Thursday, March 24, 2016

No media. No liberal bias. Just TRUMP.

I have family members who are big supporters of Trump. Whenever we discuss his outrageous and hateful ideas, I am told, it's just the media and liberal spin on the moderate and reasonable ideas of Trump. Most recent e-mail exchange:

Me: I have no reason to think he [Trump] is an anti-Semite. But the stuff he says on racial issues is deeply revolting. Just because it's about Muslims and Mexicans doesn't mean I am okay with it. I am not listening to any pundits. I am listening to Trump and that's the part that makes me deeply uncomfortable. Most of the vitriol is coming directly from him. And that's what my question is about...

Relative: Give me quotes directly from Trump. Make sure to include all the sentences before and after the offending words, then read them twice, and then we can discuss each one. You will be pressed to find anything to support what you just said. You'll see - it's truly amazing what the media does even to smart people. 
 So as a resource for those whose family and friends are Trump supporters, I am starting the following list. Not quotes from newspaper articles. No bias/spin/out-of-context/clipped quotes. Just a simple list of things Trump says himself on his Tweeter account.


On science:





On Putin:

On Obama:






On "losers":




On Muslims and immigrants:



On, uhm, sorry, can't classify this insanity.



Tuesday, March 8, 2016

U.S. is not 1930 Germany. Trump may not be Hitler. But what if he is?

I don't like paranoia and baseless frenzy. I hate it when people throw around "Nazi" and "Hitler" comparisons on social media, as people constantly love to do. And everyone who was around in 2008 and 2012 and witnessed the United States electing Barack Obama, both times, should realize that the U.S. today is not where Germany was in 1930. The candidates for the Democratic nominee just discussed racial blindspots and white privilege in the debate on Sunday. And both Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are more likely to be elected than Trump. So, as Marco Rubio would say, let's dispel with the notion that the U.S. is Nazi Germany.

In fact, it seems that 11% of Muslims support Trump. I personally know Jews who are huge fans of Trump. Their reasoning is that Trump doesn't believe any of the vile stuff that he spews. It's just a tactic to get elected. But do we know what Hitler believed? Here's the first mention of Hitler in the NYT (hat tip Jens Foell):

Yes, Trump may just be a cunning opportunist. He may get elected and turn out to be the most open and socially liberal politician in the history of our country. Sure, non-zero chance of that. But we have absolutely no evidence to suggest that this is the case. And what if we elect him and it turns out we are wrong? What is the price of that?

I may be an overly-cautious Jew. Having relatives who died in the Holocaust surely plays into my perspective on politics. But white supremacists aside, who is comfortable with the stuff below?

1. Trump seems happy to be endorsed by the KKK.

2. Racial profiling of entire ethnic and religious groups is Trump's forte. According to Trump, Mexicans are rapists and all Muslims should be banned from entering the U.S.

3. Trump suggested instituting a national identification system for tracking Muslims - eerily reminiscent of the Judenstern (the Jewish star of Nazi Europe).

4. Trump may be a fan of Hitler's speeches.

5. Given all of the above, the Hitler-like salutes at Trump's rallies give me chills.

6. It's not just comedians, media, and liberals who compare Trump to Hitler. Conservatives Glen Beck and Christine Todd Whitman think so too. Yet, Trump is not at all bothered by the frequent comparisons of him to Hitler. That should bother us all.

Monday, February 22, 2016

How to find good investors and avoid the startup sharks (nope VCs aren't the sharks)

After four years as a co-founder of protocols.io, I can confirm that the startup ocean is infested with sharks. However, in our experience, none of these sharks are actual venture capitalists. They are not investors but parasites and scammers posing as investors or promising to help you connect with real VCs in exchange for cash/equity.

Here's a good example of someone who has wasted months of our time. Please do read about a classic scam artist John Spangenberg.

Spangenberg prefers to go by "Johnny" and posed as an impact investor with an active fund interested in investing in protocols.io. He said exactly what we wanted to hear, and from November 2014 through the end of February 2015, asked for numerous meetings and documents as part of due diligence. It took these three months for us to realize that he was wasting our time and to ask him to never contact us again (full exchange below). That was two months before the above article. 

I have been planning for a year now to write this simple guide for finding good investors. After bumping into the expose of Johnny today, I can't delay it any more.

The truth is that there is no formula for matching startups and investors. No matter how good your company, you have to talk to many to find the right fit. But from the scores of VCs I have spoken to, there is a common theme to the good ones:

  1. They value your time and ask good questions.
  2. The questions match your stage of the company.
  3. Whether or not they invest, you typically learn from the conversations with them and can use the feedback to improve your presentation and company (like getting negative review on an academic paper, it's important to use the rejection/criticism to improve your paper rather than to lash out at the reviewers).
  4. They quickly let you know what they are looking for, whether you fit, and if your startup is too early, what needs to happen before they will invest. (Quickly is usually a matter of 1-4 weeks.)



On the flip side, below is a list of characters and organizations to avoid like the plague. Like all first-time founders, we have lost precious days on these parasites, and I detail the below to hopefully save some others for wasting just as much.



  1. Conferences and investment groups that deceptively charge startups exorbitant fees for the honor of meeting potential investors (I've written before about Web Summit and the Keiretsu Form in Hey startup parasites! We don't have time for you.)
  2. Introducers. These are folks who promise to connect you to VCs in exchange for equity, a retainer, and often a percentage of your raised round. RUN RUN RUN from them.
  3. Investors who are meeting with you just because they invested in a competing startup and want insider information.
  4. Pseudo-investors who do not have actual cash or an active fund (see more on Johnny below).
  5. Investors who won't quickly tell you "yes/no" but are dragging you through making charts and documents for them that are entirely irrelevant for your stage of the company (for example, financial projections and time-to-profit graphs before you have started building your product).
  6. Scam accelerators (careful here - there are some very good accelerators and a sea of shitty ones.)
We have been approached and distracted by a few in each of the categories above. Because of a good bullshit detector, we have never lost any equity or cash to these leeches. But we did lose a lot of time. Time, to a startup, is as valuable as cash - guard this precious resource and avoid the parasites.

---------------------------------------------------
Founders and investors, please share your tips on how to find the good ones and avoid the fraudsters. Please comment below (or on this Twitter thread, and I will add the advice to the post).


---------------------------------------------------
[Below is the e-mail exchange with Johnny once we realized that he is wasting our time.]

Forwarded 

----------
From: Lenny Teytelman
Date: Fri, Feb 6, 2015 at 8:44 PM
To: John Spangenberg

Dear Johnny,

Thank you for taking the time to connect with Irina today. I hope that you now have enough information to decide whether or not you want to include protocols.io in the tentative list of companies for the fund that you are raising. 

I hope that once you raise the fund, we can reconnect, update you on protocols.io's progress, and help you make the final decision on whether or not protocols.io is the right fit for your fund.

I also hope you are not offended by the bluntness of this e-mail. It is just that startups can ill-afford tentative conversations with investors who do not at the moment have an active fund and are in a position to to make the yes/no call. Our board and advisors have repeatedly cautioned us not to get distracted by potential VCs who are interested in protocols.io but are not able to make the funding call at the moment. I tried to communicate as much to you, but I must have not done a good job. I am sorry about that.

Kind regards,

Lenny

P.S. I also want to share my perspective on cash-flow projections. I know they are a normal part of business school, but they are inappropriate for young startups. We have raised $800K in the last 2.5 years. Neither the angels nor the VC group that invested asked for cash-flow. Only one potential angel asked us for 5-year spreadsheets, and not surprisingly, he bailed and chose not to invest at the last second. Below is the message I sent to him back in 2012.

-----------------
Dear ...,

We enjoyed our phone conversation and really appreciate your advice.  Attached is a revised 5-year projection model. Since we cannot realistically estimate the risk of our company, we applied discount rates typically used by VCs when valuing early stage startups.  Please note that we are not at the stage to be valued by VCs yet.

While we agree that this is a good exercise, we want to caution against over-interpreting the numbers.  Take everything in these models with a HUGE grain of salt.  There are just too many assumptions.  We are estimating total number of protocols, job postings, ads sales, our expenses, and on and on.  These are important and solid exercises.  They show what the revenue model is and why we are likely to strike gold.  But they are too speculative to take seriously now.

Of course, it is critical to have a good business model.  But our budget to get there and the actual revenue are a moot point.  For classic manufacturing and service startups, such calculations are essential and realistic.  For tech. startups, they are mostly irrelevant.  That's because the most likely scenario is that a year or two from now, once we have the repository, user base, and traffic, we will be bought by Nature Publishing Group, or Merck, or ResearchGate, or Google  without getting a single dollar of revenue.

It may sound delusional, but we would argue that for an angel investor, that is essentially the only scenario that matters.  Most tech. startups fail.  The return comes from a 10-15% of the ones that succeed, but those that succeed, do so wildly.  Angel investors make 75% of their profits from the 7% of companies that hit the ball out of the park.  The goal of the angel investor is to invest in the one company out of many that will give a 10-30x return. 

Can we guarantee success?  Of course not!  If we could, we wouldn't be talking to investors.  Angel investors take a huge risk, but they do so because of the insane possible return.  

Obviously, we think we have a good shot at this.  Hence the initial seed funding of $100K from us.  Hence Alexei quitting his lucrative job and plunging in full time.  We know that there is risk and we are willing to bet on this company.  We are the main angel investors here, in addition to being the founders.



----------
From: Johnny
Date: Sun, Feb 8, 2015 at 5:47 PM
To: Lenny Teytelman

Dear Lenny - your friends are absolutely right. Both investor and investee as principal and agent need to engage in a constant due diligence. Trust is not a given but something that has to be earned over time, sometimes through tribes and tribulations. Working together engine and gasoline in an symbiotic relationship has to be compelling for both sides of the transaction. 

Will soon provide all potential impact investees at sky deck with an overview of our Stanford-Berkeley incubator impact funds, likely structured as a $50m public mutual funds and traded on the stock markets. 

Meanwhile all the best in elevating protocol.sio into the next growth level, expectantly profitable growth. 

As to money questions, I respectfully disagree with your (casuistic) and somewhat arrogantly diagnosis. Finance is the semantics of business. Value is defined by McKinsey as the future net inflow of cash. The 2000 internet bubble showed that eyeballs can never substitute coldhearted cash so that inspecting financial projection has become a legitimate part of any proper due diligence. I'm sure you  will get used to it if and when you mature your interesting business. 

All the very best - Johnny

----------
From: Lenny Teytelman
Date: Sun, Feb 8, 2015 at 6:22 PM
To: Johnny 

Dear Johnny,

I agree that a business model which is "let's get users" is often a bad approach to a startup. As you know, we are not in that group. It is critical for a startup to have a solid business model and to take steps towards validating it and attaining revenue.

Where we disagree is the value of cash-flow projections. They are indispensable for larger and more mature companies. I asked all of our advisors and and some investors on the appropriate way to handle your request for the projections. That is because, as a scientist, I fear they are misleading for a young startup. Here is a quote from a VC at O'Reilly's OATV fund in response to my question about projections for seed-stage startups:

I personally wouldn’t base my decision on projections given the stage you’re at. I’d push back and offer a list of milestones and pathways to achieving those milestones. 


This sentiment was a consensus from our other advisors - people very experienced in starting, growing, and selling companies. People who have raised hundreds of millions of venture capital.

My response to the request for projections is not based on my immaturity. It is based on the advice from our board and from investors.

Without a doubt, I will be used to the projections and cash-flow analysis when we mature our business, because at that point, these projections will be based on data and reasonable extrapolations.

Kind regards,

Lenny





----------
From: John Spangenberg <johny@geotreasuries.com>
Date: Mon, Feb 9, 2015 at 1:42 PM

Thank you for your clarification, Lenny. My view as an investment banker (that is perhaps contrarian to other advisors) is that long-run cash flow projections should play a role at every stage in the firm's cycle, for the sake of balanced capital project decision making. There is merit in the discipline to identify the monetization model and the underlying assumptions on capex, opex and sources of income and their impact on free cash flow.


But obviously operational and demand-side non-financial metrics in most cases outweigh financial metrics in valuing business at the seed stage. And...And: I welcome an all-inclusive approach with respect for the nature of each particular stage for balanced decision making.

As to the impact funds, I believe - based on what I've seen so far - that protocols.io has potential for inclusion as portfolio company in our impact mutual funds. Once we've completed a reporting template for all Stanford and Berkeley incubators, we will definitively reconnect.

Meanwhile, I wish the team all the best in achieving its semi-anual targets.
Pax et bonum - Johnny
-- 




JFA Spangenberg MSc PhD
Chairman GeoSteward & GeoTreasuries Inc. 
Climate Risk Secured Bonds EcoVillages
55 Broad Street - New York New York
555 California Street - San Francisco
World Trade Centre - Vancouver
Hong Kong Stock Exchange






---------------------------------------------------------

[Two weeks later, Johnny spammed me about an animal welfare nonprofit that he was starting, which apparently is part of his fraud.]



Forwarded conversation
Subject: Fwd: Animal welfare portfolio
------------------------

From: John Spangenberg
Date: Fri, Feb 20, 2015 at 12:10 PM

For your information - have a good weekend
Johnny



Animal welfare portfolio


Inspired by St Francis who loved the animals as part of our vibrant community of "all living creatures", I am (with Pillsbury Law SF) incorporating a 501(c)3 organization focused on animal cruelty disclosure on an international basis. 



http://www.transparency.org/



You can't control what is unmeasured - following Transparency International fighting financial corruption, I aim to devise a simple animal cruelty index (dept of the suffering times duration) and public (movements in) cross-country, cross-industry, cross-company differences. Transparency will ameliorate ignorance, will enhance consumer choice, trigger legal reform and increase accountability / law enforcement. 



Fact-based information will make investors think twice or encourage them to divest in jurisdictions with excessive animal cruelty. Someday, animal cruelty will be rendered unconstitutional (like human slavery) - hopefully our joint efforts may contribute to bring that day forward - paraphrasing the words of Martin Luther King: that will be a glorious day when our society sweltering with the heat of eco-injustice, sweltering with the heat of animal oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and ecojustice.



Ghandi once said that how a society treats its most vulnerable species, the animals, is a visible indication of the standard of its moral integrity. By combining the animal cruelty index with the financial corruption index (Transparency International) and the Gini-coefficient for measuring income disparity (World Bank), it is possible to create a robust composite index; a comprehensive benchmark of moral integrity for international comparison and public disclosure.



Hope this information is useful to you.


Pax et bonum - Johnny




----------
From: Lenny Teytelman
Date: Fri, Feb 20, 2015 at 12:17 PM
To: John Spangenberg [and others]



As Alexei said, strong desire to reply with "unsubscribe". 

No, this isn't useful. 
----------
From: John Spangenberg
Date: Fri, Feb 20, 2015 at 12:44 PM
To: Lenny Teytelman 

Thought you're intested in animal welfare, Lenny.

This is a free country. Unsubscribing is fortunately always an option.
Considered it to be done, with respect and pleasure - JFA

----------
From: Lenny Teytelman
Date: Fri, Feb 20, 2015 at 4:22 PM
To: John Spangenberg

Dear Johnny,

Of course, animals have nothing to do with this. I am just extremely disappointed in our interactions. The evening I met you, you conveyed that you are an impact investor, with a fund, and five companies in which you have already invested. It took way too much time to discover that you are only preparing to raise a fund, which may or may not happen.

We all feel at protocols.io that we have invested a lot of time into our communication. Time that is in critically short supply. To be honest, we feel used.

Regards,

Lenny

----------
From: John Spangenberg
Date: Fri, Feb 20, 2015 at 5:50 PM
To: Lenny Teytelman 



Dear Lenny - Why did it take so long for you to become straightforward? 

You seem to be a bright individual and leading a promising company, but I am developing personal doubts due to what I believe to be character flaws. I have gradually learnt to know you as impulsive, unpredictable, inpatient, even inflammatory at some times; risking to destroy critical relationships. Those are frankly not the best qualities for creating long-run shareholder's value in a balanced fashion. I am convinced however that as time goes by, you will grow into more seasoned leadership without compromising intelligence and energy - just my 2 cents.

You complain about wasting time. Investing is a two-way street. It seems the two of us invested precious time in exploring synergies. Advisory delivered by me during our discovery was meanwhile mostly appreciated by you, provided you meant what you were saying in earlier emails. 

Nobody is perfect. I happen to believe the potential of protocols.io outweighs the downside of our personal chemistry. We are quickly building our $50m "Money and Meaning" Stanford-Berkeley impact funds, leveraging on almost 200 incubator companies in the valley at different stages in their early cycle. 

Nobody is irreplaceable (including myself). I am prepared to delete protocols.io from our impact platform unlocking the capital base of specific impact investors, as of immediate effect. I hope you will not exercise that option, but the choice is of course entirely yours.

Respectfully yours - Johnny Spangenberg

As a postscriptum, I added two relevant articles. Apologies if the articles are already known to you.

----------
From: Lenny Teytelman
Date: Sat, Feb 21, 2015 at 6:50 AM
To: John Spangenberg 

Dear Johnny,

I apologize for the harshness of my communications. 

I also agree that there is a certain efficiency (maybe ruthlessness)  to the way I do business. I try hard to not waste other people's time and to make sure ours is equally respected. 

So far, this has served us well. We have accepted some and rejected others as investors. No regrets at this point. However, never before have I been disrespectful; whenever saying "no thank you," I have done so politely and without destroying any relationships. And never before have I been as angered by an investor. 

Because I am very transparent and upfront, I crave the same in return. Usually, that is what I get from investors. Yet, in this instance, it seems that you misrepresented your position for a long time, while having complete honesty from us. 

I feel that you did not respect us and our time. Perhaps you meant no disrespect. Perhaps you were not intentionally vague for the longest time about not actually having a fund. 

Whatever the case may be, I also agree that investment is a two-way street. But I am convinced that without chemistry, investment would not be prudent from your side, nor from ours.  

I wish you and your fund luck, but please do remove protocols.io from consideration for your portfolio. 

All the best,

Lenny

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Terrible news for ISIS. Terrible for Republicans. Good for everyone else.

Iraqi forces have just retaken a major government compound in Ramadi after days of pushing ISIS out of the key city. This is coming on top of a consistently bad year for ISIS: the caliphate-controlled territory has been shrinking each month of the year.

The reaction to the setbacks was yesterday's communication from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS. In the audio message, al-Baghdadi acknowledges:
Then we were struck by hardship and strife ... and God's trial intensified ... so much so that the Islamic State was driven out from areas it conquered and controlled ... and the land has narrowed down on us ... to the point where the Islamic State enemies thought they defeated and exterminated it. 
 Understandably, he also called for all Muslims to join in the fight. And here comes the worst news for ISIS - the reaction of the Muslims. A uniform mockery of the call, with countless hysterical "sorry, busy washing my hair" responses.



And there goes the entire platform of Trump and the rest of the Republican presidential candidates. If ISIS continues on this trajectory through the next year, chances of electing a Republican will be at zero. Republicans clearly know this too, as Rep. Peter King instantly issued a statement that he disagrees with all evidence (not unusual for a Republican politician) and that ISIS is stronger than ever, and that Islamophobia is as necessary as ever.

So, ISIS is in trouble, and Republicans just as much. Bad for them. Good for us. Great way to end the year.
-----------------------------

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A quick note on journalism (in defense of BuzzFeed and Brooke Borel)

This note is quick, but for it to make sense, please first read the excellent article by Brooke Borel, Seed Money: How Kevin Folta got entangled with Monsanto, created a shady podcast alter ego, and spurred a hot public debate over conflicts of interest in big ag. I want to summarize the article, but the story is so bizarre and the writing by Ms. Borel so good, I can't do it justice with a summary. Just read it.

While the article is good, for me personally, it is painful. It's painful because I have been actively defending the scientist Kevin Folta over the past few months against media attacks on him. I am 100% pro-GMO. I know that the science Kevin promotes and teaches is sound and correct. I deeply appreciate the efforts by Kevin over all these years to dispel the myths around GMOs.

The problem is that Brooke Borel's article is not a smear campaign or a hit piece. It's an example of excellent journalism. When I first clicked on the article, I was ready to push back and defend Kevin. By the end, unfortunately, I found Kevin's actions indefensible.

And I know that many scientists and GMO-supporters felt the same way as I did. Many of us said this publicly or privately to Ms. Borel. The problem is that some people felt the same way, and given that there is really no way to defend Kevin here, decided to instead attack Ms. Borel or BuzzFeed. I won't point to the many different tweets on this, but essentially these are as follows:
  • BuzzFeed is clickbait and they just published it for views.
  • Brooke Borel shouldn't have covered it because it doesn't advance the conversation on GMOs.
  • This topic is too important to focus on Kevin Folta - should talk about GMO issues instead.
  • We've talked about Kevin Folta enough; why write another piece?
  • There are bigger problems in the world.
Journalism doesn't work this way. Good journalism is not about promoting an agenda - it's about good and important stories. GMOs are important. This story is good. Kevin was doing things that are likely to result in the opposite of his intentions - less trust in science and GMOs. If you know anything about journalism, it's almost unfathomable that Ms. Borel shouldn't have written this. 

It's not okay to bully journalists when they have written a thorough and factual article by telling them, "you are hurting a cause, so shut up." It's not okay to tell them, "there are bigger problems, don't write about this." If you do, you are practicing the My Outrage Is Better Than Your Outrage.

So I understand that it's unpleasant when we read something that we wish weren't true. But if it's true, we have to deal with that. If you can't defend the actions or dispute the content of an article, there's a problem, and it's not helpful to tell the media or the journalist to shut up. Most importantly, we should all strive to avoid doing things that will give us coverage like this. But when we accidentally make mistakes, which we all do, instead of attacking the journalist, we should apologize and work to prevent them from happening in the future.

---------------------------------------
P.S. I emigrated from what was then still USSR. That was a country where journalism worked with an agenda. Today, Russia still has a deep problem with free speech. A Russian citizen recently tried to defend Putin to me by saying, "We do have freedom of speech; we just don't have freedom of the press." There are good and healthy reasons to have freedom of the press and to have journalists decide what they want to cover, agenda aside.

Monday, October 5, 2015

VCs to startups: No food for 3 days? Well, you should really force yourself!

A few days ago, Neil Murray wrote an excellent post detailing the unethical startup conference Web Summit/Rise/Collision and how it hurts the startups it's supposed to help. Paddy Cosgrave, the head of the Web Summit group, wrote a non-defense where he decided to attack Neil and others instead of addressing the concerns. That didn't work too well as Robin Wauters, the EiC of Tech.eu, then responded with "Is Web Summit a scam? Well, if you have to ask." What is truly devastating to the Web Summit folks is the comments section, showing beyond any reasonable doubt that this conference is indeed a fraud.

Our startup protocols.io nearly fell for the Web Summit scam back in April and I detailed our experience to warn other founders. After the comments above, there's really not much left to discuss about Web Summit itself - it's a lavish party, financed by the people least able to pay, with no benefit and a huge loss to the startups falling for the scheme.

There should be nothing left to say, except that I am deeply bothered by a condescending reaction to Neil's and Robin's posts from people who say that the startups falling for this scam deserve it. Many statements such as:





The reason scams against startups are so successful is that there is a fresh and steady supply of inexperienced first-time founders. Inexperienced and stupid are not the same. First time founders are, by definition, novices.

The notion that founders should carefully weigh the ROI for attending a given conference and ought to skip ones like Web Summit if the startup can't afford them reminds me of the joke:
A beggar walks up to a Jewish mother on the street and says, "Lady, I haven't eaten in three days." The woman replies, "Oy vey! Force yourself."
Even we nearly fell for the Web Summit scam, despite being a 3-year-old startup with great advisors, board of directors, at UC Berkeley's excellent Skydeck accelerator. I imagine founders in Ukraine or Brazil, spending the only money they have to travel to these conferences, hoping to raise capital for their effort. The Web Summit is a brilliant and successful scam, run expertly, and it's not trivial to spot that it is in fact a scam. It preys on the desperate and the inexperienced, as most successful scams tend to do. Blaming the founders for not spotting the sham is like telling cancer patients who resort to homeopathic placebos, "You deserve to die because you are so stupid."

Some VCs consistently forget that not all founders are serial entrepreneurs (I wrote before about this). And that's the part that allows these scams to persist. There would be no Web Summit if the VCs didn't attend it and didn't give the keynotes there. But when people like Mark Suster attend and defend such conferences, it lends legitimacy to the events and makes the inexperienced founders pause and say, "Well, perhaps this is exactly how you raise venture capital. If we can connect with people like Mark there..."


It is absolutely true that startups and founders learn from mistakes. But it doesn't mean that Web Summit is a mistake one should make. And it doesn't mean that scams are harmless and somehow select for good startups - that's bullshit. These scams waste money and more importantly time, both scarce resources for startups.  For some, attending Web Summit can be a lethal error, for reasons entirely unrelated to the strength of the startup's team/idea. It's important to take the side of startups rather than scammers in this case.

----------------
Note1. I am happy to see Mark making it clear that young startups should not attend Web Summit and the like. But he makes it hard for startups not to by going to them himself.



Note2. Some people have asked why thousands of people attend these conferences and don't speak up. If a scam and waste of time, wouldn't we know that? Well, they do speak up - see the comments here. And those who remain silent - can you blame them when people react with "you are so stupid your startup deserves to die"?

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Ugly Neighbors: From #IStandWithAnn to Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins

I am not worried about racists and anti-Semites who sport Nazi avatars on Twitter. It's the smart and respected bigots like Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins - these are the ones who really bother me.

It just so happens that it's been an ugly ten days of racial/religious hatred in my feed. Started with this article about Russian Islamophobia. Then Ann Coulter tweeted "fucking Jews", I made a comment about it, and suddenly I experienced direct anti-Semitic vitriol for the first time in 25 years.
To be honest, the scum in #IStandWithAnn simply made me reflect on the fact that since leaving the USSR in 1989, no one has called me a kike. The vile hashtag led me to ask if there is an example of a liberal analog to Coulter - someone with over half a million Twitter followers, many of whom can erupt in a parade of racism and xenophobia (still looking, by the way).

But today, Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins took the hatred prize. Richard Dawkins asked if Ahmed actually wanted to get arrested and then attacked the 14-year-old for not truly "inventing" the clock. Meanwhile, Bill Maher essentially said that the reaction to Ahmed is reasonable because Muslims blow shit up.

Maher ended the segment saying that adults should have told Ahmed, "maybe one of the reasons why it happened to you is that in our religion we’re responsible for 9/11, the Madrid bombing, the London bombing, the Bali discotheque bombings, the Kenya mall bombings.” (see at 7:23 below)



My question to Maher - if my daughter is called a kike, do I have to tell her the following?
Maybe one of the reasons why it happened to you is that many Wall Street bankers responsible for the financial crisis are Jewish, and Bernie Madoff is a Jew, and in general, there are and were many Jews who are terrible people.

Ann Coulter is a fringe clown with a xenophobic hateful base. I don't care much about them. But many people that I respect listen to Dawkins and Maher. I see these people pausing and starting to question Ahmed, not realizing that the seeds of doubt are planted by smart bigots who can carefully craft their words so that the hate is almost masked. It's part of the "we listen to Nobel prize winners even when they are spewing nonsense" and I think the Nobel/Dawkins/Maher bigots do way more damage.

---------------------------------------------
P.S. For those wondering, no, Richard Dawkins didn't just lose his mind. His mind is fine; it's just that he is a bigoted jerk. Examples here and here and below.





In fact, there is a special chart giving guidance for when to ignore Dawkins: