Angel Investing Learnings

In this post I’ll share some advice and learnings from a decade of angel investing to help others get started or improve their own process.

I’ve been investing in startups for about 10 years through Musha Ventures, after learning the ropes at Index Ventures. I’ve made ~70 investments (around 40 in Africa), and realized around twice my total invested capital (Distribution to Paid in Capital – DPI). Most of the companies in my portfolio (~55) continue to operate without a realized liquidity event.

I love meeting and learning from founders, and being exposed to different business models. When I support a company, I am able to learn from observing it grow or fail and build friendships with the founders beyond my small investment. I think that early stage investing has made me a better product person and operator, and I hope to continue to support entrepreneurs throughout my life.

Investing Frameworks

Ben Holmes, Index Ventures

I worked with Ben Holmes at Index Ventures, who led their investments in King, iZettle, and Just Eat. He showed me a simple framework, which is still the foundation of my investment evaluation process, detailed below. At least one dimension of Team, Technology or Traction should be an A+, and a big enough Market (now or in the future) should be a precursor to making the investment.

  • Market: Is the market big enough ($1Bn+) and can you see this company being a leading player (with 10%+ market share) in the next 3-5 years? If you think that the market now or in the future is too small, then don’t make the investment.
  • Technology : Is the product or technology differentiated and sticky within their market? How difficult is it to replicate?
  • Team: Is the founding team both individually exceptional and complement each other? How deep and long is their professional relationship?
  • Traction: Is the business growing and do they have positive unit economics? Do they have paying users? What does customer retention look like?

Brian Singerman, Founders Fund

I don’t know Brian Singerman personally but I really enjoyed this episode of “Invest Like the Best” with him. He’s invested in companies like Oscar, Affirm, Wish, and AirBnB. Here are a few of my takeaways from the conversation:

  • As a startup market, moats and execution are the only things that matter.
  • As a VC, seeing, picking and closing are the only things that matter.
  • You learn to invest in venture by actually investing, not by observing.

Investing Advice

This is a collection of advice when you are starting to invest, in no particular order:

  • Learn with small investments: Optimize for learning per dollar invested if you are just getting started, have limited capital and hope to build a portfolio. If you invest $1k with the same diligence process as if you were investing $100k, then you will learn by making less expensive mistakes early on. Also start slow, and invest more frequently as you learn – I made too many investments in my firs year. It takes a long time to calibrate your gut, and it’s ok to miss a few deals.
  • Asymmetric Advantage: Invest in areas where you have some asymmetric advantage. If you know a founder super well, or know a space really well and can invest in a related company (without conflict) these are sources of asymmetric advantage.
  • Time vs. Money: Invest money in companies that you would be willing to spend your time on personally, but may not be the right personal trade off for you. When you are earlier in your career you can think of time and money as interchangeable. If you don’t have the capital to invest, then try and join these companies and get some equity for your time.
  • Deep Relationships: Invest in great teams who’ve known each other a long time and even better worked together for a while – it reduces the risk of founder issues (65% of company breakups are for this reason).
  • Founders you like and respect: I invested in a few companies that I did not have the best rapport with personally, or had an unexplainable ‘gut’ reaction to avoid even it if looked good on paper. Most of these companies did not work out, but I have a small sample and so this still needs more data.
  • Company first, then terms: Terms are less important than believing in the company and the founders. Don’t make an investment because of a low valuation or tax incentives – these are all bonuses, and never a reason to make an investment. I made a number of mistakes here early on and regretted them.
  • Valuation: If you are going to negotiate on anything, negotiate on price although this is mostly supply/demand driven and you may not have leverage if you are a small investor. There is a common belief that valuation does not matter in venture capital, but if you are investing your own money then overpaying consistently will hurt your returns.
  • Cap table: Look for ‘clean’ cap tables (equity split) in early rounds. If the founding team has an unexpected equity split, or there are early inactive employees/ investors significant equity it can affect the company’s ability to raise money in later rounds and if founders are too diluted, then they may lose motivation.
  • Discipline: Founders who are structured and regular with investor communication are often also good operators. If they show discipline with investors, they are likely applying the same discipline to running their companies. I often ask for the last investor report to get a sense of their communication quality.

Practical Tips

This is a collection of more practical/tactical things to do when you are investing:

  • Track your portfolio: If you only make a handful of investments, then think of it as money spent and a nice bonus if one of them is successful. If you have a portfolio, then keep a strict record of your investments and track their progress and returns (I use a simple Google Sheet). I track key dates like fundraising events and summarize the status of each investment about once a year.
  • Write Memos: Your memory is less reliable than paper record, and so I recommend writing short 1 page memos with the ‘why’ behind your investment. I’d start with the structure I outlined from Ben Holmes up above and expand it over time.
  • Customer References: For software as a service businesses in particular, do some customer reference calls. I always ask the following three questions: What was in like before the product? What is it like after the product? What would happen if took the product away? If they get very upset at the last question happening, that is a very good signal.
  • Post Mortems: If companies fail, write a few bullet points down about why the company failed (I just add them to my original memo), and see if you identified the risk when you made investment. Learn from this, and don’t repeat mistakes.
  • Intro email: I’ve just started writing an ‘intro’ email to founders which founders seem to appreciate. It allows you to clearly express how you can help, how you operate as an investor, and share some of your expectations as well.

I’ll continue to add to this list as I learn more, and please send me any thoughts or feedback!

Making a YouTube Video

I made a YouTube video, with the goal of understanding what it takes to create something with reasonable production quality, completely on my own. This is a short summary of my process and learnings for others who may want to try something similar.

My subgoal was to generate empathy with YouTube content creators and the best way I know how to do this is to actually go through it. I capped the time investment at one full day, including setting up and learning all the hardware and software.

Before you start

  1. Get a good quality camera and microphone. I used the Canon M50 creator kit with the Rode Mic (see below) as it came highly recommended in a number of YouTube channels and blogs. I just ended up using my Apple AirPod Pros, because it created a simpler workflow and I wanted to save time (so the audio quality was not the best). If I was to do this more frequently, I would just buy a separate USB mic like the Blue Yeti Nano.
  1. Familiarize yourself with the software. I used Final Cut Pro (90 day free trial) for editing, Camera Live to stream my camera to my computer and OBS Studio for recording my screen which are both open source.
  2. Decide what story you want to tell. This is the hardest parts of any piece of media creation, and the main thing that matters.
  3. Write up a rough script. Each take took me way too many times to get right, and so I just memorized what to say (like an actor) and it went more smoothly from that point.
  4. Write up a shot list. I did mine in this spreadsheet, although I would improve it in the future to be something that I could easily share with an editor. Naming the shots lets you more easily edit the footage in post production.
  5. Run through your entire workflow with a short clip. For example I did not realize that OBS was compressing my files into MKV (and at a low quality), which did not play nice with Final Cut Pro and it would have sucked to lose all my footage and start again.

Pre Filming

Here are all the things you should do before filming, so that the filming process goes as smoothly as possible.

  • Story: I decided to do an instructional video for using a DLSR Camera for Zoom and other video calls. I had been looking for an option like this and found many of the videos incomplete.
  • Script: I wrote a script in a Google Doc for what I planned to say. This was really helpful to read from when filming so I made sure to say everything I wanted to and did not lose my place.
  • Shot List: I wrote up the following shot list in Google Sheets and in the future, I’ll add in some editing notes in post. This would allow someone who is editing my video to add any captions, effects or transitions much more easily.
  • Audio set up: I tested a few different mics, including the Rode Mic that came with my creator kit, the MacBook Pro Mic, and the AirPod Pro mics. The Rode Mic definitely sounded the best, but was not a USB mic and made my workflow a bit harder as I could not record the audio and video directly using OBS on my Mac. I decided to go with the AirPod Pros, but would buy a USB mic in the future. I tested the levels to make sure that the audio was good to go.
  • Video set up: I tested the video, the encoding (RAW is best but harder to work with) and the lighting. I only used light from a large window and it worked pretty well.
  • Scene: I used the living room of my house and made an effort to clean up the background of clutter. This kind of thing does make a difference to the overall feeling of quality to your video.
  • Full workflow: Make sure you run through the entire workflow with a short clip so you don’t have to re-do everything because of a mistake. I was having an issue where short clips had no audio due to some encoding issue and it was a real pain to fix in post.

Filming

Here are a few things that I learned during filming, and things I’d suggest watching out for when you are making your own video.

  • Long takes: I really struggled to get long takes completed. I would use filler words, or look away and it was frustrating. In the end I shot much shorter takes or just tolerated some worse takes as I ran out of time.
  • Hand waving: I used my hands too much and it made me look a bit manic. I would try a shot that included my torso in the future so this looked more natural (vs. hands popping up on the screen) or just chilling out the hands a bit.
  • Looking into the lens: I was not looking at the camera lens, but at the little preview screen of myself instead. In the future, I’ll stop using that preview screen and make an effort to look at the lens. This makes the viewer feel like you are making eye contact with them, and is more engaging.
  • Smiling: I needed to smile more, as it would make me seem more friendly and likable on video.

Editing

I edited the video myself to learn the tools and see what I could do in a few hours. I also tried spending $25 on Fiverr and $50 on UpWork to hire a freelancer to do the video editing for me and to make sure that I understood their platforms. The self edited version is clearly the worst one of the three below.

Self Edit

I used Final Cut Pro, which was pretty intuitive and added some captions, and intro screen, short music clip, some transitions and corrected audio levels. It was fun to learn how to use the software!

Spending $25 on Fiverr

I hired an editor for $25 total on Fiverr. This was much better than my effort. The pro added soft background music throughout, zoomed in and zoomed out shots, and improved color grading and audio levels significantly.

Spending $50 on UpWork

I hired another pro for $50 on UpWork. This edit was by far the best, and I would spend at this price point again in the future.

The editor did good color grading, had clean transitions, added blurred the backgrounds for my screen recordings, added soft background music, integrated some images, text on screen and added a nice intro and outro sequence that made it feel more professional.

Youtube

I set up a creator account on YouTube and watched some of the videos from the Creator Academy. I would watch more videos if I got more serious, particularly to learn how to get more traffic.

I uploaded the video, added a description and some tags and also some Amazon Affiliate links to the YouTube description to learn that part of the process. No one has bought any of my recommendations just yet and I’ve only had about 120 views after about two weeks.

Conclusion

Overall this was a fun project, and I may make some more videos in the future. It would probably take me half the time to film and prepare the audio and video files and the shot lists.

I would definitely pay someone on UpWork or Fiverr to do the editing for me in the future as they would 1) do a better job than me and 2) it seems worth the $25-50 cost for the time saving.

I would also get a better microphone.

A Lifelong MBA

I think that the business schools should consider an annual subscription to facilitate lifelong learning as a replacement or complement to the 2 year MBA program. This would include contextual webinars / discussions with experts, and bringing small groups of alumni together around shared challenges over longer periods of time.

A month after my 26th birthday, I enrolled at Harvard Business School (HBS) for their two year MBA program. I had worked in consulting for two years and at Google for two years – I was still quite early in my career. I wrote a somewhat ranty post around six years ago about the benefits and branding of an MBA here and I still think those benefits hold true today.

How I learn now

In the last few years I’ve been reading a lot more (Books in 2019) and realize how much you can learn from subject matter experts and from the stories of successful people and their journeys (even if Nassim Taleb would argue that this is mostly just the product of randomness).

It’s also extremely helpful to read books and have focused conversations around a problem that is top of mind – e.g. if you are negotiating a deal or a job offer, then read Never Split the Difference and apply what you learn immediately.

I’ve also participated in some forum style discussions with a group of friends (all HBS alums) led by Beri Meric, modeled after his experience at YPO Forums, and additionally participated in a few conversations with small groups of technology executives through Enrich.

How I learned at HBS

The case study method of learning at HBS is a crash course in many diverse aspects of business. You learn from the story in the case (and often interact directly with the protagonist in the class) as well as from your fellow students and professor and take away a few learnings.

A lot of what we learned was the ability to recall examples and stories without having lived them ourselves. This can allow you to ‘sound smart’ and wise beyond your experience which is useful in a variety of scenarios but particularly in careers like management consulting.

When I was studying for my MBA, I did not appreciate or engage as much as I probably should have in the actual content, or listen to enough of the amazing speakers we had on campus. I was more focused on the lifestyle and friendships, but looking back I still feel like I made the right trade off.

HBS now has an estimated annual cost of $112k and the tuition alone costs $73k per year. If you travel a fair bit, which many students do it can cost even more. With a two year gap in earnings (assuming ~$100k average gross salary per year) a two year MBA can end up costing students ~$400k+ AFTER tax.

This rising relative cost will put downward pressure on MBA applications and create adverse selection bias for folks who are successful early in their career. I think it’s time to reflect and make changes to the education model.

The potential of a lifelong MBA

When I reflected more about how I learn now, and how I learned in school, I came to the realization that I would likely get value from paying a premium annual subscription fee (e.g. a few $k a year) for a lifelong education from HBS, administered completely digitally.

The school could bring together alumni from across classes around specific, focused topics (e.g. how to move to distributed work) which would allow people to learn from each other about a subject that is top of mind. They could also curate small groups (who meet regularly over a long period of time) who are in similar positions across industries and help these groups form strong long term bonds. This would allow alumni to learn continually, build stronger ties within the HBS community, and generate lifelong income for HBS beyond donations.

In the future, I could envision a version of this ‘product’ that replaces the 2 year MBA program for many students, with additional in person retreats to complement the digital program.

This would also be something that many employers could sponsor, as many have budgets for continuing education. I would worry that an HBS only community might be too limiting, but the alumni groups are big enough and and what people do is broad enough that it might be totally fine. The curation of the groups is also not trivial, and would require some technology and people with good judgment.

The opportunity to create structured learning where alumni facing similar problems regardless of experience are able to engage more deeply in topics when they become important, urgent and contextual would be very valuable.

Mechanical Watches

I really like mechanical wrist watches. They have been every day tools since the 1800s and are a mix of precise craftsmanship, complex engineering and aesthetic beauty (form and function). They can often be high quality products that last a lifetime, and serve as a both a memory of the past and as a reminder that time is my only irrevocable resource and I should use it well.

This is a nerdy, niche post. I’ll cover why I think mechanical watches are interesting to me, summarize how they work, and list out a few complications and why most are useless 🙂


Why are they interesting?

As humans, we’ve been telling the time since before recorded history. The sundial was invented before we had records, and common in both Egypt and China by 3500 BC. The first watch was made in Germany in the 1505 as a pocket watch. Wrist watches have been around since 1868, and the first wrist watch was made by legendary watchmaking company, Patek Philippe for a Hungarian Countess. Wrist watches were almost exclusively worn by women and men would carry pocket watches until World War 1 when wrist watches took off for men given their usefulness as a tool for soldiers. They grew in popularity for men over women from this point onwards. High quality, accurate watches now exist in almost every price point from a few dollars to $18m for Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona.

The Holy Trinity of Swiss watchmaking are Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, and Patek Philippe because of their very long history (100+ years old) and consistent quality of luxury watchmaking. Rolex is arguably the most successful brand in the watch industry but started as a tool watch, made of steel vs. precious metals and always focused on reliability and durability versus complicated movements or ornate finishings.

I first became interested in watches as a young child. Both my parents owned and wore good watches (Omegas) and my favorite gifts from their travels were plastic Swatch’s with dial protectors. One of my prized possessions when I was 10 was my Casio G-Shock, and I wore my first proper watch (a blue Omega Seamaster in 2003) every day for over 10 years.

Watches are first and foremost tools. They can be used ever single day, have a (mostly) timeless design, and high quality timepieces can last a lifetime. Quality mechanical watches are fairly accurate (+/- 2 seconds a day), and require deep knowledge and skill to build and maintain. I also like that they can last across generations and carry the stories with them – one of my favorite watches is my dad’s because it reminds me of him every time I wear it.

I know that mechanical watches are an outdated technology and both quartz and atomic clocks are a step function more accurate. Quartz watches (battery powered) are accurate to +/- a few seconds a month and atomic clocks (your smartphone clock) are almost perfectly accurate. However, neither have the romanticism or require the craftsmanship of a mechanical watch, nor will either help us when the robots take over the world.


How do they work?

Mechanical watches are complex little machines that have to be precisely engineered, assembled and maintained to work properly. Here are the major components and how they fit together:

  1. Crown: The crown typically has three states, a locked state, a winding state and a time setting state for the most simple watches. In the winding state the crown connects to a set of gears to wine up the main spring.
  2. Mainspring: The mainspring, is the energy store, which can by wound up manually or by a self winding or automatic movement.
  3. Automatic movements: An automatic movement has a weighted rotor which usually exists in addition to a manual winding. Most modern rotors can wind the mainspring in either direction.
  4. Balance Wheel: The balance wheel and hairspring handles the transfer of energy from the mainspring in a consistent manner. This swings back and fourth and gives a watch that ‘ticking’ sound. It’s one of the most sensitive parts of a watch and typically is both shock absorbent and and anti magnetic.
  5. Escapement: The escapement meters out the energy from the mainspring to the wheel train into equal regular parts to move them a precise amount.
  6. Wheel trains: The wheel trains are set of gears layered on top of each other, which move at typically 6 beats per second which is why second hand looks ‘sweeping’ on many mechanical watches. There is typically one for minutes, one for hours and each of these gears has a watch face hand on it.
  7. Jewels: Jewels are used for lubrication and they reduce friction by acting as bearings (not because they are precious). Jewels are very smooth and hard and make mechanical watches last long time.
A good overview of how a watch works

What are complications?

Complications are additional functions added to mechanical watches to improve their usefulness. Here is a list of the most common comlpications and why I find them useful or useless.

  • Date: The date of the month, which is pretty useful but is getting less so as we work more digitally.
  • Day: The day of the week, not really useful until everyone started working from home.
  • GMT: The ability to add in a second time zone, typically with another hand. In the photo above the time almost 6pm in the second time zone. This the most useful complication in my opinion especially for people who travel across time zones.
  • Moon phase: This displays a the different kinds of moons – new, quarter, half and full moon. It’s a pretty romantic complication, and one I like (although have never owned a watch with a moon phase).
  • Power reserve: This is an indicator to tell the user how much ‘charge’ remains in the main spring, and seems like a pretty useful indicator for a manual wind or automatic watch, although I’ve never had a watch with a power reserve indicator.
  • Chronograph: A chronograph is basically a stop watch with seconds, minutes and hours typically. It’s really not that useful as you don’t often need a timer and when you do a phone is a much better device. I have a chronograph and almost never use it.
  • Perpetual calendar: A perpetual calendar watch stores the day, month, and year and accounts for leap years as well. It’s a rare complication typically in expensive watches. I don’t think it’s particularly useful unless you are wearing the perpetual calendar watch regularly enough that it stays wound.
  • Tourbilon: Tourbilons were designed to improve the accuracy of wall mounted clocks by eliminating the errors caused by gravity. They do not significantly improve the accuracy of modern wrist watches, and are very expensive and difficult to produce. I don’t really see the point of ever buying a watch with this complication.
  • Minute repeater: Minute repeaters were found in pocket watches in the 1800s. This is a chime (pattern of sound) when specific conditions are met, usually on demand. It is very difficult to make, and uses hammers and gongs with the case. Much like tourbilons, I don’t see the point of ever buying a watch with this complication.

My favorite complication is the GMT, and I have the second time set to Kenya which reminds me of home and I often glance at the second time and think about what my parents might be up to. I like the idea and the romance of a Moon Phase, but until I actually own a watch which has one, it’s hard for me to tell if it lives up to the idea in my head.

Use your Fancy Camera on Zoom

This post will summarize how to set up your fancy DSLR or Mirrorless camera with Zoom, and it will work for most video calling or web conferencing tools. It will make you look clearer and better simulate being in person, as we all transition to working from home.

Please note, this guide only covers Macs and Canon cameras. It is meant to be a companion to my Youtube video below.

Fancy camera on Zoom guide

A number of other guides recommended using the Camlink and a HDMI cable, but these were sold out, and required a ‘clean’ HDMI out feed so it’s a little more fussy from a set up perspective but easier once you have it running.

Results

Here is a screenshot of my Macbook Pro Zoom feed, the feed from the built in Camera on my LG 5K monitor, and from the Canon M50 (in that order). I took these screenshots directly from Zoom, and I hope you can see the difference between the three 🙂

Hardware

The most important thing to get right is the video and audio quality when setting up your home video conferencing kit. Quality video and audio can make interacting virtually feel more natural, and may be worth the investment if you spend lots of time on video calls and plan to work in a distributed fashion for an extended period of time.

  1. Canon EOS M50 ($500-600): This was highly recommended by a number of blogs and Youtube channels that I follow. It seems to have very good price to value ratio and costs around $500 for the camera and the lens. I bought the ‘creator kit’ from Amazon (linked above) which was $600, and includes a Rode mic as well.
  2. Dummy Battery ($25): The dummy battery just makes it more convenient for you so you don’t have to change the battery often – each battery only gives you about 2-3 hours of video, so it’s pretty essential.
  3. USB micro to USB C cable ($10): This is how you connect your camera to your computer. You could use a standard micro USB to USB cable and a USB to USB C
  4. Amazon Basic Tripod ($15) : This is a very basic tripod but does the job keeping my camera well positioned behind my monitor.

Software

You need three pieces of software to make this work and they are all open source or free:

  1. Camera Live – Camera Live is an open source tool to create a live video feed from your Camera. Download the latest Alpha (13) if you are on the most recent version of Mac OS Catalina (10.15.4 at the time of writing).
  2. Camtwist: Camtwist allows you to broadcast the live video feed from Camera Live to other tools, like Zoom via a Syphon server.
  3. Zoom: Download Zoom 4.6.8 (March 20) which allows virtual cameras. The recent versions don’t allow virtual cameras, and so you’ll need to downgrade to an older version of Zoom. https://zoom.us/client/4.6.19178.0323/ZoomInstaller.pkg

I hope you enjoyu using your new video conferencing set up! I also hope Zoom don’t disallow older version or force an upgrade – they have been releasing a lot of security related updates recently.

Trekking and Ski Gear

When I buy equipment, I research it intensely and I am sharing my picks below in case they are useful for you. I’ve put these gear picks to the test by skiing (12 resorts) and trekking (places like Kilimanjaro, Annapurna Circuit) in harsh conditions over the last 5 years, with some pictures below.

If you buy proper, high quality gear, it is re-useable for both trekking and skiing and will last a really long time. I don’t have any perspective on style (as you can see from my pictures), and this post is primarily about function and some of the products that I like.

Summary

Here are the main takeaways in case you don’t care for the details:

  1. Dress in layers – you’ll typically need a base, mid and outer layer for cold weather.
  2. Your first layer should be merino wool, if possible, as it’s functional in hot and cold weather and you can wear it for a long time without it getting smelly.
  3. Your outer layers should be high quality Gore-Tex shells, particularly for your jacket. Make sure your jacket has a hood.
  4. Get a neck buff. It’s the most versatile thing that I have, and a lifesaver.

Layers

When you buy your gear, it’s best to buy in layers vs integrated (insulated) items. It’s definitely more expensive, but quality gear lasts a long time, is more versatile in seasons, and really makes a difference to your comfort level in harsh (freezing, windy) conditions on the mountains.

  1. Base Layer: Get good quality merino wool base layers for your tops (1 short, 1-2 long sleeve) and bottoms (1-2 underwear, 1-2 tights), and socks (2-3 pairs). This will last a long trekking trip of up to a week, and a week long ski trip, minus the underwear. For value, I like Smartwool, but my preferred merino wool baselayers are from Mons Royale, which are good quality and slightly more thoughtfully designed.
  2. Mid Layer: You really just need one mid layer jacket. I LOVE my Patagonia Nano Air with a hood. I’ve bought one of these for everyone in my family. I also recently read the founder of Patagonia’s book “Let my people go surfing” and it’s hard not to be inspired by his authenticity.
  3. Outer Layer: Get a good Gore-Tex shell jacket (not insulated), and this is more important than trousers. I got mine from Arc’teryx but their stuff is pretty pricey. I got my trousers from Arc’teryx too, as they have some nice synergies (jacket clips to pants) but you can easily get more affordable trousers if you’re budget constrained.

Merino Wool

Merino wool is the best! It’s so much better than synthetics for long trekking trips and ski trips. It keeps you cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold, still performs well when it’s wet and you can wear it for 2-3 days without it getting super smelly. It’s more expensive, and a little harder to take care of as you need to wash it in cold water and hang it up to dry. The performance and comfort improvements are well worth the trade off. Here is a good summary of the pros and cons if you want more info.

Outer Layer

I’m not a Gore-Tex expert (good article here) but have owned a few jackets now, and think they are all pretty fantastic. The jacket I have from Arc’teryx is made from the Gore-Tex Pro material which has 3-layers of material to make it even more waterproof and durable. I really like the Patagonia shells too, and they come in at a slightly lower price point than Arc’teryx. Make sure your jacket has a hood (so useful for keeping warm and dry) and make sure that the hood is big enough to fit over your ski helmet.

Neck Buffs

A good neck buff is so useful – it protects your face from wind on the chairlift or if there is ice smacking your face and keeps your neck warm. It’s a must have on trekking and ski trips. Here is the neck buff I have, which is merino wool from Mons Royale (around $30) and it’s great.


A lot of this gear is expensive, and if you buy it all it can add up. You can almost always get everything on sale; I bought almost everything at least 30% off retail. If you look after the equipment, it can last a really long time. My shells are seven years old and still in great working condition. On a cost per wear basis a good quality product always ends up being worth it versus. a lower quality product. Also when you are at the top of a mountain, freezing your tushie off a little less, you’ll thank me.

A Virtual Funeral

My great uncle, Taher, passed away this weekend at the age of 98 years old in my childhood home in Mombasa. He was more like a grandfather to me, as I grew up in the same house as him and saw him every day and my paternal grandfather died many years before I was born. He lived a long and loving life, I will miss him and always think of him when I have soft serve ice cream (his favorite).

Current conditions made it impossible to travel to Mombasa but we were able to have a virtual service for him (over Zoom) a few days after he died. Around 100 people attended from many countries around the world to celebrate his life and one of our family members even organized a priest to come and officiate.

In many ways the service was more inclusive and better than an in person ceremony. We were able to welcome people who would not have been able to attend – because of the distance, cost, time, or their ability to travel (age, health or dependents). Both of his surviving sisters in their 90s were able to brave the technological challenges to say a few words in his honor and we were able to share some photos and memories by sharing our screens and taking turns to speak.

I missed some of the tactile elements of being together (like giving folks a hug), and the longer in person time after the service. However, the positives outweighed the negatives given how quickly it all happened, and how difficult this kind of situation is for people to plan for.

Zoom Service

In a time where most of the focus of the web is how we can adapt to working in a distributed way, it’s also wonderful to see us use these tools for bringing our communities together for a shared purpose as well.