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If the Shoe Fits: Who Do You Ask?

Friday, February 17th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mHow many members of your team have been “bloodied in combat?”

How many have worked successfully through multiple economic (upturns/downturns) realities?

Who would you ask if you needed dynamic (question/discuss), as opposed to static (online postings), advice of “the been there/done that” variety to

  • land a candidate;
  • sell in a recession;
  • tweak/kill a marketing campaign;
  • beat the competition; or
  • Layoff a team member?

Don’t ask me; I’ve answered this question multiple times in varied forms.

Instead, ask millennial Tom Goodwin.

Maybe you’ll listen to him.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks In A Row: Are We Going Backwards?

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

Whether you were alive in 1984 or not, you’ve probably seen Apple’s Super bowl ad. It’s reshown almost every year and has been consistently voted the top-rated Super Bowl ad ever made, which is saying a lot.

When the ad was made women were on an upward trend and were respected members of the tech community — unlike now.

Watching the ad again last week I got to wondering.

If that ad were made today would the person throwing the hammer be a woman?

Or would it be the proverbial “twenty-something guy in a hoodie?”

Video credit: antisubliminal

Fight Hate: Take Action NOW

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

http://www.businessinsider.com/womens-march-washington-signs-2017-1/#-42

Today is (or should be) the first day of the rest of your life speaking out and actively working for the world in which you want to live. To do everything you can to quell the rise of hate and change the direction of your world.

If you care it’s time to act — not wait for the other guy to do it.

I’m sure that some of my readers are happy with its direction and will be very unhappy with this post. They may even unsubscribe (it’s happened in the past), but that is their right and I respect that.

But hopefully the rest of you will heed this call to action, take time to read the links and time to think about the world you want — not just for yourself, but for you current/future kids and their kids, etc.

Last December I wrote about a pledge by techs not to build a Muslim registery and I quoted the words of Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor and rabid anti-Nazi, who spent seven years in a concentration camp.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

This resonates with me because I am Jewish, granted I’m a sectarian Jew, but bigots don’t make that distinction.

My father’s family had the choice of emigrating from Russia or dying by the had of the Cossacks.

My Romanian grandmother was lucky. Her sister’s husband had only enough money to bring one sister to the US and she drew the short straw. The rest of the family died in the Holocaust.

I doubt it was an accident that the executive order was issued on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I’m also a nobody and MAPping Company Success is barely a gnat in the blogsphere, but I’m adding my voice to Fred Wilson’s Make America Hate Again, Mark Suster’s Never Let Anybody Tell You to Shut Up and many others.

The hate being shown to this wave of refugees echoes the hate shown to past waves, but this time it’s far more hysterical and fraught.  

As for the argument that the Muslim ban fights terrorism, what really are the odds that you might die in a terrorist attack in the US, especially compared to all the other ways to die? Take a look at the hard data.

odds of dying

Yes, ISIS is real, but terrorism on our soil is an excellent cover for one of the truly ugly underlying reasons today’s refugees are so violently rejected — they are black.

Anand Sanwal provided an insightful comment in his typically irreverent style.

So I landed in India with my daughter on Saturday and saw the news about immigration changes in the USA.
I don’t think American citizens of Indian descent are banned from re-entering the USA yet, but let me know if anything changes as I got another 5 days here and things appear to be changing quickly.
For the time being, I believe my type of brown person is still considered ok so that’s a relief. But definitely let me know if that changes. Thanks.

From Trump to Tea Party you are seeing the second coming of WASP thinking.

If this isn’t who you are then you need to speak out.

Not only speak out, but get active NOW.

How?

By getting involved in Swing Left, an organized effort to take back the House in 2018 or go directly to the Swing Left website.

The operative word is NOW.

Image credit: Dave Mosher/Business Insider

Entrepreneurs: Sign the Pledge

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

http://alenaae.blogspot.com/2008/12/first-they-came-by-martin-niemller.html

In case you didn’t see this in BuzzFeed, a group of techs got together and made a pledge.

A group of nearly 60 employees at major tech companies have signed a pledge refusing to help build a Muslim registry. The pledge states that signatories will advocate within their companies to minimize collection and retention of data that could enable ethnic or religious targeting under the Trump administration, to fight any unethical or illegal misuse of data, and to resign from their positions rather than comply.

Not luminaries, but people like you.

As of 10:30 pm Pacific Wednesday there were 1215 signatures.

The full text is at the pledge link (above) as are the instructions on how you can sign. There are also links if you want to be a more active participant or just want more information.

Why should you do it?

The words of Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor and rabid anti-Nazi, who spent seven years in a concentration camp explain it best.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Actively or passively; loudly or quietly you need to speak out over the next two years.

And in two years it will be up to you to help take back Congress.

Image credit: Karen

If the Shoe Fits: Talent, Revenue and Bias

Friday, December 9th, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIf generating revenue is high on your list of important stuff, then knowing your market should be right up there, too.

Actually, the knowing needs to come first.

There is no way a 20-something, white male from an even slightly privileged background knows, let alone understands, the needs/preferences/desires of a Gen Xer, Boomer or older, let alone those of a different gender, race or economic status.

IDEO not only understands that, it hires accordingly and enjoys big payoffs.

The problem is bias.

Google is one company that has recognized the reality of bias and is actively working to counter it, as is Silicon Valley Bank.

The bank has already undergone unconscious bias training globally, which involves exercises including splitting into groups and assessing the merits of four different résumés, only to return to find they belonged to the same candidate — just with different names and genders attached. (…) with female names, for example, the groups were more likely to question the candidates’ credentials.

But it may go much further.

It is considering whether to remove names from job candidates’ résumés in a bid to prevent unconscious bias from its recruiters.

Bias is a serious problem, but you’ll never win against it if you believe that ‘they’ are biased and you are not.

It also helps to understand that bias, whether genetic or cultural heritage, is hardwired in our brain.

As a founder, you have the ability to shape the values, culture and bias of your company.

And you need to do it intentially.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: Facebook — Racist or Just Dumb?

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

Considering it’s 2016 the unbelievably racist targeted advertising choices offered by Facebook are hard to swallow.

facebook-screenshotHarder still are their explanations.

First, they claim to prohibit this kind of ugly targeting.

Facebook says its policies prohibit advertisers from using the targeting options for discrimination, harassment, disparagement or predatory advertising practices.

They claim that advertisers won’t misuse these options.

“We take a strong stand against advertisers misusing our platform: Our policies prohibit using our targeting options to discriminate, and they require compliance with the law,” said Steve Satterfield, privacy and public policy manager at Facebook. “We take prompt enforcement action when we determine that ads violate our policies.”

But their worst excuse is the old A/B test.

Satterfield said it’s important for advertisers to have the ability to both include and exclude groups as they test how their marketing performs.

Hence my question.

Is Facebook really so naïve they actually believe that the so-called “affinity choices” won’t be abused or, in the name of profit, do they just not care?

Image credit: Facebook via Pro Publica

Airbnb, Eric Holder and Discrimination

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Holder

Tech says they’re trying.

Experts love to call it “bias,” “diversity crisis” or some similar polite euphemism.

A simpler, more recognizable and much less politically correct term is bigotry — conscious or not.

Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky calls it discrimination, pure and simple, and wants to eradicate it from his platform.

“When we designed  the  platform, three white guys, there were a lot of things we didn’t think about,” Chesky said to an audience at the conference. “There are racists in the world and we need to have zero tolerance.”

There’s no question that people of color, especially African Americans, have more trouble booking on Airbnb.

There’s also no question that people of color are exercising greater and greater buying power.

As of 2014 Hispanic’s spent $1.3 trillion, people of African decent $1.1 trillion, Asians $770 billion and Native Americans $100 billion.

That’s a whole lot of buying power.

There’s also no question that Airbnb has been slow to recognize/admit to the problem — as has the rest of tech.

In a serious effort to change, Chesky has hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to “craft a world-class anti-discrimination policy.”

“This process isn’t close to being over, but we want to be as transparent as possible along the way because I know we’ve failed on that front previously. I want us to be smart and innovative and to create new tools to prevent discrimination and bias that can be shared across the industry.”

Which makes it likely Chesky is serious, since guys like Holder don’t come cheap — nor are they easy to shut up or buy off if the company isn’t serious.

Hopefully it will help.

But it will more likely be a cold day in hell before anyone or anything changes racist MAP.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Ducks in a Row: How Facebook Stepped in the Poo

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/44412176@N05/4197328040/

Facebook really stuck its foot deep in the doo doo pile when it claimed its racial diversity numbers, which are even worse than its gender diversity stats, are the result of a lack of qualified candidates.

What is really going on is the very real human desire to hire “people like me,” but using “cultural fit” as an excuse for their bias.

In a post shared widely on social media, the computer science student and iOS developer took Facebook and its Silicon Valley peers to task for focusing on whether potential employees are a “culture fit” — an ambiguous gauge often used to defend discrimination.

But that, of course, depends on what is meant by culture.

Culture is a reflection of the founder’s/company’s actual values — values equaling stuff such as how customers are treated and whether politics will rule over merit.

Culture is not a function of perks — or it shouldn’t be.

“Most of tech recruiting is currently not built to look for great talent,” wrote Thomas in her post.

“I’m not interested in ping-pong, beer, or whatever other gimmick used to attract new grads. The fact that I don’t like those things shouldn’t mean I’m not a ‘culture fit’. I don’t want to work in tech to fool around, I want to create amazing things and learn from other smart people. That is the culture fit you should be looking for.”

You wouldn’t necessarily expect tech, with its penchant for data-based decisions, to cherry-pick the stats, but Facebook is an amalgamate of human beings and their biases, so it’s not that surprising.

Then, of course, there’s the data — which you’d think a company like Facebook, reliant as it is on algorithms, would’ve parsed before blaming education for its diversity ills. There simply isn’t a pipeline problem as long as there are twice as many black and Hispanic computer science graduates as there are actual hires from these minority groups.

So, once again, the old programming saying ‘garbage in/garbage out’ proves true.

A perfect summing up of Facebook’s, and tech-in-general’s, “no pipeline” excuse.

Flickr image credit: gorfor

If the Shoe Fits: How Old is an Entrepreneur?

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_m

Age is more a mental state than a physical one.

I’ve always said that smart people say/do stupid things and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla is proof of that.

“People under 35 are the people who make change happen,” said, “People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.”

The problem is that the data the tech world is so enamored with doesn’t back that up.

Vivek Wadhwa, a Duke University researcher, worked with the Kauffman Foundation in 2009 to explore the anatomy of a successful startup founder. That survey of more than 500 startups in high-growth industries showed that the average founder of a successful company had launched his or her venture at the surprisingly high age of 40. The study also found that people over 55 are almost twice as likely to launch high-growth startups than those aged 20 to 34.

The term “high growth” is key. 2010′s top two fastest-growing tech startups, according to Forbes, were First Solar, founded by a 68-year old, followed by Riverbed Technology, co-founded by entrepreneurs who were 51 and 33 at the time.

He should also inform the Merage Institute, which awards $100K to the top startup by a 45+-year-old founder (more runner-ups at the link).

  • In 2016 it was iSilla – Movement for people with disabilities
  • 2nd Prize –  SonicBone – Bone Age – Ultrasound Device for Bone Age assessment
  • 3rd Prize – Inensto – Aluminum Air Battery

In 2015 they were:

  • 1st Prize – NiNiSpeech
  • 2nd Prize – A new Hydrogen Energy Storage
  • 3rd Prize – Glasses for AMD Macular Degeneration

Brian Acton was 37 when he founded WhatsApp.

Notice that all of them solve a real problem — a problem of which they wouldn’t be aware if they hadn’t faced it directly or indirectly themselves.

Which meant they had real world experience.

Even Mark Zukerberg had real world experience; he wanted an easy way to engage and keep up with his friends. Remember, Facebook was originally started for college kids.

The reason Khosla is so far off base, is that an entrepreneur can only disrupt that with which she is familiar enough to figure out a better way or see a hole and fill it.

Hence young males created Tinder and its clones to hookup and Match and its clones for something more permanent.

If you look at socially oriented startups, many of their founders, both young and old, saw the need first hand, while volunteering and/or traveling, came home and created a solution that answered that need.

It’s not a matter of age.

It’s a matter of three things

  1. See the need/experience the want/desire what isn’t
  2. Think of a way to solve/provide it
  3. Possess the drive, tenaciousness, guts and slight insanity required to turn an idea into a reality and a reality into a company

And those three things can happen to anyone at any age.

My thanks to KG for reminding me of how important it is to help smash these myths.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: SAP’s Smart Hiring

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/treehouse1977/4664642792/

Some companies look spend millions in recruiter fees and poaching candidates from their competitors; others are more creative.

Those in the second category are open to staffing solutions far outside the box — even the standard race/creed/color/gender/national origin diversity box.

It’s called neurodiversity — those with some kind of cognitive disabilities, such as people with  Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

What do you do when you have highly repetitious work that also requires a high degree of intelligence — like software testing?

That is actually a viable description of people with ASD.

Of course, that means hiring people who, for most people, aren’t the most comfortable to be around.

Roughly 60 percent of people with ASD have average or above average intelligence, yet 85 percent are unemployed.

For smart companies, such as SAP, that group is a goldmine of talent and five years ago it set a goal to have 1% of their workforce comprised of individuals with ASD.

Hiring people with ASD isn’t about charity or financial exploitation; it’s about gaining a competitive advantage and partnering with Specialisterne goes a long way to providing the right program.

So far (as of 2013) about 100 people have been hired [by SAP] for jobs including software developer or tester, business analyst, and graphic designer, and pay is commensurate to what others in those jobs earn.

SAP use an analogy that individuals are like puzzle pieces with irregular shapes.

“One of the things that we’ve done historically in human resource management is, we’ve asked people to trim away the parts of themselves that are irregularly shaped, and then we ask them to plug themselves into standard roles,” says Robert Austin, Professor of Information Systems, Ivey Business School. “SAP is asking itself whether that might be the wrong way to do things in an innovation economy. Instead, maybe managers have to do the hard work of putting the puzzle pieces together and inviting people to bring their entire selves to work.”

That approach can benefit other forms of diversity like race, gender, and sexual orientation.

“Innovation is about finding ideas that are outside the normal parameters, and you don’t do that by slicing away everything that’s outside the normal parameters. Maybe it’s the parts of people we ask them to leave at home that are the most likely to produce the big innovations.”

Read the article and then decide what’s best for your organization.

Good bosses won’t have a problem with the approach; the rest will whine and resist.

Flickr image credit: Jim Champion

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