Alireza Tahmasebzadeh

ENTREPRENEUR. RESEARCHER. INVENTOR.

If I were a VC

I am obsessed with the word “interaction”, and I analyze any company based on how it is changing a conventional interaction model. Read more about this here. To me, Uber has changed our interaction model for short commutes; Robinhood has changed our interaction model for amateur stock trading; Audible has changed our interaction model for books.

I believe that the technology should be hidden in products and it should seamlessly help the users with solving a specific problem. Ideally, it should do it fast and with the least amount of effort, input, and energy from the user.

Other attributes about companies that I like are:

  • Scalable: The company should be able to grow from a small number of users to a large user base with the least amount of capital
  • Deep Tech: The era of companies which are based only on software or a web application is done. Start-ups of the future would come out of deep scientific research (not necessarily by PhDs and academics though!)
  • Recently Enabled: I love companies which are based on an infrastructure or another tech which has recently matured and has opened up a sea of opportunities

Here are some of the industries or types of problems that I would like to see more companies working on and I would invest in if I were a VC:

  • Human-Computer Interaction: The way we interact with the technologies around us determines how fast we can receive or send information from our body to our computers. Our brain processes gigabytes of data and the microprocessors do the same, however, most of the interfaces that translate our brain decisions to commands are only kilobytes of data. We use mouse and keyboards to give input data and monitors to receive data from laptops which are on a much lower bandwidth than the capacity of either our brains or computers. Touch screens completely changed how we interact with mobile phones and opened the door for smart phones and apps. Natural Language Processing (NLP) together with voice recognition is now opening new doors. Any technology that can increase the amount of information we can receive or transfer to the processors around us with the least effort, is an enabler technology for many new applications and products. Gesture Control and Brain Computer Interfaces are examples of this and companies like Thalmic Labs (Myo band) and Neuralink are onto something big.
  • Neuroscience/Cognitive Science: We have a lot of data about everything around us, except our own brain. Even to this date, our understanding of brain processes is very limited. Companies and projects that help us understand our behavior and thoughts better and help us master our unconscious brain are absolutely interesting. Kernel is a company I like in this space.
  • Genetics/Bio Hacking/Personalized Healthcare: It should be a well-known fact by now that that the next 50 years are going to be about A/T/G/Cs rather than 0 and 1s.
  • Primary/Preventative Healthcare: The US has a massive healthcare and insurance problem. Primary care and preventative medicine should be the number one priority. There are companies working on this, but it’s a massive problem and opportunity and has room for more. Checkout the company Forward.
  • Future of Consumption/Shopping: Yes, e-commerce is eating brick-and-mortar retail, but something will eat the current e-commerce model. Sharing economy, showrooming, Digitally Native Vertical Brands (DNVB), and new shopping models should be taken seriously. Start-ups like b8ta, Casper, Bonobos, and WithMe look interesting.
  • Enterprise hardware (Industrial IoT): Many industries are still relying on software and hardware tech from a decade ago. They need new hardware and new software with a focus on data. Watch out for Capella Space.
  • EdTech: New models that can teach skills, especially to the large workforce who is going to lose their current jobs
  • Data: Products that seamlessly gather data and provide actionable insights
  • Sustainability: We need new ways to produce and consume. Food sustainability is a good example.
  • Democracy: bringing what’s in the monopoly of a few to masses, including bringing political democracy and easy decision making in societies and communities

Interaction. Interaction. Interaction.

There is one word that my work revolves around: INTERACTION.

Anything that I see, any app, any product, any company, I first pay attention to the way people interact with it. I think about how this product has changed the conventional interaction or experience for people who wanted to get something done. You may simply call this the interface or the experience, but for me this is something bigger than UI/UX. To me, Uber has changed our interaction model for short commutes; Robinhood has changed our interaction model for amateur stock trading; Audible has changed our interaction model for books.

My work, including my academic research and companies are about interaction as well. I have done research on two topics:

  • Brain-Computer Interfaces: or the mind-blowing action of mind reading. Not exactly. I worked on an algorithm which could detect from the brain signals (putting electrodes on the back of the brain) the letter which was displayed and flickered in front of the eye. You could basically type a sentence with your brain, but it would take minutes for each sentence!
  • Muscle-Machine Interfaces: have you ever lied lazy on the couch watching TV, didn’t have the TV remote in hand and wished you could change the channel or volume? I bet you did. What if you could tap your index finger to your thumb and change the channel? That’s what I was working on: a wrist-band and algorithm that could detect your finger taps by translating the signals from your deep muscles in your wrist so you could control any device by your finger taps and wrist gestures.

At BLOCKS, we built a modular smartwatch, where you could customize your smartwatch. The display of the watch is just like any other smartwatch, but the magic is in the strap. The strap is made of small links, and each link is a specific sensor, GPS, battery, temperature sensor, altimeter, bank card, etc. You can pick and choose the different links you like based on your lifestyle and build your own watch. This is changing the way we interact with a hardware gadget. Instead of accepting the off-the-shelf product, you connect it and build it piece by piece, sensor by sensor, and it can adapt with you.

Conclusion

Next time you see a product, think about the interaction and the way this product is changing the conventional interaction model.

If you are interested in entrepreneurship, these books are for you

As a young entrepreneur, the only way I can try to make less mistakes, is to learn from others. While asking other entrepreneurs, advisers, mentors, and friends is always helpful, I have found myself learning a lot from reading books. Actually, I mostly listen to audio books (and on 1.5x speed!) to get to read (listen!) to more book. 

Here is a list of my favorites:

- The Startup Playbook: Secrets of the Fastest-Growing Startups From Their Founding Entrepreneurs by David Kidder

- Zero to One: Notes Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel

- The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen

- Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore

- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

- The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

- How Google Works by Eric Schmit

- Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender

- Startup CEO by Matt Blumberg

- Venture Deals by Jason Mendelson

Life is ... SHORT

I was recently reading this article by Paul Graham about life and how short it is. About life, and how we should keep far away from things that make it even shorter.

The first thing that always comes to my mind when I get reminded that "life is short" is this part in Steve Jobs' commencement address in Stanford's 2005 graduation ceremony. 

"When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Paul Graham mainly talks about how we should identify and refrain from doing bullshit. He argues that we are either forced into doing bullshit or we are tricked to do so. You should arrange your schedules and habits such that you can escape from bullshit that is pushed to you. Although, you will face many of them inevitably. Mainly, you need to identify the things that matter and don't get tricked into doing the rest. The rule of thumb is, whether you will care about doing this in the future or not.

"You think you can always write that book, or climb that mountain, or whatever, and then you realize the window has closed. The saddest windows close when other people die. Their lives are short too."

Life is short, we all know it. "Life is short" does not mean you need to do more to get the best out of it. It actually means vise versa. Only do the things that matters the most, to yourself, the person who matters the most. Cut from the bullshit of the life and focus on what you are passionate about. Life is too short to worry about a lot of things. 

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. - Steve Jobs, Stanford, 2005.

Paul Graham ends the article very concisely.  

"Relentlessly prune bullshit, don't wait to do things that matter, and savor the time you have. That's what you do when life is short."

 

Read the full article: http://paulgraham.com/vb.html

alireza@tahmaseb.org