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Moka raises $27M led by Hillhouse to make hiring more data-driven in China

Posted by on Mar 4, 2019 in Artificial Intelligence, Burger King, California, China, ggv capital, GSR Ventures, Hillhouse Capital, Hiring,, moka, recruitment, SaaS, Stanford University, TC, Tencent, turo, University of California, University of Michigan, Xiaomi | 0 comments

Moka, a startup that wants to make talent acquisition a little more data-driven for China-based companies that range from smartphone giant Xiaomi to Burger King’s local business, announced Monday that it has raised a 180 million yuan ($27 million) Series B round of funding.

The deal was led by Hillhouse Capital, an investor in top Chinese technology companies such as Tencent, Baidu,, Pinduoduo — just to name a few. Other investors who took part include Xianghe Capital, an investment firm founded by two former Baidu executives, Chinese private equity firm GSR Ventures and GGV Capital.

Moka claims more than 500 enterprise customers were paying for its services by the end of 2018. Other notable clients are McDonalds and one of China’s top livestreaming services YY. It plans to use its new capital to hire staff, build new products and expand the scope of its business.

Founded in 2015, Moka compares itself to Workday and Salesforce in the U.S. It has created a suite of software aiming to make recruiting easier and cheaper for companies with upwards of 500 employees. Its solutions take care of the full cycle of hiring. To start with, Moka allows recruiters to post job listings across multiple platforms with one click, saving them the hassle of hopping between portals. Its AI-enabled screening program then automatically filters candidates and make recommendations for companies. What comes next is the interview, which Moka helps streamline with automatic email and message reminders for job applicants and optimized plans for interviewers on when and where to meet their candidates.

That’s not the end, as Moka also wants to capture what happens after the talent is onboard. The startup helps companies maintain a talent database consist of existing employees and potential hires. The services allow companies to keep a close tap on their staff, whose resume update will trigger a warning to the employer, and alerts the recruiter once the system detects suitable candidates.

Moka is among a wave of startups founded by Chinese entrepreneurs with foreign education and work experiences. Zhao Oulun, whose English nickname is Orion, graduated from the University of California, Berkley and worked at San Francisco-based peer-to-peer car sharing company Turo before founding Moka with Li Guoxing. Li himself is also a “sea turtle,” a colloquial term in Chinese that describes overseas-educated graduates who return home to work. Li graduated from the University of Michigan and Stanford University, and had worked at Facebook as an engineer.

When the founders re-entered China, they saw something was missing in the booming domestic business environment: effective talent management.

“Businesses are flourishing, but at the same time many of them fall short in internal organization and operation. To a large extent, the issue pertains to the lack of digital and meticulous operation for human resources, which slows down decision-making and leads to mistakes around talents and company organization,” says chief executive Zhao in a statement.

Moka’s mission has caught the attention of investors. Jixun Foo, a partner at Moka backer GGV Capital, also believes China’s businesses can benefit from a data-driven approach to people management: “We are positive about Moka becoming a comprehensive HR service provider in the future through its unique data-powered and intelligent solutions.”

Source: The Tech Crunch

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Hired buys Y Combinator grad Py, launches assessment tool

Posted by on Feb 7, 2019 in Comcast Ventures, Dorm Room Fund, Education, Fundings & Exits, hired, Hiring, Lever, OpenDoor, Py, sherpa capital, Startups, TC, Y Combinator | 0 comments

To better measure aptitude of applicants, online career marketplace Hired has acquired Py, which helps companies like Opendoor and Niantic identify talent with app-based interactive courses on Python, iOS development and more.

As part of the deal, Hired will launch a new feature called Hired Assessments, leveraging tools from the Py platform, as well as a tiered subscription model. The base-level package, called Hired Essential, will provide enhanced search functionality, tools to help candidates arrive to interviews as prepared as possible and more. A spokesperson for Py declined to disclose terms of the deal but did say that Py counts 500,000 users who’ve completed 2 million coding assignments. They also offered this little anecdote:

Py’s co-founder, Derek Lo had initial conversations with Hired’s VP of Strategic Development, Andre Charoo back in October of 2018. But it wasn’t until Lo randomly met one of Hired’s co-founders at a Y Combinator networking event that the partnership started to come into fruition. The Hired co-founder that Lo met was Allan Grant — also a part of the Y Combinator community — and he wasn’t aware of the initial conversations but agreed to have Lo over to his house the next day to share advice about running an early-stage startup. Over coffee at Grant’s house, Lo learned a lot about the purpose of Hired and began to understand why Hired would be a great fit for his product and team. From there, the rest was history. 

Derek Lo, founder and chief executive officer of Py, first began building the mobile app in May 2016 before completing Y Combinator’s accelerator program in summer 2017. Lo started the company in his dorm room after becoming frustrated with Yale’s computer sciences courses, which he felt were useless when it came to real business applications.

Lo has joined Hired as its head of product.

In a conversation with TechCrunch while Py was still completing the accelerator, Lo said the company had decided to turn down a $1 million investment offer because it was unnecessary for such an early-stage startup. At the time, the Py team had brought in $20,000 in pre-seed funding from Dorm Room Fund, plus another $100,000 from the Yale Venture Creation Program. In total, Py has raised $615,000.

“With Py founder Derek Lo, we saw a shared vision for making hiring easier for everyone,” Hired’s vice president of strategic development Andre Charoo said in a statement. “For companies, this means helping them hire in-demand talent quickly and predictably, and for job seekers, it is about empowering them to land their dream job. By combining Py’s technical assessment expertise with Hired’s dependable pipeline of first-rate talent, we’re ready to transform today’s hiring standards.”

Hired Assessments will include online coding quizzes, standardized testing, projects and a “live code” environment where hiring managers can “view, rewind, fast forward and save live candidate challenges.” The features are customizable so companies can tweak assessments based on their hiring needs.

Hired Essential will use machine learning to curate lists of candidates for available roles, as well as help candidates arrive at interviews prepared with a clear outline of hiring steps, expectations and tips.

Founded in 2012, San Francisco-based Hired is backed by venture capital firms including Comcast Ventures, Sherpa Capital, Lumia Ventures and Uncork Capital. To date, the business has raised $133 million, most recently at a post-valuation of $550 million, according to PitchBook.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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Vangst just raised $10 million to plug more people into the fast-growing cannabis industry

Posted by on Jan 24, 2019 in Casa Verde Capital, Hiring, lerer hippeau, Recent Funding, Startups, TC, Vangst | 0 comments

People are increasingly interested in finding a way to participate in the cannabis industry, and for good reason. It’s growing like a weed (yes, we said it). According to a San Francisco-based research company, Grand View Research, the global legal marijuana market is expected to reach $146.4 billion by the end of 2025.

Still, it isn’t easy for potential recruits to know where to look for both temporary and permanent jobs, and it’s just as challenging for companies to find candidates who understand their business. Enter Vangst, a now three-year-old, Denver-based startup that just raised $10 million in Series A funding from earlier backers Casa Verde Capital and Lerer Hippeau to become the go-to recruiting platform for the industry, even while going up against several older entrants, including Seattle-based Viridian Staffing and Ganjapreneur, in Bellingham, Wash.

Yesterday, we with chatted with the CEO and founder of the now 70-person company, Karson Humiston, about launching the platform in college, and why she isn’t so worried about the competition. She also shared some interesting stats around how much cannabis jobs pay.

TC: Some people launch startups in college. Not many of them grow them into sustainable companies. How did Vangst get going?

KH: I went to St. Lawrence [University] and while there, I’d started a student travel company and compiled a database of students and recent grads — people who’d gone on trips through the startup or expressed an interest in going on trips. The spring of my senior year, in 2015, I sent an email to all of them asking what jobs they were interested in, and more than 70 percent said the cannabis industry.

TC: Wow, interesting.

KH: That was my reaction, but living in upstate New York where recreational cannabis isn’t yet legal, I didn’t know a lot about it. So I took a weekend off from school to go to a trade show in Colorado, where I saw everything from cultivation to extraction to retail to ancillary businesses. And when I asked what jobs they were looking to fill, they said, essentially, everything: a director of cultivation, retail dispensary store managers, HR, marketing. They all said it was their top pain point because if they posted on a traditional jobs board — and remember, this was 2015 — the listing would often get taken down. Meanwhile, there was no industry-specific resource because [marijuana] is federally illegal.

TC: So you dropped the travel startup idea and pursued this. Where did you start?

KH: First, I rushed back to St. Lawrence and made an inexpensive site on Wix and started connecting people in my database with summer internships. I’d told the companies I’d met with that I could find them employees for $500 and I called this new company Graduana, [with the tagline] green jobs for grads. My thought was, I’ll go to Colorado and do Graduana for six months and see where the industry really is.

By the spring of 2016, I realized that demand far exceeded interns and recent grads and that we needed to find recruiters who know what they’re doing. We brought on recruiters who were just focused on cultivation, for example, and who know the difference between someone who can grow cannabis in the garage and someone who has done large-scale agricultural growing. They they started pulling in people from the tomato and tulip and big commercial ag who’ve grown [plants] in big state-of-the-art greenhouses and could bring important skills to the table. We also brought in recruiters to just focus on the retail side of things.

It became this profitable, 25-person, boutique staffing agency. But we also saw an opportunity for on-demand labor, because of the seasonality of the industry. Cannabis grows, then it needs to be trimmed and packaged. . .

TC: So it was time for venture capital?

KH: When you’re talking about temporary staffing, it’s really been done manually in this industry, so we wanted to build a platform that would notify candidates that a certain company needs 20 trimmers and is willing to pay $12 an hour and where, meanwhile, employers could see that someone has trimmed for 2,000 hours. And each could rate each other. So we needed to hire engineering and a customer success team and legal, and our revenue wasn’t going to cover those costs.

Thankfully, a founder friend in the space, Ryan Smith of LeafLink, introduced us to Lerer Hippeau when he heard were raising a seed round. We received a warm intro to Casa Verde, too. And both have been amazingly helpful to us.

TC: Are you still doing high-end hiring, too?

KH: We are. Revenue from that piece of our business, where we’re helping companies find maybe COOs or a director of cultivation or extraction, more than doubled last year and continues to be profitable. We get 1,000 resumes some days. We now have 200,000 job candidates on the platform.

TC: Obviously, you’re charging employers different amounts depending on the the type of role that you’re filling. Can you share some specifics?

KH: Right. On the direct hire side, we take a percentage of their first year’s salary. On the gig side, a company tells us how much they’d like to pay for gig workers, and there’s a mark-up on that that we keep.

TC: No matter how long that person works for your client?

KH: It’s usually for a matter of weeks. If it’s longer than that, we charge them a buyout fee [to step out of the relationship].

TC: I take it you’re marketing the service to college students largely.

KH: We market the service through career fairs that we throw in different states, and at trade shows in and out of the industry. We also spend time going to college campuses. But our acquisition costs have been relatively low. Everyone who gets placed with us is known as an original Vangster and we do Vangster nights, where anyone in our network can bring a friend and we can help turn them into employees, too.

TC: More states are legalizing recreational cannabis; how are you drumming up workforces in different places?

KH: We have a team now in Denver, in Santa Monica and a small team in Oakland, and as we launch additional cities for Vangst gigs, we’re hiring managers and people who can do client outreach and candidate vetting and onboarding. We just hired an early employee of Uber, Will Zinsmeister, who helped oversee the launch of cities in Texas for Uber, so we’re excited to have Will and others thinking through supply-and-demand issues as we launch more widely.

TC: Out of curiosity, how much do cannabis jobs pay, and how many people work in the industry right now — do you have any idea?

KH: I think there’s more than 160,000 employees across the cannabis industry right now, and by 2022, the industry is expected to grow to around 340,000 full-time employees.

We did survey 1,500 people to put together a salary guide and one of the questions we asked was how much of their labor needs are seasonable versus otherwise, and they said about 30 percent.

As for the salaries, the on-demand jobs are very in line with other industries. When it comes to full-time jobs, outside sales jobs pay on average a salary of $73,000, which is in line with other outside sales jobs. On the higher end, a compliance manager can make $149,000, a director of extraction makes on average $191,000, and a director of cultivation on the high end can make $250,000.

TC: I think that’s more than people might have imagined. Who is landing these higher-end jobs other than people with backgrounds in traditional large-scale farming?

KH: You’re seeing people graduating with a degree in botany who’ve maybe worked for a cannabis company for six years and are seen as having very unique experience. We’re seeing a lot of clients in Maryland and other places saying they want candidates from Colorado.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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Roger Dickey ditches $32M-funded Gigster to start Untitled Labs

Posted by on Jan 21, 2019 in Accelerator, Apps, Developer, funding, Fundings & Exits, gigster, Hiring, Mobile, Personnel, Recent Funding, Roger Dickey, Search Labs, Startups, TC, Untitled Labs | 0 comments

Most founders don’t walk away from their startup after raising $32 million and reaching 1000 clients. But Roger Dickey’s heart is in consumer tech, and his company Gigster had pivoted to doing outsourced app development for enterprises instead of scrappy entrepreneurs.

So today Dickey announced that he’d left his role as Gigster CEO, with former VMware VP Christopher Keane who’d sold it his startup WaveMaker coming in to lead Gigster in October. Now, Dickey is launching Untitled Labs, a “search lab” designed to test multiple consumer tech ideas in “social and professional networking, mobility, personal finance, premium services, health & wellness, travel, photography, and dating” before building out one

Untitled Labs is starting off with $2.8 million in seed funding from early Gigster investors and other angels including Founders Fund, Felicis Ventures, Caffeinated Capital, Joe Montana’s Liquid Ventures, Ashton Kutcher, Nikita Bier of TBH (acquired by Facebook), and Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron.

Investors lined up after seeing the success of Dickey’s last two search labs. In 2007, his Curiosoft lab revamped classic DOS game Drugwars as a Facebook game called Dopewars and sold it to Zynga where it became the wildly popular Mafia Wars. He did it again in 2014, building Gigster out of Liquid Labs and eventually raising $32 million for it in rounds led by Andreessen Horowitz and Redpoint. Dickey had proven he wasn’t just dicking around and his search labs could experiment their way to an A-grade startup.

“I loved learning about B2B but over the years I realized my true passions were in consumer and I kinda got the itch to try something new” Dickey tells me. “These things happen in the life-cycle of a company. The person who starts it isn’t always the same person to take it to an IPO. Gigster’s doing incredibly well. It was just a really vanilla separation in the best interest of all parties.”

Gigster co-founders (from left): Debo Olaosebikan and Roger Dickey

Gigster’s remaining co-founder and CTO Debo Olaosebikan will stay with the startup, but tells me he’ll be “moving away from a lot of the day-to-day management.” He’ll be in a more public facing role, evangelizing the vision of digital transformation to big clients hoping Gigster can equip them with the apps their customers demand. “We’ve gotten to a really good place on the backs of the founders and to get it to the next level inside of enterprise, having people who’ve done this, lived this, worked in enterprise for a long time makes sense for the company.”

Olaosebikan and Dickey both confirm there was no misconduct or other funny business that triggered the CEO’s departure, and he’ll stay on the Gigster board. Dickey tells me that Gigster’s business managing teams of freelance product managers, engineers, and designers to handle product development for big clients has grown revenue every quarter. It now has 1200 clients including almost 10% of Fortune 500 companies. Olaosebikan says “We have a great repeatable sales model. We can grow profitably and then we can figure out financing. We’re not in a hurry to raise money.”

Since leaving Gigster, Dickey has been meeting with investors and entrepreneurs to noodle on what’s in their “idea shelf” — the product and company concepts these techies imagine but are too busy to implement themselves. Meanwhile, he’s seeking a few elite engineers and designers to work through Untitled’s prospects.

Dickey said he came up with the “search labs” definition since he and others had found success with the strategy that no one had formalized. The search labs model contrasts with three other ways people typically form startups:

  • Traditional Startup: Founders come up with one idea and raise from venture firms to build it into a company that’s quick to start and lets them keep a lot of equity, but these startups often fail because they lack product market fit. Examples: Facebook, SpaceX.
  • Startup Accelerators and Incubators: Founders come up with one idea and enter an accelerator or incubator that provides funding and education for lots of startups in exchange for a small slice of equity. Founders sometimes learn their idea won’t work and pivot during the program, which is why accelerators seek to fund great teams, but otherwise operate traditionally. Examples: Y Combinator, 500 Startups.
  • Startup Studio: The studios’ founders work with entrepreneurs to come up with a small number of ideas while keeping a significant of the equity. The entrepreneurs operate semi-autonomously but with the advantage of shared resources. Examples: Expa, Betaworks.
  • Search Lab: Founders conceptualize and experiment with a small number of startup ideas, then focus the company around the most promising prototype. Examples: Untitled Labs, Midnight Labs (turned into TBH)

Dickey tells me that after 80 angel investments, going to every recent Y Combinator Demo Day, and talking with key players across the industry, the search lab method was the best way to hone in on his best idea rather than just going on a hunch. Given that approach, he went with “Untitled” so he could save the branding work for when the right product emerges. Dickey concludes “We’re trying to keep it really barebones. We don’t have an office, don’t have a logo, and we’re not going to make swag. We’re just going to find the next business as efficiently as possible.”

Source: The Tech Crunch

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HQ2 fight continues as New York City and Seattle officials hold anti-Amazon summit

Posted by on Jan 7, 2019 in Amazon, amazon hq2, big tech, Cloud, Drama, eCommerce, Economic Development, Enterprise, Finance, Government, headquarters, Hiring, hq2, New York, New York City, New York Enterprise, Policy, Real Estate, tax breaks, TC | 0 comments

The heated debate around Amazon’s recently announced Long Island City “HQ2” is showing no signs of cooling down.

On Monday morning, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) hosted a briefing in which labor officials, economic development analysts, Amazon employees and elected New York State and City representatives further underlined concerns around the HQ2 process, the awarded incentives, and the potential impacts Amazon’s presence would have on city workers and residents.

While many of the arguments posed at the Summit weren’t necessarily new, the wide variety of stakeholders that showed up to express concern looked to contextualize the far-reaching risks associated with the deal.

The day began with representatives from New York union groups recounting Amazon’s shaky history with employee working conditions and questioning how the city’s working standards will be impacted if the 50,000 promised jobs do actually show up.

Two current employees working in an existing Amazon New York City warehouse in Staten Island provided poignant examples of improper factory conditions and promised employee benefits that never came to fruition. According to the workers, Amazon has yet to follow through on shuttle services and ride-sharing services that were promised to ease worker commutes, forcing the workers to resort to overcrowded and unreliable public transportation. One of the workers detailed that with his now four-hour commute to get to and from work, coupled with his meaningfully long shifts, he’s been unable to see his daughter for weeks.

Various economic development groups and elected officials including, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, and New York State Senator Mike Gianaris supported the labor arguments with spirited teardowns of the economic terms of the deal.

Like many critics of the HQ2 process, the speakers’ expressed their beliefs that Amazon knew where it wanted to bring its second quarters throughout the entirety of its auction process, given the talent pool and resources in the chosen locations, and that the entire undertaking was meant to squeeze out the best economic terms possible. And according to City Council Speaker Johnson, New York City “got played”.

Comptroller Stringer argued that Amazon is taking advantage of New York’s Relocation and Employment Assistance Program (REAP) and Industrial and Commercial Abatement Program (ICAP), which Stringer described as outdated and in need of reform, to receive the majority of the $2 billion-plus in promised economic incentives that made it the fourth largest corporate incentive deal in US history.

The speakers continued to argue that the unprecedented level of incentives will be nearly impossible to recoup and that New York will also face economic damages from lower sales tax revenue as improved Amazon service in the city cannibalizes local brick & mortar retail.

Fears over how Amazon’s presence will impact the future of New York were given more credibility with the presence of Seattle City Council members Lisa Herbold & Teresa Mosqueda, who had flown to New York from Seattle to discuss lessons learned from having Amazon’s Headquarters in the city and to warn the city about the negative externalities that have come with it.

Herbold and Mosqueda focused less on an outright rejection of the deal but instead emphasized that New York was in a position to negotiate for better terms focused on equality and corporate social responsibility, which could help the city avoid the socioeconomic turnover that has plagued Seattle and could create a new standard for public-private partnerships.

While the New York City Council noted it was looking into legal avenues, the opposition seemed to have limited leverage to push back or meaningfully negotiate the deal. According to state officials, the most clear path to fight the deal would be through votes by the state legislature and through the state Public Authorities Control Board who has to unanimously approve the subsidy package.

With the significant turnout seen at Monday’s summit, which included several high-ranking state and city officials, it seems clear that we’re still in the early innings of what’s likely to be a long battle ahead to close the HQ2 deal.

Amazon did not return requests for immediate comment.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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Mike Curtis, Airbnb’s VP of engineering, is leaving

Posted by on Sep 24, 2018 in Airbnb, brian chesky, Hiring, Personnel, sharing economy, TC, tourism, vacation rental | 0 comments

Airbnb’s head of engineering will leave the company before the end of 2018 to pursue other projects and focus on his family. The news was first reported by The Information and later confirmed to TechCrunch by Airbnb.

Curtis joined the home-sharing platform in 2013 after about two years as the director of engineering at Facebook.

Airbnb will work with Heidrick & Struggles to find his successor, who will be named chief technology officer, a title some at the company had expected Curtis to receive last year, per The Information. Airbnb has several other holes in its C-suite; it’s also in the process of hiring a chief marketing officer and a chief financial officer.

“For a while, Mike has been thinking about making this change to take a long break,” an Airbnb spokesperson told TechCrunch. “After discussing this change with [CEO] Brian Chesky, they agreed that Mike would step down after helping the company choose his successor.”

Curtis may be feeling the early-stage itch. When he joined Airbnb nearly six years ago, he told TechCrunch he was particularly excited about how early the company was: “the opportunity with where we can take it is limitless,” he said.

But Airbnb is no longer a little startup, it’s one of the most valuable private tech companies in the world.

In Curtis’ tenure alone, the engineering team grew from 40 people to more than 1,000 and the company raised more than $4 billion and garnered a $31 billion valuation. Now, it’s gearing up to go public in 2019.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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How Silicon Valley should celebrate Labor Day

Posted by on Sep 1, 2018 in AFL-CIO, Amazon, Diversity, equal pay, Facebook, Foxconn, Hiring, inclusion, Labor Day, labor unions, Personnel, Startups, Talent | 0 comments

Ask any 25-year old engineer what Labor Day means to him or her, and you might get an answer like: it’s the surprise three-day weekend after a summer of vacationing. Or it’s the day everyone barbecues at Dolores Park. Or it’s the annual Tahoe trip where everyone gets to relive college.

Or simply, it’s the day we get off because we all work so hard.

And while founders and employees in startup land certainly work hard, wearing their 80-hour workweeks as a badge of honor, closing deals on conference calls in an air-conditioned WeWork is a far cry from the backbreaking working conditions of the 1880s, the era when Labor Day was born.

For everyone here in Silicon Valley, we should not be celebrating this holiday triumphantly over beers and hot dogs, complacent in the belief that our gravest labor issues are behind us, but instead use this holiday as a moment to reflect on how much further we have to go in making our workplaces and companies more equitable, diverse, inclusive and ethically responsible.

Bloody Beginnings

On September 5th, 1882, 10,000 workers gathered at a “monster labor festival” to protest the 12-hours per day, seven days a week harsh working conditions they faced in order to cobble together a survivable wage. Even children as “young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country.”

This all erupted in a climax in 1894 when the American Railway Union went on a nationwide strike, crippling the nation’s transportation infrastructure, which included trains that delivered postal mail. President Grover Cleveland declared this a federal crime and sent in federal troops to break up the strike, which resulted in one of the bloodiest encounters in labor history, leaving 30 dead and countless injured.

Labor Day was declared a national holiday a few month later in an effort to mend wounds and make peace with a reeling and restless workforce (it also conveniently coincided with President Cleveland’s reelection bid).

The Battle is Not Yet Won

Today in Silicon Valley, this battle for fair working conditions and a living wage seems distant from our reality of nap rooms and lucrative stock grants.  By all accounts, we have made tremendous strides on a number of critical labor issues. While working long hours is still a cause for concern, most of us can admit that we often voluntarily choose to work more than we have to. Our workplace environments are not perfect (i.e. our standing desks may not be perfectly ergonomic), but they are far from life-threatening or hazardous to our health. And while equal wages are still a concern, earning a living wage is not, particularly if the worst case scenario after “failing” at a startup means joining a tech titan and clocking in as a middle manager with a six-figure salary.

Even though the workplace challenges of today are not as grave as life or death, the fight is not yet over. Our workplaces are far from perfect, and the power dynamic between companies and employees is far from equal.

In tech, we face a myriad of issues that need grassroots, employee-driven movements to effect change. Each of the following issues has complexities and nuances that deserve an article of its own, but I’ve tried to summarize them briefly: 

  1. Equal pay for equal work – while gender wage gaps are better in tech than other industries (4% average in tech vs. 20% average across other industries), the discrepancy in wages for women in technical roles is twice the average for other roles in tech.
  2. Diversity – research shows that diverse teams perform better, yet 76% of technical jobs are still held by men, and only 5% of tech workers are Black or Latino. The more alarming statistic in a recent Atlassian survey is that more than 40% of respondents felt that their company’s diversity programs needed no further improvement.
  3. Inclusion – an inclusive workplace should be a basic fundamental right, but harassment and discrimination still exist. A survey by Women Who Tech found that 53 percent of women working in tech companies reported experiencing harassment (most frequently in the form of sexism, offensive slurs, and sexual harassment) compared to 16 percent of men.
  4. Outsourced / 1099 employees – while corporate employees at companies like Amazon are enjoying the benefits of a ballooning stock, the reality is much bleaker for warehouse workers who are on the fringes of the corporate empire. A new book by undercover journalist James Bloodworth found that Amazon workers in a UK warehouse “use bottles instead of the actual toilet, which is located too far away.” A separate survey conducted found that 55% of these workers suffer from depression, and 80% said they would not work at Amazon again.Similarly, Foxconn is under fire once again for unfair pay practices, adding to the growing list of concerns including suicide, underage workers, and onsite accidents. The company is the largest electronics manufacturer in the world, and builds products for Amazon, Apple, and a host of other tech companies.
  5. Corporate Citizenship & Ethics – while Silicon Valley may be a bubble, the products created here are not. As we’ve seen with Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica breach, these products impact millions of lives. The general uncertainty and uneasiness around the implications of automation and AI also spark difficult conversations about job displacement for entire swaths of the global population (22.7M by 2025 in the US alone, according to Forrester).

Thus, the reversal in sentiment against Silicon Valley this past year is sending a message that should resonate loud and clear — the products we build and the industries we disrupt here in the Valley have real consequences for workers that need to be taken seriously.

Laboring toward a better future

To solve these problems, employees in Silicon Valley needs to find a way to organize. However, there are many reasons why traditional union structures may not be the answer.

The first is simply that traditional unions and tech don’t get along. Specifically, the AFL-CIO, one of the largest unions in America, has taken a hard stance against the libertarian ethos of the Valley, drawing a bright line dividing the tech elite from the working class. In a recent speech about how technology is changing work, the President of the AFL-CIO did not mince words when he said that the “events of the last few years should have made clear that the alternative to a just society is not the libertarian paradise of Silicon Valley billionaires. It is a racist and authoritarian nightmare.”

But perhaps the biggest difference between what an organized labor movement would look like in Silicon Valley and that of traditional organized labor is that it would be a fight not to advance the interest of the majority, but to protect the minority. In the 1880s, poor working conditions and substandard pay affected nearly everyone — men, women, and children. Unions were the vehicles of change for the majority.

But today, for the average male 25-year old engineer, promoting diversity and inclusion or speaking out about improper treatment of offshore employees is unlikely to affect his pay, desirability in the job market, or working conditions. He will still enjoy the privileges of being fawned over as a scarce resource in a competitive job market. But the person delivering the on-demand service he’s building won’t. His female coworker with an oppressive boss won’t. This is why it is ever more important that we wake up and not only become allies or partners, but champions of the causes that affect our less-privileged fellow coworkers, and the people that our companies and products touch.

So this Labor Day, enjoy your beer and hot dog, but take a moment to remember the individuals who fought and bled on this day to bring about a better workplace for all. And on Tuesday, be ready to challenge your coworkers on how we can continue that fight to build more diverse, inclusive, and ethically responsible companies for the future. 

Source: The Tech Crunch

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Altru raises $1.3M to improve recruiting with employee videos

Posted by on Aug 1, 2018 in Altru, Birchmere Ventures, Enterprise, Hiring, Recent Funding, Startups | 0 comments

Marketers are increasingly looking for social media celebrities and influencers who can promote their products with more authenticity (or at least, the appearance of authenticity) than a traditional ad.

So Altru CEO Alykhan Rehmatullah wondered: Why can’t businesses do something similar with recruiting?

And that’s what Altru is trying to accomplish, powering a page on a company’s website that highlights videos from real employees answering questions that potential hires might be asking. The videos are searchable (thanks to Altru’s transcriptions), and they also can be shared on social media.

The startup was part of the recent winter batch at Techstars NYC, and it’s already working with companies like L’Oréal, Dell and Unilever. Today, Altru is announcing that it’s raised $1.3 million in new funding led by Birchmere Ventures.

Rehmatullah contrasted Altru’s approach with Glassdoor, which he said features “more polarized” content (since it’s usually employees with really good or really bad experiences who want to write reviews) and where companies are often forced to “play defense.”

On Altru, on the other hand, employers can take the informal conversations that often take place when someone’s deciding whether to accept a job and turn them into an online recruiting tool. Over time, Rehmatullah said the platform could expand beyond recruiting to areas like on-boarding new employees.

Since these videos are posted to the company website, with the employees’ name and face attached, they may not always feel comfortable being completely honest, particularly about a company’s flaws. But at least it’s a message coming from a regular person, not the corporate-speak of a recruiter or manager.

Rehmatullah acknowledged that there’s usually “an educational process” involved in making employers more comfortable with this kind of content.

“These conversations are already happening outside your organization,” he said. “In the long-term, candidates expect more authenticity, more transparency, more true experiences.”

Source: The Tech Crunch

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Indian H-1B applicants face particular scrutiny in Trump’s work visa crackdown

Posted by on Jul 25, 2018 in america, China, executive, Government, H-1B visa, H1B, Hiring, immigration, India, Policy, TC, Trump administration, United States, Visas | 0 comments

Coming to the U.S. on a work visa is getting harder across the board, but workers from India in particular are feeling the effects of recent policy shifts from the Trump administration. A new report from the National Foundation for American Policy sheds light on how the “Buy American and Hire American” executive order from April 2017 has impacted H-1B applicants in the last year. The H-1B visa, popular in Silicon Valley, lets skilled foreign workers live and work in the U.S. for a six year term.

For the three months period starting in July 2017, H-1B denial rates went from 15.9% to 22.4%. In the same time period, Requests for Evidence seeking additional documentation in the fourth quarter of 2017 nearly equaled the total amount of Requests for Evidence from the year’s other three quarters combined (63,184 and 63,599 requests, respectively).

Drilling down, workers from India appear to be the most affected. From July to September 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) demanded additional documentation from 72% of Indian H-1B applications, compared to the 61% rate of other countries considered together. During that same three month period, 23.6% of Indian applications were rejected, up from 16.6% between April and June 2017.

“The increase in denials and Requests for Evidence of even the most highly skilled applicants seeking permission to work in America indicates the Trump administration is interested in less immigration, not ‘merit-based’ immigration,” the report adds.

“… U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has enacted a series of policies to make it more difficult for even the most highly educated scientists and engineers to work in the United States.”

In January, rumors of a ban on H-1B extensions for green card applicants had H-1B workers nervous. In June, new rules shortening visas for Chinese STEM students went into effect. While China only accounted for 9.4% of total H-1B visa applications in the 2017 fiscal year compared to India’s whopping 76%, the Trump administration will likely continue to tighten immigration policies targeting China as it obsessively tries to turn the screws on its perceived trade nemesis.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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UK job ad indicates Amazon wants to bring TV advertising and free TV channels to Prime

Posted by on Jul 3, 2018 in Advertising Tech, Amazon, Amazon Prime, Europe, Hiring, Media, TC | 0 comments

People have long wondered if one of Amazon’s goals in video and advertising — two key areas in Amazon’s media strategy — ultimately would be to bring the two together, with Amazon-powered ads running in video streams also served by Amazon. A job ad in the U.K. appears to indicate that the company might be gearing up for such a play. According to the ad, the company is currently hiring for someone to lead its efforts in free-to-air TV and advertising in Europe.

Free-to-air TV refers to the range of ad-supported (or TV license-supported) TV channels that you can access through a digital TV tuner, satellite or cable without paying anything to receive them.

The advertisement for the job when it was posted four weeks ago was titled, “Head of Free to Air TV & Advertising.” Yesterday, after people started noticing it (and what it implied about Amazon’s plans), Amazon appeared to change it to a slightly more muddled “Head of Prime Video Channels Free To Air TV & Advertising TV Partner Channels.” Then this morning, as we started asking questions, the title appeared to change again, to “Head of Prime Video Partner Channels” — without any reference to free-to-view or advertising. All the ads had the same job ID number.

“Channels have launched in US, UK and Germany and this is a new and fast-growing area within Prime Video,” the advertisement reads. “As part of this expansion we are seeking a senior leader to join the European Channels & Sports team, based in London. This individual will be responsible for widening the content range with the development of free and advertising-funded channels.”

The job ad notes that the responsibilities will include developing Prime Video’s European strategy for free-to-air and advertising-funded channels; collaborating with global peers; and working with major broadcasters across Europe, “translating their requirements into Amazon capabilities and execution for our customers.”

The person will also work with various internal teams — product, tech, ad sales, marketing, finance, operations — “and act as internal champion for free-to-air and advertising funded content.”

This is notable because currently it appears that Amazon does not have any free-to-air channels on its U.K. service (and an Amazon spokesperson would not directly answer me on this point and declined to provide a comment on the record for this story), and it’s also gearing up to have some free significant sports content on its platform, in the form of Premier League football matches.

Amazon’s current Prime Video offerings in the U.K. include films and TV shows it picks up by way of licensing deals with third parties; Amazon original content; and a selection of live-streamed broadcast channels (which include HBO, Showtime and Starz for now, Discovery and Eurosport in the U.K., as part of Amazon Channels, launched in March 2017). We’ve also heard it has been eyeing purchasing at least one commerce-minded broadcaster outright. Globally, Prime Video is live in 200 countries worldwide.

But as with its TV streams in the U.S., the TV streams in the Channels list are focused on premium subscriptions, where users have to pay extra fees, on top of their Prime subscriptions, to get the extra channels.

Offering free-to-air would be a significant move for the company not only because it would be “free,” but because it would represent a large jumpstart on the amount of content that Amazon presents to its users. Bringing in what are essentially table stakes in TV services, a large range of free channels could be another way of attracting more would-be cord cutters to switch over to Amazon for all of their video and TV interests, rather than using Amazon’s video offerings as a supplement to a core service from another provider.

And that, in turn, could become one more sweetener — alongside the other free video services, the free shipping, and many other perks — for people to pony up for the Prime annual subscription.

Amazon has never disclosed figures for how many viewers it has for its video service, in the U.K. or elsewhere, but a document leaked earlier this year that said it had 26 million viewers of its video content in early 2017. The company is estimated to be putting $5 billion per year into original content production and licensing content to drive more audience to its platforms, which it ties to its ultimate drive for more shopping on Amazon.

“When we win a Golden Globe, it helps us sell more shoes,” CEO Jeff Bezos has been quoted as saying.

That strategy is also playing out in the U.K., where Amazon recently won the rights to stream 20 Premier League football matches in the 2019/2020 season — which it will show to viewers at no extra charge, another twist on the “free to view.”

Amazon has not disclosed the price it paid, but as a point of comparison, BT is paying £975 million for 52 live games a season for three years, while Sky is paying £3.75 billion for 128 live games.

Ramping up the amount of streamed, free content on Amazon’s platform will pave the way for the other part of the job Amazon is seeking to fill: advertising.

Currently, Amazon does not sell ads into any of the live-streamed channels on its platform, although some of them do run ads. However, if Amazon were to scale up the advertising opportunity by way of popular sports content and a wider range of free-to-air channels, suddenly the idea of creating its own TV-based ad network to inject ads into those various streams might be a little more compelling both to Amazon and would-be advertisers.

In the U.S., Amazon has dipped its toes in the waters by running ads during broadcasts of NFL games it had acquired the rights to broadcast — although by one account advertisers were paying up to $1 million less than Amazon had hoped they would for their packages.

Amazon has been quite gradual in building out its ads business. The company made $4 billion in advertising revenues in 2017, from a variety of services that range from native ads across third-party websites, through to banners on top of the Fire TV landing page and display units that run on Kindle devices. Its ad business is projected to make $9.5 billion in 2018. Relatively speaking, this is still modest in comparison to Google, which made $95 billion in advertising revenues in 2017.

But while Amazon slowly grows its ads business, it’s also chopping and changing, and it appears that one aim is to focus more on opportunities that speak to more scale for the business overall.

Just last week, we reported that Amazon quietly announced that it would be retiring an ad unit called CPM Ads, one of its earlier efforts in building a display network, which was aimed at smaller websites that were a part of its Associates program.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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