Discovering that deckhands make great waiters — and why this matters

Breakthroughs in HR tech are not only giving employers game-changing tools with which to enhance processes and attract the best talent, they’re also solving longstanding labor gremlins, such as gender pay parity and blind hiring. At the same time, they’re giving employees novel means by which to accrue and auto-tag prequalifying skill sets for job scenarios far beyond their current positions. But there are opportunities in matching current/future employee needs with what employers can offer.

In January, Gartner projected that HR tech would drive growth in worldwide IT spending in 2018. I’ve spent the last few months better understanding the landscape, so I’m better-positioned to gauge how the cards will fall. I interviewed 10 leaders in human resources — thanks to people like Jan Fiegel (SideWalk Labs), Parker Barille (former VP Product LinkedIn), Cindy Cordon (Policy Genius). Here’s what I gleaned.

First, let’s clarify misconceptions

HR tech is a huge space

Yes. It will be, but it is still not that big today. The global HR tech industry is estimated at $400 billion, but investments are sensitive to economic shifts. Deal activity in HR tech has increased steadily since 2012, or 175 percent from 2012 to 2016, as shown in the chart below. But investment dollars peaked at $2.4 billion in 2015. In 2016, there were 402 deals worth approximately $2.2 billion in funding, and 2017 closed out with about $1.1 billion in funding for HR tech companies.

Source: CB Insights

Diving in deeper, current spend on HR is small compared to most other functions within a company. For example, while the global HR software market is forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.4 percent, reaching $9.2 billion by 2022, Gartner shows Customer Relationship Management (CRM) at a $36.5 billion worldwide market in 2017.

But, the venture opportunity with HR tech will grow over time, fueled by social pressures, by industry need for data and efficiency, and to rise above in a competition for top talent.

HR benefits platforms are the next big thing

A new workforce generation is driving exciting use cases for HR benefits platforms. Companies are hatching creative perks for employees, such as adopting progressive health plan “plus” platforms like Robin Care or LUCY, a service for employees with families, whose motto proclaims that it “helps employees love the family they grow and grow the career they love.”

But platforms like these could potentially be on the chopping block if recessions strike. A change of mindset and a saturation threshold will need to be reached for employers to accept these as “indispensable” employee needs and not just exotic perks for the millennial crowd. That said, I’m cautiously bullish on these platforms and would love to see them succeed.

We have some ways to go before HR benefits platforms prove sticky in the post-recession era. According to a Bloomberg BNA report, HR department budgets grew ~4-7 percent annually before the Great Recession, just 2 percent in 2009 and have only semi recovered to a 4 percent annual growth rate. Sustained market growth will be key to ensuring that value-added platforms become the new normal.

What still rings true

Companies still want better candidate assessment tools

LinkedIn only works for mid to senior-level hires. For fresh college grads and junior white-collar workers, it is hard to go off a traditional resumé because experience can be unconventional at best. It’s why companies like Portfolium and Strive Talent are finding creative ways to showcase skills and are boycotting traditional experience-based resumés. HireVue has a video-based assessment system that can literally read candidates’ faces and assess their honesty and the quality of their answers.

HR by VR (and AR) combines immersive experiences with efficiency, and there have already been significant investments in the space this year. Israeli startup ActiView, which has developed VR technology for assessing job applicants, raised $6.5 million in a Series A financing round from Teddy Sagi Group. AllyO, a provider of AI recruiting technology, raised a $14 million round.

Companies want to know what software to use

As the number of HR tech companies grows — just take a look at this HR tech landscape by Silicon & Salsa — companies at times struggle with the overabundance of choice. A platform to find your best tech solution, like the Salesforce AppExchange, is a gap in the market to help companies navigate options. TechnologyAdvice is a good start, but the UI is not friendly or intuitive.

Imagine an enviable world in which employees have all the support they need to achieve the pipe dream of work/life balance. 

Beyond just picking the best-in-class app, there needs to be a data sync across different platforms to improve predictors around candidate attributes and future churn. With companies targeting segments of HR tech, there’s a clear need for an overarching data record system that can enable big data analysis across platforms.

HR staff spend too much time recruiting new employees

On average, the interview process spans 24 days in the U.S. Automation is key to decreasing the amount of time existing employees spend courting a candidate and interviewing, and there are platforms addressing these time-intensive tasks, as well as others.

The recruiting landscape is crowded, but ripe for experimentation with feature/benefit creep. Companies like LearnUp are not only helping companies schedule interviews and prep for them, they’re also adding to their platform skills-building lessons and job-coaching resources. Taking it one step further, companies like madeBOS are creating economic mobility for entry-level workers in retail and adjacent sectors by empowering employees to drive their own development, saving valuable HR staff time.

Matching skills to jobs for blue-collar workers enables high performance

When a restaurant recruits wait staff, they typically look for people who have worked at other restaurants. The same is true in retail. In finance, we always caveat previous performance or experience by indicating that it is not indicative of future performance. And this reliance on the past couldn’t be more misguided in hiring hourly employees, because it is the skills that matter — speed, good interpersonal skills, memory (for orders), etc.

If you were able to match skill sets only, a deckhand makes a great waiter. LA-based Talytica boasts an ability to assess cognitive ability, personality, strong career interests and specific job skills in the hourly talent management space, theoretically resolving this critical disconnect.

Imagine an enviable world in which employees have all the support they need to achieve the pipe dream of work/life balance. Or one in which candidates are sifted by skill and not the biases associated with background, gender or ethnicity. These are just two of the tectonic benefits HR tech can deliver across the board, connecting dots and leaving bare why certain deckhands could make exquisite waiters. Having explored this vertical, it’s clear to me that HR tech platforms are the surest way to yield the unquestioned must-haves the market now demands on both sides. It now remains to be seen which companies can deliver on engagement and codify this season’s visionary investment choice into the industry’s “new normal.”

Are you an entrepreneur with a fresh take on HR tech? Reach out and tell me more.

Source: Tech Crunch

Spam filters and AI help figure out what animals do all day

The pond-dwelling Hydra is not a very complex little animal but it does have a complex repertoire of moves that aren’t clear until after extensive human observation. Examining these moves took a long time and scientists were never sure that they had seen all of them. Now, thanks to an algorithm used to catch spam, researchers have been able to catalog all of the Hydra’s various moves, allowing them to map those moves to the neurons firing in its weird little head.

“People have used machine learning algorithms to partly analyze how a fruit fly flies, and how a worm crawls, but this is the first systematic description of an animal’s behavior,” said Rafael Yuste, a neuroscientist at Columbia University . “Now that we can measure the entirety of Hydra’s behavior in real-time, we can see if it can learn, and if so, how its neurons respond.”

Luckily, the little Hydra was pretty predictable. From the report:

In the current study, the team went a step further by attempting to catalog Hydra’s complete set of behaviors. To do so, they applied the popular “bag of words” classification algorithm to hours of footage tracking Hydra’s every move. Just as the algorithm analyzes how often words appear in a body of text to pick out topics (and flag, for example, patterns resembling spam), it cycled through the Hydra video and identified repetitive movements.

Their algorithm recognized 10 previously described behaviors, and measured how six of those behaviors responded to varying environmental conditions. To the researchers’ surprise, Hydra’s behavior barely changed. “Whether you fed it or not, turned the light on or off, it did the same thing over and over again like an Energizer bunny,” said Yuste.

The system used to map the Hydra’s reactions can be used to map more complicated systems. The researchers essentially “reverse-engineered” the Hydra and may be able to use the technique to “maintain stability and precise control in machines, from ships to planes, navigating in highly variable conditions.”

“Reverse engineering Hydra has the potential to teach us so many things,” said Shuting Han, a graduate student at Columbia.

Source: Tech Crunch

DNC launches tech marketplace for Democratic candidates

The Democratic National Committee is trying to help Democrats regain the pole position as the tech-savviest political party in the U.S.

After getting Trumped in the 2016 election (pwned on security, data analysis, and at the polls), the DNC is launching I Will Run a marketplace for software, services and training to upgrade the campaigns of Democratic candidates.

Announced today by Sally Marx, the tech program manager for the DNC, the new marketplace will have a host of tech tools that campaigns can use to get off the ground, manage their progress, and ensure easy outreach to voters.

A profusion of political services have sprung up in the months since Donald Trump took the Presidency. Energized technology developers (on the whole a pretty left-leaning bunch) tuned in to politics, turned on new services and (in some cases) dropped out of their careers at high profile shops like Google, Facebook, and other Bay Are behemoths to join the political circus — or at least build tools for it.

“[We’ve] heard repeatedly from candidates and campaign staff that they are unsure what tools are out there, and simultaneously feel as if they are being fed too much information by vendors,” says Marx. “On the other hand, many of these innovators are not always reaching campaigns effectively  –  some state parties and campaigns, therefore, are in the dark about some of the innovative new technology that they should know about. And, finally, we’ve been in touch with funders and supporters who want to boost the progressive tech ecosystem, but aren’t clear on where those opportunities are.”

The marketplace, which Marx writes is explicitly for Democratic campaigns is a curated compilation of tools used by campaigns and tools tested by DNC-funded case studies.

One of the companies already on the platform is the secure messaging service, Wickr, which has been working with campaigns from both parties to secure their communications. Wickr’s one of around 56 companies and non-profits that are listed on the site in one of six categories: digital (which is crazy general), finance, research, security, training organizations, and voter outreach.

The DNC tech team will also use the site to coordinate training, volunteers and pricing for Democratic campaigns. They’re piloting the program in states like Nevada, Arizona, Washington, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts and Iowa.

For campaigns interested in seeing what wares I Will Run has on offer, the DNC tech team is taking its show on the road with a whistle-stop tour at DNC events so state parties and campaigns can demo the tech.


Source: Tech Crunch

There’s something called Bacoin now

To paraphrase a saying popularized by countless dorm room stoners: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you use the hype around decentralized crypto economies to sell bacon.” The latest example of this age-old adage comes to us from Oscar Meyer and involves their exciting new cryp-faux-currency, Bacoin.

The currency can be redeemed for bacon and you “mine” it by sharing the good news of bacoin with your friends. Instead of taking up massive amounts of electricity, the production of the final store of value – pig parts – requires only a massive agricultural system dedicated to the wholesale destruction of mammals that are as smart as dogs and, in the right context, quite cute. The end product, bacon, is considered by many to be far more interesting than anything Vitalik created. In short, it’s a win-win.

How does it work? It’s basically a sweepstakes. From the rules and regulations:

The value of the Bacoin is tied to overall sharing meaning that the more people who share via the Website (as outlined above), the higher the value of the Bacoin. If overall sharing is slow, the value of the Bacoin will decrease. If sharing is slow and the value of the Bacoin is low, Sponsor may increase value of Bacoin in its sole discretion. The current value of the Bacoin will be displayed on the Website. Once the Bacoin is at a value you want, follow the instructions to “cash out” and you will receive a coupon with the corresponding value (all possible values of the Bacoin coupon are outlined in Section 4 below).

The current value of a single mined bacoin is about 28 slices of bacon and the more you share the more you mine. Given that it is in no way a decentralized cryptocurrency and has nothing to do with anything technical at all I’m hard pressed to find a reason to post this here except to admire the sheer chutzpah of a company who knows exactly what breed of Reddit-loving bacon eater will jump at a chance to Tweet about pork products. To paraphrase another saying by my friend Nicholas Deleon: I hope the asteroid they promised comes for us all soon.

Bacoin. Yeah.

Source: Tech Crunch

Chinese government admits collection of deleted WeChat messages

Chinese authorities revealed over the weekend that they have the capability of retrieving deleted messages from the almost universally used WeChat app. The admission doesn’t come as a surprise to many, but it’s rare for this type of questionable data collection tactic to be acknowledged publicly.

As noted by the South China Morning Post, an anti-corruption commission in Hefei province posted Saturday to social media that it has “retrieved a series of deleted WeChat conversations from a subject” as part of an investigation.

The post was deleted Sunday, but not before many had seen it and understood the ramifications. Tencent, which operates the WeChat service used by nearly a billion people (including myself), explained in a statement that “WeChat does not store any chat histories — they are only stored on users’ phones and computers.”

The technical details of this storage were not disclosed, but it seems clear from the commission’s post that they are accessible in some way to interested authorities, as many have suspected for years. The app does, of course, comply with other government requirements, such as censoring certain topics.

There are still plenty of questions, the answers to which would help explain user vulnerability: Are messages effectively encrypted at rest? Does retrieval require the user’s password and login, or can it be forced with a “master key” or backdoor? Can users permanently and totally delete messages on the WeChat platform at all?

Fears over Chinese government access to data held or handled by Chinese companies has led to a global backlash against those companies, including some countries (including the U.S.) banning Chinese-made devices and services from sensitive applications or official use altogether.

Source: Tech Crunch

Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop partners with backer DP World to launch logistics startup

Virgin Hyperloop One and DP World are launching a new joint venture, DP World Cargospeed, four months after the high-speed transportation technology developer tapped the Saudi shipping company in its $50 million financing.

The company’s stated goal is to deliver palletized cargo more efficiently by combining super high-speed promise of hyperloop transportation with new logistics technologies to accelerate deliveries along Virgin Hyperloop One’s planned routes between Mumbai and Pune in India; in Saudi Arabia, and in the United Arab Emirates.

Announced with much fanfare and in the presence of Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem and Virgin Hyperloop chairman Richard Branson, the new company is basically built on buzzwords like “on-demand” and the promise of future performance.

Right now there’re only 10 kilometers of Virgin Hyperloop track being built (and they’re all in India).

Although there’s not much more than a bunch of pontificating palaver around hyperloop technologies now, the startup companies and their corporate backers do present an compelling vision of the future of transportation.

As China sinks billions into a new silk road to connect the world to its powerful new economic engine, incredibly fast, incredibly efficient logistics will become increasingly important — especially if it can be made more environmentally sustainable by harnessing renewable energy.

“The global growth of e-commerce is driving a dramatic shift in both consumer and business behavior. On-demand deliveries are a novelty today. Tomorrow it will be the expectation,” Branson said in a statement announcing the new company. “DP World Cargospeed systems powered by Virgin Hyperloop One will enable ultra-fast, on-demand deliveries of high-priority goods and can revolutionise logistics, support economic zones, and create thriving economic megaregions.”

Hyperloop transportation is basically shooting a container through a really really big pneumatic tube really really fast. The technology uses magnetic levitation to propel the people-and-product laden pods through the tube with little friction. Hypothetically the hyperloop should be able to achieve speeds of around 300 meters per second — faster than the fastest high speed rail technologies in use today.

Hurdles to getting a system like this up and running are immense. Most of the shipping world still runs on logistics systems designed in the 19th and 20th centuries that remain resistant to 21st century innovations

DP World Cargospeed systems, enabled by Virgin Hyperloop One technology, will transport high-priority, time-sensitive goods including fresh food, medical supplies, electronics, and more. It will expand freight transportation capacity by connecting with existing modes of road, rail and air transport.

“Based on McKinsey’s assessment of our technology, Virgin Hyperloop One-enabled supply chains can dramatically impact business bottom lines by reducing both finished goods inventory and required warehouse space by 25%,” said Rob Lloyd, the chief executive officer of Virgin Hyperloop One.

For Virgin Hyperloop One, the new joint venture with DP World is another sign of the company’s continued renaissance since bringing Virgin aboard. The once scandal-wracked startup now has a partner with seemingly unlimited pockets and a consummate salesman and spokesperson in the chairman’s seat on the company’s board.

Branson, for one, is all in on the technology (at least until Virgin Orbit starts blasting off in earnest).

“The reason I became chairman of this company, I found this ridiculously exciting,” Branson told CNBC. “I think if we can build Virgin Hyperloops in a number of different countries, connecting countries, that will bring the world much closer.”

Source: Tech Crunch

Black Founders Matter wants to raise $10 million to fund black-led startups

A few months ago, Marceau Michel met up with a fellow entrepreneur, Kathryn Brown of ScoutSavvy, to discuss their triumphs and tribulations of their time in the tech industry. That’s when the two discovered they were running into the same issue: lack of funding.

Unfortunately, Michel, an African-American founder, is not alone. Just one percent of venture-backed companies are led by black founders. In an attempt to address this problem, Michel is looking to engage the public to help in an area where traditional investors seem to lack the willingness.

“A lot of lip service is given to diversity and inclusion but the actual practicability of it lacks,” he told me.

With Black Founders Matter, the goal is to bring the tenacity of the Black Lives Matter movement to the startup industry.

“If there’s a brick wall that is standing between minorities and their dreams as entrepreneurs, how can we help the regular person help us in dismantling the wall between us and our dreams?” he posited.

Black Founders Matter has a simple premise of selling t-shirts and sweatshirts for the purpose of not necessarily being political, “but literal,” Michel told me. The apparel, which costs anywhere from $49.99 to $69.99, aims to generate revenue while raising awareness about black and female founders.

To date, Black Founders Matter has sold a little under $10,000 worth of t-shirts. The goal, however, is to hit $10 million in sales within the next two years, and then funnel that money into black-led startups.

“We can shake up venture funding and what it looks like and who gets it,” Michel said.

As Michel works to get all the funds in place, he’s working to build a committee that will ultimately decide how to delegate the money. In addition to running Black Founders Matter, Michel is running his own startup, on-demand staffing company Werk Horse.

“What we’re trying to do is create something I think the whole world needs,” Michel said. “I’m not just trying to solve a problem for black people, but for everyone.”

Through Werk Horse and Black Founders Matter, Michel hopes people will start looking at black people as CEOs, founders, CFOs and CTOs. Once that happens, Michel is convinced “they’re not going to shoot us” and it will shift “the misconception people have about black people.”

Source: Tech Crunch

How the digital economy shapes American cities

From home- and ride-sharing apps to TV and movie streaming subscriptions to social media platforms – Internet companies have transformed our lives.

Today the internet sector contributes approximately $1 trillion, or 6 percent of GDP, to the national economy, as well as 3 million jobs and 231,000 businesses. These digital economy jobs and businesses are thriving in almost every city — and in metro areas across the country.

The truth is undeniable: cities are shaping the next chapter in America’s history, and the digital economy is a driving force. While venture capital in the tech industry has historically concentrated in a handful of U.S. cities, metro areas nationwide are benefiting from the internet sector.

Local policymakers are demonstrating leadership and building deeper internet ecosystems, resulting in new businesses emerging everywhere. Meanwhile, cities across the country are popping up as new tech hubs by mixing unique cultural and historical traits with innovative policy approaches.

We believe that cities broaden this growth even further by highlighting success from the ‘ground up’ and diffusing the success of local innovation into the national policy dialogue. Those cities that best integrate digital technologies into their economies and ecosystems can achieve more for their residents — and those that do not could fall behind.

In our report, Here They Come: A Look at the Future of Cities in the Internet Age, published by the National League of Cities and Internet Association, we focused on actionable lessons and examples of innovation leadership in four unique cities: Columbus, Ohio, Kansas City, Missouri, Phoenix, and Pittsburgh. We chose these cities for their major internet-sector presences — and for the valuable lessons offered by their successful community-oriented programs.

In Columbus, homegrown tech firms are setting up shop and workers from the coasts are moving in to take advantage of a friendly business environment and booming tech scene. The city has quietly built the right environmental factors to foster tech businesses and is now reaping the benefits — perhaps most notably through its victory in the national Smart City Challenge for its technology-integrated transportation system plan.

Kansas City has one of the fastest growing tech scenes of the past decade, and boasts a higher concentration of internet sector and STEM workers than New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago. The city has taken care to develop economic inclusion plans to ensure the sector’s benefits are diffused across its residents — while also applying the tech start-up mentality to its unique cultural traditions, such as in its Arts Incubator program.

In Phoenix, leaders are actively pushing economic diversification and experimentation through digital technology. They have opened up government data for the public, welcomed autonomous vehicles, and are working with local partners to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of the area’s labor force.

In Pittsburgh, the city is using the world-class tech talent groomed in its universities to revitalize the region and attract offices for numerous major internet firms. Local stakeholders have partnered with private sector firms to develop and test state-of-art technologies. The city is also examining its own internal processes for tech applications, such as in procurement.

All of these cities demonstrate that strong, local digital economies have underlying strengths that help them thrive, ranging from robust partnerships to a focus on economic inclusion. Throughout our research, eight key lessons surfaced again and again to guide city investment in the tech economy:

  • Transportation systems are critical infrastructure and can rapidly benefit from new technologies. From autonomous vehicles to more seamless and connected public transportation, the future of mobility is reliant on technology to thrive.
  • Open data provides win-win opportunities to cities and community members. Businesses can use the data to improve products, services, and efficiency while governments can gain important insights on services and community needs.
  • Rapid procurement system pilot projects allow for faster development of innovative city services while minimizing the risk from larger scale implementations.
  • Partnerships are key to achieving policy goals. Governments can often draw on the technical expertise of the private sector while businesses can use the vision and policy expertise of local leaders to find better solutions.
  • Capitalize on the unique cultural and historical assets. Rather than imitating another place, cities should look at how they can merge their unique heritage with tech.
  • Emphasize the importance of economic inclusion. Build programs that allow every resident the opportunity to connect with the internet and every business the opportunity to build digital tools.
  • Experiment with new programs through pilot systems. Small scale projects are a valuable way to test ideas, but also manageable for local start-ups who may not yet have the capacity for a full-scale implementation.
  • Invest time and resources to build well-rounded labor markets and diverse economies. Internet tools can bolster any business and industry, but those tools require individuals with training.

Ultimately, when fostered with intent, the internet sector provides great promise for cities to use technology to build more inclusive, innovative economies. As we near the start of the 2020s, it is increasingly evident that cities are leading the national agenda on innovation.

The digital economy is driving an unprecedented expansion of ever-smarter, more-connected cities — and local leaders would do well to prepare now.

Source: Tech Crunch

T-Mobile and Sprint have finally announced a merger agreement

Sprint and T-Mobile, after years of going back and forth as to whether they are going to tie up two of the largest telecom providers in the U.S., have announced that the two companies have entered a merger agreement this morning.

The merger will be an all-stock transaction, and will now be subject to regulatory approval. That latter part is going to be its biggest challenge, because it will not only tie up the No. 3 and No. 4 carriers into the U.S. into a single unit, but also that international organizations hold significant stakes in both companies. SoftBank controls a majority of Sprint while Deutsche Telekom controls a significant chunk of T-Mobile. Following the administration’s intervention in the Broadcom-Qualcomm takeover attempt, it isn’t clear what will actually go through in terms of major mergers these days.

Bloomberg is reporting that Deutsche Telekom will have 42% ownership of the combined company, while SoftBank will own around 27% of the company.

As expected, the argument here is for the expansion of 5G networks as plans for that start to ramp up. T-Mobile argues in its announcement that it will help it be competitive with AT&T and Verizon as telecom companies start to roll out a next-generation 5G network, though it does in the end remove a carrier choice for end consumers in the U.S..

“The New T-Mobile will have the network capacity to rapidly create a nationwide 5G network with the breadth and depth needed to enable U.S. firms and entrepreneurs to continue to lead the world in the coming 5G era, as U.S. companies did in 4G,” T-Mobile said in a statement as part of the announcement. “The new company will be able to light up a broad and deep 5G network faster than either company could separately. T-Mobile deployed nationwide LTE twice as fast as Verizon and three times faster than AT&T, and the combined company is positioned to do the same in 5G with deep spectrum assets and network capacity.”

Both companies appeared to be finalizing the deal on Friday, when they set valuation terms and were preparing to announce the merger today. The deal values Sprint at an enterprise value of around $59 billion, with the combined company having an enterprise value of $146 billion. AT&T has a market cap of around $214 billion, while Verizon has a market cap of around $213 billion, as of Sunday.

The transaction, the companies said, is of course subject to regulatory approval. But, pending approval, it is expected to close “no later than the first half of 2019.”

Disclosure: Verizon is the parent company of Oath, which owns TechCrunch.

Source: Tech Crunch