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The MIT Media Lab controversy and getting back to ‘radical courage’, with Media Lab student Arwa Mboya

By Arman Tabatabai

People win prestigious prizes in tech all the time, but there is something different about The Bold Prize. Unless you’ve been living under a literal or proverbial rock, you’ve probably heard something about the late Jeffrey Epstein, a notorious child molester and human trafficker who also happened to be a billionaire philanthropist and managed to become a ubiquitous figure in certain elite science and tech circles.

And if you’re involved in tech, the rock you’ve been living under would have had to be fully insulated from the internet to avoid reading about Epstein’s connections with MIT’s Media Lab, a leading destination for the world’s most brilliant technological minds, also known as “the future factory.” 

This past week, conversations around the Media Lab were hotter than the fuel rods at Fukushima, as The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow, perhaps the most feared and famous investigative journalist in America today, blasted out what for some were new revelations that Bill Gates, among others, had given millions of dollars to the Media Lab at Jeffrey (no fucking relation, thank you very much!) Epstein’s behest. Hours after Farrow’s piece was published, Joi Ito, the legendary but now embattled Media Lab director, resigned.

But well before before Farrow weighed in or Ito stepped away, students, faculty, and other leaders at MIT and far beyond were already on full alert about this story, thanks in large part to Arwa Michelle Mboya, a graduate student at the Media Lab, from Kenya by way of college at Yale, where she studied economics and filmmaking and learned to create virtual reality. Mboya, in her early 20’s, was among the first public voices (arguably the very first) to forcefully and thoughtfully call on Ito to step down from his position.

Imagine: you’re heading into the second year of your first graduate degree, and you find yourself taking on a man who, when Barack Obama took over Wired magazine for an issue as guest editor, was one of just a couple of people the then sitting President of the United States asked to personally interview. And imagine that man was the director of your graduate program, and the reason you decided to study in it in the first place.

Imagine the pressure involved, the courage required. And imagine, soon thereafter, being completely vindicated and celebrated for your actions. 

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Arwa Mboya. Image via MIT Media Lab

That is precisely the journey that Arwa Mboya has been on these past few weeks, including when tech leader Sabrina Hersi Issa, founder of Being Bold Media, decided to crowd-fund the Bold Prize to honor Mboya’s courage, and has now brought in over $10,000 to support her ongoing work (full disclosure: I am among the over 120 contributors to the prize). 

Mboya’s advocacy was never about Joi Ito personally. If you get to know her through the interview below, in fact, you’ll see she doesn’t wish him ill.

As she wrote in MIT’s The Tech nine days before Farrow’s essay and ten before Ito’s resignation, “This is not an MIT issue, and this is not a Joi Ito issue. This is an international issue where a global network of powerful individuals have used their influence to secure their privilege at the expense of women’s bodies and lives. The MIT Media Lab was nicknamed “The Future Factory” on CBS’s 60 Minutes. We are supposed to reflect the future, not just of technology but of society. When I call for Ito’s resignation, I’m fighting for the future of women.”

From the moment I read it, I thought this was a beautiful and truly bold statement by a student leader who is an inspiring example of the extraordinary caliber of student that the Media Lab draws.

But in getting to know her a bit since reading it, I’ve learned that her message is also about even more. It’s about the fact that the women and men who called for a new direction in light of Jeffrey Epstein’s abuses and other leaders’ complicity did so in pursuit of their own inspiring dreams for a better world.

Arwa, as you’ll see below, spoke out at MIT because of her passion to use tech to inspire radical imagination among potentially millions of African youth. As she discusses both the Media Lab and her broader vision, I believe she’s already beginning to provide that inspiration. 

Greg Epstein: You have had a few of the most dramatic weeks of any student I’ve met in 15 years as a chaplain at two universities. How are you doing right now?

Arwa Mboya: I’m actually pretty good. I’m not saying that for the sake of saying. I have a great support network. I’m in a lab where everyone is amazing. I’m very tired, I’ll say that. I’ve been traveling a lot and dealing with this while still trying to focus on writing a thesis. If anything, it’s more like overwhelmed and exhausted as opposed to not doing well in and of itself.

Epstein: Looking at your writing — you’ve got a great Medium blog that you started long before MIT and maintained while you’ve been here — it struck me that in speaking your mind and heart about this Media Lab issue, you’ve done exactly what you set out to do when you came here. You set out to be brave, to live life, as the Helen Keller quote on your website says, as either a great adventure or nothing. 

Also, when you came to the Media Lab, you were the best-case scenario for anyone who works on publicizing this place. You spoke and wrote about the Lab as your absolute dream. When you were in Africa, or Australia, or at Yale, how did you come to see this as the best place in the world for you to express the creative and civic dreams that you had?

Mboya: That’s a good question — what drew me here? The Media Lab is amazing. I read Whiplash, which is Joi Ito’s book about the nine principles of the Media Lab, and it really resonated with me. It was a place for misfits. It was a place for people who are curious and who just want to explore and experiment and mix different fields, which is exactly what I’ve been doing before.

From high school, I was very narrow in my focus; at Yale I did Econ and film, so that had a little more edge. After I graduated I insisted on not taking a more conventional path many students from Yale take, so [I] moved back to Kenya and worked on many different projects, got into adventure sports, got into travel more.

Epstein: Your website is full of pictures of you flipping over, skydiving, gymnastics — things that require both strength and courage. 

Mboya: I’d always been an athlete, loved the outdoors.

I remember being in Vietnam; I’d never done a backflip. I was like, “Okay, I’m going to learn how to do this.” But it’s really scary jumping backwards; the fear. Is, you can’t see where you’re going. I remember telling myself, ” Okay, just jump over the fear. Just shut it off and do it. Your body will follow.” I did and I was like, “Oh, that was easy.” It’s not complicated. Most people could do it if they just said, “Okay, I’ll jump.”

It really stuck with me. A lot of decisions I’ve [since] made, that I’m scared of, I think, “Okay, just jump, and your body will follow.” The Media Lab was like that as well.

I really wanted to go there, I just didn’t think there was a place for me. It was like, I’m not techie enough, I’m not anything enough. Applying was, ’just jump,’ you never know what will happen.

image 4

Image from Arwa Mboya

Epstein: Back when you were applying, you wrote about experiencing what applicants to elite schools often call “imposter syndrome.” This is where I want to be, but will they want me?

Mboya: Exactly.

Incredible Health’s hiring platform for nurses gets $15M led by Andreessen Horowitz

By Natasha Lomas

Andreessen Horowitz has led a $15 million Series A in US-based job matching platform for nursing vacancies, Incredible Health. Other investors in the funding round include NFX, Obvious Ventures, Precursor Ventures and Gingerbread Capital. To date the recruitment startup has raised a total of $17M.

The California startup’s pitch to nursing professionals and hospitals is faster and more efficient hiring via proprietary matching algorithms which replace the need for hospitals to manually sift applications. Instead the platform matches job seekers to nursing vacancies based on criteria supplied by both sides of its network.

Why focus on nurses? The startup cites a statistical claim that by 2024 the US will have a shortage of a million nurses — which it argues poses a risk of financial loss to hospitals, as contractors cost more to employ, while also contending that a growing number of unfilled nursing vacancies risks the quality of care hospitals are able to offer patients.

It launched its recruitment platform in late 2017 and has so far limited its range to California, with 150+ hospitals in the region signed up and an undefined “thousands” of nurses on board.

The Series A funding will be going towards accelerating national scaling in the US.

As well as VC backers, Incredible Health’s Series A includes participation from a number of individual investors hailing from the hiring space — including Hired founder, Matt Mickiewicz; Steve Goodman, founder of Bright.com (acquired by LinkedIn); and Pete Kazanjy, founder of Talentbin (acquired by Monster) .

“We look at at least 40-50 different criteria, including location preferences, licenses and skills,” says co-founder and CEO Iman Abuzeid who has a background as a medical doctor. Her co-founder and CTO, Rome Portlock, who comes from a family of nurses, is an MIT alum — where he studied computer science.

“We work with each hospital individually to understand their key needs so we can customize their algorithms, enabling personalized matches that don’t waste the recruiter’s time,” Abuzeid adds. “We also find out the nurse’s preferences through automated methods.

“At the end of the day, a hospital recruiter or hiring executive does not want to see 200 candidates in their app, they want to see 12 that are the right fit. Same with the nurses — they don’t want to hear from 76 employers, they want to hear from three that are the right fit.”

Incredible Health’s claim for its approach is that it yields 3x faster recruitment vs the national average — saying hires via its platform take 30 days or less instead of up to 90 days on average.

It also makes a further claim of 25x “hiring efficiency” for hospitals as a consequence of its matching algorithms taking over much of the hiring admin. This is based on data from hospitals which, prior to using its platform, had to review an average of 500 applicants to fill a single position vs the matching tech cutting that to an average of just 20.

Nurses don’t apply to jobs on Incredible Health’s platform; it’s up to hospitals to apply to nursing professionals the algorithm deems a suitable match for a job vacancy.

Hospitals can’t browse all available nurses; they only see candidates the algorithm selects for them — so, as with nurses, they’re trading wider visibility of the job market for algorithmic matches based on non-disclosed “proprietary” criteria.

Incredible Health sells that reduction of agency as an efficiency saving to both sides of its network.

“Rather than completing an application for every potential employer — a process which takes an average of 45 minutes per application — nurses who use Incredible Health complete one profile — a process that takes less than 5 minutes. That profile is then used to screen and custom-match them to multiple great job opportunities,” says Abuzeid, adding when asked about criteria that nurses have to provide “data like their job preferences, experience and skill set, and also their education and licensing” as part of the onboarding profile-building process. 

For nurses this load-lightening switch from active jobseeker to passive platform lurker — i.e. once they’ve created their profile — is how Incredible Health hopes to woo healthcare workers away from traditional job boards (such as specialist nursing vacancies board Indeed).

Its marketing thus leans heavily on claims that nurses just need to spend a few minutes creating a profile and then watch as the great job offers to roll in.

It also claims nurses who find employment through its two-sided platform score on average a 17% salary increase and a 15% reduction in commute time.

Though all these figures are derived from an unknown number of nurses working across a subset of hospitals in a single US state — so it remains to be seen how claimed perks get squeezed as the platform scales its national range and necessarily opens up to a wider pipeline of nursing professionals.

For now, Incredible Health also says its focus is on building a career marketplace for nursing professionals to connect them with “permanent, well-paid hospital jobs”, rather than dealing with travel and temp nurses

Again, whether it’s able to maintain focus on what one investor calls “high value health care workers” and the claimed high quality permanent jobs as the business scales will also be one to watch.

Commenting on the Series A, Andreessen Horowitz managing partner Jeff Jordan told us: “Incredible Health’s mission is to help health care professionals live better lives and do their best work.  They’ve seen strong early success helping to match these health care professionals with hospitals throughout California, and are beginning to expand their solution nationally.  We look forward to supporting their efforts to building a game-changing health care employment marketplace.”

Part of the funding will go on expanding from a pure hiring platform — to what the startup bills as a “community for health care professionals as they advance their careers” — in a clear bid to nurture and expand its candidate pool so it can be responsive to platform needs.

“High caliber nurses are out there, but employers have a hard time hiring them through traditional methods like job boards and recruiting agencies because those methods rely almost exclusively on human engagement — not technology — to scour through applications, licenses and experience — and manually vet and qualify them for jobs,” Abuzeid tells TechCrunch, dubbing the job-board competition “outdated methods”.

As well as offering a “streamlined” hiring process for nursing roles, as she puts it, she notes the platform automates “entire parts of the screening and vetting process” — meaning “we’re able to deliver high-quality nurses at scale”. 

That said, there’s still manual work involved — with the startup noting on its website that staff may contact nurses to “make sure you’re presenting yourself in the best way possible to top hospitals”, as well as telling hospitals that candidates are pre-screened for “licenses, experience, responsiveness, and more” (though at least some, if not all, of that vetting is automated).

Like any platform startup, Incredible Health is hoping to channel network effects to its advantage — including by feeding data back in to improve matching algorithms.

“Our system gets more effective the more who use it,” Abuzeid tells us. “The first [effect] is a traditional marketplace network effect: More nurses has attracted more hospitals, and more hospitals has attracted more nurses. And then, there’s the data network effect: The more each side uses it, the ‘smarter’ our algorithms get, too.”

Each hospital onboarded onto the platform brings with it a range of needs “advancing our system’s performance abilities”, she adds.

While algorithmic recruitment can clearly speed up the business of matching candidates to relevant jobs — a factor evident in the sheer number of job matching startups now playing in different sectors — it inevitably entails a loss of control for both sides of the employer-applicant divide.

Depending on matching criteria used there could be potential for gender and/or racial bias to creep into automated selections — bias that would be difficult for hospitals to detect since they’re only able to view a subset of candidates deemed a match, rather than the entire available pool at the time.

However Abuzeid dismisses the idea that there’s any risk of bias in Incredible Health’s approach. 

“We operate successfully in a very regulated industry,” she says. “Because potential employees are assessed on their skills, experience and certifications, the technology weeds out biases typically found in processes which are largely human-powered.”

On the business model front, Incredible Health is charging hospitals what it bills as a “simple, flat fee pricing regardless of level, experience or location” — which it touts as “cheaper and more scalable than traditional recruiting agencies”.

“Traditional recruiting agencies are very expensive, because they don’t use technology in their screening and matching processes. It’s all people powered and can cost $20,000-$30,000 per single hire,” Abuzeid claims.

As for rival (lower fee) legacy job boards, she argues they offer “quantity, not quality and require lots of work for nurses and employers to find a good fit” — claiming this old school method results in “really low hiring rates at 0.2%”. 

Uber plans to keep defending independent contractor model for drivers

By Megan Rose Dickey

In light of gig worker protections bill AB5 passing in the California State Senate last night, and amendments to AB5 passing in the Assembly this morning, Uber has made it clear it plans to do whatever it takes to keep its drivers independent contractors.

“We will continue to advocate for a compromise agreement,” Uber Chief Legal Officer Tony West said on a press call today.

As Uber outlined last month, the company is pushing for a framework that would establish a guaranteed earnings minimum while on a trip, offer portable benefits and enable drivers to “have a collective voice.”

He went on to say that Uber is continuing to explore several legal and political options to lay the groundwork for a statewide ballot initiative in 2020. Uber and Lyft announced a $60 million joint initiative last month, and now, West is saying Uber is open to investing even more money in that committee account.

“This is not our first choice,” West said. “At the same time, we need to make sure we are exploring all options and all alternatives to put forward a framework that works for the 21st-century economy and we believe we have a framework that does that.”

AB5 would help to ensure gig economy workers are entitled to minimum wage, workers’ compensation and other benefits by requiring employers to apply the ABC test. The bill, first introduced in December 2018, aims to codfiy the ruling established in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v Superior Court of Los Angeles. In that case, the court applied the ABC test and decided Dynamex wrongfully classified its workers as independent contractors.

According to the ABC test, in order for a hiring entity to legally classify a worker as an independent contractor, it must prove the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity, performs work outside the scope of the entity’s business and is regularly engaged in an “independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.”

If Uber were to fail this test, drivers would not be able to determine when, where and how often they work, nor would they be able to work for more than one platform at a time, West said.

“I do think there would be significant changes in the experience drivers would have,” West said.

But West believes Uber would not fail this test. While it will be required to pass this test in the likely event AB5 gets signed into law, West pointed out “we have been successful in arguing under this ABC test in the past that drivers are independent and independent contractors,” West said. “We believe that to be true.”

There would surely be a financial impact if Uber fails the test, but West declined to comment on just what that fiscal impact would be. Industry analysts, however, have estimated it could result in up to a 30% cost increase.

As noted earlier, the bill is expected to pass, as Gov. Gavin Newsom has previously expressed his support for the measure. Though, Newsom said earlier today, he’s still in negotiations with both Uber and Lyft.

“The governor has been pretty clear he is fully committed to a negotiated solution here,” West said. “He’s been clear to us on that message in private and has publicly stated that now.”

Following the bill’s passing in the Senate, Lyft said the state missed an opportunity to support the majority of rideshare drivers who want a solution that balances flexibility with earnings standard and benefits.

“The fact that there were more than 50 industries carved out of AB5 is very telling,” a Lyft spokesperson said. “We are fully prepared to take this issue to the voters of California to preserve the freedom and access drivers and riders want and need.”

Earlier today, Lyft sent out an email to drivers regarding AB5 and how if it’s signed into law, drivers “may soon be required to drive specific shifts, stick to specific areas, and drive for only a single platform (such as Lyft, Uber, Doordash, or others).”

Email from Lyft. If the proposed changes to #AB5 don't go through my rideshare days will be over and I will be in search for something else in the #GigEconomy ✌🏾pic.twitter.com/6RmVt52yvj

— Ja'Mar (@Maaaaaaster_J) September 11, 2019

Despite what Uber and Lyft are saying, there are a number of drivers who have fought long and hard to ensure the bill passes. Two of the main organizations behind the actions in support of AB5 are Gig Workers Rising and Mobile Workers Alliance. In addition to urging legislators to pass AB5, Uber and Lyft drivers organizing with Gig Workers Rising also want the right to form a union.

“AB 5 is only the beginning,” Edan Alva, a driver with Gig Workers Rising, said in a statement. “I talk daily to other drivers who want a change but they are scared. They don’t want to lose their only source of income. But just because someone really needs to work does not mean that their rights as a worker should be stepped all over. That is why a union is critical. It simply won’t work without it.”

Despite Brexit, UK startups can compete with Silicon Valley to win tech talent

By Arman Tabatabai
Mehul Patel Contributor
Mehul Patel is the CEO of Hired , the marketplace that matches tech talent with the world's most innovative companies.

Brexit has taken over discourse in the UK and beyond. In the UK alone, it is mentioned over 500 million times a day, in 92 million conversations — and for good reason. While the UK has yet to leave the EU, the impact of Brexit has already rippled through industries all over the world. The UK’s technology sector is no exception. While innovation endures in the midst of Brexit, data reveals that innovative companies are losing the ability to attract people from all over the world and are suffering from a substantial talent leak. 

It is no secret that the UK was already experiencing a talent shortage, even without the added pressure created by today’s political landscape. Technology is developing rapidly and demand for tech workers continues to outpace supply, creating a fiercely competitive hiring landscape.

The shortage of available tech talent has already created a deficit that could cost the UK £141 billion in GDP growth by 2028, stifling innovation. Now, with Brexit threatening the UK’s cosmopolitan tech landscape — and the economy at large — we may soon see international tech talent moving elsewhere; in fact, 60% of London businesses think they’ll lose access to tech talent once the UK leaves the EU.

So, how can UK-based companies proactively attract and retain top tech talent to prevent a Brexit brain drain? UK businesses must ensure that their hiring funnels are a top priority and focus on understanding what matters most to tech talent beyond salary, so that they don’t lose out to US tech hubs. 

Brexit aside, why is San Francisco more appealing than the UK?

Uber lays off 435 people across engineering and product teams

By Megan Rose Dickey

Uber has laid off 435 employees across its product and engineering teams, the company announced today. Combined, the layoffs represent about 8% of the organization, with 170 people leaving the product team and 265 people leaving the engineering team.

The layoffs had no effect on Eats, which is one of Uber’s top-performing products, and Freight, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Meanwhile, the company is lifting the hiring freeze on the product and engineering teams that has been in effect since early August, according to the source.

“Our hope with these changes is to reset and improve how we work day to day — ruthlessly prioritizing, and always holding ourselves accountable to a high bar of performance and agility,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. “While certainly painful in the moment, especially for those directly affected, we believe that this will result in a much stronger technical organization, which going forward will continue to hire some of the very best talent around the world.”

Of those laid off, more than 85% are based in the U.S.; 10% are in Asia-Pacific and 5% are in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, according to the source.

The layoffs came after Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi asked every member of his executive leadership team if they were to start from scratch, would their respective organizations look the way they do today?

“After careful consideration, our Engineering and Product leaders concluded the answer to this question in many respects was ‘no,’ ” the spokesperson said.

Those leaders are Chief Product Officer Manik Gupta and CTO Thuan Pham. They looked at team size, identified duplicate roles and overlapping work, as well as individual performance to determine who would be laid off, the source said. That’s how they landed on focusing more on the design and research teams from the product side.

“Previously, to meet the demands of a hyper-growth startup, we hired rapidly and in a decentralized way,” the spokesperson said. “While this worked for Uber in the past, now that we have over 27,000 full-time employees in cities around the world, we need to shift how we design our organizations: lean, exceptionally high-performing teams, with clear mandates and the ability to execute faster than our competitors.”

These layoffs come shortly after Uber laid off 400 people from its marketing team. In Q2 2019, Uber lost more than $5 billion — its biggest quarterly revenue loss to date — though a chunk of its losses were a result of stock-based compensation expenses for employees following the company’s IPO in May. While it may seem these layoffs are in response to those quarterly losses, Uber says the conversations have been ongoing.

As Uber lays off its W-2 employees, it’s simultaneously investing in ensuring its 1099 independent contractors remain classified in that way. In light of gig worker protection bill AB-5 advancing through the California legislature, Uber, along with Lyft and DoorDash, put $30 million toward a 2020 ballot initiative that would enable them to keep their drivers as independent contractors. If AB-5 passes, Uber would see a significant uptick in costs.

Uber is currently trading at $33.14 per share, well below its IPO pricing of $45.

Here’s Uber’s full statement:

Our CEO has asked everyone on our management team a simple but important question: if we started from scratch, would we design our organizations as they stand today? After careful consideration, our Engineering and Product leaders concluded the answer to this question in many respects was no. Previously, to meet the demands of a hyper-growth startup, we hired rapidly and in a decentralized way.

While this worked for Uber in the past, now that we have over 27,000 full-time employees in cities around the world, we need to shift how we design our organizations: lean, exceptionally high-performing teams, with clear mandates and the ability to execute faster than our competitors.

Today, we’re making some changes to get us back on track, which include reducing the size of some teams to ensure we are staffed appropriately against our top priorities. These were incredibly difficult calls as it means some of our employees no longer have a role, specifically around 170 people in our Product group and 265 people in Engineering, which is roughly 8 percent of those two orgs.

Our hope with these changes is to reset and improve how we work day to day—ruthlessly prioritizing, and always holding ourselves accountable to a high bar of performance and agility. While certainly painful in the moment, especially for those directly affected, we believe that this will result in a much stronger technical organization, which going forward will continue to hire some of the very best talent around the world.

All the weird stuff that happens to you after you close your round

By Arman Tabatabai
Matt Rodak Contributor
Matt Rodak is the founder and CEO of Fund That Flip, a market-leading residential real estate investment platform.

We just closed our $11 million Series A financing, and within 15 minutes of the news hitting the wire, the weirdness began. It turns out that once you announce to the world that you have money, everyone wants a piece. Some want to earn your business, some actually want your business, some want you to move your business, and others just want to straight-up steal your business.

These are the weird things that no one tells you will happen after you close your round that I’m hoping you will find helpful, insightful and maybe spare you a headache or two.

International students face immigration hurdles under Trump

By Arman Tabatabai
Xiao Wang Contributor
Xiao Wang is CEO at Boundless, a technology startup that has helped thousands of immigrant families apply for marriage green cards and U.S. citizenship while providing affordable access to independent immigration attorneys.

This fall, nearly half a million international students will begin or return to STEM degree programs at U.S. colleges and universities. If you’re among them, congratulations — look forward to being wooed by talent-hungry U.S. tech firms when you graduate. But there’s bad news, too: Under current immigration rules, switching from a student visa to an employment visa can be tricky, so it’s important to understand what’s required and how the latest policy upheavals could impact your journey.

In theory, it’s a great time to be a STEM graduate. U.S. STEM jobs are expected to grow by nearly 11% — or about 10.3 million positions — between 2016 and 2026, faster than all U.S. occupations. In practice, however, it can be tough for international students to secure permanent residence in the United States. The H-1B skilled-worker visa system is badly clogged; a federal lawsuit could slam the door on many STEM graduates, and the White House is shaking up both the skilled-worker and student visa systems.

But don’t despair: There’s still a pathway to a future in the United States — you just might face a bumpy ride. Whether you’re starting your studies or preparing to graduate, it’s crucial to understand your options.

Getting an employment-based visa

An employment-based green card requires an executive-level job, a truly extraordinary résumé, or an employer willing to pony up thousands of dollars in fees and labor-certification costs. Because it’s hard to get a green card, most international STEM students aim for an H-1B visa, which lets you work for a specified U.S. employer for up to six years. It’s not a permanent solution, but it can be a useful launchpad for your career.

Even getting an H-1B isn’t easy, though. There’s a hard cap on H-1Bs: This year, there were more than 200,000 applicants vying for just 85,000 visas. Recipients are selected via lottery, and while you could land an H-1B on your first attempt, many tech workers have to try again — and again, and again — before they finally get lucky.

In the meantime, international students typically start out using the temporary work authorization through their student visa until they transfer to an H-1B. 

Let’s dig into the details of what’s allowed under your student visa: 

If you’re on an F-1 visa

GettyImages 961623304

Image via Getty Images / South_agency

The F-1 student visa is one of the main on-ramps to the U.S. tech sector for foreign-born workers. That’s largely thanks to Bush- and Obama-era changes that expanded the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which allows F-1 holders to work at American companies after graduating, from 12 to 36 months. 

Graduates with multiple STEM degrees (such as a bachelor’s and master’s degrees) can also chain together their OPT periods, working for up to six years in total before switching to another visa. That’s great news because each year of OPT is another chance to play the H-1B lottery, increasing your odds of winning a visa. 

To use OPT, you’ll need to get a work permit (“Employment Authorization Document,” or EAD) as you near graduation. You’ll also need to file for visa extensions in order to make the most of your OPT entitlement. 

If you’re on a J-1 visa

Similar to the F-1, the J-1 visa is designed for students involved in cultural exchange programs or who receive substantial funding from governments or institutions. 

As a J-1 student, you won’t get OPT but 18 months of Academic Training (AT). Any internships or jobs you take during your studies will count toward your AT allotment, so it’s possible to finish your degree with less than 18 months of work authorization remaining. And while a second 18-month AT period is available for postdoctoral research, there’s no automatic extension for STEM degree holders: Once your 18 months are up, you’ll need to leave the United States.

There’s another catch: Many J-1 visas come with a home residency requirement (HRR), requiring holders to return to their home country for two years before seeking a work-based or family-sponsored U.S. visa — that or apply for an HRR waiver

If you’re on an M-1 visa

The M-1 visa is used by students at technical and vocational schools, not academic programs. As student visas go, it’s very restrictive: You won’t be able to work off-campus and can’t work for more than six months. You also won’t be able to switch to an F-1 visa and won’t find it easy to transition to an H-1B. If you hope to stay in the United States long-term, think carefully about whether an M-1 is right for you.

No job lined up?

If you don’t have a job offer, there are other ways to stay in the United States after finishing your studies. One popular option is to enter a graduate program: Getting a master’s degree could extend your student visa by a year or two, while upgrading to a PhD program could get you several additional years. In fact, an advanced U.S. degree under your belt effectively doubles your chances of getting an H-1B in the same lottery. 

If you can’t find work and don’t want to keep studying, you’ll need existing family ties to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder). If you’re the direct relative of one (for example, a spouse or child), then things are relatively easier: You have a clear path toward a family-based green card, allowing you to live and work permanently in the United States. That’s true even if you’ve become a family member through marriage: You’ll be able to obtain a marriage-based green card more quickly and easily than an H-1B or other employment-based green cards.

If you’re the spouse or child of someone on a temporary visa, such as an H-1B or O-1 visa holder, you can usually obtain a dependent’s visa. Such visas often allow you to study, but you won’t qualify for OPT after graduating. It’s also getting harder for H4 visa holders to obtain work permits, so don’t count on using a dependent’s visa to launch your career in Silicon Valley. In many cases, OPT is still a better springboard to an H-1B or green card.

If the person who claims you as a dependent applies for permanent residence, you may be able to get a green card through “derivative” benefits, meaning their green card eligibility trickles down to you.  

Next step: Mark your calendar

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Image via Getty Images / normaals

Whatever immigration status you currently have or want to get, you’ll need to plan ahead. In some cases, you might need to start planning your next step almost as soon as you begin your studies, in order to make sure you aren’t left without a valid visa.

  • For graduate study: Update your existing student visa before the end of the 60-day grace period (for F-1 visas) or 30-day grace period (for J-1 visas) following the program completion date listed on your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record and I-20 or DS-2019 form. 
  • For F-1 OPT: Apply no sooner than 90 days before and no later than 60 days after completing your studies. If your official completion date is June 1, 2020, for instance, you can apply for OPT between March 3 and July 31 of that year.
  • For J-1 AT: Apply shortly before your program ends. Your school will facilitate your AT application and will set its own deadline to process your paperwork before the end of your studies, but your AT must begin no later than 30 days after completing your program.
  • For H-1B visas: Play the annual visa lottery held in early April. You’ll need a job offer lined up well in advance from an employer who’s willing to sponsor you. You can’t begin working until your H-1B is approved, unless you have separate work authorization through OPT, AT, or some other means.
  • For employment-based green cards: The timeline depends on your specific green card category, but you’ll generally wait months or years
  • For green cards through marriage to a U.S. citizen: You’ll typically wait 10–13 months, but you’ll be able to stay in the United States while in the meantime, even if your student visa expires.
  • For green cards through marriage to a permanent resident: You’ll typically wait 29–38 months, but you’ll need another valid visa, such as an unexpired F-1, for the first 11–15 months.
  • For family-based green cards (other than for spouses and children of U.S. citizens): You might face a lengthy wait depending on your relationship to your sponsoring relative and home country

Whatever your plans, remember that immigration rules are constantly changing — and seldom in ways that benefit new immigrants. If you can, file your visa or green card application right away to avoid nasty surprises.

Trouble coming down the line

It’s important not only to understand your current visa but also to recognize that the U.S. immigration system is in flux — and many of the planned changes spell bad news even for immigrants with advanced degrees and vitally needed skills. 

The new public charge rule, for instance, will make it harder to get a green card if you’ve used public benefits and allows the U.S. government to deny your application if they suspect you’ll fall on hard times in the future. For STEM grads with solid job offers, that might not seem like a major concern, but the new rule will apply even to those on temporary visas, including H-1Bs, who wish to extend or change their immigration status. At the least, it’s a sign of how much harder the immigration process is getting.

The Trump administration is also targeting students with a new “unlawful presence” rule that imposes tough punishments for minor violations of student visa terms. Fortunately, the rule is tied up in court, but if it goes through, it could lead to lengthy bans on future work visas if you overstay on your student visa, work in ways that aren’t authorized, or otherwise fail to play by the rules.

Such changes underscore the importance of doing your own due diligence and not simply relying on your college or employer to steer you right. Figuring out your immigration options can feel overwhelming — but as the many thousands of foreign-born STEM graduates who’ve successfully built careers in the United States can tell you, it’s well worth the effort.

Get your pressing immigration questions answered

Have a question about the complex and shifting immigration process? Boundless can help. Please send your immigration-related questions to our resident immigration expert, Anjana Prasad, at ask.anjana@boundless.com. We will consider your question for a future column on the Boundless blog.

‘The Operators’: Finance in startups with Duda CFO Stephanie Hsiung and Zeus Living’s Head of Finance Mark Kang

By Arman Tabatabai
Tim Hsia & Neil Devani Contributor
Tim Hsia is the CEO of Media Mobilize and a Venture Partner at Digital Garage. Neil Devani is an angel investor and venture capitalist focused on companies solving hard problems.

Welcome to this transcribed edition of The Operators. The Operators features insiders from companies like Airbnb, Brex, Calm, Facebook, Google, Lyft, Slack, Uber, WeWork, and Zeus Living sharing their stories and tips on how to break into fields like marketing and product management. They also share best practices for entrepreneurs on how to hire and manage experts from domains outside their own.

This week’s edition features two finance experts with experience from Calm, AdRoll, Morgan Stanley, Change.org, Zeus Living, and Duda. Listen in as they unpack how to build a career in finance at a tech startup and how founders should be thinking about hiring and managing this function.

Stephanie Hsiung is the CFO of Duda, a new and exciting enterprise website builder. Prior to taking the CFO role at Duda, Stephanie served as the VP of Finance at Calm, the leading meditation and mental wellness app and recent unicorn. She was also previously the VP of Finance at Change.org, and was at AdRoll before that.

Mark Kang is the Head of Finance at Zeus Living, which is one of the fastest-growing providers of furnished housing for business travelers. He brings experience from venture capital, banking at Morgan Stanley, where he managed IPOs, and also spent time at Barclays.

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Mark Kang, Neil Devanie, Stephanie Hsiung. Image via The Operators

Neil Devani and Tim Hsia created The Operators after seeing and hearing too many heady, philosophical podcasts about the future of tech, and not enough attention on the practical day-to-day work that makes it all happen.

Tim is the CEO & Founder of Media Mobilize, a media company and ad network, and a Venture Partner at Digital Garage. Tim is an early-stage investor in Workflow (acquired by Apple), Lime, FabFitFun, Oh My Green, Morning Brew, Girls Night In, The Hustle, Bright Cellars, and others.

Neil is an early-stage investor based in San Francisco with a focus on companies building stuff people need, solutions to very hard problems. Companies he’s invested in include Andela, Clearbit, Kudi, Recursion Pharmaceuticals, Solugen, and Vicarious Surgical.

If you’re interested in starting or accelerating your marketing career, or how to hire and manage this function, you can’t miss this episode!

The show:

The Operators features insiders from companies like Airbnb, Brex, Calm, Facebook, Google, Lyft, Slack, Uber, WeWork, and Zeus Living sharing their stories and tips on how to break into fields like marketing and product management. They also share best practices for entrepreneurs on how to hire and manage experts from domains outside their own.

In this episode:

In Episode 6, we’re talking about finance. Neil interviews Stephanie Hsiung, the CFO of Duda, a new and exciting enterprise website builder, and Mark Kang, the Head of Finance at Zeus Living, one of the fastest-growing providers of furnished housing for business travelers.

Neil Devani: Hello and welcome to the Operators, where we talk to entrepreneurs and executives from leading technology companies like Google, Facebook, Airbnb, and Calm about how to break into a new field, how to build a successful career, and how to hire and manage talent beyond your own expertise.

We skip over the lofty prognostications from venture capitalists and storytime with founders to dig into the nuts and bolts of how it all works. Hear from the people doing the real day to day work, the people who make it all happen, the people who know what it really takes… The Operators.

Today we’re talking to two finance experts with experience in investment banking and billion-dollar tech startups. I’m your host, Neil Devani and we’re coming to you from Digital Garage here in downtown San Francisco.

Joining me today is Stephanie Hsiung, CFO of Duda, an enterprise website builder, and formerly the VP of finance at Calm, the leading meditation and mental wellness app. She was also the VP of Finance at Change.org and AdRoll before that.

Also joining us is Mark Kang, Head of Finance at Zeus Living, a rising provider of furnished housing for business travels. They have 1400 homes under management in four major metro areas. Mark has experience as a venture capitalist as well and was previously a banker at Morgan Stanley and Barclays. Stephanie and Mark, thank you for joining us.

Stephanie Hsiung: Thank you for having us.

Mark Kang: Yes, thanks for having us.

Verified Expert Growth Marketing Agency: Torch

By Yvonne Leow

CEO Jeremy OBriant never intended to create Torch, an agile growth marketing agency based in San Francisco. He started his career as a CPA, but after leading a growth team at Sidecar and running growth projects on his own, forming Torch was the most obvious thing to do. He now leads a team that implements “agile growth,” an iterative approach that involves setting clear goals and running smaller experiments over the course of monthly sprints. Learn more about their approach to growth, their ideal client, and more.

“Torch offers custom solutions to whatever you need. They are fast and deliver on what they promise. They are also scrappy and willing to try stuff to solve unique needs.” Head of Product in SF

Torch’s approach to growth

We aim to be the thought leaders of Agile Growth. We didn’t invent the term, but we are certainly becoming the leading voice of the process in the growth marketing world. Agile simply means being able to move quickly and with ease. We start with clearly defined business goals and prioritize growth tactics based on the impact, cost, and efficiency. Then collaborate with growth teams to execute a handful of items in recurring growth sprints, typically on a monthly cadence.”

On their ideal client

“Our ideal partner has product-market fit, is redefining their category, and is ready to scale in a sustainable way. We are very strategic in the types of businesses we work with and steer clear of doing narrow prescriptive tactics. We love to collaborate with partners that are open to taking a fresh strategic look at their entire growth stack and embrace the agile approach to discover the right strategy for their unique situation.”

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Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup growth marketing agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already. 

Interview with Torch CEO Jeremy OBriant

Jeremy OBriant

Yvonne Leow: Tell me about your background and how you became a growth marketer. 

Jeremy OBriant: People are often surprised when I tell them I started my career as a CPA. I ended up working in the trenches on several M&A deals and heard lots of founding stories from entrepreneurs.

‘Breaking Into Startups’: Torch CEO and Well Clinic founder Cameron Yarbrough on mental health & coaching

By Arman Tabatabai
Chad M. Crabtree Contributor
Chad M. Crabtree is the editor-in-Chief at Career KarmaCareer Karma, covering the Future of Work, Tech Education, and Startups.

There has long been a stigma associated with therapy and mental health coaching, a stigma that is even more pronounced in the business world, despite considerable evidence of the efficacy of these services. One of the organizations that has set out to change this negative association is Torch, a startup that combines the therapeutic benefits of executive coaching with data-driven analytics to track outcomes.

Yet, as Torch co-founder and CEO Cameron Yarbrough explains in this Breaking Into Startups episode, the startup wasn’t initially a tech-oriented enterprise. At first, Yarbrough drew on his years of experience as a marriage and family counselor as he made the transition into executive coaching, even referring to the early iterations of Torch as little more than “a matchmaking service between coaches and professionals.”

In time, Yarbrough identified a virtually untapped market for executive coaching — one that, by his estimate, could amount to a $15 billion industry. To demonstrate to investors the great potential of this growing market, he first built up a clientele that provided Torch with sufficient recurring revenue and low churn rate.

Only then was Yarbrough able to raise a $2.4 million seed round from Initialized Capital, Y Combinator, and other investors, convincing them that data analytics software could enhance the coaching process — as well as coach recruitment — enough to effectively “productize feedback,” as he puts it.

For Yarbrough and Torch, “productizing feedback” involves certain well-known business strategies that complement traditional coaching methods. For instance, Torch’s coaching procedure includes a “360 review,” a performance review system that incorporates feedback from all angles, including an employee’s manager, peers, and other people within an organization who have knowledge of the employee’s work.

The 360 review is coupled with an OKR platform, which provides HR departments and other interested parties with the metrics and analytics to track employee progress through the program. This combination is designed to promote the development of soft skills, which in turn drive leadership.

Torch has achieved considerable success, landing several influential clients in the tech sector through its B2B approach. But Yarbrough is clear that his goal with the company is to “democratize” access to professional coaching, in hopes of providing the same kind of mental health counseling and support to employees in all levels of an organization.

In this episode, Yarbrough discusses the history and trajectory of Torch, his experience scaling a company many considered unscalable, and the methods he uses to manage his own emotional and mental health as the CEO of an expanding startup. Yarbrough offers insights into the feelings of anxiety and dread common among entrepreneurs and provides a close look at how he has found business and personal success with Torch.


Breaking Into Startups: There’s a difference between a mentor and a coach. Today, I want to talk about that difference and in addition to the intersection between business and psychology, What Cameron Yarbrough, CEO of Torch and Founder of Well Clinic.

If you’re someone that is looking for a mentor or a coach as you break into tech, or if you just want to be surrounded by peers, make sure you download the Career Karma app by going to www.breakingintostartups.com/download.

On today’s episode, you’re going to understand the importance of therapy, mental health and coaches, as well as how historically, it has been inaccessible to people and how Cameron is using his background to democratize this for the world.

If this is your first time listening to the Breaking Startups Podcast, make sure you leave a review on iTunes and tell your friends. Listen to it on Soundcloud and talk about it on Spotify. If you have any feedback for us, positive or negative, please let us know. Without further ado, let’s break-in.

Cameron Yarbrough is the CEO of Torch. He’s one of the best executive coaches in the world. Not only are we going to be talking about coaching and mentoring for executives, but we’ll also be talking about coaching in general for everyone. We’re going to go into how he created his company.

How ‘ghost work’ in Silicon Valley pressures the workforce, with Mary Gray

By Arman Tabatabai

The phrase “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” was originally meant sarcastically.

It’s not actually physically possible to do — especially while wearing Allbirds and having just fallen off a Bird scooter in downtown San Francisco, but I should get to my point.

This week, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigrant Services Office, repeatedly referred to the notion of bootstraps in announcing shifts in immigration policy, even going so far as to change the words to Emma Lazarus’s famous poem “The New Colossus:” no longer “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” but “give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.”

We’ve come to expect “alternative facts” from this administration, but who could have foreseen alternative poems?

Still, the concept of ‘bootstrapping’ is far from limited to the rhetorical territory of the welfare state and social safety net. It’s also a favorite term of art in Silicon Valley tech and venture capital circles: see for example this excellent (and scary) recent piece by my editor Danny Crichton, in which young VC firms attempt to overcome a lack of the startup capital that is essential to their business model by creating, as perhaps an even more essential feature of their model, impossible working conditions for most everyone involved. Often with predictably disastrous results.

It is in this context of unrealistic expectations about people’s labor, that I want to introduce my most recent interviewee in this series of in-depth conversations about ethics and technology.

Mary L. Gray is a Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research. One of the world’s leading experts in the emerging field of ethics in AI, Mary is also an anthropologist who maintains a faculty position at Indiana University. With her co-author Siddharth Suri (a computer scientist), Gray coined the term “ghost work,” as in the title of their extraordinarily important 2019 book, Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass. 

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Image via Mary L. Gray / Ghostwork / Adrianne Mathiowetz Photography

Ghost Work is a name for a rising new category of employment that involves people scheduling, managing, shipping, billing, etc. “through some combination of an application programming interface, APIs, the internet and maybe a sprinkle of artificial intelligence,” Gray told me earlier this summer. But what really distinguishes ghost work (and makes Mary’s scholarship around it so important) is the way it is presented and sold to the end consumer as artificial intelligence and the magic of computation.

In other words, just as we have long enjoyed telling ourselves that it’s possible to hoist ourselves up in life without help from anyone else (I like to think anyone who talks seriously about “bootstrapping” should be legally required to rephrase as “raising oneself from infancy”), we now attempt to convince ourselves and others that it’s possible, at scale, to get computers and robots to do work that only humans can actually do.

Ghost Work’s purpose, as I understand it, is to elevate the value of what the computers are doing (a minority of the work) and make us forget, as much as possible, about the actual messy human beings contributing to the services we use. Well, except for the founders, and maybe the occasional COO.

Facebook now has far more employees than Harvard has students, but many of us still talk about it as if it were little more than Mark Zuckerberg, Cheryl Sandberg, and a bunch of circuit boards.

But if working people are supposed to be ghosts, then when they speak up or otherwise make themselves visible, they are “haunting” us. And maybe it can be haunting to be reminded that you didn’t “bootstrap” yourself to billions or even to hundreds of thousands of dollars of net worth.

Sure, you worked hard. Sure, your circumstances may well have stunk. Most people’s do.

But none of us rise without help, without cooperation, without goodwill, both from those who look and think like us and those who do not. Not to mention dumb luck, even if only our incredible good fortune of being born with a relatively healthy mind and body, in a position to learn and grow, here on this planet, fourteen billion years or so after the Big Bang.

I’ll now turn to the conversation I recently had with Gray, which turned out to be surprisingly more hopeful than perhaps this introduction has made it seem.

Greg Epstein: One of the most central and least understood features of ghost work is the way it revolves around people constantly making themselves available to do it.

Mary Gray: Yes, [What Siddarth Suri and I call ghost work] values having a supply of people available, literally on demand. Their contributions are collective contributions.

It’s not one person you’re hiring to take you to the airport every day, or to confirm the identity of the driver, or to clean that data set. Unless we’re valuing that availability of a person, to participate in the moment of need, it can quickly slip into ghost work conditions.

How should B2B startups think about growth? Not like B2C

By Yvonne Leow
Tyler Elliston & Kevin Barry Contributor
Tyler Elliston is the founder of Right Side Up, a collective of growth marketers that primarily helps early to mid-stage companies scale. Kevin Barry is the co-founder of Right Percent, a B2B-only performance marketing agency that develops tailored acquisition strategies for early to mid-stage companies.

Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of B2B companies apply ineffective demand generation strategies to their startup. If you’re a B2B founder trying to grow your business, this guide is for you.

Rule #1: B2B is not B2C. We are often dealing with considered purchases, multiple stakeholders, long decision cycles, and massive LTVs. These unique attributes matter when developing a growth strategy. We’ll share B2B best practices we’ve employed while working with awesome B2B companies like Zenefits, Crunchbase, Segment, OnDeck, Yelp, Kabbage, Farmers Business Network, and many more. Topics covered include:

  • Descriptions of growth stages you can use to determine your company’s status
  • Tactics for each stage with specific examples
  • Which advertising channels work best
  • Optimization of your ad copy to maximize CTR and conversions
  • Optimization of your sales funnel
  • Measuring the ROI of your advertising spend

We often crack growth for companies that didn’t think it was possible, based on their prior experience with agencies and/or internal resources. There are many misconceptions out there about B2B growth, rooted in the misapplication of B2C strategies and leading to poor performance. Study the differences and you’ll develop a filter for all the advice you get that’s good for one context (ex: B2C) but bad for another (ex: B2B). This guide will get you off on the right foot.

Table of Contents

What growth stage is your B2B startup?

The best growth strategy for your company ultimately depends on whether you’re in an incubation, iteration, or scale stage. One of the most common mistakes we see is a company acting like they’re in the scale phase when they’re actually in the iteration phase. As a result, many of them end up developing inefficient growth strategies that lead to exorbitant monthly ad spends, extraneous acquisition channels, hiring (and later firing) ineffective team members, and de-emphasizing critical customer feedback. There is often an intense pressure to grow, but believing your own hype before it’s real can kill early-stage ventures. Here’s a breakdown of each stage:

designer key details 22

Incubation is when you are building your minimum viable product (MVP). This should be done in close partnership with potential customers to ensure you are solving a real problem with a credible solution. Typically a founder is a voice of the customer, as someone who experienced the problem and sought out the solution s/he is now building. Other times, founders enter a new space and build a panel of prospective buyers to participate in the product development process. The endpoint of this phase is a working MVP.

Iteration is when you have customers using your MVP and you are rapidly improving the product. Success at this stage is rooted in customer insights – both qualitative and quantitative – not marketing excellence. It’s valuable to include in this iterative process customers with whom the founder(s) have no prior relationship. You want to test the product’s appeal, not friends’ willingness to help you out. We want a customer set that is an accurate sample of a much larger population you will later sell to. The endpoint of the iteration phase is product/market fit.

Scale is when you have product/market fit and are trying to grow your customer base. The goal of this phase is to build a portfolio of tactics that maximize market penetration with minimal – or at least profitable – cost. Success is rooted in growing lifetime value through retention and margin, maximizing funnel conversion to efficiently convert leads to customers, and finding repeatable tactics to drive prospective buyers’ awareness and consideration of your product. The endpoint of this phase is ultimately market saturation, leading to the incubation and iteration of new features, customer segments, and geographies.

How do you find B2B customers? 

Here’s a list of B2B customer acquisition tactics we commonly employ and recommend. Later in this article, we’ll connect each channel to the growth stage it’s best used in. This list is generally sorted by early stage to later stage:

1. Leveraging your network. This is particularly valuable for founders who are building a product based on their own past experience.

  • Reach out to old colleagues you know have the same problem you had (and are solving).
  • Leverage the startup ecosystem. If your startup is in YCombinator, for instance, other companies in your batch may be prospects, along with alumni who will take your call simply because of your affiliation.
  • Example: If you’re building an app for marketers, ask past marketing colleagues you’ve worked with to try out your product is a no brainer.

What will Tumblr become under the ownership of tech’s only Goldilocks founder?

By Darrell Etherington

This week, Automattic revealed it has signed all the paperwork to acquire Tumblr from Verizon, including its full staff of 200. Tumblr has undergone quite a journey since its headline-grabbing acquisition by Marissa Mayer’s Yahoo in 2013 for $1.1 billion, but after six years of neglect, its latest move is its first real start since it stopped being an independent company. Now, it’s in the hands of Matt Mullenweg, the only founder of a major tech company who has repeatedly demonstrated a talent for measured responses, moderation and a willingness to forego reckless explosive growth in favor of getting things ‘just right.’

There’s never been a better acquisition for all parties involved, or at least one in which every party should walk away feeling they got exactly what they needed out of the deal. Yes, that’s in spite of the reported $3 million-ish asking price.

Verizon Media acquired Tumblr through a deal made to buy Yahoo, under a previous media unit strategy and leadership team. Verizon Media has no stake in the company, and so headlines talking about the bath it apparently took relative to the original $1.1 billion acquisition price are either willfully ignorant or just plain dumb.

Six years after another company made that bad deal for a company it clearly didn’t have the right business focus to correctly operate, Verizon made a good one to recoup some money.

Aligned leadership and complementary offerings drive a win-win

‘The Operators’: Experts from Airbnb and Carta on building and managing your company’s customer support

By Arman Tabatabai
Tim Hsia & Neil Devani Contributor
Tim Hsia is the CEO of Media Mobilize and a Venture Partner at Digital Garage. Neil Devani is an angel investor and venture capitalist focused on companies solving hard problems.

Welcome to this transcribed edition of The Operators. TechCrunch is beginning to publish podcasts from industry experts, with transcriptions available for Extra Crunch members so you can read the conversation wherever you are.

The Operators features insiders from companies like Airbnb, Brex, Docsend, Facebook, Google, Lyft, Carta, Slack, Uber, and WeWork sharing their stories and tips on how to break into fields like marketing and product management. They also share best practices for entrepreneurs on how to hire and manage experts from domains outside their own.

This week’s edition features Airbnb’s Global Product Director of Customer and Community Support Platform Products, Andy Yasutake, and Carta’s Head of Enterprise Relationship Management, Jared Thomas.

Airbnb, one of the most valuable private tech companies in the world, has millions of hosts who trust strangers (guests) to come into their homes and hundreds of millions of guests who trust strangers (hosts) to provide a roof over their head. Carta, a $1 Billion+ company formerly known as eShares, is the leading provider of cap table management and valuation software, with thousands of customers and almost a million individual shareholders as users. Customers and users entrust Carta to manage their investments, a very serious responsibility requiring trust and security.

In this episode, Andy and Jared share with Neil how companies like Airbnb, Carta, and LinkedIn think about customer service, how to get into and succeed in the field and tech generally, and how founders should think about hiring and managing the customer support. With their experiences at two of tech’s trusted companies, Airbnb and Carta, this episode is packed with broad perspectives and deep insights.

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Neil Devani and Tim Hsia created The Operators after seeing and hearing too many heady, philosophical podcasts about the future of tech, and not enough attention on the practical day-to-day work that makes it all happen.

Tim is the CEO & Founder of Media Mobilize, a media company and ad network, and a Venture Partner at Digital Garage. Tim is an early-stage investor in Workflow (acquired by Apple), Lime, FabFitFun, Oh My Green, Morning Brew, Girls Night In, The Hustle, Bright Cellars, and others.

Neil is an early-stage investor based in San Francisco with a focus on companies building stuff people need, solutions to very hard problems. Companies he’s invested in include Andela, Clearbit, Kudi, Recursion Pharmaceuticals, Solugen, and Vicarious Surgical.

If you’re interested in starting or accelerating your marketing career, or how to hire and manage this function, you can’t miss this episode!

The show:

The Operators brings experts with experience at companies like Airbnb, Brex, Docsend, Facebook, Google, Lyft, Carta, Slack, Uber, WeWork, etc. to share insider tips on how to break into fields like marketing and product management. They also share best practices for entrepreneurs on how to hire and manage experts from domains outside their own.

In this episode:

In Episode 5, we’re talking about customer service. Neil interviews Andy Yasutake, Airbnb’s Global Product Director of Customer and Community Support Platform Products, and Jared Thomas, Carta’s Head of Enterprise Relationship Management.


Neil Devani: Hello and welcome to the Operators, where we talk to entrepreneurs and executives from leading technology companies like Google, Facebook, Airbnb, and Carta about how to break into a new field, how to build a successful career, and how to hire and manage talent beyond your own expertise. We skip over the lofty prognostications from venture capitalists and storytime with founders to dig into the nuts and bolts of how it all works here from the people doing the real day to day work, the people who make it all happen, the people who know what it really takes. The Operators.

Today we are talking to two experts in customer service, one with hundreds of millions of individual paying customers and the other being the industry standard for managing equity investments. I’m your host, Neil Devani, and we’re coming to you today from Digital Garage in downtown San Francisco.

Joining me is Jared Thomas, head of Enterprise Relationship Management at Carta, a $1 billion-plus company after a recent round of financing led by Andreessen Horowitz. Carta, formerly known as eShares, is the leading provider of cap table management and valuation software with thousands of customers and almost a million individual shareholders as users. Customers and users trust Carta to manage their investments, a very serious responsibility requiring trust and security.

Also joining us is Andy Yasutake, the Global Product Director of Customer and Community Support Platform Products at Airbnb, one of the most valuable private tech startups today. Airbnb has millions of hosts who are trusting strangers to come into their homes and hundreds of millions of guests who are trusting someone to provide a roof over their head. The number of cases and types of cases that Andy and his team have to think about and manage boggle the mind. Jared and Andy, thank you for joining us.

Andy Yasutake: Thank you for having us.

Jared Thomas: Thank you so much.

Devani: To start, Andy, can you share your background and how you got to where you are today?

Yasutake: Sure. I’m originally from southern California. I was born and raised in LA. I went to USC for undergrad, University of Southern California, and I actually studied psychology and information systems.

Late-90s, the dot com was going on, I’d always been kind of interested in tech, went into management consulting at interstate consulting that became Accenture, and was in consulting for over 10 years and always worked on large systems of implementation of technology projects around customers. So customer service, sales transformation, anything around CRM, as kind of a foundation, but it was always very technical, but really loved the psychology part of it, the people side.

And so I was always on multiple consulting projects and one of the consulting projects with actually here in the Bay Area. I eventually moved up here 10 years ago and joined eBay, and at eBay I was the director of product for the customer services organization as well. And was there for five years.

I left for Linkedin, so another rocket ship that was growing and was the senior director of technology solutions and operations where I had all the kind of business enabling functions as well as the technology, and now have been at Airbnb for about four months. So I’m back to kind of my, my biggest passion around products and in the customer support and community experience and customer service world.

Ninja is leaving Twitch for Microsoft’s Mixer

By Jordan Crook

Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the biggest streamer ever, has today announced his intention to leave the Twitch platform in favor of Microsoft’s Mixer.

Twitch is far and away the biggest video game streaming platform on the internet, claiming 72% of all hours watched, according to StreamElements. Mixer, by comparison, owns 3%, which is approximately 112 million viewership hours this most recent quarter.

Mixer is owned by Microsoft following an acquisition in 2016, back when Mixer was called Beam. Interestingly enough, Beam won the Disrupt NY Battlefield competition in 2016.

Twitch offered this statement to the Verge:

We’ve loved watching Ninja on Twitch over the years and are proud of all that he’s accomplished for himself and his family, and the gaming community. We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.

Surprisingly quickly, Twitch took away Ninja’s “Partnered” check mark, the Twitch equivalent of a verified blue tick.

Damn they snagged this mans checkmark QUICK pic.twitter.com/Br62NB8uX5

— 100T Mako 🗣💯 (@Mako) August 1, 2019

Ninja announced the news via video:

The announcement is very light on reasons why Ninja might have moved from his longtime home at Twitch over to Microsoft. It’s possible (and likely?) that Mixer offered the streaming star an enormous amount of money to make the move, which could signal the beginning of a new wave of payouts for mega streaming stars — not unlike the current NBA free agency bonanza, which has seen the migration of superstars to marquee franchises in order to form basketball equivalents of supergroups.

It’s also worth wondering who reigns supreme in this equation: players or platforms? Luckily, we’ll find out quickly as the video game streaming space sees its biggest talent shakeup since the industry’s inception.

Citizen Ray: Bridgewater’s Ray Dalio is the wise uncle you wished you had

By Gregg Schoenberg

“I don’t want more success. I don’t want more money.” When most hedge fund managers say something like that to you, you’d be justified in suspecting that they’re giving you their carefully crafted Davos riff.

Because unlike many Silicon Valley billionaires who believe (or sort of believe) in the transcendence of their mission, the motives of the Wall Street titan are often straightforward: it’s about the money, and when the money gets huge, it’s about building a legacy.

But as Ray Dalio looked me in the eyes recently and said those words, I believed in his sincerity. That’s not to say he won’t earn enormous sums more. In fact, last year, the financial press widely reported that Dalio earned in the ten figures thanks to Bridgewater’s flagship Pure Alpha fund posting stellar returns.

But when you spend some time with Dalio and broach the various topics in which he has rarefied expertise, it’s apparent that today, the world’s most famous hedge funder could care less about ascending the ranks of the world’s megarich or in achieving more glory or praise for himself.

Although Dalio has diverse philanthropic interests, he retains a very hands-on role as co-CIO of Bridgewater, where he cuts an imposing figure as a guy with little time for inefficiency or nonsense. But he also wears his heart on his sleeve as he seeks to spread the word about principles-based decision-making and the coming paradigm shift that he says will have a dramatic impact on our economy and the markets.

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Ray Dalio – American investor, hedge fund manager, and philanthropist. Dalio is the founder of investment firm Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest hedge funds. Image via Bridgewater Associates

The gospel of hyperrealism

By adhering to the twin pillars of radical transparency and radical truth-telling, Dalio believes that the idea meritocracy that powers Bridgewater can be replicated by the home-gamer. Are some of the specific principles that Bridgewater abides by controversial and harsh (e.g., Beware of the impractical idealist, Don’t expect people to recognize and compensate for their own blind spots, Use “public hangings” to deter bad behavior)? Yes. Does he care if you don’t buy into them? Not really:

Go behind the curtain with Wall Street titan Ray Dalio

By Arman Tabatabai

Today on Extra Crunch, TechCrunch fintech contributor Gregg Schoenberg went deep beneath the surface with an insider profile of investor Ray Dalio. While Dalio is certainly a celebrity in the world of financial services, some outside of Wall Street might need a quick refresher on Dalio, his career and his influence.

Dalio built his reputation in the finance universe as the founder of the world’s largest hedge fund Bridgewater Associates. With 40-plus year of operations under its belt, Bridgewater now manages roughly $160 billion in assets for a long list of the largest institutional investors from across the globe.

But outside of the investment community, Dalio has built up a chunky following through his book ‘Principles’, which outlines his views on management, leadership and investing. ‘Principles’ focuses on the best practices, mental frameworks and strategies that have worked for Dalio in both career and life.

While the set of tools presented in ‘Principles’ can be observed in practice every day at Bridgewater, its efficacy seems to have proven to be at least somewhat applicable across backgrounds. Since the full version of the book’s publication in 2017, ‘Principles’ has sold between one to two million-plus copies, been a New York Times Best-Seller, and has been praised by thought leaders across politics, business and the Valley including Bill Gates, Marc Benioff and Reed Hastings.

More recently in April, Dalio and his team launched the ‘Principles in Action’ mobile iOS app which includes the book’s full text intertwined with interactive videos (including some from actual internal Bridgewater meetings), animations, quizzes and case studies built to help users track personal growth goals. According to the app’s development team, since launch ‘Principles in Action’ has had roughly 115,000 downloads and an average of 30,000 monthly active users over the past three months, with users completing over 5,000 case studies. The team pushes out updates every two to three weeks and plans to launch on Android in December.

And if Gregg’s deep profile on Extra Crunch, the ‘Principles’ book and ‘Principles in Action’ app didn’t offer enough access to Dalio’s brain, Dalio will also be joining us for a fireside chat on the Extra Crunch stage this October at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, where he will discuss how to build an effective and actionable culture at a startup of any scale.

Though he’s been stock investing since age 12, Dalio’s new passion is sharing the tactics, to which he attributes his success, to as broad an audience as possible. So join us on Extra Crunch and at the Extra Crunch Disrupt stage for exclusive candid insights from Ray Dalio and the principles that have helped him become one of history’s most successful financial entrepreneurs.

Which immigration headlines should you care about?

By Arman Tabatabai
Xiao Wang Contributor
Xiao Wang is CEO at Boundless, a technology startup that has helped thousands of immigrant families apply for marriage green cards and U.S. citizenship while providing affordable access to independent immigration attorneys.
More posts by this contributor

Newsflash! President Donald Trump is planning to deport naturalized U.S. citizens, force H-1B visa holders to return to their home countries, and revoke the green cards of lawful permanent residents. He also wants to deport the Dreamers and evict millions of other immigrants from the country. Or wait — maybe he’s planning to increase visas for skilled workers, open the door to foreign-born researchers, protect DACA recipients, and — for an encore — bar himself from the United States.

Feel like you’ve got whiplash yet? Welcome to the nerve-wracking world of U.S. immigration policy — a strange place at the best of times but one made all the more confusing by the weaponization of immigration issues for political gain and the media’s continuing failure to cut through the spin.

Tech workers are better prepared than most to cope with a torrent of torrid immigration headlines, continuously amplified and distorted by Twitter rumors, Slack chatter, and credulous Facebook reposts. Still, the sheer volume of immigration news makes it hard to know what to pay attention to — and with 71 percent of Silicon Valley’s techies born outside the United States, this isn’t simply a theoretical problem. If you, your loved ones, colleagues, or staff are immigrants, then you need to learn to separate the signal from the noise.

So how can you tell the real deal from the real fake news? There’s no simple answer, but to keep you safe — and keep your heart rate in check — here are a few ground rules to help you figure out which headlines are worth taking seriously:

Whose headline is it anyway?

Inside the history of Silicon Valley labor, with Louis Hyman

By Arman Tabatabai

As I wrote for TechCrunch recently, immigration is not an issue always associated with tech — not even when thinking about the ethics of technology, as I do here.

So when I was moved to tears a few weeks ago, on seeing footage of groups of 18 Jewish protestors link arms to block the entrances to ICE detention facilities, bearing banners reading “Never Again” in reference to the Holocaust — these mostly young women risking their physical freedom and safety to try to help the children this country’s immigration service is placing in concentration camps today, one of my first thoughts was: I can’t cover that for my TechCrunch column. It’s about ethics of course, but not about tech.

It turns out that wasn’t correct. Immigration is a tech issue. In fact, companies such as Wayfair (furniture), Amazon (web services), and Palantir (the software used to track undocumented immigrants) have borne heavy criticism for their support of and partnership with ICE’s efforts under the current administration.

And as I discussed earlier this month with Jaclyn Friedman, a leading sex ethics expert and one of the ICE protestors arrested in a major demonstration in Boston, social media technology has been instrumental in building and amplifying those protests.

But there’s more. IBM, for example, has an unfortunate and dark history of support for Nazi extermination efforts, and many recent commentators have drawn parallels between what IBM did during the Holocaust and what companies like Palantir are beginning to do now.

Dozens of protestors huddle in the rain outside Palantir HQ.

I say “companies,” plural, with intention: immigrant advocacy organization Mijente recently released news that Anduril, the company founded by Palmer Luckey and composed of Palantir veterans, now has a $13.5 million contract with the Marine corps for their autonomous surveillance “Lattice” towers at four different USMC bases, including one border base. Documents procured via the Freedom of Information Act show the Marines mention “the intrusion dilemma” in their justification for choosing Anduril.

So now it seems the kinds of surveillance tech we know are badly biased at best — facial recognition? Panopticon-style observation? Algorithms of various other kinds — will be put to work by the most powerful fighting force ever designed, for expanded intervention into our immigration system.

Will the Silicon Valley elite say “no”? To what extent will new protests emerge, where the sorts of people likely to be reading this writing might draw a line and make work more difficult for their peers at places like Anduril?

Maybe the problem, however, is that most of us think of immigration ethics as an issue that might touch on a small handful of particularly libertarian-leaning tech companies, but surely it doesn’t go beyond that, right? Can’t the average techie in San Francisco or elsewhere safely and accurately say these problems don’t actually implicate them?

Turns out that’s not right either.

Which is why I had to speak this week with Cornell University historian Louis Hyman. Hyman is a Professor at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, and Director of the ILR’s Institute for Workplace Studies, in New York. In our conversation, Hyman and I dig into Silicon Valley’s history with labor rights, startup work structures and the role of immigration in the US tech ecosystem. Beyond that,  I’ll let him introduce himself and his extraordinary work, below.

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Louis Hyman. (Image by Jesse Winter)

Greg Epstein: I discovered your work via a piece you wrote in the Washington Post, which drew from your 2018 book, Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary. In it, you wrote, “Undocumented workers have been foundational to the rise of our most vaunted hub of innovative capitalism: Silicon Valley.”

And in the book itself, you write at one point, “To understand the electronics industry is simple: every time someone says “robot,” simply picture a woman of color. Instead of self-aware robots, workers—all women, mostly immigrants, sometimes undocumented—hunched over tables with magnifying glasses assembling parts, sometimes on a factory line and sometimes on a kitchen table. Though it paid a lot of lip service to automation, Silicon Valley truly relied upon a transient workforce of workers outside of traditional labor relations.”

Can you just give us a brief introduction to the historical context behind these kinds of comments?

Louis Hyman: Sure. One of the key questions all of us ask is why is there only one Silicon Valley. There are different answers for that.

The dreaded 10x, or, how to handle exceptional employees

By Jon Evans

The “10x engineer.” Shudder. Wince. I have rarely seen my Twitter feed unite against an idea so loudly, or in such harmony.

I refer of course to the thread last month by Accel India’s Shekhar Kirani, explaining “If you have a 10x engineer as part of your first few engineers, you increase the odds of your startup success significantly” and then going on to address, in his opinion, “How do you spot a 10x engineer?”

The resulting scorn was tsunami-like. The very concept of a 10x engineer seems so… five years ago. Since then, the Valley has largely come to the collective conclusion that 1) there is no such thing as a 10x engineer 2) even if there were, you wouldn’t want to hire one, because they play so poorly with others.

The anti-10x squad raises many important and valid — frankly, obvious and inarguable — points. Go down that Twitter thread and you’ll find that 10x engineers are identified as: people who eschew meetings, work alone, rarely look at documentation, don’t write much themselves, are poor mentors, and view process, meetings, or training as reasons to abandon their employer. In short, they are unbelievably terrible team members.

Is software a field like the arts, or sports, in which exceptional performers can exist? Sure. Absolutely. Software is Extremistan, not Mediocristan, as Nassim Taleb puts it.

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