Marc Lore leaves Walmart a little over four years after selling for $3B

Marc Lore, the executive vice president, president and CEO of U.S. e-commerce for Walmart, is stepping down a little over four years after selling his e-commerce company to the country’s largest retailer for $3 billion.

Lore’s tenure at the company was a mixed bag. Walmart instituted several new technology initiatives under Lore’s tenure, but the service was shuttered last May and other initiatives from Lore, like an option to have customers order items via text, was also a money-loser for the Bentonville, AK-based company.

“After Mr. Lore retires on January 31, 2021, the U.S. business, including all the aspects of US retail eCommerce, will continue to report to John Furner, Executive Vice President, President and Chief Executive Officer, Walmart U.S., beginning on February 1, 2021,” Walmart said in a filing.

Walmart has continued to push ahead with a number of tech-related initiatives, including the launch of a new business that will focus on developing financial services.

That initiative is being undertaken through a strategic partnership with the fintech investment firm, Ribbit Capital and adds to a startup tech portfolio that also includes the incubator Store N⁰8, which launched in 2018.

“Reflecting on the past few years with so much pride – Walmart changed my life and the work we did together will keep changing the lives of customers for years to come. It has been an honor to be a part of the Walmart family and I look forward to providing advice and ideas in the future,” Lore said in a statement posted to Linkedin. “Looking forward, I’ll be taking some time off and plan to continue working with several startups. Excited to keep you all up to date on what’s next.”




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Human Capital: What’s next for Dr. Timnit Gebru

Congrats on surviving this wild first week of 2021. Outside all-things political, a few labor developments happened that are worth noting. Also, shortly before the mob of Trump supporters wreaked havoc on the U.S. Capitol, I caught up with Dr. Timnit Gebru, the prominent AI ethics researcher who said she was fired from Google last month for speaking out about diversity issues. Our full conversation will be available to listen to next Saturday on the newest episode of TC Mixtape, but I’ve included some snippets for y’all below.

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Google, Alphabet workers unionize

A group of more than 200 Google and Alphabet workers announced the formation of the Alphabet Workers Union. With the help of Communication Workers of America Union’s Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE-CWA), the union will be open to both employees and contractors.

Of the roughly 227 workers who had signed on to support the union as of earlier this week, they all committed to set aside 1% of their yearly compensation to go toward union dues. Those dues will be used to help compensate folks for lost wages in the event of a strike. The bulk of the workers who have signed on are mostly based in offices in the San Francisco Bay Area and one in Cambridge.

To be clear, though, the Alphabet Workers Union is a bit untraditional. The current union consists of just 227 workers out of Alphabet’s 132,121 people. For the Alphabet union, the intent is not necessarily to be able to bargain with Alphabet-owned companies but to be able to work collectively toward common goals.

Labor department issues filing ruling re: gig workers

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a final rule pertaining to gig workers. The rule, which goes into effect March 8, 2021, makes it easier for gig economy companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart to legally classify workers as independent contractors throughout the country. 

However, it remains to be seen if this rule will fully manifest under the new leadership of President-Elect Joe Biden, who is set to be inaugurated on Jan 20, 2021. According to the Wall Street Journal, Biden spokesperson Jen Psaki previously pointed to the labor rule as an example of regulation Biden could stop or delay on his inauguration day. 

Independent Drivers Guild Chicago forms

Rideshare drivers in Chicago recently teamed up with Independent Drivers Guild to launch a local branch of the drivers’ rights organization. IDG, which is affiliated with the Machinists Union, has historically advocated for the rights of rideshare drivers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

“IDG beat the odds to win higher pay and benefits for drivers in New York City and working together, we know we can do the same here in Chicago,” Steven Everett, a Chicago rideshare driver-organizer, said in a statement.

What’s next for Dr. Timnit Gebru

Many of you are likely familiar with Dr. Timnit Gebru, but the TL;DR is that she recently left Google after speaking out about diversity issues in artificial intelligence. Google says Gebru resigned and it merely accepted her resignation, while Gebru says Google fired her. 

I caught up with Dr. Gebru on Wednesday to chat about what’s next for her, as well as some recent developments in tech’s labor struggles.

On the Alphabet Workers Union:

This is a combination of a lot of peoples work and frustration. And i think this is the only way because this is a way to give workers power, and so that they can be at the negotiating table, because right now, they don’t have power.

[…] One thing I really appreciate about this union is that it’s all workers. It’s not just, you know, full time workers, it’s temp workers and full-time workers, which is extremely important because the tech industry is right now running on the backs of these contract workers who have zero security.”

[…] What I worry about though, is that [Google has] been extremely aggressive with trying to union  bust and trying to stop these kinds of organizing — any type of organizing and now that it’s become something real, I think  they’re going to intensify their efforts, like a lot more in trying to stop this organizing from happening. And there are many well-known tactics to do this, right. This kind of like propaganda and kind of dividing and conquering and all that. So that’s my worry. And I think everybody needs to stay vigilant to make sure that that doesn’t happen.

On fighting for severance:

“I don’t know if I’m going to, you know, explain to you exactly what I’m thinking right now about that,” she said, adding that “I definitely have lawyers.”

Obviously, what they did to me was wrong and I definitely want to, you know, take some sort of action but what that is is not necessarily crystal clear.

On working at a tech company again

Prior to joining Google, Dr. Gebru held roles at Apple and Microsoft. While, she still plans to work in the field of artificial intelligence ethics and work with Black in AI, Dr. Gebru said “it’s very hard for me to imagine joining a corporation right now.”

I’m just sick of these institutions because you spend so much of your energy, fighting for simple things, just simple things that people don’t have any incentive to change.

[…] I want to spend more time thinking about how we can have our own institutions rather than just you know, fighting these people over and over again. That’s my current thinking.

Envisioning a firm or a non-profit that does what the ethical AI team at Google was doing under her leadership, but that’s not affiliated with any corporation.

“We want to create technology that would also work for us, rather than just playing catch up,” she said. “So I think that’s the idea of Black in AI.”

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CMU’s MoonRanger robot rover will be the first to search for water ice on the Moon in 2022

Carnegie Mellon University and spinoff space startup Astrobotic are developing a robotic rover to look for water on the Moon, and the little bot just passed the crucial preliminary design review phase, putting it one step closer to its inaugural mission planned for 2022. MoonRanger is aiming to be the first robotic detective to investigate whether buried ice is present in sufficient quantities to be useful to future lunar explorers.

MoonRanger could well be the first, provided it sticks to its schedule, but it’ll have competition from NASA’s own water ice-hunting rover – a golf-cart-sized robotic explorer called VIPER which is aiming to touchdown on the Moon in December, 2022. The goal of VIPER is to help look for the presence of water ice near the Moon’s surface in order to help prepare the way for the planned human landing in 2024, which kicks off efforts on the part of NASA and its partners in the international space community to establish a permanent human science and research presence on our large natural satellite.

Like VIPER, MoonRanger is destined for the South Pole of the Moon, and will be a kind of advance scout for NASA’s mission. Ideally, MoonRanger, delivered by Masten Space Systems’ XL-1 lunar lander under the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, will confirm the presence of water ice in decent amounts, and then VIPER will arrive a bit later with the ability to drill deeper, and to perform more rigorous on-site analysis.

MoonRanger will be much smaller than VIPER, at roughly the size of a suitcase, but it will have the ability to travel at speeds previously unheard-of for extraterrestrial exploratory robots. The CMU bot will be able to cover up to 1,000 meters (almost two-thirds of a mile) over the course of a single day. That small size means it’ll rely on a relay to send any communications back to Earth – a process which will involve transmitting to the Masten lander, which will relay that back to scientists here at home using its much higher-powered communications array.

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Chinese propaganda network on Facebook used AI-generated faces

Facebook removed two networks of fake accounts spreading government propaganda on the platform Tuesday, one originating in China and one in the Philippines.

In its latest report on this kind of coordinated campaign, the company says it took down 155 Facebook accounts, 11 pages, 9 groups and 7 Instagram accounts connected to the Chinese activity and 57 accounts, 31 Pages and 20 Instagram accounts for the activity in the Philippines. Both operations broke Facebook’s rules against “coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government entity.”

The company released the report Thursday in coordination with Graphika, a social analytics company that specialized in disinformation. Graphika regularly analyzes this kind of activity in coordination with Facebook and its reports dive into more depth about techniques.

In a sign of the times, Graphika found that the Chinese network of fake accounts employed faces created through an AI technique known as GANs (Generative Adversarial Networks). Those fake faces are employed to elude detection, but because their visual signature often ends up with subtle quirks and anomalies, GANs can sometimes be easily detected. “This form of AI is readily available online, and its use (or abuse) by covert operations has exploded in the last year,” according to Graphika’s report, which identified a dozen GAN-generated images from the Chinese information operation.

“A year ago, this was a novelty,” Graphika’s Ben Nimmo wrote on Twitter. “Now it feels like every operation we analyse tries this at least once.”

GANs examples

GANs examples via Graphika

The Chinese campaign, which Facebook traced to China’s Fujian province, included a “small volume” of activity directed at the U.S. election. Those efforts, which began in April 2019 with a Facebook group called Go for Pete Buttigieg 2020, did not gain much traction. That account never added members beyond two accounts affiliated with the propaganda network. In 2020, the network of fake accounts created three U.S.-focused groups, one pro-Trump, one pro-Biden-Harris and one called “Quack Quack” that made anti-Trump posts. The Biden-Harris group found the most success, attracting 1,400 members.

Most of the newly identified Chinese propaganda pushed China’s interests in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. Unlike some campaigns, the people involved in this activity took steps to hide their identities using VPNs and other tactics. According to Graphika, the network of fake accounts “showed a particular interest in maritime security, especially in the South China Sea.” This is the second set of Facebook takedowns for Chinese information operations, following a previous report in August 2019.

“In Southeast Asia where this network focused most of its activity, they posted in Chinese, Filipino and English about global news and current events including China’s interests in the South China Sea; Hong Kong; content supportive of President Rodrigo Duterte and Sarah Duterte’s potential run in the 2022 Presidential election; criticism of Rappler, an independent news organization in the Philippines; issues relevant to the overseas Filipino workers; and praise and some criticism of China,” Facebook wrote in a blog post on the takedowns.

The other propaganda campaign originated in the Philippines, and an investigation identified ties to country’s national military and police. Two pages in the campaign boasted more than 40,000 followers but others had none or few. Those accounts shared content in Filipino and English about “local news and events including domestic politics, military activities against terrorism, [a] pending anti-terrorism bill, criticism of communism, youth activists and opposition, the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military wing the New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines,” according to Facebook.

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Pinterest breaks daily download record due to user interest in iOS 14 design ideas

The excitement around the ability to customize your iPhone homescreen following the release of iOS 14 has been paying off for Pinterest. According to new third-party estimates, Pinterest’s app has seen record global daily downloads and a swift climb up the App Store’s Top Charts as users sought out iPhone design inspiration — like photos to use for custom icons or wallpapers to match their new widgets, for example.

App store intelligence firm Apptopia was the first to note the impact of the iOS 14 customization trend on Pinterest’s downloads. According to its data, Pinterest saw a record high number of daily downloads on September 21 when it recorded approximately 616,000 new installs worldwide.

Another third-party estimate, however, found Pinterest’s daily download record was actually broken the day before.

Image Credits: screenshot via TechCrunch

App store market intelligence firm Sensor Tower nears Apptopia’s estimate for September 21, as it recorded approximately 680,000 global installs across both iOS and Android, instead of 616,000.

But Sensor Tower data shows that Pinterest actually broke the record for the most daily downloads ever on September 20. (Or, at least, this was the most since January 2014, which is when Sensor Tower began tracking app download data).

On September 20, the firm estimates that Pinterest’s app generated around 800,000 installs across iOS and Android on a global basis. That represents 32% week-over-week growth from the 607,000 installs it saw on September 13 — a few days before the worldwide release of Apple’s new mobile operating system, iOS 14.

In addition, Pinterest swiftly climbed up from No. 47 on the top free iPhone charts in the U.S. on Friday, September 18 to No. 7 on Sunday, September 20. It then climbed up even further to No. 6 on Monday, September 21 — a figure that agrees with Apptopia’s data. The app may have briefly hit the No. 1 position, as well, but not long enough to be recorded as the No. 1 app for the day.

Pinterest is also now No. 1 in the Lifestyle category on the iPhone, though it has regularly taken either a No. 1 or No. 2 position in this category as of February 4, 2020, Sensor Tower also noted.

The Pinterest homepage today showcases iPhone design trends as one of its “Daily Inspirations,” where the collection “Trending wallpapers and aesthetic home screen ideas” is currently sitting at the top of the page. Here, users are finding iPhone backgrounds and sharing other custom designs and icon sets for people to use in their own creations.

The iOS 14 update has had a large impact on the app ecosystem, as it finally delivered a feature Android users have had for years: homescreen widgets.

In combination with the new iOS App Library that lets you hide away less frequently-used apps, the iOS update has managed to tap into what was clearly pent-up consumer demand for being able to personalize the iPhone interface to their own tastes and interests. iPhone users are also now taking advantage of Apple’s Shortcuts app to create custom icons — although this is more of a hack, as the process isn’t really replacing the icon itself, but rather creating a shortcut to launch the app instead.

This redesign trend hasn’t only impacted Pinterest.

User demand for new widgets and creative tools is now playing out across the iPhone App Store and its Top Charts.

Currently, for example, the top three positions on the U.S. App Store’s Top Free Charts are held by widget-making applications: Widgetsmith, Color Widgets and Photo Widget, respectively. Pinterest has moved up to No. 5 as of the time of writing, and is followed by Motivation – Daily Quotes, another app gaining downloads for its widgets. Meanwhile, an app called Tune Track, an early adopter of widgets, has now found itself in the No. 8 position, as well. Even the Top Paid Charts are feeling the influence, as a Photo Widget is No. 1 and the creative design tool Procreate Pocket is No. 2.

Whether design tools will continue to reign remains to be seen. Some people are frustrated by the way Shortcuts are launched — it first redirects to the Shortcuts app, then launches the app in question. If Apple were to endorse the redesign trend, it would do away with this intermediary step to make custom shortcuts more useful.

Pinterest could not comment on the app download figures, but it confirmed the download spike isn’t attributable to a paid user acquisition campaign at this time. Intead, the company says it’s seeing organic increases in both downloads and iOS 14-related searches.

“There has been an increase in searches for iOS 14 wallpapers and homescreen design this week by Gen Z users, a demographic group that grew 50% year-over-year in June 2020,” a Pinterest spokesperson told TechCrunch. “These Pinners often use Pinterest as a resource for aesthetic inspiration and decorating offline spaces like bedrooms, so it’s interesting to see them seek inspiration for their online spaces, too,” they added.



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Explore the global markets of micromobility at TC Sessions: Mobility

While electric scooters first launched at scale in the U.S., they quickly made their way overseas. Now, there’s a bustling electric scooter market in Europe, China, Latin America and one that’s growing in parts of Africa.

At TC Sessions: Mobility on October 6 & 7, we’ll explore the journey of electric scooters and bikes from the U.S. to a number of countries across Europe all the way to Rwanda in Africa with Spin co-founder Euwyn Poon, Gura Ride founder Tony Adesina and Voi co-founder Fredrik Hjelm.

Euwyn Poon, Co-founder and President at Spin

Spin, which got its start as a bike-share operator in San Francisco, shifted entirely to electric scooters in 2018. Now, it’s owned by Ford and recently launched its electric scooter operations in Germany. The plan is to later expand beyond Germany and into France, as well as the U.K.

Spin President and Co-founder Euwyn Poon will talk about what it’s been like expanding abroad and its plans for further growth.

Tony Adesina, Founder and CEO at Gura Ride

While there is much adoption throughout other parts of the world, there are only a handful of operators in Africa, such as Medina Bike in Marrakech, Morocco, Awa Bike in Lagos, Nigeria and Gura Ride in Kigali, Rwanda. Many of the larger micromobility operators, like Bird, Lime, Yellow, VOI, Tier and others have yet to make their way into Africa.

Gura Ride, founded by Tony Adesina, is currently live in six cities throughout Rwanda, offering electric bikes and electric scooters to riders. We’ll chat with Adesina about the state of micromobility in Africa and why he thinks adoption has been slower on the continent.

Fredrik Hjelm, Co-founder and CEO at Voi

With $136 million in venture funding, Voi has become a behemoth that operates in 38 cities across 10 European countries. Voi, like other electric scooter companies, paused some operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But Hjelm ultimately saw the pandemic as an opportunity to change the way people travel around cities, he said in late May after bringing on board Bird’s former UK chief. Meanwhile, Voi partnered with BlaBlaCar that same month to offer shared electric scooter rides via BlaBlaCar’s apps. We’ll discuss with Hjelm Voi’s roadmap and how it’s navigated COVID-19.

Get your tickets for TC Sessions: Mobility to hear from these thought-leaders along with several other fantastic speakers from Waymo, Lyft, Nuro and more. Tickets are just $145 until September 12 at 11:59 p.m. PDT, with discounts for groups, students and exhibiting startups. And we’ve introduced a $25 Expo Ticket for those who want to peruse our early stage startups and check out the breakout sessions! We hope to see you there!

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WellSaid Labs research takes synthetic speech from seconds-long clips to hours

Millions of homes have voice-enabled devices, but when was the last time you heard a piece of synthesized speech longer than a handful of seconds? WellSaid Labs has pushed the field ahead with a voice engine that can easily and quickly generate hours of voice content that sounds just as good or better than the snippets we hear every day from Siri and Alexa.

The company has been working since its public debut last year to advance its tech from impressive demo to commercial product, and in the process found a lucrative niche that it can build from.

CTO Michael Petrochuk explained that early on, the company had essentially based its technology on prior research — Google’s Tacotron project, which established a new standard for realism in artificial speech.

“Despite being released two years ago, Tacotron 2 is still state of the art. But it has a couple issues,” explained Petrochuk. “One, it’s not fast — it takes 3 minutes to produce 1 second of audio. And it’s built to model 15 seconds of audio. Imagine that in a workflow where you’re generating 10 minutes of content — it’s orders of magnitude off where we want to be.”

WellSaid completely rebuilt their model with a focus on speed, quality, and length, which sounds like “focusing” on everything at once, but there are always plenty more parameters to optimize for. The result is a model that can generate extremely high quality speech with any of 15 voices (and several languages) at about half real time — so a minute-long clip would take about 36 seconds to generate instead of a couple hours.

This seemingly basic capability has plenty of benefits. Not only is it faster, but it makes working with the results simpler and easier. As a producer of audio content, you can just drop in a script hundreds of words long, listen to what it puts out, then tweak its pronunciation or cadence with a few keystrokes. Tacotron changed the synthetic speech space, but it has never really been a product. WellSaid builds on its advances with its own to create both a usable piece of software, and arguably a better speech system overall.

As evidence, clips generated by the model — 15-second ones, so they can compete with Tacotron and others — reached a milestone of being equally well rated as human voices in tests organized by WellSaid. There’s no objective measure for this kind of thing, but asking lots of humans to weigh in on how human something sounds is a good place to start.

As part of the team’s work to achieve “human parity” under these conditions, they also released a number of audio clips demonstrating how the model can produce much more demanding content.

It generated plausible-sounding speech in Spanish, French, and German (I’m not a native speaker of any of them, so can’t say more than that), showed off its facility with complex and linguistically difficult words (like stoichiometry and halogenation), words that differ depending on context (buffet, desert), and so on. The crowning achievement must be a continuous 8-hour reading of the entirety of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

But audiobooks aren’t the industry that WellSaid is using as a stepladder to further advances. Instead, they’re making a bundle working in the tremendously boring but necessary field of corporate training. You know, the sorts of videos that explain policies, document the use of internal tools, and explain best practices for sales, management, development tools, and so on.

Corporate learning stuff is generally unique or at least tailored to each company, and can involve hours of audio — an alternative to saying “here, read this packet” or gathering everyone in a room to watch a decades-old DVD on office conduct. Not the most exciting place to put such a powerful technology to work, but the truth is with startups that no matter how transformative you think your tech is, if you don’t make any money, you’re sunk.

A screenshot of WellSaid Labs' synthetic speech interface.

Image Credits: WellSaid Labs

“We found a sweet spot in the corporate training field, but for product development it has helped us build these foundational elements for a bigger and greater space,” explained head of growth Martin Ramirez. “Voice is everywhere, but we have to be pragmatic about who we build for today. Eventually we’ll deliver the infrastructure where any voice can be created and distributed.”

At first that may look like expanding the corporate offerings slowly, in directions like other languages — WellSaid’s system doesn’t have English “baked in,” and given training data in other languages should perform equally well in them. So that’s an easy way forward. But other industries could use improved voice capability as well: podcasting, games, radio shows, advertising, governance.

One significant limitation to the company’s approach is that the system is meant to be operated by a person and used for, essentially, recording a virtual voice actor. This means it’s not useful to the groups for whom an improved synthetic voice is desirable — many people with disabilities that affect their own voice, blind people who use voice-based interfaces all day long, or even people traveling in a foreign country and using real-time translation tools.

“I see WellSaid servicing that use case in the near future,” said Ramirez, though he and the others were careful not to make any promises. “But today, the way it’s built, we truly believe a human producer should be interacting with the engine, to render it at a natural, a human parity level. The dynamic rendering scenario is approaching quite fast, and we want to be prepared for it, but we’re not ready to do it today.”

The company has “plenty of runway and customers” and is growing fast — so no need for funding just now, thank you, venture capital firms.

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Tech must radically rethink how it treats independent contractors

Despite a surging stock market and many major tech players having record quarters, we’re still seeing layoffs throughout tech and the rest of corporate America. Salesforce recorded a huge quarter, passing $5 billion in revenue, only to lay off around 1000 people. LinkedIn is laying off 960 people one day after reporting a 10% increase in revenue.

These layoffs may seem like a contraction in size for these huge enterprises, but it’s actually the beginning of something I call The Great Unbundling of Corporate America. They still need to grow, they still need to innovate, they still need to get work done and they’re not simply canceling projects and giving up on contracts.

Just as COVID-19 has accelerated the move to remote work, our current crisis has accelerated the trend toward hiring independent contractors. Back in 2019 a New York Times report found that Google had a shadow workforce of 121,000 temporary workers and contractors, overshadowing their 102,000 full-timers. ZipRecruiter reported in 2018 that tech, along with its record employment growth, was showing an increasing share of listings for independent contractors.

A study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that between 6.9% and 9.6% of all workers are now independent contractors, and according to Upwork, that may be as high as 35%. Mark my words — companies are using this time as an opportunity to swing the pendulum toward independent contractors and trimming the fat, justifying it with a vague gesture toward “an unprecedented time.”

That’s why, in my opinion, you’re seeing the NASDAQ hitting record highs despite everyone’s turmoil — depressingly, investors can see that large companies are tightening up and cleaning up waste, while finding an affordable workforce at will. As they have unbundled themselves from our physical offices, large enterprises are going to unbundle themselves from having to have a set number of employees.

When Square allowed its entire workforce to work remotely permanently. It wasn’t just because they wanted them to feel more creative and productive, but was likely a move away from having quite as much expensive, needless office space.

Similarly, if there is work that a full-time employee does that could be done by a flexible, independent contractor, why not make that change too? And it’ll be a lot easier to make without as many people at the office.

The argument I’m making is not anti-contractor, though.

I can’t think of any point in history where it’s been better to create a freelance business — the startup costs are significantly lower, and as companies move toward remote work, you can theoretically take business nationally (or internationally) like never before. Companies’ moves toward replacing W-2 workers with contractors is an opportunity for people to create their own miniature freelance empires, unbundling themselves from corporate America’s required hours, and potentially creating a way to weather future storms by taking away any single company’s leverage on their income.

The rush to remote work is also likely to push more workers into the freelance economy too. By having to create a remote office, with a remote presence in meetings and having to manage and organize our days, the average worker has all but adjusted to the life of a freelancer.

Where some might have gone to an office and had things simply happen to them, the remote world requires an attention to your calendar and active outreach to colleagues that, well, models how one might run a freelance business. Those with core skillsets that can be marketed and sold to multiple clients should be thinking about whether being a wage slave is necessary anymore, and with good reason.

That said — corporate America, and especially tech, has to treat this essential workforce with a great deal more empathy and respect than they have thus far.

Uber and Lyft were ordered to treat drivers as employees in part due to the fact that they never treated their contractors like parts of the company. Other than the obvious lack of benefits (paid time off, health insurance, etc.), Uber, like many large enterprises, treats contractors as disposable rather than flexible, despite them being the literal driving force of the company. When Uber went public, they gave a nominal bonus for drivers that had completed 2500 to 40,000 trips, with a chance to buy up to $10,000 of stock — at the IPO price. These drivers, that had been the very reason that many people became millionaires and billionaires when Uber went public, were given the chance to maybe make money, if they sold the stock quickly enough.

It’s an abject lesson on how to not build loyalty with independent contractors. It’s also a lesson on what the next big company that wants to build themselves off the back of the 1099’er should do.

What I’m suggesting is a radical rethinking of freelance contracting. I want you to see independent contractors as a different kind of worker, not as a way of skirting getting a full-time employee. A freelancer, by definition, is someone that you don’t monopolize, and someone that you should actively give agency and, indeed, part of the network you’re building. One of the issues of corporate America’s approach to freelance work is an us-versus-them approach to employment — you’re either part of us or you’re simply a thing we pick up and put down. What I’m suggesting is treating your freelancers as an essential part of your strategy, and compensating them as such. Freelancers should own equity and should have skin in the game — they may be working with you on a number of projects and take literal ownership of vast successes throughout your history.

Contracted work has only become mercenary through the treatment of the freelance worker. Where tech has succeeded in creating hundreds of thousands of independent contractor positions, it also has to lead the way in reimagining how we may treat them and reward them for their work. And corporate America needs to take a step beyond simply seeing them as a cheaper, easier way to do business. They’re so much more.

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We’re updating The TechCrunch List soon. Founders, send in your recommendations of the most helpful lead VCs

Earlier this year, we launched The TechCrunch List, a carefully curated group of VCs who lead rounds recommended by thousands of founders for their acumen and friendliness, grouped by market focus, stage, and geography.

Since the launch of the List, we’ve seen great engagement: tens of thousands of founders have each come back multiple times to use the List to scout out their next fundraising moves and understand the ever changing landscape of venture investing.

We last revised The TechCrunch List on July 30th with 116 new VCs based on founder recommendations, but as with all things venture capital, the investing world moves quickly. That means it’s already time to begin another update.

To make sure we have the best information, we need founders — from new founders who might have just raised their VC rounds to experienced founders adding another round to their cap tables — to submit recommendations to us. Thankfully, our survey is pretty short (about 2 minutes), and the help you can give other founders fundraising is invaluable. Please submit your recommendation soon.

Since our last update in July, we have already had 840 founders submit new recommendations, and we are now sitting at about 3,500 recommendations in total now. Every recommendation helps us identify promising and thoughtful VCs, helping founders globally cut through the noise of the industry and find the leads for their next checks.

If you have questions about the List, our methodology, or about how to submit, we have a handy Frequently Asked Questions page. Otherwise, get those recommendations in. We’ll close this latest batch of recommendations off on Friday, and publish a newly updated List in the next two to three weeks.

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Despite a rough year for digital media, Blavity and The Shade Room are thriving

Last week at TechCrunch Disrupt, TechCrunch media and advertising reporter Anthony Ha sat down with Blavity CEO Morgan DeBaun and The Shade Room CEO Angelica Nwandu to chat about their respective media companies, 2020 in the media world and how they view a recent conversation inside of media to hire and retain more diverse workforces.

Blavity is a network of online publications focused on Black audiences across verticals like politics, travel and technology. To date, the company has raised $9.4 million, according to Crunchbase data.

The Shade Room is an Instagram-focused media company that publishes hourly updates on national news, celebrity updates and fashion. Focused on the Black perspective, The Shade Room has attracted more than 20 million followers on Instagram and comments on issues of importance during key national moments.

During her conversation with Ha, Nwandu said that during the Black Lives Matters protests, The Shade Room was akin to a Black CNN.

With both companies founded in 2014, both CEOs have kept their media startups alive during a particularly difficult period. In the last six years, many media brands have shuttered, sold, slimmed or slunk away to the ash heap of history.

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