Monthly Archives: October 2017

Teaching autonomous cars to drive

There are a few ways to teach autonomous cars to drive.

One is to have them drive in the real world and to test different autonomy features by enabling them in different contexts. This requires the presence of a human driver who can intervene whenever necessary.

Another is to have them drive in a simulated virtual world.

Finally, you can have them drive in a fake real world. This is a real world setting that’s built for the specific purpose of teaching autonomous cars to drive. So, for example, the roads, signs, and traffic lights reflect real world conditions but dummies are used rather than pedestrians. Here’s an example from the University of Michigan’s Mcity.

The second and third approaches are low risk ways to prepare for the first approach.

Turkey’s Internet Startups

Firat Demirel has been covering Turkey’s tech sector in general and startups in particular for close to 9 years as part of Turkey’s leading tech news website Webrazzi. This gives Firat access to many of Turkey’s leading tech entrepreneurs, a unique perspective on the evolution of the startups founded by these entrepreneurs, and the ability to communicate these stories in clear writing.

Firat is bringing each of these capabilities together to write the book “Turkiye’nin Internet Girisimleri” (translated “Turkey’s Internet Startups”). And he’s raising 40K TL in a reward-based crowdfunding campaign on Arikovani to support the effort.

From following Firat’s writing on Webrazzi, I’m confident that the book is going to be a success, so I participated in the campaign. If you’d also like to support Firat and the creation of this valuable book, you can do so here.

Meaning, uncertainty, and worry

When you do things that you know the outcome of, there’s no reason to worry. You already know that you’ll achieve the outcome.

Worry sets in when you pursue something with an uncertain outcome. The greater the uncertainty of the outcome, the greater the worry.

Looking at things this way, doing things with relatively certain outcomes is an easy way to avoid worry.

However, those things with relatively certain outcomes also tend to be less meaningful. Those things that are worth doing tend to have uncertain outcomes.

So the choice is between doing meaningful things with uncertain outcomes and hence worry, and less meaningful things with relatively certain outcomes and low worry.

There’s room for both. However, most of us naturally gravitate towards the latter in order to minimize worry. Reminding ourselves that the former produce worry for a good reason helps us do more of these things.

TBH is acquired by Facebook

TBH (short for “to be honest”) is an anonymous messaging app that promotes positive communications rather than the negative communications that often plague anonymous messaging apps. We had invested in the app’s parent company at Aslanoba Capital, and TBH was recently acquired by Facebook.

At the time of our investment in February 2015, TBH’s parent company was working on an on-campus messaging app, not the anonymous messaging app that is currently TBH. The team then went through several iterations of other messaging apps before finding success with TBH. This article outlines their journey well. In other words, TBH wasn’t an overnight success, but the result of perseverance, learning, and continual growth.

I commend the TBH team and its CEO Nikita Bier for each of these three traits.

Creativity and performing predefined tasks

Work can be broken down into two different activities. The first is deciding what to do and the second is doing it.

The former requires creativity while the latter requires putting in the time to perform an activity with relatively less brain power.

Since the latter requires less brain power, it’s possible to spend extended periods of time, which I define as more than 12 hours a day, doing it.

Creativity, on the other hand, comes in short bursts. You can’t be creative for 12 hours a day. My creative periods last for 4 to 5 hours a day at best.

As a result, creative roles spend less time working than roles focused on carrying out a predefined task. However, this does not mean that creative roles produce less output as correct decision making is a higher leverage activity than task execution.

In roles that require both creativity and performing predefined tasks, it’s useful to set your daily schedule to allow enough time for your high value creative bursts to occur in the environments and the times of the day when they’re most likely to surface, while spending the remaining time on performing predefined tasks.

The due diligence questionnaire

In an earlier post, I wrote that an investment memo is “a very useful tool to help collect your thoughts in advance of an investment decision. It’s basically a document that summarizes the important factors which help inform an investment decision.”

I also wrote that, “if you’ve done your research and thought about the startup at length, 2 to 3 pages of crisp text written in half a day is all it takes.”  

In other words, the investment memo doesn’t need to be long. The reason for this is that if you’re sufficiently well informed about a company and its market, you know which factors are important for your investment decision and which aren’t.

The same is true for due diligence (DD) questionnaires. A DD questionnaire is a document that an investor sends to a company to gain a deep understanding of how the business works, its team, historical performance, and the proposed transaction, with the goal of developing an informed view on the company’s likely future trajectory. The DD questionnaire is usually sent after one or several meetings with the company.

Similar to the investment memo, a DD questionnaire can be very long. I’ve seen DD questionnaires that are over 10 pages long.

However, very long DD questionnaires usually reflect the fact that the investor hasn’t researched and thought about the business at sufficient length to parse which factors will ultimately determine the success of the company and which won’t. As a result, they look for the sense of comfort that comes from feeling like they’ve covered all the bases by asking every possible question. While this provides short-term comfort, it doesn’t contribute to producing the informed investment decision which increases the investor’s probability of making the right investment that gives them long-term comfort.

If you’ve thought about which factors will ultimately determine the success of a company and which you can ignore, a 2 to 3 page DD questionnaire is all you need.

Levitating objects using sound

Here’s a video of researchers using sound to levitate objects.

The research has so far been applied to small objects. So, for example, it can be used to deliver medicine to those targeted areas in our bodies where the medicine will be most useful rather than to all over our bodies as currently the case.

Many more applications will emerge when we can do the same for large objects.


The first time I visited Dubai was back in 2011. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I was impressed by two things.

The first is how diverse the city is. Dubai is home to not only local Emiratis but also large groups of people from other Middle Eastern countries, Southeast Asia, Africa, the Far East, Europe, and North America. And these aren’t just tourists. Most live in Dubai.

In fact, with 83% of its residents born outside of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is the world’s most international city. During a period of time when many societies across the world are becoming increasingly polarized and isolated, Dubai remains a testament to the ability of diverse humans to live and work together in harmony.

The second thing which struck me is how majestic everything is. From the airport to the highways to the malls to the towers, everything in Dubai is imposingly beautiful.

As I traveled from Dubai to Istanbul yesterday, I realized that neither of these facts have changed. As evidence of the latter fact, here’s a picture of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, in Dubai.

Sleeping on important decisions

Important decisions rarely need to be made on the spot. The clear exception is if it’s a life threatening and hence potentially life saving decision.

For most other decisions, like the decisions you face as an entrepreneur or an investor, you can afford to sleep on it.

Sometimes you know that you don’t have the answer on the spot, and sometimes although you think you do there are likely to be other variables that you haven’t had the time to process in the moment.

Sleeping on the decision for as many nights as necessary to get comfortable with the likelihood and magnitude of its potential consequences is a simple behavioral habit that greatly improves the quality of your decisions and thereby produces greater peace of mind.

Doing important things on a relatively empty stomach

After you eat, your body works to digest what you’ve eaten. Since your body’s energy is directed towards your stomach, this leaves less energy for other organs, including your brain.

This is why your thoughts are less clear after a meal than before one. The heavier the meal, the lower the quality of your post-meal thinking.

As a result, if you have something important to do, it’s best to do it on an empty stomach.

There is, however, a limit to this approach. Specifically, this doesn’t mean that you should starve yourself. If your stomach is too empty, this also prevents you from thinking well because you don’t have any energy for your body to direct towards your brain.

The solution is to keep a relatively empty stomach so long as you’re doing important things. And if you enjoy larger meals, reserve them for times when you don’t have something important to do.