Pushing for an ‘apolitical’ workplace is immoral (and unrealistic)

“We are not a social impact company. No more societal and political discussions on our company account.”

That’s been the recent message from a number of tech CEOs who have declared that they want the companies they run to be “apolitical” and employees to focus solely on the goals of growing revenue and driving profit.

That’s left me wondering: What might that mean for me as an LGBTQIA+ person in the workplace?

I don’t consider myself a particularly political person. I just want to do a good job, be a supportive team member and leader, and play a valuable role in the organization that employs me. I’m lucky to work as chief information security officer at Elastic, a software company that prioritizes inclusivity and acceptance for all employees, telling us to come as we are.

When we consider who gets to define what’s political or not, we need to think hard about the level of privilege they enjoy — and whom they might be excluding from everyday workplace conversations.

But what if things were different?

If I worked for a different company, would being a gay woman who’s out at work make me “political?” Would talking with colleagues about my home life and my family be considered a political act?

It would all depend, I guess, on whom you asked. I’m well aware that, to certain people, being out in the workforce might be considered political — but I’m just being open and transparent about who I am.

Staying in the shadows

When we consider who gets to define what’s political or not, we need to think hard about the level of privilege they enjoy — and whom they might be excluding from everyday workplace conversations.

Managers and executives who insist on an apolitical workplace are inevitably asking some employees, particularly those belonging to historically underrepresented groups, to stay in the shadows, to keep quiet about who they are.

I’ve been there and I’ve felt the impact firsthand. Earlier in my career, I hid my sexual orientation. I wore a virtual mask at work, and it was exhausting and stressful to have to worry about who knew my “secret” and what might happen if the truth got out.

It was also a significant distraction from doing my job. Even if bosses aren’t concerned about the emotional impact of mandating an apolitical workplace on their employees, they might at the very least consider the productivity impact.

A recent survey from online careers site Glassdoor found that LGBTQ+ employees are less satisfied at work compared to their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts, and that while certain companies and industries are highly rated by LGBTQ+ employees, many others still have considerable progress to make.

Since it’s no secret that less satisfied employees are likely to be less engaged, that could potentially send corporate metrics that focus on productivity, performance and retention into a nosedive.

Conversely, a 2020 report published by strategy firm McKinsey suggests that diversity helps organizations increase innovation, reconsider entrenched ways of thinking and improve financial performance — but also stresses that they only enjoy these benefits if all employees feel a sense of inclusion. The study’s authors define this as “the degree to which an individual feels that their authentic selves are welcomed at work, enabling them to contribute in a meaningful and deliberate manner.”

The firm’s survey of almost 2,000 employees, across a wide range of companies and industries worldwide, shows clearly that women, respondents from ethnic and racial minorities, and people who identify as LGBTQ+ still encounter additional challenges to feeling included.

Working from home

On top of all this, it’s not realistic to ask people to leave their personal lives and beliefs at home after huge numbers of employees began working from home on a full-time basis amid the pandemic, many for the first time ever. If strict lines between their personal and professional lives were clearer for some employees pre-COVID, those days are almost certainly over.

While the pandemic forced many organizations to restructure the workplace, I’ve been working in a fully remote, distributed environment since joining Elastic in 2018. This has shaped how I manage my team because every individual has their own perceptions and experiences, all of which can be more challenging to identify in a distributed workforce. In particular, I’ve learned that building an inclusive, high-functioning team starts with empathetic leadership.

For me, it’s all about being present, asking questions and not making assumptions. When everyone is working in their own environment, it’s easy to postulate about how someone’s feeling about their work or a particular project, because that’s human nature — but the danger here is that we jump to the negative. Staying curious and seeking to understand is key at all times.

Above all, it’s about inclusion and acceptance. Giving everyone the freedom to express what’s on their mind. That’s how everyone should feel about their workplace, and it’s the environment I will continue to work to foster for my own team — because oftentimes, the personal is political, and companies are made up of people, not products.

#column, #diversity, #glassdoor, #human-resource-management, #mckinsey, #talent, #tc, #work, #workplace

Taste intelligence startup Halla closes $4.5M Series A1 to predict which grocery items shoppers will buy

Halla wants to answer the question of how people decide what to eat, and now has $4.5 million in fresh Series A1 capital from Food Retail Ventures to do it.

Headquartered in New York, Halla was founded in 2016 by Gabriel Nipote, Henry Michaelson and Spencer Price to develop “taste intelligence,” using human behavior to steer shoppers to food items they want while also discovering new ones as they shop online. This all results in bigger basket orders for stores. Today’s funding announcement brings Halla’s total capital raised to $8.5 million, CEO Price told TechCrunch.

The company’s API technology is a plug-and-play platform that leverages more than 100 billion shopper and product data points and funnels it into three engines: Search, which takes into account a shopper’s preferences; Recommend, which reveals relevant complementary products as someone shops; and Substitute, which identifies replacement options.

Halla’s Substitute product was released earlier this year as an answer to better recommendations for out-of-stock items that even retailers like Walmart are creating technology to solve. Price cited a McKinsey report that found 20% of grocery shoppers sought out competitors following a negative outcome from bad substitutions.

Halla Substitute. Image Credits: Halla

None of these data points are linked to any shoppers’ private data, just the attributes around the shopping itself. The APIs, rather, are looking for context to return relevant recommendations and substitutions. For example, Halla’s platform would take into account the way someone adds items to their cart and suggest next ones: if you added turkey and then bread, the platform may suggest cheese and condiments.

“It’s also about personalization when it comes to grocery shopping and food,” Price said. “When you want organic eggs from a specific brand and it is out of stock, it is often up to your personal shopper’s discretion. We want to lead them to the right substitutions, so you can still cook the meal you intended instead of ‘close enough.’ ”

Halla’s technology is now live in more than 1,100 e-commerce storefronts. The new funding gives Halla some fuel for the fire Price said is happening within the company, including plans to double the number of stores it supports across accounts. He also expects to double employees to 30 in order to support growth and customer base, admitting there is “more inbound interest that we can handle.” Halla has been busy fast-tracking big customers for pilots, and at the same time, wants to expand internationally with additional product lines over the next 18 months.

The company is also seeing “a near infinite increase in recurring revenue,” as it attracts six- and seven-figure contracts that push the company closer to cash flow positivity. All of that growth is positioning Halla for a Series B if it needs it, Price said.

Meanwhile, as part of the investment, Food Retail Ventures’ James McCann will join Halla’s board of directors.

McCann, who only invests in food and retail technology, told TechCrunch that grocery stores need a way to inspire shoppers, that Halla is doing that and in a better way than other intelligence versions he has seen.

“Their technology is miles ahead of everyone else,” he added. “They have a terrific team and a terrific product. They are seeing huge uplifts in terms of suggestions and what people are buying, and their measurements are out of this world.”

Photo includes Halla co-founders, from left, Spencer Price (CEO), Henry Michaelson (CTO & President) and Gabriel Nipote (COO).

#artificial-intelligence, #ecommerce, #enterprise, #food, #food-retail-ventures, #funding, #gabriel-nipote, #halla, #henry-michaelson, #james-mccann, #mckinsey, #online-shopping, #recent-funding, #saas, #spencer-price, #startups, #tc

Companies should utilize real-time compensation data to ensure equal pay

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are often thought to be an issue that can be solved by intuition by some segment of the HR team. However, in reality, it needs to come from a data-driven approach that encompasses the entire workforce.

The primary aspect that companies usually look to, in terms of treating employees fairly, is remuneration. However, having the conversation and agreeing on the need for equality doesn’t mean it will be achieved on an organizational scale.

Particular attention should be paid to addressing inequities in the areas of attracting and hiring candidates, integration, performance assessment, compensation and promotion.

In a recent survey from Mercer that included data from more than 1,000 companies in 54 countries, 81% agreed that it was important to have a plan for advancing gender equality, but just 42% actually had one in place. This points toward a tokenism attitude indicating companies are happy to talk around the issue without addressing it directly.

Despite the fact that women make up roughly half of all college-educated workers in the United States, they are underrepresented in positions of power — just 8% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women, and, incredibly, just 1% by women of color. Furthermore, the last U.S. census revealed that women who are employed full time are paid on average 17% less than men.

While there have been steps to ensure equal pay, such as Canada’s Pay Equity Act, which states that men and women in the public sector should be paid equally, it does not cover the private sector. Given that the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that equal pay will not be reached until 2059, there is still plenty of work to be done.

Particular attention should be paid to addressing inequities in the areas of attracting and hiring candidates, integration, performance assessment, compensation and promotion. Companies need to think about initiatives that are supported by objective tools to drive progress, identify problems and strategize solutions. This is where data can be a great tool to provide insight into DEI: by highlighting shortcomings and areas where there is bias.

Start with data collection

The first step is to create a data set so that tangible metrics can be utilized and turned into actionable decisions. To do this, diversity and inclusion officers need to be given the opportunity to weed out bias.

Obviously, the data would drive decisions on areas such as compensation. But far too often, director-level discussions don’t involve the talent acquisition team. To eradicate the pay gap and ensure compensation is equalized on individual merit, this needs to change. Line managers and talent acquisition teams have the best knowledge of their staff and are well placed to procure the right information to help senior managers make equitable decisions.

#business-intelligence, #column, #dei, #diversity, #diversity-and-inclusion, #ec-column, #ec-future-of-work, #human-resource-management, #mckinsey, #sexism, #tc

Tiger Global leads $30M investment into Briq, a fintech for the construction industry

Briq, which has developed a fintech platform used by the construction industry,  has raised $30 million dollars in a Series B funding round led by Tiger Global Management.

The financing is among the largest Series B fundraises by a construction software startup, according to the company, and brings Briq’s total raised to $43 million since its January 2018 inception. Existing backers Eniac Ventures and Blackhorn Ventures also participated in the round.

Briq CEO and co-founder Bassem Hamdy is a former executive at construction tech giant Procore (which recently went public and has a market cap of $10.4 billion) Canadian software giant CMIC. Wall Street veteran Ron Goldshmidt is co-founder and COO.

Briq describes its offering as a financial planning and workflow automation platform that “drastically reduces” the time to run critical financial processes, while increasing the accuracy of forecasts and financial plans.

Briq has developed a toolbox of proprietary technology that it says allows it to extract and manipulate financial data without the use of APIs. It also has developed construction-specific data models that allows it to build out projections and create models of how much a project might cost, and how much could conceivably be made. Currently, Briq manages or forecasts about $30 billion in construction volume.

Specifically, Briq has two main offerings: Briq’s Corporate Performance Management (CPM) platform, which models financial outcomes at the project and corporate level and BriqCash, a construction-specific banking platform for managing invoices and payments. 

Put simply, Briq aims to allow contractors “to go from plan to pay” in one platform with the goal of solving the age-old problem of construction projects (very often) going over budget. Its longer-term, ambitious mission is to “manage 80% of the money workflows in construction within 10 years.”

The company’s strategy, so far, seems to be working.

From January 2020 to today, ARR has climbed by 200%, according to Hamdy. Briq currently has about 100 employees, compared to 35 a year ago.

Briq has 150 customers, and serves general and specialty contractors from $10 million to $1 billion in revenue.  They include Cafco Construction Management, WestCor Companies and Choate Construction and Harper Construction. The company is currently focused on contractors in North America but does have long-term plans to address larger international markets, Hamdy told TechCrunch.  

Some context

Hamdy came up with the idea for Santa Barbara, California-based Briq after realizing the vast amount of inefficiencies on the financial side of the construction industry. His goal was to do for construction financials what Procore did to document management, and PlanGrid to construction drawing. He started Briq with his own cash, amassed through secondary sales as Procore climbed the ranks of startups to become a construction industry unicorn.

Briq CEO and co-founder Bassem Hamdy

“I wanted to figure out how to bring the best of fintech into a construction industry that really guesses every month what the financial outcomes are for projects,” Hamdy told me at the time of the company’s last raise – a $10 million Series A led by Blackhorn Ventures announced in May of 2020. “Getting a handle on financial outcomes is really hard. The vast majority of the time, the forecasted cost to completion is plain wrong. By a lot.”

In fact, according to McKinsey, an astounding 80 percent of projects run over budget, resulting in significant waste and profit loss.

So at the end of a project, contractors often find themselves having doled out more money and resources than originally planned. This can lead to negative cash flow and profit loss. Briq’s platform aims to help contractors identify outliers, and which projects are more at risk.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Briq has proven to be “extremely valuable” to contractors, Hamdy said.

“In an industry where margins are so thin, we have given contractors the ability to truly understand where they stand on cash, profit and labor,” he added.

#articles, #blackhorn-ventures, #briq, #california, #construction, #construction-software, #construction-tech, #economy, #eniac-ventures, #executive, #finance, #financial-technology, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #mckinsey, #north-america, #plangrid, #procore, #recent-funding, #saas, #startups, #tiger-global-management, #venture-capital

EU-based digital assets platform Finoa inks $22M Series A funding led by Balderton Capital

Institutions need to keep their crypto assets somewhere. And they aren’t going to keep it on some random, or consumer-grade crypto operation. This requires more sophisticated technology. Furthermore, being in the EU is going to be a key barrier to entry for many US or Asia-based operations.

Thus it is that Berlin-based digital asset custody and financial services platform
Finoa, has closed a $22 million Series A funding round, to do just that.

The round was led by Balderton Capital, alongside existing investors Coparion, Venture Stars and Signature Ventures, as well as an undisclosed investor.

Crucially, the Berlin-based startup works with Dapper Lab’s FLOW protocol, NEAR, and Mina, which are fast becoming standards for crypto assets. They are going up against large players such as Anchorage, Coinbase Custody, Bitgo, exchanges like Binance and Kraken, and self-custody solutions like Ledger.

Finoa says it now has over 250 customers, including T-Systems, DeFi-natives like CoinList and financial institutions like Bankhaus Scheich.

The company says its plan is to become a regulated platform for institutional investors and corporations to manage their digital assets and it has received a preliminary crypto custody license and is supervised by the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin).

The company was founded in 2018 by Christopher May and Henrik Ebbing, but both had previously worked together at McKinsey and started working in blockchain in 2017.

May commented: “We are proud to have established Finoa as Europe’s leading gateway for institutional participation and incredibly excited to accelerate our growth even further. We look forward to supporting new exciting protocols and projects, empowering innovative corporate use cases, and adding additional (decentralized) financial products and services to our platform.”

Colin Hanna, Principal at Balderton Capital, who leads most of Balderton’s Crypto investments, said: “Chris, Henrik, and the entire Finoa team have built a deeply impressive business which bridges the highest levels of professionalism with radical innovation. As custodians of digital asset private keys, Finoa needs to be trusted both with the secure management of those keys and with the products and services that allow their clients to fully leverage the power of native digital assets. The team they have assembled is uniquely positioned to do just that.” 

May added: “We identified a lack of sophisticated custody and asset servicing solutions for safeguarding and managing blockchain-based digital assets that successfully cover the needs of institutional investors. Finoa is bridging this gap by providing seamless, safe, and regulated access to the world of digital assets.”

“Being in the European Union requires a fundamentally different organizational setup, and poses a very high entry to new incumbents and other players overseas. There are few that have managed to do what Finoa has done in a European context and hence why we now see ourselves in a leading position.”

#anchorage, #articles, #asia, #balderton-capital, #berlin, #binance, #bitcoin, #bitgo, #blockchain, #coinbase, #colin-hanna, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralization, #decentralized-finance, #digital-currencies, #europe, #european-union, #kraken, #mckinsey, #t-systems, #tc, #united-states

Will moving, ‘spacial video’ start to eat into square-box Zoom calls? SpatialChat thinks so

With most of us locked into a square video box on platforms like Zoom, the desire to break away and perhaps wander around a virtual space is strong. These new ways of presenting people – as small circles of videos placed in a virtual space where they can move around – has appeared in various forms, like ‘virtual bars’ for the last few months during global pandemic lockdowns. Hey, I even went to a few virtual bars myself! Although the drinks from my fridge could have been better…

The advantage of this spatial approach is it gives a lot more ‘agency’ to the user. You feel, at least, a bit more in control, as you can make a ‘physical’ choice as to where you go, even if it is only still a virtual experience.

Now SpatialChat, one of the first startups with that approach which launched on ProductHunt in April last year, is upping the game with a new design and the feature of persistent chats. The product debuted on ProductHunt on April 20, 2020, and rose to No. 3 app of the day. The web-based platform has been bootstrapped the founders with their own resources.

SpatialChat now adding a special tier and features for teams running town hall meetings and virtual offices, and says it now has more than 3,000 organizations as paying customers, with more than 200,000 total monthly active users.

The startup is part of a virtual networking space being populating by products such as
Teamflow, Gather, and Remo. Although it began as a online networking events service, its now trying to re-position as a forum for multi-group discussions, all the way up from simple stand-up meetings to online conferences.

SpatialChat uses a mix of ‘proximity’ video chats, screen sharing, and rooms for up to 50 people. It’s now putting in pricing plans for regular, weekly, and one-time use cases. It says it’s seen employees at Sony, Panasonic, Sega, LinkedIn, Salesforce, and McKinsey, as well as educators and staff at 108 American universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and MIT, use the platform.

Almas Abulkhairov, CEO and Co-founder of SpatialChat says: “Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams represent a virtual office for many teams but most of our customers say these apps aren’t a good fit for that. They don’t provide the same serendipity of thought you get working shoulder to shoulder and “Zoom fatigue” became a term for a reason. We want to bring the best from offline work.”

Konstantin Krasov, CPO at DataSouls, who used the platform, said: “We had 2500 people in attendance during a 2-day event that we hosted for our community of 50,000 Data Scientists. SpatialChat enabled us to make a cool networking event, Q/A and AMA with thought leaders in data science.”

#computing, #europe, #harvard, #linkedin, #mckinsey, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #mit, #panasonic, #salesforce, #software, #sony, #stanford, #tc, #web-conferencing, #workplace, #yale, #zoom

Venture firm M13 names former Techstars LA managing director, Anna Barber, as its newest partner

The Los Angeles and New York-based venture firm M13 has managed to nab former Techstars LA managing director, Anna Barber, as its newest partner and the head of its internal venture studio, Launchpad.

Designed to be a collaborative startup company incubator alongside corporate partners, Launchpad focuses on developing new consumer tech businesses focused on M13’s main investment areas: health, food, transportation, and housing.

For Barber, the new position is the latest step in a professional career spent working both inside and outside of the tech industry.

Barber got her first taste of the startup world when she was poached from McKinsey to join one of the several online pet supply stores that cropped up in 1999. From her position as the vice president of product at Petstore.com, Barber got her taste of the startup world… and left it to become a talent manager and the co-founder of the National Air Guitar championships (no word if she managed air guitar talent).

Prior to launching the Techstars LA incubator program, Barber founded ScribblePress, a retail and digital publishing app, which was sold to Fingerprint Digital.

Anna Barber, partner, M13. Image Credit: Raif Strathmann

At M13, Barber will be working to recruit entrepreneurs to work collaboratively on developing startup consumer businesses that align with the strategic interests of M13’s corporate partners, like Procter & Gamble.

We will be bringing in founders in residence who will come in without an idea,” Barber said of the program. “We’re starting with a blank sheet of paper and building teams in partnership with entrepreneurs and in partnership with corporate partners who will bring their perspective and their IP. “

The EIRs will receive a small stipend and equity in the business, Barber said.

The starting gun for M13’s Launchpad  program was in 2019 and the program currently has managed to spin up three startups. There’s Rae, an developer of affordable women’s wellness products; and the beauty tech company OPTE; Kindra menopause products; and Bodewell for sensitive skin care, which were all developed alongside Procter & Gamble Ventures.

M13, for its part, is developing a strong team of women partners who are investing at the firm. Barber will join Lizzie Francis and Christine Choi on the investment team, something that Barber said was especially exciting.

“There is no better place for M13’s Launchpad than Los Angeles and no better person to lead it than Anna. M13 is home to a creative, diverse community of entrepreneurs and operators who want to make the world better by applying innovation in everything from media to biotech, prop tech to food,” said M13 co-founder Carter Reum. “We are excited for Anna to continue to lead LA’s center of entrepreneurs, mentors and investors with a rigorous Launchpad program and more exceptional partners and cohorts.”

#articles, #business, #business-incubators, #business-models, #co-founder, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #food, #head, #launchpad, #los-angeles, #m13, #mckinsey, #mentorships, #new-york, #procter-gamble, #rae, #startup-company, #tc, #techstars

Merging Airbnb and the traditional hotel model, Mexico City’s Casai raises $23 million to grow in Latin America

With travel and tourism rising across Latin America, Casai, a startup combining Airbnb single unit rentals with hotel room amenities, has raised $23 million to expand its business across Latin America.

The company, which initially was as hit hard by regional responses to the COVID-19 pandemic as other businesses in the hospitality industry has recovered to reach nearly 90 percent of total capacity on the 200 units it manages around Mexico City.

The company was co-founded by chief executive Nico Barawid, a former head of international expansion at Nova Credit and consultant with BCG, and chief operating officer María del Carmen Herrerías Salazar, who previously worked at one of Mexico’s largest hotel operators, Grupo Presidente.

The two met two years ago at a barbecue in Mexico City and began speaking about ways to update the hospitality industry taking the best of Airbnb’s short term rental model of individual units and pairing it with the quality control and standards that guests expect from a hotel chain.

“I wanted to define a product from a consumer angle,” said Barawid. “I wanted this to exist.”

Before the SARS-Cov-2 outbreak Casai’s units were primarily booked through travel partners like HotelTonight or Expedia. Now the company has a direct brisk direct booking business thanks to the work of its chief technology officer, a former engineer at Google named Andres Martinez.

The company’s new financing was led by Andreessen Horowitz and included additional commitments from the firm’s Cultural Leadership Fund, Kaszek Ventures, Monashees Capital, Global Founders Capital, Liquid 2 Ventures, and individual investors including the founders of Nova Credit, Loft, Kavak and Runa.

Casai also managed to nab a debt facility of up to $25 million from TriplePoint Capital, bringing its total cash haul to $48 million in equity and debt.

Image Credit: Casai

The big round is in part thanks to the company’s compelling value proposition, which offers guest not only places to stay equipped with a proprietary smart hardware hub and the Casai app, but also a Google Home, smart lights, and Chromecast-kitted televisions, but also a lounge where guests can stay ahead of their check-in or after check-out.

And while the company’s vision is focused on Latin America now, its management team definitely sees the opportunity to create a global brand and business.

The founding team also includes a chief revenue officer, Alberto Ramos, who worked at McKinsey and a chief growth officer, Daniel Hermann, who previously worked at the travel and lifestyle company, Selina. The head of design, Alexa Backal, used to work at GAIA Design, and its vice president of experience, Cristina Crespo, formerly ran WeWork’s international design studio.

“To successfully execute on this opportunity, a team needs to bring together expertise from consumer technology, design, hospitality, real estate and financial services to develop world-class operations needed to deliver on a first-class experience,” said Angela Strange, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, who’s taking a seat on the Casai board. “It was obvious when I met Nico and Maricarmen that they are operationally laser-focused and have uniquely blended expertise across verticals, with unique views on the consumer experience.”

#airbnb, #andreessen, #andreessen-horowitz, #angela-strange, #chief-operating-officer, #chief-technology-officer, #engineer, #financial-services, #general-partner, #global-founders-capital, #hoteltonight, #kaszek-ventures, #laser, #latin-america, #liquid-2-ventures, #mckinsey, #mexico, #mexico-city, #monashees-capital, #nova-credit, #real-estate, #runa, #selina, #sharing-economy, #tc, #tourism, #travel, #triplepoint-capital, #vacation-rental, #wework