Why Mate Rimac is working on electric robotaxis

Mate Rimac, the founder and CEO of Croatian electric hypercar and components developer Rimac Automobili, started a separate company nearly three years ago to work on electric robotaxis.

Little is known about the company, which still operates in stealth. Rimac told TechCrunch this week at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 he hopes to keep this separate company under wraps until the team is ready to showcase what it has been working on.

Rimac did provide some details on what he described as an electric robotaxi company. He said the company has offices in Croatia and the U.K. and could expand to other locations. Rimac also said the company intends to be a global operator and he expects to reveal what the team has been working on early next year.

“Why stealth mode?,” Rimac asked during the interview. “Because there’s so much hot air in this industry, and so many PowerPoint companies, you know, announcing big things and not delivering and so on. We didn’t want to be that company, we wanted to do a lot of stuff — and like under-promise, over-deliver.”

Few even knew of the company’s existence until last month when local media discovered a Croatia Ministry of Transport filing that described a proposed project involving an urban mobility ecosystem that used electric autonomous vehicles. While Rimac noted that was an unfortunate discovery, he wants to reveal their work properly.

“People see us as the hypercar company,” Rimac said, noting the company is viewed as one focused on ultra-high net worth individuals. (Indeed, Rimac Automobili unveiled a production version of its Concept 2 vehicle. The renamed Nevera has a $2.44 million price tag.) “We have many other things cooking and have a longer-term outlook. I think that the new mobility will be really a shift in society. Just like phones didn’t just change the phone industry. Apple didn’t just disrupt Nokia, but changed our lives. I think the next big change that we’ll have is mobility.”

Rimac didn’t get into details about the autonomous driving system, sensors or design of the vehicle.

“We think that a lot of people are missing the bigger picture and focusing on some of the building blocks, like the autonomous driving system itself,” he said. “We believe maybe that’s not the differentiator itself, that there are some other differentiating factors within the ecosystem of autonomous mobility.”

Rimac later added that the user experience of the robotaxi is one area that he is focused on and believes it can be different than what others are developing.

#automotive, #electric-robotaxis, #event-recap, #mate-rimac, #rimac-automobili, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #transportation


Scale to launch a mapping product to address the changing needs of its autonomous driving customers

Solving the varied challenges that arise in autonomous driving is an incredibly complex task, but even attempting to get started means ensuring you have quality data that’s accurate and well-annotated. That’s where Scale comes in, having identified early on that the AV industry would require annotation of huge swaths of data, including specialized LiDAR imaging. Now, co-founder and CEO Alex Wang tells me at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 (ExtraCrunch subscription required) that it’s moving into mapping with a new product that’s coming later this month.

“Our role has continued to evolve,” Wang said, regarding how it works with its transportation industry partners, which include Toyota among many others. “You know, as we work with our customers, and we solved one problem for them around data and annotational data labeling, you know, it turns out they they come to us with other problems that we can then help solve as well around data management, we launched a product called Nucleus for that. A lot of our customers are thinking a lot about mapping, and how to deploy with more robust maps. So we’re built a product, I’m going to announce that probably later this month, but we’re helping to address that problem with our customers.”

Despite my prodding, Wang wouldn’t provide any specifics, but he did go into more detail about the challenges of mapping, and what’s lacking in existing maps available to companies working on integrating those with AV systems that include other signals, like sensor fusion and vehicle-to-infrastructure components.

“I think a big question for the overall space has been that historically, the industry has relied very, very heavily on mapping — we relied very, very heavily on very highquality, high definition maps,” he said. “The tricky thing about the world is that sometimes these maps are wrong, and how do you deal with that? […] How do you deal with kind of this challenge of robustness, or updates. Even, if you think about it, Google Maps, which is the best mapping infrastructure in the world, by a huge margin, you know they don’t update quickly enough for [human] drivers.”

Wang said that the challenge isn’t all that different from the one that Scale has been actively solving for most of its existence, which is that of the data flywheel. With autonomous driving, it’s of utmost importance to be able to collect and annotate data quickly and accurately, which results in ever better collection and annotation of future data, and more reliability for the assumptions the system is making about its environment.

“Figuring out how to deal with the real-time nature of how the world changes, is one really big, one really big component,” he said. While we still have to wait to see what exactly Scale has planned, it seems safe to assume that it’s all about building confidence in maps and mapping accuracy as a key ingredient in whatever they launch.

#autonomous-driving, #event-recap, #mapping, #mobility-2021, #tc, #transportation


Alexa von Tobel outlines how founders should manage personal finances

Few people are more knowledgable on the topic of how founders should manage their finances than Alexa von Tobel. She is a certified financial planner, started her own company in the midst of the recession (which happened to be a wildly successful personal finance startup that sold for hundreds of millions of dollars) and is now a VC who invests and advises founders.

At Early Stage 2021, she gave a presentation on how founders should think about managing their own wealth. Startup founders can often put all their money into their venture and end up paying more attention to the finances of their company than their own bank account.

Von Tobel outlined the various steps you can take to stay out of debt, build credit and accumulate wealth through investments to ensure you have financial peace of mind as you take on the most stressful venture of your life: Starting a company.

Know your numbers

The first step in getting organized and being proactive is often taking inventory. Von Tobel believes that knowing your numbers and getting organized digitally is the first step to having financial peace of mind.

Know all your numbers. Know your net worth. What are your assets? What’s your debt? What does your total financial picture look like? Get everything online. You should have all the mobile apps downloaded so that, in minutes, you can actually see your full financial life. And keep it simple. Fewer accounts are better. I always tell people, if you have seven credit cards, plus three savings accounts, that’s a lot. You’re never going to be as good at managing your finances. Simplify your accounts. (Time stamp — 2:50)

Manage your credit and debt

#alexa-von-tobel, #early-stage-2021, #ec-how-to, #ec-techcrunch-early-stage, #event-recap, #events, #financial-planning, #inspired-capital, #investments, #startups, #tc


Founder and investor Melissa Bradley outlines how to nail your virtual pitch meeting

Melissa Bradley wears many hats. She’s the co-founder of a startup called Ureeka, an investor at 1863 Ventures, and a professor at Georgetown’s business school. So it’s not an understatement to say that she understands the fundraising process from every angle. And moreover, she has both invested and fundraised for her own startup during this last year, where the landscape has shifted drastically. At TechCrunch Early Stage, she led a session on how to nail your virtual pitch meeting.

Bradley covered how to allocate your time during the meeting, how to prepare, how to close out the meetings with a clear list of action items, and what to avoid.

You can watch the session or check out the full transcript below, but I’ve also pulled out a few highlights from the talk just for you.


Conversation > Pitching

One of the greatest shifts in the pitch landscape during the pandemic was the nature of meetings themselves. Because investors and founders can take 30 meetings a day from the comfort of their home, it means that conversation has been prioritized over presentation. Adding to the need for conversation is the fact that investors aren’t ‘getting to know you’ IRL as they would in the past, and so how you interact (not just the content of your pitch) is critically important.

Bradley explained that planning for extra time to answer questions and go deep on strategy is more important now than ever.

Now is the time to really have a conversation and deeply engage the investor in your story and your vision. You want to be conversational in nature, but still formal in tone. So you want to be respectful; you want to avoid jargon; you want to make sure it’s clear what you’re talking about. But it’s really much more of a two-way conversation than we’ve probably seen before. I think again, pace yourself, be really clear in advance how much time you have. One-third of the time should be spent on your pitch, and the other two-thirds, you should be prepared to field questions and really have that conversation. Pace yourself. Don’t rush through. If you only have 30 minutes, it’s probably not the best time to do a demo. You might want to follow up with a recorded demo or make an offer to do a demo afterwards. (Timestamp – 6:03)

Strategy > Projections

#early-stage-2021, #ec-how-to, #ec-techcrunch-early-stage, #event-recap, #events, #startups, #tc


So you want to raise a Series A

During a seed funding round, a founder needs to convince a venture capital investor on a vision. But during a Series A fundraise, napkin-stage ideas don’t make the cut — a founder needs product progress, numbers, and revenue (or at least a plan to eventually generate some).

In many ways, the stakes are higher for a Series A — and Bucky Moore, a partner at Kleiner Perkins, joined TechCrunch Early Stage last week to give founders tactical advice on the process of raising one.

Moore spoke about storytelling over semantics, pricing, and where his firm sees itself “raising the bar” for startups.

Here are a few key points; a full video and a transcript of the entire conversation are linked at the bottom.

Explain to investors why you are raising now

More companies will raise seed rounds than Series A rounds, simply due to the fact that many startups fail, and venture only makes sense for a small fraction of businesses out there. Every check is a new cycle of convincing and proving that you, as a startup, will have venture-scale returns. Moore explained that startups looking to move to their next round need to explain to investors why now is their moment.

The way I think about “why now” is [that] it is an opportunity for you as a founder to convey a unique insight and understanding of your market opportunity, the history of the space that you’re in, why companies have succeeded or failed in that space, historically speaking, and what are the known challenges from a go-to-market perspective; what headwinds will you be up against at a macro level. These are all things that I think people like me get really excited about when hearing unique insight from founders, because it suggests that they’ve really studied their market opportunity, and they understand it. (Timestamp: 2:19)

#bucky-moore, #early-stage-2021, #ec-how-to, #ec-techcrunch-early-stage, #event-recap, #fundraising, #kleiner-perkins, #series-a, #startups, #venture-capital


Bootstrapping, managing product-led growth and knowing when to fundraise

Product-led growth is all the rage in the Valley these days, and we had two leading thinkers discuss how to incorporate it into a startup at TechCrunch Early Stage 2021. Tope Awotona is the CEO and founder of Calendly, which bootstrapped for much of its existence before raising $350 million at a $3 billion valuation from OpenView and Iconiq. And on the other side of that table and this interview sat Blake Bartlett, a partner at OpenView who has been leading enterprise deals based around the principles of efficient growth.

In this interview, the two talk about bootstrapping and product-led growth, expanding internationally, when to bootstrap and when to fundraise, and how VCs approach a profitable company (carefully, and with a big stick). Oh, and how to spend $350 million.

Quotes have been edited and condensed for quality.

Bootstrapping is directly tied to product-led growth

Product-led growth is all about efficiency — spending all of a startup’s capital and time on perfecting its product to capture new users and help the most fervent customers advocate for the product with others or perhaps the managers approving their expenses. That’s directly related to bootstrapping, since by evading VC investment, a startup has to be much more tied to customers in the first place.

Tope Awotona:

With no marketing at all, Calendly began to take off. So the initial users were in higher education, and very quickly we moved to the commercial sector. And all of that was because of the virality of the product. Seeing that, we just began to invest more into virality. So the combination of self-serve, which is incredibly capital efficient, because you don’t need all of these sales people, and also the virality, instead of spending a bunch of dollars on advertising, you can really rely on the virality of the product and rely on the network of the users to really propagate and to enable distribution, just those are the two things that really allowed us to be successful. (Timestamp: 7:49)

We later discussed how the extreme focus on users can drive efficiency through product-led growth.

Blake Bartlett:

It’s the product and the distribution model, and they need to be tightly aligned. Tope spoke to some of this, but I think first and foremost, even outside of metrics, it’s just how is the business built? And on the product front, the product is built, the jobs to be done, so to speak, are oriented towards the actual user of the product, not their boss. SaaS historically was built for the boss because the boss owns the the budget for that department. So if you’re building a sales tool, build for the VP of Sales, and then hopefully the AEs will, you know, go along with it. But now with product-led growth, you’re actually building for that user. … Eventually, you can build the things on top that the boss cares about like the admin panel, and the KPIs and all that kind of stuff. (Timestamp: 29:35)

Product-led growth and international expansion

#early-stage-2021, #ec-how-to, #ec-techcrunch-early-stage, #entrepreneurship, #event-recap, #events, #startups


Four strategies for getting attention from investors

Being a successful early-stage investor is about a lot more than simply identifying trends. A successful VC needs to think several steps ahead. For MaC Venture Capital founder Marlon Nichols, it’s an ability that’s helped him spot big names like Gimlet Media, MongoDB, Thrive Market, PlayVS, Fair, LISNR, Mayvenn, Blavity and Wonderschool early on.

Nichols joined us on TechCrunch Early Stage to discuss his strategies for early-stage investing, and how those lessons can translate into a successful launch for budding entrepreneurs. Success involves not only a solid team and great ideas, it also requires the willingness and ability to change and adapt to an ever-changing world.

Getting ahead of the trends

Anyone can identify trends once they’ve broken, but a successful investor needs to see several steps ahead of the pack. This ability helps VCs know where to focus their attention and, eventually, how to weed out the snake oil from the true value pitches.

For us, that means taking a look at emerging behavioral trends and shifts in culture. What we’re looking to understand is where people and companies are going to spend their time and money – not only today, but in the future. So we do research to see if there are supporting factors for this thing sticking around and being successful. If that answer is yes, then we can dig a bit deeper. (Timestamp: 4:33)

Diverse from day one

#early-stage-2021, #ec-how-to, #ec-techcrunch-early-stage, #event-recap, #marlon-nichols, #startups, #tc


Understanding how fundraising terms can affect early-stage startups

You’ve got a great idea and a strong founding team. So now what? When VCs come knocking, it’s important to make sure you’re well positioned to make deals. Fenwick & West partner (and business lawyer) Dawn Belt joined us at TechCrunch Early Stage to break down some of the terms that trip up first-time entrepreneurs.

Belt has been involved in a number of key Silicon Valley moves, including EV company Proterra’s recent decision to go public via SPAC, as well as IPOs for Bill.com and Facebook. Here, she discusses key concepts like equity and the right of first refusal, and the role they play in the early stages of startup funding.

How financially savvy should founders be?

When it comes to navigating early-stage deals, how important is it to have someone on the founding team with a deep knowledge of these financial guidelines?

I actually don’t think that’s really necessary. I think that it’s nice to have, and it’s good to be able to do this, but that’s not the core competency of the company. That’s actually a function. It’s pretty easy for you to outsource to somebody like me at the time when you need it and get the advice then. It’s more important for you to be really focused on building a good business, and then being open minded and a good listener and learner. (Time stamp: 27:48)

Getting legal help early on

#early-stage-2021, #ec-how-to, #ec-techcrunch-early-stage, #event-recap, #events, #startups, #tc


How to get into a startup accelerator

Should you try to get your company into an accelerator? How far along should your idea and your team be before applying? When it is time to apply, how do you make your application stand out from hundreds or thousands of others? How fancy do you need to get with the application video?

For answers, we spoke with Neal Sáles-Griffin, managing director of Techstars Chicago, and the founder of one of the earliest coding bootcamps with Code Academy (later known as The Starter League). He is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University and was a mayoral candidate in Chicago’s 2019 election. He’s got an incredible wealth of knowledge about all things startups — our chat was only about 40 minutes long, but he absolutely crammed it with insights.

Here are some highlights from our conversation at TC Early Stage — Extra Crunch members will find the full video and a transcript below.

Why (or why not to) join an accelerator

Throughout the talk, Neal shares plenty of reasons why you might want to join an accelerator. The connections! The shared knowledge! The support network! The funding is nice too, of course — but he’s quick to point out that it shouldn’t be your sole motivation.

It can’t just be about the money. If it’s just about fundraising and you don’t really want any of the other parts of the experience, you’re probably setting yourself up to not have a very good time. I would highly recommend reconsidering that and instead focusing more on talking to early-stage investors who might be interested in providing more hands-on and specific support that you would need.

That being said, doing an accelerator can be amazing, because all those things that you would naturally do as a startup in your local ecosystem or community, or wherever you’re trying to grow your business … all of that happens in a far more immersive, effective and accelerated way. The mentors that you get connected to, the investors that you get introduced to, the level of knowledge, the holistic educational experience that you gain from being a part of an accelerator can be a game changer for so many startups that are in those early days of trying to figure out and find their path.
(Time stamp: 2:30)

Be prepared and follow up

It’s important to think through the entire interview process — not just your answers to the questions that might pop up. Knowing a little bit about the person interviewing you and showing that you really know what you’re getting into can go a long way.

#early-stage-2021, #ec-how-to, #ec-techcrunch-early-stage, #event-recap, #events, #fundings-exits, #tc, #techstars, #techstars-chicago


The do’s and don’ts of bug bounty programs with Katie Moussouris

In the rush to launch, cybersecurity doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, and yet it’s one of the first things that startups learn can — and will — go wrong.

Hacker and security researchers can be some of your biggest assets in helping your startup stay secure. Vulnerability disclosure and bug bounty programs are part of working with the hacker community to build a stronger, more resilient company. But these are not a replacement for security investments, which as a growing company you should not overlook.

Katie Moussouris has been in cybersecurity circles since some of the world’s biggest tech companies were startups, and helped to set up the first vulnerability disclosure and bug bounty programs. Moussouris, who runs consultancy firm Luta Security, now advises companies and governments on how to talk to hackers and what they need to do to build and improve their vulnerability disclosure programs.

At TC Early Stage, Moussouris explained what startups should (and shouldn’t) do, and what priorities should come first.

Knowing the basics

A bug bounty alone is not enough, and outsourcing the process to a platform isn’t going to save you time. Moussouris explained the basics and what differs between vulnerability disclosure, penetration testing and bug bounties.

Vulnerability disclosure is the process by which you hear about vulnerability from the outside. You digest that vulnerability somehow internally in your organization and figure out what to do with it — whether to create a patch, how to prioritize that patch, and then what to release to the public [ … ] What it comes down to is that organizations need guidelines on how to handle these issues appropriately.

Next we’ve got penetration testing: hiring professional hackers under contract [who have] a specific set of skills that match your problem set, and you pay them. They’re under a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) to keep your vulnerabilities secret for as long as you need them — perhaps forever — and you are at your leisure as to whether or not you fix those vulnerabilities.

Finally, bug bounties are simply adding a cash reward to the process of vulnerability disclosure programs. (Time stamp: 3:20)

ISO standards are your friend

#early-stage-2021, #ec-how-to, #ec-techcrunch-early-stage, #event-recap, #events, #security, #tc


Building and leading an early-stage sales team with Zoom CRO Ryan Azus

This year at Early Stage, TechCrunch spoke with Zoom Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) Ryan Azus about building an early-stage sales team. Azus is perhaps best known for leading the video-calling giant’s income arm during COVID-19, but his experience building RingCentral’s North American sales organization from the ground up made him the perfect guest to chat with about building an early-stage sales team.

We asked him about when founders should step aside from leading their startup’s sales org, how to build a working sales culture, hiring diversely, how to pick customer segments, and how to build a playbook.

Below, TechCrunch has compiled a number of key comments from Azus, and afterwards we’ve included the full video from the interview as well as a transcript. Let’s go!

When should founders let others run sales?

Nearly every startup leans on its CEO as its first salesperson. After all, who else knows the product and can talk it up like the startup’s leader? But having the CEO as point-person for sales scales poorly. So, when is the right time to have someone else step in?

Fairly early on. First off, CEOs need to solve customer needs. And so it’s important to be very hands-on for a while to really understand while you’re trying to figure out product-market fit. And then bringing in some of those sales people as you start seeing something [good].

Part of it is also knowing what type of salesperson you need. […] Who is your core audience? What persona are you going after? And trying to find people that know and understand selling something that’s primarily very transactional to small businesses, [or] e-commerce lead, or selling something that’s more enterprise — those are different animals, different segments that you’re going after. One mistake [startups make] is hiring the wrong type of salesperson. (Timestamp: 5:29)

How much product-market fit is enough?

#early-stage-2021, #ec-how-to, #ec-techcrunch-early-stage, #event-recap, #hiring, #startups, #tc


How founders can avoid blind spots and make better decisions with EchoVC’s Eghosa Omoigui

Building and maintaining a successful startup requires founders to see the entire playing field. Without that clear view, founders risk missteps when it comes to hiring, raising funds, launching a product or making an acquisition.

Essentially, any big decision can end in disaster if a founder loses perspective or lacks self- and situational awareness.

Eghosa Omoigui, the founder and managing general partner of EchoVC Partners, a seed and early-stage venture capital firm that serves underrepresented founders and underserved markets, has helped entrepreneurs navigate the first steps of starting a company and laying the right foundation early on.

Omoigui, who was previously director of consumer internet and semantic technologies at Intel Capital, advocates for founders to develop their own All-22 tape — a tool used by professional football coaches that allows the viewer to see all 22 players on the field at the same time. It improves a coach’s line of sight and, most importantly, helps avoid missing a critical motion or player.

The concept of this tool can — and should — be applied in the startup world as well, Omoigui said during the virtual TC Early Stage event.

Omoigui explained what it means to have an All-22 tape and the steps founders should take to develop a skill set that will allow them to see and understand the playbook from all sides.

The big picture

Before getting into the steps, it’s important to understand what the aim is. The upshot? For founders to have the best and most complete view of their company, team, investors, product and competitors.

For founders, that means being able to zoom out and see each of their employees’ points of view and being inclusive. Without an All-22 tape, founders can mistakenly spend too much on engineering while ignoring the product rollout strategy or forget to communicate with employees outside of their bubble of interest. A company can become fragmented as more blind spots emerge, which can ultimately lead to oversights that damage its reputation, operations or even its ability to raise money from investors.

For operators and investors, what we see is usually very driven by where we stand, or where we sit. And what you have to discover really is: How can I get much better views? And the best view is always the plan view, you’re looking from the top down, you’re watching the movement, and you have line of sight, you know, that’s essentially 360 degrees. (Timestamp: 3:40)

Situational and self-awareness

#coach, #decision-making, #early-stage-2021, #eghosa-omoigui, #event-recap, #events, #executive-coach, #startup-company, #tc, #venture-capital


How to kick the 10 worst startup habits with Fuel Capital’s Leah Solivan

Fuel Capital General Partner Leah Solivan joined us at TechCrunch Early Stage 2021 to talk about how to avoid early mistakes in building your startup. Solivan has ample experience on both sides of the fence, as she founded TaskRabbit and led it to exit through an acquisition by Ikea in 2017. She shared a list of 10 things to avoid in total, but here are some highlights of what to watch out for.

Share your ideas freely

Solivan urged founders to not be shy about sharing their ideas, as some people can tend to be secretive about their startup concept. The notion that giving up your idea somehow means you’ll end up with more competition is not a legitimate concern in the end, Solivan said. Instead, sharing that idea with as many people as you can is much more likely to generate positive results than negative.

I can’t tell you how many times I would be giving a presentation. And someone after the presentation would come up to me and say, oh my goodness, I had this same idea for TaskRabbit, like 10 years ago. And I’d be like, great! What did you do with that idea? And I think the point is, is that the idea itself isn’t the magic — the magic is in the execution of your idea and actually turning that idea into a business. (Timestamp: 01:42)

Take everyone’s advice, but make the call

#early-stage-2021, #ec-techcrunch-early-stage, #event-recap, #startups, #tc


Everything you missed from TC Sessions: Justice

TechCrunch Sessions: Justice covered a wide variety of topics. From DEI to labor to accessibility, the sessions went deep on the issues that matter most in the tech world.

For example, we had an illuminating conversation with Arlan Hamilton around how to find the next unicorn. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who has represented Oakland and the surrounding East Bay cities for more than two decades, discussed equity in tech and the ‘pipeline problem.’ We even sat down with the heads of DEI at behemoths like Netflix, Facebook and Uber to hear their thoughts on growing diversity within the tech space.

If you didn’t have a chance to join us last week, you can still check out all the conversations we had right here.

Early Stage is the premier ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear first-hand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in – there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion. Use code “TCARTICLE at checkout to get 20 percent off tickets right here.

#event-recap, #tc, #tcjustice


Imagining pathways for returning citizens with Jason Jones, Deepti Rohatgi, and Aly Tamboura

People returning from a period of incarceration face innumerable challenges, among them entering a high-tech workforce that requires a new set of skills. Jason Jones leads remote instruction at The Last Mile, a code training program for inmates; Deepti Rohatgi is head of Slack for Good, a social-good office within the company running Next Chapter, which helps place recently incarcerated find employment at tech partners; Aly Tamboura advises the new $350 million (and counting) Justice Accelerator Fund at the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative. These three, whose stories are intertwined, discussed the possibility for change and how to effect it within the context of tech and returning citizens.

On the shift in attitudes that makes it possible

Not many years ago the idea of in-facility tech training and mentoring might not even have been a possibility. But the increasingly visible shortcomings and flaws of the justice system have made it clear how much such programs are needed.

Tamboura: When we think of mass incarceration, as a whole, the nation is really starting to get it, is saying this was a failed experiment, it’s not working, our communities are no safer, we have all these people in prison.

And a lot of Departments of Corrections across across the United States, they’re not equipped to get people ready to come home and to thrive. They really weren’t set up for that. So when you think of the role of tech in this, when you ask what has changed, a lot of Department of Corrections, have changed that mantra, a lot of Governors, to change that mantra, and projects, like The Last Mile and Next Chapter, these public-private partnerships are showing states what is possible, if we all collaborate and and put our heads together. (Timestamp: 5:36)

On tailoring the lesson to the learner

Teaching people serving prison terms means catering to their strengths and expectations, just like teaching any other group. In this case it also means wearing away the dehumanization and stigma that comes with spending years in a cell.

Jones: From the very first time that they come in, we really try to embed this culture, to humanize them, right? I think when it starts with the language, we don’t call none of our learners inmates convicts parolees or anything like that, because the narratives that have been attached to those to those labels have always been negative and dehumanized.

Then we challenge them in healthy ways and try to relate a lot of their lived experience to the coding concepts. For example, this week, I just did a lesson about scoping. And I related into like, how their cells or their living quarters is set up in – like the scope that they live in, only them or their celly have access to that, to what’s in the cell, as opposed to like the global scope where the day room or yard everyone has access to. So just finding these ways where you can relate the lived experience of the current situation, or current condition to some of these coding concepts that’s a little bit abstract and new for someone learning technology.

(Timestamp: 8:08)

On getting people close to the work

Showing future coworkers and stakeholders about the real nature of the justice and incarcerative systems firsthand helps break down barriers. Silicon Valley may be famously progressive but even so people have internalized decades of misinformation about how things actually work.

Rohatgi: Most people in tech have no exposure to people who have been impacted by a criminal justice system, even though there are over 2 million people who are incarcerated. We need to first make sure the company has shifted their culture to make sure that the apprentices and future software engineers can thrive… so they don’t use terms like felon or ex-con, right? And frankly, people need to understand why this country has gotten into the place it is with our criminal justice system. So there’s a lot of education that happens within the companies.

For us, it’s involved taking over 200 Slack employees to San Quentin, to help shift their perceptions of what somebody who is incarcerated is capable of, explaining to them all the obstacles that you have to go through once you are released, right? Just really getting an education on this issue that nobody has, or very few people within the tech community have exposure to… Then we’ve seen massive shifts from fear to love. (Timestamp: 10:01)

On getting system-impacted people a place at the table

Of course it’s advised to ask people who have been in prison for their input on programs that may affect others there, but how often are such returned citizens given positions of weight at 9-figure funds? Yet as Tamboura explains it’s exactly what’s needed.

Tamboura: You know, CZI is a baby. It’s a new organization. And when our team got involved with this work, it just it took off like a rocket ship. And it’s time for it’s time for us to, like, graduate from grade school and move into college with this fund.

This is one of the few times in history where a fund I think it is the only time in history where a fund has been advised by someone — and I mean a fund this significant as this — advised by people who are system impacted. There’s this old mantra people that are closest to the problems are closest to solutions. And I really believe that people who have been through the system people or are system impacted, really need to not only have a seat at the table, but have a compelling voice in this work. (Timestamp: 13:29)

On the impact

The prison system is notoriously fractured, with regulations and opportunities varying wildly between different facilities and states. It takes research, clout, and direct work with the people in charge to move the ball — but when it hits, it can change a lot of lives. Programs like The Last Mile are just part of a broader effort.

Jones: We have a sort of like a franchise model when we go into expanding into any state. For instance, Ali with CZI, they helped with us expanding to Oklahoma, helped with the funding. It was a partnership. And when we launched, it was, at the time, the highest incarcerated state for women in the world. And I remember one of our board members, MC Hammer, talking to Governor Stitt and raising that statistic. In a matter of months, they did the biggest commutation still to this day. It was like 500 people got commuted, and a lot of our learners was part of that commutation, and got out. (Timestamp: 17:08)

On proving the impossible possible

Inertia is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome in any social movement, and part of that is the assumption that if it could be done, someone would have already done it; no one has done it, so it can’t be done.

Rohatgi: One thing that’s really important is proving the model. If Slack can do it, why can’t Zoom, Square, or Dropbox? It turns out, they can. And if Zoom, Square, and Dropbox can do it, why can’t other companies, right? So the idea that it’s impossible, you can’t say that anymore. You can’t say it’s not possible to do it — you can, and for very big, not massive, but for big tech companies. So I feel like the impossibility of making the significant change and making systemic change within the tech sector seems completely doable to me. (Timestamp: 22:37)

Watch the full session below:

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ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt dives into tech’s reckoning with online hate

On January 6, America watched in horror as groups that recruited and organized on major social media sites violently attacked the seat of American democracy. Within a matter of hours, tech companies took actions they’d said we’re out of the question for years.

But real change requires thoughtful policy and a clear-eyed look at the choices that allowed dangerous extremism to thrive in the first place. We spoke with Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt on proposed policy solutions and tech’s coming era of accountability at TechCrunch Sessions: Justice 2021.

On how the ADL ramped up its efforts in Silicon Valley:

Given the rise of online hate, harassment and dangerous misinformation, tech companies are increasingly on the radar for civil rights organizations. It’s now common to see organizations like the ADL to participate in pressure campaigns aiming to change platforms’ policies and sign onto legislation proposing regulations for the industry.

“So at the ADL, we’re the oldest anti hate organization in the world. But we deeply believe that today, the frontline and fighting hate is really on Facebook. I mean, there’s just no question that social media has become a breeding, breeding ground for kind of bigotry, that is offensive and ugly in all respects. Now, we’ve known this for years. But when I came on board, about five and a half years ago, I really wanted to focus on this, and try to get causal and right to the heart of the problem. So we could finally turn it around. So in 2017, we actually opened an office in Silicon Valley, our Center for Technology and Society, we were the first civil rights group with an actual presence in the valley. And for me, that was sort of second nature, because I had worked in the valley for years before taking this job, you know, both raising money on Sandhill road, managing teams of engineers building products.” (Timestamp: 0:53)

How algorithms make social media uniquely dangerous:

Algorithms are what sets social networks apart from more traditional media sources. Rather than seeking it out, the average internet user has extreme ideas served directly to them through algorithms that decide what they see. This is particularly an issue with Facebook and YouTube’s way of keeping users engaged for as long as possible.

Algorithmic amplification has a lot to do with the dilemma that we found ourselves in, and extremists are, if nothing else innovative, they exploit loopholes. And indeed, they have used the kind of libertarian laissez faire attitude of the companies to their own advantage for a number of years. And so from Facebook groups to YouTube channels to kind of accounts on Twitter, let alone all the other platforms, they’ve used them with tremendous depth, depth. So what’s interesting is, and many people that I know have seen this, I’ve seen this myself, you may have to I’m sure your audience has. It wasn’t too long ago that you might watch a YouTube video and one click or two clicks over, suddenly find yourself down the rabbit hole of some crazy QAnon or anti vaxxer you know, Boogaloo content. Same thing on Facebook.

When you search a piece of content, suddenly, you’re served up Facebook groups that may be from accelerationist, or white supremacists, or other racist and anti Semites. But the reality that we’ve got to confront is that algorithms aren’t our right, if you will, algorithmic amplification isn’t a privilege which should be accorded to everyone. It’s a responsibility that the companies have to make sure that their products give users what they want, but that they’re also not abused. And that the users themselves are not abused, to seeing the kind of things to which they might be very viable. Robots are susceptible. So we deeply believe that algorithmic amplification is very problematic. That’s why we’ve been supporting legislation on Capitol Hill that will finally address this… If you could basically turn off the algorithms for some of these worst elements, you could have curbed these issues a long time ago. (Timestamp: 13:35)

How social media companies failed before the Capitol attack:

In the immediate aftermath of the attack on the Capitol, social media companies suddenly made a number of changed that belied how reluctant they’d been to address the hate and extremism brewing on their platforms all along.

To those of us who’ve been tracking violent extremists for years. This was not a surprise at all, this was the most predictable terror attack in American history. Literally, these groups told us in advance what they were going to do. And the attack itself was sort of the culmination of years and in the last in the months prior intense campaigning by the President himself, to undermine the integrity of the election, to question the democratic process, to call on individuals to interrupt the certification of the election based on this big lie, this totally contrived idea that somehow the election was rigged. I mean, truly, it was bananas.

… The tech companies who for years have told us there was a political exemption, and they wouldn’t necessarily take action when presidents or other politicians said things that were outrageous, and committed slander or incited violence on the platform, suddenly, because of the public pressure from groups like Stop Hate for Profit and the ADL, from internal pressure from their own employees, and I believe, you know, their boards — suddenly they took action instantaneously, overnight. All their other concerns sort of fell by the wayside. I think it was really important that in order Facebook and Twitter and YouTube took down President Trump, that was critical, we called for them to do that. And I’m really pleased that they did. We called for them previously to take down armed militia groups, to take down QAnon content. And I’m really glad that they did and it had a huge impact.

You know, we’ve seen like on Twitter QAnon content drop 97% you know, just days after the attack, because the company actually took action. So I think it really laid bare the myth that somehow, some way the companies couldn’t do anything about this, clearly they could. And they did. And I think their services and society as a whole is better for it. (Timestamp: 7:53)

On Silicon Valley exceptionalism

The tech industry doesn’t think of itself like other traditional sectors of business, instead often casting its own grand pursuits as for the greater good — not just for profits. Those attitudes can contribute to some extraordinary innovations, but they also permeate its products and cultures in ways that create some serious problems.

I think Silicon Valley is almost like, rooted in this American tradition of like, Manifest Destiny, right? conquering the frontier. It’s, it’s ironic, but altogether appropriate, that’s happening in California, right in the land where they have the Gold Rush, right again, where people went to make their fortunes. And now they’re doing it today in Silicon Valley, in tech, and even that’s continued to evolve, right? It was the internet 15 years ago, five years ago, with social media. Today, it’s Clubhouse, and I don’t know what comes next. But I do think that the whole industry does need to undergo a serious self examination.

And I think you’ve seen people like who’ve come out of the industry, I think about Chris Sacca, the former Googler, I think about Alexis Ohanian, the Redditor, and a few others start to grapple with these issues. You know, trust, my friend, Tristan Harris, at the Center for Humane Technology has also done this in his film — The Social Dilemma really plays this out. Whereas Silicon Valley often has a very short memory, the reality is that we there will be a long road ahead of us. And if we don’t wrestle with these demons, and if we don’t sort again, through the wreckage to what they’ve wrought, I think the future is very unclear. (Timestamp: 20:15)

On policy solutions to rein in big tech

There’s a huge swath of policy proposals on the table that could put some real restrictions on how tech companies operate.  From proposed changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to federal and state antitrust suits, tech companies are on notice in 2021.

So look, the ADL, I mean, we’ve been literally fighting for a more just country, we’ve been fighting for civil rights, we’ve been fighting hate for over 100 years. And we are fiercely, ferociously, defenders of the First Amendment. But freedom of speech isn’t the freedom to slander people, right to freedom of expression isn’t the freedom to incite violence against individuals or groups of people based on their immutable characteristics? And so I think what we’ve seen is the first amendment been warped and weaponized online in ways that are, you know, completely beyond the pale of what the founding fathers ever would have, you know, could have imagined.

Section 230 does need to be addressed. And I think that Warner Hirono bill that you pointed out is a step in the right direction, it is definitely not sufficient… It might actually not be the federal government, but the states that actually pushed the companies to do more, we’ve seen California, do some innovative stuff on privacy that’s pushed the companies and you may see, I think more state action. (Timestamp: 16:28)

You can read the entire transcript here and review the full lineup from Justice 2021 [here].

Early Stage is the premier ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear first-hand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in – there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion. Use code “TCARTICLE at checkout to get 20 percent off tickets right here.


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Tackling deep-seated bias in tech with Haben Girma, Mutale Nkonde, and Safiya Noble

Advances in technology provide all kinds of benefits, but also introduce risks — especially to already marginalized populations. AI for the People’s Mutale Nkonde, disability rights lawyer Haben Girma, and author of Algorithms of Oppression Safiya Umoja Noble have studied and documented these risks for years in their work. They joined us at TC Sessions: Justice 2021 to talk about the deep origins and repercussions of bias in tech, and where to start when it comes to fixing them.

On bias in tech versus bias in people

When it comes to identifying bias in tech, there are two ways of coming at it: the tech itself and the people who are putting it to work. A facial recognition system may be be racist itself (such as working poorly with dark skin) or used in furtherance of racist policies (like stop and frisk).

Nkonde: There is the problem of technologies which are inherently racist, or sexist, or ableist, as Haben so beautifully pointed out. But there is another part… an imagination for technologies that could actually serve all people. And if the if the scientists who are creating those technologies don’t have experience outside of their own experiences, and we’re sitting in a moment where Google AI has got rid of [Margaret] Mitchell and Timnit Gebru, both of whom were technologists from, researchers from, minoritized communities who are thinking about new and different ways that tools could be designed… then you may not see them coming to products. I’d say that the two are definitely married. (Timestamp: 3:00)

On the danger in ‘banal’ technologies

Bias does not only exist in controversial tech like facial recognition. Search engines, algorithmic news feeds, and other things we tend to take for granted also can contain harmful biases or contribute to them.

Noble: My concerns were with what we might think of as just banal technologies, things that we really don’t give a second thought to, and that also present themselves as widely neutral, and valuable. Of course this is where I became interested in looking at Google search, because Google’s own kind of declaration that they were interested in organizing all the world’s knowledge, I think was a pretty big claim. I’m coming out of the field of Library and Information Science and thinking about, I don’t know, thousands of years of librarians, for example, around the world, who have been indeed organizing the world’s knowledge, and what it means to have an advertising company, quite frankly, data mine our knowledge, but also commingle it with things like disinformation, propaganda, patently false information and ideas, and really flatten our ability to understand knowledge and good information. (Timestamp: 5:13)

On how excluding groups harms them twice over

Haben Girma, who is deaf and blind, has advocated for accessibility with the skills she learned at Harvard Law. But the lack of accessibility goes deeper than simply not captioning images properly and other small tasks.

Girma: So most of the technology that’s built was not imagined for disabled people, which is frustrating… and also absolutely ridiculous. Tech has so much potential to exist in visual forms, in auditory forms, in tactile forms, and even smell and taste. It’s up to the designers to create tools that everyone can use. (Timestamp: 0:56)

A disturbing viral trend on TikTok recently questioned the story of deafblind icon Helen Keller. Doubt that she existed as described or did the things she did was widespread on the platform — and because TikTok is not designed for accessibility, others like Keller are excluded from the conversation and effectively erased from consideration in addition to being the subject of false claims.

Girma: Deafblind people have used technology for quite a while, and were early users of technology, including being designers and engineers. We are on many of the social media platforms, there are blind and deaf blind people on Twitter. TikTok was not designed with accessibility in mind.

When you have a space where there are few disabled people, ableism grows. People on TikTok have questioned the existence of Helen Keller, because the people on the platform can’t imagine how a deafblind person would write a book, or travel around the world. Things that are well documented that Helen Keller did. And there’s also lots of information on how blind and deaf blind people are doing these things today, writing books today, using technology today. So when you have these spaces where there are no disabled people, or very few disabled people, ableism and negative biases grow more rapidly. And that’s incredibly harmful, because the people there are missing out on talented, diverse voices. (Timestamp: 12:16)

On tech deployed against black communities

The flip side of racism within tech is ordinary tech being used by racist institutions. When law enforcement employs “objective” technology like license plate readers or biometric checks, they bring their own systematic biases and troubling objectives.

Nkonde: One of the things that that really brought me to was this whole host of technologies that when used by security forces, or police, reinforce these discriminatory impacts on black communities. So that could be the way license plate readers were used by ICE to identify cars, and when they pulled people over, they would do these additional biometric checks, whether it was fingerprinting or iris readers, and then use that to criminalize these people onto the road to deportation. (Timestamp: 17:16)

And when the two forms of bias are combined, certain groups are put at serious disadvantage:

Nkonde: We’re seeing how all of these technologies on their own, are impacting black lives, but imagine when all of those technologies are together, imagine when, here in New York, I walked to the subway to take a train because I have to go to work. And my face is captured by a CCTV camera that could wrongly put me at the scene of a crime because it does not recognize my humanity, because black faces are not recognized by those systems. That’s a very old idea that really takes us back to this idea that black people aren’t human, they’re in fact three fifths of a human, which was at the founding of this country, right? But we’re reproducing that idea through technology. (Timestamp: 19:00)

On the business consequences of failing to address bias and diversity

While companies should be trying to do the right thing, it may help speed things up if there’s a financial incentive as well. And increasingly there is real liability resulting from failing to consider these problems. For instance, if your company produces an AI solution that’s found to be seriously biased, you not only lose business but may find yourself the subject of civil and government lawsuits.

Noble: I think that first of all, there’s a tremendous amount of risk by not taking up these issues. I’ve heard that the risk management profile, for example for a company like Facebook, in terms of harm, what they can’t solve with software and AI, that they use human beings, quite frankly to sort through, for example, the risk that they face is probably estimated around $2 billion, right?

If you’re talking about a $2 billion risk, I think then this is a decision that exceeds the design desires and software engineers. (Timestamp 24:25)

Not just bias but unintended consequences need to be considered, such as how an app or service may be abused in ways the creators might not have thought of.

Noble: I think you have to think far beyond, you know, like, what you can do versus what you should do, or what’s ethical and responsible to do and I think these conversations now can no longer be avoided. This is a place where founders, venture capitalists, everything, every VC in the Valley on Sandhill road should have a person who is responsible for thinking about the adverse effects of the products that they might invest in. (Timestamp: 25:43)

On getting people in the room before, not after the crisis

The tendency to “ship it and fix it” rather than include accessibility from the ground up is increasingly being questioned by both advocates and developers. Turns out it’s better for everyone, and cheaper in the long run, to do it right the first time.

Girma: The answer to most of these questions is have the people involved. ‘Nothing about us without us’ is the saying in the Disability Justice Movement, so if these seas and companies are thinking about investing in a solution that they think will be good for the world? Ask disability justice advocates, get us involved. (Timestamp: 29:25)

We need the VCs to also connect with Disability Justice advocates, and really find someone who has knowledge and background in accessibility and tech. Same thing for any company. All the companies should have, technology existing and tech in the process of being built, should be consulting on accessibility. It’s easier to make something accessible if you design for accessibility, rather than trying to make it accessible afterwards. It’s like having an elevator in a physical building. You don’t build the structure, and then think about adding an elevator. You think about adding an elevator before you design it. (Timestamp: 30:55)

Read the full transcript here.

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Designing with accessibility in mind: a conversation

At TechCrunch Sessions: Justice, we examined the importance of ensuring products are designed to be accessible from the beginning. And how building the expertise of disabled technologists and advocates and into the DNA of your company from the start is vital not only to produce better products but also in the pursuit of a functioning and more equitable society.

On the panel were Cynthia Bennett of Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Srin Madipalli who founded accessible travel marketplace Accomable (which exited to Airbnb), and Mara Mills, Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University and a co-founder and co-director of the NYU Center for Disability Studies.

On a defining accessibility

Any nuanced discussion on designing for accessibility first requires a definition of accessibility. What do we mean by accessible products and how should founding teams and those involved in designing product frame internal thinking about accessibility.

We learned that on one level the notion of accessibility is very simple: making products that everybody can use. However, from a company building point of view, it’s also important to think about accessibility from an internal tooling and processes perspective. It’s not enough to have accessible products for your users. If the software tools or ways of working at your startup exclude people with various disabilities, it’s infinitely harder to design accessible products anyway as prospective or existing employees with disabilities will be prohibited from doing their best work.

There was one other caveat, too: Disability is not an umbrella category and what works for one group may not work for another. And in fact, some accessibility features or culture and process changes might even be inaccessible to a specific group and this sense there isn’t a quick technological fix and you’re done.

Madipalli: It’s just simply a way of designing products and services to make sure that anybody could use them regardless of disability. And it’s very simple level. And, of course, there are nuances to that, and to what specific things one needs to do in order to achieve that. But at its most basic, it’s just making sure that we design things that everybody can use. (Timestamp: 1:24)

Bennett: Accessibility is not just about making sure that the products that leave the door are accessible, but also the tools and the processes, and the cultures are accessible. So if the products are accessible, are the tools used to create those products able to be used by everyone. (Timestamp: 2:18)

Mills: It’s important to remember that access technologies are not inherently accessible themselves, whether we’re talking about software or a physical ramp, they have to be affordable, they have to be discoverable, people need to know that they exist, they often require training to use… they have to be employed in welcoming settings, the culture has to be there too. (Timestamp: 3:04)

Mills: Disability is an umbrella category, and it’s really internally diverse. And we sometimes see access efforts that work for one group, creating new forms of inaccessibility for other groups. And I think that’s been really true in this moment of video conferencing where certain tools like Zoom work for certain groups and then they don’t really work that well for deaf and hard of hearing people or they haven’t before automated captioning became available. So just keeping in mind the diversity of disability and the diversity of access needs. (Timestamp: 3:51)

Medical and social models

Entrepreneurs like to fix problems, they’re wired that way. But what is the “problem” you’re trying to solve. This is where it’s useful to take the time to understand different models of disability, namely the medical versus social models.

The social model, which has overwhelmingly been adopted by disabled people themselves, says that a person isn’t made disabled by their medical impairment alone but by the way society is often arranged, including how the world is designed but also the societal attitudes towards people with disabilities and the barriers to inclusion this creates.

This means that disability is everybody’s problem and that the solution is to fix society not the individual.

Mills: Disability activists in the 70s, were pushing back against what you just said, they’re pushing back against this dominant medicalised perception of disability, that they called the medical model, which imagines disability only as a so called defect or a disorder, something that requires a cure (Timestamp: 6:19)

Mills: According to the social model of disability, the intervention required is not medical, and it’s not individual, it’s a matter of social justice. So things like new architecture, new designs, new laws, new software. (Timestamp: 7:27)

What’s the right time to begin thinking about accessibility?

If you’re a founder or product team aiming to bring a new product or service into the world, hopefully by now you’re already wondering when the right time is to start thinking about accessibility. The answer, of course, is now. If there’s pushback within your organisation, you’re missing the opportunity to build a best in class product and remain competitive in just the same way that you wouldn’t neglect things like being mobile-friendly, security or designing for privacy etc. And, of course, leaving money on the table.

Bennett: It’s never too early… If we say no to accessibility, which sometimes might be said explicitly, and other times it might be said implicitly through the technologies we design not being accessible, you are kind of deciding that a swath of humanity is not going to be able to use whatever you’ve developed. And that to me should never be okay (Timestamp: 9:38)

Madipalli: It’s an opportunity rather than a problem, it is something that actually, if it’s baked into the very beginning, and it’s seen as part of the workflow of building a product, doesn’t have to be of a different challenge. (Timestamp: 12:32)

Madipalli: It’s really important for founders to not see this as a problem to be solved, that this can be something that is just part of making our product or service kind of usable by our customers and delivering a great customer experience. And, and again, at a fundamental level, a startup can only survive by building a product that customers like, and I would see making sure the product is accessible is central to that in the first place. (Timestamp: 13:26)

Nothing about us without us

The need to involve disabled people in the design process, both as internal employees but also externally, was a recurrent theme of our discussion. “Nothing about us without us” is a political slogan used historically by the disability rights movement and its simplicity acts as a useful reminder of the importance of co-design. And while the aim of accessibility is simple, in practice designing for accessibility is nuanced and can often be imperfect. Luckily, our panelists shared a number of practical tips, such as using flexible language or feature or disability aid specific when recruiting for user testing.

Mills: Nothing about us without us is like this century old political slogan that was taken up by disability activists in the 80s, and the 90s. And if you think about that phrase, initially, the goal behind it was inclusion, and self representation. So like wrenching discourse about disability away from rehabilitation specialists who weren’t disabled and centering disabled people in discussions of disability. (Timestamp: 14:57)

Bennett: Part of bringing everyone to the table is recognizing that we all come to the table with histories. And it’s likely that when we work with people, they’ve probably tried to solve the problem that we think they have, in many different ways. And so sometimes, that is amplifying a solution. Or sometimes it’s recognizing there might not be a solution. But we’re here to listen, and design can be kind of an amplifier of this tension or conflict that is probably unsolvable. But that we can kind of chip away. (Timestamp: 17:53)

Bennett: People with disabilities need to be in all positions of power in these processes. They’re both people on the inside, but you know, also people who can give that fresh perspective from those of us who might be on the inside and remember, kind of outsider or more diverse perspectives
(Timestamp: 18:37)

Bennett: I am a disabled person, and I’m very proud of that identity. But not everyone who experiences discrimination based on the way their body or their mind works, uses that language. So often, when I’m trying to talk to folks, I’ll use terms like chronic illness or impairment or mental health condition or the deaf community. And so I try to have educated myself and I’m still learning about the different words that people use. (Timestamp: 19:00)

Bennett: When you’re looking to reach out to folks I also sometimes specify the type of interaction I’m looking for. So for example, you might recruit blind people to kind of take part in a design process with you, when really maybe what you’re looking for is people who use screen readers or people who use Braille or people who use magnification. Being specific about the interaction technique or accessibility feature can help you make sure you get the more specific group that you’re looking for. (Timestamp: 19:36)

Madipalli: It’s really important to make sure disabled people are at the table in that decision making process, from the more kind of entrepreneurial or the industry perspective, it also just makes really good sense to make sure that the people that you are building solutions for help you co-create those solutions in the first place, just as a fundamental efficiency. If you’re trying to make your product better for disabled people, you can do that so much better if disabled people are helping you build that in the first place. (Timestamp: 20:17)

How do companies avoid paying lip service to accessibility?

Talk is cheap, so how do we avoid just paying lip service to accessibility? The answer is deceptively simple, have accessibility be “non-negotiable from the top down”. That includes resourcing accessibility efforts properly and incorporating it into performance reviews. And by doing this from the get-go, you have the opportunity to build an inclusive design and company culture that can scale and will last.

Bennett: [By] putting material commitments and money toward this, having accessibility be non negotiable from the top down, I’ve talked about kind of incorporating it into performance reviews, like when people are being great allies, and are incorporating accessibility, that should count and there should be consequences when that’s not happening. So I’m really into like, putting the power and the money and having consequences when it’s not happening. (Timestamp: 27:36)

Madipalli: There are decisions that can be implemented from the get go, that does create a more inclusive culture from the beginning. And when you do have that buy in from the very top from the beginning, this doesn’t have to be the afterthought. And if it is there from the beginning, hopefully that is embedded. And as the company and organization scales, this is just something that is ingrained into into the organization. (Timestamp: 28:42)

You can read the full transcript from this session here.

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Tech leaders discuss how social media is broken and what we can do about it

Toxic culture, deadly conspiracies and organized hate have exploded online in recent years. At TechCrunch Sessions: Justice we talked about how much responsibility social networks have in the rise of these phenomena and how to build healthy online communities that make society better, not worse with Color of Change’s Rashad Robinson, Accountable Tech’s Jesse Lehrich and Naj Austin, of Somewhere Good and Ethel’s Club.

On building intentional social spaces that cultivate positive behavior

When we think of social networks, we think of the huge platforms that dominate that conversation today. But those aren’t the only models for how digital communities can grow. Alternative social networks designed with specific communities in mind could cultivate healthier, more positive experiences for the people who need those spaces most.

Austin: One of the aspects that was really important to us when we got started was size. And so one of the factors of somewhere good is kind of connecting people with smaller, more intimate communities, because people tend to behave better in smaller networks. One of the things that we use in our product meetings to kind of base a lot of our decisions off of is mimicking a real life dinner party. Who would you invite to that party? How do people interact when they’re in those kinds of smaller intimate spaces, it tends to, again, be a lot more aligned with better behavior. And then that’s, you know, that’s our perspective in terms of the many ways in which social networks can sort of be more user friendly and a multitude of ways. (1:26)

“… Even with Ethel’s Club, the physical location in Brooklyn, we built it out, so that it necessitated smaller, more intimate interactions with our members. And so we took that same little nugget of knowledge and used it digitally and Somewhere Good is now our technology platform that allows us to build that out on a much larger, faster scale, but still at that level of intention that people want to be connected in a more intimate manner with one another.” (2:49)

On tech industry exceptionalism

Tech, in spite of its historic wealth and power, lobbying efforts, addictive products and global effects would never liken itself to something like the oil and gas or tobacco industries. But now that we’re seeing some of the society-wide ills Silicon Valley has sown, tech’s exceptionalism is looking more misguided than ever.

Robinson: I do think that in Silicon Valley, there’s… a tendency for people to be maybe a lot more impressed with themselves and impressed with their politics and impressed with their sort of like, ability to believe in something bigger…

Sometimes it’s a lot easier to deal with a Coca Cola where like I go in, and I know that these people think that they’re making soda, not making like a new society for all of us. And I can like, deal with the impacts of something that they’re doing. And we can all be on the same page, because they don’t think that they should get a Nobel Peace Prize. But in tech world, they people think that they can code, we can code our way out of structural racism, when in fact, the code is just amplifying structural racism. (8:15)

On lessons about online hate and disinformation from the Clinton campaign

In 2021’s pandemic-ravaged world, 2016 feels like a world away but Donald Trump’s successful campaign for president, the Russian disinformation scandal and an open embrace of white supremacy in mainstream politics gave a telling glimpse of what was to come in the next four years — and beyond.

Lehrich: Did I see QAnon coming? Probably not. But did I see this, like, horrifying crawl toward more and more explicit, you know, racism that’s always been there, obviously, but had been sort of at least relegated to the corner… You know, like, out and out racists like proud to be part open out in the open being part of these kinds of communities? That was that we definitely saw that on the horizon.

And I don’t think we necessarily grappled with it the right way. I don’t know, it was a really challenging thing to try to navigate at the time, but I very much felt like something really ugly is coming. And I definitely poured every hour of my waking time during the year and a half into that campaign, in part because I was like, terrified of where the country was headed if we didn’t win the election, and everything and more that I shared has definitely come to fruition. (13:07)

On how social platforms mirrored entrenched racism in society

Like more traditional sectors, the tech industry is dominated by white men who have created wealth by building what they know. The industry may be ahistorical by definition, but without looking back and grappling with the ugly side of societal power structures like misogyny and white supremacy, tech is doomed to perpetuate those same inequities at scale.

Austin: I don’t think the issues we’re seeing come from the internet and social platforms being free. I think it’s deep embedded systemic problems, as Rashad mentioned, that have haunted this country since day zero, think the people that are creating these platforms are creating what they know, which is to create, patriarchal, you know, systems that live within platforms that look glossy, and have illustrations and use fun, human centric language, but at the heart of it don’t make space for what marginalized communities feel on those platforms. And so I think that’s just embedded in almost every platform we use. As Rashad mentioned, we’ve got… the fact that [Zoom] didn’t recognize that there are people who want to purely cause terror to black people and people of color, for fun — it is a big issue. (16:35)

On how lived experience influences design

One way to build social networks that allow a diverse range of communities flourish is to have those people in the room to begin with, building together on day one. Imagining online social spaces that feel safe and enriching is a natural process when your community has had to deal with online hate and harassment everywhere else for years.

Austin: How do you get in front of these issues that my team which is composed of black people, Latino people, Asian American people, queer people, non binary people, the things that we experience every single moment of being online and sort of a larger explanation of that, right? That can be Tumblr, it can be Twitter, it can almost be can every platform. All the things that we’ve lived through, we are saying, What if we didn’t have to? (16:35)

On how the government should hold social platforms accountable

Federal and state governments are interested in cracking down on tech’s outsized power for the first time. A good place to start might be looking at tech like we already look at regulation on issues like food safety.

Robinson: We need some sort of CFPB, FDA version of infrastructure at the government level. Because anyone who has watched some of the hearings, knows that the hearings on nuclear power, or even keeping our milk safe, would look the same if we didn’t actually have government infrastructure, people who we elect to be in Congress or Senate can’t be experts on all these issues.

And so part of having that infrastructure is the same way I talked about having buildings that meet code. It’s not because of our elected officials or experts. It’s because we build the infrastructure at the government level, and that we actually have fines and accountability that’s at scale to make sure that they’re that they’re that there’s consequences. (22:19)

The big challenge in regulating big tech companies is that they’ve become so large and so powerful that financial punishments can’t even make a dent at this point. Meaningful change needs to realign the industry’s incentives by examining the structures that allowed these companies to grow so powerful with no oversight to begin with.

Lehrich: The fundamental incentive structure around large social media platforms right now is so perverse, they are incentivized to amplify the most toxic content, disinformation, hate speech — like that stuff drives engagement. And so long as they have platforms that where they have no accountability… talking about Section 230 reform, there’s no way to hold them liable from a legal standpoint, the FTC is not hitting them with fines that really hurt them. They don’t have ends and, and there’s just no friction anywhere.

… Until we fundamentally, fundamentally upend that incentive structure, they’re gonna continue profiting off hate and distortion and deceit and delusion and discrimination. And that’s just the reality.” (24:39)

You can read the entire transcript here.

#event-recap, #tc, #tcjustice


Rep. Barbara Lee says the pipeline problem is “a total myth”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-13 California) took time out of her busy schedule this week to join us for TechCrunch Sessions: Justice. During our our wide-ranging discussion, she talked about the issues in tech that unfortunately do not get enough attention: a lack of diversity in tech, the so-called pipeline problem, the digital divide and access for all to the legal cannabis marketplace.

Rep. Lee has represented the 13th District of California — Oakland and the surrounding East Bay cities — since 1998. Since then she has been an active member of the Congressional Black Caucus, which formed 50 years ago this month with 13 members and continues to have an enduring impact on the nation.

“They were truly the conscience of the Congress,” Lee says, “because these 13 members of Congress on each and every issue, they pushed the envelope for justice — for racial justice. Yes, for the African American community, but in their initial founding statement, they said for all marginalized communities in this country. And so if you fight for justice for African Americans, you’re fighting for justice and equality for everyone who has been left out of this country’s promise of the American dream.”

On a lack of diversity in tech

Rep. Lee, along with Rep. Maxine Waters and other Congressional Black Caucus members have visited companies in Silicon Valley and New York to address the issue of diversity in tech. In 2015, as a part of TECH2020 [PDF], the members met with CEOs of some of the biggest companies in the world to get their take on diversity in tech and the struggles the wider industry seems to have when it comes to increasing representation on their teams.

We’ve made many trips to Silicon Valley and to New York and have met with the tech sector over and over and over again. We see a glimmer of hope, but not much. When you look at the numbers of the workforce in terms of employees, I think we’re looking from maybe — as it relates to African Americans — but maybe from 2 to about 7%. If that. When you look at the retention numbers, cultural hostility in many respects that tech sector employees tell me they were faced once they’re in, they don’t stay a long time, because the culture has not been a culture friendly for African Americans and Latinx individuals. And it’s a problem. And we’re gonna keep pushing. I co-chair TECH2020, which we started five years ago. And we’ve heard so many excuses from tech sector.… We’ve got to crack that culture. And I’m telling you, we’ve got to do before we exercise our regulatory reform, and I’ll stick because there’s no way in America, any tech sector, any company should have only — and especially in California, only 2 to 7% of African Americans in the in the workforce. (Timestamp: 2:48)

The conversation around diversity in tech is one that began years ago. Public diversity reports illustrate the struggle that companies still find themselves engaged in. And potential unwillingness to address the issue. Rep. Lee says she and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus have their eyes on the industry as a whole. And she talked a bit more about what tools the federal government has in its arsenal to help encourage companies to engage in equitable hiring.

We have Black members everywhere on key committees that are conducting oversight and making sure that the tech sector, especially those — many received federal contracts, and they’re required to comply with executive order 11924. And they just don’t. They get away with it. And so no, I’m not satisfied. I think we made some progress, we see more diversity officers and more human resources officers who are African American, and I work closely with them. And I know the challenges that they’re faced with it. So I try to help them from the outside to make those companies respond in a more adequate and in a fair and equitable manner. (Timestamp: 5:26)

On the so-called ‘pipeline problem’

The “pipeline.” It’s what company heads point to when they’re asked why their rosters lack diversity. The thing is, it’s not real.

It’s a total myth. First of all, we have — I know African American engineers, African American professionals who, quote qualify for these jobs. But I do know there’s unconscious bias, i.e. racism in the companies. And so a lot of the companies have developed these anti-racist policies and programs where they tried to do the deep dive and try to help people understand unconscious bias and what have you, but they don’t take the results and implement them. And so it’s just really, you know, it’s not good. When you look at the tech sector jobs, I believe it’s about 40% are non-tech-related. And so you can’t tell me that we don’t have African American accountants, and, you know, auditors, African American communications firms, all of the services that they buy, they don’t contract with, and the non-tech jobs they don’t hire black people for. And so it’s a shame and disgrace, but we’re gonna keep pushing. (Timestamp: 6:08)

On investing in diversity

Oakland, Calif.-based Kapor Capital, the investment arm of the Kapor Center for Social Impact, raised $125 million for its third fund. The firm’s investing thesis promotes startups that are committed to building diverse teams and a culture of inclusion.

Thank god for Kapor… They’re committed to racial equity and racial justice. And in terms of their venture capital strategies in terms of how they seed firms to begin to enter into this space. What they do all over the state and in the country is remarkable. And I’m so proud that they are in Oakland, because Oakland, I think, is a microcosm of all of the possibilities, but all the challenges that we as African Americans and people of color have in America. (Timestamp: 10:55)

On cannabis

There remains a disproportionate number of Blacks incarcerated due to drug offenses. And as states continue to legalize marijuana, most recently in New Jersey just last week, the industry is seeing incredible growth. But Black Americans are being excluded from the economic benefits of that. As the co-chair of the Cannabis Caucus, Rep. Lee has plans to ensure the capital in the burgeoning legal cannabis market is available to all.

I also have legislation is called the RESPECT Act, which is about equity in the industry. The licenses — as of last year only maybe 1% or less were granted to African Americans. This is a trillion-dollar industry. And I don’t want to see what’s happening in the tech sector happening in the cannabis sector now, so we’re at the beginning of this. So we have in the MORE Act and in my bills, requirements to set up offices of equity and how you bring companies and help companies — I know in my own district we have an Office of Equity — to help them weed through the bureaucracy to get their licenses. But also access to capital. Sometimes it’s [$300K] to $500K just for a license… But I am determined — I am determined that we’re going to see those who have been most affected by these, this horrific draconian war on drugs get access to the industry and to the benefits. This industry creates jobs – good-paying jobs. They create economic opportunities, and they create community reinvestment opportunities, and so why not? And we’ve got to move forward. And we’re making a lot of progress. (Timestamp: 13:03)

Read the full transcript here.


#cannabis, #diversity, #event-recap, #kapor-capital, #rep-barbara-lee, #tc, #tcjustice, #techcrunch-sessions-justice-2021


Backstage Capital’s Arlan Hamilton discusses how to find the next unicorn

Arlan Hamilton, the Backstage Capital founder and managing partner, joined us at TC: Sessions Justice to chat about how she vets founders beyond Stanford signal, the changing role of venture capital, how raising money from the community, versus institutional LPs, can impact Backstage strategy.

On what makes a founder make sense for Backstage Capital

In a world of $1 billion valuations for beta-stage startups and deals closed over the Twitter DMs within hours, it feels like the noisiest time in venture in the recent past. Hamilton talked a bit about how her firm, which has backed over 170 companies founded by underestimated founders, keeps focus. She got into if she follows trends, the dynamic of invite-only apps, and, of course, Twitter.

I just don’t engage and follow and I just don’t have the that same need to be on everything early in first and be everywhere. Really. So, I like to watch people kind of run around and ask for invites and things like that. It’s just not as important to me. It’s just a strategy of like keeping myself calm, because there’s always a VIP to the VIP section, there’s always a further, further, further, and I find some of it quite distracting. I think it helps just to know where I was just a few years ago, and to know, kind of what’s important…and not get caught up in any hype anytime. And I think that serves me well when I’m making investment decisions, too. Because people who interview me or are, you know, want insights from me, they are always asking me about “trends.”  And I just don’t know the trends. We’re kind of counter-intuitive and and dancing to the sound of a different beat anyways. So I think that’s all helpful when we’re looking at companies and finding things in different places. (Timestamp: 1:32)

Backstage Capital was in the fortuitous spot of being built on remote work before the pandemic made it necessary. Still, Hamilton said that vetting early-stage founders is a difficult thing to do, and Backstage Capital only backs about 2% of the founders it sees.

When you talk about founder product fit, we have that in spades. I am gay, and if I wanted to my wife and I wanted to have a child, there would be a lot that goes into that. There’s no accidental pregnancy with us. And so many people, you know, in the same boat, it’s almost like that with underrepresented, underestimated founders. They have so much to lose [and] I think they don’t have a second and a third and a fourth chances are that afforded to them. And so a lot of times, you’ll see companies that are built from such authenticity, and such genuine concern about a problem that they’re trying to solve, rather than so many companies I see elsewhere, that are how do we get rich the fastest way we possibly can. And that doesn’t always set you up with the right with the right recipe for success. (Timestamp 8:04)

On the future of venture capital as an asset class

One thing that came up during the conversation was that Hamilton doesn’t see Backstage Capital staying within the definition of a traditional venture capital firm. At first thought, this shouldn’t come as a total surprise, considering the rise in popularity of alternative financing among startups, from debt raises, to rolling funds, to revenue-based financing loans.

But in reality, Hamilton says that she has always known that Backstage Capital was a vector into the exclusive world of investment, which despite modest progress has still been reserved for wealthy, white men. Here’s what she said when I asked where she sees herself in five years:

I’ve always said this, I don’t know if people pay too much attention to it, but I’ve always said that venture capital was the tool. It was the mechanism for which I could get in. I couldn’t be an angel investor, couldn’t do all these things. But, I could earn and learn my way in to venture capital. I’ve never been beholden to it. I’ve always said to that, I don’t know what the future holds. But I think maybe there’s another asset class that gets born. And we would certainly be part of that. And if that’s the case, I just think it’s a broken system. It’s an old system. There is a lot that needs to be fixed.

And, again, it’s the people are kind of living in a fantasy world…So I think, just the way that I came in, I’ll probably pivot or or backstage, we’ll find ways we’ve already started. I mean, if you look at the rays that we did on Republic recently, that were that were, you know, still you could still be part of it, it’s just it’s an interesting thing. It didn’t exist, the way that we wanted it to exist this ability to to go to the crowd as a fund. And we trailblazing made a way we made a path. And I think that’s what founders are doing. We were just inspired by founders who are making a way for themselves left and right. (Timestamp: 15:50)

Her confidence in a potential pivot of Backstage Capital also stems from the fact that venture capital has stagnated, as an industry, to invest in underrepresented founders. The investor explained how the industry might lag behind from big deals if they continue to skip over diverse founders. Venture capital, as she sees it, might become less relevant in the future.

And eventually what’s going to happen is what I’ve seen so much of the same way people are leaving San Francisco in droves, they’re going to leave the arena of venture capital in droves. because so many people have just said I’m done trying to play that game. I’m going to bypass this altogether. I’m going to bootstrap I’m going to crowdfund I’m going to go with family offices. And venture capitalists don’t have that same sway and that same importance that they once did. And you may not feel that today, but you feel it soon. And you’re going to be the person who did not invest in Bumble, you’re going to be the person who did not invest in XYZ. So it’s at your own peril that you keep being blind to this in my opinion. (Timestamp: 14:38)

On raising from a community

Since founding Backstage Capital, Hamilton has been clear that she believes the biggest opportunity for investment is underrepresented founders. Toddy, she talked about her decision to bring let others into the process through Republic.

Now let’s be clear: equity crowdfunding isn’t a new concept, but this year will likely bring some healthy energy to the fundraising technique. It’s because new SEC rules allow companies to now raise $5 million a year through the fundraising channel. Republic is enabling startups and firms to take advantage of these new rules: the platform had more than $150 million in capital deployed across 150 deals in 2020.

In the chat, Hamilton explained why raising from supporters one by one instead of an institutional fund is important toher.

For so many years, we had been beholden to ‘you need to raise a large fund, and then you need the management fee to pay for your operations, to keep you in business.’ And every single year, we found a different way to do that, by necessity. It has been so difficult to raise. And this time, the crowd comes into play. That’s a grand and a great responsibility to have 1000s of people who are looking to you, looking for updates, and wanting you to win. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’d much rather have 5000 people get a few extra bucks every year and be part of this, then to watch one or two institutional just get fatter. It’s just not as exciting. So the institutions are going to have to compete with the crowd now. And that is where things get really, really interesting. (Timestamp: 18:09)

You can read the entire transcript here.


#arlan-hamilton, #diversity, #event-recap, #tc, #tcjustice, #unicorn


A glimpse inside the minds of tech’s DEI leaders

Diversity and inclusion as an idea has been on the agenda of tech companies for years now. But the industry still lacks true inclusion, despite best efforts put forth by heads of diversity, equity and inclusion at these companies.

At TC Sessions: Justice, I spoke with Uber Chief Diversity Officer Bo Young Lee, Netflix VP of Inclusion Strategy for Product Wade Davis and Facebook VP of workplace diversity and inclusion Sandra Altine about the work that still needs to be done, the effects of California’s Proposition 22 and more.

On last summer’s racial justice uprising

Last summer, after the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent collective consciousness around racial injustice in the U.S., many tech companies spoke out about racism and equality. Davis said he was happy to see more people speaking about those issues but also a bit frustrated that “it takes something like that for folks to get truly engaged.”

Davis: And inside of Netflix, one of the things that I was really intentional about is to tell our employees who are not Black, right, to not ask our employees how they feel but for them to be much more introspective of what it felt like for them, right, as a white person, or however they identify for them to do the introspection. Because that’s what it means to be an ally — to not put the labor on the group that that is already feeling the impact and the oppression. And what we found was that many of our employees, for the first time had to wrestle with like, what it means to be white. What it means to be in a situation where you are seeing someone who looks like you take the life of someone who looks like me. So we really tried to switch the actual narrative and the conversation to not add more labor and trauma on our Black employees. (Timestamp: 1:10)

Lee said she was a bit skeptical at the time because we’ve seen this type of response before in light of the violent killings of Black people.

Lee: And then within a few weeks you see that interest and that focus wane once more. So I was skeptical that the enthusiasm would continue and enthusiasm in a way to try to solve all of our racism problems in a short period of time. I was surprised that it did continue. (Timestamp: 3:31)

In her conversations with her counterparts at Uber, Lee said she wanted to make sure that the company didn’t make such a wide commitment that “those commitments became nothing more than virtue signaling at the end of the day.”

Lee: I said to my leadership, if you really want to come out and make some bold statements about being anti-racist, I’m going to create almost a litmus test to make sure that you really understand what that means because I don’t want to go up as a company to say we’re going to be anti-racist and then do nothing about it because that just relives and rehashes the injustices that we’ve seen in the past. (Timestamp: 4:25)

So when Uber’s first post-anti-racism diversity report came out, and it showed Uber’s Black employee base declined, Lee said at the time that was not acceptable.

Lee: I think part of the commitments we made around being really anti-racist is transparency at all costs, even when we know that transparency could potentially make us look, not reflect as positively on us. So the question did go back, as you know, when we were putting together our diversity report is, ‘wow, these numbers are not where we want them to be. None of us are happy about it.’ But in our commitment of being accountable, you know, we want the public to hold us accountable. We want people to hold accountable, we want to be accountable to our workforce, we’re going to be as transparent about why that decline in black employees happened and underrepresented people happened, what the cause was and what we are doing. (Timestamp: 6:11)

On being early in the DEI journey

Netflix, despite having previously reported diversity numbers, only released its first official diversity report this year. That’s partly because the team has only been in place for the last three years, Davis said.

Davis: So we’re still at the awareness building phase, like from a foundational standpoint, and we’re really trying to double down so that folks know why I&D matters. Like, what it actually is, and how it impacts all of us. Because oftentimes, folks think of all of these isms and phobias as something that happens to other people. But if we can really make folks understand that there’s a cost to all these isms, and phobias to all of us individually, interpersonally, culturally, and and institutionally, then it makes it easier down the road when folks start to feel somewhat fatigued, right? Because there is always that fatigue factor. So we’re really trying to get ahead of that. And to have folks to think through like, what is in it for me, and what is in it for my colleagues. (Timestamp: 17:33)

Sharing the DEI load

Too often does the work of DEI fall on just a handful of people. At Netflix, Davis said it’s important that there is a shared load, and that all of its leaders are able to speak to the importance of diversity at the company.

Davis: And I would say our other largest goal is to make sure that all of our leaders can speak to the importance of AI and be more than just a talking point. So how do we build a model that’s a train the trainer model, where each of our leaders has a one to one inclusion coach, which requires them to have monthly sit downs with their inclusion partner, where they go on a real intensive journey, so that they can understand how does their leadership style need to evolve and adapt and expand and flex to meet the needs of a larger set of individuals and not the historical ones who folks have engaged with? And we found that to put our leaders on the spot, so that when someone calls me to give a talk, I can say ‘No, our COO Greg Peters is just as competent and capable to sit on this panel about inclusion as I am.’ And we feel that we’re modeling and signaling to our entire organization that this is not just a nice to have, but it’s part and parcel to your success as an employee, as a leader and to our success as an organization. (Timestamp: 18:26)

On Prop 22’s impact on people of color

Prop 22 went into effect in California earlier this year after a contentious battle where one side, including Uber, Lyft and other tech companies, wanted workers to remain independent contractors and the other side wanted gig workers to be made employees and therefore entitled to more benefits. Prop 22’s passage was a win for Uber and its counterparts, which collectively spent north of $200 million on its campaign efforts.

Some have wondered how Uber can reconcile its commitment to anti-racism given that many gig workers are people of color. Lee, however, pushed back on that characterization:

Lee: I would challenge some of those that believes that Prop 22 actually disproportionately hurts people of color. If you actually look at the way the civil rights organizations that came out in support of Prop 22, the NAACP of Northern California and Hawaii came out in support of Prop 22, most of the Hispanic civil rights organizations as well. (Timestamp: 24:59)

Prop 22, of course, was in response to the passage of AB 5, which set new standards of worker classification that were designed to make it harder for companies to classify workers as independent contractors.

Lee: And you looked at the way those exceptions were being made to AB 5, you saw that the exceptions were disproportionately being made for those IC — you know, independent contractor roles that were predominantly represented by white workers. And they were all getting exceptions from AB 5. And then you look at the roles that were predominantly represented by people of color, especially underrepresented people of color, and those roles were not getting exceptions in AB 5. […] For me, how I define racism isn’t based on intent but it’s based on impact. And when I see that kind of level of disparate, disproportionate impact, that’s when I think about, you know, what is racist or not. So I would challenge this notion that [Prop 22] actually disproportionately hurt people of color, especially given that we had civil rights organizations that said we support Prop 22. So, I don’t think there’s anything that really needs to be reconciled, from my perspective and from the organization’s perspective. (Timestamp: 24:59)

You can read the entire transcript here.

#diversity, #event-recap, #tc, #tcjustice


Investors discuss alt-financing and the role of venture capital

There are so many ways to secure capital for your startup beyond traditional venture capital, from crowdfunding to debt financings to revenue-share agreements. But is all money created equal if you are on route to becoming a billion-dollar business? Dr. Astrid Scholz, the co-founder of Zebras Unite, Sydney Thomas, a principal at Precursor Ventures, and Brian Brackeen, the founding partner of Lightship Capital, joined us as TC Sessions: Justice to discuss alternative pathways to funding, and if the democratization of capital is a facade.

On the choice to stay away from traditional venture capital

Scholz is currently building out Zebras Unite, a founder-led cooperative that is focused on making startups more sustainable, ethical and inclusive. During the panel, she mentioned that the capital arm of Zebras Unite could have been a traditional fund, but the organization ultimately decided to pursue more creative alternatives, such as the Future Economy Lab. This lab, which focuses on helping founders find financing instruments that fit their sectors, took place in Montreal with a focus on climate tech.

Scholz shared why she went for this route, versus a traditional fund:

In the big scheme of things, [VC] really is just a tiny drop in the large capital pool of capital that’s out there. And then on the other extreme, you have bank loans. That may or may not be accessible to startup founders, especially if they’re from certain demographics in this country. Of course we have a massive racial wealth gap and access to capital.

To me, that sounds just like two flavors of capital: vanilla and chocolate. It’s not interesting, if that was an ice cream store, it was not interesting. At Zebras Unite, we’re looking to increase the diversity of capital, as well as the diversity of managers of capital. So we’re very interested in revenue based financing mechanisms. We’re very interested in non-dilutive early stage forms of support to entrepreneurs who don’t have friends and family wealth. We were looking at new sort of character-based lending instruments and a bunch of blended approaches, so there’s more room on the capital spectrum to color in, beyond the two ends of the spectrum. (Timestamp: 3:52)

On why venture capital paths can be formed around a more inclusive strategy

Now, venture capital isn’t the devil, and in a market as hot as right now it’s clear that there is a huge demand to back great ideas. The problem starts when you look at which ideas get backed versus which don’t, and underrepresented founders lose out at a disproportionately higher rate than white founders.

Standards help everyone get on the same page, and in venture, any clarity around how one investor cuts checks versus another can help curb signaling risk and help set expectations on early-stage founders. Lightship Capital uses traditional venture capital but applies it in a way Brackeen thinks is more inclusive to founders.

Oftentimes, VCs talk about designing your product for your customer, but then they don’t design themselves around the customer. They completely ignore what they tell people to do. And so we’re designed for the underrepresented founders. And for us, that’s women, minorities, lgbtq, plus disabled. And so the capital path for that founder is different from the white male Zuckerberg founder. Oftentimes, a Series A is very, very difficult, so we bridge that. We’ll write a smaller check – half a million dollars first – and then we’ll reserve $1.5 million so they can go out and get a Series A done. And so to do that, we don’t require board seats and things of that nature, we do require strong collaboration. (Timestamp: 7:03)

On how your first check could impact your next check

Thomas noted that Indie.VC, an alternative financing program that was aimed at slow-growth, bootstrapped founders, shutting down this past week could be a lesson for founders who look to finance their companies from the plethora of programs out there.

They were at the frontiers of building access to new capital. I think one of the things that we saw when we would talk to founders who were considering Indie.vc capital versus our capital was, ‘does the investor that you would like after you get that Indie.vc funding, if you decide to go to a more traditional VC firm? Can they actually even do revenue based financing investments, some people actually legitimately can’t because of the regulatory limits of their fund.(Timestamp: 16:28)

She went on to explain how this isn’t simply a one-off problem that could happen with. Precursor founding partner Charles Hudson penned a post, months ago, about the messiness in early-stage cap tables.

I don’t want to say it’s unfair, but you have to make a pretty final decision, pretty early on in what type of company you want to build. And I don’t think that allows for a lot of the flexibility that is the reality of building a startup. When you pivot like five to 10 to 20 to 30 times before you finally get to something that, you know, matters. And so how do we also allow for more flexibility between multiple different types of revenue structures? I just don’t think that exists right now. (Timestamp: 17:12)

Brackeen added that his form loves non-dilutive financing before, and after, they are nicest. Pitch competitions might help a startup launch, but it won’t help founders get from stage to stage. This banter basically answers the question that I set early on: is all capital created equal in the eyes of investors? A cap table filled with different types of financing structures and notes, as Thomas mentions, could lead to your next check investor declining to invest based on a semantic versus a lack of believing in your vision. One side effect we see here is recapitalizations, an event where startups restructure their entire cap table to squeeze out old investors, bring on new ones and shift the way equity and debt is managed.

Scholz chimed in about how startups should think about capital limitations, but also other corporate structures that could shape the trajectory of a startup.

I think that point about founders basically getting locked into a corporate structure and an investment strategy before they even really know what they’re building or how it’s selling is just so important. I always joke, you know, like 99 out of 100, corporate lawyers will tell you to incorporate as a Delaware C. [But] that may or may not be the right answer. There may be a good reason to become a cooperative, and incorporating as a Delaware C will make your life very difficult. (Timestamp: 17:46)

On if VC will be even more relevant five years from now

The conversation turned into a broader discussion on if venture capital will be as relevant as it is today, five years from now. While Scholz said that she doesn’t even think venture is that important today, the two venture capitalists on the panel – Brackeen and Thomas – were good sports about the future of the asset class they have bet their careers on.

Thomas: The IPOs just keep on coming, and they keep getting bigger. It’s crazy. I think that there is recreating an immense amount of wealth, and that we need to be thoughtful, we need to be careful. And we need to be just considerate of that fact. And so I plan to be in venture for the next ten years. But I Ithink, to Astrid’s point, we are not the only ones on the island. We are connected to all of these other different capital structures, and different communities. But my bet is still here. (Timestamp 25:14)

Brackeen: Capital will continue to play a large role in capitalism, because the two are hand in hand. And venture capital is a version of that. Watch what we do. To see billions of dollars go into these geographies, these communities, these groups, the value creation is outrageous. Morgan Stanley, and others say that racism and sexism cost this country somewhere between $4 trillion and $16 trillion in kind of untapped value. So venture capital can be a key lever in opening that faucet. (Timestamp: 25:52)

You can read the entire transcript here.


#event-recap, #tc, #tcjustice


The path forward for essential workers

Gig workers and warehouse workers have become essential in a pandemic-ravaged economy. In California, a law went into effect earlier this year that makes gig workers independent contractors. Meanwhile, Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama are actively seeking to form a union to ensure better protections at the workplace.

At TC Sessions: Justice, I spoke with Gig Workers Collective co-founder and organizer Vanessa Bain, The Congress of Essential Workers founder and former Amazon warehouse worker Christian Smalls and National Council for Occupational Safety and Health Co-Executive Director Jessica E. Martinez about what’s next for gig workers and tech’s contractor workforce, and what battles lie ahead for these essential workers.

On the Amazon union drive

Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama are in the midst of a historic union drive. Smalls, who was fired from his job at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island last year after speaking out about the lack of personal protective equipment, told me he recently spent a few days in Bessemer.

The building opened up when Coronavirus started. When New York City became the epicenter, that’s when Bessemer facility opened up. So the union got a head start on talking to workers. So that’s a gem for anybody or any union that plans on trying to unionize the building — that you have a facility in your community that’s about to open up, when opening, that’s the best time to connect with workers. That’s what happened last year. And as a result, the workers had seen what happened to the workers that were unprotected and they don’t want that. They want better for themselves. And they rightfully desrve that, especially in Alabama. It’s a right to work state, a state with no state minimum, obviously a red state. So I think it’s a lot of intangibles against them. But these workers now see the window of opportunity for change systemically. (Timestamp: 4:40)

Meanwhile, President Biden recently came out in support of the unionizing efforts in Bessemer.

I would hope that he is a man of his word. He’s a pro-union guy. He ran his campaign off of that, saying he’s a union guy and unions need to be strong, and he supports unions all the way. It was powerful to see that the President, the man, the highest plateau in the country, support the union. (Timestamp: 13:11)

[…] But once again, like Vanessa said, I don’t put all my eggs in that basket either. I just want to hold him accountable. Make sure that, you. know, we see this all the way through to the end. Even if Alabama is not successful, if we were to try again, in other locations, other parts of the country, that we have the support of the highest power in the country, that is the most powerful thing that will resonate with workers. So it’s good to see that it’s happening now. (Timestamp: 14:17)

On the effects of Prop 22

Already, Prop 22 has affected industries outside of tech. In December, supermarket chain Albertsons began replacing delivery drivers with contractors and hundreds of employees in California were swapped for DoorDash workers, Bloomberg reported. Meanwhile, tech companies have spoken about implementing Prop 22-like legislation in other parts of the country. Martinez described how some California residents who voted to pass Prop 22 thought they were supporting workers for better access to rights.

And unfortunately, you have workers who have possibly died. We have a California rideshare driver who died from COVID-19 last month. His independent classification means his family will receive no workers’ compensation. That is a huge impact to workers and the reality of how it impacts day to day life for workers and in the midst of a pandemic. So I share that, because Prop 22 sets the tone, again, for what could happen nationally. (Timestamp: 17:00)

Meanwhile, Bain said she sees the passing of Prop 22 as a failure of “our entire structure of economy.”

And we have really allowed tech to run rampant under this pretense that somehow it’s innovative, and especially within the gig economy. I mean, it’s the opposite of innovative, right? Like it’s feudalism on your phone, right? It’s 1-800 dial listserv. So it’s like, they’re not doing anything new that justifies creating an entirely different classification of labor than existed before, which is what Prop 22 did, right? It literally created this category of marketplace contractor that retains neither the protections of an independent contractor nor an employee. And allowing, you know, companies to write their own laws in this way is a systemic failure. (Timestamp: 18:57)

On the PRO Act

There’s legislation in the U.S. Senate right now that aims to make it easier for workers to organize and form unions in the country. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act seeks to change labor laws in favor of giving workers more power.

Bain spoke about the importance of getting the PRO Act across the line in light of the passing of Prop 22 in California.

These things shouldn’t be at the mercy of who happens to be, you know, held to a position. These are things that should be codified and enshrined really in law. And things that should be consistent and stable protections that people can rely on and count on. (Timestamp: 20:22)

Martinez explained how the PRO Act aligns with the work she’s doing at COSH. The organization recently released a national agenda for worker safety and health, along with some recommendations.

We want stronger safety laws, tougher enforcement, including a mandatory emergency standard to prevent the spread of infectious disease. And again, this is federally so if there is an ETS or an emergency [temporary] standard pass, it applies all over and impacts all kinds of workers, stronger protections against retaliation. (Timestamp: 07:53)

Martinez added:

Employers will funnel resources to try to scare tactics to scare workers from organizing, demanding safer workplaces, job security, and so forth. [The agenda] also includes workers are included in all policy decisions. We believe strongly that workers, more than anyone, understand the job, know the solutions and controls to health and safety issues, and also equity and Inclusion to end the misclassification and better protections for temporary gig workers. Paid sick and family leave for workers also worker centered health protocols, including health for high risk workers and getting access to vaccines. And we want to confront the workplace effects of climate change. Finally, also prevent chemical catastrophes and harmful exposure. […] With that said, this is not working in isolation. It works in collaboration with laws, we’re hoping that will pass, such as the PRO Act, allowing workers to gain bargaining power when organizing, essentially giving them the ability to negotiate with the employer get access to benefits again, such as some job security paid sick leave workers comp and so forth. (Timestamp: 8:23)

You can read the entire transcript here.

#diversity, #event-recap, #tc, #tcjustice


The rise of the tech workers union and what comes next

While not entirely non-existent, the union has been an elusive phenomenon in Silicon Valley. More recently, however, big names like Google and Kickstarter have taken key steps toward forming unions, as have smaller startups like Glitch, which made history this week by signing a collective bargaining agreement – the first team of software engineers to do so. Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama, meanwhile, are currently on the cusp of forming their own historic union. In this panel from TC Sessions: Justice, we discuss how we got here, what comes next and steps tech employees can take.

On Why Now?

As has been the case with management throughout history, tech companies have long fought tooth and nail against labor organizing. Over the course of the last couple of years, however, we may have seen something of a critical mass that could represent the beginnings of a sea change for the industry.

Redwine: It seems like tech workers are reacting to some of the maturity of tech and the expansion of the platforms that we all work on, and also more worker instability in general in the US, especially. I think it’s sort of a response that workers are becoming more formal in their organizing efforts. (Timestamp: 1:08)

Parul Koul (Google):

Koul: A variety of tactics and strategies have been tried, and we’ve been able to analyze the successes and failures of past movements and arrive at a point where we’ve developed enough institutional and organizational knowledge to try something new and – in some ways – more complex. (Timestamp: 3:25)

On Whether The Pandemic Will Spur More Organizing

Covid-19 has radically transformed where – and how – we work. It’s upended many industries and cause millions to lose jobs. Could the pandemic prove to be yet another inflection point for a growing movement.

Koul: In our case, what we saw was companies moving to work from home and then, in certain categories of employees, not really receiving the same benefits […] whether it’s a stipend to buy equipment or even having the benefit from working from home […] We also saw a mass movement and social and political protests against police brutality erupt right in the middle of the pandemic. For me, and many other organizers at Google, it really galvanized us to do something and respond to that in the streets and in our own way. (Timestamp: 6:56)

On How – or if – Unions Can Protect Against Layoffs

For many industries, layoffs have become all but an inevitability during the pandemic. In a number of the aforementioned cases, they’ve continued even in the wake of employee unionizing. Ultimately, how much protection does a union give workers against layoffs?

Reckers: Kickstarter won its union on February 18, 2020. The pandemic hit in mid-March. The company announced that they were going to have pretty massive layoffs in early-April. That was a very difficult time. We looked at the numbers and did see that a number of the people they were proposing to layoff were advocates for the union or union members. That was very hard to stomach. What happens, though – and where the union comes into play – is that the company was not able to just lay people off like that. Especially under the terms that they wanted to impose unilaterally, without any consultation with staff. The difference was that when the company proposed these layoffs, because there was already a union in place, Kickstarter had to negotiate with the group of employees about the terms of that layoff. (Timestamp: 9:10)

On How to Get Started

First steps toward unionization are often difficult in an environment where organizing is frowned upon management. Many early conversations happen after hours and off-the-clock for fear of repercussion. This can be doubly difficult in an environments like white collar workers tech company, where some employees don’t tacitly understand the benefits of organizing.

Reckers: You can best support each other by getting into conversations with your coworkers and understanding what’s been going on with them. The first question I often get from people is how to first start having conversations. I think that’s a challenge, especially since we’re not taught how to do that. But starting a conversation about what their experiences have been like at the organization or company, how long they’ve been there, how has there changed? What did they want to see when they were hired? What sort of workplace were they looking for? And how can we make sure that we have some way of achieving that? (Timestamp: 24:04)

On Whether Expressions of Support From Management Are Always Positive

Management often adopts the narrative that they support unions following hard fought battles. In the wake of support from certain tech executives and political leaders like Joe Biden, the question arises about whether such sentiments can ultimately have negative repercussions for organizing.

Redwine: First and foremost, it’s really important to remember that the things that people in power say do not matter. All of the power that you have doesn’t come from people at the top giving it to you. It comes from linking arms with the people next to you and taking that power and influence for yourself. (Timestamp: 28:27)

You can read the entire transcript here.

#alphabet, #amazon, #event-recap, #glitch, #google, #kickstarter, #labor, #tc, #tcjustice, #union