Social Media Have Failed Us: It’s time to be Anti-Social

Peter Steiner’s cartoon, as published in The New Yorker

With the advent of the internet, there was a belief that it would be a powerful tool for making new friends. In the early days of the internet, Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) and other platforms provided an opportunity to connect with people from all corners of the world and learn about different cultures. The problem is that the internet was conceived with anonymity at its core, so we could not know who we were talking to. As a (back then) famous cartoon by Peter Steiner says: “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog

Over time, the internet has evolved significantly, and the way we communicate and interact with others has changed. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have become the norm for staying in touch with friends and family, as well as making new connections. But they were still allowing anonymous users. The results? Tons of fake profiles, stalking, harassment, and trolling.

Facebook attempted to address this problem by implementing a real-name policy for user profiles. The idea was to make the platform safer, but in practice, it did not work, as evidenced by the proliferation of misinformation campaigns on the platform.

Despite the prevalence of fake users, trolls, stalking, and other problems, people continue to use social networks to find new friends and maintain existing relationships. This is largely because there are no viable alternatives available, forcing people to compromise their privacy and expose themselves to intrusive advertisers. Here’s the deal: Social media sold to us that they were connecting people, helping us make friends and stay in touch with our friends. But that’s a farce.

The truth is that social media companies convinced us to post publicly about ourselves, promising us that our friends would see what we’ve been doing and engage with our posts. This is such unnatural behavior. Would you broadcast in real life about the dish you ate? Or about the workout you did? Aside from narcissists, a regular person has no need to brag about mundane things. Now, influencers and brands do want to reach prospects and customers. Facebook and others might’ve started as Social Networks, but they morphed into Social Media companies. Emphasis on Media.

Do you see where I’m getting here? By pretending to still be social networks (or at least not being transparent they are media companies) those companies are in fact hiding their real agenda. They have successfully tricked us into becoming broadcasters, so we create enough organic posts to dilute the ads they sell. Basically, they normalized this weird behavior of broadcasting our private lives so that they could sell more ads. And by making this habit of oversharing mainstream, they also grabbed tons of data from us, which they passed to advertisers so they could sell more ads.

How many times have you posted something legit: like your kid’s graduation, and not many people engaged? Maybe it’s because they don’t care. Or, maybe, just maybe, is because they didn’t see your post at all because your post got scrambled into a torrent of garbage ads.

It’s time to be anti-social. It’s time for us to stop pretending that the pros of the current model of social media outweigh the cons. Teen depression, election influence, radicalization. The list of externalities from social media is immense, and the problems they cause to our society are profound.

Meta anticipated this trend and hedged their business by acquiring WhatsApp years ago. Zuckerberg is a visionary and realized that the days of social networking are ending. As he said in 2019: it’s a switch from the town square to a more private “living room”. The problem is that Meta shouldn’t be the one guiding this change. They have too much at stake to drive anything meaningful.

To solve for making new friends, what we need is a brand new model, a tool to help us find new people with shared interests with us. It’s more like dating apps than social media. Once we find those people, we can engage in private conversations using whatever service we want to.

We still have the problem of maintaining friendships. I bet you lost contact with good friends. I, for one, have so many friends I lost contact with, people I love and care about much. I moved countries, there’s the time zone difference, work, and taking care of kids. Ultimately, life got in the way, and I couldn’t keep those friendships alive.

So here’s my concept: Friend Relationship Management (FRM). Simply put, FRM will create prompts to prevent your friendships from going stale. It would provide alerts and nudges to promote conversation starters with your friends, from things you both like. It would suggest activities you could do together. Again, you would be in charge of picking the communication service you want to use to talk to your friend. Maybe you want to call them, who cares.

I’m considering building this company. Should I? Is this a stupid idea? Let me know your thoughts! Also, let me know if you want to get involved!

Update: I AM starting a business around this concept. It’s called Grape and you can join our waitlist here!


We need to protect content creators against ChatGPT

It’s a battle for our creativity. We will lose if we don’t update internet’s default business model.

The dirty little secret of Big Tech is that they’ve built their empires on the backs of small businesses and individuals, who invest their time and money in giving away the content that ultimately fuels these platforms.

Take Google, for instance. Of course, Google delivers a lot of value to users. Because it’s the de facto global data repository, every content creator must be in Google. Here we have a classic network effect in play: users rely on Google because it has all the content, and new content providers join Google because all users are there.

Google makes most of its money by selling ads on search result pages, and it’s not exactly incentivized to give users a quick and precise answer to their queries. They’d rather inundate users with a barrage of results and hope they’ll click on as many paid ads as possible. It’s a conflict of interest, plain and simple.

Now let’s look at the distant second search engine: Bing, from Microsoft. It basically copies Google — from the product to the business model. Nothing weird in it — as even Google copied its sponsored search ads model from another company. However, Microsoft’s Bing is finally bringing something new to the table. After investing in OpenAI, they’re integrating ChatGPT into their search engine to provide users with a single answer, cutting down on the endless clicking and scrolling that Google forces on its users.

Google and the original Bing might have been exploiting content creators all these years, but at least those creators could get some visitors from time to time. And with those visitors, creators could make some money (by selling stuff, subscriptions, etc). But now, with Bing generating a text response by repurposing content from millions of sources, how will creators get paid? Bing shows the sources of the text, but frankly, who will click on a citation? Microsoft should pay creators who provided the content OpenAI used to generate results. It’s that simple.

Maybe it will take years, maybe a whole generation, but I’m positive that without a new business model that values content creators, we will get to a point where there will be no original content anymore. AI will be creating content based on AI content. Are we prepared to give up our creativity to machines? I, for one, am not.

We have been having nightmares about SkyNet and robots annihilating humans. We’ve been wrong all these years. They are coming for our souls, not our bodies.


Ethics and Game Design: Are They Like Oil And Water?

Can the gaming industry grow and prosper without compromising ethics?

I had the opportunity to attend a very interesting roundtable at GDC 2018 presented by IGDA. The event was called Professional Ethics for Game Designers and was hosted by Sande Chen, Writers Guild Award and Grammy-nominated Writer and Game Designer (you should check out her interesting review of the event, by the way).

The roundtable beckoned readers to voice an opinion “as to whether or not game designers need a professional code of ethics much like the Hippocratic oath for doctors.” Here is the event description:

“With gaming disorder a mental health concern, do game designers have an obligation to refrain what would be considered ‘exploitative design,’ that is, game design that takes advantage of player addictions and/or mental defects?”

I expected to leave that event with some sort of consensus. What I really wanted was to see a core of game designers starting a movement that could culminate with a positive change in the industry. After all, we’ve seen similar movements on adjacent industries such as Social Media, where industry luminaries and even former Facebook executives complained about the addictive nature of social media (even implicating themselves). We’ve also seen organizations such as the Center for Humane Technology which was created to demonstrate how this technology could be used for good.

[Read our article about Social Media and Depression]

However, it seems that the gaming industry hasn’t reached that stage of enlightenment yet. Sadly, the roundtable ended with no consensus. What we saw instead was gamers split into three groups, which I have categorized:

  1. The Concerned: Game designers very concerned with the wellbeing of players, and with addiction and its consequences.
  2. The Skeptics: Those that were refusing to see the danger that games could cause. They attempted to blur the lines between an engaging experience with an addictive one.
  3. The Pragmatists: Those who took a more profit-driven focus. This group believes that exploiting addictions and vulnerabilities is the nature of the industry, and that those who refuse to do so will be less competitive.

Prisoner’s Dilemma

What I realized after leaving the event is that the industry is facing what is called a Prisoner’s Dilemma, which is a psychological experiment that tests self-interest. Basically, if two criminals betray each other, they each receive two years in prison. If one betrays the other, the betrayer walks free while the betrayed gets the maximum sentence of three years. If they cooperate, they each receive only one year on lesser charges. The criminals must make this decision without any knowledge of what the other will do.

Game designers seem to be faced with a similar dilemma, and few are willing to cooperate. They want to betray each other (and their consumers by proxy) by making their games more addictive than their competitors’. The harsh consequence they would receive by the betrayal of their competitor would be loss of revenue or even their company’s economic viabilities. Alternatively, game designers could cooperate and do what’s in the best interest of everyone involved.

Choosing to betray one another and continuing to design games to be more and more addictive can lead to very frightening consequences (such as the kid who had a seizure in China after playing the mobile game, Honour of Kings, for 40 straight hours). If something like that becomes the norm, it is likely that there will eventually be social pressure for the government to step in. The outcome could be harsh limits imposed by laws, which could mean compliance costs that will only benefit large corporations that can absorb those costs.

Professor Ian Schreiber, from Rochester, NY, talks about these potential government limitations, mentioning that gridlocked US politicians looking to score easy political points with their constituents could do so by regulating loot boxes (we will talk more about them below). “It is an easy bipartisan political win that’s almost sure to happen in the near future,” says Schreiber. He pointed out that the gaming industry must work on self-regulation, and take a proactive role to stop psychological exploitation of users before it’s too late. Using the Honour of Kings case again, the Chinese government stepped in by setting a strict 1-hour-a-day limit on gaming for kids 12 years old and younger.

But Pragmatists and Skeptics don’t see it this way, so they don’t see the need to self-regulate. They tend to view it as a simple supply and demand scenario, firmly believing that if they don’t offer this addictive service, someone else will.

It’s really no different than when criminals justify their actions by claiming that they hold no personal responsibility for providing a service that people demand. You hear this over and over in movies, usually when a criminal is caught by the good guy and justifies his actions by claiming he is just one among many, a cog in the machine. “If I don’t sell, some other drug dealer will. People are looking for this anyway.”

In real life, many famous gangsters used similar lines. Otto Berman, an accountant for the mafia in the 1930s coined the phrase “Nothing personal, it’s just business”. By ignoring the wellbeing of its players, aren’t game designers ultimately subscribing to this idea as well?

Or maybe, Pragmatist game designers prefer a quote from another mobster from the 1930’s called Lucky Luciano (he ordered Berman’s death, by the way). His phrase was “There’s no such thing as good money or bad money.There’s just money.”

Personally, I think it’s really hard for game designers to argue that they’re not only in it for profit, especially when you consider another topic we discussed at the roundtable: video games and gambling. It turns out that there are a lot of disturbing similarities between the two.

Loot boxes and gambling

Take for example loot boxes. For those who don’t know what loot boxes are, they are treasure chests with random items. Players do not know what’s in loot boxes, and the chances of finding valuable items inside them are very low. Players can buy more loot boxes with real money, and are incentivized to do so, with the promise of huge payoffs, just like in casinos. The difference is that, with technology, game designers can actually personalize the payoffs depending on the individual player’s appetite for risk and reward, maximize their attractiveness. As Robert de Niro’s character in the movie, Casino, says: “In the casino, the cardinal rule is to keep them playing and to keep them coming back. The longer they play, the more they lose, and in the end, we get it all.”

Some countries, such as Belgium, are already classifying loot boxes as gambling. In the UK, regulators admitted that “the line between video gaming and gambling is becoming increasingly blurred”, but have not made any moves to classify loot boxes as gambling. Here in the US, some regulators are increasing the scrutiny over loot boxes, but the practice is still permitted. It doesn’t help that ESRB, the self-regulatory organization founded by gaming companies, considers loot boxes to be no different than any other paid content, refusing to classify it as gambling. For me, ESRB is just another Skeptic, and is being willingly blind to the negative effects this feature could have on children.

To add to the pile of evidence that game mechanics are inspired by gambling, Consider that video game companies use the term “whale” to define a user who spends lots of money on virtual items. The same term is used for casino players who bet (and lose) great sums. And, like in casinos, game companies focus their marketing efforts to extract the most from those whales.

And like gambling, video games can be extremely addictive. But many Skeptics tend to use misleading language to convolute the argument and blur the line between what is compelling and what is addicting. For example, Aaron Marshall, a video game designer from LA summarizes how Skeptics think: “Video games are akin to most legal products and pastimes today. They can be responsibly consumed, or they can be abused. We do not condemn books because an avid reader is spending an irresponsible amount of time reading fiction novels. Why should video games be singled out when a player is playing too much?”

His point is valid, but I would argue that his conclusion is false. If someone reads so much that her life is affected, that person should seek “rehab,” just like any other addiction. In fact, there are rehabilitation facilities for digital addiction. But the reality is that children don’t spend that much time reading — less than 30 minutes a day. However, they do spend many hours per day on screens. According to Common Sense Media, even kids as young as 0 to 8 years spend over 2 hours a day on screens. According to another study from Common Sense media, for tweens (8–12 years old), this time triples to almost 6 hours a day on average. Teenagers (13–18 years old) spend an astonishing 9 hours per day interacting with screens.

However, it turns out that there is a scientifically measurable difference between a desire to play a video game, and an addiction to video games. With a focus on internet games, the North American Psychiatric Association (APA) has defined this addiction as Internet Gaming Disorder. It is disturbingly similar to gambling addiction (which is the only recognized addiction besides substance addiction). It basically states that a person is addicted to gaming if it interferes with other aspects of their lives and the pursuit of their goals.

Game Addiction and Cigarette Addiction

No discussion of addiction would be complete without mentioning tobacco, and some Pragmatists are not even embarrassed to make the connection between gaming and tobacco. Take for instance how this game publisher shamelessly recommends the use of celebrity endorsements: “For generations, celebrity power has been used to sell everything from soda and cigarettes”.

But there were also Concerned participants who made the same connection between gaming and smoking, specifically pointing to how some gaming companies employ similar practices used by the tobacco industry in the past. And gaming isn’t the only industry that is faced with these issues, nor is it the only industry where people are concerned with the effect that these tactics are having on children. For example, at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff was interviewed and voiced his concerns. Later on, he made the following statement via Twitter:

But again, we see the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Do game designers betray each other in a never ending cycle, continuing to make video games more and more addictive in an effort to stay ahead of the curve? Or will we eventually see an era where the industry cooperates to create better, safer games? The biggest question is whether or not game designers would be willing to potentially lose some profit in order to self-regulate.

Professor Schreiber summarized this dilemma well, saying: “If the goal of game designers is to maximize the revenue a game brings, creating addictive experiences might be required”. He added, saying, “Trying to ethically monetize a game might impact the company’s profits.”.

Solving the Dilemma

But what if there were a way for Concerned game designers to create non-addictive experiences, without abandoning the goal of maximizing monetary profit? Well, there is. Companies should be more transparent with users (or parents of users) and enable them to set controls controls such as screen time. While users get the tools to effectively curb their digital addiction, game designers are incentivized to implement the feature, since they can differentiate their product from competitors and potentially charge a for the feature. It’s truly a win for everyone involved.


Why Parents Should Pay Attention to Children’s Digital Consumption

Apply the same attention to children’s diets: curb excess and mind quality

In 2015, a report by Common Sense Media found that teenagers are spending an average of nine hours per day on social media. It also found that tweens – aged between eight and twelve years old – averaged six hours per day. Now, two years later, a new report by Common Sense Media shows that for children eight years and younger, the amount of time spent on digital media has tripled from 15 minutes a day in 2013 to 48 minutes per day in 2017. With school, extracurricular activities, family time, and sleep, it’s hard to even fathom how kids are finding enough hours in the day for this amount of digital media consumption.

In light of these statistics, researchers have begun to ask the question, “how is this affecting children?” What they’ve found is that too much digital media use, just like eating too much junk food, can have adverse effects.

For example, recent studies have found that even the mere presence of a digital device (such as a smartphone) can suck concentration and disrupt cognitive function whether the device is on or off. For example, if a child is taking a test and their smartphone is turned on airplane mode and tucked away in their backpack below their desk, their concentration and cognitive function may still be affected by its proximity. While the study did not measure test scores among school children with smartphones present, we can assume that disrupted attention and cognitive function most likely has a negative effect on test scores and schoolwork in general.

Another study, conducted at Stanford University, tested media multitasking. Media multitasking has widely been believed to be a practical (and maybe even a beneficial) skill because many of us tend to move quickly between media; for example, writing a report for work, answering a chat from a coworker, and handling a sales call. This idea of media multitasking as a strengthening skill is mirrored by children and teens, many of who believe that watching TV, texting, or interacting with social media has no effect on their ability to focus and do well on their homework. However, the study found that heavy media multitaskers had a much higher difficulty allocating their attention to specific tasks, switching tasks, and identifying key elements between tasks.

While the cognitive and attention aspects of media use are certainly worthy of consideration, one of the biggest concerns about children and teens’ well-being regarding social media consumption has to do with their mental state. A recent study conducted by economists at the University of Sheffield found that social media use among children makes them less happy in nearly all aspects of their lives. Even spending just one hour a day on social media has the chance of reducing a child’s feeling of overall happiness in the areas of schoolwork, the school they attend, their appearance, their family, and their life in general by 14%. However, they did find that social media tends to make children, on average, feel happier about their friendships.

But with all we know now about the adverse effects of digital media use among children and teens, there comes an obligation to do something about it. Part of that obligation, according to England’s Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, should belong to the social media companies themselves. After all, social media is designed to capture attention and ensure that users are engaging with these networks as much as possible. While this may be beneficial for social media networks, it is not necessarily beneficial for the people who are using them.

In an article in The Guardian, Longfield gave an example of the Snapstreak feature on Snapchat to demonstrate the absorbing nature of social media platforms. Snapchat users can create a “streak” when they share photos between friends for three consecutive days. If one person in the streak misses their turn, the streak is destroyed. This creates a kind of social pressure to continue interacting with the app. While it can be fun for friends, it can also be argued that the feature is inconsiderate of users’ time.

But Longfield also stresses that it is not only the responsibility of the social media networks to protect children from digital media overuse; parents must also be proactive in helping their children develop healthy habits when it comes to social media, just like they should be proactive in outlining a healthy diet for their children.

Modeling the 5-a-day campaign for healthy eating in England, which provides guidelines for balanced meals, Longfield has recently initiated a digital 5-a-day campaign that seeks to help parents teach their children and teenagers how to have a healthy online presence, balanced with a healthy life offline as well. These are the five proposed tenets:

1. Connect: Message, have fun and play with friends and family both online and offline.
2. Be active: Take some time off and get active – movement helps boost emotional well-being.
3. Get creative: Don’t just browse the internet but use digital tools to create content, to build new skills and discover new passions.
4. Give to others: Be positive online, report bad content and help others to balance their own 5-a-day.
5. Be mindful: If time online is causing stress or tiredness then take some time off and ask for help when you need it.

With the digital 5-a-day campaign, Longfield argues that children should not be entirely blocked from social media, as it is a modern fact of life. Instead, it should be moderated and used reasonably to have a well-rounded digital and non-digital social experience. To help moderate digital media consumption, parents can take advantage of parental controls to put limits on which sites their children can view, what features they can use, and when they can or cannot be online.

Longfield also suggests that parents talk to their children about the strategies that social media networks use to keep them engaged and the effects that digital media overuse can have on their development. This gives children the tools to navigate their own lives and make informed decisions.

Overall, it’s important to keep in mind that, even though we live in a world surrounded by digital media, it’s not impossible for children and teens to maintain a healthy relationship with social media and keep a balance between their offline and online life.

This post was featured first in Saferize Blog.


Why Saferize

Every time I start a new company, people ask me why. So I decided to share with you my reasons to found Saferize and explain the rationale behind it. After reading this article, I hope you will agree that Saferize will make the world a better place. Yes, no BS, we really believe we will do so.

Both founders, Renato Steinberg and I, Gustavo Guida Reis, are parents and we became more and more uncomfortable with what our children are doing online, the time they spend in front of a screen and who they talk to. We spoke with many friends and every parent we know share the same concern.

We investigated the current solutions, implemented a few of them ourselves and became more and more frustrated because none of them actually deliver what is promised. They are either hard to implement (even for us who are very technical), or they interfere too much on the activities we permit our kids to do. Plus, no solution talks to each other and we end having many things working independently from each other, making hard to manage permissions from various devices and applications.

So after trying the current solutions, we decided to study ways to provide proper parental control. For us, a good solution needs to:

  • Be easy to implement and maintain
  • Always work – impossible (or at least very hard) to be bypassed
  • Do not interfere interfere with normal device use

And we believe we got something that will work! Our A-ha moment was to understand that we need allies to fight this battle. And there is a stakeholder that was left behind: companies (content providers and developers). You see, this fight has been taken by antagonizing parents and companies. For us, the only way to have something impossible to be bypassed is to bring companies to work alongside parents. But you might ask “Why a company should implement a feature that could reduce its usage?”. That’s a fair question, but it’s based on short-term thinking. Yes, companies might reduce their product use in the first place, but they increase long-term use and avoid future liabilities as I’ll explain below.

But before I get there, let’s not forget that we saw this movement happening before in other industries. Past initiatives such as CARU prove that companies can self-organize and collaborate to protect children against fishy advertisement.

For content providers and developers, offering parental control on their apps means establishing an open channel with parents. By doing that, companies prevent parents to uninstall or block their app usage because felt uncomfortable with any single feature, for instance: the time their kids engage with it. This churn, by the way, usually has a cause that is opaque to companies.

Maybe it’s better if I give you an example. My kids love to play a game called Slither.io. I admit, sometimes I also play it because reminds me the old Nokia Snake game! Anyway, Slither.io is a game played through the browser and I’m not willing to set a time limit on the whole the computer because they might use it for homework or for other educational purposes. Plus, even if I added a time limit on the computer, they can switch to the iPad. So I would need to set a limit for the iPad as well, but is the same situation: they can use it for educational purposes. You see, today it’s impossible to solve this without Slither.io collaboration. On the other hand, if Slither.io was using Saferize, I would set a limit to my kids Slither.io account, so, no matter the platform (computer or iPad), they would have a time limit. And this limit would work even if they switch connection, borrow their friend’s device, etc. Because Slither.io doesn’t use Saferize, I blocked it on all my devices, so at least I’m be sure my kids will not be able to play on them. Slither.io lost three users (four counting me!) and doesn’t even know why that happened.

Besides Companies, another stakeholder that is important is the Government. The good news is that governments are already paying attention to child online usage and, more specifically, to their online privacy. In fact, US has a very strict law called Child Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA). It regulates how companies should treat data collection and data management from kids. In one sentence, this law states that, in order to collect and sell any data point from users under 13 years old, companies need their parents’ permission. To be clear, not only apps designed for kids must comply. Facebook, for instance, doesn’t allow children under 13 to use its service because of COPPA and Yelp got a $450k fine because allowed kids to use its service without parental consent.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is responsible for COPPA and fined companies such as Disney ($3MM), Path ($800k), InMobi ($950k) and many more. For each violation, meaning each child that had their data collected and/or sold without parental consent, the company can be fined in up to $40k.

An even stricter law is coming to Europe, called General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Fines will be huge: up to 20 million euros or 4% of the violator global annual revenues, whichever is higher. After the sad episode a few weeks ago when a 17 years old kid in China played a game called Honour of Kings for 40 straight hours and suffered a stroke, I wouldn’t be surprised if China starts with similar law.

And to be clear, doesn’t matter where the companies are based, if they serve users from any of the locations with those laws exist, they must comply or face the consequences.

With all of that being said, Saferize mission is to offer to companies an easy-to-implement parental control solution, so kids can safely enjoy internet and apps with their parents’ permission and supervision.

It’s a win-win-win proposal: kids are protected; parents are in control and can supervise what their kids do online; companies can reduce churn and avoid fines and other sanctions by becoming compliant to the available laws.

Our product is being developed right now and we would love to hear your thoughts! If you are running a software company that serves kids, please get in touch and help us develop something that would fit your needs.

This post appeared first at our Medium Publication.


Meditation Adverse Effects

I was introduced to mindfulness meditation in 2016 by my friend and business partner at Nossa Labs Flavio Rump. He has been practicing mindfulness meditation for some years and had already been to a couple of meditation retreats. I decided to give a try despite the fact that I always thought that this “whole meditation thing was a bit hocus pocus”. After been guided in a few sessions by Flavio and sometimes using apps I started to enjoy meditating. I subscribed to 10% Happier and have been using the app almost on a daily basis. I calmed myself down a bit and was able to understand that I could tackle my obstacles one by one without feeling anxious about them.

And let me tell you something: feeling less anxious is great! Being calmer gives me more room to think thoroughly about the issues and ultimately get closer to better outcomes. However, besides feeling calmer I also felt that I lost a bit of my drive, a bit of the urge I had in the past to do stuff – as if I had normalized my emotions: I don’t feel that sad anymore but also not that happy as well. I am not sure this change is due to meditation or if it is happening because I am simply getting older and more experienced (I’m now 40 years old). Anyway, I decided to research the side-effects from meditation. Turns out, some people are also studying this and I will try to summarize some of the conclusions were made about how meditation can be harmful to some people.

Mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular

Before we get to the potential negative effects meditation could give us, I would like to give some sense on how popular mindfulness has become. Below we can see the interest for Mindfulness in Google searches grew over four-fold since 2004.


Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 3.18.50 PM

Google Trends for “mindfulness” since 2004.


There are hundreds of Apps about mindfulness and meditation available for iOS and Android. The most prominent app is Headspace – the company claims to have over 3 million users in over 150 countries and raised $30 million in their last round of financing. Other relevant players Calm.com and the already mentioned 10% Happier, which is based on the book by Dan Harris 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.

Many companies such as Google, Ford and Target have also embraced mindfulness. According to the author David Gelles on his book Mindful Work: How Meditation Is Changing Business from the Inside Out, meditation improves employee performance and thus increases company’s profitability.

Not only businesses have been created around meditation and mindfulness but the subject is also popular within the academia. A quick search for “meditation” in Google Scholar returns 114,000 articles, with a steady growth as you can see on the chart below.


Is mindfulness a mere hype or it is really beneficial for everyone?

Indeed, mindfulness became a mainstream movement because it has been able to help improving the lives of meditators. According to an extensive meta-analysis performed by Madhav Goyal, Sonal Singh, Erica M. S. Sibinga, and others, mindfulness meditation has moderate positive effects for reducing anxiety and depression and low effects for reducing stress and improving quality of life. After reviewing almost 19 thousand studies, they discarded 97% of them for being performed without scientific rigour. Meaning that only 47 studies were Randomized Controlled Trials, had been performed in adults, compared the the effects with a control group over a certain long period of time (Longitudinal Studies). So,  yes, mindfulness meditation is beneficial to people, albeit not as a silver-bullet as many bloggers and journalists promote.

Now, the hidden secret about meditation that almost no one talks about: Meditation can be dangerous to some people.

According to Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths, M. D, mindful-based interventions can be indeed harmful if practiced without proper supervision. The authors note that, although mindfulness meditation derives from Buddhist practice and has been practiced for over 2500 years, there are no dedicated regulation nor accreditation bodies to guarantee that instructors have a minimum knowledge on the subject. Basically, anyone can claim to be a meditation teacher and incorrectly guide others. What to say about meditation apps then? If instructors can teach mindfulness in a wrong way, meditation apps can be risky as they offer a completely unsupervised practice.

Other authors and researchers also studied possible adverse effects from meditation and mindfulness. According to Deane Shapiro from the University of California Irvine, almost 2/3rd of people that went to a meditation retreat reported at least one negative effect from meditation and some even mentioned serious adverse effects such as panic attacks, depression and anxiety. Important note: this study was performed on a very small sample (N=27) . However, at Just Neurons we still believe that even if only a few people reported suffering after meditation, this is already enough to be concerned about the dangerous aspects of meditations.

There are small signs of more critical voices becoming more mainstream. Psychologists Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm have written the book The Buddha Pill, where they talk about the lack of research about the potential adverse effects meditation can cause.

According to research, what are the most common negative side effects from meditation?

There is very little data on how frequent adverse effects occur, however, these are the most common negative effects people can get from meditating:

  • Feelings of depression, including
    • Decreased life motivation/boredom
    • Increased negativity/self-judgment
  • Feelings of depersonalization and derealization, including
    • Autoscopy
    • Double vision
    • Grandiosity/elation
  • Feelings of anxiety, including
    • Panic and/or tension
  • Feelings of dissociation, including
    • Disorientation/confusion
  • Feelings of meditation “addiction”
  • Reports of pain
  • Hallucinations

Why is there so little research about the negative side effects?

There are many more scientific papers that show benefits of meditation than ones that talk about negative effects. Here are the main reasons we believe this is the case

  • Researchers have a bias to design their experiments in order to prove their hypotheses, as we presented in our inaugural article article.
  • Patients themselves don’t want to ‘disappoint’ the caring researchers and may chose to under-report any negative side effects. See Demand Characteristics and Observer Expectancy Effect for more.

We believe human beings are always looking for a way to become happier. There is something about meditation ‘intuitively’ feels right. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could reduce our suffering by sitting and observing our breath for a few minutes a day? Since we all want to believe this to be true, we end up conducting studies to validate our intuition. It is rather uncomfortable to talk about negative effects to a tool that seems to provide so much relief. Unfortunately, this bias affects everyone, including esteemed researchers.

There’s no shame in giving up on meditation if it does not make you feel well.

Some people tend to feel somehow “forced” to meditate since mindfulness is so mainstream now, with so many books, articles and people talking about it. Some people even stick with meditation even not feeling well, as if they are not feeling well while meditating because they are doing something wrong and they should meditate even more to finally get better. No one should force herself to meditate if doing so increases suffering instead of reducing it, which is one of buddhism’s main objectives. In fact, we should not forget that there are many paths to well-being like exercising or conducting other behavioral therapies.

So, should we meditate or not?

Overall, I still feel like meditation is an invaluable tool to be connected with yourself, see the impermanent nature of emotions and thoughts and create space between stimulus and reaction. in other words, when something difficult arises, you don’t take action that creates more harm but can choose a wise (non)action. Again, as the comprehensive meta-analysis made by Madhav Goyal and others, there are proven beneficial effects one can get from meditation.

My recommendation is to start meditating under the guidance of an experienced meditator or teacher. If you had any prior mental condition such as depression, trauma or PTSD, please avoid unsupervised meditation and look for some well-known meditation teacher or therapist to guide you. If you want to give a try on one of the meditation apps, start with around 10 minutes a day and keep practicing only if you are still feeling well. Remember: meditation is not a panacea and is not indicated for everyone.



What Brazil and US elections had in common – Facebook’s role

I moved to America at the end of 2014 to pursue happiness, not just for me but mostly for my family. Since 2003 I’ve been seeing someone I don’t support being elected for presidency in Brazil. In fact, I just realized that in my whole life just twice I voted for someone that got elected president. Being so different from the majority of the population is something hard to cope with.

My wife and I decided to leave Brazil as, after over a decade of bad policies in all areas we realized that things were not changing at a pace that could justify us to stay. Since we were kids we were “thought” that Brazil was the country of the future, like a sleeping giant that one day would wake up for its grandiosity. We thought that in 2012 that future was finally happening. Brazil’s GDP grew by over 7% that year, 30 million people got out of poverty as the country had a massive influx of people in the workforce and was surfing the wave of commodities, plus a massive oil reserve was found. The international recognition came as Brazil was picked to be the host of two major global events (summer Olympics and Soccer World Cup). The Economist cover featured the Christ Redeemer statue flying as a rocket. But a mere couple of years later the rocket was landing forcefully and everyone was bracing for impact.

This frustration proved to be too hard for me and my wife and we concluded that Brazil would never progress at a pace that anyone of my family could ever benefit from. As my great grandfather did while moving from Italy to Brazil back in the early nineteen hundreds, I realized I have one life to live and I don’t want to waste it in a country where people don’t agree with the way I think and don’t appreciate my contributions. I’m tired to do my best and see that it’s never enough to make a change. I voted, I paid huge taxes, all for nothing. I want to offer a brighter future to my kids and an environment where they can prosper and be free to pursue their passions and dreams. That’s my duty as a responsible parent.

Don’t get me wrong. I miss Brazil, I miss my friends and the stuff I know and I’m comfortable with. It’s sad that my Brazilian culture will not be fully passed on to my kids and will die with me. My references are different from yours. You know that joke you’ve been hearing since you were a kid? My jokes are all from the TV shows, folklore, lullabies I was exposed to when I was little in Brazil. My sense of humor is quite different from yours and I start seeing this with my daughters and their jokes. They are absorbing America’s culture and will have a different background than mine. Hopefully, I’ll be able to inject a bit of Brazilian influence but even the Portuguese language they are starting to lose.

As people who adopt children, my love for America wasn’t inherited – I picked America because I wanted to. Even though I’m also European and could move to Europe I believe in the American Dream. Despite all the difficulties, America is the place my wife and I chose to work, prosper, raise our kids. Is the place we want to get old and die. We had and have other opportunities but we left our comfort zone and moved to America because we believe this is the best place to live.

Have been experiencing frustration with presidential elections for almost all my life, I want to calm down my friends that are worried about Trump’s election. Guys, America is the best place on earth – has solid institutions, bright minds and an ever-boosting economy. America is much bigger than any person that may take the office. We will thrive. Always. We might zig-zag a bit but I truly believe we will always move forward.

My friends didn’t expect that Hillary wouldn’t be elected. Here in San Francisco Bay Are where I live, almost everyone is Democrat, supported Hillary and criticized Trump’s lack of concrete program and his personal behavior towards women and minorities.

That being said, even though almost all the media and all polls also didn’t anticipate Trump’s victory, I still think the surprise my friends felt was amplified by Facebook. Facebook’s immense scale makes us think that our activities inside its platform replicate our real lives but in reality, our virtual relations are dictated by how Facebook works.

You see, we all tend to live and have relationships with people that think like us. That’s why, if we can, we move to a neighborhood or city where we feel comfortable living close to people that are also like us. This is a conscious decision we make. In Facebook, we know that we invite friends to be part of our network and the posts they write are theirs. Again, most of our friends think like us so we see posts that in general share our own beliefs.

However, Facebook morphed to become a news aggregator and after a while, our news feeds started to show all sorts of, er, news and supposedly unbiased content. So if I liked the New York Times or Techcrunch, I can see in my news feed posts these outlets write about their articles. However, on a daily basis, I also find several posts citing articles from dubious sources being liked and shared by people the same way articles from reputable outlets. Plus, advertisers can target me as an audience that likes Techcrunch to sponsor a post about anything they want. Facebook then push these dubious articles as they generate engagement and or revenue. And the cycle goes on with people believing in stories without giving any thought on its veracity.

Political campaigns explore this Facebook flaw. As people don’t want and don’t care to fact check what candidates claim, we have all sorts of untrue, biased and dubious content being shared and propagated within Facebook. People that want to believe or already do believe in what is being shared get their beliefs reaffirmed. We pick friends that are trustworthy and thus we trust what they write and talk about. Facebook’s eager to generate engagement can cause us to mistakenly think that what is presented in our news feed is also trustworthy content, endorsed by our friends and mixed with content our friends write themselves.

Another problem with Facebook is that we believe we are discussing politics by writing a post and getting likes from our friends. Sorry to inform you that Facebook was never made to foster political discussions but, again, to generate post engagements and revenue (with engagement they can sell more ads).

I saw in Brazilian’s last presidential elections the same behavior I just saw again in ours. I couldn’t find a single Facebook post with contrarian view compared to mine. With the exception of my sister who has opposite political views in Brazil and a close friend here, all Facebook posts in my news feed were containing comments that I somehow already agreed with. My sister’s newsfeed was totally different, though: all she saw were posts from friends and media outlets she agrees with.

As a result, Facebook’s algorithm is creating polarizing echo-chambers. We believe we’re talking politics on Facebook but the truth is that we just engage with people that already share our current political views. By liking and getting likes on posts with our beliefs we just reinforce what we think. We now believe that everyone we know thinks like us and when we meet anyone that thinks differently it becomes an unpleasant surprise. In our minds, as so many people think like us that it’s not possible that we could be wrong. We are not prepared to discuss with people with contrarian views anymore. We don’t respect contrarian views anymore. We’re all becoming radicals and Facebook is partially responsible for that.

It’s time for us to wake up. We need to have a better place to discuss politics than Facebook. We need to appreciate the contrarian view and understand that people usually act in good faith and share the same end goal as us. We need to agree that although we might have different views, we all look for a brighter future. We need to find a way to listen to the other side independently from Facebook likes. Ultimately, we need to respect each other’s point of view, even if we disagree. As someone who moved to America to pursue happiness, I still believe that respect and honesty are inherent qualities of the American people. I hope with Trump we don’t become more radicals and we can coexist with different opinions. I hope to have made a good choice moving to America.

I’m not alone on criticizing Facebook. Read this article from Mashable and this one from Techcrunch  about Facebooks role in the US presidential election.


Where are the Brazilian unicorns?

For the second time I came across the Wall Street Journal list of worldwide startups evaluated $1 billion or more. And for the second time I was disappointed – Brazil is not in the list.

See the list below (NOTE: I’m writing this article on April 21, 2014, so don’t be surprised if one or the other company joins or leaves the list):



Another important remark: search engines were not popular and Google itself had just been created. Perhaps some of you recall the newsstands with magazines showing Internet maps, with names and addresses of relevant sites!

Before we address the issue of why there is no Brazilian company in the list (neither South American, nor Latin American!) let’s look at the data in more detail.

Of the 46 startups, 36 are in the US, 7 in China and 3 in Europa. In other words 78% of the startups over US$ 1 billion are located in the US, 15% in China and 7% in Europe.

The total valuation sum of the startups in the list is US$ 129 billion, with 72% of that figure with the American companies, 20% with Chinese and 8% with European companies. The average startup valuation in the US is US$ 2.59 billion; in China US$ 3.64 billion, and in Europe US$ 3.47 billion.

Of the total funding of US$ 17.8 billion that the startups of the list received, on average, North American startups received US$ 355 million in 5.4 investment rounds. An amount similar to that in Europe (US$ 352 million), with the difference that in that region they are distributed in 7.7 rounds on average. In China, the average investment is US$ 570 million in less rounds, 3.8 on average.

Most of the companies were founded in the last decade, with an average startups age in the US of seven years, 10 years in China and 8 in Europe.

Classifying the companies by type, we reach some interesting conclusions:

  • E-Commerce is still sexy in China and in Europe but presently attracts few entrepreneurs and investors in the US. In China, 48% of the valuation is dispersed in 42% of e-commerce startups. In the US 7.3% in almost 14% of e-commerce startups.
  • Hardware is abundant in China: 39% of the total valuation is located in 14% of the startups producing hardware. In the US the proportion is almost 1:1 (around 16% for each criterion).
  • Neither Europe nor China have any relevant player acting on marketplaces but in the US the sector is extremely attractive with 23.5% of the total valuation in less than 14% of startups.
  • Software is also popular in the US, with 41% of the total valuation as compared to China, with less than 4%.

Important remark: there are regions that remain under the radar until negotiations are completed, with amounts that sometimes exceed billions of dollars. That is the ever more frequent case of Israel – Waze bought by Facebook for US$ 1 billion is a recent case.

Unfortunately, being under the radar is not the case of Brazil. In fact, we don’t have a single unicorn. We have some players progressing to that mark, such as Hotel Urbano, Dafiti and Netshoes. But this is little, very little for a country that has the fifth largest Internet population and the seventh highest GDP in the world.

The great Latin American case is ‘Mercado Libre’, originally an Argentine company, which consolidated the auction market in Latin America and made an IPO on Nasdaq. During the same period of consolidation of Mercado Libre, we had the success path of Buscapé, perhaps Brazil’s greatest case. I’m very proud to have taken part in that story, but deeply regret that dozens of other Buscapés have not appeared since then. Buscapé was sold in 2009 for about US$ 340 million and Mercado Libre today has a market value of around US$ 4 billion…

But after all, which are the reasons for Brazil not having not asingle unicorn? I have some hypotheses, which I construed during my 14 years in this market.

The Brazilian entrepreneur wants to make his nest egg fast. We grow with a lot of uncertainty and don’t stand a purchase offer when it could mean to have a relevant financial mattress. I’m sure that if Facebook had been created in Brazil, Zuckerberg would have sold it the first time somebody offered him a US$50 million check.

To really innovate requires assuming risks. And to assume risks requires big investments or of long-term return. The Brazilian investor already has a very unfavorable environment by itself and does not support additional risk. If risk was to be measured in a numerical scale, and the investor typically supports, let’s say, a risk of 10. Our economy is already responsible for 5, and then the other 5 are insufficient for really innovative sectors that would bring more beneficial fruits for the country.

If on one hand the macroeconomic environment already represents a high risk, the government still competes with the startups by offering high return with low risk (through treasury debt bonds).

Brazil have an incipient venture capital industry. We had hype from 2010 until 2012 but normally we have only half a dozen of active funds in the country. The unbalance between demand and supply makes the balance heavier for the investor, who can squeeze the entrepreneur most of the times. I already saw many contracts in which the investor has a drag-along on the founders, and when the time to divest (when the fund has to be closed to payback its shareholders), investors sells the company and carries the founders with him. Since the divesting period is not necessarily the optimal point for the company, the future of the business may be aborted before its heyday.

Startups require several rounds of investments during their life. Each round has a right size and investor. It’s what we call stage financing. In Brazil, we have very few angel investors, the type of investors who finance the first phase of the startups, when the business is beginning to take off.

In the US, a great number of entrepreneurs and former entrepreneurs become angel investors – people who made money building companies and now support other entrepreneurs. Here, since we have few success cases, there are few successful entrepreneurs and ex-entrepreneurs that could become angels.

In the US, there is a whole culture of value distribution between startup employees, who receive stock options. As the startups pick up value, many people benefit from it. These benefited employees, vested with resources, are able to set up their own startups and/or become angel investors for third parties. Here in Brazil, employees normally don’t want stock options and values only the salary (perhaps for the rush to make his own nest egg as explained above…).

There is actually no real limited liability company in Brazil. If the company goes broke, there is an enormous risk for the passive to be charged from the entrepreneurs and investors. In serious countries things are well separated and the partners are only called to cover the company passives after fraud is proven. This additional risk scares away entrepreneurs and investors.

The Brazilian fiscal framework is a big hindrance. In addition to the fact of having many taxes (without appropriate compensation, by the way), the system is extremely complex. We have dozens of taxes and obligations to fiscalize our suppliers (when we collect taxes). It is all something unthinkable for startups in the US. The ‘Simples’ regime would be interesting, but it doesn’t function for startups because investors usually are institutions – and it’s forbidden for companies to have institutional partners if they choose the Simples regime.

Labor burdens also fit in the framework described above. In addition of employees receiving 13.3 annual salaries, startups still have other heavy labor burdens on top of that from the tax legislation (CLT). Again such a tax burden is unthinkable in the US.

The Brazilian University is detached from the market. We have great researchers and a vast academic production. We could ask ourselves if the number of scientific works means quality of the works and my opinion is no – having in view that we have no single Nobel prize yet. Regardless of the discussion over quality, the truth is that few businesses come from the universities when compared to the US, for instance. In the US exists the so-called spin-off, that is, companies that were created inside of the universities, often with teachers in the partnership (and sometimes with the university itself), as was the case of Google, just to mention an example. Here, spin-off is treated as taboo in the academia.

To raise unicorns, Brazil need to improve the ecosystem as a whole and for that we would need a change on all stakeholders’ mindsets: Entrepreneurs, Investors, Big Companies, University and Government. Unfortunately, I believe the chances of doing that are too low…

Mercados, Sites

Porque o Brasil não produz startups de 1 bilhão de dólares?

Pela segunda vez me deparei com a lista do Wall Street Journal das startups mundiais avaliadas em mais de 1 bilhão de dólares. E pela segunda vez fiquei decepcionado – o Brasil não consta na lista.

Aqui segue a lista (OBS: escrevo esse artigo em 21/4/2014, então não se espante se alguma entrar e/ou outra sair da lista):

Antes de endereçar a questão do porquê não tem nenhuma empresa brasileira na lista (nem sul americana, nem latino-americana!) vamos olhar os dados mais no detalhe.

Das 46 startups, 36 ficam nos EUA, 7 na China e 3 na Europa. Isto é 78% das startups de mais de US$ 1 bilhão ficam nos EUA, 15% na China e 7% na Europa.

A soma dos valuations das startups da lista é de US$ 129 bilhões, com 72% disso com as norte-americanas, 20% com as chinesas e 8% com as europeias. O valuation médio das startups nos EUA é de US$ 2,59 bilhões; na China é de US$ 3,64 bilhões e na Europa de US$ 3,47 bilhões.

Do total de US$ 17,8 bilhões de funding que todas as startups da lista receberam, na média, startups norte-americanas recebem US$ 355 milhões em 5,4 rodadas de investimento. Montante parecido com a Europa, (US$ 352 milhões) só que, nessa região são distribuídos em 7,7 rodadas em média. Já na China o investimento médio é de US$ 570 milhões em menos rodadas, 3,8 em média.

A maioria das empresas foram fundadas na década passada, sendo que nos EUA a idade média das startups é de 7 anos, 10 anos na China e 8 na Europa.

Classificando as empresas por tipo, chegamos a algumas conclusões interessantes:

E-Commerce ainda é sexy na China e na Europa mas atrai atualmente poucos empreendedores e investidores nos EUA. Na China 48% do valuation está distribuído em 42% das startups de e-commerce. Nos EUA, 7,3% em quase 14% das startups de e-commerce.

Hardware é na China: 39% do valuation total está em 14% das startups que produzem hardware. Nos EUA a relação é quase 1:1 (na casa dos 16% para cada critério).

Nem Europa nem China tem algum player relevante atuando em marketplaces mas nos EUA o setor é extremamente atraente com 23,5% do valuation total em menos de 14% das startups.

Software também está em voga nos EUA, com 41% do valuation total. Na China é menos de 4%.

Observação importante, há regiões que ficam under the radar até que negociações são realizadas, com valores que por vezes superam bilhões de dólares. É o caso cada vez mais comum de Israel – Whatsapp comprado pelo Facebook por US$ 19 bilhões é um caso recente.

Infelizmente, estar under the radar não é o caso do Brasil. De fato, não possuímos nenhuma empresa cujo valor de mercado seja 1 bilhão de dólares ou mais. Temos alguns players caminhando para isso, como o Hotel Urbano, Dafiti e Netshoes. Mas isso é pouco, muito pouco para um país que detém a 5 maior população de internautas do mundo e o 7o maior PIB mundial.

O grande case latino americano é o Mercado Livre, uma empresa originalmente argentina, que consolidou o mercado de leilões na América Latina e fez um IPO nas Nasdaq. Durante o mesmo período da consolidação do Mercado Livre, tivemos a trajetória do Buscapé, talvez o nosso maior case. Tenho muito orgulho de ter participado dessa história, mas lamento profundamente que não tenham surgido dezenas de outros Buscapés de lá para cá. O Buscapé foi vendido em 2009 por cerca de US$ 340 milhões de dólares e o Mercado Livre hoje tem valor de mercado de US$ 4 bilhões…

Mas afinal, quais são os motivos para que o Brasil não tenha nenhuma empresa nessa lista de startups bilionárias? Eu tenho algumas hipóteses, que construí através dos meus quase 14 anos nesse mercado.

O empreendedor brasileiro tem pressa para fazer seu pé-de-meia. Crescemos com muita incerteza e não resistimos a uma oferta de compra quando ela pode significar um colchão financeiro relevante. Garanto que se o Facebook fosse feito no Brasil, o Zuckerberg o teria vendido na primeira vez que o oferecessem um cheque de US$50 milhões.

Para se inovar de fato, é preciso arriscar. E para arriscar é necessário investimento alto ou com retorno longo e incerto. O investidor no Brasil tem um ambiente muito inóspito por si só e não suporta mais risco. É como se risco fosse uma escala numérica, e o investidor tipicamente aguenta, digamos, risco 10. Nossa economia já responde por 5, então os outros 5 são insuficientes para setores realmente inovadores e que dariam mais frutos benéficos para o país.

Se por uma lado o ambiente macroeconômico representa um risco elevado, o governo ainda compete com as startups pois oferece retorno alto com pouco risco (via títulos da dívida).

Temos uma indústria de venture capital nascente. Tivemos uma euforia de 2010 até 2012 mas normalmente temos apenas meia dúzia de fundos ativos no país. O desequilíbrio entre demanda por investimento e oferta faz com que a balança pese para o lado do investidor, que consegue negociar condições muitas vezes leoninas com os empreendedores. Já vi muitos contratos no qual o investidor tem drag-along sobre o empreendedor, e quando chega a hora de desinvestimento do fundo (quando tem que fechar o fundo e remunerar seus cotistas), vende a empresa e carrega o empreendedor junto. Como esse período de desinvestimento não necessariamente é o ponto ótimo para o empreendedor, o futuro do negócio pode ser abortado antes do seu ápice.

As startups precisam de diversas rodadas de investimentos durante sua vida. Cada rodada tem um tamanho e um investidor certos. É o que se chama de stage financing. No Brasil, temos pouquíssimos investidores anjo, o tipo de investidor que financia a primeira etapa das startups, aquela em que o negócio começa a rodar.

Nos EUA, a grande parte dos investidores anjo é composta por empreendedores e ex-empreendedores. Gente que fez dinheiro construindo empresas e que agora apoia outros empreendedores. Aqui, como há poucos casos de sucesso, há poucos empreendedores e ex-empreendedores de sucesso que poderiam virar anjos.

Nos EUA, há toda a cultura de se distribuir valor entre os funcionários das startups, que recebem stock options. Com a startup se valorizando, muitos se beneficiam. Estes funcionários beneficiados passam a ter recursos para abrirem suas próprias startups e/ou serem investidores-anjo de terceiros. Aqui no Brasil, normalmente o funcionário não quer stock option e valoriza apenas o salário (talvez pela pressa de fazer o pé-de-meia como explicado acima…).

Não existe empresa limitada de fato no Brasil. Se a empresa falir, há enorme risco dos passivos serem cobrados dos empreendedores e dos investidores. Nos países sérios as coisas são bem separadas e os sócios só são chamados a cobrirem os passivos das empresas quando há fraude comprovada. Esse risco adicional afugenta empreendedores e investidores.

O arcabouço tributário brasileiro é um grande entrave. Fora o fato de termos muitos impostos (sem contrapartida adequada, diga-se de passagem), o sistema é super complexo. Temos dezenas de impostos e obrigações de fiscalizar nossos fornecedores (quando recolhemos seus impostos). É tudo algo impensável para as startups dos EUA. O regime Simples seria interessante, no entanto não funciona para startups pois os investidores, via de regra, são institucionais – e é proibido para empresas que escolhem o Simples terem sócios institucionais.

Os encargos trabalhistas se enquadram no arcabouço descrito acima. Fora os funcionários receberem 13,3 salários anuais, as startups ainda tem pesados encargos CLT em cima. Novamente, essa carga tributária é impensável nos EUA.

A universidade brasileira é descolada do mercado. Temos grandes pesquisadores e uma produção acadêmica grande. Podemos nos perguntar se a quantidade de trabalhos científicos significa qualidade dos trabalhos e minha opinião é que não – haja vista não termos nenhum Nobel até hoje. Independente da discussão da qualidade, a verdade é que poucos negócios saem das universidades, se compararmos com os EUA, por exemplo. La há o que é chamado de spin-off, isto é,empresas que são formadas dentro das universidades, muitas vezes com professores na sociedade (algumas vezes com a própria faculdade), como foi o caso do Google, só para citar um exemplo. Aqui, spin-off é tratado como um tabu na academia.

Como falei, essas são minha hipóteses. Sei que há exceções e sei que as hipóteses podem ou não serem comprovadas. Por isso acredito que é muito importante para o país que estudemos a fundo nosso mercado. Só assim poderemos entender quais as reais causas do nosso insucesso e como poderemos incentivar o empreendedorismo de alto-impacto, que é um dos maiores geradores de renda. Estudos apontam que cada trabalhador de startup gera 5 empregos diretos e indiretos nos EUA, apenas para dar uma ideia de como essa riqueza se espalha por toda a economia.

Justamente diagnosticar nosso mercado e propor melhorias foram meus motivadores a participar do programa REAP (Regional Entrepreunership Acceleration Program) ministrado pelo MIT. Integro um time heterogêneo, com representante de diversos setores como Academia (Alex Lucena – PUC/Rio), Corporações (Felipe Herrera – Miguel Neto e Herrera Advogados), Investidores (Antonio Botelho – Gávea Angels e Guilherme Cohn – Confrapar), Governo (Augusto Raupp – Secretaria de Ciência de Tecnologia do Estado do Rio), empreendedor (eu, Gustavo Guida Reis – HelpSaude.com, Bondfaro/ Buscapé). Selecionamos o estado do Rio como piloto e, durante os 2 anos do programa, traremos soluções para aprimorarmos o empreendedorismo tecnológico da região, que depois tem tudo para serem aplicadas nas demais regiões do Brasil.

Ainda buscamos patrocinadores para viabilizarmos nossa participação no programa. É um trabalho pro-bono, onde os integrantes não são remunerados, mas precisamos pagar o MIT e cobrir custos de transporte para os workshops. Quem quiser colaborar, por favor entre em contato.



O Alan Meira me alertou e que usei o exemplo equivocada do startup israelense. A Whatsapp é americana e seu fundador Ucraniano. De qualquer modo, o racional que Israel está sendo bem sucedido e procede.


É Público ou Não?

De nada adianta um computador sem propósito para utilizá-lo, sem programas nem acesso a dados de modo a se aproveitar a capacidade de processamento para realmente produzir algo.

Há poucos dias, o governo do Reino Unido demonstrou compartilhar deste pensamento e estreou uma iniciativa audaciosa, patrocinada pelo próprio inventor da internet, Tim Berners-Lee: um portal que centraliza os dados do governo britânico – data.gov.uk. A administração Obama também caminha para democratizar o acesso a informações e lançou recentemente um portal semelhante ao britânico (Data.gov). O mote utilizado é “Transparência, Participação, Colaboração” e traduz perfeitamente o objetivo proposto.

Por trás de ambas as iniciativas está o desejo de democratizar o acesso a informações e oferecer subsídios para indivíduos e empresas desenvolverem soluções a partir de tais informações. Com efeito, já começaram a aparecer no Reino Unido sites como o Fill That Hole (fillthathole.org.uk), que incentivam a população a denunciar vias cujo asfalto está deteriorado. Desconheço o modelo de negócios da empresa por trás do site e isso não vem ao caso no momento, o que importa é que, com iniciativas desse tipo, os cidadãos ganham em serviços que o governo não proveria por falta de foco ou prioridade.

No Brasil, o governo não compartilha a visão dos países citados acima e, salvo raras exceções, ainda trata informações públicas como se fossem suas, não enxergando que, nas mãos de pessoas e empresas criativas, tais informações gerariam frutos e benefícios para toda a sociedade. Um exemplo claro dessa visão retrógrada é a base brasileira de CEP, nas mãos dos Correios. Qual o grande segredo que impede que empresas tenham acesso gratuito e irrestrito a todos os endereços brasileiros?

Apesar das dificuldades, empresas e instituições conseguem romper as barreiras e prestar serviços à sociedade. É o caso do Transparência Brasil, que consolida informações dispersas e provê um verdadeiro mapa da corrupção nas mais diversas esferas governamentais. Outro exemplo é o site Help Saúde (helpsaude.com) – uma ferramenta de busca que lista gratuitamente todos os prestadores de serviços médicos do Brasil. Parte das informações foi adquirida do site do Ministério da Saúde, mediante um software específico de captura que demandou seis meses de desenvolvimento da equipe.

Não são todas as empresas com conhecimento e perseverança para perseguir uma ideia e conseguir implementá-la como foi o caso. Isso resulta num prejuízo incalculável à sociedade, que deixa de se beneficiar com serviços semelhantes que não chegam nem a nascer devido às dificuldades de acesso a informações do governo, informações essas que deveriam ser de fato públicas.

Matéria publicada no O Globo de 1/2/2010