[VIC – 99] I met Nostradamus 🔮. I present to you, 2U 😏 . Unguided meditation. iPhone X 📱

Business & Money

I was talking with someone over the weekend that said “tech stocks are about to crash.” I wanted to pin a gold star on his/her chest emblazoned with word “Nostradamus.”
Predicting what’s going to happen in the market is easy. I mean seriously easy. Here are a few other predictions that you can take to the bank:
Retail, as a category, will recover from the current slump.
Crypto will see a serious correction.
Facebook will fail, or at least become a shadow of its current form.
All dips in the market eventually bounce, and all high flyers eventually lose steam. The prediction isn’t the hard part. Investing is all about timing. Whether you make or lose money is all about when you buy and sell.
So going back to the person I mentioned at the top of this section, what I’d be really curious to understand is that person’s definition of “about to.” Because I agree, tech stocks are “about to” crash. Valuations ARE quite lofty and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bit of a correction in the short term. However, if I think about Amazon as an example, I plan to hold that stock for the next decade at the very least. And when the inevitable correction comes, I will likely add to my position to take advantage of the short-term drawdown.

Human Progress

Education is one vertical that hasn’t benefitted from digital transformation in the same way that other verticals have. Classrooms and the education system more broadly look much as they did 100 years ago. And it really sucks that this is the case because higher education is likely the best way for an individual to achieve upward mobility.
The most frustrating part of this story is that we have all of the tools to make digital education a reality. Students all walk around with supercomputers in their pockets. We have cloud computing and cheap internet access. There’s no shortage of students thirsty for knowledge and and no shortage of educational resources to quench that thirst.
Now it isn’t all doom and gloom. For years now we’ve seen glimmers of hope from online learning platforms like Udemy and EdX. Their user numbers have grown exponentially and they power the ability for continuous learning in a way that wasn’t previously possible. Then there are companies like General Assembly and Hack Reactor that have built immersive certificate programs allowing people to quickly gain new skills and jump-start careers.
Many colleges and universities are even offering their courses online in the form of MOOCs, or massive open online courses. And while this is a great thing, too many are simply uploading lectures and coursework to the internet thinking that will be enough. But it won’t. True digital education at scale will require an approach from first principles.
I’m happy to say that I recently became aware of a company called 2U that is taking such an approach. 2U takes the engineering prowess and agility of a Silicon Valley upstart, and combines it with the centuries-old knowledge and faculty of top universities. In other words, they’ve built a software platform and suite of services that work to accelerate digital transformation at some of the best universities in existence, including Harvard, Northwestern, NYU, and Georgetown. Take a read of the CEO letter from 2U’s 2016 annual report.
And do you want to know what makes me really gitty about 2U, this is marketplace business with serious network effects. The more degree programs offered by 2U, the more students will be attracted to online education. And more students will attract more schools to participate and more degree programs from existing partners. And to sprinkle a cherry on top, 2U will be collecting tons of data along the way about what markets need what programs, which programs are doing well, which degrees lead to job placements, etc. If Google, Facebook, Amazon, and all the platform businesses have taught us anything, it’s that network effects combined with massive datasets pave the way for machine learning to speed up the flywheel.
And the flywheel has only begun. Founded only 9 years ago, 2U has about $200 million in revenue across 24 degree programs from 18 university partners. Revenue growth has been insane and that degree program number will more than triple by 2020.
Ps this isn’t some small scrappy startup. TWOU is a public company and you can come along for the ride! (disclosure: long TWOU)

Philosophy

I’ve gotten the question a few times recently that asks how to transition from guided to unguided meditation. That is, to transition from wearing headphones and listening to instructions, to simply sitting down in silence left to your own devices. The guided sort are great, but the challenge there becomes the fact that you are reliant on the guide and/or the instructions. So then if your phone dies or you forget your headphones, your meditation practice suffers.
So in response to those questions, I’ll outline my process here (I’m no meditation expert – I’ve simply borrowed bits and pieces from things I’ve read and/or guided meditations I’ve done):
First, I usually just sit down to a few deep breaths to relax my mind and body. I tend to do these loudly enough so that someone could hear them if they were sitting close by. For me, these breaths help to release any built up tension and get settled.
Next, I move to checking in with all of the sounds in the room. Those sounds usually consist of buzzing appliances, vehicles outside, my dog walking around, plumbing, and many other things. But the point is not to identify each sound and it’s source, but simply to notice them. It’s pretty remarkable how many sounds there are at any given moment that we are generally oblivious to during the course of regular life.
Next, I check in with my body. I can usually feel the pressure of the floor on my ankle bones more so than any other point of contact. Sometimes there is soreness in my lower back. I can feel my chest and lungs expanding and contracting with each breath. If I pay especially close attention to my breath, the expanding feeling can even be felt in my shoulders and my back. In fact, you can almost feel it throughout your entire body.
Finally, I move to checking in with my mind. Sometimes it’s restless and thoughts about the coming day try to creep into awareness. Sometimes there’s fatigue and a feeling that I haven’t fully woken up yet. Other times a bit of apprehension if I know my schedule is jam packed. On the best days, there’s just an overwhelming sense of calm, relaxation, and simple presence.
What you’ll notice from reading the above is that there aren’t any special tricks. It’s mostly just noticing what’s happening and being present. Checking in with the sounds, physical discomforts, and the movements of the mind simply point your awareness at the here and now. And with each new sounds or sensation, the idea is to simply notice it and move on. A great meditation session is not the absence of all of those things that creep up, but simply the ability to notice them for what they are, without allowing any fixation, emotional connotation, or the like.
I hope this helps.

My Latest Discovery

The new iPhone is pretty magical. My favorite part is FaceID. Before the haters jump in, Yes, Apple was NOT first to market with this technology. But as usual, they’ve done it perfectly and made it magical. An example of this is when you get those notifications that pop up on your lock screen. I just got a pop-up for an upcoming calendar event, and when I glanced at my phone, it automatically unlocked to reveal the true content of the calendar notification. That feels like magic.
With so many things being awesome, there are also a few things that suck. One of those is that the control panel is in the top right corner. With the added screen real estate, it’s a pretty far journey for my thumb to make it to the top right corner of the screen. I’m hoping one of you kind readers has a trick for me to get around this.

[VIC – 90] Lift raising capital. Paradigm shifts in computing. No mac & cheese. Camp Calm.

Business & Money

Apparently, Alphabet (Google) is batting around the idea of a $1 billion investment in Lyft. This is funny and ironic for a whole host of reasons, but I’ll leave those for another day. The thing I’m really thinking about is, what if Lyft just accelerated IPO plans and listed early as a means to raise capital, instead of relying on the private markets?
This would poor serious gasoline on the fire that is the burning chaos over at Uber. First off, I doubt Uber’s private valuation would hold up if the market had an opportunity to value its closest rival. This would lead to serious markdowns from the late stage investors and mutual funds, more board disputes, and more disgruntled employees. It also might further delay Uber from going public to give it more time to grow into its private valuation. Further, it might give Lyft the opportunity to control their own narrative instead of constantly living in Uber’s shadow.
Of course, this is all really just an interesting thought experiment. Once both companies are public, who went first won’t really matter. But it’s interesting to think about nonetheless.

Human Progress

We went from mainframes to PCs, PCs to the internet, and from the internet to mobile. But what comes after smartphones?
Apple would like to think it has something to do with the Apple Watch, and they may be on to something. At their latest Keynote, Apple announced that Watch 3 comes with built-in cellular capability, which is the beginning of the watch’s untethering from the iPhone.
If you remember, this is exactly what Apple did with the iPhone. When the original iPhone launched, it required that you had iTunes running on a computer to be able to use it. That’s how you got your music, backed up data, and installed software updates. Then the app store launched and you could download all software over the air, stream music, and do anything else that software developers could dream up.
Now with Watch 3 + Airpods, the same thing is happening. You can start to imagine a world where you don’t actually need to carry around a smartphone all the time. And as Siri continues to improve, coupled with powerful NLP technology, Apple could be ushering in the next major paradigm shift in computing.

Philosophy

One of the things I love about meditation is the mindfulness that cultivates outside the practice itself.
I went to grab my normal lunch at Dig Inn this past Friday. When I arrived, I saw the macaroni and cheese looking fresh and delicious. Despite my elimination of dairy lately, I thought “maybe I’ll have a cheat day and treat myself to some mac & cheese.” Then not even a second later, I thought “nah, that’s just a temporary craving and I don’t really want it that bad.” The craving had appeared then disappeared in my mind, just like that.
Then I got to the register and the cashier proceeded to ring up the person in line behind me as if I wasn’t even standing there. I got annoyed for a half second, then it was gone. I was in no particular rush.
Then, as I proceeded to the cutlery station to retrieve a pair of silverware, that same girl who had been rung up before me viciously cut me off to get her silverware first. I stepped back, watched her walk away, and just had a little laugh to myself. It’s so confusing to me how rude people can be, while being completely oblivious to it. Haha. No big deal. I just sat down, enjoyed a wonderful lunch, and subsequently had a wonderful day.
All of these cravings and emotional responses just rise and fall seamlessly when you recognize them for what they are, and realize that they need not upset your mindset.

My Latest Discovery

I’ve written here before about how much I love Raptitude, “a blog about getting better at being human.” David Cain, the blog’s author, also runs a virtual mediation retreat called Camp Calm. Registration for the next session opens up this week if you’d like to check it out. It’s a very lightweight introduction to mindfulness and meditation. You won’t regret it.

[VIC – 78] A master plan. The evolution of free speech. Pause and begin again. The most enjoyable book.

Business & Money: a master plan

Do you remember back in 2006 when Elon Musk posted his master plan for Tesla? In short, the steps were as follows:
1) Build a high-end electric sports car
2) Plow all of the $ from sales back into the company in order to move down market with a more affordable model
3) Make consumers “energy positive” (produce more than you consume) via electric cars + other sustainable products like solar panels.
While Elon is killing it and following his plan to a T, he’s not the only one with a master plan. Brian Armstrong, founder & CEO of Coinbase (the largest cryptocurrency exchange), published his own version this week. Brian is on a mission to “create an open financial system for the world” (aka bring digital currency to the masses). I’d recommend taking 4 minutes to read the entire post, but just in case you’re feeling lazy, I’ll summarize it for you.
1) Make it really easy for normal people to invest in digital currency via a retail exchange (Coinbase’s product in its current form).
2) Make it easy for professional traders and institutions to participate in the exchange. Professional traders = higher trading volumes = more liquidity = lower volatility.
3) Create a mass market application to allow regular people to start getting real value from the payment network. In other words, build the killer app for digital currency. (just like the web browser did in facilitating the explosion of the consumer internet)
4) Pour gasoline on the fire by building/investing in/partnering with new applications for digital currency.
I can’t wait to look back on this moment in 10 years and see where things stand. Exciting times we live in!

Human Progress: the evolution of free speech

One of my primary news sources is the Economist. In reading a European publication, and also in speaking with European friends, it seems there are still remnants of social democracy across the pond. By that I mean that there is some memory of shared public space and the public good.
By contrast, individualism reigns supreme in the American context. It’s a core tenant of liberal democracy. Free speech is an excellent example of this. Any person should be able to say anything at any time via any medium (with rare exceptions like saying “bomb” on a plane). This is all good and well. Except for when it’s not.
We now live in a time of so-called “fake news” or “alternate facts.” So, regardless of truthfulness or verifiability, anyone can post a story on social media that has the potential to reach millions in an instant.
It seems we may have arrived at a point where we need a progression or evolution of the concept of free speech. It seems we are in need of shared standards around the quality of information. And these standards should not illicit feelings of an encroachment on the first amendment. I don’t believe a commitment to high quality information and truth equates to censorship.

Philosophy: pause and begin again

I wanted to share a snippet from a guided meditation session a few days ago. (you’ll have to imagine that dreamy guided meditation type of voice)

Just to help you maintain that focus on the breath,
just silently starting to count the breaths as they pass.
One with the rising sensation.
Two with the falling sensation.
Then three, then four.
Just up to a count of 10.
When you get to 10, you can stop,
then start again at 1.
Just try that a couple of times through.
Remember to allow thoughts to come and go,
but the moment you get distracted,
just gently bring the attention back again,
to that physical sensation of the breath

It’s perfectly normal for the mind to wander off.
Remember as soon as you get distracted,
as soon as you realize that the mind has wandered off,
just gently bringing the attention back again
and just picking it up on the number you left off on.

This is such a powerful idea. Many people say that the hardest part about meditation is calming the mind. You have so many thoughts running around at any given moment. How can you possibly just sit and think about nothing?
But that’s exactly the point. It’s perfectly normal to get distracted. It’s not about being perfect, but instead just allowing the distraction to come and go. As soon as the mind wanders off, just refocus the attention and begin again.
There are so many of these moments in life. For me personally, I lose deals at work, get upset with my fiance, have disagreements with family and friends… the list is never ending.
Whenever these things happen, meditation has made it easier to simply pause, refocus, and begin again.

My Latest Discovery – the most enjoyable book

Surely You Must Be Joking Mr. Feynman is one of the most fun and enjoyable books in existence. It’s not often that I’m constantly chuckling and smiling to myself as I flip through the pages of a book.
The book is about the life of the world renowned and Nobel winning physicist Richard Feynman. It’s really just Feynman telling short stories throughout his life in very simple and informal terms. He has an unbelievable way using seemingly frivolous events to convey profound ideas. It’s truly amazing!
BUT WAIT!! If you decide to check it out, watch this video first.

It’s Feynman talking about light. Seeing his quirky mannerisms and hearing how excited he is allows you to really see and hear the stories while you read.
If you don’t laugh while reading this, leave me a comment and I will reimburse you for the cost of the book. Scouts honor!