Megamind is tons of fun!

This year’s slate of animated movies has been great with How to Train your Dragon and Toy Story 3. Megamind is a worthy addition to the genre. As far as superhero movie goes, it does not reach the soaring heights of The Incredibles but holds its own with its fun twist on the superhero genre by being written from the villain’s perspective.

It’s one of the few movies alongside How to Train your Dragon where I felt that the 3D really worked. I really had tons of fun. Will Ferrell, whom I am traditionally not very fond of, has a winning vocal performance and I hope he plays in many more animated movies in the future. I also loved Brad Pitt’s MetroMan going all “Joaquin Phoenix”. Even his beard reminded me of Joaquin Phoenix’s “rapper phase”. Overall, the movie is tons of fun, witty, smart and touching, all at the same time!

I have to admit, I have not seen Despicable Me yet which also seems to be written from the villain’s perspective. My review might not have been as glowing if I had seen that movie first as I might have felt that Megamind was a rehash. Then again, the stories are probably very different and knowing me, I am sure I will love both movies! I will definitely check out Despicable Me the second it comes out on DVD.

In the meantime, go see Megamind (preferably in 3D)!

Kalalau: Valley of the Lost Mangos (and Hidden Paradise)

Between my new girlfriend Laura’s repeated ravings about Kalalau and National Geographic’s beautiful pictures, I had no choice but to go and check out this “hidden paradise” for myself.

All I knew going in to this was that Kalalau was a remote valley located on the uninhabited Na Pali Coast of the Hawaiian island, Kaua’i. You reach it through an incredibly arduous 11-mile hike starting at Ke’e Beach and once there you are immersed in nature without electricity, running water, food, or toilets.

We obtained camping permits, prepared our camping essentials, and packed for our 6-day stay in Kalalau. Given the hike and Laura’s repeated warnings about its difficulty we took immense care to minimize our pack weight. We took a tent, two sleeping bags, two sleeping mats, a tarp, a cooking set, a water filtration system, a small plastic shovel, two portable flashlights, a lighter, heavy duty matches, a backpack water system and two water bottles (5 liters total), biodegradable paper, 16 power bars, beef and turkey jerky, a bag of trail mix, two small bags of tuna, two bags of macaroni and cheese, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, 8 extra duty large garbage bags (to protect the gear while swimming to the boat for the return boat ride), cordage (to fix the tarp), a camera, a swimsuit, one pair of hiking socks, two pairs of ankle socks, a sun hat, toiletries, one hiking short, a pair hiking shoes, a pair of hiking sandals, two hooded sweatshirts, a poncho, a first aid kit, extra batteries and a small fanny pack. That was it!


Despite our best efforts, my pack still weighed in at 55 pounds (when all the water containers were full) and Laura’s at over 30 pounds! We decided to camp on Ke’e Beach on Sunday night right before the trail head to get an early start for the hike. I would advise those attempting to copy us not to make their first attempt at building a tent they have never used before at midnight with limited light. We finally figured out how to assemble the tent and promptly went to bed. Unfortunately, we barely slept that night as the local roosters mistimed sunrise and started crowing at 3 a.m. in a cacophony of noise that made it impossible to sleep. By 5 a.m. we gave up trying to sleep and packed for the hike. Most people do the hike in two days stopping at the 6-mile campsite in Hanakoa, but we were determined to make the entire hike in one day to avoid the nasty mosquitoes in this area and maximize our time in Kalalau.

The first quarter mile is on a relatively steep and narrow trail, which made for a good warm-up. There is a beautiful beach at mile 2. We refilled our water bottles and frolicked on the beach for a while before heading back on the trail. The trail is actually hard to ascertain in certain areas and we briefly walked in the direction of the local waterfall for by mistake. I also managed to drop my brand new Ray-Ban sunglasses. Despite searching for them for almost an hour, we failed to find them and moved on. The next four miles felt as though they went on for 100 miles. I kept thinking, “are we there yet?”! It took over 3 hours to get to the 6 mile site where most people stop for the night. We rested for a while and were lucky to run into some of Laura’s friends who had done a boat drop that morning in Kalalau and were hiking the trail back. They had delicious fruits and trail mix which they generously shared with us.

The remaining 5 miles did not feel nearly as exhausting, or maybe we were so tired we could not feel anything anymore. There was however an extremely hairy part at mile 7. The trail around the cliffs was completely eroded. To go through we had to hug the mountain, essentially dangling above a several hundred-foot drop into the ocean below. It was all the more harder to accomplish while buffeted by 50 mile-per-hour wind, carrying a 50+ pound pack, and having walked up and down a narrow trail for 6 hours! Fortunately we made it through unscathed! Kalalau Valley was a site for sore eyes with its gorgeous colors and amazing white sand beach. I was excited that we had finally reached it, but my happiness was tempered when I realized we had another mile to walk to get to the river, and another mile to the actual camp site. Funnily enough the official permitted camping grounds are located after many, “Area Closed, Do Not Go Further” and “Falling Rocks”, “Stop or You Will Die” signs!

When we finally crawled into the campsite at 4 p.m., we were exhausted, but happy that the ordeal was over. It has been said, many people experience a spiritual awakening upon reaching Kalalau. I can understand why, as the place exudes beauty and positive energy. Then again, as dehydrated, hungry, and tired as we were after an insane 10-hour hike, I think many would feel a spiritual awakening entering into a McDonalds or lying down on their couch 🙂

The valley had just been completely cleared for the annual goat hunt and we were one of the first groups to make it in, so we selected a nice camping spot with beach access. We set up camp, ate a light dinner, and promptly fell asleep by 7 p.m. The sun sets at 7 and with no electricity there is not much to do at night. We slept 11 hours and were up at 6 a.m. the next day with the sunrise. While we were rested, we ached everywhere and decided to take it easy that day. We read, walked on the beach, went for a swim and showered in the nearby (freezing) waterfall. Laura also went to meditate on “Sacred Hilltop”. Even a relaxing day involves a fair amount of activity as the river we pumped our drinking water from was 1 mile away and we had to get water twice a day – which entails at least 4 miles a day of walking for water. That said, after the grueling 11-mile hike up and down many mountains with a 55 pound backpack, 4 miles on a wide road on flat terrain with a light pack felt like child’s play!

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We spent the next few days exploring the valley. Usually, the valley is home to a number of local hippie types who call themselves “outlaws”. They squat illegally and spend their days avoiding the park rangers. They had left the valley for the goat hunt and we were mostly left to our own devices. Fortunately Laura, who had been to Kalalau before and had become close to the outlaws remembered most of the private spots, secret gardens, and scenic views. We witnessed, and drank from some of the last known virgin water sources on earth, bathed in waterfalls, and explored such valley hang outs (for those in the “know”) as: The Bluff, Big Pool, Outlaw Falls, Smoke Rock, Sacred Hilltop, Ginger Pools, and Mike’s Garden just to name a few.

After two nights, we decided to setup camp on “The Bluff” away from the campers. The lack of natural light made for wonderful star gazing! We even saw a “UFO” flying in bizarre air patterns (probably a military plane from the nearby air force base). We fell asleep on the bluff and had a restful night until right at the crack of dawn a helicopter flew into Kalalau, and started hovering right over us. We thought it was the park rangers who would land at the ranger station a mile away giving us plenty of time to pack up and leave. We stayed cozily in out sleeping bags, and to our surprise, the helicopter landed right next to us! The ranger came out and asked if we had our permits. (Most of the days in August were sold out of permits far in advance so we had only bought tickets for the day we hiked in, taking a chance we would be able to avoid getting caught for the rest of time by the local park rangers, who fly in to the valley by helicopter every now and then). It looked like our luck had run out only 3 days in to our trip! Somehow I looked trustworthy and when I assured him we did, he did not question us further. He just told us he was accompanying a film crew and needed us to leave. He also informed us that Kalalau was closing for the rest of the year for restorations in a few days (which we already knew). I am one of the last people to see Kalalau in its natural state. This winter Kalalau beach will receive a man made face lift and will never be the same. We set up our new camp near the mouth of the river and stayed there until our last day.

Despite not having internet, email, or Xbox, and being isolated for over 5 days with notionally nothing to do, I was never bored and only managed to read one and a half books. The reality is that surviving is a full time job! As you might recall, we had only brought 16 power bars, beef and turkey jerky, a bag of trail mix, two small bags of tuna, two bags of macaroni and cheese to eat. We actually ate 10 of the 16 power bars on the trail. After two days they were all gone and I vowed not to eat any more power bars for the rest of my life. By day 4 however, we had eaten all the food, and I would have happily eaten a power bar again 🙂

We had originally planned to live off the mangos that grow in season on the abundant mango trees in the valley. I had been assured, they were so good I would never eat a mango outside of Kalalau again and I was looking forward to gorging on mangos for a week! To my utter disappointment mango season had recently ended and most of the mangos were rotting on the ground. We scoured the valley looking for food and luckily found a hidden community garden planted by the outlaws. We found delicious super ripe figs, which we picked right from the tree. We also chanced upon a squash, which we decided to have as our entrée with some lilikoi (a local fruit) for dessert. Creating and sustaining a fire strong enough to boil water and cook a squash is a non-trivial affair. You have to forage for the right dried wood, branches, logs and leaves to make the fire. After many hours of getting water, stoking the fire, and preparing the food, relaxing to enjoy your meal, as meager as it may be, is an utterly satisfying experience!

I actually had difficulty documenting the trip. On the way in, I realized that my trusty Panasonic ZS3 with its 12x optical zoom’s lens cover had not closed properly and the lense was scratched (I have since bought a ZS7 with a 16x zoom as replacement). The camera could no longer zoom and the pictures were a bit fuzzy where the scratch was. I started using my iPhone 4 as the main camera. I have to say I was impressed by its photo and video quality. Even low light photos were amazing. It unfortunately met an untimely end when I dropped it in the ocean while taking a picture.

After six days it was time to go. I was ecstatic that Laura had organized a boat pick-up as I don’t think I could have survived the 11-mile hike back with no food! We packed all our gear in garbage bags, braved the “strong current, dangerous shore break, and high surf” which many signs on the beach warn you of and jumped in the water to swim to the boat. The ride back was actually gorgeous as we marveled at the beauty of the coast, its inlet caves, and cliff side waterfalls.

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The first thing we did when we got off the boat was head straight to Ono Burger (“ono” means good in Hawaiian) for an epic meal! I ordered two cheeseburgers, fries, and coke! I then promptly booked us a room at the St. Regis Princeville and treated us to in-room massages before spending the rest of the day relaxing by the pool. Funnily enough our one night at the St. Regis cost more than the entire week in Kalalau which only cost $44 in camping permits and around $100 in food and supplies! The next day our stay in Kauai came to an end. It was time to go kite surfing for a 5 days in Maui, the next exciting leg to our trip 🙂

I left refreshed, happy, and ever more grateful that capitalism’s invisible hand provides the answer to all of our needs; especially tap water, electricity, ovens, and food in supermarkets and restaurants 🙂

Overall, it was definitely a unique and amazing experience. I cannot recommend it enough!

What are some tips for people moving to San Francisco from New York City?

Courtesy of my friend Linda Kang who moved from NY to SF a few years ago.

  • Everything is earlier here. Most bars close at 2. People eat dinner early. They get up early and do their workouts. By 9 or 10pm many places will be raucous.
  • Almost no one smokes.
  • Hobbies and sports are a big deal: running, cycling, softball, hiking, dodgeball. They are also how young folks meet each other. Instead of spending weeknights in bars, you’ll spend them in the park in softball league or doing your Team in Training workouts.
  • You’ll feel some pressure to have “interesting” hobbies (cooking, endurance sports, surfing, etc) since everyone else does.
  • Often people here who have money here often go incognito about it…they drive a prius, wear a hoodie, etc.
  • No one pays attention to where you spend your summer…SF is nice enough, and there are enough nice places close by, that there is no need to escape the city all summer.
  • You can almost wear almost the same clothes year round. And you don’t need summery stuff since it rarely cracks 75.
  • Everyone is a Democrat. (OK, that is an exaggeration. I met someone last year who isn’t.)
  • You will be blown away by the homeless problem. SF is 10 years behind NYC with this problem (we haven’t had our Giuliani yet). Also our Board of Supervisors is somewhat of a joke.
  • If someone asks where you work, you can give them a nonsense name of a company they have never heard of, and they will be impressed since they will think it must be some kind of “hot” startup.
  • Be nice. Polite. Listen. That New York abrasiveness doesn’t work here.
  • You’ll be tempted for the first year to tell people all about how things were back in New York (often, how they were better)…resist!

Now someone needs to prepare tips for people moving from SF to NY 🙂

Haunting suspense in Let Me In

Let me in is the best vampire movie I ever saw alongside Interview with a Vampire. There is no sexy, brooding vampire in this movie. The movie is very dark and sad for all the characters – from Abby’s constant need for blood, to Owen’s harassment by cruel bullies, to his mother’s ignorance and alcoholism, to the fate of Abby’s caretaker, there is seemingly no hope in the movie, especially as it sees itself as a fantastic modern day retelling of Romeo and Juliet.

Despite (or maybe because of the tragic element), the movie is fantastic. It is truly anchored by the relationship between Abby and Owen which is completely believable. The movie works on all levels – a love story, a vampire horror movie, a coming of age story and a suspenseful drama. Chloe Moretz’s performance as Abby is amazing and she ends up living up to the high expectations she set for herself after playing Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass.

See it!

The Town is gritty and entertaining

After Ben Affleck’s fantastic directorial debut with Gone Baby Gone, I was looking forward to his next movie. The Town did not disappoint! In many ways I was reminded of Heat, but on a smaller scale in a style more reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s directing.

Overall the movie was tense, gritty and well-acted. Along with Hollywoodland, this movie shows Ben Affleck can not only act, but act very well!

Go see it!

Should you raise money from VCs? If so, how should you pick your VC?

It has become part of the conventional entrepreneur wisdom that you should raise an angel round, then a first VC round followed by a few more before taking the company public, selling to a strategic or a private equity company. Most of the well-known Internet companies have followed this path: Yahoo, eBay, Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc.

However, it may not be the most logical path for most entrepreneurs. The vast majority of exits are below $100 million and most of those are below $30 million. You can’t raise a $5 million series A at $10 million pre to sell for less than $30 million. Not only will you disappoint your investors (most VCs are shooting for a 10x on their investment), but the liquidation preferences might eat up most of your return. If you have made money before and are looking to build something big for fun, then by all means raise as much money as you can at the highest possible valuation in order to maximize the probability of building a $1 billion company. You significantly increase the risk of making nothing, but in this context it’s worth it to increase the probability of building something big.

If you are a first time entrepreneur or have not made much money before, you need to be careful not to price yourself out of potential exits. There is a lot of temptation to raise money at a high price if it’s available. However, often you might just be better off just doing an angel round or a small VC round – say $2 million at $4 pre, to actually maximize your risk adjusted returns. Likewise, you might be better off trading off price for terms. A clean 1x liquidation preference at a lower price might be better for you than a participating preferred, especially if the company ends up taking 5-7 years to exit which is by no means atypical.

Having less cash might not make much difference to your outcome. Startups are much more capital efficient these days. You have companies that service your every need, eliminating most potential capital expenditures. Even ecommerce startups are relatively cheap to build these days as there are companies that will handle logistics for you and you can avoid taking inventory by drop shipping.

Just as importantly as figuring out how much money you need at what valuation, you need to pick the right investor to raise the money from. Let’s start by setting expectations: VCs are not going to help you execute. That’s your job! They may make a few introductions and might help you hire a few good candidates, but the reality is that you probably could have found a way to get introduced to whomever you wanted to meet and would have met good candidates to hire without them. This does not mean that VC selection is unimportant and that you should just pick whoever offers the highest valuation and the best terms.

Quite the contrary, VC selection is essential to your success. By sitting on your board, the VC will play an essential role in discussing and setting the strategic direction of your company. In fact, it’s probably the most important role they will play. By pulling you away from the day to day to focus on the strategic issue of what maximizes value creation they will hone your strategic thinking and steer the direction of the company. They will also play a crucial role in the exit discussions as they will play bad cop to your good cop (if you don’t have a VC investment bankers can also play this role).

Given the importance of the role and the fact that whomever you pick will likely be on your board for years, picking a VC is like getting married. It’s absolutely essential that you get along well with them and that you trust them. This means that the name of the firm is irrelevant. What matters is your relationship with the partner you are going to work with on a day to day basis.

Strategic investors are probably also best avoided. Not only could they have conflicts of interests as they may not want you to get too expensive for them to buy, but even when they have the best of intentions they have proven to be fair weather VCs – jumping in when the market is hot and retrenching when conditions are tough. They are least likely to be helpful and supportive in a downturn. (To be fair, Intel Capital and Naspers may be exceptions to that rule as they have shown staying power and have seemingly been fair to their portfolio companies.)

Now it’s your turn: go start a great company and raise the capital you need from the best partner possible for you!

Things to do in Buenos Aires and Argentina

Buenos Aires:
Hotel to stay at: Tailor Made Hotel. It’s relatively inexpensive, only 5 rooms and everything is free – food, Internet, drinks, laundry, calls to the US, etc. I stay there every time I go.

Things to do:
• Markets of San Telmo
• Cemetary in Recoletta
• Visit the Malba museum
• Walk in Puerto Madero
• Go to Tigre (1 hour by train). Walk around and take a boat
• Boat to Colonia (Uruguay) for the day – make sure you take the express boat – 1 hour vs 3 or 4.
• Walk around Palermo

Places to eat and drink:
• Grilled filet mignon (lomo) at El Mirasol next to the Four Seasons
• Peruvian/Japanese at Osaka
• Italian food at Sottovoce
• Frozen mojitos at Milion

If you go clubbing, don’t go before 3 am. Everything is empty and dead before then – definitely not before 2 am.

Rest of the country:
You could go to Iguazu Falls to see the waterfalls for a 2 or 3 days (it’s in the north of the country). Don’t go for more, there is not much to see or do.

For Patagonia, the Bariloche/Cumelen region and the Calafate region are great. You can find more information and suggestions at:

You may also want to add a trip to Ushuaia to go see penguins.