What if your job didn’t control your life? Brazilian CEO Ricardo Semler practices a radical form of corporate democracy, rethinking everything from board meetings to how workers report their vacation days (they don’t have to). It’s a vision that rewards the wisdom of workers, promotes work-life balance — and leads to some deep insight on what work, and life, is really all about. Bonus question: What if schools were like this too?
Two decades after transforming a struggling equipment supplier into a radically democratic and resilient (and successful) company, Ricardo Semler wants organizations to become wise. Full bio
It’s that time of the year again, so I am sharing my recommendations for all gadget lovers of the world to be happy this holiday season. This year I made my most exhaustive list yet!
Notebook: MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro 4K-021
Now that Apple has released its new generation of Macbook Pros and Microsoft its new Surface Book, I could make a more informed decision. The new Macbook Pros are disappointing. They are underpowered (especially the GPU) and overpriced. The only real innovation was the toolbar. I was hoping Apple would find a way to make the 15” notebook 3 pounds, perhaps by having an edge to edge OLED screen.
The Microsoft Surface Book is an amazing tablet and notebook computer and a great choice, but it did not quite fit my needs. It’s powerful and has an amazing battery life, but I prefer larger screens and it’s also overpriced.
My recommendation is the MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro 4K-021. It’s amazing! It has a 2.6Ghz i7-6700, a 4K screen, a super powerful NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060, and weighs only 4 pounds. I bought the $1,999 version with a 512Gb SSD and 1 Terabyte hard drive.
I play Company of Heroes 2 on it in 4K with maximum resolution both on the built-in display and the external 43” monitor I recommend. The battery life is on the low side, but if you put the notebook in low performance you can get 2-3 hours of work done.
Computer Monitor: Philips BDM4350UC
When it comes to computer monitors I have always been of the thought that bigger is better. Given that it’s not uncommon for high end 32” 4K monitors to cost upwards of $1,500, the Philips BDM4350UC is an absolute bargain. I bought it for $799 on Amazon, though it’s currently selling for $1,029 which is very cheap for a 4K 43” monitor.
The Philips BDM4350UC has a 50,000,000:1 contrast ratio, 5ms response time and supports 3840×2160 at 60Hz. This monitor fixes one the big flaws of the Philips BMD4065UC given that it supports HDMI 2.0. Note that by default the monitor is set for DisplayPort 1.1 and HDMI 1.4. You must manually go in monitor settings and switch them to 1.2 and 2.0 respectively. Once it’s done, it works gloriously!
Working and gaming are amazing on it. Without hesitation, it’s the monitor to get!
Game Console: PS4 Pro
Last year I recommended buying an Xbox One because of the exclusives on that console especially Rise of the Tomb Raider. This year I am recommending the PS4 Pro. It’s the most powerful console on the market. The main reason I am recommending the PS4 Pro this year is Drake Uncharted 4 which is a PS4 exclusive.
Note that if you currently have a PS4 there is no good reason to upgrade to the PS4 Pro, it’s not powerful enough to play games in 4K at 60 fps and the improvements are not that noticeable. If you don’t have a PS4 yet, buy the PS4 Pro. It’s marginally more expensive than the regular PS4, more future proof and plays existing games better.
I look forward to seeing what Microsoft comes up with next year with Project Scorpio
Video Games: Drake Uncharted 4 and Company of Heroes 2
I decided to skip out this year’s FPS games: Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2, and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. They are well executed, play well and got great reviews, but I am currently tired of the genre. It’s in desperate need of a refresh.
I love third person action adventure games like GTA V, Rise of the Tomb Raider, The Last of Us, Max Payne 3, L.A. Noire and Gears of War. Drake Unchartered 4 is the best third person action adventure game I ever played. It has amazing set pieces, a compelling story, is incredibly playable and has amazing graphics. Everything in this game feels right – the pace, the action, the story. If you like third person action adventure games, this is a no brainer. Buy this game!
On the PC, I am still playing Company of Heroes 2. I am really pining for a rich and complex RTS like Rise of Nations or Age of Empires, ideally one that mixes the tactical unit control of Company of Heroes with the strategic depth of those games (read: Let’s reinvent PC gaming!).
It does not have huge improvements over its predecessor, but it’s gorgeous and I love the game play. Note that I exclusively play it online 2 on 2 or 3 on 3, which I find to be most challenging and rewarding. I don’t typically play the campaign in strategy games as the AI is never challenging enough, unless it cheats. Also, the strategy used to defeat the AI is rarely useful online.
Gaming Headset: HyperX Cloud II
The HyperX Cloud II headset is the perfect companion for the computer and PS4 recommendations above. It’s super comfortable. The microphone noise cancellation is the best I have ever used. People I talk to can’t hear the background noise even when I am in a noisy environment. Likewise, by being closed cup, the headset has amazing noise cancellation and I can work and play effectively from anywhere.
One of my top pet peeves is people not using headsets with built in microphones when doing Skype calls. Especially if you are fund raising it does not reflect positively on you if I can hear you are in a noisy coffee shop and can barely hear what you tell me. If you do a lot of Skype calls get a great headset!
Webcam: Logitech HD Pro C920
Given that most of my work entails doing Skype calls, webcam video quality is key and the Logitech HD Pro C920 has the best.
Portable Speaker: UE Boom 2
The UE Boom 2 has the best, loudest sound of all portable speakers. It’s stain-resistant, shock-resistant and fully waterproof. Battery life is great and it can be paired with a second UE Boom 2 for stereo sound.
Router: Asus RT-AC88U
It’s expensive but it’s the best router on the market. It’s superfast and the longest usable range of any router I ever played with. It’s also very easy to setup.
TV: Vizio M70-D3
When it comes to TVs I think bigger is better. The Vizio M70-D3 is a 70” 4K HDR TV with an Android tablet remote control for $1,899. Most importantly it has the best picture quality I have seen outside of the LG OLED TVs. Those are amazing but you only get a 65” for $2,999. That said if you are less price sensitive and don’t mind getting a smaller TV, the LG 65B6P is a worthy option.
I look forward to playing with the LeEco uMax85 upcoming TV. It has amazing specs and 85” screen for $4,999.
Digital Camera: GoPro HERO5 Black & Canon Powershot SX720 HS
Most people don’t need a digital camera. The current generation of cell phones takes great pictures and are more practical. However, they lack a proper zoom which makes them impractical for taking great sports shots. For those circumstances, I use the Canon Powershot SX720 HS. It’s a compact superzoom camera with a 40x optical zoom, great image stabilization and a 3” LCD. I am not recommending any of the SLR cameras because experience suggests you end up not taking them with you all the time because of their bulk.
The GoPro Hero5 Black is amazing for capturing footage in first person perspective or attached to your kite lines. I usually use joint videos from the Canon (taken by a third party) and the Go Pro to make kite surfing and skiing videos.
I tried the drones which follow you such as the AirDog, but they are not good enough yet. The battery life is way too short and they don’t deal well with high wind or trees both of which are mainstays of the sports I practice.
Foosball Table: Shelti Pro Foos III
A startup or venture capital office would not be complete without the requisite foosball table. As we love foosball, we opted for an amazing table. The Shelti Pro Foos III is expensive, but it’s a tournament level table which emphasizes control. The table is much slower than a Bonzini table, but offers way more subtle ball control options. If you love foosball, it’s the table to get!
Chair: Herman Miller Embody Chair
We spend so many hours sitting at our desks, we might as well be as comfortable and healthy as possible doing it. After years of using Herman Miller’s Aeron chairs, I switched to the Embody Chair and have not looked back.
Living Room Speaker: Devialet Phantom Silver
The Devialet has by far the best sound of any speaker I have ever listened to. It has no distortion, even at high volume, no saturation and no background noise. It’s so powerful, even in its 3,000 Watt silver option, that I only installed one in my living room as a replacement for the various Sonos Play:5 speakers I had. I setup the Sonos speakers in the media room instead with the Sonos sound bar and subwoofer.
BTW Don’t put the Sonos and Devialet on the same system as they have different lag so the sound is not synchronized. The Devialet has a built-in lag of 160ms, while the Sonos has a lag of 70ms.
Media Room Sound System: Sonos
I always hated all the cables we had to run everywhere to create proper sound in media rooms. Sonos finally solved that problem with a simple, clean and amazing sounding solution. The sound bar, subwoofer and speakers work perfectly together providing amazing sound.
Home Automation: Mix and Match
First and foremost, do not use systems by Crestron, Control4 and Savant. Their main advantage is that you can control your entire home in
one app. However, these bespoke systems are expensive to install and maintain. Moreover, I find the latency unbearable. It drives me nuts when I tell it to turn the Xbox and TV on and it takes 10 seconds to comply. Likewise, with changing channels, controlling the Amazon Fire TV etc.
It’s much cheaper to just buy the best system to control each part of your home separately. You end up with different apps on your iPad or iPhone, but I don’t find that less convenient than having everything in one app. To control everything, I setup a 12.9” Ipad Pro on the wall with the ultimate goal of controlling everything through Apple’s built in Home App.
To control all the AV in the media room, I setup a Logitech Harmony Elite. With one remote, or from my iPhone or iPad, I control the PS4 Pro, Xbox One, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Verizon Fios and external HDMI input. There is still a little bit of lag, but I find it bearable and the remote control works well with all the aforementioned devices.
The blind motors are Somfy. I am using some custom code to control them via SmartThings. Then I setup HomeBridge to connect SmartThings to Apple HomeKit.
The fireplace is connected to a Remotec ZFM-80 z-wave relay. This relay is controlled Through iOS Home App via Homebridge to SmartThings. Lights are Lutron Caseta wirelessand integrate directly into HomeKit. I am using Ecobee 3 thermostats that integrate directly into HomeKit to control both the HVAC and the floor heating. I am still figuring out the front door system, but am leaning towards the iDor mobile solution.
“They’re made out of meat.”
“Meat. They’re made out of meat.”
“There’s no doubt about it. We picked up several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, and probed them all the way through. They’re completely meat.”
“That’s impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars?”
“They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don’t come from them. The signals come from machines.”
“So who made the machines? That’s who we want to contact.”
“They made the machines. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Meat made the machines.”
“That’s ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You’re asking me to believe in sentient meat.”
“I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in that sector and they’re made out of meat.”
“Maybe they’re like the orfolei. You know, a carbon-based intelligence that goes through a meat stage.”
“Nope. They’re born meat and they die meat. We studied them for several of their life spans, which didn’t take long. Do you have any idea what’s the life span of meat?”
“Spare me. Okay, maybe they’re only part meat. You know, like the weddilei. A meat head with an electron plasma brain inside.”
“Nope. We thought of that, since they do have meat heads, like the weddilei. But I told you, we probed them. They’re meat all the way through.”
“Oh, there’s a brain all right. It’s just that the brain is made out of meat! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”
“So … what does the thinking?”
“You’re not understanding, are you? You’re refusing to deal with what I’m telling you. The brain does the thinking. The meat.”
“Thinking meat! You’re asking me to believe in thinking meat!”
“Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you beginning to get the picture or do I have to start all over?”
“Omigod. You’re serious then. They’re made out of meat.”
“Thank you. Finally. Yes. They are indeed made out of meat. And they’ve been trying to get in touch with us for almost a hundred of their years.”
“Omigod. So what does this meat have in mind?”
“First it wants to talk to us. Then I imagine it wants to explore the Universe, contact other sentiences, swap ideas and information. The usual.”
“We’re supposed to talk to meat.”
“That’s the idea. That’s the message they’re sending out by radio. ‘Hello. Anyone out there. Anybody home.’ That sort of thing.”
“They actually do talk, then. They use words, ideas, concepts?” “Oh, yes. Except they do it with meat.”
“I thought you just told me they used radio.”
“They do, but what do you think is on the radio? Meat sounds. You know how when you slap or flap meat, it makes a noise? They talk by flapping their meat at each other. They can even sing by squirting air through their meat.”
“Omigod. Singing meat. This is altogether too much. So what do you advise?”
“Officially or unofficially?”
“Officially, we are required to contact, welcome and log in any and all sentient races or multibeings in this quadrant of the Universe, without prejudice, fear or favor. Unofficially, I advise that we erase the records and forget the whole thing.”
“I was hoping you would say that.”
“It seems harsh, but there is a limit. Do we really want to make contact with meat?”
“I agree one hundred percent. What’s there to say? ‘Hello, meat. How’s it going?’ But will this work? How many planets are we dealing with here?”
“Just one. They can travel to other planets in special meat containers, but they can’t live on them. And being meat, they can only travel through C space. Which limits them to the speed of light and makes the possibility of their ever making contact pretty slim. Infinitesimal, in fact.”
“So we just pretend there’s no one home in the Universe.”
“Cruel. But you said it yourself, who wants to meet meat? And the ones who have been aboard our vessels, the ones you probed? You’re sure they won’t remember?”
“They’ll be considered crackpots if they do. We went into their heads and smoothed out their meat so that we’re just a dream to them.”
“A dream to meat! How strangely appropriate, that we should be meat’s dream.”
“And we marked the entire sector unoccupied.”
“Good. Agreed, officially and unofficially. Case closed. Any others? Anyone interesting on that side of the galaxy?”
“Yes, a rather shy but sweet hydrogen core cluster intelligence in a class nine star in G445 zone. Was in contact two galactic rotations ago, wants to be friendly again.”
“They always come around.”
“And why not? Imagine how unbearably, how unutterably cold the Universe would be if one were all alone …”
I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Connie Loizos from Techcrunch yesterday. Unsurprisingly the conversation rapidly veered towards discussing Trump’s surprising win. I am reproducing our discussion below for your reading pleasure.
Fabrice Grinda, a longtime New Yorker, has helped create hundreds of jobs for Americans and others. Among the companies he has started is OLX, one of the largest free classifieds sites in the world — one that was acquired over time by the African conglomerate Naspers for $250 million.
Grinda more recently co-founded Beepi, the peer-to-peer used car marketplace based in California; Rebagg, a New York-based platform that buys high-end luxury bags from their owners for cash; and Instacarro, a Sao Paulo, Brazil-based car-buying service that will buy individuals’ cars for cash in an hour’s time.
Grinda and longtime business partner, Jose Marin, also plug between $15 million and $20 million of their own capital into startups each year through their joint vehicle, FJ Labs.
But though he sounds it, Grinda isn’t American. He doesn’t have dual citizenship. He’s “pure French.” He just happened to head to Princeton at age 17, and he hasn’t much wanted to leave the East Coast since.
So what does this European make of a new U.S. president who has Silicon Valley on edge? Because he’s a global operator and because he doesn’t live in the Bay Area, we talked with Grinda earlier today about President-elect Trump and whether he’s concerned about what comes next.
TC: How did the U.S. election just change the picture?
FG: Public market investors, limited partners in venture funds and private equity firms — they don’t like uncertainty. What they don’t know is the actual set of policies coming down the line that could impact them going forward. What will be his tax policy? What will his administration regulate and deregulate? It’s not like [Trump’s team] came forward with a well-thought-out set of policy proposals. It was all kind of vacuous. So I think investors will be more cautious until they understand what a Trump presidency means.
TC: Do you think it could impact you personally?
FG: I don’t spend much time thinking about politics. I’m not sure it has a real impact on day-to-day life. It’s a large part of the reason I’m on the internet. I like its deregulated, fast-moving nature.
TC: Yet there could easily be consequences. People worry, for example, that for the sake of creating more American jobs, Trump might somehow slow tech, including self-driving technologies.
FG: There’s no hard data regarding what is going to be done. My only concerns are around the uncertainty.
TC: What do you make of Trump, the candidate, and soon, the president?
FC: I dislike the guy. I dislike populism and most of the things he said and much of what he stands for. I’m pro immigration and probably more socially liberal than anyone I know. But look, he’s a startup who has disrupted the establishment. He used a lot of the same tactics that a startup would use to get free press, frankly. He created a story that was compelling enough that he garnered press all the time and so had much lower acquisition costs than the other candidates. Jeb Bush was paying something like $5,000 per voter in the GOP primaries, where Trump was paying about $300.
In startup terms, he had an effective distribution and a marketing strategy and messaging that people found compelling. I think he proved the adage that any press is good press. And the establishment only realized this was dangerous once it was too late.
By the way, I think the same is true of jihadists; all the media attention that ISIS receives makes it easier for them to get recruits.
TC: Let’s not go there. What do you think Silicon Valley does now to turn this situation into a win instead of something to suffer through?
FG: Clearly, there’s a percentage of the population that’s been left behind and not listened to and we need to find a better way to deal with that. I am an optimist. I do believe the tide of history is toward more liberalism and the quality of life improving. Sometimes, you have pushback, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t seem to matter. As horrible as the Great Depression must have been to live through, it barely registers in the bigger picture. I think the next four years will be a blip, too.
Has globalization had some losers? Absolutely. If you’re a high school dropout, your relative job position in the job market hasn’t been great over the last 30 years. It’s a class of people who haven’t been heard, and we haven’t been good at retraining or them or integrating them into the success of this country. We need to focus on opportunities to refocus the education system and retrain them and that’s the message that’s been sent and maybe it’ll force us to get our act together.
TC: Should the country, including investors, be more focused then more on educational reforms, education platforms? Where are the biggest opportunities here given the shifting tides?
FG: I think there are things he could do well. The U.S. hasn’t had a good infrastructure program for years. To create jobs, the easiest way isn’t to block technology but to build better roads and bridges and airports and the things that are needed and create lots of jobs. The reality, too, is that we’re crumbling under red tape. We have an outrageously ineffective corporate and personal tax system that are both ineffective and run inefficiently. And we’re under a mountain of regulations. If you’re in the offline world for example, the burden for construction alone is limited to an insane degree by nimbyism. If he could do these things, we might be able to make the best of a bad situation. I know I’d feel better.