Startup Investments

When I retired from IBM at the end of 2001, I joined a number of boards, some for profit, some not-for-profit. I also got involved in a number of startup companies. Some of the startups were just an investment, and in others I took an active role.

Startups are exciting. Most of them don’t make it, but some change the world and provide great returns to the investors. Startups get their initial funding in a number of ways. In some cases, it is a founder and friends who had a successful exit from another startup and put their gains to work in another one. Such founders are often called “serial entrepreneurs”. In other cases, the startup is funded by a venture capital firm. Some VCs are small, but some invest billions of dollars in a portfolio of startups. Other startups are funded by Angel investors. A small number of “angels” make a significant investment and then make a profit when a VC comes along and invests after the startup has shown good progress.

I have been an angel investor in a number of startup companies, and I would like to tell you more about one of them and how you might participate. About four years ago, I was looking for some assistance on a technical question. I visited an online freelancer website and posed my question. I got many responses from people who said they could help, but one, Bilal Athar in Lahore, Pakistan, impressed me with his technical knowledge and his outstanding communications skills. He solved my problem, and then he asked if I would be his mentor. I agreed and later became an investor in his company, Wifigen. Bilal’s idea was to make WiFi service more reliable and manageable. He proved the technology in Pakistan and more than three million people used the publicly available service.

I was not sure where the investment would lead, but I could tell Bilal’s expert knowledge of WiFi and networking would lead to something. Over the three years which followed, I funded a development team Bilal had recruited, and the technology became more refined. A friend in Connecticut joined me as an investor and Wifigen refined its strategy. We established Wifigen as a U.S. company based in Delaware, Wifigen LLC.

Millions of small U.S. retailers such as coffee shops, gyms, hotels, pubs, etc. offer free WiFi to their customers. However, the proprietors are blind to how many of their customers use it and who uses it. Wifigen solves that problem by collecting an email address in return for the free WiFi. A pilot installation in Northeast Pennsylvania has had more than 16,000 customers login in through Wifigen. New users are automatically entered into the retailer’s marketing communications database so the proprietor can reach out to them, thank them for stopping by, offer a free cup of coffee to come back, etc.

It has become clear through the PA test that Wifigen has a solid value proposition for small retailers. Bilal plus the other investor and I have decided to raise $250,000 to fund the company well into next year to build out the product offering and put a U.S. effort in place to acquire and support customers. To raise the money, Wifigen will be using a new crowdfunding platform called Wefunder. Instead of a few angel investors making large investments, Wefunder enables a large number of investors to make smaller investments.

The crowdfunding approach was introduced as part of the Jobs Act 3.0 which the House passed 406 to 4 in 2018. Wifigen filed the Form C (C for crowdfunding) documentation with the SEC on Wednesday night and the official fund raising has begun. Anyone can participate. Take a look at https://wefunder.com/wifigen and you can see a video of Bilal and the board explaining the strategy, plus a lot of information about what Wifigen is and how it works, why it can be a good investment, what are the risks, and how to invest as little as $250 or thousands. Please share this with any friends you think might be interested.

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Robot Attitude Preface

Robot Attitude Now Available

The “It’s All About Attitude” Series just grew by one. I am working with Amazon to create a Series page with links to all the versions of all the books. Getting everything linked properly may take a week or so. In the meantime, I would like to share the Robot Attitude Preface with you. This may help you decide if you want to read the book. The red medallion above will take you directly to the Kindle version special at just $4.99. The print version is available there too.


Preface

If you are a pessimist and revel in the gloom and doom the future may hold, robots and artificial intelligence (AI) can add a lot of fodder. Robots are mostly in manufacturing plants today, but their presence is growing in many other places, including hospitals, restaurants, retail stores, and homes. Millions of jobs will be replaced by robots. AI will become pervasive in finance, insurance, and legal companies, healthcare, and educational institutions replacing lawyers, accountants, financial analysts, radiologists, teachers, and professors. As robots and AI get smarter, some believe there may not be much left for humans to do. Ultimately, the robots and AI could merge, and form a new population of super strong and super intelligent beings. The new beings may look back at history and see how humans have wiped out numerous species over time.[i] Then, they may conclude humans are no longer needed. The End.

The End is Near

Some experts believe what I describe in the opening paragraph is a very real threat. They believe humanity is at great risk. The late Stephen Hawking, an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author, and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge, said that efforts to create thinking machines pose a threat to our very existence. He told the BBC, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”[ii] Elon Musk, Founder of Tesla and SpaceX, said, “If you’re not concerned about AI safety, you should be. Vastly more risk than North Korea. In the end the machines will win.”[iii]

Musk and other thought leaders have formed a billion-dollar non-profit company called OpenAI to work toward safer AI.[iv] OpenAI’s mission is to provide guidelines to build safe AI and help ensure AI’s benefits are as widely and evenly distributed as possible. OpenAI expects AI technologies to be hugely beneficial in the short term, but in the long term, if not created properly and with appropriate regulation, it sees the potential for great harm. OpenAI is working to develop principles which can prevent damage to society.

The Future is Bright

I believe the opening paragraph is a pessimistic view. I have an optimistic view, at least in the near term, about robots and AI. I believe the future is bright. This belief is the subject of Robot Attitude: How Robots and AI Will Make Our Lives Better. A robot attitude is one with which we embrace the new technology, not fear it and fight it. The new technology is coming. I will describe how it can improve productivity, make things easier, make our homes incredibly smart, add convenience, improve safety in dangerous jobs, enhance all aspects of healthcare, and much more.

Every segment of our business and personal lives will experience transformations. For example, with the introduction of robots and AI into the home, we will see healthcare rise to a higher level as robots and AI will assist with clinical services such as stroke rehabilitation. A humanoid robot will be a welcome companion to chronically ill homebound patients.

I have been thinking about writing this book for several years. Research for the book has been enlightening but also has reminded me of many of my early technology based hobbies. I started with toys and blocks, but they were much more than toys and blocks to me. They had practical purposes. The earliest building experience I can recall was with Lincoln Logs. Then came Erector Sets. There were no Lego construction sets when I was a child but, if there had been, I would surely have been an enthusiastic builder. Chemistry sets, junior scientist kits, and amateur radio piqued my interest. In my adult years, the trend continued with GPS, digital cameras, personal digital assistants, personal computers, home automation, 3-D printing, virtual reality goggles, airplanes, motorcycles, electric cars, and now robots and AI.

Currently, robot and AI technologies are different from each other. I treat them as two separate topics. My overarching goal in the book is to make robots and AI understandable. The technology is incredibly powerful but extremely complicated. I did my best to avoid using technical jargon. The extraordinary growth of storage and computational power in the cloud, combined with reliable high-speed Internet service and ubiquitous connectivity, have made things possible which were science fiction a few years ago. I will break down the technology to the component level, describe how it works, what it can do for businesses, homes, and organizations of any type, and share my vision about implications for the future.

New developments in Robot and AI technologies are happening every day. The topics are expansive and cannot be covered comprehensively in one reasonably sized book. I have done my best to provide a robust bibliography and links in the Notes section near the end of the book. If some of the things I have written about aroused your interest, you can fire up your favorite search engine and dig as deeply as you would like. You can also visit robotattitude.info, the companion website to this book. The site has videos, articles, and courses where you can explore, learn more, and find important developments after Robot Attitude was published. You will find references to the site throughout the book. I hope Robot Attitude whets your appetite to learn more.


[i] Elijah Wolfson, “Humans Comprise Just 0.01% of the Total Weight of Life on Earth, but Have Destroyed Far More,”  Quartz (2018), https://qz.com/1290434/human-comprise-0-01-of-the-total-weight-of-life-on-earth-but-are-responsible-for-killing-nearly-all-wild-mammals/
[ii] Rory Cellan-Jones, “Stephen Hawking Warns Artificial Intelligence Could End Mankind,”  BBC (2014), https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-30290540
[iii] Lisa Marie Segarra, “Elon Musk: AI Poses ‘Vastly More Risk Than North Korea’,”  Fortune (2017), http://fortune.com/2017/08/12/elon-musk-ai-poses-vastly-more-risk-than-north-korea/
[iv] Maureen Dowd, “Elon Musk’s Billion-Dollar Crusade to Stop the A.I. Apocalypse,”  Hive (2017), https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/03/elon-musk-billion-dollar-crusade-to-stop-ai-space-x

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Robot Attitude is Live on Amazon

I am pleased to announce Robot Attitude: How Robots and Artificial Intelligence Will Make Our Lives Better was released on Amazon early Friday morning with an official publishing date of August 1. Kindle and print versions are available. Everyone on the alert list was notified as promised, and I would like to thank all those who read early drafts and made suggestions.

One new thing is all of my books are now officially part of a Series called “It’s All About Attitude”. Amazon will be creating a Series page showing all the books. I have believed for many years many large opportunities and problems have their roots in attitude. I also believe the solutions and ways forward to the future are based on attitude. All the books in the Series address significant problems and opportunities. I have tried to offer a positive perspective on how an attitude change can reap major improvements in key areas which affect all of us. Many examples related to this are in the books.

Now, for your reading pleasure, here is the Series with links directly to the Amazon pages. The Kindle version of Robot Attitude has a special launch price of $4.99.

TitleFormat
Robot Attitude: How Robots and Artificial Intelligence Will Make Our Lives Better (2019)Kindle
Paperback
Home Attitude: Everything You Need To Know To Make Your Home Smart (2017)Kindle
Paperback
Election Attitude – How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy (2016)Kindle
Paperback
Audible
Net Attitude: What it is, How to Get it, and Why it is More Important Than Ever (Version 2) (2016)Kindle
Paperback
Health Attitude: Unraveling and Solving the Complexities of Healthcare (2015)Kindle
Paperback
Audible
Net Attitude: What It Is, How to Get It, and Why Your Company Can’t Survive Without It (Version 1) (2001)Kindle
Hard Cover

The other exciting development is that Wifigen, a startup where I am Executive Chairman, is about to launch a crowdfunding campaign on Wefunder. I know some readers are interested in investing in this, and I will have a more complete update next week.

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AI for Insurance

AI becomes useful in an industry where there is a lot of data available. In the insurance industry, there are no factories, warehouses, or retail stores, but there is an abundance of data. Insurance companies thrive when they properly estimate the risks involved when insuring people or assets against losses. For example, car insurance premiums are generally greatly influenced by the age of the insured driver. Consider the premium for liability coverage of $100,000 bodily injury per person per accident, $300,000 total bodily injury for each accident, and $100,000 property damage per accident. The average premium for drivers aged 16 to 19 is $2,999. [i] The same coverage for persons aged 40 to 44 is $1,603 and for persons aged 60 to 64 the premium is $1,169.[ii] One might think older people pose a greater risk, but the data does not support that view. An online insurance broker put it this way,

The elderly get in less high-speed accidents, and it’s not only because they drive 35 miles per hour on the highway. Their experience on the road gives them a huge advantage. Studies show that once you get old, you start to learn more about your limitations on the road, and therefore take fewer risks. As a result, car accidents involving the elderly tend to be much less serious in nature.[iii]

Historically, setting premiums based on age and geography has been the most reliable data available to the insurance company risk departments. With today’s technology, it is possible data could become available directly from cars, including what routes the driver takes, how fast he or she drives, how hard they brake, how often they swerve, and even how often they had to take control of the vehicle away from any semi-self-driving modes. The result could be car insurance premiums which are set up based on how safely you drive, not how old you are. Elon Musk, CEO of electric car maker Tesla, said that the company plans to enter the insurance business. He said on an April 2019 earnings call, “If a driver uses his or her vehicle in a crazy way, Tesla could raise the customer’s insurance rate”.[iv] Jared Shelly, a journalist, wrote, “Imagine life insurance on a pay-as-you-live basis, where rock climbing will increase your premium and a yoga class will decrease it.”[v]

On the claims side of the insurance business, new automotive technology could use onboard sensors to determine the damage from an accident. Onboard cameras can provide evidence of exactly what happened and what other pedestrians or vehicles were involved. A smartphone app with an AI driven assistant could step the car owner through a simple claims process.

A New York based startup called Lemonade, a property and casualty insurance company, is using AI to transform the business model of insurance. The company boasts,

By injecting technology and transparency into an industry that often lacks both, we’re creating an insurance experience that is fast, affordable, and hassle free. Unlike any other insurance company, we gain nothing by delaying or denying claims (we take a flat fee!), so we handle and pay as many claims instantly as possible. Lemonade has targeted the market of home and renter insurance for urban dwellers. Using AI, the company boasts it makes everything instant with 90 seconds to get insured and 3 minutes to get paid for a claim.[vi] Lemonade has an artificial intelligence bot named Maya which the company says, “will craft the perfect insurance for you. It couldn’t be easier, or faster.”[vii]

You can read more about AI in insurance, banking, healthcare, manufacturing, agriculture, and much more in Robot Attitude: How Robots and Artificial Intelligence Will Make Our Lives Better. If you are not on the list to get notified when Robot Attitude is published, click here. I will be sending an email to everyone on the list as soon as the book is available on Amazon.


[i] “How Age Affects Auto Insurance Rates,”  4AutoInsuranceQuote.com (2017), https://www.4autoinsurancequote.com/learning-center/how-age-affects-auto-insurance-rates/
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Michael Martinez, “How Tesla Plans to Cut Customers’ Insurance Costs: Tap into Autopilot,”  Automotive News (2019), https://www.autonews.com/finance-insurance/how-tesla-plans-cut-customers-insurance-costs-tap-autopilot
[v] Jared Shelly, “What Insurance Will Look Like in 2030,”  Risk&Insurance (2019), https://riskandinsurance.com/what-insurance-will-look-like-in-2030/
[vi] “Forget Everything You Know About Insurance,”  Lemonade (2019), https://www.lemonade.com/
[vii] Ibid.

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Mobile Voting – Utah Becomes The Third

Utah County has joined Denver and West Virginia as the latest jurisdiction in the U.S. to implement blockchain-based mobile voting. The County will make voting much easier for military and dependents overseas in the upcoming municipal primary. Data from the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) shows in 2016 there were 3 million U.S. citizens living abroad who cast approximately 208,000 ballots. The overseas voter turnout was just 7%. It is just too difficult and unreliable to vote with paper ballots, especially for the military.

In 2012, 2016, and 2018 there were approximately 100 million people who could have voted but did not. Some were apathetic, maybe 10-15%, but most could not get to the polls or had unexpected last minute healthcare issues or duties of care or employment. The Boston based Voatz startup has demonstrated it can facilitate safe, secure, private, and verifiable voting using the mobile Internet combined with face or finger recognition and blockchain technologies.

Solutions such as provided by Voatz will be the default method of voting at some point. When I wrote Election Attitude – How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy in 2016, I thought there was a good chance we would have widespread use of mobile voting by 2018. The various scares and resistance from anti-Internet voting activists slowed things down. The sooner we have modern mobile voting the sooner we can enfranchise tens of millions of voters and gain a stronger democracy. 

Source: Utah Becomes The Third U.S. Jurisdiction To Offer Blockchain-Based Mobile Voting

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