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Today I Met Estonia’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves: Here’s What I Learned

Today I met the former Estonia’s president (2007-2016), an engineer and a leader Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

I left work early to catch a train down to Palo Alto. That’s where the famous Stanford University is situated. On a sunny day, most of the students were leaving lectures as I cycled through the stunning Stanford campus to the Green’s library.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves at Green Library, Stanford

Green Library, Stanford


There were less than 10 people in the room 15 minutes before the talk, so I grabbed a seat in the front. American and Estonian flags in the front made the room look official and ready for filming.

It took a good 5 minutes to introduce Toomas Hendrik Ilves and his accomplishments. He has lived, studied and worked all over the world including the US, Canada and Germany. He worked at the EU parliament and made Estonia known as the most tech-savvy, digitalized government in the world.

In today’s session, Mr Ilves shared his fear of recent attacks on the Liberal Democracy. Technology has revolutionized the democracy as we know it, starting with printed word and more informed electorate hundreds of years ago. However, in the last few years we’ve seen at least 5 different attack vectors on democracies around the world, Mr Ilves argued.

 

Those five types of attacks are hacking, doxxing, fake news, twitter bots and super-targeting using big data (read my notes on presentation here).  Ilves argued that two years ago we couldn’t have imagined these type of attacks would ever take place.

He chose examples that illustrated his points well. From the Trojan Horse to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, from the recent US attacks on Syria to Facebook’s feature updates, Toomas Hendrik Ilves was relevant and easy-to-follow. His thought-provoking speech showed how technology and free speech coupled with malicious intent can harm modern democracies.

The public has been left disoriented: 62% of Americans use social media as the main source of news and are vulnerable to fast-spreading fake news. Malicious doxxing and hacking practices are strategically targeted at key individuals who often fall for it.

And who cares if there was never any evidence of three “muslim-looking men” raping a 13 year old Lisa in Germany, or German NATO soldiers raping a young Lithuanian girl. With enough backing from twitter bots, low journalism standards and easy-to-influence public such propaganda can cause serious threats to democracy. Threats that raise questions of whether free speech should be limited to protect the public.


How can we protect ourselves?

Although his main goal was to “have others think along”, Ilves also gave a few practical tips. 

Firstly, people should use a two-factor authentication on digital accounts. It’s the easiest step with the most significant impact. Secondly, we should educate the youth on how to identify fake news. Distinguishing them from trusted news will decrease efficiency of propaganda.

Also, somewhat wishfully, Mr Ilves mentioned that Bundestag has proposed increased fines of up to 50M euros for social media outlets if they don’t remove fake news immediately after spotting them.

What have I learned from Estonia’s President?

  1. “When in Rome, do what Romans do.” As a joke, Mr Ilves explained why he’s not wearing a suit and a tie. “If you do, everyone knows you’re a visitor at Stanford. If you wear jeans, you’re a faculty member. Shorts – you’re a student.”

  2. Be relevant. Whatever the topic, do your research and stay up-to-date with recent developments. Mr. Ilves impressed me mentioning few days’ old Facebook announcement on flagging fake stories, recent events in Syria, and referring to Stanford multiple times.

  3. Be vulnerable. Ilves admitted multiple times he doesn’t know what the answer to these new problems is. He admitted he’s afraid about what influence these methods might have on France’s presidential elections two weeks from now, or in the Netherlands. He raised questions to get people “think along” him.

  4. Raise thought-provoking questions at the end of your presentation. Questions make the audience think. Questions allow planting seeds into people’s’ minds, without carrying the burden that statements have.

The event was part of a series of Stanford events leading to next year’s The 100th Anniversary of Baltic Independence conference at Stanford. Read more: http://aabs2018.stanford.edu/
The 100th Anniversary of Baltic Independence at Stanford

Read my notes on the presentation.

Why I’ll never forget my first trip to New York

“Is anyone home?”

“Can you please bring my passport to the airport?”

Two hours before my flight to New York, I was sipping beer in a happy hour when I realized I left my passport at home. Thanks to my lovely housemate Sarah, I boarded the plane.

Second fail in a row. I planned to attend the Raptors vs Knicks game at the Madison Square Garden. After confusing Eastern and Pacific time zones, I booked a return flight during the game and had to book a new one.

Soon I will learn it was all worth it. I landed on the East Coast.

“Brooklyn Bridge Park”, Uber driver confirmed my destination and I pooled with a lovely couple from San Francisco. On the way, we exchanged some boring arguments about the differences between New York and San Francisco. “It’s our first time in New York”, said the guy. I smiled and agreed it’s my first time as well.

I wished them a nice stay and jumped off the Uber car. What came next was an amazing sunrise at 6 am…

Brooklyn Bridge on Feb 25, 6 am.

NOOOT. The day was foggier than summers in San Francisco. So, without further delay, I crossed the bridge and entered the Urban Jungle.

“If you make it in New York, you can make it anywhere”

Two weeks ago, my high-school friend Laurynas relocated from London to New York as part of his bank’s placement program. He was the only person to get it.

“If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere” is the capture he used next to a picture of Times Square. As you probably know already (and as I later learned from Spotify’s “New York” playlists), it’s a phrase often used in popular music culture by artists like Jay-Z and others.

Why is it true?

Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, walking around the Financial District, Soho and all the way to the Times Square, I couldn’t help but admire the countless skyscrapers, parks and beautiful buildings along the way.

“Is this where Kevin McCallister met the pigeon lady in Home Alone 2?”

I thought about Mindaugas Kuzminskas (New York Knicks guard from Lithuania) and his journey from Zalgiris to Spain’s Malaga to New York Knicks in just a few years. He’s barely older than me, and has achieved what so many basketball players only dream about.

I also thought about my coursemates, law graduates who dreamed about getting a work placement in New York. As much as every soldier wants to be a general, every economics student wants to work in Wall Street.

“I’m glad Laurynas made thus far” I thought to myself and smiled, while sipping latte from some small, cute Soho coffee place on Broadway St. He made it to New York, and it’s only the beginning.

Just like in London, you shrink when you’re in New York. You join millions of other people crammed into a small space. People, who follow their dreams.

“It takes courage to move to New York”, I thought.

Different journeys. Same destination.

Laurynas and I have been friends for almost a decade now.

While at school, we shared a passion for math. We both excelled at analytical thinking and represented our school in multiple Olympiads (I didn’t want to admit it but Lauris kicked my ass in math).

Even though our paths went different ways after high-school, we had some adventures together. For example, during college years, we moved across the world to explore life in South East Asia and Oceania.

We also trespassed and skinny dipped in Singapore. We blacked out on the beach in Indonesia (or, at least, I did). We celebrated multiple New Year’s Eve nights together. We also sold some of our best summers working in factories or remote restaurants abroad.

Now, on the way out of the Plaza where Laurynas resided, the kind doorman opened the doors and wished us a great day.

“MES NIUJORKE, SENI!!!”[1] we shouted at each other and smiled.

Not sure if it was the surprisingly warm winter weather… or that cheap whiskey from the night before… But realizing you’re halfway across the world with a friend you deeply respect and admire is a great feeling. Try it, if you get a chance.

Oh, and the most important part.

After a few career discussions here and there we agreed: while it’s great to pursue dreams and gain experience around the world, nothing beats the feeling of being back home.

Even though we’re going through different paths, one day they’ll meet. Most likely, in Lietuva.

More adventures and thoughts from New York in the next post! What has been your experience in New York?

[1] Dude, we’re in New York!!!

Why I joined Boomtrain

Back in October I wrote about my spontaneous move to San Francisco. I had two months to find a startup with great founders, an interesting product, and a strong team. Now, after spending the holidays with my family and friends back in Lithuania, I’m happy to announce that things have worked out to my advantage.

In January 2015 I’m going back to San Francisco. I decided to spend some of the best years of my life working for a killer startup.

What startup? Glad you asked..

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3 Reasons Why You Should Celebrate Thanksgiving Day

While recovering from hangover, I realized that today is my first Thanksgiving Day.

First, I reflected on what’s been happening around me. Then I put together three reasons why Thanksgiving Day is awesome and why I wanted to celebrate it every year. I also added a list of special people I wanted to thank.

If the only thing you know about Thanksgiving Day is that everyone eats Turkey, read more.

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How I got Into Berkeley, Stanford and Facebook on my First Week in US

San Francisco is full of adventures. I realized that two simple habits helped me have some great fun right at the start.

If you’re curious

  • what it takes to see Facebook Headquarters,
  • how to attend lectures at Stanford University without paying tuition fees or
  • how to save $500 of a conference ticket you want to attend, keep reading.

Here are the Top 5 highlights from my first week in the US.

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Interview with Manfredas: How to get a job at Google?

Here’s a story about a young, smart and ambitious person who always goes an extra mile to achieve his goals. After an hour’s conversation earlier today I was truly inspired. Read on to see how this person got into Google, why he inspired me and what kind of present I received in the end.

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Why I Came to San Francisco

Why I Came to San Francisco business development for startups

San Francisco by www.rantlifestyle.com

I came to San Francisco yesterday morning.

This is probably the riskiest and the most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done (except for jumping out of a helicopter in Australia and out of a metal cabin hanging in 134m height in New Zealand).

Why did I do it? 

Throughout the day I met a guy who was getting ready for his second interview with LinkedIn, a guy who was finishing his internship with a giant graphic design company,  a guy who just had an interview with a new fast-growing startup in Palo Alto,  a guy who built a social events app, a guy who left his team in Brazil to enter the US market and is now closing a $200k investment round, a guy who turned a warehouse into a Startup House (and my temporary home),  a girl that is a personal career coach with thousands of YouTube followers, a guy who won $35k for a third place in a Hackathon a day before, a guy who won $50k in the same Hackathon, a guy who built his business in Hawaii, a guy who is a Brazilian Jujitsu pro, and a bunch of others.

And I haven’t even been to any meetups or parties yet. 

I came to San Francisco because I love tech startups and this is the #1 place in the world to be in.

I came because I’m hungry. I want to help startups grow and grow with startups.

And the biggest growth is happening here.

I have no expectations but I’m open for opportunities.

If you think we should meet or want to intro me to someone, reach out via Julius@nark.us or +1 415 960-8759 and let’s do coffee. Just check out my LinkedIn first.

Oh and yeah. The city is pretty cool, too 😉

6 reasons why I love AirBnB and you should too (with $25 travel credit)

AirBnB is the world’s largest community driven hospitality company. Its mission, according to the company, is to make people belong anywhere they go all around the world. Whether it’s an apartment for a night, a castle for a week or a villa for a month, AirBnB has something for you at any price point in over 190 countries…

But enough of this marketing speech. Regulators around the world continue fighting with AirBnB hosts, horror stories from the past are not yet forgotten and even the company’s home city San Francisco took 6 years to legalise it earlier this week.

Despite these few issues, I learnt 6 things about AirBnB that made me fall in love with it. AirBnB is the primary example of Sharing Economy illustrating how technology can change our lives for the better. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.

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3 Reasons Why I Started This Blog And The Double-E Rule

After years of consideration, the time has finally come to start my personal blog. Great news huh?

I always thought blogging is so difficult that the only people who give a shit about blogs are their authors. Did I change my opinion?

Nah, not really. I just wrote down a few goals to keep me focused and established a rule that I’ll seek to follow. Here they are:

  • improve my writing (yes, I’m pretty selfish)
  • share some awesome stories about my life, and
  • inspire others to write (how cute is that?).

The double-E rule

I’ll follow the advice given by my former employer and a good friend Sam Johnson. He once said that every blog post should try to Educate or Entertain in order to add value to you, the reader.

Education part may be linked to the topics I’m interested in, ranging from technology and entrepreneurship to business, law, politics, traveling, music, marketing and sales. Note that I may try to throw in a joke or two from time to time.. Feel free to tell me how much they suck in the comments section below (i.e. empty comments section would demonstrate great jokes then. See what I did here?) 😉

How was this blog inspired?

Great communication skills are crucial in both professional and personal life. Writing well can get you a job, if nothing else. That’s one thing.

Another is that some friends asked me to document my adventures in a blog even before my trip to Australia in 2012. That’s always a good sign.

However, probably the biggest source of inspiration was my friend Adomas who wrote this awesome post on why you should write a blog. Maybe it will inspire you too?

Also he found me this rad URL for which I owe him big time.

When and why should you subscribe

Last but not least, I’d be really happy to have people who follow my blog. Actually I’d be so happy that I decided to pick a random person from the list once a month and send him or her a postcard from wherever I am at that point of time.

The number of subscribers is also the best metric showing the quality of my blog’s content. That’s great for two reasons. On one hand, when you don’t have many readers you work harder on writing interesting content. On the other hand, once you build up a list of subscribers you don’t want to let them down and as a result keep improving your writing.

So what I actually want to ask is this: subscribe if you like what you read here (you can do that by scrolling down to the bottom and entering your e-mail address).

Why did you start your blog?
If you haven’t yet, what is stopping you?

How I Made Friends With the Toughest Judges at Nottingham Pitch Competition

What?

Yesterday I pitched Feedback Loop at Nottingham’s annual start-up of the year 2013 competition final. It was my first pitch in England with a really tough Q&A session. However, I managed to make friends with the judges and even taught the bartender a lesson.

Here’s how I did that and what I learnt.

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