Technology

The “Moonshot”, and the Conversation. Words to think about from Commander Hadfield

CAH-Spacesuit-Credit-NASA-1050x700debt of gratitude is owed to the BC Innovation Council (particularly Director of Communications Lindsay Chan). In preparing for the feature story about the recentTechnology Forum, I thought it a “moonshot” asking for the opportunity to interview their keynote speaker, Commander Chris Hadfield. They delivered.

Of course, I’m also grateful to Commander Hadfield and his team for making the time for us to have the conversation. Articulate, eloquent, and informed, talking with Chris Hadfield is a personal highlight. Lob him a good question, and he’s off. As the keynote speaker at an event focused on innovation, that was the theme of our conversation, which spanned the gamut from the Commander’s personal life to the role innovation can play in solving today’s global complexities. There are some lessons below that I hope everyone takes to heart.

Creativity and innovation are interrelated. This process often about being able to connect more than one disparate idea, concept and/or discipline. It can also be about how we relate the past, to the present, and with a vision of the future. How should people approach the process to be more innovative in their thinking?

The simplest clearest example is a field stone house. A lot of houses are built where every brick is the same shape. Makes it easy for the bricklayer, makes it a very predictable structure. All you really vary is colour and texture, but the shape is the same. But so many walls are built (everything from what the Inca’s did through to right now) where you use available stone, available materials, where the shapes are not regular and the density is not necessarily regular. So what you do is that you recognize that you have to work with what have, but you need a certain amount of skills, and sometimes you be able to build what you’re trying to build until you find the right piece. I think that way of thinking is how I’ve approached the problem [of creativity and innovation] my entire life.

Cmdr. Hadfield with Albert and Jack.

You don’t even know what you need until the problem is already upon you, and if you have not built the skills in advance, if you haven’t thought about it, if you haven’t put yourself in a position to recognize that is actually what you need, then how are you going to progress?

I think you have to have a perpetual restless dissatisfaction with your own set of skills. You should always be trying to better understand how things work around you, and try to fill in the holes of your own knowledge, so that you can build your particular wall higher and more soundly.

You can just make a simple decision or you can really dig into it and try to look at your particular wall you’re trying to build and figure out the pieces that make sense to you and then make the right call. It’s a real combination between building the baseline of competence and experience so that then your innovation can be enabled and you creativity can be enabled sort of back and forth. They bounce off each other. But if you don’t have that fundamental basis, then all your really have is belief, and belief can collapse like a house of cards or a poorly built wall any time. So for me, real creativity and innovation are hand and glove, but they have to be based on a sound understanding of the principles that support them.

How do you fill these knowledge gaps? What does the role of mentors mean to you?

For me, there are very few things more satisfying than talking to an expert. I love it when I am given time with someone who really understands something in a field that I don’t. You can learn so much in a hurry and get them to explain it to you.

“I’ve kind of chosen a life that is rife with mentors and mentorship.”

The other revelation I had a few years ago was that every single person you ever meet is expert in something that you aren’t. A three-year-old knows stuff that you don’t know. He or she has done and experienced things that you just haven’t yet. Life is varied. So for me, the real key is to find the mentor in everybody.

I’ve been lucky in my life that I’ve kind of chosen a life that is rife with mentors and mentorship. As a university student at three different universities, and then as a pilot learning, and then as a fighter pilot learning, and then as a test pilot (the most rigorous academic year of my life), and then as an astronaut, all you really do is learn your entire career. You’re surrounded by people who have more expertise than you in some finite area, and you become the great integrator of your particular exposure and knowledge.

I think that’s a great way to view yourself. I am the integrator of all the mentorship of all of the raw and available knowledge that I’ve been exposed to in my life. And it’s really up to me to decide how much of this am I going to absorb, understand, and then use in order to be more creative and innovative, and fun loving and may be fruitful in the future.

Commander Chris Hadfield

I was almost seven, but have my own memories of Neil Armstrong’s momentous declaration, “this is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” So I wanted to ask you about your decision to become an astronaut. Was it a series of ah-ha moments, leading to one ah-ha moment?

Both. Sometimes the environment creeps up on you, you don’t really notice. Sometimes you don’t notice the mound of history has built up underneath you. You slowly accumulate a great swathe of ideas and influence and opinion, but then maybe something seminal happens like when two people walk on the moon.

Oh yeah, I knew that we were having rockets, and Sputnik happened, and Gagarin, and Alexei Leonov, but wow we just walked on the moon. For me it was that. I read science fiction. I was reading Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and watched Star Trek and even Lost in Space. I’d watched 2001 A Space Odyssey, and listens to Bowie’s Space Oddity, and all of that was this sort of building wave of awareness of something that was happening that was interesting to me. I had a big picture on my on wall that came from National Geographic of what we knew about the moon. Then on July 20th, 1969, it’s like when you spin the dial on a microscope and you can sort of see everything, but suddenly, wow it comes into this sharp focus and you suddenly recognize what’s in front of you.

“Sometimes you don’t notice the mound of history has built up underneath you. But then maybe something seminal happens.”

So very much based on the past it all came clear to me at this is what I want to do. When I went outside afterwards and looked up at the moon. That’s really when it rang home for me. This what I want to do. There are people walking on the moon and that they’re not walking there because it was bound to happen, they’re not walking there because they had to, they are there because they just barely could.

It was immensely invitational at the time, but the key of course was what do you do with life’s invitations? I decided that day to start turning myself into an astronaut, which is a whole different process than wishing. I said okay, how do I do this? What changes do I make? And I just used this as a guideline for the rest of my life. When I try to make the small daily decisions, I use that as kind of the end game. If everything goes great, that’s where I want to be, so what do I do today? What do I do tonight? What do I do this weekend?

It occurred to me later that your life is not the big grandiose decisions. Your life is the answer to the question of what do I do next? Your life is the accumulation of that answer. Your choice, what you choose to do next defines who you’re going to be, defines what skills you have. And it really does define your life. Fortunately I choose something that really suited me, opportunity arose, I was lucky, I worked hard at it, and I’ve had some magnificent experiences as a result.

Earning your seat in space gives you a unique, special perspective. How has your rare view of our planet shaped your thinking about innovating to making a world of 11 billion people (projected by 2100) a more humane and sustainable one?

We’ve been riding the crest of an accelerating wave driven by enabling technology for a couple of hundred years. It has had incredibly good consequences. The world have never fed as many people as it does today; we have never had this standard of living on average for as many people we do today; literacy over that past 50 years is a good measure of that, with over 80% of the world having an incredible opening of opportunity. But we’ve built it in an accelerating phase and not a sustained phase and anything that’s done under acceleration is temporary. So how do we turn this into something sustainable?

Commander Chris Hadfield

“I decided that day to start turning myself into an astronaut, which is a whole different process than wishing.”

We didn’t get to where we are by being lackadaisical or unimaginative or hesitant. We got here by being driven and restless and hungry about ideas, and we tried to build structures that allowed the brightest among us to solve problems in new ways. Go to Silicon Valley, or go to The Perimeter Institute, or go to UBC and TRIUMF, or walk over to General Fusion – we’ve set up a structure that allows people to take thought and invention to a level that’s never been seen before.

Not everyone is scrambling for their next meal, not everyone is a hunter-gatherer or a farmer. And so we’ve built an amazing structure but it’s unsustainable. And it’s built largely in the past 150 years on the back of burning fossil fuels. We need a better solution.

So every advanced society reins in their population growth, and the accelerated rate of the integration of technology into both India and into China is phenomenal. It’s unprecedented. This isn’t a slow historic change from agrarian to technological with not many outside influences, with people slowly moving into the cities. This is very different. This is fast. You can draw models based on statistics that will predict anything. I’d be very surprised if we went to 11 billion.

I’m not even sure we will, because of the self-imposed limits of the climate. The way we’re changing the way we feed people, the way we house them and clothe them is so energy wasteful and so polluting that I don’t think the planet is going to allow us to grow at that rate. I think it’s the less developed economies and the more fragile environmental parts of the world that are really going to be the canaries in the coal mine that are going to drive that decision-making.

I think it’s a slowly self-balancing system but we have to find alternate energy sources to fossil fuels. We need to continue to educate people to make informed decisions and more than anything we need to raise the standard of living for as many people as possible and make it sustainable.

You know, the best basketball player in the world has probably never held a basketball in their hands; the brightest mind in the world could be out somewhere digging for potatoes, because that’s the only opportunity they’ve ever been given.

If we truly want our species to thrive, we have to free up the natural talents that exist amongst our species to push themselves to the limit of capability. We’ve done that in part of our society but not throughout. To me, that’s got to be the objective: to raise the standard of living for as many people as possible, but make it sustainable. We need this particular wave to crash as gently as possible to get to some sort of steady sea that allows that to happen.

Originally published in BetaKit

Related: Commander Chris Hadfield at the B.C. Tech Forum

Kiss Your Right to Communicate Freely Goodbye

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“To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven; the same key opens the gates of hell.” – As told to Richard Feynman (Theoretical physicist) by a Buddhist monk.

The search query Bill C-51, leaves me wondering how quickly the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) or the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) will come to know about my curiosity. Other than that simple search term what else do they know, or what else do they think they know? What more can they find out about my interest in the subject?

IMG_3907Like thousands of other Canadians, by attending a weekend rally that was vociferously against the attempt to pass this omnibus bill, I’ve knowingly exposed myself even further to the mechanisms of State surveillance. I’ve been surveilled without context. It’s just like searching the internet is now an act of being surveilled without context.

Think back in history, even before surreptitiously cracking a wax sealed envelope and peaking into its contents, communication technology and surveillance have long been strange bedfellows.

Ultimately the mechanisms of State surveillance are rooted in the manipulation of, and projection of power.  “The increased power of officials is an inevitable result of the greater degree of organization that scientific technique {communications technologies} brings about. It has the drawback that is apt to be irresponsible, behind-the-scenes, power, like that of Emperors’ eunuchs and the Kings’ mistresses in former times. To discover ways of controlling it is one of the most important political problems of our times” – Bertrand Russell (The Impact of Science on Society – 1953)

This “Act (Bill C-51) that may be cited as the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015” is being fast tracked to becoming (in it’s own words),  “An Act to enact the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act, to amend the Criminal Code, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.”  This is a significant legislative overhaul. This will make us no safer nor more secure tomorrow that we already are today. This is nothing more than a security services power grab.

Bill C-51 is full of murky definitions and offers a troublingly broad definition of what constitutes “threats to the security of Canada.” According to our Prime Minister’s hyperbole ““Jihadist terrorism is not a future possibility, it is a present reality,” Harper said at the announcement. “It seeks to harm us here in Canada, in our cities and in our neighbourhoods through horrific acts.”

Yet, let’s look for these sources of terror. This ominous spectre of terror that’s lurking in shadowy corners and looming over our country, the terrorist threat we all need to fear according to CSIS, is the one that’s “emanating from Al-Qaeda-inspired extremism… Despite recent successful operations targeting Al-Qaeda Core, the Service continues to see support for AQ causes in Canada. Of particular significance is the above-mentioned investigation into an alleged Al-Qaeda-linked plot to attack a train in Southern Ontario, which led to the arrest of two individuals in April 2013.” It’s important noting that this lone terrorist plot was foiled using today’s current surveillance methods and within today’s legislative framework.

I accept that Google, Facebook, and Apple possess a potential treasure trove data points about me. I can accept what these corporations know about me because they can’t bankrupt me; they can’t incarcerate me; they can’t potentially ruin my life. The state can.

I’m not keen on feeling powerless to defend myself against the mechanisms of our State surveillance and security authorities. What does the Canadian State surveillance and security system know about me right now? It’s haunting to think that a faceless and nameless bureaucrat can take shards and fragments of information, of metadata and create a story that’s not mine. The state can create their own narrative for each of us. One day we might find ourselves no longer free to create and communicate our own narrative.IMG_3902

This story of safety, security, and terrorism is supposed to be about trusting our government. We’re supposed to believe that giving up more freedom and privacy is good for us. How is the imposition of self-censorship good for us? Do I have to consider how framing a dissenting perspective about the federal government could be taken out of context? Can my suggesting that we have a government that’s displayed total lack of environmental stewardship while schilling our natural resources to interests that best suit a myopic and greedy fiscal agenda, be potentially deemed a “threat to the security of Canada?”

IMG_3915As well, this state abuse of communications technology could further curtail our freedom of movement. The no-fly list is nothing new, but under the new version of this law authorities will be permitted to use undisclosed secret evidence against suspects. Again we’ll be left powerless to defend ourselves.

The internet is a door that opens two ways. While we can see a world of good and evil, we also have to allow for the reality that this door also lets both walk through it too. One of those evils should not be our own supposedly democratically elected government. Echoing Edward Snowden, government needs to recalibrate it’s relationship with us. That relationship can not be defined as those ruling the ruled; it must be one that’s between the electorate and the elected. Bill C-51 is about being ruled. It’s the real looming spectre of terror that’s in our midst today.

“There can be no doubt that behind all the pronouncements of this court, and in my case, behind the arrest and today’s inquiry, there exists an extensive organization […] And the purpose of this extensive organization, gentlemen? It consists of arresting innocent people and introducing senseless proceedings against them, which for the most part, as in my case, go nowhere. Given the senselessness of the whole affair, how could the bureaucracy avoid becoming entirely corrupt?” (Kafka – The Trial)

The Angel, The Horse, The Hardware

60H

Coming out of darkness, I’m reaching for my shades. Those first morning rays are blinding. Walking towards the railing, I’m hearing two distinct rhythms. Hoofbeats. There’s the easy cantor coming from the training area, that’s gradually getting drowned out by a full gallop. Thundering. Louder, and louder as I get closer to the track. Hoofbeats. My heartbeat. What a rush. Dawn. The track. The daily unexpected.

I witnessed it, heard and absorbed each note. A brutal symphony.  An execution. Was actually more of a choreography as Flight Valkyrie wasn’t pouring over this audience. Yet it was silence searing my brain. Time stopped. Space frozen. Sensationless. No undoing this decision. Senseless.

It was draining. Sad really. The shot still ringing, now barely audible. It was like all I could see that moment was a bluish plumage slowing wafting from the barrel. Instantly no heartbeat. Legs rubberized. Strength and grace, power and beauty is hitting the ground like a pallet of bricks falling from a truck. Half his face covered in mud. Eye’s nostrils and mouth coated with that damp clay like muck clinging to the last moisture of life. Life seemingly drains in slo-motion. Peckinpah like.

Before the bullet crushes through his skull forever short circuiting the future, those eyes, they give me a long lasting look. Deep dark Guinness like, eyes of depth seemingly as big as LP’s glare right through me. He had no idea. Because behind his wish of pastures and playfulness would be nothingness. You’d think with a city full self driving cars, a grid powered by the sun, and diabetes being cured, we’d have come further. A bullet between the eyes. Still fucking savages.

So much potential. But breaking that bone, breaking it like that, no collision no contact no race, one hoof out of rhythm, off the pace… snap! That sickening snap. In a split second it was reverberating in my ears. Watching through my binoculars from the other side of the track. It was like seeing the whole scene unfold in super slo-motion. Seeing him careen out of control, crashing into the turf, and sending poor Alejandro from the saddle to another area code… it was all I could do to keep from puking.

7016763947_0e2893b1fd_oThat snap, that fucking snap tears through me. Just like tearing through the sound barrier, that snap moves like a missile. It’s a missile that blows up a racing career never before it gets to the gate. In a nano-blink it’s done. His last training run. His last lap before his first race.

Thoroughbreds die everyday. At least that’s what I tell myself. Our small team just matter-of-factly put the end to his life. Cold and efficient in execution. It’s the only way the run a business. But I still catch myself thinking that we’ll never get that rush of winning by a nose. A boiling stinking nondescript vat, not the winner’s circle waits for him. Hell, even taking up the rear he’d still get a bucket of oats and bath.

Youth wasted. But I catch myself at that ledge of self-pity. Luck is a continuum, not a one time stroke. Look at his papers, look at his blood-line, look at his breeder, look at the amazing price we bought him for. Each hoof beat dripped of luck. Somehow the best before date was missing. Shit. Shit. Shit!

Fuck it. Sucks, but there’s always another horse, another business, and other flesh to bet on. I don’t want to see a 1000 pounds of investment and potential hauled away anytime soon.  Who am I kidding? There’s another tow truck just around the corner. I just don’t know which corner.

Just like the track, investing in tech startups finds me watching carcasses get hauled away too. Time to head off to my other office, and my other life. No Angel label. It’s not me, just how some choose to see me. While getting the ring kissed seems good for the ego, I’m still kind of just pissing my money away. Worse, I can’t even shoot them when they break down. Fucking shame at times. Especially when you start seeing their real qualities (actually lack of) once they cash that cheque.

Still, my job is better than so many other options. Who’ll shoot me when I break a leg climbing the corporate ladder. Actually some weasel would probably shoot me, and then break it while climbing over my corpse, while on his path to the corner office and underground parking spot.

He’s late. My coffee’s empty. Two strikes. How not to win over your potential lead check. I like the kid, but he’s always got an excuse. If he pulls out “the dog ate my USB with today’s deck”, I’ll be pulling out. Simple. Besides, after the morning track debacle, youthful potential doesn’t have me all that excited.

His last gaze still sears through my minds-eye. He was doing what he loved, going flat out doing what he knew best. Full tilt. Fatal misstep, but no excuses. Of course he never signed up for a shot at the crown. Sure as shit didn’t sign up to get shot. Period. For him, unrealized potential was the trainer being short an apple or two after a good morning cantor.

No point in getting sentimental, the horse is gone. This morning is gone. No point in waiting for another wantapreneur. Talk, talk, talk, pitch, pitch, pitch. Look the part. It’s like being something rather than actually doing something. I’m packing up my stuff , and letting out this big sigh of exasperation.

Guess it wasn’t as under my breath as I’d thought.

“Excuse me. Hope my timing isn’t completely off, is it okay asking if you’re…” Another occasional downside of being known, it’s being known and managing these random encounters. It’s not like I was rushed, I was just pissy and cut the person off. “Yes, I’m that guy. What do you want?”

I stepped back. Had to collect myself. Who’s this? She’s a little more mature than most people who choose to spend time working here. Even with a little more grey hair than me. Not trying to cover that earned wisdom? I’m sure I’ve seen her quietly grinding away here before. Never loud, never holding court, never slinging bull shit. When I did notice her in a meeting, while jovial she’s reserved, mannered and on-point. Seemed like someone hell bent on getting shit done.

“I’m sorry, but it’s like someone pissed in my Cornflakes this morning. Let’s start over. Cool cane by the way.” Shaking her hand, she firmly introduces herself as Joan, and says she’s curious to learn more about a couple of my portfolio companies. More so, she’s curious how a material sciences guy finds working with reality twisting tech toys aligns with solving big real world problems. She points out the obvious disconnect in my life.

Interesting gal. No fear. Asks tough fucking questions too. Ones I’ve been asking myself. It’s not like we’ve got a talent pool in this town that’s at the tip of the tech spear. Sometimes you hope they’ve got the runway and the savvy to shift course quickly and insightfully. amor-church-cupid-4339

Not every exit has to be massive. Getting behind the few people who’ve done it two or three times over the last 15-16 years is preferable. People with the money lined up after them. The right people, doing the right tech, at the right time are hard to find. Still, you listen to so many pitches at times it’s mind numbing. It’s like Charlie Brown’s teacher droning on… “wawawawawa”, and hearing that it’s a robotic AI for this or encryption program for that.

The overnight success myth still permeates. In fact, as I look up from the new cup of coffee Joan puts in front of me it’s Mr. No Show now turning into Mr. Stupid Late. I look at my cuff, no text, no email, no missed call. Just a few specks of horse blood, Damn! Gross how’d I miss that.

Rolling up my sleeve I hear from across the room, “sorry dude, I couldn’t get a sitter for my girls dog. She’s expensive and has serious anxiety issues.” Which one I think, the girl or the dog? With this guy, has to be both.

Before he can barge in, back pack, foamy and massively tall beverage, doggy kennel, and one of those obnoxious, yappy, well groomed and bejewelled toy dogs, I hold up my hand, and say nothing. The look I fire his way should be enough for him to get the message. Stop, do not pass go, you’re not getting a check. In fact, just fuck off.

Not this guy. Sees persistence as one of his strong qualities. He’s yapping. The dog’s yapping. If I hear “sorry dude” one more time. So irritating. So obnoxious. This is what it feels like to have an aneurism.

Deep, deep breath. I lift my ass off the chair, look down with my eyes burning right through him. He had to feel it, the way he started squirming. He and the dog both shut up. In that moment of peace, I simply said “we’re not meeting now; we’re not meeting tomorrow; in fact we’re not meeting… ever. We’re done. Why would I get behind a Tinder for dogs app, when you’re here with that mutt?  If it doesn’t work for you in spite of all those KPI’s you brag about, it sure as shit doesn’t work for me.”

No big scene, just a really long face. The dog took care of the tail between the legs moment. Off he skulked. What was I thinking? Him. An app. I don’t even like fucking dogs. Am I slipping? Not even lunch. I’m 0 for 2, with a headache and indigestion. I pause, imagining the voice bubble popping up; “So Joan, what do you think of me now?”

“I’m so sorry Joan. Still some time to chat?”

I’d gotten this far, she’d grabbed my attention. Might as well see where the conversation goes.

“May I grab you a fresh one? and could you please excuse me for a couple of minutes.”

She smiled and nodded yes.Startup Stock Photos

Relieved, I went for relief. The bathroom refuge. Empty bladder. Cold water on the face. Clear head. Composed, and ready for Joan’s story. A bit of adult conversation would be good. It’s been lacking lately.

Her iSkin lay flat on the table. Left hand caressing the coffee cup, and looking over what seemingly looked like complex chemistry formulas, Joan looked up. I locked into the depth of her dark eyes, while she was slowly cracking one of those grins that said, “I get it.” This day just exponentially improved.

Rolling up her device, she wrapped it around her wrist, noted the time and gestured it into sleep mode. Leaning back with the steaming cup approaching her lips, she asked my thoughts on what’s next for multiferroic nano-composite films. She catches me by surprise again. Questions I’m not use to getting, and answers I’m not used to coming with lately.

Anyhow, at least I could suggest that type of nano-composite film had done a great job of helping displace smart phones, watches, and eyewear. It’s been liberating, and I suggested that I liked the way she wears her new device. Saying I usually like mine on the cuff too.

“What’s your story Joan? All this time hanging out in the same space but this is the first we talk.”

“The timing is right. Idle chatter. Small talk. Wasting time doesn’t work for me. So why put that crap on someone else.”

Now she’s got my attention. Leaning in. Focused. “I get the sense you’re not pitching me a VR porn game or AR version of some popular casino game. You do know that you’re in a material sciences wasteland.”

Silence. As I’m reaching for my coffee she says two reasons. She’s a healthcare tourist. Not only has it been a 16 months wait to see one the the worlds best orthopaedic surgeons, but he’s also willing to let her be the first test subject.

This is where reason number two comes in, and where the conversation moves from social and curious to business.

“I want you to be my lead investor.”

Joan’s so calm, cool and unwavering.

“This place might be the back water of material sciences, but you’re here. And you’re no fucking amateur. You’re biggest win might be fifteen years behind you, but you’ll want to drop all that pithy shit clogging up your portfolio. How about financing the way our bones and bodies will heal themselves tomorrow?”

“I’ve been chin deep in generative design, nanoparticles and synthetic biology for the last 20 years. I know you’ll get what I’m doing, because you were in early. You figured out a killer use case and delivered a commercially viable product. What you did yesterday, still matter todays.”

Interesting that she noted how sometimes the lifestyle we choose dictates some of the business we can do. I live here for the place, scenery, activities, pace and climate, not world class R&D labs and talent. But it also means that I’m not at the top of my game. Maybe too many hobbies?

“I’ve been around too many researchers, too many academics, too many people who couldn’t get something to market even if it meant saving us from a zombie apocalypse. Peer reviewed journal citations matter more than creating a meaningful product and a valuable business.” Joan’s racing away from that world view.

She asked how it was for me coming back from knee replacement surgery? I caught my jaw going slack. Slack for just a moment. The way she asked the question with that genuine sense of care and empathy hit a chord. What really resonated was the fact she knew I’d had it done. She’d done some digging. Talk about making the fucking massive first impression.

I didn’t even know what she’s selling me, but I feel a very faint itch coming from my check book.

The story started connecting as Joan went on, “having my left hip replaced five years ago, I really didn’t take it seriously. While I paid for my lack of discipline with a horrible recovery, it actually was the catalyst the pushed me out of the Ivory Tower lab and into developing Nanosteozine.” WW92378

Simple idea, but a bitch to deliver. Joan goes on. The body often isn’t fond of new materials; big-Pharma and the medical device industry isn’t fond is new materials that aren’t theirs; doctors often aren’t fond of new materials; regulators often just don’t like anything new period. Fast paced this space isn’t. Many shit piles to step in, lot’s of big feet ready to step on you. Squish the living shit out of you.

She’s not telling me anything new. All really big reasons I’m out of that game. It’s exhausting. Yes all startups are hard. But what’s in front of her is really fucking hard. At least she’s not totally delusional. Good that’s she’s coming at the problem having lived it. Living with pain is a hidden motivator very few can tap into. Fighting through pain. Differentiator.

Most of us know fear. But real, excruciating physical pain, chronic agony. That’s the real test of character. No excuses. Get into it. Being in the game everyday. It will wear you out.

I’d lost track of time. I’m still listening, but my stomach reminds me it’s time to eat. Wonder if Joan wants to join me?

After agreeing there’s time for lunch, we also agree to move the conversation from superficial to something substantive. Her hip, my knee we know the pre-op to post-op trajectory is long (up to 18 months) arduous, painful, and needs more self-discipline than ever imagined. She was honest saying she failed at getting herself in optimum shape the first time around, No core strength, no stamina (both physical and mental), there was no strengthening of the muscles around the hip. Pre-op pain made for an easy excuse. It got easier to do less and less especially when the actual surgically date got closer and closer.

Connecting with Joan’s motivation was easy after she said, “my physiotherapist got to the point of telling me it was a waste of her time and mine if I wasn’t going to at least do the basic stretching exercises. I can’t help you if you can’t help yourself. You’ll regret it after surgery. At the door she said, don’t bother coming back. Ever.”

It’s a few weeks of hell after surgery. I’ll never forget just how much time and space were twisted. It was a cocktail of drugs. There’s drugs for pain, nausea, constipation, and sleep. There’s an array of bags hanging from the IV. It’s like a spindly Christmas tree hooked up to my left arm. Lit up by the patient controlled drug dispenser delivering a hit of joy every 8-10 minutes when you hit that button. The magic button always at hand. Reality of the moment was whatever I conjured up. Whatever I dreamed to be true. It was. 8116093796_e6b4072f6b_z

Every few hours someone comes around with a mini dixie-cup full of pills. For two days visitors were nice, but they we a lot like alien encounters too. Too much probing, and not enough quiet observing. For two days I was floating around a very, very disconnected place. Out of touch with the gravity of what they’ve done you. Out of touch with gravity itself.

Pain meds only masked feeling bad or having bad feelings. You go from joint pain to feeling no pain in that joint, but it then turns into massive fucking pain all around the joint. Everything that made sense, seemed normal and straightforward flies out the window the minute the anesthesia starts wearing off.

Everything’s straight fucked up the moment you thaw out. Breathing, thinking, hearing, seeing, feeling, pissing, shitting, walking. It’s all fucked up. Some for hours, some for days, and some for a few weeks. Fucked up. It’s like describing running your startup to someone who’s never done it. They’ll never get it.

The plan is to be taking the healing process to warp speed. Joan wasn’t wasting her time on trying to come to market with a 10x solution. Healing bones at a speed of downloading 100 hi-def movies in under a second. Ridiculous rehab results. I’d get behind that. Still, I needed way more.

She’d done an amazing job prototyping the product. With the state of 3D printing biologicals, tissues, and materials she walked through the IP, the process and being able to trial Nanosteozine on “real” human tissue instead of real humans. Talk about blowing up the arthritic pace of clinical testing.

“So what next?”

She glances at her wrist, and says “my next appointment. Meet at your office tomorrow at 9:00am? You’ll have a term sheet ready?” Shakes my hand.

Holy shit. Self-assured. Understatement of the day. Pausing to check my calendar, I notice out of the corner of my eye she’s collapsing her cane and tucking it away in her bag.

“Sure. 9:00am works. I’ll share a term sheet with you before end of business today.”

She’s out of the chair, and heading to the doors. The bright light’s pouring in and obscures her into only an outline, one of striking elegance. What the fuck, no limp! All I could notice was a swagger. She had this swagger like a Kentucky Derby winner.

I piped up after her, “by the way, great job and when’s your surgery?”

She turned, her head glancing over her shoulder just enough that I could just make out her grin and just make out her lips slowly form the word, “yesterday”. That word, it’s sound ripped through the air, and through my skull like this mornings bullet. I shuttered. The William Tell Overture strained in the background. Imagined the horse. That senseless moment. Eyes swelled. The tears ran.

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REFLECTING ON 2014: THE BIG ISSUE, THE BIG IDEA, AND THE BIG WIN

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Every Canadian technology startup that’s delighting and delivering value to its customers, while creating a meaningful workplace culture, is a story worth sharing. Every entrepreneur earning the opportunity to keep the lights on another day deserves a high-five.

I’m not big on picking favourites. So with a twist on the usual list-bait, here’s a look at the year that was by reflecting on the biggest issue, the biggest idea, and the biggest win.

These words are homeless without the internet. Despite being 25 years old, the promise of an open and free internet seems like a pipe dream. The architect of the world’s information network, Tim Berners-Lee, believes that “we need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges.” Yet the social value of today’s internet is being challenged and undermined everyday by the actions of deceitful of governments and plundering corporations. OpenMedia-11-of-17-1050x700

Former Google developer advocate Tim Bray has lent his voice to this biggest of issues, and his words resonate throughout: “It’s OK to be Pro-Privacy Without Being a Crook, Pervert, or Terrorist.

I imagine being with my kids and marvelling at the beauty of a rainbow revealing itself after the dark deluge of a winter storm blasts through, and it passes as our conversation about climate change. Talk about fleeting and borderline delusional thoughts. I do imagine a world where our relationship with fossil fuels isn’t driving the climate change debate.

Rather than just imagining how such a world will look, Dr. Michel Laberge and his General Fusion team is working towards delivering “the Promise of Clean Energy.” This is not only the biggest idea of 2014, but it’s possibly the most meaningful endeavour for our children I’ll never know.

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It was a shot in the dark, emailing info@ in the hopes in securing an interview with one of Vancouver’s more successful startup entrepreneurs. On the heels of raising $42 million in new funding for a business completely off my radar, I figured the odds of catching up with Stewart Butterfield to get the story of Slack was firmly entrenched between slim and negligible.

The personal reply from Butterfield caught my attention. More so, our conversation left an impression and no accompanying sense of shock when the news dropped he’s now leading Vancouver’s newest billion dollar company. Raising $120 million for this new communication platform counts as the biggest win, and confirms “This Guy’s No Slacker.

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Orange jumpsuits aren’t my idea of high fashion. I’m fond of suggesting good entrepreneurs have to be rule breakers, or makers of new rules. Just not breaking them to a felonious point. Being true to my word and breaking my editors rule, there’s a fourth Vancouver startup story that’s of the big “pie-in-sky” variety.

Actually, it’s a two big HD cameras in the sky story that caught my attention. Like our tenuous and tempestuous relationship with the internet or re-imaging the powering of our world, Urthecast is changing how we can see our planet. Maybe if we look at our world from a different point of view we’ll start treating it and ourselves better. Let’s move forward into 2015 taking action for good and being most mindful that “We’re All in This Together.”

This story was originally published in BetaKit

Saying Goodbye to the Lunchtime Blues. Food.ee Delivers on a High Note.

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“An army marches on its stomach” – Napoleon Bonaparte

This time tested and true observation is so often overlooked in the workplace. How many teams in business aren’t performing to their peak levels because their stomachs are empty or full of the wrong things? Google might be viewed as an anomaly in their approach to the company cafeteria, but it’s hard to overlook the correlation between high-performing people eating highly-nutritious and great food.

Vancouver’s Foodee is a rapidly growing marketplace that’s in the business of bringing great food straight to the company lunchroom. Cofounder Jon Cartwright and managing partner Ryan Spong talked about their mission and highlighted the three key Foodee tenants:

1) Great teams eat together

2) Quality food tastes better

3) Reduce your carbon foodprint

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Spong Comes to Foodee with a background in the corporate world, having worked in the financial services space in Toronto, New York, and London. He came home to Vancouver, and is now experience in the hospitality industry, having purchased Tacofino Cantina, a local food services company in 2011. “Our goal is to change corporate lunch hour. I’ve had the tied to a desk career, and know the challenges of getting out of the office. Even getting out of the office, it gets to be a pretty drab offering after two months. You can only go so far, and often don’t have many great choices. It easy to fall into a routine that’s often unhealthy.”

Cartwright said the initial idea behind Foodee came from wanting to solve their own challenge. “Being at Invoke, we were a little far away from really good food, and often found ourselves whining about it. As well, it was also a challenge ordering for a large group too,” he said. “Starting the company at Invoke really helped Foodee develop a solid technical foundation for solving the logistical challenges. ”

In the last two years they’ve shifted from being a technology focused marketplace to what Cartwright sees “as being part of the huge growth for online/offline businesses. There’s way more success reference points now. It’s becoming a huge differentiator in what we do, and where we see the future opportunity for Foodee. With a whole new service expectation in the offline market experience we see having right online tools as being a significant enhancement.”

They’ve grown the business and are feeding mostly large groups in offices (10-100 meals), and working with offices like Lululemon, Cushman Wakefield, Mozilla, and Microsoft. For customers it’s simple to order online, by phone or by email. There’s no minimum order size either.

There’s simplicity at the surface. But, at the heart of Foodee is a tech enabled platform. “It’s all about having robust backend order management infrastructure, for managing orders and logistics at scale,” said Cartwright. “We currently work with five different third party delivery companies, and all meals are GPS tracked.”

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For Spong,  “quality food tastes better.”

“We think you should still be eating your favourite foods, and want to make sure you’re getting the best version of it,” he said. “We also think you can eat great food, while at the same time treat our environment better. We’re working mainly with restaurants that focus on local, organic, sustainable practices, and at the same time working with zero or low emission energy partners.”

He also offered that “part of reducing the carbon ‘foodprint’ is that our partners agree to adopting our packaging standards. They’re all using recycled paper, completely compostable and recyclable containers. This is really important when you think that our biggest client goes through 25,000 containers a year feeding their staff.”

Right now Foodee is working with Vancouver’s best restaurants such as VJ’s, Meat and Bread, Finches and Tacofino, and will keep focused on delivering premium offerings. Cartwright shared that “restaurants are liking us because we’re providing them another with lunch rush before the doors open. As well, in some case we’re giving some of our restaurant partners as much as 10-15 percent of their yearly revenue.

In many ways Foodee is like the Uber for food. With Vancouver giving them the validation and momentum needed, Food.ee is excited to now be taking care of Toronto’s lunchtime blues too.

This story originally appeared in BetaKit

“We’ll be Like the Silicon Valley for Healthcare in Canada”

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It’s been barely a year since it’s launch and Ryan D’Arcy said “it’s been moving like a bullet train: a lot has happened, and there’s a lot of progress.” D’Arcy is SFU’s BC Leadership Chair in Multimodal Technology for Healthcare Innovation, and is referring to the fact that Surrey BC’sInnovation Boulevard is being primed to emerge as a world class digital healthcare technology cluster.

D’Arcy caught the science innovation bug early in his career.

Having the chance to come home with his innovation and collaboration playbook that proved successful in Halifax, he didn’t hide his bullishness on the future of Surrey. He envisions a massive opportunity in front of the Innovation Boulevard.

“One of the rapid ways you can affect health from both an improved care perspective and an economic development one is rooted in technology,” he said. “Engineering, science and the development of new technologies can be fast acting and have impactful meaning for health.”

“The raw ingredients are all here.” He pointed out  “We have the strength of SFU’s Applied Sciences program, Fraser Health corporate head office (the health region serves more than 1.6 million people, and has $2.9 billion annual operating budget – 2010/11) Surrey Memorial hospital (home to B.C.’s busiest emergency room and a $512-million expansion), the City of Surrey itself (2nd largest city in BC and the 12th largest city in Canada with a population of over 468,000). Along with access to some still affordable real estate, the overall formula is here to attract the right people, the right teams, with the right ideas to build a world class health technology cluster.”

There’s an estimated 180 health-related businesses already located in the area. As well, further driving innovation is the addition of SFU Surrey and the city expanding their high-speed Canarie fibre-optic network. All of this is essentially located within one square mile, as D’Arcy characterized the walk down King George Highway “as the spinal cord of the Innovation Boulevard.”

Maryam Sadeghi is the CEO of MetaOptima Solutions, and the science and technology adviser for the Digital Health Hub. She shared how it was question about the future licensing of her technology that lead to a conversation with D’Arcy. With a telemedicine solution for the prevention and detection of skin cancer, she was trying to understand the potential of working with Surrey Memorial Hospital or Fraser Health.

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She candidly suggested that “It didn’t take much conversation before D’Arcy opened up the door to this research lab, with a bunch of computers and said ‘this is all yours’. Bring MoleScope, bring your experience, and bring the vision of creating more companies like yours at SFU.”

“A lot of startup companies who have great ideas are challenged to test things in a real environment. It’ crucial getting the necessary feedback to improve on what they’re trying to eventually commercialize,” she pointed out. “It’s a real strategic benefit to be here, having access to the university resources, grants, funding, Fraser Health and Surrey Memorial. It’s going to be very attractive for companies to come here, we’ll be like a Silicon Valley for Health Care in Canada.”

From D’Arcy’s perspective, “it’s an unprecedented example of partnership in BC’s history. Historically the province has under-performed in its ability to connect and partner in order to compete in the global race, and to some degree we’ve shortchanged ourselves.”

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By unprecedented partnership, he pointed to four universities and others incoming, as well as health authorities and businesses generating an excitement around working together. D’Arcy credits much of this to the role that the City of Surrey is playing, saying “the city is like Switzerland in it’s neutrality by allowing everyone to come in to be part of this.”

For the healthcare technology community this partnership is also allowing for the launch of Health Tech Connex. D’Arcy isn’t characterizing this as an incubator or accelerator. He says “it’s first and foremost about location, location, location. Proximity to the healthcare professionals is vital. It’s all about facilitating access to the right people, and helping companies from early stage university spinouts to multinationals to move their commercialization efforts along much faster.”

Entrepreneurs will also be able to count on the support and services of the BCTIA and Life Sciences BC through their roles as founding partners. There are currently about 30 companies in the screening process, and asking for access to the hospital, pilot projects, clinical trials, or university resources. Demand to join is growing at a pace D’Arcy didn’t imagine even in his most optimistic moments.

Sadeghi is so convinced of the potential for this digital health hub and the Innovation Blvd concept, since August 1st 2013 she’s essentially been mentored full time. She plans to join the SFU research team shortly, but said it was question about the future licensing of her technology that lead to a conversation with Ryan D’Arcy: “it’s all about helping realize this vision.”

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It takes more than buildings, pavement and technology to create a winning business cluster. With D’Arcy driving the vision and acting like the connective tissue, Innovation Boulevard stands to be a difference making destination.

This story originally appeared in BetaKit

This Guy’s No Slacker: In Conversation with Slack’s Stewart Butterfield

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Having recently raised $42.5 million in new funding Vancouver’s Slack is proving to be anything but a bunch of coffee-sipping West Coast slackers.

Slack is a communication platform, delivering real-time messaging, archiving and search.

President and cofounder Stewart Butterfield said the team often think of Slack as a search app disguised as a message app. “People might think they want messaging but the real value is getting all of your communications in one place and having it easily searchable. Think about the waves of change in general, dealing with the soaring amount of information is the one we’re most closely riding.”

“We’re designing for teams not the company. Individuals are kind of an atom, but teams are the atomic unit of any organization because they’re expected to be functioning together,” he added. “But the reality is that at big companies like when I worked at Yahoo, you see how the matrix type organization makes it more complicated for people.”

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The increasing volume of messages we receive are not just from other people but other computers. The stream of social media notifications alone increases the daily noise. Butterfield sees that managing all of this messaging is something providing more value than people realize.

He estimates that his team of 20 each get about 100 messages a day from other people. The business has between 5,000 to 15,000 messages coming in from things like tweets, help tickets, bug reports, sign-ups for the service, when new teams are created, every crash report, and on and on. It’s not uncommon for teams these days to use 15-20 different services, so getting all of these messages in one place he said is a “huge win.”

The model is about encouraging people to have conversations in public, instead of one to one. Even if they’re not people on your team, at least engineers can see what the marketing department is talking about and customer support can see what engineering is talking about. Butterfield believes in “creating an ambient awareness of what other people in the organization are doing. It’s about coordinating without having stand up meetings, and getting status updates.”

Slack has grown out of a late 80’s tool pre-dating todays internet. Butterfield’s team found that using IRC chat met their internal communications needs. “It was missing a bunch of features that we thought were important, like being to log and archive messages. Once we had the archives, we wanted to search them. There was no good iPhone client so we built an HTML5 front end to browse the archives, and once we had that we wanted to be able to post from it. We wanted announcements when people uploaded files to the file server, database alerts and more. Basically hack, after hack after hack got all of the communication flowing into one place. A side effect of this was the fact the company didn’t use email at all. It wasn’t a policy decision, it just happened that no one would email each other because it was better to do it in IRC.

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They rolled out a preview versus the less trustworthy sounding beta release in August 2013, and spent six months trying to make it easy for teams to switch over. Feeling it was good enough, they officially launched Slack in February 2014 and hit 20,000 paying customers.

Butterfield called it startup anthropology. What’s working for the Slack are good startup lessons to remember.

  • Do a lot of research. They talked with people about how they used it, and what their reactions were. Get as much feedback as possible.
  • They made sure all of their emails could be replied to
  • They encouraged people to send them tweets

With the better of 20 years of business and startup experience to draw upon Butterfield shared that “people over-attribute a lot of success particularly in startups to the skill, ability and talent of the people doing it. Whereas, a lot of it is luck. Hard work counts, but there’s also the zeitgeist and little factors like the name, colors you choose, and your decision making process.”

With Slack’s early trajectory, Butterfield’s decision-making process is looking pretty spot on.

This story was first published in BetaKit.

NoteworthyOctober 31, 2015 Slack announces raising $120 million with post funding valuation equaling $1.2 billion

A River of Data Flows Through Vancouver’s Aquatic Informatics

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Having the “up to my neck” in it feeling is common place for many CEOs. For Aquatic Informatics‘ CEO Ed Quilty, his story starts with water being up to his hips (literally).

Originally a river ecologist as he put it, “not a software guy, not a business guy, but a guy wearing rubber boots, working in rivers, scrapping slime off rocks and collecting bugs and water samples.” Since then he’s led Aquatic Informatics for the past 11 years, growing it to the point where thousands of scientists and over 400 agencies in 28 countries are using the software.

The software is addressing critical water data management and analysis challenges for the environmental monitoring industry. They work with a variety of customers including federal, state/provincial or local government departments, hydropower operators, mining companies, academic groups and consulting organizations, who collect, manage and process large volumes of water quality or quantity data. Located in Vancouver, they’ve also been recently named as a BC company that’s “Ready to Rocket.”

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Quilty traces the genesis of the company back to the early 90’s while on a UVic co-op work term for the BC Ministry of the Environment. “They had this cutting edge sensor for continuous water quality measurement. This was a big leap forward from putting samples in a bottle, and shipping them off to a lab for analysis. The lab could tell you the amount of nutrients, organics, or heavy metals. This was only a small snapshot, and the odds of missing some major event were always significant. With this sensor technology we were getting information every minute or fifteen minutes. It was a big change in the industry. We went from never having enough data to being overwhelmed with data ”

With a Forest Renewal BC project, he saw the value of sensing technology and data collection, that focused on water quality inventory. He was seeing the impact of the forestry industry on water.

With an overwhelming volume of the data, Quilty realized that using spreadsheets wasn’t cutting it. “That’s when we starting working on scripts to automate the data processing. It was trying to figure out how we’d manage all this data that really got things started. I was a biologist used to dealing with 30 or 40 samples a year, not per hour.”

They built a very lightweight version of the initial application, one good enough to sell into his professional network in BC. The real break came when they caught the attention of the US Geological Survey.

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At that time it wouldn’t scale to meet the needs of the largest water monitoring agency in the world, but they were invited to respond to a RFP calling to model the water flow of water in rivers. Quilty said “we bid, not thinking we’d win it, but to get the exposure and learning experience. Much to our surprise we won the $500,000 contract. We had six months to build it, and were only going to get paid at the end if we successfully delivered. Our chief scientist knocked it out of the park.”

In 2006 all of the USGS hydrologists and flow specialists across the US were introduced to Aquarius.

The AI application allows for the conversion of water level to water flow. This information is important in terms of water allocations for irrigation, dam operations, for drinking water, industry, and for fisheries. “You have all of these competing interests, farmers, fisherman, environmentalists, cities, fighting over water particularly in places like the Colorado River, other arid regions, and then you have issues around flooding,” Quilty told BetaKit. “It’s kind of like Goldilocks trying to right just the right balance.”

Think about the considerations of dam operators, where an inch of water can mean millions of dollars. “They’re constantly trying to do optimization of their reservoirs,” Quilty said. “They want to keep them as high as they can, but they have legal obligations to release water to people below, like fishermen and farmers. At the same time they’re trying to balance Mother Nature, throwing different scenarios at them like flood or drought conditions.”

Without data, without good science and quality information, good policy decisions can’t be made. For AI, it’s about breaking down the information silos. They’re focused on facilitating better communication and creating more efficient networks. Quilty said that “often you see organizations collecting information from the same watersheds and not knowing it. You end up with dense networks in some areas, and very sparse in others.

The value of sharing this data easily is at the core of good environmental management. And without the data there’s no chance of managing our resources well. The opportunity to have a positive global impact is massive: imagine helping prevent resource abuses, like giant lakes and aquifers being drained, as highlighted in this New York Times article about Iran’s Lake Urmia.

Quilty isn’t reserved in sharing the company big hairy audacious goal, “it’s about hosting and managing all of the planets environmental data. We’ll be bringing discrete water quality and groundwater information into the system, and moving into atmospheric, ocean, and soil data too.  It’s critical to be getting the right data from the right places, at the right time. I think about all of these sensors like EKG’s measuring the heartbeat of the whole planet, and we want to be part of optimizing it.”

This story originally appeared in BetaKit

“It’s OK to be Pro-Privacy Without Being a Crook, Pervert, or Terrorist.”

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OpenMedia.ca invited a group of people from Vancouver’s technology, philanthropy, and social enterprise community to join an evening conversation entitled, “Propelling our Connected Future Forward.”

The community-based organization is focused on safeguarding the possibilities of the open Internet. They’re creating informed and participatory digital policy by engaging hundreds of thousands of people in protecting our online rights. They support transparent and participatory processes for making Internet policy based on five basic principles set out in the Declaration of Internet Freedom.

Read Also: Canadian Indentity-Privacy Pioneer Austin Hill Has a Message for the Founders of Whisper and Secret

Michael Tippett (co-founder of NowPublic, now director of new product for HootSuite) and Tim Bray (former developer advocate for Google, cofounder of Open Text Corporation and Antarctica Systems) lead the conversation.

Tippett was very clear about his reasoning for being part of the evening. Thinking back to the late ‘90’s and being part of one of Canada’s first digital agencies Tippett said, “I’m part of this GenX malaise, thinking life is gloomy and we’re going to be worse off than our parents. A real bummer. And then the internet came, and it was like we’re saved!”

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The early internet days were seen as a kind of utopian vision. It represented an open, free, democratic, and revolutionary force. Tippett added, “it changed a lot of lives, my life, and is now changing my kids’ lives. The reality is that those heady days are behind us, and that original vision is under threat. A great internet is more than just having fast download speeds for a better Netflix experience, it’s about ensuring we have an open, free, and democratic society.”

Bray said “there’s a lot of things we need to do to make sure the internet stays open. We have to worry a lot about things like net neutrality, pricing, and bandwidth. The one thing that worries me most of all is privacy. You can’t have an open internet unless you can close down parts of it, namely the parts you don’t want to share with everyone else in the world.

Having private by default internet, one which can be truly open and people can be themselves without fear doesn’t have to be a utopian vision. Ultimately, there needs to be a counter position to those who think, “if you’re not doing anything wrong, why do you need privacy anyhow.” Wanting privacy isn’t about having nefarious intentions.

According to Bray, “it’s ok to be pro-privacy without being a crook, pervert, or terrorist.”

The people who are spying on us on behalf of your government are just people. Most are well-meaning, underpaid, dedicated public servants who passionately believe they are protecting you and me from bad guys who want to do terrible things. However, a small proportion of them are inevitably stupid, insane, corrupt or just crazy. People who are in that position with that much access to information can wreak havoc on your life in a lot of different ways. Thus it needs to be regulated, watched, and the amount of snooping needs to be minimized. And there’s nothing wrong with asking for that.”

With the proliferation of mass surveillance and an emergence of an accompanying sense of police statism, Bray suggested that “while we have to cherish and protect the members of our law enforcement community, we also have to watch them like a hawk. We have to limit their actions, and preserve our privacy, because by default there’s nothing wrong with being private. Most of us are not terrorists.”

Read Also: BetaKit at #SXSW: Kiwi Wearables Does Not Want to Perform Science Experiments On Your Personal Data

The supposed goal of all of this pervasive surveillance is to protect us, and prevent bad things from happening to us. Yet as Bray said, “if you look at all of the bad things that could happen to us and the amount of money, resources, and technology being put into pervasive surveillance, it’s ridiculously out of balance. This record and watch, read, or listen to everything later is profoundly not cost effective no matter how you look at it.”

“Privacy is not a means to an end. Privacy is an end itself. It is a virtue of civilization, as opposed to living in a primitive culture,” Bray concluded. “We should cherish and protect it, and we shouldn’t ever have to explain why.”

It makes one question our current government priorities, when they’re in the process of building a new spy palace. By some estimates elevating the role of our surveillance state will cost the Canadian taxpayer somewhere between $1.2 billion, and $4.2 billion dollars. Curious what kind of investment is being made to help close our growing digital divide, and improve our national productivity and competitiveness?

It’s not the Orwellian Big Brother vision that’s worrisome. With government invading our privacy it’s the Kafkaesque version of this story that raises the biggest concern. When I close the door to my home I have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Yet, when I open my laptop or turn on my phone, that expectation is completely violated. While corporatism isn’t necessarily making the world a better place, at least Google, Facebook or Twitter can’t audit, indict, prosecute, jail or break me.

He realized at once that he shouldn’t have spoken aloud, and that by doing so he had, in a sense, acknowledged the stranger’s right to oversee his actions.” Kafka – The Trial

This story originally appeared in BetaKit

Photos by Tyson Dziedzic (http://klixphotography.com)

Kiip’s Brian Wong is Always Looking on the Bright Side of Life

250px-Brian_WongVancouver’s tech “child prodigy” and Kiip (Founder & CEO) Brian Wong swung through town on his way to SXSW, when Startup Grind Vancouver hosted him for a fireside chat.

Wong isn’t one needing much of an introduction. He has the distinction of graduating from high school at 14, and then graduating from UBC’s Sauder School of Business at 18.

Since founding Kiip in 2010, he and the company have received no shortage of attention. It goes with securing over $15 million in venture funding and making numerous lists like Forbes 30 under 30. He also lent commentary to Frontlines recent documentary “Generation Like”.

Even without free beer and snacks he would have packed the house. True to form, Wong was high energy, entertaining, brutally honest and shared some great startup up stories and lessons. Actually, he shared more than just business insights. There’s the unique and very little known fact behind his onetime childhood visit to Albuquerque, NM, as he shared that “I was in a boys choir. Before my voice changed, I sounded like an angel.”

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Talking about his days as the “lowliest business development associate possible” at Digg, he highlighted living an example of the org chart from hell. “The reporting structure was most bizarre. I

eported to a dude, who reported to a dude, who reported to a dude, and the dude at the top with those three people below him each had only one person reporting to them.” Don’t do this kids.

The Digg experience lasted five months. The layoff meant losing his H1B Visa, and having to fly back to Vancouver.  “It was in May, and I told my Mom what happened. She told me it was the worst Mothers Day present she’d ever got. Every Mother’s Day since I try making it up to her with some kind of nice surprise.”

It proved to be a minor setback, as he grabbed a business tourist visa figuring he’d easily hook up with a new company in that six month window. Wong turned conversations about working for others, into validation for starting Kiip. He said, “after telling Scott Kveton the founder of Urban Airship in Portland my idea, his job offer turned into an introduction to True Ventures.

The genesis for Kiip came from Wong observing people’s mobile game play and “trying to recognize when people are happy, and reward them. But reward them serendipitously.” He credit’s reading the book “Predictably Rational” with building his business around the idea that there’s value in “surprising and delighting people.”

In terms of winning those first customers, Wong noted how important it is to pick your initial investors wisely. “They can help you with a lot of nepotism, and finding relationships where they can just help seed the business. Having investors who were part of the Popchips, and Vitamin Water teams helped with them becoming our first customers. It also helped with bringing other big brands on board.”

He’s also a big believer in always telling people what you’re doing all the time. “It’s awesome, and not about having a big ego, over-sharing, or boasting. It’s about sharing your stream of activity and consciousness so that people will know how to help you. You need to figure out how to generate serendipity in your life. You never know who will help you. You’ll never get any help if you’re not constantly communicating what you’re doing.”

In terms of succeeding as a startup outside of “The Valley” Wong was adamant saying, “the world’s a different place today. There’s Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Angel List, and so many organizations like Startup Grind, and the likes of Y Combinator and TechStars there to help you. You can start something anywhere. There’s a thing called a plane. If you really want to find your customers you’ll find them. Using location as an excuse is lame”

There’s no shortage of evidence that points to Wong knowing the value of PR. “Those people who shit-talk PR don’t understand it’s a tactical tool. It’s great for validation, customer acquisition, for information. Why send someone a slide-deck, when you can send them an article that tells them your story?”

I asked Wong what’s nobody talking about today, that they’ll be talking about in a year from now.

He’s most excited about  “looking at data from connected devices. It’s not creating a brand version of something for FitBit. That’s useless. I think one of the biggest opportunities will be looking at moments that come from those devices. We create a currency that’s universally applicable beyond just apps. I envision an internet connected scale saying you’ve lost five pounds, and then having Special K reward you for that moment.”

The youthful exuberance combined with serious business experience left some of the audience needing to catch their breath. It’s evident that no matter what’s thrown at him, Wong’s someone who’s always looking on the bright side of life. Entrepreneurship isn’t easy so it’s worth keeping the life of Brian in mind.