Who? Martin Varsavsky is an Argentine/Spanish entrepreneur. Currently, he is CEO of global wifi network Fon, an angel investor and a professor at Columbia University. What? Over the past two decades, he has founded seven companies and invested in several others..
Yesterday there was dramatic nonsensical violence in two cities I love: Paris and Buenos Aires.
In Buenos Aires it was an attack of River Plate fans against Boca Juniors players injuring them and destroying the Libertadores final celebration for Argentines and football fans around the world. Now Boca players are rightly fearful that they may suffer further injuries or death should they play against River Plate in their home “Monumental” stadium. The Argentine government is unable to guarantee the safety of the players and frankly of anyone who attends.
In Paris it was the French against themselves, against one of the most beautiful parts of the most beautiful city in the world. Unexplainable violence in a protest that could have been peaceful against a fuel price increase. Demonstrators went wild destroying the cobble stoned streets, restaurants, and scaring tourism off which is an essential part of the livelihood of the French.
Why do the French and the Argentine turn to violence in situations in which most of people in most other countries don’t? Argentines fans are not the only ones that use violence, but they are the world’s most violent. French demonstrators are not the only ones who use violence, but they are the world’s most violent.
In France, in Argentina, why can’t the rest of society condemn these acts? Why can’t there be large demonstration against the use of violence by extremists? In Spain for example when ETA would violently attack there would be huge demonstrations by the rest of society in which people would paint their hands white and say “they are violent we are not”. ETA was defeated peacefully. Why can’t they gather enough peaceful Argentine football fans who can defeat the small minorities who are not? Why can’t there be enough peaceful French who can massively demonstrate against random useless violence? The only solution to radical violent individuals is that the rest of us show them that their violence has no place in a civilized society.
Egg freezing is becoming a must have perk among US corporates. As the founder of Prelude, the company with the most babies born out of frozen eggs, my recommendation to corporates world wide is as follows. Don’t just offer egg freezing! If you offer egg freezing alone you will be perceived as a company that just wants to retain women childless at work. If you offer egg freezing, which is a phenomenal benefit for some women, you must also offer IVF benefits to all, men and women, benefits which show that you care about helping your employees getting to be parents. And once they are, also you should offer paid parental leave and child care benefits. If you combine all four benefits, as many corporates do, then by offering egg freezing you will be seen as a corporate who helps everyone, those who are ready to be parents, those who would like to delay being parents, and those who already are parents. You will be seen as a truly family friendly company.
I am watching Merli on Netflix. Merli is a TV series in Catalan, a coming of age story. I am a citizen of Spain and have been in Spain on and off for 22 years but until tonight, I had never watched any video content in Catalan. What happened to me during the episodes binge was magical. I wish all language learning was like that. On episode one I was constantly reading the Spanish subtitles and could not understand much. Catalan sounded very foreign. But by episode four I wasn’t reading the subtitles anymore. When I realized this, I took the Spanish subtitles off and now I am watching the rest of Merli in Catalan! I wish all Spaniards did the same. Catalan is as easy to learn as Brazilian Portuguese is for Argentines (Argentina is my native country), but while most Argentines I know understand Portuguese I don’t know anyone from Madrid who understands Catalan. This may be because as many problems as South America has, nobody wants to break their own country using their language as a weapon and Argentines just find it fun to learn Portuguese. Portuguese for Argentines is not loaded with politics, it’s just fun vacation time in a happy country.
I wonder how Catalans would react if every high school student all over Spain learned Catalan. Especially if it was done watching a story as beautiful and well told as Merli which would be perfect to keep their interest up. I think that just watching Merli at 15 with the help of a Catalan teacher over 60 days would do the trick.
Love and appreciation would be a small price to pay to save Spain. At first sight Catalan feels like a wall. Merli is a ladder to climb it step by step. Catalans feel there is no respect for their language in the rest of Spain, all Canadians or Belgians study French, why not Spaniards studying some Catalan.
Te recomiendo hacer lo mismo. Fes com jo. If you speak Spanish you are at most 90 days away from understanding Catalan. Having said this there is a paradox with Catalan. If you want to learn Catalan those from Madrid will have a big advantage over those from Mexico or Argentina. As I discovered watching Marli there are many many expressions in Catalan that come from Madrid, or from the Spanish spoken in Madrid. Catalan say words like matxacar, or mola that are meaningless to Latin Americans but very easy to understand for people of Madrid, because that is where those words come from. What helped me understand Catalan was speaking French and using not the Argentine in me but the Madrileño in me.
When I was a child we had vinyl records and CDs but no music streaming services. We had Nikon, Canon and Leica cameras and lenses slow chemical photography, no Instagram. When I was a child we had paper books, no Kindle. No Netflix, to see movies you had to go to a movie theater. When I was a child we had less experiences, but surprisingly, we also had much better quality experiences. Now we live in an era in which everything is accessible in your smartphone or tablet. But the question is, at what quality? For example, people are uploading childhoods to Instagram. But how good will those pictures look when kids grow up? Or you get Alexa to play your music and you have an endless music library with Spotify which is awesome. But the quality of that music? Can you compare an Alexa speaker to a sound systems of the 70s? And now we can watch any movie on Netflix on our iPhone, but how does that compared to going to a movie theater? What we have done is trade quality for convenience in a gigantic scale.
As a result we got a huge backlash, a back to quality movement represented by hipsters. Hipsters see that paper books read better than books on your iPad, or that vinyl records in sound better than a Google Home speaker, or that a picture taken with a reflex camera is better than your Instagram filters on your Samsung. But Hipsters miss out on what is great about mobile, access. Personally I have been thinking about the quality deterioration paradox trying to achieve both, the quality of my childhood with the awesome ubiquity of today. And I have good news here, you can get both!
Examples, we got an amazing projector in our bedroom equivalent to that of a movie theater, a remarkable sound system streaming high quality music. I have been using new digital cameras like the Sony A7 series with old Leica lenses and obtaining great digital photography results. I have been working on projects like Gramofon in which you incorporate digital music streaming to old sound systems and obtain the best of both worlds, an endless music library with great sound. I don’t want to settle for a world in which everything is plentiful but of terrible quality. I think with some work and investment, we can achieve ubiquity and quality.
The failure of education is that during 16 years students live in a world in which every problem has an answer. Then they graduate to find out that the world is not a model. That reality is more complex than any one answer. As they become adults and formal education clashes with reality the result is frequently anxiety or fanaticism. None are good choices.
Education should embrace ambiguity. Teachers should stop pretending to know it all. My father was an astrophysicist. He had a PhD from Harvard. But his best contribution to my education was to explain to me that whatever I learned was but an approximation to an answer. He was a hopeful skeptic. He thought that through science humanity’s understanding of the world would increase. I am a hopeful skeptic as well. And what I teach my seven children is that what we now call knowledge is but a temporary stepping stone to deeper understanding.
Show me a school that teaches that, I have a few kids to send them.
What Trump is doing as a conservative pro business candidate:
Rehash Obamacare without tackling the reasons why health care is so expensive which mainly are outrageous costs and margins for insurance companies, outrageous costs of drugs in the USA, artificially low amount of physicians, inappropriate meddling of liability lawyers into health care.
Attacking China our largest trade partner and biggest buyer of our debt that we need to run the huge deficits we have.
Attacking our third largest buyer of goods Mexico with an irrelevant an expensive project, the absurd wall.
Attacking the government forces that we so need to protect us from criminal activity and terrorism in the USA and abroad, the FBI and CIA.
Degrading our independent judiciary.
Insulting the press we need to keep those in power honest on a daily basis.
Increasing military costs at a time when the biggest threat we face is terrorism that is not solved by the military when the USA already spends more on the military than the next 7 powers combined.
Decreasing the funding of the agency that protects our environment.
Decreasing the funding of the State Department whose diplomacy is needed, in short showing the world that we want to spend more on guns and less on conversations.
Labelling a religion that accounts for one fifth of humanity (there are 330 million Americans and 1.6 billion Muslims) terrorists and banning many of its members from coming to the USA or making it harder for the rest. How is our economy made of 5% of the world´s population going to improve antagonizing 23% of the world´s population?
What Trump could be doing as a conservative pro business candidate:
Promote tax changes that create jobs:
Eliminate capital gains tax for anyone who uses the gains from a sale of real estate or financial assets to invest in private qualifying businesses that create jobs.
Health care changes that require going against the Pharma lobby:
Allow government to negotiate prices from pharma companies similar to those negotiated by European and Asian governments, allow importation of all medication already approved in the USA and manufactured by the same companies operating in the USA who tend to sell the same meds for half in other countries.
Go against certain environmental regulations but for a good reason:
Work with states to reduce environmental regulations for the construction of housing to alleviate the real estate tax that most Americans are paying.
Promote the construction of nuclear plants using newer and safer technologies, the best energy combinations to create a climate change free energy consumption is wind plus solar plus nuclear.
Fight the lawyer´s lobby
Cap lawsuit awards in all areas, litigation, health care.
Fight the medical lobby
Make it easier to become a doctor so in the USA we get to have as many doctors per capita as other developed nations.
Build rational infrastructure:
One example of rational infrastucture would be to build a national energy grid, this would go a long way promoting the development of wind and solar energy.
Legalize all illegal workers in the USA:
There are now 11 million illegal workers in the USA. Declare an amnesty and make those tax paying US residents. At the same time start include pictures into social security cards and turn them into a national id system like other nations have and make it much harder for employers to hire illegal workers. Increase fines for doing so. In short legalize those who are here and make it harder for others to come in not just at the border but as Europe effectively does, at the moment they try to get employed.
Fight crime via cash:
Most criminal activies require cash. A move to 100% electronic money would make the strongest hit on crime and tax evasion imaginable.
Make an alliance with China not Russia
China has a highly complementary economy to that of the USA and is 10x bigger than that of Russia. China and USA share in benefitting from a global free trade agenda.
Give basic health care to everyone, paid health care to those who can afford it
Just like we have a public school system for everyone and private schools for those who can afford it do not promise everyone to get the best level of health care and fail. Come up with a basic level of health care for everyone that will cover the vast majority of treatments but not all and then allow those who can afford it to buy better care. Also make it easier for people to chose to end their lives with dignity as most health care costs consists of end of life treatments many of which would not be chosen by patients or if incapacitated by their families. Promising every American complete choice in health care is something that USA just can’t afford but living some without health care is just criminal.
Note, this post is work in progress, I will be modifying it as I do more research. I do not point out each edit, I just improve the article.
Massive and diverse, tremendous amounts of smart ambitious people.
It is the most beautiful city in the USA with great architecture and tremendous choice for different lifestyles. Every neighborhood has a personality.
Unbeatable cultural and entertainment offer. Fantastic night life.
Great educational institutions at all levels.
Extremely well located for travel to Europe, more central than Miami or Bay Area.
It is a walkable city.
It has tremendous study and work opportunities.
Weather is awful, extremely hot, extremely cold for 8 months of the year, only 4 months of California type weather.
People put too much emphasis on themselves and their careers and less on family and friends.
Too many people are aggressive, arrogant, overworked and stressed out. Even the same people behave this way when they are in NYC and become more sensitive and considerate when they leave even to nearby East Hampton.
Taxes are extremely high and services poor.
It’s very hard to get in and out of the city, reach airports, etc.
Extremely expensive city, housing, transportation, dining, entertainment all unaffordable to many.
Too many lawyers and bankers, some are nice but as a group they are not my favorite people in the world to hang out with.
Bay Area positives:
People are brilliant and kind, a rare combination.
Entrepreneurship is everywhere, people are extremely creative and resourceful at building innovative companies.
Weather in the Peninsula is arguably the best in the world, you get seasons but not extremes, great number of sunny days.
Amazing nature, tremendous amount of green areas close to populated areas. Fantastic for outdoor sports.
Great quality of public services.
Fantastic job opportunities.
Best educational institutions in the world. Best public schools in the world, best universities.
Tremendous availability of VC money to start ventures.
The spirit of California is unique and unbeatable, anything is possible is the mantra.
Bay Area negatives:
Limited cultural and entertainment offer.
Nightlife is practically non existent.
SF weather is awful in the summer.
Incredibly isolated from the rest of the world, 6 hours to the East Coast, 12 hours to almost anywhere else in the world, if you live in California you have to love California because everything else is a day or two of travel away. If you run a global business from SF you will spend your life on a plane. Even if you run a US business you will spend much more time flying than people in NYC or Miami.
Mono thematic, if it’s not tech it’s not relevant.
If you are raising kids it is very hard to find help.
People have time for family and friends and are overall less stressed out, happy.
Fantastic weather 9 months of the year and the other 3 you can leave because kids not at school.
Unlike NYC or Bay Area everything is close to where you live. Except for a few weeks a year there is no traffic to speak of.
Fantastic night life and restaurants.
Easy to move around by bicycle or walking.
Fantastic homes and beach life.
Incredibly busy airport 15 minutes away from Miami Beach with flights to almost anywhere in the world.
Well located to travel to anywhere in the USA and Europe, Latin America and Africa. You can run a global business from here.
Affordable compared to the Bay Area and NYC.
If you are raising kids and can afford it, it is very easy to find help.
Great music, if you love music there are tons of music related events and music festivals.
Fantastic water surroundings, sailing, boating, beach life, water sports.
If you have your own professional path, and don’t depend in a city to give it to you like I don’t, living in Miami is great because when you are not working you can truly relax and have fun.
While many of your friends are probably somewhere else they all like to come and visit you.
Lack of intellectual stimulation.
Emphasis on “show off” shallow values which are bad for raising children.
People are less reliable vis a vis work.
It´s hard to recruit extremely talented people of the kind you find in NYC or the Bay Area.
Limited work opportunities.
During the summer you better find a way to get out, it’s awful.
Lack of great universities and intense intellectual life.
Lack of success stories which are so inspiring in the Bay Area and NYC.
Universities are mediocre.
Too much emphasis on real estate and tourism as the main two industries of the city.
Hurricanes and rising sea level are an imminent threat, you get a sense that this city will be the first casualty of climate change.
Miami Beach, South Beach where we are now is a mostly liberal open minded community. But in deep Florida you find alligators and their political equivalent.
Last Friday, during Shabbat, our daughter, Mia, popped the question: “How are babies made?” Nina, my wife, is 24 weeks pregnant, and Mia, who is only 5, really wanted to know how babies were made.
You would think that question is hard to answer to such young a child. Uncomfortable. My first attempt was to try to simplify things. I went for the famous seed story.
“You know how at school you have been growing plants? You plant a seed, and then a few days later you see a sprout coming from under the dirt? Well, I planted a seed and mom has a baby in her belly,” I said.
“But how. daddy, how did you plant the seed?”
“Well, that,” I said, “You will find out when you are older.”
“You mean when I am 10?”
“Yes, Mia, when you are 10.”
So, by now you are probably thinking that by the time she is ten we will have the “sex talk.” But no, we won’t. When she is ten, we will have the “lab talk,” because Mia, like 5 million other children in the world so far, was made from Nina´s eggs and my sperm at an in vitro fertilization lab. My seed was “planted” in a petri dish.
Mia’s question was not only timely because of Nina´s pregnancy, but because today we are launching Prelude, the company that will help thousands of people have healthy babies when they are ready (a feature in Forbes about Prelude, authored by Miguel Helft, is here). And as a result of Prelude´s strategy, we will transform the infertility industry into the fertility industry, and in coming years, many more parents will have the “lab talk” with their kids.
Why would Prelude encourage the “lab talk” and not the “sex talk”? Because sex fails too frequently for it to be the only means of procreation. In the 60s, with the invention of the pill, the sexual revolution was launched—a revolution that decoupled sex from procreation. In the 2010s, thanks to the invention of vitrification (mostly developed at Prelude labs) and genetic sequencing of embryos, we are launching the second sexual revolution and decoupling procreation from sex.
When women under 30 are asked how many children they would like, the most common answer is three. But by the time they are 45, which is the natural end of fertility, 19% had no children, 22% had one, 30% had two, and only 29% had three or more children. Moreover, of those who had children, around 3% of babies were born with a congenital illness, and to get there, 20% of known pregnancies ended up in miscarriage. And to add to the risk of starting a family, every year there are tens of thousands of clinical abortions on pregnant women whose amnios or NIPT results lead them to decide to abort. So if having babies by having sex produces these results, should we continue to trust sex as the only means of procreation? We don’t think so. At Prelude, we think sex is great, sex is fun, but it is just too unreliable as the sole way to have babies during our 30s and 40s.
Prelude is a complementary strategy to starting a family having sex; an alternative that only occasionally would be necessary if millennials had their children at the same age as baby boomers had theirs. By stretching youth into our 40s, we’ve squeezed maternity out of the equation. A large segment of women is ending up with no children, or just one or two, when they wanted more. Or, because of advanced maternal and paternal age, they are having babies with significant health problems.
So, how do we fix this?
It’s why we developed The Prelude Method! The Prelude Method consists of freezing sperm and eggs when you are fertile, making embryos when you are ready, genetically sequencing parent’s and embryos to reduce the frequency of congenital illness, and transferring one at a time to reduce multiple pregnancies.
So. while all Prelude babies develop in their mother´s wombs, Prelude babies, like Mia, are not made having sex. And as opposed to people who solely rely on sex to make babies, people who rely on both sex and Prelude have a much greater chance of achieving their parental goals of having healthy babies when they are ready. Prelude uses the technology available to infertile people, on fertile people. At Prelude we believe that something as important as having a baby, and equally important, a healthy baby, should not be left to chance.
Today is a big day for us. Today, as Prelude, we announced that:
We raised $200 million mainly from a phenomenal group of investment professionals known as Lee Equity including Barry Baker, Yoo Jin Kim, and Collins Ward.
We have acquired the largest egg bank in North America, My Egg Bank, started by the scientist who perfected the vitrification technique in the U.S., Dr. Peter Nagy; and Dr. Daniel Shapiro, one of the nation’s leading reproductive endocrinologists who developed the most reliable technique to avoid hyperstimulation and obtain many eggs from fertile patients.
We have acquired Atlanta-based RBA, one of the nation’s best fertility clinics, whose CEO, Dr. Andrew Toledo, and COO, Ron Davidson, are also a stellar part of our team.
We have recruited a remarkable top manager, Tia Newcomer, as Chief Revenue Officer, former Vice President, Marketing & Commercial Operations at CBR, who convinced hundreds of thousands of new parents to preserve their baby’s stem cells.
Allison Johnson, who worked for Steve Jobs and launched the iPhone and every other i-product from Apple during Steve’s time, is helping us communicate Prelude to the world.
Joanna Rees, a well-known venture capitalist from San Francisco, and Dr. Mehmet Oz, America´s doctor, have joined our board as independent board members and are investors in Prelude.
From the outset, Prelude will have a sizable acquisition war chest [or bankroll] to partner with and acquire more fertility clinics around the country and to build a phenomenal embryo testing lab and cryogenic facilities.
In the years to come, many more parents like Nina and I will have the “lab talk” with Mia, our son David, and our baby on the way. And maybe you will too, because those who do will be much more likely to have healthy babies when they are ready than those who rely on sex alone for reproduction. With Prelude, our biology will finally come to terms with our psychology.
As depressing as Trump counter factual populism is, there is something even more worrying: the conditions that made Trump happen are not going away. These are elite education and a deteriorating job market.
As Trump says he loves the uneducated. And by tying lower education to residence and higher education to income, our society can’t stop producing his type of voters. The best universities in the USA can only accept about 3% of those who turn 18 every year. So a country that provides elite education for only 3% of its population shouldn’t be surprised, that a candidate who preys on the rest with reality TV appeal and groundless proposals, can get elected.
And then there’s deteriorating job quality. Yes we still have jobs, like we still have car owners. But the trend towards massive automation is about to take a few more exponential steps. And as cars will be mostly pooled and driverless, many of today’s jobs will also go the way of AI. First will be transportation, then hospitality, then health care.
The next Trump will not speak about Mexicans stealing our jobs and be wrong about them, he will speak about AI stealing our jobs and be right about it. So either we find a way to educate more people and provide occupations and basic income to all, or we will have Trump after Trump. And one day democracy will be a distant memory.
Last night I had dinner in San Francisco with an illustrious group of people. Some of them would arguably be perceived as the smartest people around. Yet their worldview was very biased by their life in Silicon Valley.
A lot of the conversation on inequality centered around how zoning laws are pricing a new generation out of the housing market. True here. Not true in Atlanta, Berlin, Miami. Are restrictive zoning laws a problem? Yes, but are they the reason why there is inequality? Only partly, and depends where. I have another explanation for inequality and that is: inheritances, elite education, uneven distribution of talent.
Another Bay Area centric explanation was that pervasive technology is causing violence. Do we believe that Syrians or Libyans are killing each other because they have Facebook or Twitter? Not really. Hutus and Tutsis killed each other without smartphones and with machetes. I see the violence in the Middle East as a resurgence of tribalism, fake us vs them. Religion being used for tribal purposes.
Then there was the belief that education is not what is needed to solve inequality, because many people with college degrees end up serving coffee. Yes this may be true here. But in most of the world access to education is indeed a ticket to the middle class. And less education will give us more Trumpism. As he said it he loves the uneducated. Moreover education is about being part of a culture, not only a way to get what job.
Lastly a very radical view, was that robots and AI are taking over the world, and hence, an experiment in basic income was started in Oakland to simulate a world in which nobody has a job. Could AI and robots leave many without work? Yes. But so did mechanized agriculture.
In short all the problems were real. But the intensity attributed to each one of them and the proposed solutions were very Northern California.