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Leanplum raises another $27M, shakes up its executive ranks

By Frederic Lardinois

Customer engagement platform Leanplum today announced that it has raised a $27 million extension to its 2017 $47 million Series D round. This additional funding was led by previous investors Norwest Venture Partners and Shasta Ventures. Kleiner Perkins, Canaan and Launchub also participated in this round, which the company says it will use to bolster its product development and go-to-market efforts. With this, Leanplum has now raised a total of $125 million.

Maybe just as importantly, Leanplum also announced a major shakeup of its executive ranks. The company appointed George Garrick as President and CEO, and Sheri Huston as chief financial officer. Co-founder and former CEO Momchil Kyukchiev will step into the chief product officer role.

Garrick brings a wealth of experience with him, having been the CEO of companies like Flycast, Placeware, Wine.com and Tapjoy . Huston, too, comes into the role with a lot of industry experience as the former CFO at Comscore and LiquiBox. The company is also adding Dynamic Signal founder Russ Fradin to its Board of Directors.

The company describes the changes in its executive ranks as a ‘transition.’

“Many if not most startups at some point in their growth realize that a management transition makes sense as the requirements for the CEO evolve from starting and proving a company, to running and scaling it,” Garrick told us in a statement. “Leanplum’s board and founders agreed that such a transition would be appropriate as Leanplum accelerates its growth phase.”

This was echoed by Kyurkchiev: “George is the right leader for Leanplum. His strong management experience with companies at our stage and in our domain will be essential for Leanplum as we continue to drive growth and expand globally.”

Leanplum says about 2 billion people used apps and websites that use its services in 2019.

As for the new funding, the company says it was simply easier to extend its Series D, which has the same investors as the original D round. “The board felt it was easier and more appropriate to just extend the D round rather than move into the next letter. Also, we wanted to minimize ‘letter creep,’ Garrick said.

 

Announcing the final agenda for Robotics + AI — March 3 at UC Berkeley

By Richard Smith

TechCrunch is returning to U.C. Berkeley on March 3 to bring together some of the most influential minds in robotics and artificial intelligence. Each year we strive to bring together a cross-section of big companies and exciting new startups, along with top researchers, VCs and thinkers.

In addition to a main stage that includes the likes of Amazon’s Tye Brady, U .C. Berkeley’s Stuart Russell, Anca Dragan of Waymo, Claire Delaunay of NVIDIA, James Kuffner of Toyota’s TRI-AD, and a surprise interview with Disney Imagineers, we’ll also be offering a more intimate Q&A stage featuring speakers from SoftBank Robotics, Samsung, Sony’s Innovation Fund, Qualcomm, NVIDIA and more.

Alongside a selection of handpicked demos, we’ll also be showcasing the winners from our first-ever pitch-off competition for early-stage robotics companies. You won’t get a better look at exciting new robotics technologies than that. Tickets for the event are still available. We’ll see you in a couple of weeks at Zellerbach Hall.

Agenda

8:30 AM – 4:00 PM

Registration Open Hours

General Attendees can pick up their badges starting at 8:30 am at Lower Sproul Plaza located in front of Zellerbach Hall. We close registration at 4:00 pm.

10:00 AM – 10:05 AM

Welcome and Introduction from Matthew Panzarino (TechCrunch) and Randy Katz (UC Berkeley)

10:05 AM – 10:25 AM

Saving Humanity from AI with Stuart Russell (UC Berkeley)

The UC Berkeley professor and AI authority argues in his acclaimed new book, “Human Compatible,” that AI will doom humanity unless technologists fundamentally reform how they build AI algorithms.

10:25 AM – 10:45 AM

Engineering for the Red Planet with Lucy Condakchian (Maxar Technologies)

Maxar Technologies has been involved with U.S. space efforts for decades, and is about to send its sixth (!) robotic arm to Mars aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. Lucy Condakchian is general manager of robotics at Maxar and will speak to the difficulty and exhilaration of designing robotics for use in the harsh environments of space and other planets.

10:45 AM – 11:05 AM

Automating Amazon with Tye Brady (Amazon Robotics)

Amazon Robotics’ chief technology officer will discuss how the company is using the latest in robotics and AI to optimize its massive logistics. He’ll also discuss the future of warehouse automation and how humans and robots share a work space. 

11:05 AM – 11:15 AM

Live Demo from the Stanford Robotics Club 

11:30 AM – 12:00 PM

Book signing with Stuart Russell (UC Berkeley)

Join one of the foremost experts in artificial intelligence as he signs copies of his acclaimed new book, Human Compatible.

11:35 AM – 12:05 PM

Building the Robots that Build with Daniel Blank (Toggle Industries), Tessa Lau (Dusty Robotics), Noah Ready-Campbell (Built Robotics) and Brian Ringley (Boston Dynamics)

Can robots help us build structures faster, smarter and cheaper? Built Robotics makes a self-driving excavator. Toggle is developing a new fabrication of rebar for reinforced concrete, Dusty builds robot-powered tools and longtime robotics pioneers Boston Dynamics have recently joined the construction space. We’ll talk with the founders and experts from these companies to learn how and when robots will become a part of the construction crew.

12:15 PM – 1:00 PM

Q&A: Corporate VC, Partnering and Acquisitions with Kass Dawson (SoftBank Robotics America), Carlos Kokron (Qualcomm Ventures), and Gen Tsuchikawa (Sony Innovation Fund)

Join this interactive Q&A session on the breakout stage with three of the top minds in corporate VC.

1:00 PM – 1:25 PM

Pitch-off 

Select, early-stage companies, hand-picked by TechCrunch editors, will take the stage and have five minutes to present their wares.

1:15 PM – 2:00 PM

Q&A: Founding Robotics Companies with Sebastien Boyer (FarmWise) and Noah Ready-Campbell (Built Robotics)

Your chance to ask questions of some of the most successful robotics founders on our stage

1:25 PM – 1:50 PM

Investing in Robotics and AI: Lessons from the Industry’s VCs with Dror Berman (Innovation Endeavors), Kelly Chen (DCVC) and Eric Migicovsky (Y Combinator)

Leading investors will discuss the rising tide of venture capital funding in robotics and AI. The investors bring a combination of early-stage investing and corporate venture capital expertise, sharing a fondness for the wild world of robotics and AI investing.

1:50 PM – 2:15 PM

Facilitating Human-Robot Interaction with Mike Dooley (Labrador Systems) and Clara Vu (Veo Robotics)

As robots become an ever more meaningful part of our lives, interactions with humans are increasingly inevitable. These experts will discuss the broad implications of HRI in the workplace and home.

2:15 PM – 2:40 PM

Toward a Driverless Future with Anca Dragan (UC Berkeley/Waymo), Jinnah Hosein (Aurora) and Jur van den Berg (Ike)

Autonomous driving is set to be one of the biggest categories for robotics and AI. But there are plenty of roadblocks standing in its way. Experts will discuss how we get there from here. 

2:15 PM – 3:00 PM

Q&A: Investing in Robotics Startups with Rob Coneybeer (Shasta Ventures), Jocelyn Goldfein (Zetta Venture Partners) and Aaron Jacobson (New Enterprise Associates)

Join this interactive Q&A session on the breakout stage with some of the greatest investors in robotics and AI

2:40 PM – 3:10 PM

Disney Robotics

Imagineers from Disney will present start of the art robotics built to populate its theme parks.

3:10 PM – 3:35 PM

Bringing Robots to Life with Max Bajracharya and James Kuffner (Toyota Research Institute Advanced Development)

This summer’s Tokyo Olympics will be a huge proving ground for Toyota’s TRI-AD. Executive James Kuffner and Max Bajracharya will join us to discuss the department’s plans for assistive robots and self-driving cars.

3:15 PM – 4:00 PM

Q&A: Building Robotics Platforms with Claire Delaunay (NVIDIA) and Steve Macenski (Samsung Research America)

Join this interactive Q&A session on the breakout stage with some of the greatest engineers in robotics and AI.

3:35 PM – 4:00 PM

The Next Century of Robo-Exoticism with Abigail De Kosnik (UC Berkeley), David Ewing Duncan, Ken Goldberg (UC Berkeley), and Mark Pauline (Survival Research Labs)

In 1920, Karl Capek coined the term “robot” in a play about mechanical workers organizing a rebellion to defeat their human overlords. One hundred years later, in the context of increasing inequality and xenophobia, the panelists will discuss cultural views of robots in the context of “Robo-Exoticism,” which exaggerates both negative and positive attributes and reinforces old fears, fantasies and stereotypes.

4:00 PM – 4:10 PM 

Live Demo from Somatic

4:10 PM – 4:35 PM

Opening the Black Box with Explainable AI with Trevor Darrell (UC Berkeley), Krishna Gade (Fiddler Labs) and Karen Myers (SRI International)

Machine learning and AI models can be found in nearly every aspect of society today, but their inner workings are often as much a mystery to their creators as to those who use them. UC Berkeley’s Trevor Darrell, Krishna Gade of Fiddler Labs and Karen Myers from SRI will discuss what we’re doing about it and what still needs to be done.

4:35 PM – 5:00 PM 

Cultivating Intelligence in Agricultural Robots with Lewis Anderson (Traptic), Sebastian Boyer (FarmWise) and Michael Norcia (Pyka)

The benefits of robotics in agriculture are undeniable, yet at the same time only getting started. Lewis Anderson (Traptic) and Sebastien Boyer (FarmWise) will compare notes on the rigors of developing industrial-grade robots that both pick crops and weed fields respectively, and Pyka’s Michael Norcia will discuss taking flight over those fields with an autonomous crop-spraying drone.

5:00 PM – 5:25 PM

Fostering the Next Generation of Robotics Startups with Claire Delaunay (NVIDIA), Scott Phoenix (Vicarious) and Joshua Wilson (Freedom Robotics

Robotics and AI are the future of many or most industries, but the barrier of entry is still difficult to surmount for many startups. Speakers will discuss the challenges of serving robotics startups and companies that require robotics labor, from bootstrapped startups to large scale enterprises.

5:30 PM – 7:30 PM

Unofficial After Party, (Cash Bar Only) 

Come hang out at the unofficial After Party at Tap Haus, 2518 Durant Ave, Ste C, Berkeley

Final Tickets Available

We only have so much space in Zellerbach Hall and tickets are selling out fast. Grab your General Admission Ticket right now for $350 and save 50 bucks as prices go up at the door.

Student tickets are just $50 and can be purchased here. Student tickets are limited.

Startup Exhibitor Packages are sold out!

Recommendations for fintech startups navigating the procurement process

By Walter Thompson
Marc Gilman Contributor
Marc Gilman is general counsel and VP of compliance at Theta Lake. He is also an adjunct professor at Fordham University School of Law.

The expanding scope of fintech has been well documented in these digital pages. Payments, investing, financial planning and lending often spring to mind as “classic” fintech startups, but other business models like regtech, compliance, human resources and marketing are on the ascent.

For passionate and talented founders, the tireless pursuit of building innovative technology is critical and fundamental. That said, to be successful in financial services, significant time and effort needs to be dedicated to other business fundamentals: corporate setup, privacy and security. The financial services customer base presents unique challenges for fintech startups as the regulatory and operational requirements for third-party vendor assessment and management are, in comparison to most other industries, brutal. Issues that might go overlooked during the early stages of product design and team-building could turn into obstacles during the sales process.

Understanding the dynamics of the financial services procurement process is essential if you want to negotiate it as quickly and seamlessly as possible. And before diving head-first into the development of your killer fintech app, consider the following questions:

  • Is my technical architecture secure?
  • Who is responsible for cybersecurity in the organization?

Verana Health aims to organize and analyze doctors’ clinical data sets, whether patients like it or not

By Jonathan Shieber

If the two-year old healthcare startup Verana Health has its way it could become the Google for physician generated healthcare data.

The company has raised $100 million from GV (one of the corporate investment arms of Alphabet, the parent company of Google), Bain Capital Ventures, Casdin Capital and Define Ventures and counts the famous life sciences investor, Brook Byers, as the chairman of the company’s board.

The company offers products like Verana Practice Insights, which provides aggregated views on practice trends across the U.S, and it also has a service called “Trial Connect” which gives physicians the ability to find patients among their practices who may be suitable for clinical trials.

Verana has also built up the Axon Registry, which tracks the impact of treatments over time for conditions like multiple sclerosis, migraines, and epilepsy. The company points to the registry as an example of how the data collected can provide value for the entire healthcare ecosystem.

Verana has already inked data collection deals with the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Academy of Neurology to create large pools of de-identified patient data that can be used for drug discovery, population health analysis and medical research. But the company’s story actually begins nearly twenty years ago, when specialty medical associations started building clinical data sets to share information among medical practitioners and standardize reporting required by the federal government.

More recently, as Verana explains, medical associations realized that there was a lot of quality data locked away in those records. And since the medical communities lacked the wherewithal and technical expertise to digitize and analyze those records themselves, two years ago they decided to outsource those services to Verana, according to a blogpost from the company.

“Our society partners have entrusted us with their data to partner with them to advance the quality of patient care and to accelerate the adoption of evidence into practice,” the company states. “Through these partnerships, Verana supports the full operating costs for these registries, which enable physicians to track performance against federal quality measures and submit information for quality reporting at no expense to the physician practices and medical specialty organizations.”

It seems that Verana has made the same pitch to physicians that Google has made to consumers: give us all of your information, and we’ll organize it and manage it for you (as well as collect it to monetize in other ways that physicians have no control over).

Image via Getty Images / Ja_inter

Alongside its new financing, the San Francisco-based company also announced the acquisition of Knoxville, Ten.-based PYA Analytics, a company which has designed data analytics software and services for Medicare and Medicaid.

Verana Health is building the team and technology to unlock deep clinical insights that support the development of new treatments while increasing our understanding of how these treatments can benefit patients more broadly,” said Dr. Krishna Yeshwant, General Partner at GV. “Under the leadership of its strong management team, Verana continues to redefine how we approach medical research.”

While Verana is currently focused on ophthalmic and neurologic diseases, the company intends to expand into additional therapeutic categories over the next year while integrating imaging, genomic, and claims data sources into its data pools.

“Verana is assembling the most comprehensive datasets in medicine across multiple disease types with the goal of accelerating medical research for patients with ophthalmic and neurologic conditions,” said Miki Kapoor, the chief executive officer of Verana Health, in a statement. “The financing and the addition of PYAA enable us to enrich these large clinical databases, creating a longitudinal view of the complete patient journey to inform research and patient care.”

However, the company’s approach seems to disregard the role of the patient in the healthcare process. The emphasis on de-identification is one that new technology companies consistently rely on; however, evidence tells us that these practices aren’t as secure as consumers would want when it comes to sensitive information around health.

In June 2019, the University of Chicago Medical Center and Google were sued for allegedly violating HIPAA regulations by sharing patient records that weren’t de-identified properly. Google used the research for predictive data analysis based on massive population data. Google and the medical center have both filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit.

But even the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warned that there’s a risk that de-identified data could be linked back to the corresponding patient. Indeed, new machine learning capabilities developed by companies like Google have already been used to re-identify anonymized patient data, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

23andMe co-founder’s new startup, Precise.ly, brings genomics to India through Narayana partnership

By Jonathan Shieber

Precise.ly, the new genomics startup launched by 23andMe co-founder Linda Avey and Aneil Mallavarapu, is taking its spin on direct to consumer personalized genomics to India through a partnership with Naryana Health, one of India’s leading specialty hospital networks.

Narayana, a company that operates a network of 24 hospitals serving 2.5 million patients, is one of the most fascinating stories in healthcare. By emphasizing efficiencies and cost savings, the hospital network has managed to bring costs down dramatically for many procedures — including providing cancer surgeries for as little as $700 and heart bypass surgeries for $3,000 (as this fascinating article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek illustrates).

Precise.ly’s mission — to collect and analyze genetic data from populations that typically haven’t had access to the services — is one that resonates in a world where the majority of research has been conducted on wealthier populations in wealthy countries. Other startups, like 54Gene, are trying to bring a similar message to the African continent.

“To date, most human genetics research has focused on European populations. But genetic insights need to be tuned to the rest of the world,” said Mallavarapu, in a statement. “We’ve assembled a team of experts who are pioneering advances in genetic analysis and its application to the huge populations of people in south Asia and beyond.” 

Some of that work is being done in concert with Narayana health, the hospital network founded by Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty nearly twenty years ago. Dr. Shetty is initially hoping that Precise.ly’s genetic database will be able to help his hospitals build out a stem cell donor registry that could help hundreds of thousands of Indians who need transplants.

“Personal genetic testing is recognized by the U.S. FDA to test genetic risk for Parkinsonism, late onset Alzheimer’s disease and celiac disease. It is only a matter of time before most diseases get added to the list,” Dr. Shetty said in a statement. “Because of the simplicity of genetic testing from saliva samples, it’s possible to conduct large-scale population screening at a reasonable cost. We are working with Precise.ly’s team of researchers to add HLA typing, which has the potential to transform cancer and other disease treatments in India.”

The path to entering the Indian market was slightly circuitous for Precise.ly. When Avey first left 23andMe, she went to RockHealth (an investor in the company’s $1 million seed round), and began exploring ways to organize and store more of a patient’s quantified health data.

As that company failed to gain traction, Avey took another look at the genetics market and found that there were significant opportunities in underserved markets — and that India, with its rising middle class and burgeoning healthcare industry would be a good target.

“We decided we would build on this Helix platform all kinds of apps for people who had specific diagnosis,” says Avey. But the market was already chock full of startups (including 23andMe), so an early investor in the company from, Civilization Ventures, and its founder Shahram Seyedin-Noor suggested that they begin to look globally for growth.

“Precise.ly’s mission is to deliver validated genetic insights to the billions of people living outside the western world. We’re initially focused on India where there are urgent health issues readily addressable through access to personal genomic data,” said Avey, the chief executive officer of Precise.ly, in a statement. “Our partnership with Narayana is vital to delivering on the promise of precise, data-driven health.” 

Buttigieg’s CISO resigns, leaving no known cybersecurity chiefs among the 2020 candidates

By Zack Whittaker

Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has lost his campaign’s chief information security officer, citing “differences” with the campaign over its security practices.

Mick Baccio, who served under the former South Bend mayor’s campaign for the White House, left his position earlier this month.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the news. TechCrunch also confirmed Baccio’s resignation, who left less than a year after joining the Buttigieg campaign.

“I had fundamental philosophical differences with campaign management regarding the architecture and scope of the information security program,” Baccio told TechCrunch.

“We thank him for the work he did to protect our campaign against attacks,” said Buttigieg spokesperson Chris Meagher. The spokesperson said that the campaign had retained a new security firm, but would not say which company.

Baccio was the only known staffer to oversee cybersecurity out of all the presidential campaigns. News of his departure comes at a time just months to go before millions of Americans are set to vote in the 2020 presidential campaign.

But concerns have been raised about the overall security posture of the candidates’ campaigns, as well as voting and election infrastructure across the United States, ahead of the vote.

A report from a government watchdog last March said Homeland Security “does not have dedicated staff” focused on election infrastructure. Since then, security researchers found many of the largest voting districts are vulnerable to simple cyberattacks, such as sending malicious emails designed to look like a legitimate message, a type of tactic used by Russian operatives during the 2016 presidential election.

In October, Iran-backed hackers unsuccessfully targeted President Trump’s re-election campaign.

China nears completion of its GPS competitor, increasing the potential for internet Balkanization

By Jonathan Shieber

On Friday, China announced that it would complete its competitor to the U.S.-operated global positioning system network by the first half of next year, increasing the pace of its decoupling from U.S. technologies.

China’s Beidou network of satellites — named after the “Big Dipper” constellation — will be the first service to compete with the U.S. Air Force’s global positioning system and already has a potentially massive user base as more than 70% of Chinese smartphones are now ready to use its positioning services, according to a report in the Nikkei Asian Review.

The Beidou network is integral to China’s long-term plans to dominate the next generation of telecommunications services and — coupled with China’s advances in fifth-generation wireless communications technology — represents a significant challenge to the U.S. hegemony over telecommunications infrastructure.

China plans to launch by June 2020 the final two satellites needed to make the Beidou system operational, according to a statement from the project’s director, Ran Chengqi quoted by The Associated Press.

Envisioning a system where China’s global positioning system and fifth-generation wireless networking technologies work in tandem, China could command a lion’s share of the market for new telecommunications services.

A test of how these technologies could work in tandem is being developed in Wuhan, where both 5G and Beidou’s mapping technologies will be used to create an autonomous vehicle testbed on a 28-kilometer stretch of road.

Beidou already has 120 partners signed up to work with the service — all linked to agreements made under China’s expanding Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, according to Nikkei.

Chinese smartphone manufacturers accounted for more than 40% of sales worldwide as of the second quarter of 2019, the latest data from Counterpoint Research shows.

China’s GPS rolled out in phases, beginning with a domestic service launched in 2000 and a regional service for Asia Pacific coming online in 2012.

By 2020, the nation’s network of 35 satellites will exceed the U.S. system that’s currently in place.

“There is certainly an aspect of this that is about expanding influence, but part of it is likely also about economic security,” Alexandra Stickings, from the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, told the BBC last year. “The main advantage of having your own system is security of access, in the sense that you are not relying on another country to provide it. The US could deny users access over certain areas, for example in times of conflict.”

Space is an area of strategic importance for the Chinese government. The country has already achieved significant milestones, including quantum communications powered by its space capabilities and the first exploration of the far side of the Moon. And current plans are in place for China to send a probe to Mars in 2020 as it prepares to complete a space station by 2022.

It’s against this backdrop of increasing activity in space — even as tensions mount terrestrially — that the U.S. created the latest branch of its armed forces under the moniker of the Space Force.

Citing Chinese state media, the Nikkei Times reported that the value of goods and services tied to Beidou will reach $57 billion by 2020. The figure itself is nebulous, but points to the kind of economic power Beijing hopes to yield through the new satellite positioning service.

The development of these alternative internet realities matters a great deal.

As Eric Schmidt, the former chief executive officer of Google — and no stranger to the operations of Chinese technology companies — noted last year at a private dinner (first reported by CNBC):

[The] Chinese Internet is a greater percentage of the GDP of China, which is a big number, than the same percentage of the US, which is also a big number. If you think of China as like ‘Oh yeah, they’re good with the Internet,’ you’re missing the point. Globalization means that they get to play too. I think you’re going to see fantastic leadership in products and services from China. There’s a real danger that along with those products and services comes a different leadership regime from government, with censorship, controls, etc. Look at the way BRI works – their Belt and Road Initiative, which involves 60-ish countries – it’s perfectly possible those countries will begin to take on the infrastructure that China has with some loss of freedom.

 

How to build a diverse board

By Walter Thompson
Ann Shepherd Contributor
Ann Shepherd is co-founder of social impact venture Him For Her. She serves on the board of fintech startup HoneyBook.

Over a recent dinner with twenty C-suite executives, one founder-CEO recounted how he was preparing a slide for a company all-hands with headshots of his board of directors when he was struck by the contrast between his gender-balanced employee base and his all-male board.

“It wasn’t something I was proud to share with the team,” he told us, as heads around the table nodded.

The other CEOs in the room got it. A board populated exclusively by men is at odds with efforts to promote diversity and inclusion throughout the organization. For too many CEOs, the composition of their boards can feel more like a liability than a strategic asset.

Board diversity offers an array of benefits, including new perspectives that can improve decision-making and reduce “groupthink,” access to a broader talent pool, and of course the symbolic power of women and minorities at the top rung of the corporate ladder. Yet, according to a collaborative study published today by Crunchbase, Kellogg School of Management and Him For Her, the boards of 60 percent of the most heavily funded venture-backed startups don’t include a single woman

As the study shows, some of the gender imbalance can be explained by the dearth of women founders and funders. With investors composing the majority of private-company board seats, the paucity of female check-writers in the venture community carries through to the boardroom. But the problem goes beyond that. Only 19 percent of independent directors — those appointed without a prior operating or investing relationship with the company — are women.

Why should CEOs care about building boards that bring more women and minorities to the table? To answer this question, we sought input from three chief executives who’ve developed standout boards with an eye toward diversity.

What follows is a synthesis of the advice they shared.

View your board as a strategic asset

Well-functioning boards help CEOs see the bigger picture by providing an external perspective. For Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, “our board has been the most useful in discovering blind spots, by asking questions that force us to think outside of our day-to-day way of looking at things.” Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse says his board brings “a satellite view of the world so that we can analyze global macro trends that may converge or diverge, affecting Ripple’s future.”

For early-stage startups, board members can help address tactical needs, providing introductions to candidates or lending functional expertise to shape strategy. “Over time, you’ll rely on the board for flexing its fiduciary muscle,” according to Zander Lurie, CEO of SurveyMonkey. But “don’t be afraid of governance,” he advises. “A strong board is not your enemy — it’s there to help you thrive.” The bigger risk, he warns, “is in surrounding yourself with a bunch of ‘yes’ directors who heed your commands; that has proven to be a flawed strategy for all stakeholders.”

Build a board that makes you proud

If the most valuable contributions a board can make are to provoke thinking and see around corners, then having a range of voices in the boardroom is critical. For Kasriel, more diversity “means more viewpoints on the same problems. The whole point of having an eight-person board is to have eight very different and complementary — though sometimes conflicting, and that’s OK — perspectives.” 

“It’s important to have diversity of thought to protect the company from groupthink,” adds Garlinghouse. “Also, diverse boards bring different personal networks to bear… as companies scale, especially for startups, the most effective, impactful boards are diverse ones.”

A broader set of skills, life experiences and ways of thinking give CEOs more resources to draw from for assistance. Says Lurie, “a diverse set of perspectives and experiences will help you anticipate and respond to all kinds of challenges in your organization.

Make sure your board has the skill sets and diversity attributes that make you proud to show your employees and customers. You wouldn’t make a TV commercial starring only seven white guys; make sure you exercise the same duty of care when creating your board.”

This isn’t about optics. Lurie points to “one study [that] found that companies with one or more women on their board have 26 percent better share performance than companies with all-male boards. That’s part of why I’m so proud the SurveyMonkey board is comprised of 50% women and 50% men. More voices lead to better leadership.”

Reach outside your network

You’ve heard the argument that board diversity reflects a pipeline problem. Actually, it’s a marketplace problem. There is no shortage of exceptionally-qualified female and minority candidates. The real issue is that within the personal networks responsible for appointing most directors, these candidates are often simply invisible. So how can CEOs tap into this wealth of talent?

“Plenty of us suffer from affinity bias,” Lurie acknowledges. “We unconsciously gravitate toward people who look like us, share the same work background, or maybe went to our alma mater. This homogenous network isn’t going to serve you in building a diverse board, a diverse leadership team, or a diverse organization. Start going out of your way to connect with people who are dissimilar to you.

Find events to attend that wouldn’t normally be on your radar. Ask people you know to connect you with folks they know who might add a unique perspective. Investing in diversity takes effort in the beginning, but it’s well worth it for the gains you’ll see in performance, employee engagement, and more.”

“It’s not really different from any other executive search,” observes Kasriel. “If you’re just leveraging your personal network, then it’s likely to have the same level of diversity as everything else in your personal life which, for many entrepreneurs, isn’t a lot. I’ve also found that simple InMail via LinkedIn works quite well: find someone you really admire, approach them directly, explain to them why you think they could be an amazing addition to your board and why being on your board could be interesting to them.”

Garlinghouse cautions CEOs that, “building diverse boards and leadership teams take time and intention, so make it part of your mission from the beginning — it should not be an afterthought… otherwise, those with the ‘right’ experience who get the big jobs will continue to look the same.”

Always be recruiting

According to Garlinghouse, “CEOs should always be recruiting…it’s always the right time to take that coffee meeting.” 

Kasriel concurs. “Recruiting is the number-two priority for a CEO — number one is, don’t run out of money — and this includes recruiting your board. A great board can have an outsized impact in your ability to succeed, helping you navigate difficult decisions, making sure you have the right strategy and helping you attract great executives, investors, partners and customers.”

Focus on competencies, not titles

When it comes to defining the ideal new board member, traditional wisdom says to look for a current or former CEO. But increasingly today’s chief executives reject that advice which inherently favors male candidates. Instead they focus on adding key competencies to fill out the expertise in their boardrooms.

The first step is to assess your current board. “Take stock of where your board stands today and where you have gaps to fill,” counsels Lurie, “and draw a distinction between the titles listed on someone’s resume and the competencies they bring to the table.”

Kasiel explains that, in building out the Upwork board, “We were very thoughtful in finding people who brought a specific expertise.” Recently added directors were selected for their deep knowledge of finance and operations, enterprise sales and M&A and tech marketing.

“But equally importantly,” he adds, “we wanted board members who were passionate about the mission of Upwork — to create economic opportunities so people have better lives — and were aligned with our value of maximizing value for all stakeholders, not just our stockholders.”

Garlinghouse suggests that CEOs “pay attention to what’s happening in adjacent verticals, especially if you’re in a space that’s constantly evolving; the perfect director might not — and likely won’t — have a career dedicated to what your company does, but skills always transfer.”

“One potentially controversial tip,” offers Kasriel, “consider hiring ‘more junior’ board members. In tech, things move really fast and someone who has been a CMO for 20+ years may not know as much about recent marketing technology tools or marketing practices such as ABM and Inbound Marketing. The first 15 years of that 20-year experience may not be all that useful.”

Add independent directors early

When should a startup add its first independent director? According to these CEOs, it’s never too early.

The first independent director at Upwork joined the board about six years before the company’s IPO. “I don’t think it was too early,” recalls Kasriel. “In fact, I often advise early stage companies to add an independent board member as early as they can.”

“It’s never too early to have an independent director on the board,” agrees Garlinghouse at Ripple, where the first independent was appointed only a year after the company’s founding. “The advantage of having independent directors,” he points out, “is that CEOs can prioritize diversity of thought because they are not constrained by board seats controlled by shareholders… With independent directors, CEOs have more flexibility in choosing an expertise in a specific area or a unique experience that’s currently lacking to bring companies to the next stage of scale.”

To CEOs worried about upsetting board dynamics, Kasriel responds, “the whole point of adding a new director is to change board dynamics! Obviously, you can make a bad hire on the board, just like you can make a bad hire on your management team, so it’s very important to make sure that the new board member is not only chosen well but also onboarded professionally so they can contribute fully to the functioning of the board. The onboarding may require existing board members to also evolve how they themselves operate. It goes both ways.”

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