around really interesting. New establishments are popping up almost daily. The retail complex around the corner under construction has applied for 17 liquor licenses. Yaahhh boy! Our 800 sq. ft. loft continues to work as USA central the Walti clan.
- We’re finally starting to use Thor, our 2016 Leisure Travel Van “Libero RV, after about a year of sitting in the parking lot. As with any of our travel vehicles, we’re in the process of figuring out how to configure it to our liking. Not surprising, we need more electrical power!
Well, those are the headlines. Feel free to close this up or to skip down to the pictures now. For those of you who want more color commentary, I’m here to serve, so read on:)
In the seven months since we last wrote after coming back from Spain, Morocco and Ethiopia, we’ve traveled to India, Egypt, Mexico, the East Coast, and Northern California.
This was our third trip to India and the second speaking tour for the State Department I’ve done. We covered four cities in about ten days. I did 25+ speeches/meetings in Delhi, Chandigarh, Indore and Hyderabad.
It was the first trip that KR and I didn’t venture out of the hotel often except for business! Part of this was because two of the hotels we stayed in were absolutely fabulous. Part of it was getting in sync with a time zone 15 hours ahead of Los Angeles. But the real reason was laying around in bed all day, half way around the world, is the only way I can get away and relax. When was the last time you just hung around in bed for an entire day? Exactly my point:)
I’m still conflicted about India. We got out of just the mega cities of Delhi and Mumbai this trip to the North and the Central parts of India. Hyderabad, in the south central region, is a tech boom town in which all the major multinational companies have huge presences. It’s a go-go entrepreneurial hub, strewn across rocky hills and spread out for mile and miles. I was never in a car less than 90 minutes to any meeting as the traffic was so bad.
Yet, unless you’re rich, India just isn’t that attractive of a place. 800 million people or so mean there’s just a mass of humanity, their trash, their houses, their vehicles, their animals, and their shops every which way. The rivers are polluted. The country can’t really feed all its population and still has 300 million people (the size of the US) without access to electricity. The idea of sidewalks and parks aren’t really on the agenda anytime soon.
I hold hope that we’ve not seen the “good stuff” yet:) KR has pretty much given up and doesn’t care to go back. Maybe that’s why we didn’t get out of the hotel much:)
Cairo was a whole different deal. I liked the vibe immediately. The city is much more interesting visually, it’s much older and has the advantage of being split down the center by the Nile, which we got to sail on by the way. The architecture is interesting, at least in the upper scale part of town that most foreigners hang. The streets are full of cars with the occasional motorcycle, which is pretty much the opposite of India’s cities.
No surprise, most of the perceptions that we Westerners have about Egypt, Muslims and the MENA region aren’t true. The US government is mightily mistrusted by most Egyptians that would speak about it. Even those people who were living in or working for US companies, felt that our history in the Middle East was horrible. We were/are only looking out for our own self interests. I’m not sure this can be fixed…
KR and I spoke with the young woman who served as our guide and for the first time I got an explanation of the Muslim religion that wasn’t scary or angry or intimidating. And while I’m not a religious guy, I could understand how she felt and had empathy. We could live next door to each other without thinking twice.
We’ve gone to a number of far-flung countries in search of business. I’ve met with probably a hundred groups in the last 12 moths and no matter if its Ethiopia (which makes Mexico feel like a 21st century country) or India or Egypt or Morocco or Spain or… there is one surprising commonality: entrepreneurship is alive and well, even in the most desperate lands. Young people are excited about starting companies, about creating new products, about using innovation to solve their countries problems. It can’t help but give folks like me hope for the future and a bounce in my step.
A big part of travel is having the right mode of transportation:) To date, our stable includes (by length of ownership):
- The Iron Duke (’96 Jeep Grand Cherokee): This is the Mexican equivalent of the New Yorker’s “station car.” 162,000 miles strong, its role is to carry Karen, the dogs, our guests, friends and assorted neighbors around Puerto Vallarta and environs carrying as much stuff as can be crammed in. Usually twice a year it makes the 1,500 mile trip to/from PV to Los Angeles. Karen hates the Iron Duke because she has to drive it. I love the Duke because he can’t be hurt. Who cares if someone puts a new crease in his side door?
- The Bullet (’01 Jaguar XKR Silverstone). The Bullet is now the LA version of the Duke. He wasn’t always that way as he started out as a mint-condition-not-a-scratch-to-be-seen exotic sports car, before he encountered the streets of downtown Los Angeles… After fifteen years, he only has 72,000 miles since the distance from front door to front office door is 2-3 blocks.
- Now Voyager II (2014 BMW 1200 GS motorcycle): The vehicular love of my life, NV II is KR and my Adventure Vehicle to far away places. NV II has an unusual combination of space-age technology with tractor-like reliability. It’s simply the best motorcycle I’ve ever owned. This is beyond surprising given that NV I (another BMW) was the worst, most unreliable motorcycle I’ve ever owned. NV II meets our thirst for adventure the freedom of motorcycling. NVII has already been to the UK, IOM, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Morocco, Luxembourg, Belgium and Monaco. He’s barely broken in:)
- Thor (’16 Leisure Travel Vans Libero): Thor is a mini RV that KR calls our little jewel box. Prime function of Thor is to take ALL FOUR OF US to far away places, but mainly places in North America. Thor is a small, but fully functional, Class C+ RV that has excellent interior finishes. Fully functional means: bed, toilet, shower, kitchen, refrigerator on-board power, satellite TV, dining room table and enough storage that includes a small closet. Thor is still a work in progress relative to outfitting, but has a big future.
- Rover (’06 Aprilla Scarabeo motor scooter): Newest member of the family, Rover’s job is to be the local get-about when we’re roaming in Thor. Rover sits on a rack in the back of Thor, ready to to go to the store, bar, or just down the street from wherever Thor is parked. Rover continues an interesting trend in the Walti vehicle ownership history: two Yahama RZ 250’s, two Honda Pacific Coasts, two Fieros, two Jaguar XK8s, and two Scarabeos… Go figure.
- Potential New Additions to the Stable: Highest on the list of new members is a Ural motorcycle/sidecar ensemble. This would be a creative and practical solution to my wanting to go everywhere on a motorcycle with KR’s desire to take Bogart and Squirt everywhere with us. KR, Bogart and Squirt could sit in the sidecar. Also on the list of potential additions are a Moto Guzzi m/c, a Morgan 3-Wheeler (if the Ural doesn’t make the cut), a replacement for the Iron Duke (shush, don’t tell KR), a Corvette, a Jag F-Type, a Jag Station Wagon, a Ferrari, and a …..:)
- Planes, trains, etc. Well, there haven’t been any trains in the last year, but we have taken ferries, taxis, Ubers, big big planes, small planes, pongas, buses, vans, the aforementioned camel, a sail boat, and a Tuk-tuk or two. I recommend the Airbus 380 and the Brittany Ferry, but not in the cattle car areas. British Air’s food quality has gone down hill, which is a great disappointment. Flight to avoid at all costs is the American out of Reagan to LAX at 5PM. ALWAYS two hours late, no inflight entertainment, no wi-fi, and the center seat is usually the only one available. Who says that airline consolidations are a good thing?
Life in the Loft
It’s hard to believe, but KR and I have been living in our 800 square foot loft in downtown Los Angeles for more than five years! Factory Place is located in the “Arts District,” which is LA’s industrial area that’s rapidly becoming the West Coast version of NY’s Meat Packing District. This place just reeks of coolness and weirdness and diversity and creativity and … money. Someone told me that the Arts District has the highest HH income of any area in LA other than Beverly Hills. I don’t believe that, but like all major metro downtown areas, it costs lots of money to live here so those who do are well off. Research shows that downtown LA has equal parts Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and White Folks and it shows on the streets and sidewalks. Diversity is a very interesting thing if one is open to it.
The family sedan for most people on this planet is not a sedan, but a motor scooter or motorcycle. The work horse of Asia, much of Africa, and even big swaths of Europe has two wheels, not four, and accommodates between one and five people, depending. Traffic, parking, gas mileage, and cost are all made the easier on a scooter.
This summer we shifted to a two-wheel family sedan as well, the aforementioned “Rover.” I now drive Rover the five blocks to work, we use him to go to dinner at night in downtown, or to see friends in Hollywood. He’s the easiest, most convenient vehicle I’ve owned in quite a while. I recommend one to all:)
Life South of the Border
Let me state this up front: Mexico is becoming the safest place in North America to live and visit. There aren’t any terrorists in Mexico. Narco’s? For sure, but it feels a lot safer to me than going to France, or Belgium, or San Bernardino, or Germany or… Shake your head in disbelief, think I’m crazy all you like, but it’s the truth.
The Peso continues to take it in the shorts via the dollar. When we bought/built Corona, the ratio was $1.00 = $11 pesos. As I write this, the dollar equals 20.5 pesos! For those of us who live/visit Mexico, this has made a huge difference. It’s generally a good time to be an American tourist in much of the world in terms of currency.
Here’s one practical example of the impact of the dollar/peso devaluation on our life. We have a wonderful maid who comes to Corona five days a week from 10AM to 3PM and we pay her $7000 pesos/month. That equals about $340 dollars a month in today’s valuation!
Here’s another. I recently had to get the Iron Duke fixed. He needed a new coil, plugs, distributor, oil change, radiator repair, tune-up and an ECM unit fix. Total cost was $3700 pesos = $180.00. PICKED UP AND DELIVERED:)
The dollar is at all time high via the British Pound, Euro, Egyptian Pound, Mexican Peso, etc. Lesson to be learned: never, never keep your money in a foreign currency even if you live abroad.
Our palapa in the jungle, “Little Big Sur,” continues to be a challenge to upkeep and rent remotely, but remains a joy to actually use. LBS is best understood as a land-locked version of owning a boat; just keep putting money in and every sailing is actually a repair/maintenance outing:) Our annual Jungle Storm event turns into an all out “invite your friends to the jungle to repair and fix-up LBS.” Every visit to LBS is preceded by a visit to Home Depot:)
Two Seismic Events
The Grand Opening event for our new campus on October 7th was the result of more than five plus years of labor and $47M in capital investment. 2300 VIPs, stakeholders, sponsors, and friends RSVP’d to our event. Two Mayors and assorted other VIPs gave speeches, cut the ribbon, took part in tours and gave press interviews. The new 60,000 square foot purpose built campus is the Taj Mahal of cleantech with desks for over 250 entrepreneurs, a chemistry lab, electronics lab, an advanced prototyping center, micro grid, and a model ‘smart home of the future’. The La Kretz Innovation Campus elevates LACI to a new level of prominence in the world of clean technology innovation.
Thirty one days later and the Trump Trampling washed over LACI like a tsunami. We literally had to send out “keep calm and carry on ” notices and hold numerous counseling sessions as everyone is this building believed that the sustainable world as we know it was coming to an end. And frankly, nothing that has happened since the election gives us hope he was “just kidding.”
My view is that LACI will survive and prosper no matter what. Market forces and mega trends are at our back. But, I’m worried shitless that the New Administration will step away from its commitment to sustainable sources of energy and the steps necessary to reduce/slow climate change. This won’t really impact us here in the US as we’re all comparatively rich. If it gets hotter, we’ll just turn the air conditioning on. Drought and crop reduction? We’ll just pay more for food. No, its the poor who feel the brunt of the effects of climate change. The World Bank estimates that climate change will push another 100 million people into poverty by 2030. This is serious stuff that the Leader of the Free World doesn’t seem to understand or give a shit.
And please, don’t talk to me about “clean coal.” Coal is as likely to be clean as the Lock Ness Monster is likely to jump out of the lagoon tomorrow.
To the Future, we go!
I’m looking forward to what 2017 will bring, none the less. KR and I have plans and ideas of what it will entail, but who knows? We wish all of you a wonderful holiday season and a great and prosperous New Year!
Here’s what all of this looked like in pictures.
CAIRO (DEC 2016)
INDIA (OCT 2016)
LOS ANGELES (OCT 2016)
MEXICO (DEC 2016)
ON THE ROAD HOME (DEC 2016/JAN 2017)
I promise to write more often.
I’m writing this from a hotel room in Southampton, UK, awaiting a taxi to Heathrow and the flight(s) home after 46 days on the road. How do I wrap this trip up? As with most of our trips, this has been a trip of extremes, but in some ways it feels extremely extreme:) We’ve been in the lap of luxury and in the very definition of poverty. We’ve laid around and did almost nothing and dragged our bags/bike/whatever across more airports, ferry stations, bus stations, and city-scapes than I can remember. We’ve been in mountains, desert, seaside, countryside, modern and ancient cities. On planes, ferries, buses, cars, taxis, and a motorcycle — more than once each time. We’ve gotten drunk on a beach and had a lunch hosted in our honor at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (the capital of Ethiopia). We’ve been hot, cold, dry and wet, often in the same day. We never knew the language of the country we were in, but somehow found ways to connect with the people there.
Maybe the best way is to go to the stats:
Trip Stats & Awards
- Countries: UK, Spain, Morocco, Ethiopia
- Cities visited: best guess is 21
- Miles on a motorcycle: 2975
- Overall miles: My guess is 20,000
- Plane legs: 11 including prop planes landing on unpaved runways
- Ferries: 4
- Speeches made in Ethiopia: 24
- Press interviews: 4
- Ethiopian Officials met with: Mayor of Addis, Minister of Water, Irrigation & Electricity, State Ministers of Industry, Science & Technology, Small & Medium Business, Investment and Urban Development
- Least Friendly Awardee: Any airport employee at Charles DeGualle airport with a special shout out to Air France employees
- Most Accommodating New Friends: Maureen and Miguel in Madrid who single-highhandedly made our trip to/from Madrid and Ethiopia painless and quite enjoyable
- Best Beach Town and Beach: Tarifa and Bolonia, both on the tip of Spain
- Number of Motorcycle Problems: 0:))
The Beaches of Southern Spain
After five days in Morocco, getting back to the “civilization” of Southern Spain was needed. A couple of weeks earlier a bartender in Granada had told us to go to a little-known beach named Bolonia on the southern coast. He assured us it was worth it, but it wasn’t on any map or in the GPS. As luck would have it, we found Bolonia and it IS one of the best beaches we’ve ever been on. It was so great, we spent three nights there just hang’n at the beach and prepping for Ethiopia. We met some folks there from the UK and had a great time partying Spanish style. It’s one of those places I could of hung for much longer, but we needed to get to Madrid.
Getting to Madrid
After Morocco, we needed to weave our way towards Madrid to catch the plane to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). We skipped Seville and spent some terrific nights in Cordoba and Toledo. Both towns were in the midst of festivals and such, so in the space of a couple of nights we went to a rock & roll concert, an equestrian show, a flamingo dance show, and a couple of tours of old churches thrown in. Each night was filled with something old and new.
Before our trip, someone told us to skip Madrid as it was “just another big city”. Well, our time in Madrid was terrific, mainly because we met Maureen and Miguel there. Long story short, Maureen is a friend of Sam H.’s and she agreed to be our Logistics Command Center. We left the bike and all our m/c clothes and gear with her, which made the entire Ethiopia leg possible. More importantly, we had a couple of great nights out with them and thoroughly enjoyed the city. I was even getting use to eating dinner at 10PM! Madrid has a vibrant night life, which was a nice contrast to Morocco before and after Ethiopia. Both KR and I could live there.
There is no way on earth that I can describe Ethiopia to you. This was our first trip to Africa (Morocco doesn’t count) and we didn’t know what to expect. My purpose in going was to give a lot of speeches and take a lot of meetings extolling the business opportunity that clean technologies represent for Ethiopia and Sub-Sahara Africa.
Development wise, Ethiopia makes India look like a fully developed paradise. There is little infrastructure, even in its capital City, Addis Ababa. Side walks? rare. Electricity? 10 million people have been on a waiting list to get electricity for ten years. Water? They’re in a much worse drought than California. Traffic? Yes and its made up of cars, buses, cows, people, m/c’s, bicycles and tuk tuks. With few traffic signals, no street signs and no addresses. Modern buildings? Well, yes and no. There are dozens and dozens of new building part way finished (in Ethiopia, you build the basic structure, put a bank on the first floor, and hope you generate enough profits from the bank to finish the building.) Yet none of them look new.
Aside from all of that, Ethiopia is a lovely country. The people, despite their relative poverty, are generally a happy/smiling lot. They are as honest as the day is long. They’re colorful and energetic. Addis is a dirty hub bub of a city, but there’s a lot of action. The young people that I spoke to, were bright, energetic, hopeful and determined to make things better. The government officials seemed genuinely interested in making things better for their citizens.
I was only able to experience a tiny bit of Addis as most of my days consisted of getting driven around to various meetings in an Embassy car. That’s literally how I saw Addis – through the windows of lots of Toyota Land Cruisers.
Over the weekend, Karen and I took a plane to northern Ethiopia to see the “real” Ethiopia, which is the cradle of civilization. The remains of the oldest human being was discovered in Ethiopia and dates back millions of years. We went to Lalibela, a village in northern Ethiopia that has 12 churches carved into granite mountains, each church from a single piece of stone. Took 14,000 people about 100+ years BC to build.
Ninety percent of the people outside the cities are subsistence farmers. They farm the way their ancestors did — by hand and with donkeys. Their key assets are goats and cows, live in grass/mud huts, with no running water. With a few exceptions, of course: cell phones and satellite dishes:)
It does beg the question: how did one of the oldest civilizations on earth not develop further and faster? What happened?
Damn if I know.
Both Karen and I would go back, and probably will because of business. Now that we’ve had our first taste of Africa, we’re curious about the rest. That’s for another day and time.
A Couple of Final Thoughts
- If you’re going to Spain, go in May before everyone gets there. It only rained about a week out of five and was otherwise beautiful.
- Maybe as a result of the above, Spain was incredibly cheap compared to the US, UK, France, Swiss, etc. It was easy to find a decent hotel for less than 100 Euros.
- Stay off the main Autopista’s and take the back roads. Once we did that, we saw a wonderful countryside of small villages, rolling hills, and a few mountains. The m/c riding is better that way, too.
- If you take the ferry from the UK to Spain or France, spend the extra bucks for a room or mini suite. It was lovely and a nice way of spending 24 hours.
- BMW 1200 GS’s rule! Long live Now Voyager II.
Here’s what everything looked like.
Take care, fred
ETHIOPIA – ADDIS ABABA
THE “SUBURBS” OF ADDIS ABABA
THE FAR NORTH OF ETHIOPIA
THE FINAL LEG HOME
Until the next time.
This year began where last year left off; lots of work and lots of travel. Berlin, Abu Dahbi and Dubai weren’t enough to scratch KR’s itch to travel, so she went to Copper Canyon and Cuba without yours truly. Eleven trips, 12 weeks, and 14 cities kind of says it all. I’m on the hunt for new business. And, if truth be told, new experiences.
In the Book of New Experiences, there are few newer experiences than going to the United Arab Emirates for the first time. If I were a good travel writer, I would think up words to describe this place. Honestly, words escape me; I just don’t know how to describe the Other Side of the World adequately. Think the Cantina scene in Star Wars to get an impression. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but things are just so totally different that its hard to draw a comparison.
It’s pretty apparent there are basically two types of people: residents and citizens. Residents are there to work on everything from research institutes to driving taxis. Typical stay for a knowledge worker is about three years. The planes and airports are 90% full of residents from all over the world. Because of the UAE’s location, there are as many people from Asia as Europe. Dubai has just become the world’s busiest airport.
Citizens are a different thing altogether. They dress differently, practice a different religion, and generally live a dual existence trying to integrate Western ways in the Arab culture. Pretty interesting. As with most places we’ve traveled, most people are friendly and happy to help.
People that live in the UAE (and I suppose Saudi Arabia) live in a protective cocoon. There is no sense of the trouble just hundreds of miles away in Syria, or Yemen, or Iraq or.. Pretty amazing really. I don’t know how they do it, but one feels 100% safe.
Our stay in Abu Dhabi and Dubai was just a couple of days, so we weren’t able to sample much of the place beyond my meetings and our hotels. Yet we were able to… see the most outrageous hotel in Abu Dhabi (The Palace Hotel, which also serves as a palace); drive 100 miles through the desert between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, stopping at a roadside McDonalds; go to the old part of Dubai and wander the markets (called Souks) in which we bought a camel; and get a glimpse of how the super rich and hipsters live in their Lambos and rooftop bars.
And the possibilities of doing some business with the Emirates seem reasonable. Lots of opportunity, we just have to figure out how to take advantage of it. I’ve been invited to speak at a conference in Dubai in April, so I’ll be going back and we’ll see.
The whole purpose of this trip was to go to Berlin, not Abu Dhabi or Dubai. We put on an “Expert Work Shop” for 35 GIN members from all of the world. For two days we worked on best practices and learned about how folks from Shanghai or Tokyo or Italy or Germany or Finland did things. Pretty damn interesting.
A not so pleasant experience happened at 4 or 5 in the morning, strapped into my seat, sleeping. Everything is quiet. I’m in a very long, dark, quiet tube of an airplane We’re flying from Abu Dhabi to London and we’re over the Mediterranean. I don’t know where the f___ we are. Never been here before. Then the plane starts bucking. Very significantly. The captain comes on in a clipped manner; “Buckle down!” Didn’t he mean buckle up? And here’s what I’m thinking: this must be exactly what the passengers in the Air France plane from Brazil or the Malaysian Air passengers felt right before it went down. Dark. Quiet. Somewhere over an unfamiliar ocean. We stop bucking and I go back to sleep. But I’ll never forget this feeling and mental image.
As I write this, Karen is in Cuba. I guess the Little Woman couldn’t wait for Her Man, so she and a girl friend flew from Mexico to Cuba. I’m awaiting her report, but this is what she wrote in an email:
From a day trip out of town. tobacco farm, cave, countryside. Pretty good. Free day tomorrow. Looking forward to spending the day in Old Havana!! Had a taste of it yesterday and I can’t wait to go back. No pictures because I used my camera. Will use iPad tomorrow.
This hotel was built in 1930. 19 people were killed in the lobby in the 40’s by Battista’s men during a coup attempt. In the 50s, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky hosted the biggest ever gathering of Mafia men under the guise of a Frank Sinatra concert in the hotel.The Mafia was responsible for bringing gambling and prostitution to Cuba. If the walls could talk.
I can’t get enough of the cars. I’d say 70% are from the 40s and 50s. Some are tied together with rope and are running with Russian, etc. auto and tractor parts. Mechanics are looking forward to US trade so they can get our parts. Or enough of the architecture-magnificent old mansions built by the sugar barons and taken over by Castro and turned into government/social service office- all in disrepair and sad looking. But there are many preservation efforts. Raul has loosened many restrictions and seems interested in change.
Will send photos tomorrow. We are leaving Wednesday am to stay at a famous beach resort. Yuk. I’ve opted for a day trip (6hours on a bus) to visit one of the best preserved colonial cities.
That’s all for now. Here’s what it looked like in pictures.
When I was a twenty something Account Man working on Madison Avenue, I yearned to work on international accounts as I wanted to see the world, even back then. But I was too career-obsessed then, as international assignments were often only a one-way ticket out of the Big Time. So I passed on “going overseas” and stayed in NYC, then LA, SF and back to LA. While I’ve always done a ton of business travel, two flights a week were not unusual, they were usually to such exciting places as Cincinnati (P&G), Denver (US WEST), Cupertino (Apple) and my favorite, Columbus, Ohio. Exciting travel was left to KR and my personal adventures.
As time marched along—shoot, its run at full trot, no? — KR and I have spent more and more time planning, prepping and going on more adventurous trips on bikes, cars, RVs, planes, trains and buses. We’ve seen Nepal, India, Argentina, Alaska, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Belize, Guatemala and all of the U.S. And like a junkie who gets his first shot of dope, I’ve been yearning to go further, longer and more adventurously every chance I get.
And then LACI came along and all thoughts of prolonged, wandering travel have pretty much been put on hold. Instead, we did a “travel pivot” and decided to take advantage of whatever little opportunities came our way and not worry about missing out on the Big Kahuna of trips.
Voila! We took 24 trips to 35 cities in the last year for a combo of business (mostly) and pleasure. While I’ve traveled more often in my career, I’ve never traveled to as many interesting places in such a short stint. Here’s the stat sheet.
I‘m thinking, “How did this happen?” Why now? It certainly wasn’t planned. While I’ve never thought of retiring or slowing down, I didn’t think I’d become an International Man of Mystery at this stage:) About a year ago I dreamed up the idea of a Global Innovation Network, linking innovation institutions around the world together. Well you can’t build a global network without going global. And while we can, have, should, and will continue to debate why a little incubator in downtown Los Angeles is building such a network, we’ve been doing it for about a year and its starting to get momentum.
I guess the other reason is that just as in business the ability to “pivot” is often key to long term success, the ability to pivot in life is at least as important. All my life I’ve been a Man With a Plan, but most of the time the Plan gets thrown away as soon as life happens along. So, Karen and I pivoted off the Adventure Plan to the build a global cleantech ecosystem plan. Go figure:)
So, in celebration of the New Year, here’s what’s struck me as interesting during our Year of Traveling Continuously…
- I like airports, especially big, new, shiny international airports. They’re all the same in that you can figure out what to do and where to go no matter what far-away-land you might find yourself. And now they’re good places to hang with Wi Fi, Starbucks, pretty decent food, comfortable lounges and lots of stores. I feel at home in an airport. Sad, but true.
- There is one international language that most everyone knows and responds to: a smile. While cultures, values, life styles, dress, standards of living, and governments vary widely, the human spirit doesn’t. People are often surprised that my grasp of Spanish doesn’t go much further than “Mas Margarita’s, Pour Some More,” yet we spend so much time in Mexico, Central and South America without speaking much Spanish. How can you live in a country you don’t know the language? My answer is, “Are you going to restrict your travel to only those places you speak the language?” Of course not. We like people, we look for ways to connect in physical and emotional ways, and we treat people with respect. I admit we try not to go to places that are steeped in conflict and hatred, so I’m not sure that our international language will work everywhere.
- Like the pull of gravity, KR’s search for things to decorate Corona is an inexorable force that can’t be fought. No matter how small, light and swift-footed we start any trip with, we end up pulling the equivalent of a 20 mule team across Death Valley by its end: ) And I will always lose this debate because well, the end result is pretty damn neat. Corona is alive with stuff KR has carted back from all over the world and its great.
- From my perspective, China’s people have made an unspoken pact – give us a middle class standard of living and we’ll do what the government says. It’s a bargain most of us would make if in the same situation. China’s middle class looks prosperous, active, educated and pretty happy to this outsider. The same bargain is being struck with Hong Kong’s middle class; let us makes lots of money and we’ll look the other way as Beijing gets rid of the two systems, one country bargain made in 1997.
- This year’s trip along the Pacific edge of Mexico took us through the most notorious parts of Mexico without even a whiff of trouble. In fact, we spent Christmas Eve 2013 not too far away from the area where the 43 students were kidnapped and killed. Two points here; once again we see no signs of the crime and drug cartel behavior that is splashed on the front pages of U.S. newspapers. We love Mexico and its been a safe place for us. Yet, Mexico’s government and criminal justice system is totally corrupt and not to be trusted. If Mexico is ever going to take its place along other developing nations, it needs a deep-rooted cleansing. No one can predict if this will happen, but I keep thinking Columbia cleaned up its act, so Mexico can too.
- KR and I have settled into a new rhythm of the road in which we move often, stay in a city a day or two, and get just enough of a taste to know whether we want to come back or not. These trips are pretty strenuous, often lasting 18 hours a day rushing from one meeting to the next, usually in a different city. Yet, KR doesn’t complain as she gets to explore a new place a bit while I do business. She’s fearless and curious, which usually makes for a good time.
- Often the best part of the trip is riding up front in the leather. On really long trips we use frequent flyer miles to sit in Business Class as one of our many guilty pleasures. It’s amazingly comfortable with food at the push of button, more movies and TV shows than you can possibly watch. When was the last time you could hit the keyboards for 14 uninterrupted hours? It’s productive time in the lap of luxury. Does it get any better?
So, here are a few of our favorite pictures from 2014.
Take care and have a great 2015!
This is the story of our run through five Asian cities in 14 days that we just did. It’s a story of two distinct, yet ever connected, experiences as I spent the majority of time in meetings (23 to be exact) and KR got an appetizer-sized taste of each city we visited: Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul, and a suburb of Tokyo. I suspect this format will serve as the template for future travels as we continue to combine business and pleasure in fast paced trips hunting for partners.
The trip’s purpose was to continue building LACI’s Global Innovation Network (GIN) linking innovation centers in key markets around the world. We’re attempting to knit together key cleantech markets in order to create a global ecosystem in which companies, technologies, mentors, capital and best practices can easily flow from one to another. After this trip we have over 16 GIN members in the U.S., Mexico, Germany, Italy, Finland, China and Japan.
We were part of an official government delegation as LA’s Mayor and 85 Los Angeles business, academic and government leaders paraded through Asia. While we had our own itinerary, we intersected with the official group at each city and stayed at the same hotels. All in all, it’s a good thing to be part of the Mayor of the Second Largest City in the U.S. The timing couldn’t have been better as the week before we were in China the President and the Chinese leader signed an historic green house gas agreement that put clean technology and their commercial opportunities front and center of attention.
KR has never been to Asia and I’d only been to Shanghai and Beijing this summer, so we were newbies. KR had the same lack of interest before visiting as I, but that quickly dissolved as we got closer and closer to take-off time. By the time we boarded for the 14-hour trip to Hong Kong, KR had four guide books with lots of pages earmarked. I was looking forward to the 14 hour no-interruptions keyboard time.
Here’s the trip’s itinerary:
- November 14th: LAX to Hong Kong. Fourteen-hour flight and a lost day means we spend November 15th in the air. Get into Hong Kong late the 15th.
- November 16/17/18: Hong Kong. FW does five meetings, KR checks out the Occupy Hong Kong protest site.
- November 18: Late night flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai. Spend 30 minutes trying to explain the address of the hotel in English to Chinese-only speaking taxi drivers at the airport. We get lost and arrive at the hotel late. But its worth the wait.
- November 19: Shanghai. By far and away the best hotel. FW has a slow day of only two meetings. We go to our first official reception that night.
- November 20: Early morning flight from Shanghai to Beijing, then six meetings that afternoon and dinner with a Beijing friend that night.
- November 21/22/23: Beijing. This is the Big Day for GIN as we have an official MOU signing ceremony and five meetings. KR gets a guide to see the Forbidden City and we see the Great Wall on the 22nd. Wow!
- November 23: Beijing to Seoul in the afternoon and a long ride from the airport to our hotel in downtown Seoul. KR and I notice immediately there’s a good vibe to Seoul. This is by far and away the most expensive hotel we’ve stayed. I make the mistake of having a coffee in the lobby and almost choke on the $14.00 cost.
- November 24/25: Seoul. FW meets with big Korean companies and for the first time doesn’t come away with a GIN partner. We have a great night out in Seoul. We wander the streets in a neighborhood we don’t know, nor do we know where it is. Our kind of experience.
- November 25: Late night flight to Tokyo and a 1 ½ hr drive to a technology park in a Tokyo suburb. Get there really late, but just before the bar closes. FW has three beers before dinner:)
- November 26: Tokyo. Meetings and tours in the morning, catch a taxi to the airport late that day. We never make Tokyo proper.
- November 26: Tokyo to Honk Kong to LA. Arrive LA the night of the 26th.
By the end of the trip, KR and I are a well-oiled, well-used travel machine. We got our hop, skip and jump groove-on. We didn’t lose one thing (although FW came close, leaving his computer in a hotel in Hong Kong) and never had any real problems beyond occasionally not knowing what airport we were in and not being able to remember the previous day’s activities.
There is no quick way to show some pictures, so here’s the long photographic journal of our trip.
KASHIWA-NO-HA (SUBURB OF TOKYO)
THE END AND ANOTHER BEGINNING
China has never been high on my list of places to visit. Crazy perhaps, but if I can’t ride my bike there it’s not a priority. Not a particularly helpful attitude, however, if one’s building an international network of cleantech organizations given that China is a huge market. We’d already found Global Innovation Network (GIN) partners in Finland, Germany, Italy, and Mexico; now it was time to look toward China. So I flew to China for a week to expand GIN’s small footprint on to Asia.
Our usual approach to a trip wasn’t going to cut it for this trip. KR and I never plan where we’re going, leaving most of the specifics to the wind and chance. Planning for this trip was different; I spent a month trying to pack as many meetings into five days as possible. I was fortunate enough to make contact with some folks in China (thank you Diane , Tony and John!) that took pity on me and helped arrange 12 meetings in both cities. Preparations included getting a Visa (China wins the contest for easiest and fastest visa ever – three days for a six month visa), getting GIN documents translated to Mandarin, reading every “How to do business in China” article I could find, and arranging the logistics of a schedule that had me arriving in Shanghai on a Sunday night and leaving Beijing the following Saturday night.
I was actually looking forward to the 11 hour flight there, chilling out while hitting the keyboard is a real treat (no comments, please). I could read and get some work done in peace and quiet. I might even find the time to read a book, something I can never seem to finish. So, I settled into my seat at 3PM on a Saturday, waved goodbye to LA, and got to work, expecting to land in Shanghai the next night 11 hours later.
Three hours over the Pacific the plane icon on the flight path tracker started heading in the wrong direction — back to LA, not China. Must be a glitch in the system, it was a 777 after all. Wrong. Long story short, the pilot finally informed us that we had an electrical issue and we were going back to LA. This started a series of events that included rebooting the trip for the following day, cutting my stay in Shanghai a day short while lengthening my stay in Beijing an extra day.
One of the results of the one day delay was that I was switched from American Airlines to Cathay Pacific. For those of you thinking about going to China, write this down: Cathay Pacific is one great airline experience. It makes you wonder what the f__ happened to US carriers?
It’s impossible to get an accurate impression of a 1.2 billion person country in just six days, but its also impossible not have lots of impressions from such a different experience, whether accurate or not. So, here are my net takeaways, which I reserve the right to change after more investigation:
- Shanghai and Beijing, huge cities of 20+MM people each, are both very similar to other large cities and very different. Different language, style of dress, cultural heritage, history, race, forms of transportation, and of course a totally different system of governing. Yet, they’re full of people just like you and me, hustling to get somewhere, stuck in mega traffic, everyone reading their smart phones, lots of stores we’d recognize, and more people willing to smile than scowl.
- China isn’t as “foreign” a culture as say, Nepal, or some parts of South America. Everyone pretty much stays in their lanes while driving in China, except using the right or left shoulder is a congestion-beating technique widely practiced. Try driving in Kathmandu or Arequipa, Peru to experience the thrill of anything-goes-anywhere-cut-and-thrust traffic. Shanghai and Beijing may be in a developing nation, but these cities look and feel prosperous and grooving. Pretty much everything works like electrical grids, subways, etc.
- China has a huge middle class (by number of people, not by % of the total population) that seem pretty happy. While business customs are a bit different, business is business. Kids wear weird outfits. Commutes, kid’s education, electronic toys are all subjects of conversation. Things seem pretty normal.
- The presence of a controlling government is everywhere, but subtle, and its a “given” to the Chinese. Want to get on Google or Facebook? Nope. Lots and lots and lots of security check points in public places. Pretty much only good news reported in the newspapers. Government is business in China. Freedom of speech, thought and protest are only missed when you realize that most other folks in the world don’t have them.
- What’s not normal is the scale of things. Massive office and government buildings for as far as you can see or as long as you drive. Parks are big and jammed with people. Roads are six lanes. Beijing has 24M people, 6 million cars, and 15 subway lines. No one lives in houses so there are high rise apartment buildings everywhere.
- International airports, no matter where, are all the same. Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing airports are all modern and pretty well run. Most signage is in Mandarin, but there’s enough English to get by. Starbucks, Apple, Armani, McDonalds, et. al are all there, pretty much recognizable. Chinese airports are also remarkably fast in the security and immigration processing department. In fact, one pretty quickly realizes that China has systems that move lots of people very efficiently (not counting street traffic) in most areas.
- Waiting in line is a contact sport. Don’t take offense, its just part of everyday life as you’re as likely to be elbowed aside by a 70 year old grand mother as a 16 year old.
- To state the obvious, air quality is appalling, affecting everyone, everywhere, all the time. It’s just always grey and overcast unless it rains, in which case its only overcast. Everyone knows this and the Chinese will I’m sure attack this problem with the force and scale that they’ve build a new industrial economy.
I’m going back to China in November with the Mayor so I’m going to get a second chance to experience China. It should be interesting to see the place after the initial shock has worn off.
Here’s what the trip looked like in pictures.
The answer is Los Angeles, as viewed from a dive bar in Skid Row-Adjacent. We haven’t had the opportunity to hang in said bar much because I’m not in LA a lot lately. Here’s my travel schedule of the last couple of weeks: LA, San Antonio, LA, Phoenix, LA, Berlin, Milan, Verano, Revoreto, Milan, Turin, Legnano, LA, Mexico City, LA, Puerto Vallarta, LA. Ninety-nine percent of this travel is LACI related because we’re building the Global Innovation Network (GIN), which will link together a couple dozen premier innovation institutions in key world markets. More about this is a bit.
KR and I are preparing to move further south into the industrial core of Los Angeles. While our current place is Frontier Land for most people, its becoming too gentrified for me, so we’re moving to an old fabric manufacturing building that’s being converted to lots of (even smaller than Factory Place) lofts. It’s in a good neighborhood: across the street from a strip club, next door to a marijuana dispensary, and it’s freeway close because its under a freeway.
It wasn’t easy to find because of its prime location:) We found it during one of our regular Sunday drives through the deserted streets of Vernon and surrounds. Vernon is best known for a Pedigree dog food plant, Jimmy Dean’s Sausage factory, and its the world’s metal recycling capital. I’m afraid these lofts will become a hot as well since Gino, the developer of said lofts, taped a telephone number on the side of his building to advertise leases and got over 100 calls for his 50 apartments in two days. He took the number down the next day.
Building GIN is rapidly becoming a full time gig in addition to my day job as ED of LACI. We now have partners in Germany (2), Italy (3), Sweden, Finland and Mexico. Next up is the rest of Latin America and Asia. Our goal is to have 12+ partners signed by the end of the year. Many of you may be asking the question that I get a lot from LACI’s stakeholders, “What the heck is a small incubator located in downtown Los Angeles doing building a global network?” I’m stating it much nicer than its usually asked.
Here’s the short answer: our goal is to make Los Angeles into a world-class innovation ecosystem and huge green economy. We believe we can’t do that without connecting to the world. What better way to connect to the world than placing LA in the center of an international network? The long answer would include that the environment and energy sustainability is a global problem, therefore its a global market that our companies need to take advantage of. One of LA’s key strengths is that it’s a leader in international trade and hence our efforts are in line with LA’s future. If we succeed in doing this, we will position LA’s economy for excellent growth for the remainder of this century.
As most of you know, I prefer to travel by motorcycle or at least by RV or fast car. Our European trip involved taxis, buses, trains, and planes over 5 days of 13 meetings in five different cities in two countries. Whew. We were always running for a train or bus and made all of them. I thought I was getting the hang of train travel until I took the wrong train in Northern Italy and came close to crossing the Austrian border before realizing that I had just spent 1 1/2 hours going in the wrong direction. Bottom line: lots of buses and trains, but I haven’t been on NVII in over 30 days. He barely has more than 1300 miles on him (I put 500+ on our first day together).
Here’s what all this looks like in pictures.