Wellington, New Zealand’s Startup Capital

8 05 2014

I was invited to Auckland last week to The Project: Digital Disruption to discuss what’s happening in the Wellington startup scene.

Here are my slides:

Key points:

  • Wellington’s key advantage is its scale.  Everything is accessible within a 20 minute walk – but you need to plan for 30 minutes because you will bump into so many people on your way that are doing cool stuff.
  • We have a high density of tech startups, and a great culture to back it up
  • The weather is conducive to getting sh!t done
  • We have a rich startup ecosystem, which is becoming increasingly antifragile
  • Accelerators, incubators, investors, tertiary education providers, “big” tech, events, and support organisations all play their part
  • Promising trends:
    • Government “gets” it
    • Talent, capital, ideas and expertise are being continually recycled and refined to help us level-up
    • We’re attracting amazing people, and achieving critical mass
    • Things just keep getting better in a cambrian explosion of startups
  • The future is awesome, thanks to the hard work put in by many over a long time – we’re really starting to reap the rewards, and this seems certain to continue.
  • It’s all about the people

My message to the Israeli ambassador: Put down your weapons, and negotiate in good faith

13 12 2012

Last night, the Klezmer Rebs performed for the Hanukah party in Wellington’s Civic Square.  I felt particularly elated to be playing Klezmer music in the main square of my home town, a thriving multicultural city that has gone from strength to strength in the thirty years that I’ve called it home.  Props to our Mayor Celia Wade-Brown for inviting the Jewish Community to celebrate in the square.

The main organiser of the event was the Israeli Embassy.  I have never been happy with an embassy organising what is essentially a religious event, for complex reasons which will be articulated in a future blog post.

The Klezmer Rebs collectively, and I personally have been very uncomfortable with the recent actions of the Israeli government, and we feel that there has been no measurable progress toward a sustainable peace, due in significant part to a lack of leadership by the Israeli government.  So we took the opportunity to make a political statement directly to the Ambassador, Shemi Tzur, in our introduction to our medley of peace songs.  I wrote the statement, and the band helped me revise it.  Here’s what I said:

Mr Ambassador, I’m glad you implored people earlier today to pray for peace, but we need more than prayer – we need action.  Praying, singing and dancing for peace aren’t enough; bringing about peace, and overcoming decades of counterproductive attitudes and actions is very hard work and requires individual and collective leadership and commitment from everyone including the Israeli government.  The time has come to tell your Government to show that leadership, put down your weapons, and seriously negotiate in good faith to bring about peace.  Bombing civilians and building settlements on land whose ownership is in question is not good faith.  Fulfil the words of Isaiah, and show that Israel is called into righteousness as a light unto the nations.  The time is now.

Prior to making that statement, I called to Shemi by name from the stage to make sure he was paying attention.  He was standing directly in front of the PA, and I looked him in the eye as I made the statement.  Today’s DomPost ran an article on page 2 (print version only) entitled “Peace plea made to Israeli envoy at Hanukkah Concert”, which said that “… Mr Tzur said via a spokesman he had not heard the message and had no further comment”.  All I can say is that this is an indication that the Israeli government is either disingenuous, pathologically deaf, or both.

We feel it is important that the Ambassador and his government hear this message from Jews.  Many of us abhor the actions of the Israeli government, and feel that successive governments since 1967 have let down their citizens, the Jewish People, and the world through their inaction and lack of leadership to address the fundamental issues that need to be resolved to create a lasting peace in the Middle East.

Several people came up to me after the concert and congratulated me for the courage to make such a statement publicly.  Only one person approached me, my cousin, and admonished me for making political statements on behalf of the Jewish community at a public event. Nowhere had I purported to be making statements on behalf of anyone, other than myself and the band, but I do know that there a large segment of the local Jewish community agrees with the statement that I made.

We are at a turning point.  Some would say that we are beyond the point of no return, but I am a perennial optimist and know that with enough good will and political pressure, we can make real progress toward peace.  And if they can’t hear us, perhaps we need to turn the volume up.

Summer of Tech: Building great businesses from Wellington, New Zealand

16 03 2011

In January 2011, I spoke to a Summer of Tech event about why Wellington and New Zealand are great places to start an online venture, and the importance of keeping your exit in mind.

Tech Entrepreneurship with Dave Moskovitz from SummerOfTech on Vimeo.

My Speech at Islam Awareness Week 2010 – From awareness through engagement to partnership

2 08 2010

From Awareness through Engagement to Partnership:
Cultivating Positive Emotions for a Healthy Society

Dave Moskovitz – Wellington Progressive Jewish Congregation (Temple Sinai)
Speech to Islam Awareness Week launch at Kilbirnie Mosque in Wellington, NZ
2 August 2010

Distinguished Guests, members of the FIANZ council, Ladies and Gentlemen – Shalom Aleichem, thank you for inviting me to speak again this year in the Masjid at Islam Awareness Week 2010 on the topic Cultivating Positive Emotions for a Healthy Society.

The theme is apt, and I love the metaphor of cultivating emotions, as if they were a crop being prepared for harvest. Often we go through life forgetting that each interaction we have with others forms part of a programme of cultivating relationships, and that ultimately we reap what we sow in terms of the relationships we build. As it is written in the books of Job (4:8), “As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it”, and Hosea (10:12), “Sow for yourselves righteousness [and] reap the fruit of unfailing love”.

In contemporary society we are often led to believe by popular culture that our emotions are responses to events outside our control, but we also know through many psychological studies that we can have a positive effect on our own emotions. Interestingly, studies have shown that religious people are twice as likely to report being “very happy” than their irreligious counterparts. So you could say that even scientists agree that religion is a good thing if you’re looking for happiness.

But today, I’d like to talk about some specific ways we Muslims, Christians and Jews can cultivate the positive emotions we would so much like to characterise our lives, and public perception of our religions, and more specifically, the interaction between our religions as well as interactions between adherents of our religions.

For me, if we would like people to have positive emotions about our religions, we must seek a greater state of empathy between ourselves and others. Empathy means identifying with and understanding another person’s situation, feelings, and motives. Without empathy, we are necessarily prejudiced in our outlook; without really knowing someone else and their situation, we are stuck resorting to stereotypes and third-party accounts to try to figure out what makes them tick.

I believe there are three specific steps we can take to develop this empathy: awareness, engagement, and partnership.

The first step is “awareness”, understanding the other person’s context; their whakapapa, their history, their belief system, what’s important to them. I applaud Islam Awareness Week for being an important door-opener both for Muslims and Non-Muslims to find out more about each other and take the first step toward developing deeper relationships.

The second step, “engagement”, is to connect directly as people, to build person-to-person relationships. In the engagement step, we can begin to understand the other’s self-image, challenges, struggles, aspirations, and vision for the future for themselves, their whanau, their community, and the world. Once one starts engaging, you learn a lot more about the richness of experience of the other, warts and all, and we do have warts. None of us are perfect, we all have strong points and weak points, and any direct relationship or friendship which cultivates positive emotions needs to take into account both the positive and the negative.

We can only do this on the basis of honesty, transparency, and mutual respect, which must be based on trust. I am not aware of any shortcuts for developing trust between people; trust is something that is earned, rather than something that is given. There are no quick fixes, and it can take years or even decades for people to interact with each other to the point where they can know that they are safe sharing information, and can rely on each other for support. In some cases this involves acknowledging and overcoming the past, both individually and collectively. We learn to respect others, even if we disagree with some of their fundamental assumptions about the world. It can be hard work, emotionally draining, and downright risky. But the reward for being able to punch through the stereotypes and have a glimpse of the true inner soul of another person is very much worth the effort, and even necessary if we want to create a society where we can live together as partners. And the empathy that enables us to view the world through another’s eyes gives us unimaginable insight into our own fundamental beliefs, our views of each other, our communities, society, and even God.

Confidence is a critically important ingredient in this kind of engagement. If we are not confident about our own identity, our own beliefs, and our own security we become worried about our own identity, beliefs, and security being overtaken or even attacked by those with whom we are engaging. It’s up to us and our communities to encourage, develop, and build up our own confidence before we embark on a programme of engagement with others. It’s really hard to cultivate positive emotions without underlying confidence.

The third step to deep empathy – partnership – is to envision and create a shared future, where we work together as partners, helping each other to thrive. Like a well-functioning marriage, we put the needs of others equal to our own, respecting and valuing our differences, and treat each other with generosity, understanding, and even love. We know each others’ limitations, sore points, quirks, drivers, goals, affinities and strengths. Our own objectives for our wider society become entwined, and we work together on them side-by-side for the common good. I mentioned earlier that religious people tend to be happier than irreligious people, but I am also pleased to report that married people tend to be happier than singles. I believe that the common element between these phenomena is that working together for shared goals, and celebrating the achievement of those goals together, is an excellent way to increase happiness.

I’d also like to say that whether or not we cooperate in partnership, our futures are nevertheless entwined. The choice is ours as to whether we explore how we can work together enjoyably and cooperatively, or expend our scarce resources on fighting each other. That choice seems clear to me.

So this is why I believe that empathy is the key to going forward in our relationship, and that developing that empathy can be achieved through three steps: awareness, engagement, and partnership. It would be really cool if Islam Awareness Week were to evolve into Islam Engagement Week, and eventually to Islam Partnership Week. However, at that stage it’s an ongoing process and not something that only happens one week every year.

The road ahead however is likely to be bumpy, and entails a significant amount of risk. There are a number of groups, the haters, to whom partnership is not a desirable outcome, and to whom divisiveness is far more valuable than cohesion.

So how do we deal with the haters? We all know them, they exist within our own communities, as well as externally in wider society. The haters believe that if we get to know each other, cooperate and even partner with each other, our own core values somehow become polluted, and we run the risk of being taken over by “the other”. The haters have no place in a pluralistic society such as 21st Century New Zealand, and indeed if the world is going to survive into the 22nd Century, we need to work together to either bring them into the age of empathy and partnership, or disempower them and make them irrelevant.

To disempower the haters, we can stand together with each other, both in our own communities and together as people who believe in a pluralistic future, and drown out their message of hate with our own message of cooperation. When one group seeks to deligitimise another, or suggests that violence is an appropriate method to bring about specific goals, together we can stand up to those haters in our own communities and say “No”. If enough of us do this within our own groups, and often enough, we will have an impact, one person at a time, one issue at a time. It’s worth noting that this is far more effective when we do this within our own groups, as to tell another group how to behave is generally considered to be interfering and divisive.

We cannot pretend to understand God’s will, but our religions all teach us that life is sacred, and that we should avoid violence, anger and strife. The book of Proverbs tells us, “A man shall eat good by the fruit of his mouth, but the soul of the treacherous shall eat violence” (13:12), “Make no friendship with a man that is given to anger; and with a wrathful man thou shalt not go” (22:24) and “It is an honour for a man to keep aloof from strife; but every fool will be quarreling” (20:3)

The media are often distinctly unhelpful, because their business model is based on selling stories, and people are much more excited by violence, anger and strife than they are by peace, cooperation, and friendliness. Watching news reports, you would think that the world is becoming ever more violent. In his delightful 2007 essay “A History of Violence”, Steven Pinker shows how violence has been in steady decline in society over the last several centuries, and proposes four theories about why this might be so. Whatever the underlying cause, you can bet that good footage of a bombing will always trump a snapshot former enemies shaking hands. The lesson for us is that the personal relationships that we forge – one relationship at a time – will carry much more weight than media reports. One day the haters will wake up to find that people would cooperate with each other to build a better society, rather than blast each other into the stone age. To paraphrase Nietzsche, with no-one to listen to their sensationalism, the traditional media will be dead, replaced by direct relationships between people and the sources they trust.

Using empathy as a tool to work from awareness, through engagement, to partnership, we can begin to emulate those aspects of God which we hold most admire. Just take the first five of the 99 attributes of God: Ar-Rahman – the Compassionate; Ar-Rahim – the Merciful; Al-Malik – the Ruler; Al-Quddus – the Holy; As-Salam – the Peaceful. I’d like to point out that all of these Arabic words are cognates with their Hebrew equivalents; they are essentially the same words, and represent qualities in God that Jews hold equally dear. We all seek to emulate these attributes, which are completely aligned with empathy and partnership.

So now that we are building awareness during Islam Awareness Week, let us resolve to start work toward the next phase – engagement, so that we can ultimately move on to partnership. Muslims, Christians and Jews have much fertile ground with which to cultivate positive relationships. A small number of us have been quietly breaking the soil, and we are now ready to be joined by many others who are ready to work alongside us. Join us in sharing our rich traditions with each other with confident respect, and learning more about each other so that we can work together in partnership for our common good.

Thank you.

Summer of Code (XSSS) – Building great businesses

16 06 2010

Earlier this year, I was invited to a Summer of Code panel session with Melissa Clark-Reynolds, Lance Wiggs, and Glenn Andert on building great businesses.  This YouTube clip neatly summarises my philosophy.


Creative Destruction in the Music Industry at Ignite Wellington

7 04 2010

Ignite Wellington was part of Global Ignite Week, and I was invited to do a talk as part of this exciting and (as a presenter) nerve-wracking endeavour.  Each presenter is given exactly 5 minutes to present, and allocated 20 Powerpoint slides which are automatically advanced every 15 seconds; the presenter has no control over the pace.  My Twitter and Facebook friends helped me decide to do a talk on Creative Destruction in the Music Industry, which you can watch below.