How to beat jet lag with biohacking

I am a biohacker and I’ve been biohacking for over a decade now. 

Being a practitioner for that long means that I’ve had to chart my way through the unavoidable messiness and realities of everyday life as an entrepreneur. I travel frequently for work. I speak at conferences. I hang at after-conference parties. Rarely do the lives of entrepreneurs drown in a sea of sameness.

Last month after I shared my top tips for entrepreneurs (and others!) to biohack their way to success, I was asked repeatedly over messages, emails, calls, and IRL, what I did in each of the situations that I described above. (Thank you for these conversations. We are all learning – I definitely am.) I promised to share the biohacking techniques that work best for me. 

A few weeks ago, when I traveled to Shanghai to speak at the China Hospitality Technology Alliance (CHTA) conference, I had the opportunity to practice and finetune the practices that help me deal with jet lag. There is a 15 hour time difference between my home base, Los Angeles, and Shanghai. I spoke on stage a day after landing in Shanghai. I had important discussions lined up for the day I landed back in Los Angeles.

I didn’t fly myself to Shanghai. And no, I didn’t get jet lag from this flight. Flying isn’t always stressful! Do you recognize the port I am flying over?

Here’s my current protocol to beat jet lag and stay productive longer:

#1. Biohacking tips before the flight biohacking tips

  • I shift my sleep schedules to the new time zone a day before I fly – giving my body some time to adjust, and usually giving me some uninterrupted focus time at night to clear out any pending action items. I use jetlagrooster.com with the right settings to time things just right. 
  • I take supplements – Ashwagandha (an adaptogenic Ayurvedic herb) and magnesium – to help combat stress. 

#2. During the flight

  • My supplement regimen continues while flying:
    • I take a supplement that combines CoQ10 and PQQ to help maintain my energy levels. Both CoQ10 and PQQ improve mitochondrial function – read about the benefits here and here. I usually take these every 2-4 hours on the flight.
    • I rely on chamomile tea or tiny amounts of melatonin to help sleep deeply during transit. 0.3-0.5mg doses are recommended over the commonly available 1-5mg pills.
    • I keep 5,000 mcg Methyl B-12 (methylcobalamin) lozenges handy for a quick energy boost without needing to resort to the typically horrendous coffee served on planes.
    • I combine ear plugs with noise cancellation headphones to reduce the constant auditory stress of flying. With a few minutes of patience, you can even watch TV/movies this way.
    • I use compression socks/pants occasionally to help circulation
    • Drinks: I’d say skipping alcohol on flights is an absolute must – the impact of alcohol on our bodies when we fly is far worse than if we were on land. It leaves us dehydrated even more than usual flying (Surprisingly, KLM addresses this on their blog), interferes with the sleep that we need while traveling. Studies also show that alcohol disrupts REM sleep. I choose to drink lots and lots of water instead to stay hydrated. 
    • Food: I usually fast when I fly. It allows me to get through my hours of intermittent fasting easily and reset my sleep schedule. Dave Asprey explains the link between fasting and sleep with ease

When you eat, your brain makes a tight link between your sleep and light-dark cycles. Fasting activates a part of your brain called the dorsomedial nucleus that makes you less rigid with your sleep schedule. In a fasted state, you’re more able to reset your sleep schedule to match your environment, meaning you can adjust to time differences and jet lag with ease.

#3. After the flight

  • I expose my skin and eyes to sunlight when possible after landing, helping my body synchronize with the new day/night cycle and regulate melatonin and cortisol production.
  • I walk barefoot on grass after landing. This is a process called earthing. And before you laugh this one off, read about the benefits uncovered by researchers from US and Polish universities: Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface Electrons
  • While I’m not a 5am gym rat, I look to get plenty of activity or a work out in after all the sedentary time, especially if I land in the morning or afternoon.
  • This may go without saying, but no late afternoon or early evening naps. There be dragons!

These are my tips – they work for me. I’d love to hear more about what techniques work best for you. Did any of mine resonate with you?

Why the world’s busiest smartconcierge, Ivy, is a woman

“Can we call her Sandy instead?” The first time we heard that question from someone considering Ivy for their hotel, we froze. And a second later, cheerfully refused to change Ivy’s name.

Naturally, we are attached to Ivy as the name for our smartconcierge. More importantly though, we are proud of the results driven by the consistent persona and the thinking that led to the decision to call Ivy, Ivy.  

Gender and AI: Smartconcierge Ivy is a woman

The first (and more) obvious reason we will never change Ivy’s name to Tim, Sally, Mark or anything else is because we want to offer guests a consistent persona who is available to take care of their every need. Regardless of the hotel they stay in, guests can text Ivy and expect immediate help. This promise of a consistent experience isn’t merely for Go Moment’s benefit. It is in our clients’ interests too. A recent loyalty study shows that while effective brand representatives drive 3.9X higher member satisfaction (!), only 19% of end customers say that brand representatives make them feel special and recognized. That’s an instant win for 81% of guests that Ivy delivers right out of the box.

Let’s say that as a guest, I called the front desk to order a bottle of Nebbiolo. Tim answers the phone and then transfers me over to Mark from room service, who then passes me to Sally at the bar to check if that particular wine is available… that is a fail. I am unlikely to remember anyone’s name later, and already feel like a hot potato being handed off among a dozen people for (what seems to me) a simple request for some wine. Sound exaggerated? Here’s how a long-time hotel front desk worker reported feeling about the question “Don’t you remember me?”:

Let me think about this…average of 500 guest interactions a day…it’s been two years since you stayed with us. So that’s a clean quarter of a million separate interactions since your last stay. Wait…Wait! No. No, I don’t remember you.

Let’s jump to the more important reason why Ivy is called that. Ivy is a woman – that’s how we have thought of her since early design stages. As an aside, I consciously switched from female to woman after several conversations with friends. This is probably an old debate now since almost no one I know uses the word female anymore. Right? Right. If you are still using female, read this Buzzfeed article.

Why did we shape Ivy, an AI assistant, to be a woman? When designing our smartconcierge, we wanted to create a personality that would be attentive, warm and caring. Seems like an easy jump from here to creating an assistant that is a woman? Not quite.

Even back then, our group was aware of stereotypes and the raging debates of why most AI assistants are cast as women. The default setting for Alexa, Google Home, Siri, Cortana is a woman’s voice. Ask your Google Assistant something – a woman’s voice is likely to answer back. Chandra Steele, over at PC Mag, had another example to share:

Consider that IBM’s Watson, an AI of a higher order, speaks with a male voice as it works alongside physicians on cancer treatment and handily wins Jeopardy. When choosing Watson’s voice for Jeopardy, IBM went with one that was self-assured and had it use short definitive phrases. Both are typical of male speech—and people prefer to hear a masculine-sounding voice from a leader, according to research—so Watson got a male voice.

The Real Reason Voice Assistants Are Female (and Why it Matters)

Gender bias in AI is real. And we need to address it. Julie Teigland, Managing Director at EY, talks of why we need to look at this urgently: Why we need to solve the issue of gender bias before AI makes it worse. I can’t agree more.

And yet, Ivy is a woman. While creating Ivy, we went back to evolutionary biology and learned that in general, we find higher pitched voices more comforting and less likely to trigger fight or flight-type reactions. For example, if you said something inappropriate to an AI named “Mark” as a test, and he told you to “cut it out,” it may come off more aggressive than intended in a lower timbre according to evolutionary biology.  

Then there were practical considerations, like text message message character length limits and CUI (Conversational User Interface) design best practices (though the term CUI didn’t exist in any meaningful way when we created Ivy!).

We fell in love with the name Ivy. It’s short, playful, powerful and global – Ivy is a common name across the US, Europe, Australia and large parts of Asia. It was exciting to be able to communicate all the complexity of a system powered by billions of dollars of AI R&D in three letters.

Were we right in designing Ivy as a woman?

I am watching the launch of Q, the first genderless voice (as the creators call it) with interest.

In the hospitality industry, are we ready to embrace this concept? Have any thoughts to share?

How digitally advanced are we?

This isn’t pretty. In April 2016, McKinsey Global Institute looked at how digitization has taken hold across various industries in the US economy.

They looked at 27 different indicators and grouped them into three categories: organizations’ spend on buying the latest tech assets (computers, servers, software, etc), how these assets are used across the organization, and how employees integrate these tools in their day-to-day tasks.

How did we in the hospitality industry fare? Third from the bottom, just above agriculture and construction.

hospitality industry digitization

This isn’t pretty. As an industry, we’ve made progress in some fields (interactions with guests, service providers, vendors) but have barely scratched the surface in areas that can vastly improve productivity and efficiency. Take a look, for instance, at our industry’s score when it comes to the everyday digital tools that employees have access to.

I take some comfort in the fact that this study is three years old. Beyond that, all I have are questions. And some ideas – watch out for a post soon.

What do you think we can do as an industry to level up and grab the advantages of digital advancement?

Up above

Los Angeles International Airport. Terminal 4.

LA based photographer, Mike Kelley, created this image as part of a series, Life Cycles, that “explores the creation, use, and destruction of aircraft…The images were created entirely from above, opposite to our usual experience of seeing aircraft from below or within.” The entire series is worth a look.

Check out this version of LAX in 1972:
https://i.imgur.com/4Sv3vJc.png

Image copyright: Mike Kelley, United States. This print is available for sale too.


(I’ve been collecting beautiful images for inspiration since 2010. Check the archives under vwls.)

How entrepreneurs can biohack their way to better results

Dave Asprey, the founder of Bulletproof Nutrition, plans to live until at least 180 years. It isn’t a wayward claim – Asprey has been saying this for a long time and routinely asks his podcasts guests “how long do you plan to live?”

How does he plan to live that long? Is it possible to plan at all? It may be, through biohacking: the art and science of improving human performance. For decades now, biohackers around the world have been changing their environment from the inside-out to gain control over their bodies. In the world of biohacking, one size doesn’t fit all – hence the push to treat bodies as personal laboratories to find the exact “hacks” that help upgrade an individual’s performance.

Biohacking benefits for entrepreneurs

Biohacking pays

Why do I, a hotel tech and artificial intelligence entrepreneur, care about biohacking? More importantly, why should you? Let’s start with just three benefits.

Longevity

The obvious answer to why we should be according biohacking a great deal of seriousness is, of course, longevity. In the Blue Zones of the world, people live to 100 years of age and the longest recorded human lifespan is around 120. Assuming Asprey’s claim of living to 180 years is possible, we are talking about an extra 60-90 years of a healthy life! Think of all the good that can be done if the world’s wisest elders had decades more of energetic, mobile life to continue their contributions. What if Einstein was alive today at 140 years of age, furthering his research, instead of dying at 76?

Sounds unbelievable? It may not, once we dive into biohacking in greater detail.

Quality of life

If longevity doesn’t cut it, think instead of the quality of life. Improved cognitive performance, increased productivity, working on our body and mind before we get sick – are all real possibilities with biohacking. While doctors today are primarily focused on treating illnesses, with biohacking we are looking at individualized, self-directed, and preventive healthcare. This isn’t new – we have known about this for decades now through the science of epigenetics.

A WHO study that dates all the way back to the 1980s has shown that only about 10% of our health depends on genetics, while 70% depends on lifestyle choices. That means you can have control over this 70%. Essentially, biohacking is about acting before you experience problems, about tracking your health parameters, and giving your body what it needs to boost productivity.

Serge Faguet

Work smarter

This isn’t an efficiency vs productivity debate alone – though like I’ve said previously, biohacking can improve cognitive performance. Working smarter also involves reducing stress levels and hormones in our system, ensuring that we have more energy, better sleep, better focus & concentration in order to achieve improved performance at work and home.

Biohacking: I’m a believer

I can attest to the benefits that I have personally accrued over the decade that I have been involved in biohacking. Connect with me if you want to chat about these benefits directly.

Biohacking has its share of critics. Here is one self-professed “health nerd” terming it “bullshit” and “nothing new.” And another one talking about the hubris of biohacking. There are plenty of people criticizing Dave Asprey in particular, who is mentioned in the dictionary definition of biohacking. I am not diving into a full-fledged defense of biohacking here. But then, this isn’t a fad I am jumping on either.

The first biohacking workshop (this was on quantified self) that I attended was over a decade ago. And since then, I have attended several conferences including the recent Upgrade Labs’ annual biohacking conference in Beverly Hills. With each conference I attend, there is a new horizon, a new layer to uncover. This conference was no different – the cryotherapy chamber by CryoScience which had me at -157 °F for two minutes was one the most notable experiences.

Nootropics

Anyone familiar with biohacking will tell you that eating right and smart drug experimentation go hand in hand. For about a decade now, I have been experimenting with mild nootropics.

Nootropics is an umbrella term for a class of chemicals — most naturally-occurring, some man made — that give cognitive benefits to the human brain. Here is a beginner’s explanation of nootropics, and here is a more nerdy and rich source of first-hand experiences on nootropics. It is a deep rabbit hole for anyone willing to engage. There are people who attest to incredible benefits, yet others report no impact or typically mild negative effects. My personal favorites are L-Theanine, Curcumin (commonly found in turmeric), and Ashwagandha. All of these have been well-studied with almost no potential downside in reasonable doses, and very well-proven upsides.

Biohacking routines

If you’re curious and want to start on the journey, I’d recommend starting with these practices:

Cold Rinse

  • Time investment: 3 minutes a day
  • Time to feel positive effects: 30 days
  • Recommendation: Take a 2-3 minute cold rinse after your normal hot or cold shower. A cold rinse may sound terrible, but it’s super energizing once you’re over the initial few days of flailing and gasping. Start with a 10 second cold rinse and slowly build up to the maximum cold you can handle. Focus on breathing steadily right through.
  • Why this is important: This rinse helps kill off weak or dying cells in your body (Take a look at hormesis) and helps you gain control over your “fight or flight” response. Chronic stress is linked with overactivation of this fight or flight response, which may currently be over activated within you, causing all kinds of lifestyle issues.

Start A Gratitude Journal

  • Time investment: 5 minutes a day
  • Time to feel positive effects: 30 days
  • Recommendation: Write down three things that you’re grateful for first thing in the morning, and three more just before sleeping.
  • Why this is important: Negative talk in your head holding you back? Hack it with this practice. It doesn’t matter how unimportant or insignificant you think each gratitude item is – even clean water, fresh sheets, reliable electricity count. I know this sounds woo-woo (I thought the same), but the science is compelling. Our minds naturally pay more attention to negative information, which steals our limited attention away from positive information. This was really useful when we were hunting (and being hunted) in the jungle, but presents almost as a design flaw in modern humans.

Lift Heavy Occasionally, Recover Like A Beast

Sleep Right

  • Time investment: 7-8.5 hours a day (non negotiable)
  • Time to feel positive effects: 7 days
  • Recommendation: Spend at least 8 hours in bed every night and 9 hours on workout days.
  • Why is this important: You will likely sleep over 200,000 hours in your life. Have you received even 1 minute of formal instruction on how to succeed at this critical practice? Any sleep training that parents put us through doesn’t count in this instance; the goals they had in mind were different. Enter Why We Sleep, a brilliant book that fills the educational gap here. I think this should be required reading around age 12.

Supplement With Adaptogens

  • Time investment: 1 minute
  • Time to feel positive effects: 30 days
  • Recommendation: Incorporate adaptogenic herbs into your supplementation routine
  • Why are these important:  Do you know about the adaptogen class of herbs? These herbs help your body restabilize regardless of whether you are too high or too low on a specific health marker.

If your cortisol is high, adaptogens help lower it. If your cortisol is low, adaptogens help raise it. Adaptogens can also increase your resilience against aging, stress, and anxiety, and even physical injury. Some can even improve your mental performance. One study found that Rhodiola, one of the most Bulletproof adaptogens can help with problems like, “decline in work performance, sleep difficulties, poor appetite, irritability, hypertension, headaches, and fatigue… developing subsequent to intense… intellectual strain.”

Dave Asprey

They’re pure magic relative to most Western medicine, which can typically only help you either lower or raise a specific marker, often with the risk of toxicity and side effects, which do not seem to be associated with adaptogens at all. Other adaptogens worth considering include rhodiola rosea, ginseng (Asian, Siberian, American species), astragalus, licorice root, and schisandra.

Try Intermittent Fasting

In short: eat, sleep, think, and move right, and you’ll have a performance edge over a vast majority of people. Are you nailing the basics? Add a few other tricks to your bag if you’re aiming to perform among the best in your field.

Room with a view

Fairmont Chateau Lake Eloise

We are incredibly lucky in the hotel industry – location advantage is just one of several that we have to be thankful for. This is the Walliser Stube restaurant at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Eloise.

Have you been there?

Image: Room with a view. Copyright with Aimee Hernandez Photography. Print for sale at https://aimhernandez.smugmug.com/Prints/i-dTc7Lf9/A

(I’ve been collecting beautiful images for inspiration since 2010. Check the archives under vwls.)

Why efficiency is overrated

Efficiency, often, isn’t the right goal for me. It probably may not be the right one for you either.

When I say this, I’m clearly not talking of lap times in a car racing game, or how quickly you can stack and unstack cups. Routine tasks beg for optimization – and consequently create a critical difference between productivity and efficiency. I’m not going to dive into the differences here (that’s altogether a different post for later). For now though, I want to talk about why efficiency can’t be an unquestioned, revered goal. Before incredulity slams the window of attention shut, let’s consider this. What does efficiency mean to you?

Mantra for success

Shane Parrish in his blog, Farnam Street, addresses this head on. His provocatively titled post, Getting Ahead By Being Inefficient, is worth the 5-minute read. But if you only want a taste, here is the extract defining efficiency:

Many of us feel constant pressure to adapt perfectly to our environments, especially our workplaces. Don’t waste time, we’re told. Maximize the output of your moments. Minimize your energy expenditure. If you aren’t getting great, someone else is, so before you collapse into a heap of perceived failure, take stock and improve your efficiency. We assume this is the ticket to success—to continually strive to be the best at whatever we are doing.

Efficiency = Least amount of time + effort = Best way to complete a task = Success

If this mantra sounds familiar, it is because we’ve all heard it repeatedly. And for what it’s worth, we’ve had tips (“How to be the most efficient you”) handed out regularly too: look at this Inc article or this Trivago blog post.

Local vs Global

Within a work environment, it’s easy to understand why efficiency is considered a virtue. It is linked to dollars. We want our organizational processes, our teams to be as efficient as possible, as fast as possible. If we don’t plan to always sprint towards efficiency, we as entrepreneurs and the organizations we start/lead are destined to burn cash and ultimately fail. Right? (Spoiler alert: Wrong.)

What then is the problem with efficiency? In Parrish’s words:

Efficiency is great in an unchanging environment, but to expect an environment to remain static is unrealistic. Environments change all the time. When workplaces value efficiency in a changing environment, they become fragile.

At its core, in our preoccupation with efficiency, we aim for a local maximum, climbing the hill nearby. The true goal instead should be to find the global maximum – a mountain that is some distance off – since this pursuit better answers the needs of the market in the long run.

Applied narrowly to our hospitality industry, this local vs global maximum translates into the hotel operations team determinedly chasing efficiency targets by asking fewer staff to keep up with more guest communications through an unprecedented number of channels (in person, phone, text, email, reviews, etc.). This is what I call the “help staff help guests” mode of operations. Based on millions of guest conversations, it’s clear: guest needs have evolved far beyond the physical realm of towels and room service. Today’s most common guest requests are now bite-sized and informational, where we have to get truly productive before we turn our attention to efficiency.

And ay, there lies the rub. Yes, improving the status quo a bit (say, 2-3%) creates more efficiency. But would that be the best possible outcome?

Innovation = inefficient?

If we travel further down the path of chasing efficiency, we will tend to see innovation as inefficient and expensive. I agree completely – innovation is inefficient. After all, innovation requires experimentation, time, and resources to find a potential solution beyond the local maximum. We risk facing failures as we pursue a global maximum, a more perfect solution.

When things didn’t change as quickly as they do now, efficiency and local maximums were more important. It made sense to charge up the nearest visible hill, gather resources, and plot a course for the next mission.

With the exponential rate of change we now experience, technology is enabling entirely new ways to produce desirable outcomes in our business and personal lives. If we choose to pursue efficiency in the existing production model, we leave the door to disruption wide open for anyone else with the right risk appetite to walk in.

If you are an entrepreneur, or have an entrepreneurial mindset, say hello to inefficiency – even if it is for a while.

—-

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about why I think authenticity is overrated. Read it yet? Do you have any other concepts in mind that we need to revisit?

Why authenticity is overrated

I’m in the business of helping craft guest experiences in the hospitality industry.

Without fail, I draw hoteliers’ and hospitality leaders’ attention when I tell them what I do. Why? For years now, guest experiences have been considered central to a hotel’s success. And within the realm of guest experiences, authenticity has been the lodestar. I’d bet that if our industry leaders are asked to define what drives unforgettable guest experiences, the word “authenticity” will be in the top five.

Nothing surprising or new, really.

The buzz

Marriott CEO, Arne M. Sorenson flagged authenticity as “the biggest watchword” for the group back in 2014. Hilton launched a new Luxury Experiences platform in July last year – designed to enable guests to book “exclusive, authentic, local experiences.” I’ve cited two examples here  – but really the idea seems universal. Large chains as much as boutique, independent hotels aim to craft “authentic guest experiences.”

I want to take a closer look at authenticity and how we understand it. I find three concepts intertwined with our understanding of authenticity within the hospitality industry:

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13627120
  • In both examples above (and in general within the hospitality industry), authenticity seems to be a strategic organizational decision that hotels undertake to create or aspire to. “We want to create authentic experiences for our guests” is a mantra we have heard repeatedly.
  • Second, machines or technology can’t deliver authentic experiences because they are by definition robotic, machine like, and not human.
  • And finally, people associate authenticity with money. If they are paying more, they expect to walk away with more authentic service.

Beyond the buzz

An acquaintance recently joked that in the pursuit of authenticity, hotels are likely to start charging premium rates for “human only” interactions. I find these concepts interesting, because I disagree with them. And I think it is time we, in the hospitality industry, moved beyond authenticity.

Guests and hotels approach authenticity differently. While hotels think of crafting authentic experiences as a strategic brand/organizational strategy (Micah Solomon captures some wonderful examples here), guests more often than not look at their interactions with hotel staff while defining authentic experiences.

Seth Godin called authenticity overrated. In his words:

Seth Godin: Authenticity is overrated

Authenticity is totally overrated, totally…I don’t want an authentic surgeon who says, “I don’t really feel like doing knee surgery today.” I want a professional who shows up whatever they feel like, right? So there are days that you will see me give a talk or see me write or something where it is not my authentic monkey brain saying whatever pops into its head. This is me playing the role of Seth Godin, being the professional who does what he said he was going to do. If that bothers people that I’m not always authentic, I’m sorry. But at least I’m consistent.

Seth Godin on The Tim Ferris show

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, Godin’s entire conversation with Tim Ferris on this is well worth a listen.

“Such a doll”

I’m in the business of crafting guest experiences in the hospitality industry – through Ivy, the world’s first smartconcierge. The first line you’ll see on Go Moment’s site is currently “Guest Engagement, Automated.” And yet, guests who interact with Ivy routinely praise the prompt service, even stating things like “Ivy… was such a doll” on TripAdvisor.

Statistics show that Ivy enhances not just guest experiences, but even staff engagement at all the hotels she is in. After all, how authentic can we expect the front desk associate to be on the 45th time they answer the same question in one day?

As for people paying more for authentic experiences… personalized, fast, and luxurious experiences are neither synonymous with authenticity, nor must they be expensive. Service on the guest’s terms is today’s ultimate luxury.

Where ideas take flight and inspirations land

A week ago, I was in Austin, Texas.

Hospitality Upgrade EVS Austin, TX, 2019

Hospitality Upgrade hosted their annual Executive Vendor Summit for the 15th year in a row.  Since its inception, The Summit has been an invitation only event. This was my first time. And what an honor it was to be asked to attend; not only becauseGo Moment was invited as a hotel technology company on the rise. Friends and colleagues always talked of The Summit as an important one in the industry events calendar.

This year proved to be no different. The speakers lineup included Dave Berkus (Managing Partner, Wayfare Ventures), Michael Levie (CEO, CitizenM), Carlos Flores (CEO, Sonesta Hotels), Mike Cowles (CEO, Rainmaker) and Luis Segredo (CEO, Data Travel) – veterans of the hotel and the hotel technology industry. What’s more is that the event was organized by Hospitality Upgrade (Rich Siegel, President) and HFTP (Frank Wolfe, CEO). Consequently, the presentations, discussions and networking events were of stellar quality because of the group’s experience and expertise.

Key learnings

A week later, I find that I’m still mulling over these:

Dave Berkus at the Executive Vendor Summit, 2019
  • The insights I gained from Dave Berkus’ sharing about building businesses, valuations and exit scenarios. With 100+ investments in ~40 years, Dave’s experience is unparalleled in the hotel tech industry.
  • Michael Levie and the innovative success that is CitizenM. They’ve perfected the process of manufacturing of prefabricated rooms in Europe. Once done, they shipping them over for assembly, keeping the builds modular and the costs down. This was innovation in an unexpected area. Unsurprisingly, CitizenM has grown from a single Schiphol Airport hotel to 30 hotels with 7,000 rooms across three continents.
  • Carlos Flores’ experience as a web designer and “IT guy” resonated with my own deep experience with these elements. His logical approach to financial management has seen Sonesta growing to a reported 77 hotels in 2018 within a decade.

I know now why folks have attended the Executive Vendor Summit for 15 years in a row (I’m looking at you, Luis!).

For everyone at Hospitality Upgrade, well done and thank you.

(And if you’re wondering about the photograph of me in a helmet, Hospitality Upgrade hosted an indoor skydiving experience at The Summit.)

Designing Warmth

Image credit: https://www.behance.net/gallery/75813403/Various-Personal-Work

Charlie Davis’ illustrations exemplify the tethering of complex layers (vectors, free hand drawing and then layers) with the relative simplicity of the scene. Davis “is always looking to tell a story filled with lots of warmth, exaggeration, and shapes that stray from reality.

Artist: Charlie Davis. Illustrator/Designer based in London.

More about the artist here: https://theblog.adobe.com/artist-spotlight-charlie-davis/

(Beautiful images are inspiring; I’ve been collecting these since 2010. Check the archives under vwls.)

If you don’t give a dime out of a dollar, you won’t give…

…a million out of 10 million, said Tony Robbins once. Who can disagree with that truism?

Numbers tell a story – or at least a part of it. We produce enough food for the 7 billion people on Earth. And yet, 805 million remain undernourished on a daily basis.

At Go Moment, mostly this year, we have helped provide over 12,000 meals to hungry children. We wanted to say thanks for an amazing 2018.  We wanted to do our share to tilt the scales in favor of the 805 million undernourished.

Journeys

I moved to Los Angeles when I was almost a teenager. After a forced examination of existence itself and some creative raging against the machine, strangely enough, I remember being filled with gratitude. Things were clean and organized in LA in a way I had never before seen, outside of a handful of fancy international airports. I was thankful for the life I was living instead of grieving what I’d left behind. This thankfulness was heightened by the keen awareness that the people I was surrounded by in Los Angeles had very little idea of suffering in other parts of the world. If you didn’t know, I moved here from India where I saw abject poverty and unbelievable wealth walk hand in hand every day.

Gratitude

I express gratitude every day. Perhaps working with people in need is another form of expressing gratitude.

We first supported FeedOne back in 2017. As a non-profit, they ranked incredibly high in transparency and accountability. Personally, I also support and spend time with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Venice. I was first introduced to them by Nick Crooks – a friend whose dedication inspires me tremendously. I can only aspire to his level of service one day.

I’d like to do more. I’ve gained so much from my teachers, advisors, mentors, and elders. I’d like to carve out an opportunity to create positive impact for others.

Everytime I share a story about my personal volunteering, or when folks hear of Go Moment’s efforts, I hear other stories of people helping the underprivileged – working to alleviate hunger or improve education. Thank you for these stories and opportunities; they are hugely inspiring.

Immerse

The worlds of Mixed Reality (MR) and Extended Reality (XR) are moving fast, relative to Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). Here’s a quick summary from What really is the difference between AR/MR/VR/XR?:

  • VR is immersing people into a completely virtual environment
  • AR is creating an overlay of virtual content, but can’t interact with the environment
  • MR is a mixed of virtual reality and the reality, it creates virtual objects that can interact with the actual environment
  • XR brings all three Reality (AR, VR, MR) together under one term

And here’s a video showing just how immersive these experiences are likely to be in the near future:

Artist: Front Pictures is a Kyiv-based creative studio that delivers immersive experiences.

More projects here: https://www.frontpictures.com/projects

(Beautiful images are inspiring; I’ve been collecting these since 2010. Check the archives under vwls.)

Are STOs the new IPOs?

I want to ask entrepreneurs to estimate how much time, energy, mindspace you have spent raising capital. Have you tracked your efforts? Not by how much capital you have raised, but by the number of hours spent raising capital or thinking about it. The US sees 8,000-10,000 yearly VC deals. If these are anything like the ones in my network, founders expect to spend around 200 hours in the fundraising process per successful round – that’s almost 2 million hours each year!

I don’t want to talk about determination, patience, the feelings of getting rejected, or share a list of top 5 ways to raise capital – plenty of articles exist on these topics. Let’s talk about improving your BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) instead. More specifically, let’s talk about how fundraising for startups may change with STOs.

Before we start: my comments on STOs are in no way linked to my current role as CEO at Go Moment. STOs piqued my interest because of the number of times it surfaced in my conversations with other entrepreneurs. I’m also not a lawyer, doctor, or financial advisor, nor do I play one on IGTV.

STOs & IPOs

Raising capital doesn't have to lead you to Wall St.
Raising capital doesn’t have to lead you to Wall St. (Photo by Rick Tap on Unsplash)

Are Security Token Offerings (STOs) an alternative to IPOs? They might just be! I’m early my discovery process and am looking for advice/opinions. If you’re looking for a primer on STOs, I like this article by Blockgeeks.

Here is what I know.

ICO = non starter

ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings) are mostly dead. The SEC stepped in at the end of 2018 with much needed regulatory clarity. SEC reframed ICOs as security offerings. They said that ICOs either needed to be registered with the SEC or fall under an exemption. In many ways, it marked the end of their run.

From the ICO launch in July 2013 (Mastercoin announced the first ICO ever in July 2013 – AFAIK) till the SEC stepped in, ICOs could be traded instantly, anonymously, without fees and across global borders. In my opinion, these were the reasons why ICOs were marked by as many scams and frauds as we saw. I read one report that said that 10% of $3.7 billion raised in ICOs in 2017 had been stolen.

And yet, for what it’s worth, if you are considering launching an ICO (and are sure it falls under the SEC exemption), here is a list of successful ICOs for inspiration.

STO: Launch and beyond

STOs are the newer avatars of ICOs or in Dean Steinbeck’s words, “an SEC compliant ICO”. To launch an STO now, it’s required to register with the SEC or otherwise show that the offering fits within a registration exemption.

Any lawyer, entrepreneur – or indeed anyone you read or speak with about this – will tell you that STO registration involves long, expensive compliance checks, due diligence audits and procedures. Unless we qualify for exemptions, there are restrictions in place on the investment size and the investors’ profiles.

To me, all of this makes launching an STO very similar to an IPO process – long, expensive, and includes compliance checks.

Here’s the twist: the compliance checks and procedures don’t stop with launching an STO. It’s a continuous process of assessing investors. But this is perhaps where STOs score advantages over IPOs. Compliance can be hardcoded to restrict investors based on stringent KYC policies.

Advantage: STO

There are other advantages to STOs (when compared to IPOs):

  • Fractional ownership is possible. In real terms, this means that you can attract investors with lower sums of money. A bigger pool of potential investors.
  • An STO is not limited to an exchange. We can potentially attract investors globally without being restricted to an exchange.
  • The downside is that, while we do away with exchanges to launch STOs, we still need a platform to issue tokens. Most people I know opt to outsource this. Developing a platform from scratch is expensive right now due to the lack of widely available expertise. There are several developers that I came across: Tokeny, TokenGet, or TokenizEU. I haven’t checked out any in great depth and don’t endorse any of these. Would love to hear recommendations.

We are still early in the STO world. 2019 is flagged as the year that STOs gain serious traction. One analyst pegged the market to hit $1 billion this year). I think though we have a long way to go before we see figures anywhere close to that.

The US apparently leads the total number of STOs that have been launched. Are you following any? What are your thoughts on STOs?

What’s happening at independent hotels

Two days ago, I spoke at the Stay Boutique Live Trifecta event at Los Angeles.

Organized by the Boutique & Lifestyle Leaders Association (BLLA), the Trifecta brings together an eclectic mix of boutique/lifestyle hotel owners, representatives, consultants and industry publications. As the CEO of Go Moment, I was honored to have been invited to lead a workshop and to be amidst the discussions. It was a fast-paced learning opportunity.

Learnings & Discoveries

Here are top learnings spotted from our team’s conversations:

Boutique hotels
  • The boutique hospitality industry is on an upswing from a growth perspective. Here’s a study that pegged the revenue for the industry at $17 billion dollars in 2018. The 7% growth rate seen in 2017, clearly continued into 2018 as well. There are more numbers at the link about the number of employees, businesses and growth rate. This makes intuitive sense as guests continue to seek more differentiated experiences that are Instagram-worthy.
  • Meeting ever-rising guest expectations is a challenge for boutique and independent hotels. They operate with smaller budgets relative to branded hotels; often working outside the infrastructure that is at the disposal of franchised branded hotels. Mobile apps, booking websites, marketing toolkits aren’t on-hand, ready to be “switched on.”
  • Perspective matters: are we dealing with challenges or opportunities. In an inspiring way, boutique hospitality leaders have leveraged the absence of out-of-the-box infrastructure as an opportunity to innovate. Unsurprisingly, they look to technology to play a significant role to meet and exceed guest expectations pre-booking and on-site.
  • Not having a brand standard to meet has oftentimes resulted in the boutique hospitality industry innovating and exceeding expectations. We are surrounded by examples – Equinox Hotels with its health focus, Public Hotel with “luxury for all” and Yotel adopting the cabin concept, offering lower ADRs in markets like NYC and SF.
  • There were several discoveries on hotel guest behaviors – I want to call out only one.  I learned that TV viewership has remained steady or grown in hotels where relevant content can easily be displayed on screen, and that Netflix is the most-watched ‘channel’ by hotel guests! Clearly, the fact that guests need to type their login and password into the TV to access Netflix is not a deterrent. Thank you, Vanessa Ogle, for this insight.  

Markers

Over half of Go Moment clients are currently independent, boutique, and casino resort clients. We’ve learned a ton from this group of enterprising hoteliers. And yet, questions at the workshop excited me – questions that included how today’s guest experience works with Ivy, how guest conversations can be completely personalized, and how the future of data security and privacy may work given the addition of IoT and smart speakers in the guest room.

Questions that pique are markers of a curious, engaged audience, in my book. And a clear indicator of the standards that the boutique hospitality industry will break in 2019.

Were you at the event? Or are you from the industry and have trends to share? I’d love to hear more.

My top 9 myths about AI

Last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, called Artificial Intelligence (AI) the “most important thing humanity has ever worked on.” AI is, in his book, something that is more profound than electricity or fire. Maybe even more important than language itself.

I shared a video of his talk on my LinkedIn feed recently and it ignited conversations on my feed and with friends/colleagues IRL. We talked about tech leaders getting their predictions wrong, about taking sweeping statements with a pinch of salt, and even debating if governments around the world would agree to demilitarize AI.

I don’t know if governments – and tech organizations (surely we need to hold them accountable too?) – are going to demilitarize AI. Neither do I know if Elon Musk’s prediction (“The danger of AI is much greater than the danger of nuclear warheads”) or Stephen Hawking’s warning that “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race” are true.

Having said that, I’ve been working with AI since 2012. And I’ve heard my share of myths about AI during this time. Here are 9 myths, in no particular order. May they bring you a smile, if nothing else!

Myth 1: Robots powered by AI are going to take all our jobs, and will soon rule the earth.

My take: This is either a long time out (~20+ years) or won’t happen at all. For the state of the art today, maybe we should have asked Microsoft’s Tay about this, while we had a chance. Or maybe Tay’s successor, Zo?

Myth 2: AI is making us all dumber by the day.

My take: It’s had the opposite impact on me and my colleagues. It’s making us think more creatively, and at larger scale than was ever possible before. https://xkcd.com/1875/

Myth 3: AI is only for large companies that can burn cash. It is a lot of investment, for very little gain.

My take: Nope. Exhibit A – Go Moment.

Myth 4: AI algos can make sense of any data that we humans throw at it.

My take: Not even close.

Myth 5: AI = Siri/Alexa/Google. It has nothing to do with anyone else or anything else.

My take: Again, I refer you to Exhibit A – Ivy by Go Moment

Myth 6: AI is one technology.

My take: It’s not. It’s a whole cluster, largely focused around Machine Learning for practical applications today.

Myth 7: AI is artificial.

My take: It’s anything but. AI is actually based on simulating how human neurons are thought to work! Heard of Geoffery Hinton, the Godfather of AI? Check out this Hello World video where he talks with Ashlee Vance.

Myth 8: AI automatically gets better over time.

My take: If designed perfectly and in a squeaky clean data environment, maybe. In the real world, meaningful improvement still requires human oversight (supervised learning vs. unsupervised learning) and careful design. This is why Google continues to invest resources into AI principles and ethics.

Myth 9: AI is objective.

My take: Biases can and do unintentionally creep into system designs. See this explanation of how ads now use AI to match copy, images and audience.  

Anyone else want to add to this list? Which ones from my list made you smile? What myths have you heard?

Will AI destroy the economy?

In a recent New York Times article (Tech Is Splitting the U.S. Work Force in Two), Eduardo Porter examines the impact of automation on the US labor market. His conclusion? “Robots aren’t taking ALL the jobs. They are leaving the crummy ones for humans. The Luddites, it seem, weren’t entirely wrong.”

We’ve read reports (see this and this) before that argued that frontier tech like AI, automation etc would create more jobs than they’d kill. Or reports that predicted that the race to the end had started with the emergence of this tech.

Porter’s argument though is a marked departure – he is looking specifically at the impact, of the tech revolution we are in the midst of, on low to medium skill workers. He cites several studies to argue that while jobs are being added, the ones that are available to a certain category of workers are falling in quality.

Judging by the stream of comments and responses, it is obvious that Porter has hit a nerve.

The Impact

I want to address some of  the concerns flagged in the article – and not merely because it hits close to home. There is an important question that I think we are not asking when we discuss the impact of tech automation.

Go Moment, where I am currently CEO, created Ivy, a smartconcierge that automates guest engagement for the hotel/hospitality industry.

We are currently looking at 30-40% reduction in queries hitting reception desks at hotels with Ivy. We are driving efficiency no doubt. But, and this is an important corollary, we know that Ivy frees up hotel staff to handle face-to-face guest interactions. Cornell University, in fact, corroborated this – they found an 8% increase in employee engagement per year of Ivy usage. Engagement that went up because the hotel staff didn’t need to repeatedly respond to questions about WiFi passwords, for instance. (Connect with me if you want access to the study).

Tech automation and humans
Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

Ivy won’t, and may never, replace human interactions and interventions to satisfy guests. We are not aiming to achieve this either.

Time & Money

There is another point I want to respond to. Porter cites a Boston University study that argues that “businesses are not even reaping large rewards for the money they are spending to replace their workers with machines.” I don’t know about this; I don’t have enough information at this point to agree or dispute the claim. At face value though, I believe that automation driving profits for businesses is a long term game and that enough time hasn’t passed for us to map this cost-benefit ratio accurately. We are far too young in the tech automation industry to be labelled as job snatchers and profit eaters.

I agree though with the warnings implicit in Porter’s article. Today’s job markets are demanding different skill sets – and we are only starting out on this journey. To up-skill, to work with different classes of society, to ensure everyone rides along are challenges we need to address. Tech organizations (including Go Moment) as much as the US government have a role to play here.

Also, what do y’all think about Universal Basic Income? Is it time to talk about this alongside discussions of tech automation leaving people out in the cold?