Thursday, August 28, 2014

Eight months later ...

2014 has been an incredible ride.

I've managed to launch or invest in five companies (Publicize, Colombia Reports, Míguelo Romano, Finaxion, IPSUM), mentor with the Founder Institute, throw a star-studded launch party, build a kick-ass tiki bar on my terrace, dance salsa in Cuba, sing mariachi in Mexico, tour the islands of Panamá, vibe to reggae in Jamaica, dislocate my shoulder in Chile, drink wine in Mendoza, Argentina, and see the Colombian countryside (San Luis and San Carlos), volcano (Manizales), a colonial village (Jardín), and islands (San Andres)...

And the year isn't even 60% over.

Tomorrow, Johana and I will embark on an adventure-packed one-month visit to the United States that will include New York City, Philadelphia, Nashville, Washington DC, Florida (Orlando, Naples, Miami, Tampa) and Texas. Along the way we'll see the Colombia-Brazil revenge game in Miami, the Pitbull-Enrique Iglesias-JBalvin concert at Madison Square Garden, the Sunday Night Saints-Cowboys game in Dallas, and hike through the Shenandoah Valley.

In reality, I've traveled the world across five continents, but at times it has been a lonely trip. What makes this trip special is the person that I have to share it with me.

As I travel, I hope to update this space more often. Stay tuned...

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Time to get 2014 Started

For me, June 2013 to January 2014 was a time of reflection. As you probably know, June 19, 2013 was the day that I sold my principal enterprise, Yuxi Pacific, to a private equity group.

The next six months were a journey of discovery. Perhaps that is a bit melodramatic, but it was at the very least six months of personal discovery and reflection.

I was born into a humble, working class family in the Philadelphia suburbs - a family that did not own passports and did not have university degrees. We drank cheap beer, barbecued in the backyard and, when things were good, drove 90 minutes to the Jersey Shore to walk the boardwalk and lay on the beach.

From October 2005 to June 2013, my company was the focus of my life. That's not necessarily a bad thing - it obviously came with great financial success. Most important, I had fun and I learned a great deal. This child of a working class family traveled. I learned to speak Chinese and Spanish fluently. I lived and worked in foreign countries and learned their cultures. I led the development of products that had a major impact on the industry - hopefully some of my work even changed the industry.

Suddenly in June 2013, with the signing of a contract, that vehicle - the work, projects, employees, relationships, and my passion from 6am until 12 midnight every day, was passed on to another group.

Going from 12 to 16-hour work days, constant travel and ever-present deadlines to complete tranquility is not an easy transition.

My first instinct, as documented well on this blog, was to find "the next thing". Inside my drive has not changed - I wake up every day with a desire to change the world, to challenge paradigms, to make a positive difference on humanity.

I started with humanitarian projects. I did some charity work (with mixed success). I embarked on writing a book (with less success). I made a list of 15 great things to achieve in the next 5 years (not very well thought out, rushed, and incomplete).

During that time, the one venture that I still had continued to have success. GITP S.A., the company I founded to foster young startups, was doing extremely well. At GITP, I made six seed investments, and three of those investments had successful exits. That's a 50% track record. Perhaps more amazing, all three exited within two years of investment.

As 2013 came to a close and my period of reflection came to an end, things did become more clear. What I did at Yuxi - building a company that challenges industry norms with cutting edge technology or novel ideas, I wanted to do that again. However with the success that I have had, and now with more financial backing, I have the unique ability to do that on a larger scale.

So what is in store for 2014? I will continue my charity work, hopefully with more success. I will continue to travel - I enjoy it. I will not be writing the Real Medellin book, unfortunately.

However my focus will be squarely upon GITP. The goal is to create 10 more "Yuxi's" - successful enterprises that will challenge the conventional thinking of their respective industries by embracing and deploying adaptive, innovative technologies. It's more than just making successful "investments" - though obviously a successful financial exit is important. I hope that we can create companies that make an enormous impact ... as melodramatic as it sounds, companies, people and ideas that will change the world.

Friday, December 27, 2013

How not to run a charity event

It's the holiday season, and accompanying those holidays is our innate spirit of giving. The two go hand-in-hand, knitted into the fabric of our culture. According to Slate Magazine, 40% of all donations and charitable work is done during the month of December. (side note: I disagree wholeheartedly with the article itself, Americans are extremely charitable, but that is a topic for another day).

While I do try to make a practice of running charity events throughout the year, the yearly event with children in December is always a given, and it always gets me excited. There is something about seeing the smiling faces of children at Christmas that evokes the very concept of joy during the holidays.

This year, I decided on a bigger event than usual. We would find a poor pueblo in the Colombian countryside with at least 200 children who would not otherwise have gifts for Christmas. After some outside help, we arrived at a pueblo outside of Caldas called "Vereda la Chuscala".

We went to the pueblo beforehand to meet some of the "volunteers" (more on that later) and parents and coordinate the event. The meeting was only 30 minutes and we arrived at a plan very quickly. The group provided us with the names of the children (just under 200 in total). I would buy the gifts myself, a fun exercise and learning experience for my daughter, and have food catered. The volunteers had an existing sound system for music. The event would be a surprise for the children, with entertainment, food, music, and gifts!

Not so fast. My first mistake was not taking a more active role in coordinating the event. I delegated coordination of the event to a friend, while I went to the US for a week, where I purchased the toys and hauled them back in 5 super-sized suitcases. I did make phone calls and coordinate with the person handling the event, and I was assured that everything was A-OK.

On the morning of the event there was rain, and thus we postponed an hour. Not a big deal. We arrived at 11am - a group of 6 consisting of my daughter, a photographer, my good friend Tony, our driver, my girlfriend and myself. That's about when things went awry.

It was immediately apparent that nothing was coordinated. The food was not there and half the gifts were not wrapped (I was told they ran out of wrapping paper - of course, no one informed me). That immediately set off a frantic attempt by everyone to get everything wrapped, including writing the names of the children on each present.

We started with the food, drinks and a few games, however we clearly had less than 100 children. I suppose without telling the children that there would be gifts, many of their parents chose to keep them home on a rainy day. Then, once word was out in the pueblo that there were gifts, children came and we had our 200 - unfortunately they were not the 200 on the list!

As we began attempting to distribute the gifts, we started calling out children by name and no one was responding. A much better idea would have been to simply call out by age group - but that's not how it was coordinated in advance. In the end, however, distributing by age group was the only way. Without the ages written on the packages, it meant having the volunteers open them in advance and distribute them.

By now, three hours had gone by, there was rain and the children were ansy. They were queued up in huge groups, pushing and shoving, trying to get gifts. The gifts themselves didn't seem to go over so well. Star Wars action figures, an example of something that would have been a great gift in the US, were greeted with frowns as most kids wanted the nerf guns. There were arguments. There were people trying to get second gifts. And, in the end, we ran out of gifts leaving some children with nothing.

As we were handing out the gifts, my photographer approached me. Someone stole the phone out of her bag.

But the worse was yet to come. In the end, the parents of children who did not get gifts approached me. They complained that they paid for the event and came up empty handed. That's right - they paid. The "volunteers" were not volunteers at all, as it turned out, they used my generosity as a means of extracting money from poor parents in the pueblo.

All in all, the event was a disaster. What I had hoped to be a great event with smiling children and the spirit of Christmas ended in stolen property, angry parents, and children who didn't like their gifts (or worse, did not receive gifts). Lesson learned. Though charity events are not about generating revenue, they can still be coordinated and run like a business event. Better planning is needed. Deeper due diligence is required. And most of all, attention to detail is mandatory.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Flaws with Capitalism and Corporatism

I am, by nature, a Libertarian. Unlike most others that I meet, I cannot seem to align myself with a particular party, individual, or movement - I simply believe that each person should be free to make any decisions that they choose as long as those decisions do not bring harm to others in society.

Libertarians are well-known to be free-market capitalists and I would say that I am one of those too. Communism, socialism and state-ism are diseases of the 20th century and the fact that they persist even today is a tragedy for the countries under their grips.

However, in my opinion, Capitalism itself is only a shade better and is deeply flawed. As we approach the new year, one that looks to be spiraling into a dangerous macroeconomic situation with regional conflicts in various theaters, it is time for some new ideas that challenge the basic concepts of free-market capitalism.

Let's start with one of the basics, the free-market economy. In this economy, entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Those entrepreneurs take great risks, normally manifested through borrowing money (more on this later), with the reward being a chance to generate great wealth and financial independence. Society benefits from these entrepreneurs through the competition that their products create, thereby lowering the price of products, the employment that they generate, and the taxes they pay.

Sounds, great right? Well, it mostly is.

The problem begins with the fractional reserve banking system and how money is lent and borrowed. You see, if I am an entrepreneur, or consumer, I need to borrow that money. That money is typically borrowed from a bank, though it can also be financed through convertible notes or from the investment community. That money comes with strings attached - as well it should! It is usually financed over years, in the case of homes as many as 30 years, with an interest rate that represents an inherent tax.

Therefore, if I am not wealthy, I either need to approach my idea with caution and build it with capital that I have (usually not possible), or I need to borrow it and pay a tax (interest) each day. And, of course, if the venture fails, I am now saddled with both the debt and the interest.

For the sake of argument, we will call someone "wealthy" if they have more than $2 million USD in savings after any debt.

So, what if I am wealthy? Well the game is now reversed. I lend my money (also called "investing") to banks, financial institutions or entrepreneurs directly, and receive the interest. I am essentially making money for doing nothing. Well, I suppose that I am doing something, I am providing some of my wealth to others on a temporary basis to fund their risk into new ventures.

However, do you see the fundamental problems here?

The capitalist system is predicated on the fact that people work harder and take risks to create things in order to generate wealth. The problem is, once you have wealth, you no longer need to contribute anything to society. For example, if you can accumulate $5 million USD in wealth and generate a modest 5% interest, you will generate $250,000 USD in income each year. For contributing little to nothing. Being wealthy, you see, is idiot proof. Once you make money, unless you completely screw it up, you will have it indefinitely and so will your children. Speaking of which...

... Exasperating this problem is inheritance. One can make the case that an entrepreneur on the bottom who took significant risk, worked ridiculous hours and made enormous sacrifices early in his career deserves the ability to enjoy that wealth once he is successful and to reduce his contributions to society. In a way, he paid those contributions in advance. However, if that same entrepreneur passes his wealth to his children, they are immediately placed into the same category without having generate that same success.

Now, let me be clear, I do not mean to generalize. There are plenty of wealthy individuals who continue to contribute to society in a variety of ways, creating new businesses, spending money that goes back into the economy, starting new companies, and innovating new ideas. They do so for a variety of reasons, altruism, personal satisfaction, fame, the pursuit of knowledge, and so forth. But they are not obligated to do so and they have no outside motivation to do so.

If you take this flaw and move it into the third-world, it becomes even more exaggerated. In Colombia, the country where I live, interest rates to borrow are in double digits and the difference between the social classes is even more profound. Most wealth in Latin America was derived from families. So, if you are a Colombian in the middle or lower class, let's examine your challenges:

  1. Wealthy Colombians are traditionally risk-adverse, and do not lend money to risky startups.
  2. As a lower to middle class Colombian, you likely have very little collateral for which to borrow money, so even getting a loan or investment would be very difficult
  3. If you can borrow money, you have to borrow it at a rate of 10%+ - a staggering tax
  4. Your quality of education is likely to be significantly disadvantaged over the wealthier class

It is also worth mentioning that there is a VAT tax on all imported goods - clothing, for example, is known to be 50% less cost in the United States. So in addition to having lower income, paying higher interest rates, and having a worse education, you are paying higher prices for goods!

Welcome to Capitalism in the third world.

As you can see, in third world countries it is exceptionally difficult to ascend from the lower-to-middle class into the wealthy class. Adding to that, from what I have seen, wealthy Colombians are extremely condescending to lower-to-middle class Colombians. They never go into their neighborhoods, they do not marry into their families, and they find every way that they can to keep themselves apart.

So what can be done to fix this problem? I do not pretend to have all the answers, but let's start with a few basic tenants of what I will call "Fair Capitalism". This system would be predicated on the basic laws of capitalism - achieving wealth through hard work, innovative ideas and contributions to society, but taking away the tax burden (government taxes and invisible taxes of the global financial system) on the non-wealthy.

  1. Eliminate the fractional banking system. This system not only heavily favors the wealthy, it is a false economy that benefits bankers. The whole concept of interest rates needs to go away. Money should be created and coined by governments, not private Federal Reserve Banks, and should be borrowed and lent at 0% interest.
  2. There should be limits on how much wealth can be distributed to family members. Wealth should not be passed from generation to generation. One would have thought that we would have learned this lesson from feudalism. Each person needs to generate their own wealthy.
  3. Eliminate Taxes, especially Consumption Taxes. The progressive tax system has proven to be a tax on the non-wealthy as the wealthy have found ways to circumvent it. Taxes contribute to the welfare state and socialism. These social benefits would not be as necessary if the invisible taxes manifested in fractional reserve banking did not exist.
Clearly these three tenants won't fix everything, and this needs a lot more thought, but it's a start.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Real Medellin - Shooting Begins

This month we began shooting for my forthcoming Kickstarter campaign titled "The Real Medellin".

Authoring a book has always been a lifelong dream of mine, and this project is the unique confluence of several of my passions. Those are, in no particular order, writing a book, writing a book about urban lifestyle, and writing a book about urban lifestyle in the city that I love, Medellin, Colombia.

The book will be written as a travel guide, but it is much more than that. The Real Medellin is a narrative about a city that has undergone profound change. The sad truth is that, years removed from the violence that plagued its past, Medellin still suffers from the reputation of being a drug-ridden, violent city governed by cartels. That reputation persists even among most Colombians.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and I hope this book can change some minds. I also hope that it will provide the world's most detailed travel guide to the city - not to the neighborhood of El Poblado, but the entire city and its gastronomy, nightlife and culture.

All proceeds from the book will be donated to charity. I am authoring this book to fulfill my own dream of writing it, and in hopes of re-presenting the city to the outside world as it is today.

We are blogging during production, please have a look.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

New Projects

Since the acquisition in June I've had quite a lot of time to reflect. Ideas have flooded in like torrents, most flooding out just as quickly.

As noted in earlier blog posts, for more than 6 years Yuxi Pacific was my passion. Every day, weekend or weekday, I awoke full of energy with a determination to use the enterprise as a way to change the world, to achieve something truly spectacular.

For the last few months I have relaxed. I've traveled, slept-in, studied Italian, went dancing and, truth be told, drank a bit too much. But in those months I have came upon a project for which I am passionate. Two, in fact.

Th first is the city of Medellin, that beautiful city in the mountains where dreams com true. My love for the city is not easy to articulate, but it is derived from the people of the city who live in the blue-collar working neighborhoods in the barrios. 

So the first project is a book, which I will title "The Real Medellin". It's the story of incredible transformation of the city, and a guide book to each barrio and its unique culture, gastronomy and night life. I intend to launch this as a Kickstarter campaign sometime in January.

The second project is related to fashion. Fashion is a passion of mine, always has been, and what I have stumbled upon I believe will fundamentally break the paradigm. It's revolutionary. We have started work and will operate in stealth mode until our launch, which I hope will be in. March 2014.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Achieving 15 in 5 - My New Life Pursuit

My 15 in 5 continues to evolve. Thanks to people who have sent me suggestions. If you want the full context, please scroll down or click here. This 15 goals will be the principal focus of my life over the next 5 years. I'm extremely excited and energized.

In summary, I have decided to challenge myself to achieve 15 extraordinary life goals within the next 5 years. These cannot be simple "plant the flag" goals like go bungie jumping or see Machu Picchu. They also cannot be ambiguous like "spend more time with family". They need to be difficult, challenging, have a measurable achievement outcome, require study or physical training and be either altruistic, self-improving or academic.

I decided that the book I will self-publish will be called "The Real Medellin". I am going to launch a kickstarter for it and will start to get that campaign together when I am back from Europe. I also decided the timeline for this is from January 1, 2014 to January 1, 2019. In other words, all 15 items need to be achieved by the end of 2018.

Thinking on this more, I may need to mix major goals and minor ones. That doesn't mean the minor ones need to be any less spectacular, but they should require less training and study. Afterall, I want this list to be achievable. I am worried that there are a few things on this list which would take years to achieve.

Here is the updated list for my 15 in 5.

15 goals for the next 3 to 5 years

  1. Learn to play the piano, culminating in the ability to play Frederic Chopin Scherzo No. 2 Op. 31. If you have not heard it, it is beautiful.
  2. Trekking to the North Pole. This goal is a work in progress. I am still doing research.
  3. Pioneer, create and open source a contribution in the technology sector
  4. Make a profound difference in the life of one or more children. This must be more than just a donation of computers or gifts at Christmas but a real, positive and lasting change.
  5. Learn to cook real Italian food in the Sicilian style of cuisine. For this I will travel to Sicily for an extended period of time (as long as it takes) and learn under the tutelage of an expert chef.
  6. Become conversationally fluent in Italian. This goal is a prerequisite to the goal above.
  7. Self-publish a book. This book will be titled "The Real Medellin" and provide a comprehensive, insider guide to the city and each of the barrios.
  8. Learn to dance "bachata" in the style of the Dominican Republic. For this, I will travel to the Dominican Republic and learn to dance from one-on-one. I'll learn in a pueblo/community where I can also learn about the culture.
  9. Make and bottle my own wine. I will grow the grapes myself. No kits allowed here, and no short cuts. This needs to be done the right way.
  10. Achieve black belt status in a martial art or advanced learning in boxing.

I am still soliciting for ideas. Nothing is finalized until December 31, 2013. I need five more goals. Something spiritual would also be very good. 'Lil help?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Adventures in the Dominican Republic

On a whim a few weeks ago I planned a two-day trip to Puerta Plata in the Dominican Republic. It was squeezed between two other trips and POP seemed like as good a location as any for an adventure.

What was a two day trip has now become somewhat of an obsession. How is it that I did not know about this beautiful country?

The Dominican Republic is almost an afterthought for the tourism industry. Yes, you heard that right. While scores of tourists DO go to Punta Cana each year, most of the Dominican Republic is unexplored. Once you get out of the tourist areas, it's an amazing unexplored landscape for the traveler.

Why is a country so close to the US border still unexplored? For one, there is a language barrier and Americans are famous for landing in destinations that either speak English as a first language or have a tourism industry fluent in English. Second, like Colombia, the country has an undeserved reputation of being dangerous.

But the Dominican Republic that I have found is quite amazing. It's the land where Bachata was born, beautiful musical ballads with an equally beautiful style of dance. There are the rum and cigar factories, underrated and some of the best in Latin America, expansive beaches, and fantastic night life. And beyond those beautiful beaches are the lush green landscapes within, with waterfalls and rivers, and the distant snow-capped mountains.

And thus, my excitement. I am planning a three-week trip, likely sometime in January or February. Should be a blast!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Fifteen (15) in Five (5)

As an addendum to my prior post, I have decided to set forth some life goals. Some may call this a "bucket list" but it's much more than that - it is instead a list of extraordinary things that I want to accomplish. To make things more interesting, and underscore my commitment, I have created some ground rules:

  1. Rather than leaving this open-ended, I decided to time box it - meaning that I need to achieve all within the next three to five years.
  2. The goals need to be specific. In other words, "Spend more time with my daughter" is not an acceptable goal.
  3. The goals need to be extraordinary. Or, at the very least, require effort, commitment and drive. That means "Going skydiving" or "Seeing the Great Wall of China" are not acceptable. Those goals do not require a commitment, just merely a few days of travel and enough cash.
  4. Finally, more of a guideline than a requirement, but the goals should be either altruistic or in the pursuit of my own personal growth.

The following list is still incomplete. I want your suggestions. I will not publish your comments in public, but please do either leave a comment here or send me a message through my Facebook page.

15 goals for the next 3 to 5 years

  1. Learn to cook real Italian food in the Sicilian style of cuisine. For this I will travel to Sicily for an extended period of time (as long as it takes) and learn under the tutelage of an expert chef.
  2. Initiate and successfully launch at least one Kick Starter campaign dedicated to an community cause. This can be a software project, creative project, etc
  3. Learn to dance "bachata" in the style of the Dominican Republic. For this, I will travel to the Dominican Republic and learn to dance from one-on-one. Preferably I'll learn in a pueblo/community where I can also learn about the culture.
  4. Self-publish a book. It can be on any topic (though I am currently leaning toward a candid and comprehensive travel guide for Medellin)
  5. Make a profound difference in the life of one or more children. This must be more than just a donation of computers or gifts at Christmas but a real, positive and lasting change.
  6. Become conversationally fluent in another language (probably Italian)
  7. Create and open source a significant contribution in the technology sector.
  8. Soliciting for suggestions
  9. Soliciting for suggestions
  10. Soliciting for suggestions
  11. Soliciting for suggestions
  12. Soliciting for suggestions
  13. Soliciting for suggestions
  14. Soliciting for suggestions

I will continuously update this page as I receive and accept ideas from the community.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Transitioning into the unknown

This blog, just as my life, is about to make a significant transition. Since the acquisition of Yuxi Pacific in mid-June of this year, I have had more time to reflect again on my personal life, my goals, and my future.

Since the acquisition I have had the fortune of connecting with scores of entrepreneurs who have been through an acquisition - and life thereafter. As entrepreneurs, our goal and our focus is always on a successful exit, but rarely do we think about what comes next. Ironically the visions of post-acquisition usually manifest in a three-week vacation, with visions of piña coladas on a remote beach dancing in our heads. But the reality is much different.

In July, I was visited in Medellin by Yasmine Mustafa - a successful entrepreneur from the Philadelphia area who likewise went through the process of acquisition and is traveling in Latin America during the summer and fall. She wrote a great blog entry after her exit, Post Acquisition Blues is a Thing. I learned a lot and have avidly followed her Instagram account and the beautiful pictures from her travel.

I would not call it "blues" - because I am optimistic, happy and excited about what comes next. But truth be told, this marks a new phase in my life and I am simply not ready to land on a remote beach and live out the rest of my days barefoot on a boat. There's so much more to do.

So, going forward, this blog is going to change. I will still blog about technology and macroeconomics, those are of course my passions. But you might start to see a bit more. Dancing, languages, cooking, travel, those are also my passions and it's a healthy exercise to write.