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    Not long ago the average American would be hard pressed to name a tech leader whose name didn’t end in “Jobs” or “Gates.”

    A generation later, countless tech executives walk red carpets, are featured on magazine covers, are interviewed on prime time television and enjoy much of the same admiration, as well as scrutiny, as any other celebrity.

    [Photo: Wikipedia]
    In early June a number of these technology celebrities shared the same stage as public figures in film, television, sport, and music at the Brilliant Minds conference in Stockholm, Sweden. There tech royalty like investor Chris Sacca, inventor Tony Fadell, and Zynga cofounder Mark Pincus gave addresses between talks from celebrities like Pharrell Williams, Rashida Jones, and Mario Batali.

    “The tech business in the ’80s, that was Revenge of the Nerds,” says Fadell, who was credited as one of the inventors of the iPod and iPhone before founding Nest Labs in 2010, which he sold to Google in 2014. “We were geeks, we were looked down upon.”

    Fadell tells Fast Company that he never imagined a career in the tech industry would turn him and his contemporaries into household names, adding that he responded with shock the first time he was asked to walk a red carpet. “I was like, ‘are you kidding me?’ It seemed crazy,” he says.

    Fadell has many concerns for an industry still adjusting its eyes to the spotlight, and advice for up-and-coming techies who might find themselves in a role they weren’t prepared for.

    There Are No Kardashians In Tech

    Being famous for the sake of being famous may be a reality for a lucky few in today’s pop culture, but nobody achieves celebrity status in the tech industry without first delivering the goods, warns Fadell.

    “You’re a zero, then you become a hero, but if you don’t deliver that community throws you out,” he says. Fadell adds that hot new startups often become the talk of the town when its founders raise an impressive amount of money. Suddenly they’re rubbing shoulders with other tech royalty, getting a taste for how the industry’s most successful live, forgetting that they still have a business to build. “There are a lot of young founders that are almost like child actors that got famous too early,” he says.

    Don’t Believe Everything You Read

    When public interest in the technology industry began to bloom a certain mythology blossomed with it, one that Fadell fears newcomers may believe represents reality.
    “It’s almost like learning how to have sex by watching porn,” he says. “When they read it through the media, now that it’s been so sensationalized, they think this is how you create a startup company.”

    Fadell explains that when people regularly see tech executives on keynote stages, magazine covers, and red carpets they begin to imagine that’s what starting a technology company looks like.

    “You really have to understand what it takes to build a company, and it comes at the other side of success,” he says. “Celebrity is the other side, but people get into it now because they want that [celebrity].”

    Stay Focused On Your Product

    In order to avoid getting sucked into the gravitational pull of that mythology Fadell believes it takes a strong support team to stay focused. He explains that, like in other industries, there’s a certain amount of “fake it ’till you make it” in tech, but it’s important for tech founders not to fake themselves out.

    “They’re creating this story to get more funders around them to raise the valuations when there’s not enough fundamentals to drive the business, and then it all unravels,” he says. “[The attention] can be positive or negative, just like any drug; you need to have good people around you and a good environment, not just funders who are trying to chase the dollar.”

    Use The Attention To Your Advantage

    While there is the potential for a more public profile to serve as a distraction from the core business Fadell believes that founders would be wise to acknowledge the potential advantages it can provide, if used properly.

    “Remember you are not a celebrity like a movie star, it’s not about being in the public eye because that’s what drives your business,” he says. “It’s about being in the public eye to help grow your business. ”

    Fadell adds that it’s important to show restraint, advising founders to be selective with their public appearances.

    “You should not be going public with all kinds of information, you should not be celebrating when you raise money,” he says. “You should only use the press sparingly, and only to do something to drive your business.”

    Remember Who You Are

    Fadell’s final piece of advice to those in the tech industry that are starting to get some notice is to avoid taking other people’s opinions to heart.

    “Don’t read anything about yourself, don’t watch anything about yourself, don’t do anything like that because you can get lost with everybody analyzing you, and then you start to self-modify and self-edit,” he says.

    Fadell explains that there needs to be a clear separation between a tech star’s public persona and their genuine self. “Don’t lose the person you are because you read what others say and modify who you are based on other people’s hyper-analyses of you,” he says.


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    A lot of you enjoyed last week’s interview with Fast Company’s own Joe Berkowitz about his year exploring the subculture of competitive punning.  This is an exclusive excerpt from the book born out of that year:Away With Words: An Irreverent Tour Through the World of Pun Competitions,which is available now.


    Although it’s become passé at this point, one longtime mantra of this city is Keep Austin Weird. It’s splashed across T-shirts sold at Zilker Park during the annual Kite Festival, it’s plastered on paint-peeled bumpers of Toyota Tercels en route to yarn-bomb a tree, probably, and it’s nowhere near the nude bodies undulating in the clothing-optional swimming park called Hippie Hollow. Although the vast empire of high-rises and high-end restaurants have added a slick sheen recently, Austin is still indeed weird. Its weirdness is thrust upon you the moment you arrive at the airport, greeted by fifteen-foot, psychedelically colored guitars in a v-formation around the baggage claim, as if standing sentry lest ill-tempered mutant drums invade. If the town in Footloose was weird for outlawing dancing, Austin seems like the type of weird where dancing might be enforced on certain government holidays. It’s a weirdness that encompasses Brooklyn’s, in that both places seem like they might have a hopscotch league, but Austin’s stands out more for being an oasis in the reddest of red states. The friends I’m staying with live next to a chrome rocket of a food trailer called Ms P’s Electric Cock, and a wax museum built like a grimy gothic castle with functional dungeon. When I go for a run, it’s over a bridge known colloquially as Bat Bridge, for reasons I don’t want spelled out until I am far away from the bridge. This is a weird city and the O. Henry Pun-Off definitely belongs here.

    Punning itself may not be that weird, but the ceaseless spigot of puns that flows unimpeded at the Pun-Off might as well be directed by David Cronenberg. To oblivious passersby, it must sound like a foreign language one intuitively knows to be Elvish or Klingon, a knotty thicket of nerd twaddle. To the people inside, though, it’s paradise. Anywhere else, the chance of being overheard could be embarrassing for punsters, but not here. Those who are magnetically pulled to the Pun-Off are like Amish teens on Rumspringa. For one weekend, any and all interruptive, conversation-killing word balloon animals are not only welcome—they’re encouraged. There is no safe word here. (If there were, though, it would be a pun and it would be terrible.)


    Related: This Guy Spent A Year Exploring The Subculture Of Competitive Punning


    For Gary Hallock, an old school Austinite, this sanctuary has no exit. Puns are an indelible part of his life, year-round. The green zone this town has created for ardent wordplay enthusiasts has encroached ever further into Hallock’s head, annexing his brain and claiming it as pun territory.

    Beneath a rotating haberdashery of unconventional headgear, Gary has a friendly face with soft-blue eyes and deep-set laugh lines, probably collateral pun damage. His hair is the color of sidewalk, but his bushy eyebrows are a shade darker. He has a rascally gleam in his eye, like he’s always either just heard a joke or is about to deliver one. As Gary tells me his life story, though, he slips in very few puns. It’s unclear whether the omission is for my benefit—all the unmade puns quietly eating him up inside.

    Puns are there in his waking hours, and they’re there when he goes to sleep.

    “I put music on in the background at night to keep the idle parts of my brain from thinking about puns,” Gary tells me. “I fall asleep with a little speaker in my pillow, listening to talk radio, because if I don’t, I will lie awake thinking of stuff, and inevitably, I’ll think of a pun, and then I’ll wish I could get up and go write it down.”

    We’re inside of a vegan ice cream shop in North Austin that Gary’s friend, Valerie Ward, owns. You can tell one of Gary’s friends owns it because we’re seated perpendicular to a doctored poster for the film A Time to Kill that now reads A Time to Kale. A young Matthew McConaughey, sleek as an otter, is arguing a court case dead center, his clenched, emotive fist made to look as if it’s clutching a stalk of kale. When I gesture toward it, Gary chortles. He has probably heard or said the word kale in place of kill thousands of times more than the average human.

    Gary first competed in the Pun-Off in 1985, and did not do particularly well. He kept coming back, though, until he won first place four years later. At that point, he decided to retire, going out on top like when Michael Strahan left the Giants and also when he left Live! With Kelly & Michael. Gary sensed that the competition had grown a tad stale over the past few years, and needed some shaking up. When he spoke to the curator about it, she charged him with restoring the O. Henry to its former glory the following year. Gary accepted, forming a committee of like-minded word-nerds to assist with the reformation, founding a group called PUNY—Punsters United Nearly Yearly. Together, they codified some long unspoken rules of the competition. They also added “World Championships” to the title, so that upstarts like the Almost Annual Pun Competition in Eureka, California, wouldn’t beat them to the punch.

    Away with Words: An Irreverent Tour Through the World of Pun Competitions

    Despite his devotion, though, Gary originally became a punster by default. Growing up, he’d strived to be a comedian, dutifully going to open mics and doing his time onstage, but it just never gelled. All it took was one round at the O. Henry, though, for him to realize he was a punster who enjoyed comedy and not a comedian who enjoyed puns. Gary admires stand-up comics who can get away with puns, but he recognizes that they’re few and far between. (He cites as an example Carrot Top, the shockingly jacked prop comedy golem fated to haunt Las Vegas forever like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.) Following that first O. Henry, Gary spent the next thirty years deeply involved in pun competitions. It’s long since become an integral part of his identity. He may be a property manager by trade, but that’s not who he is. He is Mr. Pun.

    “When you have a reputation like I do, any time I open my mouth, people are expecting it, and bracing for it, and cringing,” he says. “When I start talking, I can sense that tension. People are waiting for me to throw a pun in. So if I do go ahead and throw one in to relieve the tension, people think that’s the point I was trying to make, and they miss the point. It’s like dressing in a clown costume and expecting people to take you seriously. Because I’m basically in a clown costume 24/7.”


    Joe Berkowitz will be celebrating the book with a comedy show and podcast at QED in Astoria, Monday 6/26 at 7 p.m. He will be joined by comedians Christian Finnegan, Myq Kaplan, and the champions of Punderdome.


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    For many yogis, achieving balance has to do with much more than just nailing the one-legged tree pose. It often has to do with more existential questions of being at one with the earth, which means protecting its future. This was certainly true for Melissa Chu, who grew up in the Bay Area, where everyone recycled obsessively and looked for ways to cut down their carbon footprint–when they weren’t off at a meditation retreat, that is. “Climate change was an ongoing topic of conversation,” Chu says.

    Seven years ago, Chu moved to Hong Kong for her job in the hotel industry. The city was far more crowded, busy, and intense than she had expected. “It was like New York on crack,” she explains. “To cope, I felt the need to deepen my yoga practice to manage the stress and the culture shock.”

    She would take trips to India to study under famous gurus and spent hours in Hong Kong studios doing sun salutations. But she began to wonder: Why isn’t yoga gear more sustainable? Why do yoga devotees sweat through trendy outfits made from virgin materials that are sent to a landfill when they’re worn out? When she started thinking about it in earnest, the immensity of the waste killed her zen.

    For the last couple of years, activewear has been driving the apparel industry forward. Morgan Stanley’s research suggests that by 2020, the activewear market will represent $83 billion in sales, stealing market share from other clothing categories such as denim. But in order to keep up with demand, dozens of brands are popping into the market, churning out new designs regularly and driving down prices, in the same vein as fast fashion.

    There is plenty of innovation happening when it comes to the technical aspects of athletic garments, with brands like Lululemon and Nike developing new fabrics that are adapting to different types of physical activity. But few brands are investing as heavily on creating eco-conscious activewear.

    In 2015, Chu decided to launch a line of activewear called RumiX that would be made from the most sustainable fabrics she could find. She was still living in Hong Kong, which happens to be one of the sourcing capitals of the world. So she set out to see what kinds of recycled materials would work in yoga pants. “It all came together,” she says. “I decided I wanted to create a business where we would turn waste into wear.”

    Rumi X Core Collection [Photo: courtesy of Rumi X]
    Chu started one with rule: She wouldn’t use any virgin materials. These days, many ethical brands are making clothing out of bamboo, which doesn’t consume as much water as cotton. Others are focusing on organic cotton, which doesn’t pollute the ground with pesticides and doesn’t harm farmers. But Chu wasn’t interested. “Our mission is not to turn something natural that is in the environment into garments,” she says. “We want to take materials that would end up in our landfills or oceans and save that by turning it into something else.”

    It turns out, there’s a lot of innovation in terms of sustainable materials. Chu found one German manufacturer that turns spoiled cow’s milk into thread by adding a protein powder to it. Another company sweeps up the husks of flax seeds from the floors of production mills and turns it into a fiber for the production of fabric.

    Rumi X Core Collection [Photo: courtesy of Rumi X]
    In the end, Chu chose a Taiwanese company called Singtex that uses a combination of coffee grounds and old plastic bottles to create a fabric. Employees of the company visit coffee shops around the city to pick up waste materials. The old bottles are turned into polyester and the roasted coffee grounds are mixed into the polyester to make a yarn. One T-shirt, for instance, is made out of three cups of coffee waste and five old bottles. Singtex ensures that all of these materials are saved from landfills. It even makes sure that the oil that is found in the leftover bean is extracted and sold to soap and cosmetic companies.

    Since many of these manufacturers are new and use cutting-edge technology, Chu is often able to work closely with them to develop materials that are perfectly calibrated to meet the needs of her customers, who would be using the pants, bras, and shirts for yoga. For instance, she wants the fabric to have four-way stretch but also feel very soft and organic, unlike many sportswear brands that make clothes that feel synthetic and Spandex-like. Given that many of her customers are based in Asia, where the climate is hot and humid, she also works to ensure that the fabric is thin and moisture wicking. And there’s one added benefit of using coffee grounds: no stinky clothes. “The final fabric still has the odor management properties of natural coffee beans,” Chu says.

    Chu is currently working with another company to create fabric made from discarded crab shells. The bulk of crabs are made of a natural chemical called chitin, which is a biopolymer. Scientists in Bavaria have found a way to extract chitin and use it for a wide variety of purposes, including fibers. This material, which blends together the crab shells with viscose, is called Crabyon. It’s particularly good for RumiX because it has natural anti-bacterial and anti-microbial qualities. “Ironically, it’s super soft,” Chu says. “We can make very soft T-shirts out of this material.”

    Rumi X Core Collection [Photo: courtesy of Rumi X]
    RumiX is sold directly to consumers worldwide through the store’s website and via a network of brick and mortar retailers throughout the Asia Pacific region. The average price is $78.

    When it comes to marketing, Chu doesn’t focus on the interesting materials used in the clothing, but instead describes the brand’s ethos of feeling good and being at peace with yourself. The brand’s name pays homage to the 13th-century Persian mystic, Rumi, who often wrote about how to live a meaningful and spiritual life, and each garment has one of his poems inscribed in it.

    Ultimately, she believes that people will purchase RumiX over Lululemon or Nike because they appreciate the brand’s values and love wearing the product. The fact that the clothing is sustainable is an added bonus. “We’ve noticed that some markets that we sell to do appreciate the fact that we’re eco-friendly,” she says. “Other markets don’t really care at all. So we always lead with design and slowly try to educate our customer about what our mission is.”

    But she hopes her company helps encourage others in the fashion industry to think creatively about using waste material to create clothing that is high quality and comfortable. “We’re really passionate about not wanting to create more waste,” Chu says. “Our goal is to reduce waste in any way we can. There are lots of companies creating really amazing fabrics out of stuff that we would otherwise just throw away.”


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    Less than a decade ago, the concept of autonomous vehicles roaming streets and highways seemed nothing more than a moonshot. Today, we now have Uber and Google and NuTonomy and Tesla testing and tweaking their tech in the race to take driverless vehicles mainstream. While most trials are successful, there have been enough accidents for consumers and policy makers to worry that public safety and solving traffic congestion is taking a backseat to rapid-fire innovation.

    As designers of cities, we’ve been watching the spasmodic innovation unfold in the news and on the ground. Without question, autonomous vehicles (AV) will have limitless impact on how we live. The good news an AV revolution brings is the possibility to replace vehicle-serving cities with urban environments that reduce car-dependency and put people first.

    Expert predictions of what the world will look like when the floodgates of AV open are in no short supply, mostly in advocacy of its necessity to make us smarter, more connected, more efficient, and more resourceful. Superhuman, if you will. Is it possible, however, that the insurgence of AV will make us less machinelike and more human? Our bet is on yes, because the proof for the future is in the present.

    The intention is to replace car ownership with sustainable and efficient door-to-door travel systems. [Photo: Jonathan Pease/Unsplash]

    Commuting As Communities

    Daily travelers will use apps to reserve spots on AV-operated car shares. Automating short-distance neighborhood travel has the potential to streamline and de-stress daily travel. The deployment of commuter pods can eliminate the need for single occupancy vehicles, obliterate traffic congestion, and reduce transit pollution. We’re seeing the early stage of this development unfold as UberPool continues its expansion to cities outside of the urban core. In Finland, startup MaaS partnered with transport providers to develop Whim, an app to order multiple transit modes–buses, taxis, car rental, or bike share–to coordinate the journey to a single destination. The intention is to replace car ownership in Helsinki with sustainable and efficient door-to-door travel systems.

    As people begin to commute as communities, building entrances can be set up like school zones. Replacing car pileup and sky-high parking prices, buildings can feature robust pickup and drop-off zones with laneways developed for safe, pin-drop precise navigation among walkers, cyclists, and commuter pods.

    [Photo: Inés Outumuro/Unsplash]

    Recycled Parking

    Fewer vehicles sitting in idle would considerably reduce, and possibly eliminate, the need for parking lots. Major human-oriented developments could emerge, like community gardens, park cafes, learning and wellness centers, shops, and homes with ultra-wide, multi-use laneways. This would allow more people to move, rest, and socialize in safety and comfort.

    The rise of parklets in Chicago and San Francisco is an early example of this. Street parking turned curbside green space acts as “people spots” or leisure areas. This comes with its own economic benefits, too. Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council found that 73% of parklet users surveyed on an average afternoon would have stayed home if the miniature park didn’t exist. This increased foot traffic positively impacted surrounding small businesses, with some reporting a sales increase of 10% to 20%.

    From snail mail to the mass-delivery of goods, reimagining pickups and drop-offs can eradicate the need for complex and cumbersome loading zones.  [Photo: Alejandro Benėt/Unsplash]

    Closed-Loop Consumption

    While the rise of AVs is a symptom of society in search of efficiency and convenience, it is likely to influence areas beyond transporting people and in ways that will make our communities healthier. As the world becomes smarter, waste is projected to decrease. Soon, we will live in a circular economy that will enable us to recycle or compost everything we produce, creating a chain of sustainable production and closed-loop consumption. Waste removal, recycling, and compost services operated by AVs and executed with careful design have the potential to run discreetly and infrequently. Already, semiautomated garbage trucks exist in several cities in North America doing the work of garbage collectors. As we see in Edmonton, Canada, this saves on resources and eases the physical strain of workers.

    Whether by automated truck, a drone, or a six-wheeled robot, deliveries can become agile and elegant just the same. From snail mail to the mass-delivery of goods, reimagining pickups and drop-offs can eradicate the need for complex and cumbersome loading zones. Buildings and homes can adapt by architecting delivery portals, similar to how water is delivered, from distribution center to recipient. Though we have a very long way to go, this way of thinking is slowly unfolding as more warehouses use robots like Amazon’s Kiva to move and transport goods.

    Tall and bulky streetlamps designed to illuminate roadways for vehicles can be replaced with shorter and intimate replacements. [Photo: Kyle Murfin/Unsplash]

    People-Oriented Infrastructure

    With more people moving around outside as communities free up new space, people-oriented environments will overthrow vehicle-serving cities. People-scale lighting, for one, will take safety to a new and lowered level, as we’re seeing with wayfinding systems like +Light Line in Germany and the Netherlands. The LED strip lines the sidewalk’s edge and turns green to indicate “walk” and red for “stop,” alerting preoccupied smartphone users when to cross safely.

    Tall and bulky streetlamps designed to illuminate roadways for vehicles can be replaced with shorter and intimate replacements. This is happening already in Nashville, where short, warmly lit streetlamps are creating environments equally inviting as functional. People-powered lighting has taken off in Las Vegas where LED streetlights powered by solar panels and kinetic footstep pads are illuminating walkways, charging phones, and powering security cameras. With every footstep, four to eight watts of energy is generated, and can save the nearly 100 million metrics tons of CO2 emitted by streetlights each year.

    Closing the loop on energy use goes well beyond harmonizing lighting systems. Lakeside cities experiencing record-setting rainfall and water levels like Toronto and Chicago can look to vegetated roofs and rainwater-harvesting systems to waterproof cities. Vegetated roofs absorb rainwater, provide insulation, offer wildlife sanctuary, and control internal and external temperatures, while rainwater-harvesting systems collect rainfall to be cleaned and reused for irrigation, drinking water, and home use.

    As we continue to trial and tweak AV tech, let’s benefit from rethinking the power of the real-life environments we share. The solution is in the city, because it has been all along.


    Antonio Gomez-Palacio and Alan Boniface are urbanists and city builders at Dialog.


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    MailChimp did not start out as an enterprise obviously destined to help millions of small companies market themselves via email.

    Actually, the company was originally the Rocket Science Group, a web-design firm that began fooling around with email in 2001 at the request of some of its customers. Its original email engine borrowed code from an earlier failed e-greeting card startup. Ben Chestnut and Dan Kurzius landed on the name MailChimp after discovering that their first choice, ChimpMail, was taken. And their initial simian-themed branding consisted of a repurposed drawing of a chimp–eventually known as “Freddie”–who’d appeared on one of the e-greetings.

    The email marketing features the company built proved so useful that they began to look like a better opportunity than the design business–which, Chestnut says, “was all about billable hours and salesmanship, and those were things we sucked at.” In 2006, Chestnut and Kurzius decided to go all-in with MailChimp. “We took a year saying goodbye to all the agencies and clients, finding them new vendors,” he explains.

    A very early incarnation of MailChimp.
    A very early incarnation of MailChimp.

    MailChimp really went into turbo mode in 2009, when it instituted a freemium business model that let customers send up to 3,000 emails a month to up to 500 subscribers at no cost. Letting companies get addicted to the service before requiring them to pay up proved so successful that the free version now lets users send 12,000 emails to 2,000 subscribers.

    Now MailChimp is probably the biggest name in its category–in part because its offerings are so well done and widely used, and in part because it’s cleverly promoted itself via efforts such as quirky sponsorship messages on the Serial podcast. And despite its high profile, it’s even larger than you might guess. Based in Atlanta–far outside Silicon Valley’s bubble of venture-funded would-be unicorns–the company has 600-plus employees and did more than $400 million in revenue last year. More than 15 million customers sent 246 billion emails in 2016.

    There are still additional small businesses out there that need help with email, but MailChimp’s growth strategy isn’t just about finding them. It’s also committed to keeping its focus on serving small businesses rather than using them as a springboard to reach larger customers with more lavish budgets.

    Mailchimp cofounder and CEO
    Mailchimp cofounder and CEO Ben Chestnut.

    Though Chestnut is quick to tout the effectiveness of email marketing–he says it can return $40 in revenue for every $1 spent–he also claims “not to have any particular kind of affinity or attachment to email.” The future of the company, he says, is “to take MailChimp magic we give to email, and sprinkle it on other marketing channels.”

    That vision has been apparent in the company’s product announcements for awhile now. A year ago, it introduced a recommendation engine–akin to the ones devised by big companies such as Amazon–that let its customers plunk product suggestions into the emails they sent their customers. Then in January of this year, it began helping small businesses buy Facebook ads–figuring that the expertise it had in building friendly web interfaces gave it an opportunity to make the process easier than Facebook had done on its own.

    [Photo: courtesy of MailChimp]

    The Instagram Opportunity

    As MailChimp was deciding what big ad platform to support after Facebook, it sought input from its customers. They had a clear favorite: Instagram. If you find that unexpected, you’re not alone. “We kind of thought Google might be next,” Chestnut says. “Instagram was a surprise for us.”

    Once you think it over, though, that preference makes more and more sense. In March, Instagram announced that it had a million active advertisers, a milestone it reached in large part because a lot of small businesses find it to be a valuable marketing platform. Any digital business with that many small-business customers is likely to have meaningful overlap with MailChimp’s customer base.

    Chestnut speculates that another reason for Instagram’s popularity among MailChimp users is that writing the ad copy required for a Google ad sounds like more work than creating an image-centric Instagram post. In fact, he says, many small companies are already adept at promoting themselves simply by having and maintaining Instagram accounts: “Anything that’s new and free, they’re going to exploit the hell out of.”

    As with Facebook, MailChimp’s Instagram ad-buying feature aims to simplify the process of purchasing ads. Just as important, it allows Instagram to choose the pool of users who will see an ad by picking people similar to those in the MailChimp customer’s email file, allowing for more precise targeting. “When they use Instagram alone, they get OK results,” Chestnut says. “But when they combine it with MailChimp, they get much better results.”

    MailChimp’s strategy with these new ad-buying services and other functionality it’s recently added isn’t to give itself a new revenue stream. Instead, it’s offering them as part of its existing subscriptions at the same price as before. As with its freemium model, the company is betting that the more essential it can make itself to the way small businesses operate, the easier it will be to get large numbers of them to pay on an ongoing basis.

    With MailChimp’s broadening of its mission beyond email, it won’t run out of new features to roll out anytime soon. Since the Instagram feature launched in May, the company has added integration with online commerce service PrestaShop alongside its existing support for commerce platforms such as Shopify and Magento. (PrestaShop is particularly popular in Europe, and over half of MailChimp’s business now comes from outside the U.S.)

    The company is also experimenting with a marketing medium I would not have predicted: direct mail, delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. It isn’t a logical option for every small business, Chestnut emphasizes–“if you’re selling something for $2, you’re not going to benefit from direct mail, you’ll lose money on it”–but for high-ticket items, it could have its place. And he adds that he’s often heard that direct mail is ripe for democratization, thereby playing to MailChimp’s strengths as an outfit that specializes in streamlining the complexity out of marketing tasks.

    With its large base of email customers, MailChimp also has the opportunity to blur the lines between marketing’s digital and physical realms. “Maybe we send an email, and if you opened and didn’t buy, we send something a week later via snail mail,” Chestnut muses.

    The evolution of Freddie, MailChimp's mascot.
    The evolution of Freddie, MailChimp’s mascot.

    Marketing MailChimp

    Once upon a time, MailChimp actively avoided conventional marketing of itself. “Ben had this idea: Instead of spending money on traditional advertising, we’d take that money and buy shirts and give them away,” says Mark DiCristina, MailChimp’s senior director of brand marketing. “It worked really well. Part of that is people like free stuff. But we made really nice T-shirts and they had Freddie our mascot on them and they didn’t have our logo anywhere. It was more like a gift they received than swag.” The fact that these freebies were so well done, DiCristina says, helped shape MailChimp’s overall desire to be a brand associated with quality.

    Particularly given MailChimp’s current broadening of its horizons, the company is now more interested in marketing itself in a way that feels more like marketing–while still feeling like MailChimp. Its current efforts began with a campaign that like that memorable Serial spot, riffed on its own odd name. It involved terms such as “JailBlimp,” “MailShrimp,” and “KaleLimp,” and was about as far from a hard sell as imaginable. “Rather than coming out of the gates with all this stuff explicitly about functionality, we [showed] them we’re still the same MailChimp they love,” Chestnut explains.

    Now the company has followed up with “MailChimp vs. the Black Hole,” a set of ads that do tout specific benefits such as the ability to use your MailChimp customer list to pinpoint prospects on Instagram. They remain quirky–the black hole even talks in some of them–but the quirkiness serves the straightforward goal of explaining what MailChimp is and what it can do for small businesses.

    Which brings up another marketing medium that the company has found effective for telling people about its expanding portfolio of features: email! MailChimp, it turns out, is a happy MailChimp customer. “In all seriousness,” Chestnut says, “it gets us the best ROI when we email our customers and tell them this stuff is available.”


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    Don’t be surprised if over the next few days you start seeing videos of your friends posing with a very realistic-looking Spider-Man in your social feeds.

    That’s because today, 8i, a Los Angeles-based virtual and augmented reality technology company, launched Holo, a mobile app for iOS and Android that lets users insert 3D holograms into everyday scenes and then shoot video or photos of them that can be shared.

    At launch, the app will feature hundreds of holograms from several 8i partners, including Sony Pictures, Cosmopolitan, and celebrities like actress Debby Ryan or YouTube star Matt Steffanina.

    8i, a leader in volumetric capture, a technology that allows VR and AR content creators to integrate photo-realistic human avatars in their projects, first unveiled Holo at the Sundance Film Festival in January. There, attendees were able to interact with a hologram of actor Jon Hamm as a promotion for the film Marjorie Prime. Then, in March at SXSW, 8i rolled out a virtual reality experience featuring a holographic astronaut Buzz Aldrin on Mars.

    With the broad rollout of Holo, though, the company is now putting holograms in everyone’s hands. It’s a continuation of 8i’s strategy of helping partners create high-quality, realistic VR and AR content featuring 3D human performance.

    And the new app is the logical extension of the increasing comfort with which people are mixing the digital with their real worlds—as apps like Pokémon Go, Musical.ly, and Snapchat have demonstrated, said Steve Raymond, 8i’s CEO.

    [Photo: courtesy of 8i]

    Here Comes Spider-Man

    With Holo, users peruse collections of holograms, each of which includes dozens of poses of, say, Spider-Man—as a promotion for the new film, Spider-Man: Homecoming. These are not computer-generated images, however. They’re live-action, shot at 8i’s Culver City, California, studio, using the company’s volumetric capture tools.

    The company sees three main types of content that Holo will include over time: Things like summer one-offs with branded content, pets, or other novelties; content from long-term partners; and content with new partners featuring regularly updated material.

    The hope is that people who are already creating and sharing lots of content on their phones will take quickly to Holo, downloading holograms of their favorite characters and YouTube personalities, Raymond said, and then mixing those holograms into their lives and shooting—and sharing—funny videos.

    Over time—though not at launch—Holo will feature video-cutting tools like those in Vine, making it possible for users to create stop-motion videos. Even without that tool being initially available, though, users can export the videos they shoot in Holo into other video-editing software in order to create Vine-like quick films.

    As an example, Raymond said, a Holo beta user in Australia—an Instagram influencer—created multi-scene Vine-style videos starring himself and holographic zombies going out for coffee. The zombies, Raymond added, were like actors in the scenes.

    [Photo: courtesy of 8i]

    Holo-Bombing

    While some creators will take the time to create complex videos with the holographic content, 8i expects that most people will focus instead on quick hits—especially using a technique the company calls “holo-bombing,” where someone shoots a video in a public place with a holographic character blending into a scene without anyone knowing it’s happening. Picture Spider-Man dancing behind someone sitting and reading at a cafe table.

    The release of Holo doesn’t impact 8i’s commitment to helping partners create VR experiences featuring volumetric characters. But Raymond said it does represent the next stage of the company’s strategy—being a major player in helping a wide variety of partners create augmented reality content across several industries, among them e-commerce, education, advertising, and so on.

    “As a brand, I can give you Spider-Man,” Raymond said. “I can give you IP in the form of celebrities, YouTube stars, and say, ‘What can you come up with?’ Share it with a hashtag, and we’ll feature the best ones. We see 3D immersive content as being a really broad category that is going to have lots of use cases.”

    In that sense, he added, Holo is “low-hanging fruit” since no one’s ever before built an app that makes it easy for millions of people to create custom videos featuring high-quality 3D representations of their favorite characters and personalities.

    There’s a longer-term play here, as well, Raymond said. He expects the proliferation of AR glasses from multiple sources over the next few years, all of which should be capable of incorporating the kinds of holographic content featured in Holo. With glasses like that, he said, wearers could walk around, see something they want to make a video of with holograms, and easily shoot and stream it.

    “Everything we’ve created for phones will work on [AR glasses] from day one,” Raymond said. “It’s the same format. For us, that’s another selling point for advertisers and media companies—start building your content libraries now, because the use cases are just going to grow.”


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    Here’s a thought experiment: Think of the two cultures of Los Angeles and New York City. Got a mental image of both? Great. Now try to strip out everything geographical—major landmarks, local weather, and so on. What are you left with?

    When we think of “culture,” so much of that is tied to a physical location. And that’s just as true of work cultures as urban ones. But here at Goodway Group, a digital marketing company with over 400 U.S.-based employees, we have a work culture that’s earned high marks on Glassdoor and kudos from Fortune‘s Great Place to Work initiative and the Society for Human Resource Management—and we all work from home. In fact, around a dozen of our team members live in RVs.

    In my experience, it isn’t the tools and tech that make a 400-plus remote workforce successful. Those things only enable remote work to happen at its most basic level. They don’t build an effective, collaborative, award-winning culture. Here’s what does.


    Related:IBM’s Remote Work Reversal Is A Losing Battle Against The New Normal


    Make It The Norm

    You know the person who works from home on Fridays? And whenever there’s a meeting, they have to dial in but it’s basically like they’re not there? They don’t feel like they’re there, either. Letting some people to work from home some of the time is a recipe for frustration at best. Even if the schedule is well laid out, the playing field feels uneven. This is especially true if upper management is in the office and others aren’t. Everyone has to be outside of a central office to make it work.

    One of the main benefits our employees cite about working from home is that it lets them do those important “life” things that they’d otherwise struggle to handle if they had to commute to an office every day. Things like spending time with their families, exercising, cooking, house work, staying employed when their families need to relocate, and so on. By allowing people the flexibility to tend to their lives during the workday, you award people an incredibly valuable benefit that they grow to cherish. If you hand this benefit out to only a select few, it’ll backfire by sowing envy among your staff.

    For those that do want to work from an office environment from time to time, we provide WeWork memberships, which can help provide that flexibility and interaction even though the workspace isn’t specific to our company.


    Related:Want More Flexible Hours? Here’s How To Get Them Without Asking Your Boss


    Hire People Who Can Thrive In A Remote Environment

    People usually fall into one of two categories: the “I would love to work from home! I get so much done!” camp, and the other being, “I can’t work from home. I just get so distracted.” What many CEOs fail to understand is that they’re currently employing a large number of people who fall into the first category already, those who are simply more productive out of the office. These people are then forced into a less productive environment because it’s just the norm.

    Operating a successful remote workforce means hiring right, which is really no different from hiring a successful onsite workforce. It’s just that onsite employers rarely think of it this way. We use assessments like Wonderlic’s Personal Test to screen for characteristics like “achievement striving,” “dependability,” and “efficiency,” all of which the tool’s developers have found are great predictors of success in a remote environment. As part of a rigorous interview process, these assessments have helped us get pretty good at determining early on whether someone will be a good fit to work remotely.

    Default Toward Documenting Things

    Think about how many impromptu in-person conversations you have in a week. In how many of those are agreements or decisions made? Usually quite a few, right? But these go undocumented, simply because both parties made eye contact and talked about it in-person, which seems to create enough commitment on both sides for there to be follow-through. Eye contact doesn’t have enterprise value, though. Documentation does.

    When joining our company, new employees are exposed to “the wiki.” It’s Atlassian’s Confluence, but it has achieved a kind of ever-present, pervasive presence in our culture. Notes from every meeting are on the wiki. My one-on-ones with my direct reports are protected to just that person and me. But department notes, leadership team meeting notes, and most all other meeting agendas and notes are left open. This inspires trust and accountability, too. There are follow-up tasks on every page with the assignees called out.


    Related:How Trello Employees Use Trello


    Want to know where your business has process and documentation gaps? Have everyone work from home for a week. Seriously! If nothing else, it’s an amazing audit tool.

    Getting Together Should Be A Celebration, Not A Chore

    I’ve never met anyone who’s truly excited to go into work every day. But we’ve found that when you rarely have a chance to get together with your coworkers, most people are legitimately excited once an opportunity comes around. At Goodway, we’ve been going to Deer Valley, Utah, in the summer, and Las Vegas around the holidays for a week apiece. Those big meetups are absolutely packed with meetings, work, and celebration.

    When people arrive, they’re genuinely excited to see each other—hugs abound because we literally haven’t seen each other in six months. For remote employees, seeing their work family can be as exciting as seeing extended families. And like any family reunion, come Friday, everyone is ready to head home.

    One of the main reasons companies screw up while trying to create flexible work environments is because they do it halfway (two days a week, for instance), or as an exception for some and not all. The “right mix” is that there is no mix that’s right: You’ve got to go all in and commit to a fully remote culture. Let people opt into an office environment when they want to, and use resources like coworking spaces to accomplish that. When people make their own choices, it shouldn’t surprise you how much more they appreciate the results.


    Jay Friedman is COO of Goodway Group, where he’s helped grow the company from just 19 employees in 2006 to an over 400-person workforce.


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    Modern artificial intelligence is smart enough to beat humans at chess, understand speech, and even drive a car.

    But one area where machine-learning algorithms still struggle is explaining to humans how and why they’re making particular decisions. That can be fine if computers are just playing games, but for more serious applications people are a lot less willing to trust a machine whose thought processes they can’t understand.

    If AI is being used to make decisions about who to hire or whether to extend a bank loan, people want to make sure the algorithm hasn’t absorbed race or gender biases from the society that trained it. If a computer is going to drive a car, engineers will want to make sure it doesn’t have any blind spots that will send it careening off the road in unexpected situations. And if a machine is going to help make medical diagnoses, doctors and patients will want to know what symptoms and readings it’s relying on.

    “If you go to a doctor and the doctor says, ‘Hey, you have six months to live,’ and offers absolutely no explanation as to why the doctor is saying that, that would be a pretty poor doctor,” says Sameer Singh, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of California at Irvine.

    Singh is a coauthor of a frequently cited paper published last year that proposes a system for making machine-learning decisions more comprehensible to humans. The system, known as LIME, highlights parts of input data that factor heavily in the computer’s decisions. In one example from the paper, an algorithm trained to distinguish forum posts about Christianity from those about atheism appears accurate at first blush, but LIME reveals that it’s relying heavily on forum-specific features, like the names of “prolific posters.”

    Developing explainable AI, as such systems are frequently called, is more than an academic exercise. It’s of growing interest to commercial users of AI and to the military. Explanations of how algorithms are thinking make it easier for leaders to adopt artificial intelligence systems within their organizations—and easier to challenge them when they’re wrong.

    “If they disagree with that decision, they will be way more confident in going back to the people who wrote that and say no, this doesn’t make sense because of this,” says Mark Hammond, cofounder and CEO of AI startup Bonsai.

    Last month, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency signed formal agreements with 10 research teams in a four-year, multimillion-dollar program designed to develop new explainable AI systems and interfaces for delivering the explanations to humans. Some of the teams will work on systems for operating simulated autonomous devices, like self-driving cars, while others will work on algorithms for analyzing mounds of data, like intelligence reports.

    “Each year, we’ll have a major evaluation where we’ll bring in groups of users who will sit down with these systems,” says David Gunning, program manager in DARPA’s Information Innovation Office. Gunning says he imagines that by the end of the program, some of the prototype projects will be ready for further development for military or other use.

    Deep learning, loosely inspired by the networks of neurons in the human brain, uses sample data to develop multilayered sets of huge matrices of numbers. Algorithms then harness those matrices to analyze and categorize data, whether they’re looking for familiar faces in a crowd or trying to spot the best move on a chess board. Typically, they process information starting at the lowest level, whether that’s the individual pixels from an image or individual letters of text. The matrices are used to decide how to weight each facet of that data through a series of complex mathematical formulas. While the algorithms often prove quite accurate, the large arrays of seemingly arbitrary numbers are effectively beyond human comprehension.

    “The whole process is not transparent,” says Xia “Ben” Hu, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at Texas A&M and leader of one of the teams in the DARPA program. His group aims to produce what it calls “shallow models”: mathematical constructs that behave, at least in certain cases, similarly to deep-learning algorithms while being simple enough for humans to understand.

    Another team, from the Stanford University spin-off research group SRI International, plans to use what are called generative adversarial networks. Those are pairs of AI systems in which one is trained to produce realistic data in a particular category and the other is trained to distinguish the generated data from authentic samples. The purpose, in this case, is to generate explanations similar to those that might be given by humans.

    The team plans to test its approach on a data set called MovieQA, which consists of 15,000 multiple choice questions about movies along with data like their scripts and subtitled video clips.

    “You have the movie, you have scripts, you have subtitles. You have all this rich data that is time-synched in situations,” says SRI senior computer scientist Mohamed Amer. “The question could be, who was the lead actor in The Matrix?”

    Ideally, the system would not only deliver the correct answer, it would let users highlight certain sections of the questions and answers to see the sections of the script and film it used to figure out the answer.

    “You hover over a verb, for example, it will show you a pose of the person, for example, doing the action,” Amer says. “The idea is to kind of bring it down to an interpretable feature the person can actually visualize, where the person is not a machine-learning developer but is just a regular user of the system.”


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    Forming a first impression of someone takes seconds, and that can feel impossible to nail when you’re in a job interview. Luckily, most hiring managers take more time to form their opinion. A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found that the first 15 minutes are when an impression is made during an interview, and that’s enough time to connect and sell yourself.

    We spoke with hiring managers and found out what impresses them. Here are eight things to do to help you land the job.

    1. Know That Your First Impression Starts Right Away

    Be careful when waiting for the interviewer to come get you, as the receptionist may get a first impression that he or she can share with the interviewer, says Patricia H. Lenkov, founder and president of the recruiting firm Agility Executive Search. “Don’t talk on the phone, doze off, or otherwise act unprofessional, even if you believe the interview has not yet begun,” she says.

    These first few moments matter, adds Nicole Cox, chief recruitment officer at the recruiting firm Decision Toolbox. “I have seen hiring managers ask reception staff about their interaction with a candidate,” she says.

    Zappos is known to interview the shuttle driver when they bring a candidate in for an interview. If the person was less than courteous, they get sent home.

    2. Smile

    It sounds simple, but smiling is a powerful part of your first impression. Research from Cornell University found that facial appearance affects how we judge someone. “These facial cues are very powerful in shaping interactions, even in the presence of other information,” writes Vivian Zayas, professor of psychology and lead researcher.

    Neutral expressions, for example, can hinder a person’s likeability, while people who smile and lean forward a bit come off as being warmer.

    People see a smiling person as more intelligent, attractive, relaxed, sincere, and reliable than a person who’s not smiling, says Denise Dudley, author of Work It! Get In, Get Noticed, Get Promoted. “Smiling also does some pretty amazing things to your body,” she says. “It helps decrease the amount of stress-induced hormones circulating through your bloodstream, lowers your blood pressure, and makes you feel more relaxed and happy by stimulating the release of feel-good neurotransmitters in your brain.”

    When others see a smiling face, the reward centers in their brains become activated, releasing the same feel-good neurotransmitters that are already making you feel so great, says Dudley. “In short, each time you smile at someone else, both of you will experience activated reward centers and a release of positive chemicals in your brains,” she says.

    3. Give A Firm Handshake

    If your handshake is weak or if you lack eye contact, it can be challenging to overcome, says Lenkov. “I am often surprised when meeting otherwise successful and accomplished people who have a limp, ‘dead fish’ kind of handshake,” she says.

    A good handshake is firm but not excessively so, Lenkov adds. “It doesn’t hurt, but it also leaves the subtle impression of confidence,” she says, adding that it must be combined with eye contact. “Shaking hands without looking the other person in the eye takes away from the good impression one of trying to create.”

    4. Start To Build Rapport

    At the greeting stage, try to be the first to initiate conversation, says Cox. “It shows respect and confidence all at once,” she says, adding that you shouldn’t hurry or rush the greeting. “That can make you appear nervous.”

    Then balance listening and speaking, says Jill Larsen, senior vice president of HR and talent for Cisco. “Many times candidates try too hard to say as much as they can in the interview,” she says. “Most candidates who get an in-person interview have the basic technical skills for the role; it’s the cultural or personality fit that’s important. Do your best not to be nervous, and try to connect with the interviewer.”

    5. Summarize Your Experience

    Without looking at your resume, be able to tell the hiring manager a summary of your career path, says Phil Shawe, co-CEO of TransPerfect, a global content management and translation services company. Include factors that influenced your choice of schools, the jobs you took, the moves you made, and the life experiences that make you ready to start a new chapter with your interviewer’s company, he suggests.

    “From my experience, if someone cannot give a coherent summary about themselves, then they will have a hard time being an ambassador of their department internally, and a difficult time achieving further success,” says Shawe.

    6. Share Statistics

    Before going to the interview, review your career and list your major accomplishments, says Brian Binke, president and CEO of The Birmingham Group, a recruiting firm. Be specific about areas where you were able to save or make the company money, brought in new business, exceeded quota, or reduced turnover.

    During the interview, ask exactly what the hiring manager is looking for, says Binke. “Most candidates will talk about what they have done,” he says. “The prepared candidate can be very specific. They can discuss how they have been highly successful in the past, and how their former company has benefited. For example, ‘We were able to save the company $600,000,’ or ‘First year turnover was reduced by 55%.'”

    7. Be Willing To Be Vulnerable

    It’s great to be able to showcase your successes, but it’s also important to be able to describe situations where things didn’t work out as planned, says Larsen.

    “When a candidate describes how they dealt with failure and what they learned from it, it gives a hiring manager insight into a person and how they react in difficult circumstances, giving them an edge over other candidates,” she says.

    8. Ask Great Questions

    Great questions give candidates information about whether the position is right for them, while allowing them to sell themselves, says Binke. For example, “If I make a change, my goal would be to find a company that I can retire from. Where do you see XYZ company five, 10, 15 years from now? If I do an excellent job, where can I be with your company?”

    “This is a great question for a candidate that’s interested in finding a stable opportunity that offers upward mobility,” he says. “One of the most important things hiring managers look for when interviewing a candidate is one that will be with them for the long haul and is promotable.”


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    You may not know about GitHub if you’re not a programmer. To those in the software business, GitHub or rival products like Atlassian Jira, are essential for dividing up coding tasks among team members and tracking what everyone is working on. Inside the San Francisco company, its 600 employees, nicknamed Hubbers, have found other uses for their online service—managing not only code but any collaborative projects, such as legal documents or HR policies. “We’re going to treat legal issues like bugs in the code,” says Julio Avalos, GitHub’s general counsel and chief business officer.

    To get a sense of GitHub, start by thinking of Google Docs—an online repository for text where people can make changes and leave comments. But software projects are a lot harder to manage. They can take months or years to develop, run to thousands or millions of lines of code, and have dozens or more collaborators. So toss in project management capabilities like those in Trello, which allows people to define individual tasks that go into developing the software, track progress, and assign who is responsible for them. Then add a messaging system like Slack so that workers can chat about the projects and flag specific people by username (with an “@” symbol) to get their attention. One unique aspect of GitHub is the pull request. It allows someone to alert other collaborators of new code they have proposed and get feedback before a decision to add it to the main project.

    As GitHub, founded in 2008, expanded beyond its original core of techies, employees found new ways to use it. Shortly after joining GitHub in 2012, Avalos was asked to draw up a legal liability waiver for employees to sign before an off-site meeting. He mentioned it in a GitHub discussion, and an employee recalled that a lawyer had created such a document a few months earlier. “By the time I get into the [discussion] thread 10 minutes later, there’s a pre-existing [document] that I take five or ten minutes to tailor to this event, rather than reinventing the wheel,” he says. “For me, that was some kind of a ha moment, where I get why the developers like [GitHub].”

    Many open-source software projects are hosted on GitHub (a service it offers them for free). The company thinks of its internal operations as open-source for employees, allowing anyone to see and contribute (through a pull request) to projects such as its first employee handbook in 2016 (a seemingly late effort, given claims of harassment by employee Julie Ann Horvath in 2014 that forced founder and CEO Tom Preston-Werner to resign).

    The HR department started from a simple document called Hubber Expectations and (in the open-source spirit) from the employee handbook for game developer Valve Software. “We just built it in there through our community, through putting it on GitHub and getting feedback,” from employees, says Merritt Anderson, the head of HR. GitHub now plans to make its handbook open source so that other companies can build upon it.

    GitHub also used its own platform to revamp the company’s parental leave policy, upping the time period from 16 to 20 weeks. Employees provided input through GitHub, such as pointing out more generous policies that Netflix and Pinterest were offering. Using what’s called a pull request, the HR team could alert employees of changes made to the policy or questions answered so that everyone had a chance to review them.

    In our conversations with GitHub employees, we got many tips on how to use the platform better, be it for managing software development or any other projects. Here are a few that can be used for coding projects or adapted for other uses.

    1) Save time with a discrete set of emojis
    Emojis can easily get out of hand, and ambiguous. GitHub provides just six to express the most useful reactions, such as smile, frown, thumbs up, and thumbs down for pull requests.
    Nicci Arsenault; HR

    2) Use reaction sorting
    You can sort by the volume of emoji-based reactions to see what issues have gotten the most engagement.
    Ayman Nadeem, Software Engineer.

    3) Use Projects (normally for tracking a coding endeavor) to create a to-do list, sorted by deadlines, for any type of duties.
    Nicci Arsenault

    4) Use Blame View to see why a piece of code was written
    Blame view allows you to click on an entry in the project’s version history and see what the code looked like before that change was made. It saves you from having to dig through the file’s full history to find the part you are interested in.
    Ayman Nadeem


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    For a long time, Kulap Vilaysack wanted nothing more than to be a star. Now she has her sights set on something else.

    “I want to be the Asian Shonda Rimes,” she says. “I want to be a bad ass boss who creates expansive worlds filled with diverse characters and complicated leading women.”

    Kulap Vilaysack

    She’s already well on her way. Earler this month, digital comedy platform Seeso released the third season of Bajillion Dollar Propertie$, the Reno 911-meets-Million Dollar Listing series Vilaysack created. Although “expansive” might be a generous way to describe the Hollywood real estate world the show is set within, its characters are indeed diverse and nobody would dare mistake the leading women for anything less than complicated. Owning ABC’s entire Thursday night lineup may not be quite in reach just yet, but Vilaysack’s successful baptism by fire as a first-time creator and showrunner hints that she’s fully capable of becoming comedy’s answer to the Scandal-maker.

    You might be familiar with the almost aggressively bubbly Vilaysack from the menagerie of cameo characters she’s played on sitcoms and side projects in the past decade. Or perhaps you know her as one half of Who Charted?, the long-running comedy podcast she hosts with Howard Kremer. Before all that, however, Vilaysack grew up far away from Hollywood–in Minnesota, to be exact–as the daughter of Laotian immigrants.

    A lifelong comedy addict, she weaned herself on a steady drip of I Love Lucy reruns and SNL, which she would watch while deveining shrimp in her mother’s restaurant. After high school, Vilaysack fled to L.A., enrolling in the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. During off-hours, she consumed all the live comedy she could handle, including a taping of Mr. Show, where she met her future husband, Scott Aukerman. Pretty soon, she began to suspect that fashion was probably not what she wanted to do with her life. Instead, she considered pursuing comedy herself.

    “I’d always been told I was funny,” she says. “Or at least I’d been laughed at.”

    Kulap Vilaysack in the Netflix series Love

    She decided to trade in the Fashion Institute for sketch and improv classes at Second City, and later on, the ubiquitous Upright Citizens Brigade theater when it expanded from New York to LA. She started creating and appearing in videos with friends. Eventually, she was auditioning for TV shows—and booking them—all with the ultimate goal of becoming a series regular.

    “I thought, ‘Oh, that’s where I’ll be complete. That’s where I’ll finally know I’m worthy. As if one of these pilots equaled some long-standing role in a Friends or whatever,” Vilaysack says. “That was my fantasy, and it didn’t happen.

    Though she racked up a respectable resume with parts in The Office, Reno 911, and Parks and Rec, that killer leading role remained as elusive as ever. The cumulative cosmic trauma of so many hopes dashed made her realize she actually preferred to be on the other side of the audition desk. She didn’t necessarily want to be a Shonda Rhimes-type megamogul just yet, but she craved more control. She didn’t want to be the one who gets chosen; she wanted to choose.

    The comic performer was now determined to create something more substantial than the sketches she’d written and the shows she’d acted in. Various ideas for pilots came and went but nothing really stuck. In the meantime, she started the podcast, Who Charted?, which forced her to be game-tight with no script for an hour each week.

    A couple years later, she embarked on a more ambitious project, the documentary Origin Story, in which she travels to Laos to meet her biological father. (Vilaysack hopes to have the finished film in festivals by the end of this year.) All the while, however, the pilot idea she’d been looking for was right in front of her.

    There are probably very few people as interested in real estate culture as Kulap Vilaysack. She mainlines Property Brothers, Love it or List It, and both House Hunters International AND House Hunters Island. Her obsession even spills beyond the frame into real life.

    “I like going to open houses,” she says. “I like seeing how people set up the space–I’m nosy like that. I want to go through drawers. I want to unpack my feelings. Buying a home is such an intense and loaded experience, it’s a great place for drama.”

    She had a feeling it would make a great place for comedy, too.

    Vilaysack had been playing with the idea of some kind of real estate show spoof for years, but the breakthrough happened when she thought of combining these kinds of shows with the improv-fueled framework of Reno 911. She realized she could have a dysfunctional team of real estate agents competing to sell hot properties to a quirky cavalcade of guest stars played by some famous, funny friends. It was too promising not to pursue.

    Working with Scott Aukerman and his Comedy Bang Bang productions, Vilaysack teamed up with Reno 911 creators Tom Lennon and Robert Ben Garant. Paul F. Tompkins was the creator’s first choice to lead the cast, and pals like Adam Scott, Busy Phillips, and Jason Mantzoukas quickly came on board as potential guests. When it came time to shop the show around, Seeso immediately responded to Kulap’s vision and her team. They bought the show un-piloted.

    Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ ultimately became a key selling point for Seeso when the platform launched last January, and remains one of its top shows. Now in its third season, Bajillion has hit a groove, balancing episodic character pieces with the ongoing story of Platinum Realty. Vilaysack started out the show mostly with interconnected sketches, and now she’s experimenting more with story arcs.

    During the development process, when the subject came up of who should be showrunner, Kulap didn’t necessarily see herself in the role. Even though she was indisputably the show’s creator, it took Tom Lennon urging her to take a shot at running the writers room. It’s an issue that will not come up again when it’s time to make the next show.

    Now that she has a seat at the table, Vilaysack may not stop until she owns the whole house.


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    As the popularity of podcasts continues to grow, more marketers are considering and investing in the medium, beyond the host reading out their brand name during an ad break. Increasingly, it’s the brands themselves backing podcast production, with Slack, Spotify, eBay, and more among them. Now Microsoft has joined the fray with a new podcast called .future (dot-future), that aims to tell stories about growing technologies that touch our everyday lives–from the cloud, to gaming, to health–and how the decisions being made today will affect our lives in the future.

    Launched this week, the new podcast was made with Gimlet Creative, the branded content arm of the podcast company behind popular shows like StartUp and Reply All.

    Microsoft’s head of influencer relations Doug Dawson says that the podcast allows the brand to go beyond an ad to have more in-depth conversations around the biggest trends in technology with people both inside and outside the company.

    “There are some ideas you just can’t get across in a tweet,” says Dawson. “In a fast food world, this is us inviting folks to sit down and take the time to enjoy a home-cooked meal with us and a few friends.”

    Gimlet Creative deputy creative director Frances Harlow says they worked closely with the brand to find the right framing for the show’s concept.

    “A lot of people are intimidated by the speed at which technology is changing our lives. Microsoft’s goal was to shift the perceptions of emerging technology from scary and unknown into a tool that can bring about positive change,” says Harlow. “We decided the best way to do that was to look at the future through the lens of choice. The future isn’t some inevitable, sci-fi movie waiting to happen. It’s the result of the choices we–both individually and collectively –are making every day.”

    The new show marks the second branded pod launch for Gimlet Creative in the last few months, with Virgin Atlantic’s The Venture premiering back in April. As branded content goes, there is a challenge overcoming the leap of faith listeners must take to actually check out and subscribe to a podcast produced by a brand. But Harlow says with that also comes significant opportunity.

    “Since it’s such an intimate medium, it’s a natural fit for a big brand that’s looking to connect with people on a more human level,” she says. “Companies that touch so many industries around the globe, like Microsoft, are ripe with stories.”


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    Hristo Gyoshev is hiring data scientists right now, but he isn’t just looking for people with advanced technical know-how. It takes more than that to land a job offer.

    Now the head of business operations and strategy at MasterClass, the online education startup, Gyoshev has a background in product strategy and operations at consumer web companies, including Yahoo, as well as enterprise businesses. So he’s had a front-row seat to the sorts of projects data scientists actually wind up working on inside companies. As a result, Gyoshev prizes learning, flexibility, and a strong sense of context just as much as analytical chops.

    Here are a few of the non-technical skills he looks for in data science candidates.

    Range And Adaptability

    “One of the main assets we look for is a desire to work on projects across a very broad range of analytic disciplines,” says Gyoshev, “from quantitative market research and/or designing, conducting, and analyzing user surveys to statistical analysis, business intelligence, and analytics. We also look for candidates who are comfortable learning something new to remove bottlenecks and keep a project moving.” As Gyoshev sees it, that comes down to two skills:

    1. Sufficient knowledge of statistics to determine what is or isn’t a valid statistical inference, [to] recognize and prevent biases, etc.
    2. The desire and ability to obtain and work with real-world data (which is always imperfect) and derive actionable insights.

    In addition to working in Excel, SQL, Python, and R, Gyoshev says MasterClass also needs data scientists who have “experience in social science research or market/user research, through either academic or industry work” as well as business reporting and analytics. Range is a good thing.


    Related:Every Data Science Interview Boiled Down To Five Basic Questions


    An Eye For Context

    “Strive to understand and keep in mind the broader context of the problem you are being asked to solve—or the problem behind the question you are being asked,” Gyoshev suggests. “Whenever you are asked to perform a certain analysis, or build a model, someone at the company believes that this would help them solve a particular problem.”

    “Sometimes you can tell in advance that it won’t, and sometimes you can suggest a better approach. Your analysis, model, [or] other work product will always be better if you start from a good understanding of the core objectives of the ‘clients’ of your analysis.” (That’s a good rule to remember for data science job interviews, too.)

    Problem-Solving Skills

    This one should come as no surprise. While interviewing candidates, Gyoshev says he tries to ask about challenges data scientists have faced in previous jobs—and what they did to overcome them. “We may ask for examples of specific types of projects they have worked on, and then ask them to walk us through their approach and thinking, the tools they used, the major challenges they encountered, and how they resolved them.”

    Sometimes MasterClass also asks candidates to demonstrate their problem-solving abilities through a short project “to see how they approach some specific problem,” says Gyoshev, “and, yes, to be able to see the quality of a deliverable they produce.”

    Going Beyond Data-Wrangling

    Compared to other data science roles, Gyoshev says the ones he’s hiring for at MasterClass aren’t heavy on “machine learning or algorithms, and only minimal data-wrangling.” Instead, the company needs experts who can perform “a very wide variety of analyses that would inform a broad range of decisions—about the products, business, and operations of the company.”

    That obviously means some degree of exporting, processing, and so on, Gyoshev adds, “but would also involve building various predictive models; designing, conducting, and analyzing surveys or experiments; helping to define and set up reporting and metrics; and conducting one-off analyses related to various aspects of our business operations.” In other words, it’s a grab-bag of data-based skills that might stretch the usual job description you’d find other other data-scientist postings.

    Gyoshev wants candidates who find that exciting—even if they don’t walk through the door knowing everything they’ll need to on day one: “We do need them to be highly versatile and familiar with a number of other aspects of data analysis,” he says, but “we also need them to be willing and able to learn tools or methods they may not have previously used.”


    This article is adapted with permission from Springboard’s Data Science Interview Guide. Springboard recently launched a data science career track bootcamp.


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    Three years ago, our remote company joined Slack. Until then, we had relied on a mix of email and an internal tool called Wedoist for all our communication. But our steadily growing team based across several time zones made it hard to stay on the same page and feel cohesive.

    Something had to change. So we tried Slack. To say the app was a game-changer would be putting it mildly. Communication between team members across continents exploded. Almost overnight, we went from a group of 30 individuals to a true team.

    But then, two years in, we decided to quit Slack cold turkey.

    Group chat apps like Slack are built for a specific kind of communication –one-line-at-a-time, real-time conversations. This form of communication is sometimes useful (e.g. in emergency situations) but presents significant downsides when it becomes your team’s primary way of communicating. Here’s why we eventually opted out.


    Related:Slacklash: Group Messaging Apps Are Stressing Some People Out


    It Was Addictive

    Because conversations in Slack happen on a one-way conveyor belt, our team began feeling like they had to stay constantly connected to keep up. This style of communication was especially problematic for a remote-first company like ours. How do you stay in the loop when earlier topics have already been discussed and are buried by the time you even wake up? It wasn’t healthy for our team, and it wasn’t helping us focus on the hard work that really moves projects forward.

    It Was Built For Shallow Conversations

    Slack was useful for quickly checking on things, but we found that it was a troublesome channel for big-picture discussions. It was nearly impossible to sustain a full conversation from start to finish.

    Even when conversations stayed on topic, everything still required an immediate response. With Slack, there was no breathing room to take a step back and follow up on it later. We still needed separate tools–in our case, email and Wedoist–to have deeper conversations about our work.

    It Was Disorganized

    With multiple, simultaneous conversations happening inside a single Slack channel, we began losing track of things. Ideas were proposed, discussed for a bit, and lost. As a result, the same questions and issues were often brought up multiple times.


    Related:The Unexpected Design Challenge Behind Slack’s Threaded Conversations


    It Only Simulated Transparency

    The lack of organization inside Slack had real consequences for our team’s access to information. We quickly discovered that real-time messaging wasn’t meant to preserve history or promote transparency.

    Slack had awesome search if you were looking for something very specific like a file, but there was no way to get insight into what was happening in any given channel without manually skimming through it.

    That led to a frustrating contradiction: In theory, everyone on the team had access to all the communication that happened in public channels. But in reality, even I couldn’t keep track of all the conversations that were happening at the company.

    Finding A Different Way To Work Together

    We realized we needed an alternative that was asynchronous, more mindful, and better organized. In fact, Slack the product wasn’t the issue. It was real-time messaging itself that was the problem. So in 2014—roughly one year into our Slack experiment—we started building “Twist.” Our goal was to design an entirely new platform– one that centers around calmer, more organized, and more productive communication. And on March 23, 2016, we moved all our team communication to the platform.


    Related:Why You Need To Master In-Person Conversations In Your Slack-Driven Office 


    I firmly believe we wouldn’t be the team we are today if we hadn’t pursued this challenge and made the switch. Twist has given us a space to fully discuss complex ideas and projects from start to finish, to give more meaningful feedback, to promote transparency in our decision-making, and to disconnect to do the deep work that we’re truly excited about.

    Along the way, we’ve made a few design decisions to prioritize asynchronous communication over real-time messaging:

    Thread-First Communication

    Threaded conversations have been at Twist’s core from the beginning. They let anyone on the team create a conversation about a specific topic and ensure that whole conversations– ideas, issues, answers, and decisions – stay organized around that topic. Many members snooze all notifications for significant portions of the day, and some don’t have notifications turned on at all. This gives them complete control over their time and attention to do deep, thoughtful work.

    Slack recently introduced the concept of threads inside the app as well. The feature is great at what it’s designed for– to hold small side conversations that branch off the main channel– but it doesn’t solve any of the issues we faced. When everything else is built around group chat, real-time communication will always be the default.

    Truly Transparent Conversations

    From our experience with Slack, we knew that merely making conversations public wasn’t enough to guarantee equal access to information across the company. Instead of having to skim through single stream-of-consciousness chat channels, our team can now browse topics to get an overview of the discussions happening across the company. We can delve deeper into just the conversations we’re interested in, even if we’re not directly involved. We often share links to whole threads as reference so people can look and see how a certain decision was made.

    As CEO, having all our team conversations in Twist threads lets me keep my finger on the pulse of the company without getting overwhelmed. It frees me up to do other work without worrying that I’m missing important things.

    We’ve found that Twist has helped us stay connected in more meaningful ways—not just socializing, but actually sharing in the important conversations that determine the core of who we are as a company.

    Leaving Out The Online Presence Indicator

    A small but impactful design choice we made in creating Twist was to leave out the online presence indicator. If you see that a teammate is online, you expect an immediate response. But if you see someone is offline, you’re more likely to postpone sending a message because they probably won’t get back to you right away.

    Without the presence indicator, our team has adapted to adding comments and sending messages whenever they need to. They have no way of knowing if the person is online, so they don’t expect an immediate response. Conversations may happen more slowly, but more real work gets done.

    Real Time Off

    Another example of how we’ve designed Twist to foster mindful communication is the time-off feature. Twist lets you set up a Time Off status that mutes all notifications from the app, changes your avatar to a “vacation” avatar, and lets your teammates know when you’ll return. This way people can properly recharge and take a well-deserved vacation, and everyone knows not to expect a response until they get back.

    Products That Improve Productivity And Well-Being

    Today’s communication apps compete to grab your attention and maximize your time spent inside their apps. We want Twist to do well and be profitable, but we want it to be because it truly empowers teams (including ours) to do their best work, not because it hijacks their time and attention. It’s about having a product that’s built to serve users’ needs and not the other way around.

    Calm, asynchronous communication isn’t the norm. It’s going to take a major shift in thinking to recognize that focus and balance are vital assets that companies need to protect in order to be successful.

    We’re betting that in the future, the most successful companies will be the ones that make that shift—the ones that don’t require their employees to be constantly connected, who see the value in creating space for deep work and setting aside time to fully disconnect and recharge. We’re excited to be a part of that movement.


    A version of this post originally appeared on Doist and is adapted with permission.


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    Nearly one-third of Americans don’t trust charities to spend their donations wisely. But new research by nonprofit evaluator and watchdog Charity Navigator proves such feelings generally unfounded, at least among the largest and longstanding cause groups operating within America’s major cities.

    The organization has ranked the top charitable cities in the country, analyzing tax forms and publicly disclosed information to figure out where groups with the best financial health, accountability, and transparency practices tend to cluster. The winner is San Diego, followed by Houston, Saint Louis, the combined Tampa and St. Petersburg area, and Dallas.

    The organization has ranked the top charitable cities in the country, analyzing tax forms and publicly disclosed information. [Photo: eugenesergeev/iStock]
    The nonprofits in the top cities tend to make change efficiently, spending on average about 80% their funds directly on programming that impacts the community. They receive far more than the national average of $2.9 million in contributions and don’t appear to shortchange overhead either (which is as bad as spending too much on it). Many have also avoided the trap of relying on an annual grant-cycle for survival, budgeting for growth in such a way ensures there will be a surplus for future needs.

    The report includes only organizations with at least $1 million in revenue that have been around seven years or longer. “We all focus on the bad apples and certainly they’re out there and donors have to do their homework,” says Sandra Miniutti, Charity Navigator’s former vice president of marketing, who released the report. “This study reinforces the message that the vast majority of charities are doing good work.”

    The research was conducted in 2016, so things may have shifted since the presidential election. [Photo: eugenesergeev/iStock]
    Charity Navigator has also created a city-by-city breakdown of where each area’s groups are focused. In San Diego, human services nonprofits make up 31% of the market, followed by arts groups at 17%. In Washington D.C., however, the most common players are human and civil rights organizations making up 16% of sector, followed by research and public policy outfits at 11%.

    When looked at this way, blindspots emerge. Saint Louis, for instance, has no major human and civil rights groups active. That’s not to say there aren’t smaller groups in the area, but there’s certainly room for more. In many cities surveyed, in fact, equality-focused groups appear to make up 2% or less of the total charities operating there. The research was conducted in 2016, so things may have shifted since the presidential election.

    For philanthropies looking for places to expand, they should know that large organizations in Houston, D.C. and Los Angeles are receiving, on average, more than $4 million in contributions annually, nearly double what groups in Philadelphia, Boston, or Minnesota can count on. Salaries for CEOs tend to fluctuate by market, too, because they can shift based on cost of living and hiring competition. The national average is about $130,000, which as Fast Company has reported means they’re likely still underpaid for the work being done.


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    With Travis Kalanick finally booted from Uber, we thought it was time to put some other CEOs on blast who have, improbably, escaped the same fate. Perhaps, like us, you forgot some of these folks were still clutching the reins of their respective companies. After all, the Teflon CEO was supposed to be a thing of the past: Over the past 15 years, investors and boards have wielded more power, especially after the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which sought to protect investors by ensuring accurate financial reporting.

    CEOs are now judged more harshly for their actions, both by the press and by activist investors who pour money into companies (as was the case with Uber). The same is true of the general public: A study by Stanford’s business school surveyed 1,554 Americans and found that half of them believed “CEOs should be fired (or worse) for unethical behavior.”

    The past year has seen the ousting of CEOs from startups and corporations alike: Etsy’s Chad Dickerson, Thinx’s Miki Agrawal, Chipotle’s Monty Moran, Wells Fargo’s John Stumpf, and Ford’s Mark Fields, to name a few. Though Kalanick is arguably one of the biggest offenders in recent memory, there are more than a few CEOs who, by most accounts, should not still have jobs. Let’s dig into why those CEOs should be probably be fired—and how they may have managed to hang on.

    Elizabeth Holmes: Theranos

    We probably don’t have to explain this one to you. If you frequented the internet from late 2015 to mid-2016, chances are you know Theranos’s problems began when Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou published a story that called into question the accuracy of the startup’s blood tests.

    Elizabeth Holmes [Photo: Glenn Fawcett via Wikimedia Commons]
    From there, things unraveled quickly: Theranos voided two years of results from its blood-testing devices, which were found to be wildly inaccurate even by internal standards; Walgreens, which had teamed up with Theranos to offer its blood tests at 41 locations, ended their partnership; Theranos came under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice Department and was slapped with countless lawsuits; and Holmes was barred from owning or operating a blood testing lab for two years.

    In January, Theranos laid off 155 employees—41% of its workforce—just months after cutting a whopping 340 employees last fall. But! Holmes is still CEO, despite the layoffs and the dismissal of questionable board members like Henry Kissinger and George P. Shultz. Problem is, Holmes has a compelling origin story. She’s a Stanford dropout—and a woman tech leader in a field dominated by men—who started Theranos at 19. Holmes has been breathlessly described as “Jobsian,” right down to her sartorial choices.

    Plus, Theranos was a deeply personal endeavor for Holmes, who had always been scared of needles, and was repeatedly told by her Stanford professors that her blood-testing concept wasn’t feasible. According to the WSJ, Theranos also has no more than $54 million in cash left—and just this week, the company reportedly reached an agreement to settle a suit brought by Walgreens for about $30 million. Who could—and would want to—take over if she were fired?

    Steve Ells: Chipotle

    Since the E.coli outbreak heard ’round the country, Chipotle has struggled to bounce back. Though the rash of food poisoning—which included Norovirus and Salmonella outbreaks—didn’t continue into 2016, Chipotle’s bottom line has been slow to recover. The company finally exceeded analyst expectations this April in its Q1 earnings, with same-store sales up 17.8% after a long decline.

    But while the incidents at Chipotle were relatively contained, the brand itself took a beating and, ironically, Chipotle’s cult-like status was likely part of the reason for that. As described in Fast Company‘s recent deep dive into Chipotle’s recovery, the company has taken a number of steps to ensure it doesn’t suffer another outbreak, including revamping its food safety protocols and enforcing audits to prevent sick employees from working. Unfortunately, it also meant scaling back its local sourcing efforts, despite Chipotle’s very public mission of “Food With Integrity.”

    Founder and CEO Steve Ells remains at Chipotle in spite of former co-CEO Monty Moran’s ousting in December. Shareholder calls for Ells to step down as chairman have gone ignored, and Chipotle CFO Jack Hartung said recently that, even before the outbreaks, “we were losing our edge in terms of what it takes to run a great restaurant.” As described in our Chipotle feature, Ells didn’t always prioritize Chipotle’s bottom line, often spending money on ideas that were near and dear to him. From the story:

    What’s dismaying to those who know Ells well is that he has always fought to do what he thought was right to improve the food Chipotle serves, even when it didn’t benefit Chipotle’s bottom line. He once spent a year and a half cycling through prototypes for an egg cooker so Chipotle could offer breakfast burritos. “We chased that to no avail and spent who knows how much money,” recalls a former executive who worked intimately with Ells and had knowledge of the failed effort. Once, Ells wanted to wedge a Jamba Juice–style blender operation into every Chipotle restaurant so workers could freshly squeeze limes, even though its kitchens only consume a half-cup of citrus juice per batch of guacamole. That didn’t work out either.

    It’s understandable that Chipotle may not want to topple Ells, who, as its founder and a former chef, has long set the tone for the company. But Chipotle has historically been slow to evolve—one example being how little its menu offerings have changed during its tenure—which could hamper its growth as it navigates a crucial period. This is also true of Chipotle’s board, which until recently had seen little turnover. The same could be said of Ells, who has been at the company’s helm since he founded it in 1993.

    Josh Tetrick: Hampton Creek

    Hampton Creek first infiltrated shelves at Walmart, Whole Foods, and Kroger with its most visible product: Just Mayo, a vegan mayonnaise. The plant-based food company has since expanded its lineup to include flavored mayonnaise, salad dressing, pancake mix, and cookie dough.

    But last year, Bloomberg reported that Tetrick and his team had been buying up large quantities of Just Mayo from stores where it was stocked, which looked like an effort to boost overall sales. Tetrick shrugged it off as qualify control. But Hampton Creek employees were also encouraged to pose as customers, call up grocery stores, and request the company’s products, seemingly to drum up demand. Tetrick told Fast Company‘s Ruth Reader that Hampton Creek started buying back its mayo in 2013, due to temperature control issues. Tetrick claims this tactic barely made a dent in the company’s sales but secured shelf space for Hampton Creek in major grocery stores.

    Joshua Tetrick [Photo: via Wikimedia Commons]
    Problem is, Tetrick failed to inform investors of this strategy, arguing the information wasn’t “material.” Soon after the news was made public, the Securities and Exchange Commission launched an investigation into whether it was illegal for Hampton Creek not to tell investors what it was doing. (The S.E.C. decided against taking action beyond that and shelved the case in March.)

    One of Hampton Creek’s investors, Ali Partovi, told Tetrick—and the board—that he was essentially lying to investors. “If an investor discovers it during due diligence, we could lose financing and run out of cash,” he reportedly told Tetrick in an email, according to Bloomberg. “If they don’t, they’ll realize they were duped within months, and they might have a case for fraud.”

    The company has struggled to bring in funding, perhaps a result of the buyback debacle. Last month, Tetrick let go of his CFO, COO, and head of HR; in total, Hampton Creek has lost a dozen senior execs in the past year. The company was reportedly losing $10 million a month last year, though that number was reduced to about $4 million this April. It’s possible Tetrick is still around only because he has majority voting power over Hampton Creek’s board.

    Nick Woodman: GoPro

    When GoPro first arrived on the scene in 2004, it did something novel, creating an accessible, commercial action camera where there hadn’t been one before. (Remember, this was before smartphones were ubiquitous.) It was a game changer for athletes, many of whom use GoPro devices for training. For a while, GoPro was flying high, and three years ago, the company went public in a soaring IPO that valued GoPro at $3 billion. But that’s when GoPro’s troubles began. Rather than ceding the consumer drone market to major players like Chinese firm DJI, the largest drone seller in the world, GoPro decided it was time to create a drone of its own.

    That drone was supposed to launch in 2015. Instead, GoPro debuted a new camera—the Hero4 Session—which was derided as overpriced and uninspired. The Karma drone’s launch was pushed out to fall 2016, then recalled less than two months later after reports of power outages mid-flight. As GoPro CEO Nick Woodman told Fast Company last year, he relied too heavily on the buzz from the IPO and didn’t prioritize marketing at a time when fewer people were investing in cameras. He also admits that hubris got the better of him.

    Nick Woodman [Photo: cellanr via Wikimedia Commons]
    In the past two years, GoPro’s stock has fallen steadily and is now a fraction of its IPO price (20%, to be exact). Within the past seven months alone, GoPro has made two rounds of layoffs, letting go of 15% of its workforce in November and cutting 270 jobs this March. GoPro’s revenue inched up during Q1, and Woodman is convinced GoPro will return to profitability this year.

    It’s surprising that Woodman has remained in his role as long as he has—upward of 13 years at this point. And given that the next few months could be crucial, perhaps it’s time GoPro rethinks its management. Surely GoPro’s precipitous drop in stock price has investors quaking in their boots? Frankly, we’re baffled by this one. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Jack Dorsey: Twitter

    This might be a controversial pick, but hear us out: We’re not champing at the bit for Dorsey’s exit, but we’re surprised he hasn’t gotten the boot. Dorsey is effectively a part-time CEO, juggling his duties at Twitter with his role as Square CEO. And how much has gone right for Twitter since Dorsey was brought back as CEO? The company has seen an upswing in users recently, which Twitter says can largely be attributed to “resurrected users” who have returned to the platform to keep tabs on political news. Its live-streaming efforts have snagged eyeballs and shown some promise.

    Jack Dorsey [Photo: Brian Solis via Wikimedia Commons]
    Beyond that, though, Twitter is still facing an uphill battle on multiple fronts: It’s still a hard sell compared to Facebook and doesn’t feel as fresh or exciting as Snapchat. Twitter threw its marketing weight behind Moments when it launched, but eventually sidelined the feature earlier this year. Though cofounder Biz Stone recently returned to Twitter, it’s not clear what his role will be beyond boosting company morale. Twitter has taken steps to curb abuse, but it might be too little, too late for disaffected users who have moved on to other platforms. Some analysts have even suggested that Twitter’s future may lie in a subscription model if ads aren’t cutting it.

    Dorsey was, of course, famously fired from Twitter in 2008 due to poor management and for letting startup life get the better of him. Perhaps it’s unfair to pin Twitter’s problems on Dorsey; maybe the company was doomed from the start. But if Dorsey’s calling card is his ability to articulate Twitter’s vision, then it’s fair to expect the board and investors to think critically about whether he has actually done that in the past two years.


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    YouTube thinks that immersive videos are the future, and that as viewers’ appetites for them grow, creators will respond to meet that appetite.

    But shooting high-quality virtual reality video requires expensive cameras. As a result, while the number of 360-degree videos available on YouTube today has multiplied into the tens of thousands since it launched the format in 2015, the quality is often middling. Solving some of these problems could help VR become what some analysts expect will be a $38 billion industry by 2026.

    Today, YouTube–along with Google’s Daydream virtual reality team–introduced a new video format, called VR180, as well as specs for cameras that shoot in the format. These new products, YouTube says, will make creating high-quality VR videos cheap and easy for everyone. The company hopes that that will lead to an explosion in the amount of VR content available on YouTube.

    New Format

    According to Erin Teague, YouTube’s lead VR product manager, one of the biggest problems with 360 video is that image quality is sacrificed when editing software stitches together the output from the multiple lenses on cameras, like Ricoh’s Theta, that shoot in 360 degrees. Creators also often struggle with the fact that when making 360 videos, they either have to worry about making sure nothing or no one gets in the way of what they’re shooting.

    The solution to both problems, Teague explains, is 180-degree video. By limiting what viewers see to 180 degrees, creators don’t have to worry about anything behind them interfering with their shots, or that image quality suffers in a video-stitching process.

    That’s the idea behind VR180, which offers high-quality stereoscopic video–meaning that what’s close to the camera looks close to viewers, while what’s far away looks far away. When viewed on mobile or desktop, VR180 videos look the same as normal 2D YouTube content, with the edges on both side cropped. But when watched on a VR headset, viewers will see 180 degrees of high-quality, stereoscopic immersive video. (The format is compatible with Google Cardboard, Google’s Daydream VR, and Sony’s PlayStation VR.)

    VR180 also supports live streaming, which Teague says makes the format ideal for shooting and live-streaming sports, music, and other entertainment.

    Teague says YouTube is still fully committed to supporting 360 video, but that with the launch of VR180, it’s giving creators more choice. “We think that with different content types, both 360 and 180 will shine,” she says.

    New Cameras

    With a new video format comes the need for new cameras to create content. That’s why Google’s Daydream team has been working with LG, Lenovo, and Yi on the development of devices geared to shooting VR180 video. The cameras are expected to be available later this year, and each should have the same size, weight, and price of standard point-and-shoot models. The prices have not been disclosed.

    YouTube knows it has to seed the new VR180 ecosystem with content, so it already has a number of cameras available at its YouTube Spaces studios in cities like Los Angeles, New York, London, and Paris. Content creators will be able to borrow those cameras effective immediately by reaching out to their Spaces partner manager, Teague says.

    Lenovo’s Daydream-ready camera

    The development of the VR180 format, and the forthcoming release of compatible cameras, isn’t expected to undercut Google’s efforts to promote high-quality 360-degree VR content. In April, Google announced the $17,000, second-generation Jump camera, produced by China’s Yi. That 17-lens device is designed for professional content creators.

    By comparison, the new VR180-ready cameras are expected to be used by everyday content creators, including regular people who want to go to events, pull a device out of their pocket, and feel confident that they can start shooting high-quality VR footage without any of the time-consuming and expensive setup required of a professional 360-degree production.

    “It’s definitely a consumer experience,” Teague says. “Anyone can buy [the cameras], and anyone can use them.”


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    In early June, a nonprofit called Feeding Children Everywhere launched its own meal kit delivery service, dubbed Fed40, bringing a simplified version of the pre-portioned cooking craze free to impoverished families. Users can access a Fed40 app or go online, enter their address and how many family members live there, and receive 40 shelf-stable meals within one business day.

    The goal is to mimic the success of the doorstep-cooking craze, a $1.5 billion market that for reasons of cost and convenience now caters to nearly every kind of eater, except perhaps those who could use such services the most. After all, 42 million Americans—about 13% of the country—are food insecure, meaning they’re unsure where their next meal may come from. It’s a condition far more likely to affect households with children, many of which also struggle to create healthy meals because they live in food deserts, surrounded by many fast food chains and convenience stores.

    “We recognized that through a mobile app we could utilize technology to very efficiently connect people who need something.” [Photo: courtesy Feeding Children Everywhere]
    That’s not to say there aren’t organizations trying to help, but food banks operate from fixed locations with set hours. For people struggling to arrange transportation or time off, that can make them inaccessible. “We’ve really built a very centralized brick and mortar food distribution system to fight hunger in the U.S.,” says Feeding Children Everywhere CEO Dave Green. “We started to realize that has a lot of inefficiency and created our own crisis of accessibility.”

    To undo that, Green pushed his group to think less like a service provider and more like a tech company. “We recognized that through a mobile app we could utilize technology to very efficiently connect people who need something. In this case, it’s food assistance to a lot of food that is available.”

    For now, the menu is limited to just one meal, Red Lentil Jambalaya. It consists of rice, protein-rich lentils, dehydrated vegetables for nutrients, and sea salt. Unlike, say Blue Apron, the preparation doesn’t have extravagant components—it’s a simple base, one that’s easy to make and easily altered with extra spices, seasoning or other ingredients to remain palatable.

    [Photo: courtesy Feeding Children Everywhere]
    The service is available in 10 states, mostly in the South, with plans to expand nationwide by the end of 2018. As with any digital venture, customer feedback is already shaping the market: In Orlando, where the project first launched, heat maps of high traffic in one particular area led to FCE starting a micro farm there, in hopes of making more fresh food available. They’ll try a similar concept in Dallas, and then other cities that demonstrate need.

    Feeding Children Everywhere didn’t start out with home delivery in mind. It was formed in 2010, after Florida couple named Don and Kristen Campbell send food to earthquake survivors in Haiti and decided to continue the effort elsewhere abroad. Gradually the group’s focus has shifted toward U.S., where progress against child hunger has remained uneven.

    Ingredients are dry and non-perishable, mitigating some key food safety issues, and can be shipped without ice saving shipping weight. [Photo: courtesy Feeding Children Everywhere]
    To keep costs cheap, the group sources ingredients from farms near their packing warehouses, which are currently located in Florida, Texas, and South Carolina. Ingredients are dry and non-perishable, mitigating some key food safety issues, and can be shipped without ice saving shipping weight. Volunteers pack up the meals, saving manpower too. In total, the group has shipped 72 million worldwide and is on pace to do over 20 million, 75% of which will be distributed within the U.S. this year.

    Traditionally, FCE’s delivery logistics have been a tad complicated. To ensure they tackle the systemic issues behind hunger overseas—long term, you don’t solve anything if you treat the symptoms and not the cause—they partnered with other nonprofits working to address things like poverty, education, or the lack of women’s health services in trouble spots.

    In the U.S., things work differently because there are supposedly lots of societal support systems already in place. Public schools provide education while welfare and jobs programs can assist low-income parents in finding ways to support their families. So FCE always has always given to food banks, pantries, and school hunger programs, which it will continue to do.

    Families that for whatever reason can’t access that cache, however, will quickly fall apart. Ultimately, Green sees Fed40 as a sort of stopgap: People who use the service more than four times may be contacted to ensure they’re aware of all the support services they have in the area.

    In July, it will roll out Apple Pie Oats, the first in a line of breakfasts, to make sure other meals are being covered. [Photo: courtesy Feeding Children Everywhere]
    Blue Apron may be heading toward a projected $100 million IPO, but FCE’s operations still rely entirely on its own support network: a collection of grants, individual donations and corporate partners, including JPMorgan Chase, Citi, and Cigna. (Google volunteers have packed boxes, but no tech company has pledged programming support.)

    One obvious way to defer costs would be to allow online payments through SNAP, something Green is open to but only as a “pennies on the dollar” sort of value proposition. The goal is to augment the food that’s available, not compete for subsidy dollars. The tech and protocols to make that happen aren’t here yet but may be soon. Companies like AmazonFresh and FreshDirect are reportedly in the midst of a federal pilot for how online ordering and delivery programs with food stamps might work.

    In the meantime, FCE is working on broadening that menu. In July, it will roll out Apple Pie Oats, the first in a line of breakfasts, to make sure other meals are being covered. Desert-like name aside, it’s made out of puffed brown rice, steel cut oats, dehydrated apples, and a dash of nutmeg. There is no added sugar.

    “We really see this as really essentially the food pantry of the future,” Green says. “Not only do we hope to address the issue of food insecurity in those communities. We really want to have an impact on public health.”


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    Before the media and technology calendar has even reached its halfway point, the year has typically already seen its fair share of can’t-miss events, such as the Consumer Electronics Show, SXSW, and Cannes Lion. And seeking to become a larger industry player in 2017? VidCon.

    Once considered a less professional, more community-driven gathering of online video stars and their devoted fans, VidCon has become more robust with greater corporate and industry presences. Now in its eighth year, the conference, which runs June 21-24, has made an increasingly convincing case to be taken seriously as a must-attend event for the entertainment industry.

    What is VidCon?

    Started in 2010 by the Vlogbrothers (John and Hank Green), VidCon was envisioned as a place for creators and fans to finally connect in person. What launched as a 1,400-attendee community gathering nearly a decade ago has now become a Mecca for major industry players to meet with their viewers, share trade strategies, and get face-time with other big names. In 2016, more than 25,000 attendees swarmed Anaheim, California, for the event.

    What happens at VidCon?

    Billed as the quintessential online video conference, VidCon has increasingly moved in the direction of SXSW Interactive to become a large industry conference–albeit one that feels more like a party. That Comic Con-type atmosphere is thanks to the many branded activations that line the crowded expo hall. But when attendees (broken up into Community, Creator, and Industry tracks) aren’t scrambling up NBC’s American Ninja Warrior obstacle course or playing with Nickelodeon’s Slime VR station, they can sit in on panels with everyone from their favorite Instagram influencers and YouTube Red stars to producers on The Late Late Show with James Corden and CEOs of major tech companies. And while major creators now avoid walking the floor at the risk of getting mobbed, fans can still meet their idols up close at meet-and-greets.

    New in recent years, however, is the increase in meetings between executives, all of whom schmooze, network, and discuss business deals at the nearby Hilton and Marriott hotels. And that makes attending VidCon worth more than its weight in gold, or green slime.


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    Davis Smith knows what he’s doing when it comes to e-commerce. A 38-year-old serial entrepreneur, he founded, and later sold, an online pool table retailer straight out of business school; that venture lead him to cofound Baby.com.br, Brazil’s largest baby care retailer, for which he raised over $40 million in venture capital funding.

    But when Smith approached his attorney, with whom he’d worked through all his startup ventures, with the idea to found an outdoor gear brand with a humanitarian mission—and incorporate, from the beginning, as a benefit corporation—his attorney said no way.

    “One of the biggest ideas behind Cotopaxi was the belief that I could have a bigger impact by building a business than I could if I just did humanitarian work on my own.” [Photo: courtesy Cotopaxi]
    “He just told me, ‘Look, no one incorporates as a benefit corporation from inception,” Smith tells Fast Company. In 31 states (including Utah, where Smith is based), benefit corporation legislation allows businesses to incorporate while agreeing to support a wider mission than just appeasing shareholders—that could mean pledging to mitigate environmental problems, providing services to in-need communities, or more broadly, contributing to the “general public benefit.” The idea behind benefit corporations, as Fast Company has previously written, is that the impact-focused nature of these ventures should allow founders to pursue more humanitarian goals without fear of being sued by their investors for not immediately raking in profits.

    But even with that leeway, Smith’s attorney saw launching as a benefit corporation as a risky move. “He said we should incorporate as a C corporation like everybody else, then convert to a benefit corporation once we’d figured out how to make the business work,” Smith says.

    Smith did not take that advice. He founded Cotopaxi, an outdoor gear and apparel e-commerce brand, in 2013 as a benefit corporation, and began to raise venture capital funds from there—Cotopaxi is the first of the approximately 4,000 existing benefit corporations to take that route. “One of the biggest ideas behind Cotopaxi was the belief that I could have a bigger impact by building a business than I could if I just did humanitarian work on my own,” Smith says. “If there’s an investor that won’t invest in me because I founded a benefit corporation, and am giving some of my money away from the get-go, that’s not the right investor for us.”

    “We’re aiming for a more holistic approach to poverty alleviation.” [Photo: courtesy Cotopaxi]
    For Smith, his foray into the outdoor gear industry necessitated a social-impact approach. Growing up in Latin America, where his father, who spoke fluent Spanish, worked as an engineer, Smith became highly attuned to issues of global poverty and inequality from a young age. “My first memories as a four-year-old, having moved down there from the States, were seeing other children my age with no clothes,” Smith says. “Even as a little kid, I knew there was something wrong, and I wanted to figure out a way to help people—I talked to everyone about it,” he says. With his dad, who loved the outdoors, Smith would go on incredible adventures—they’d build their own raft and float down the Amazon, or travel to uninhabited islands and fish for their food. As he traveled, Smith only became more aware of how different his life was from those of the people he encountered.

    In 2001, when Smith was in college, he spent a summer interning in Cusco, Peru, where he met a nine-year-old kid named Edgar, who shined shoes on the street to support his family. Smith made a habit of finding Edgar every day and sharing his food with him. “Meeting him was the highlight of my time there,” Smith says. By the time he boarded a bus out of Cusco, Smith had made a commitment to himself: to find a way to help kids like Edgar.

    The way Cotopaxi does so is by allocating 2% of its annual revenue to make dedicated grants to nonprofits working in the developing world. “We’re aiming for a more holistic approach to poverty alleviation,” Smith says. While some companies, like Toms, approach humanitarian aid with a one-to-one giving approach, Smith wants to shoot straight to the core of the problem. “If we were just to donate one of our backpacks for every backpack sold, it’d get a kid a backpack, but if she doesn’t have a backpack, she probably doesn’t have access to clean drinking water or basic health care,” Smith says.

    “We can really have impact through our supply chain by taking our purchasing power and using it for good.” [Photo: courtesy Cotopaxi]
    In 2016, Cotopaxi selected five nonprofits operating in Myanmar, sub-Saharan Africa, India, Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe, which supports what Smith calls the three pillars that support a pathway out of poverty: health, education, and livelihoods. Because it’s a privately held company, Cotopaxi doesn’t release financials, but its investment in the Myanmar-based nonprofit Proximity Designs, which offers irrigation tools and technical support to farmers working in the region, resulted in the nonprofit expanding its household user base to 86,709, who saw their annual incomes rise by $254 (substantial growth for workers who earn, on average, $1 to $3 per day). Cotopaxi grants have also facilitated the delivery of 1,703 antimalarial mosquito nets to refugees living in camps in sub-Saharan Africa, and bolstered the academic achievements of students in India and South America.

    On a recent trip back to South America, Smith managed to find and reconnect with Egdar, who is now in his early twenties and, with Smith’s support, training to be a tour guide. Smith’s past in South America continues to impact the way he does business: Recollecting time he spend in Bolivia, where many llama farmers in the Andes mountains live in extreme poverty, making only around $200 per year, Smith is sourcing llama wool from the farmers to use as lining in Cotopaxi jackets and sweaters. The brand will be buying hundreds of thousands of llama wool from the farmers this year. “We’re able to have a tremendous impact on their livelihoods,” Smith says. “We can really have impact through our supply chain by taking our purchasing power and using it for good.”

    “More and more customers in the millennial bracket and younger are looking to spend their money on more than just material things.” [Photo: courtesy Cotopaxi]
    Cotopaxi’s business model has not, contrary to the concerns of Smith’s attorney, proven a hindrance when it comes to the actual business side of things. Early in its fundraising process, Smith met with Kirsten Green of Forerunner Ventures, Silicon Valley’s only all-female venture capital firm, which has an uncanny sense of which companies are going to blow up the millennial market (Warby Parker, Birchbox, and Glossier are some of its investees). “More and more customers in the millennial bracket and younger are looking to spend their money on more than just material things—they’re looking for experiences, and they’re looking for brands that have a message that they can connect with,” Green tells Fast Company. Smith’s commitment to building a brand around both experience and ethics drew and sustained her interest as an investor; Cotopaxi has now taken its commitment one step further and become certified as a B Corporation (a structurally different but ethically similar designation to a benefit corporation), which further clarifies its impact commitments.

    Cotopaxi is by no means alone in the cause-branding approach (Patagonia, for instance, donated all of its nearly $10 million in Black Friday sales in 2016 to nonprofits grassroots environmental nonprofits), but Smith hopes he’s paving a fresh approach for how brands can engage with consumers and do actual good in the world. Cotopaxi hosts 24-hour “adventure race” events throughout the year, called Questivals, in which teams perform community service projects while exploring their city—in 2016, each Questival raised several thousand dollars for the International Rescue Committee, and resulted in nearly 2,000 food donations to homeless shelters, and 322 trees planted. This year, the brand is hosting around 70 Questivals, and expect the impact to be even greater. “We’re a tiny, brand new company, and we’re able to make an impact in the world,” Smith says. “If we got more companies thinking in this way, that impact would only grow.”