Google Pixel’s product directors on single cameras and notches

Google Pixel’s product directors on single cameras and notches

Google hardware launches are never spec-fests. The search giant would rather just sit on the sideline while companies like Apple and Samsung battle it out on that front. In fact, numbers like screen resolution, processor speed and battery capacity were conspicuously absent from today’s presentation.

Instead, the company seems more content to have hardware serve the product’s software — it’s a strategy that certainly makes sense given the company’s background. That often means that products like the Pixel don’t offer major spec upgrades year over year, instead relying on breakthroughs in AI, ML and the like to take them to the next level.

As such, the company regularly tosses out words like “pragmatic” and “practical” when discussing the decisions made in service of producing the Pixel 3. One such move was the continued reliance on a single rear-facing camera, when the competition is adding two or three to get the job done.

“We look at all of the different configurations we can get,” VP of Product Management Brian Rakowski tells TechCrunch. “If we would have added another lens, it would have given us no benefit over what we get with one really good lens.”

The simple answer is that the company was able to accomplish most of what it set out to do with a combination of “one really good camera” and software tricks like digital zoom, ultra low-light shooting and depth perception. That last bit is doubly important both for creating the bokeh effect in portrait mode and helping deliver augmented reality experiences through ARCore.

Senior Director of Product Management Sabrina Ellis says the company did consider a wide-angle lens for the rear of the device, but ultimately, “it wasn’t as much of a pain point.” It was, however, enough of an issue to warrant its addition to the front of the device.

That decision is what lead to the mismatched notches on the Google Pixel 3 (no notch) and Pixel 3 XL (giant notch). While the company has happily embraced hashtag notch life in Android Pie, the smaller Pixel’s slim profile wouldn’t have benefited from the addition of a notch.

“With the small one,” Rakowski explains, “it turns out the space is just too small when you put the wide-angle lens in. It’s a narrower phone, so you have room for an icon or two, whereas on the bigger phone everything you need for the status icons is up there, and it’s a very good use of the space.”

When I suggested the company was “notch agnostic,” both execs laughed in agreement. The hardware, Rakowski explained, is secondary to the overall experience. “We’re not obsessed with the specs,” he says. “We’re obsessed with the features and experiences.”

more Google Event 2018 coverage

Source: Tech Crunch

Workplace by Facebook launches Safety Check for business users

Workplace by Facebook launches Safety Check for business users

Workplace, Facebook’s communications platform for enterprises, is launching its own version of Safety Check today. Safety Check itself is obviously not a new feature. Indeed, Facebook has now activated this tool, which lets you report your status during a crisis, thousands of times. For business users, though, Facebook is now offering a number of new tools that allow them to activate this feature at will, run drills with their workforce and get an accurate headcount of their employees’ status.

Safety Check for Workplace is essentially the enterprise version of the Safety Check that we have in the big blue app [Facebook’s name for its flagship mobile app],” Facebook CIO Atish Banerjea told me. He noted that a few years ago, Facebook first built a version of this for its own employees. “Then the idea came of extending this to the customers of Workplace, primarily because given the global expansion of companies, with people traveling all over the world, keeping track of employees during times of crisis and during a natural disaster has become a very difficult challenge,” he explained.

Safety Check lets businesses locate their employees and notify them through Workplace Chat and other avenues when they are in harm’s way. The tool also allows these companies to regularly ping those who haven’t confirmed themselves as safe yet.

Facebook notes that Workplace doesn’t use any mobile geolocation technologies here to identify where employees are. That data has to come from the companies that use the tool and the travel services they use to know when they are on the road and the employee data they have to know who works in which location. Banerjea noted that this is very much on purpose and in line with the way Workplace handles data. This is not the Facebook app, after all, so none of the employee data is ever shared with Facebook.

What’s interesting here is that this is the first time Facebook has taken a tool that its own internal Enterprise Engineering group built for its employees and brought it to a wider audience. Typically, this group only builds tools for Facebook’s own growing employee base, but the team decided to take this one public. The challenge was then to ensure that this tool, which was meant to handle the demands of Facebook’s more than 30,000 employees and run on its own proprietary stack, could scale up to work for companies that are far larger. “As you can imagine, the scaling challenges are significantly different,” Facebook’s VP of Enterprise Engineering Anil Wilson told me. “Where we are talking about going from tens of thousands of employees at Facebook and going to supporting hundreds of thousands of employees in many companies.”

To get Safety Check for Workplace up and running, the company organized an internal hackathon in February of this year. “We had to completely rebuild the product,” Wilson said. “We had to switch out the backend technology to help with scale.” The team also redid its data models to accommodate new features and redesigned the user experience to be more in line with the rest of the Workplace experience. In the process, the team also added support for new features, including multi-language support.

Unsurprisingly, the Enterprise Engineering group is now also looking at bringing to a wider audience other tools that Facebook first developed for its internal usage. “There’s tons of opportunity,” Wilson said. “We don’t have the specific products mapped out yet.” Most of the tools that his team builds are very much meant for Facebook’s own specific use cases, no matter whether those are HR applications, or tools for the finance group or the marketing and sales teams. But he believes there is plenty of room for taking some of those and making them available to Workplace customers as premium offerings.

Wilson also noted that this move to bringing more of these internally developed tools to the public is going to help his group with hiring. “We’re already a pretty interesting organization to come and work for,” he said. “But the fact that some of our products are now potentially going to be launched externally adds an additional dimension of interest for engineers who are coming to work on our team.”

Source: Tech Crunch

Blizzard CEO and president Mike Morhaime steps down

Blizzard CEO and president Mike Morhaime steps down
Mike Morhaime has been a part of Blizzard since it was founded in 1991 as Silicon & Synapse, Inc., and now he's stepping down from his role as president and CEO. Former executive producer and senior VP for World of Warcraft J. Allen Brack will ta…
Source: Engadget

Google’s head of its $110B+ ads and commerce business is leaving for Greylock Partners

Google’s head of its 0B+ ads and commerce business is leaving for Greylock Partners

Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s head of commerce, is leaving the company after more than 15 years and will be joining Greylock Partners, sources inside the company told us and Google confirmed. Ramaswamy will become a venture partner at Greylock Partners . At Google, his position will be filled by Prabhakar Raghavan, who was previously the company’s VP of apps for Google Cloud.

While at Google, Ramaswamy oversaw virtually all of Google’s Ads and Commerce products — that is, basically everything outside of the Google Cloud that makes the company most of its money. Ramaswamy joined Google as an engineer, but quickly moved up in the company’s ranks. He took his current position back in 2014, after Susan Wojcicki moved to YouTube.

At Greylock, Ramaswamy will focus on earlier-stage entrepreneurial projects.

Prabhakar Raghavan, vice president of engineering and products at Google Inc., speaks during the company’s Cloud Next ’18 event in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, July 24, 2018.

Google’s advertising revenue still accounts for 84 percent of the total revenue of Alphabet. Last quarter, Google’s advertising revenues came in at over $28 billion. Annual revenue for 2017 was over $110 billion. It’s no secret, though, that Google has struggled to build a stronger commerce business, with projects like Google Express falling relatively flat as its competitors continue to grow.

Raghavan, who will take his place, joined Google in 2012, after a seven-year stint as executive VP and head of Yahoo Labs, which he founded. Like Ramaswamy before him, Raghavan will focus on products while Philipp Schindler will continue in his role as Google’s Chief Business Officer, working side-by-side with Raghavan.

Before Yahoo, Raghavan was the chief technology officer at Verity and worked at IBM Research. He is also the author of two computer science textbooks.

Source: Tech Crunch

Facebook poisons the acquisition well

Facebook poisons the acquisition well

Who should you sell your startup to? Facebook and the founders of its former acquisitions are making a strong case against getting bought by Mark Zuckerberg and co. After a half-decade of being seen as one of the most respectful and desired acquirers, a series of scandals has destroyed the image of Facebook’s M&A division. That could make it tougher to convince entrepreneurs to sell to Facebook, or force it to pay higher prices and put contractual guarantees of autononmy into the deals.

WhatsApp’s founders left amidst aggresive pushes to monetize. Instagram’s founders left as their independence was threatened. Oculus’ founders were demoted. And over the past few years Facebook has also shut down acquisitions including viral teen Q&A app TBH, fitness tracker Moves, video advertising system LiveRail, voice control developer toolkit, and still-popular mobile app developer platform Parse.

Facebook’s users might not know or care about much of this. But it could be a sticking point the next time Facebook tries to buy out a burgeoning competitor or complementary service.

Broken Promises With WhatsApp

The real trouble started with WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton’s departure from Facebook a year ago before he was full vested from the $22 billion acquisition in 2014. He’d been adamant that Facebook not stick the targeted ads he hated inside WhatsApp, and Zuckerberg conceded not to. Acton even got a clause added to the deal that the co-founders’ remaining stock would vest instantly if Facebook implemented monetization schemes without their consent. Google was also interested in buying WhatsApp, but Facebook’s assurances of independence sealed the deal.

WhatsApp’s other co-founder Jan Koum left Facebook in April following tension about how Facebook would monetize his app and the impact of that on privacy. Acton’s departure saw him leave $850 million on the table. Captivity must have been pretty rough for freedom to be worth that much. Today in an interview with Forbes’s Parmy Olson, he detailed how Facebook got him to promise it wouldn’t integrate WhatsApp’s user data to get the deal approved by EU regulators. Facebook then broke that promise, paid the $122 million fine that amounted to a tiny speed bump for the money-printing corporation, and kept on hacking.

When Acton tried to enact the instant-vesting clause upon his departure, Facebook claimed it was still exploring, not “implementing”, monetization. Acton declined a legal fight and walked away, eventually tweeting “Delete Facebook”. Koum stayed to vest a little longer. But soon after they departed, WhatsApp started charging businesses for slow replies, and it will inject ads into the WhatsApp’s Stories product Status next year. With user growth slowing, users shifting to Stories, and News Feed out of ad space, Facebook’s revenue problem became WhatsApp’s monetization mandate.

The message was that Facebook would eventually break its agreements with acquired founders to prioritize its own needs.

Diminished Autonomy For Instagram

Instagram’s co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger announced they were resigning this week, which sources tell Techcrunch was because of mounting tensions with Zuckerberg over product direction. Zuckerberg himself negotiated the 2012 acquisition for $1 billion ($715 million when the deal closed with Facebook’s share price down, but later $4 billion as it massively climbed). That price was stipulated on Instagram remaining independent in both brand and product roadmap.

Zuckerberg upheld his end of the bargain for five years, and the Instagram co-founders stayed on past their original vesting dates — uncommon in Silicon Valley. Facebook pointed to Instagram’s autonomy when it was trying to secure the WhatsApp acquisition. And with the help of Facebook’s engineering, sales, recruiting, internationalization, and anti-spam teams, Instagram grew into a 1 billion user juggernaut.

But again, Facebook’s growth and financial woes led to a change of heart for Zuckerberg. Facebook’s popularity amongst teens was plummeting while Instagram remained cool. Facebook pushed to show its alerts and links back to the parent company inside of Instagram’s notifications and settings tabs. Meanwhile, it stripped out the Instagram attribution from cross-posted photos and deleted a shortcut to Instagram from the Facebook bookmarks menu.

Zuckerberg then installed a loyalist, his close friend and former News Feed VP Adam Mosseri as Instagram’s new VP of Product mid-way through this year. The reorganization also saw Systrom start reporting to Facebook CPO Chris Cox. Previously the Instagram CEO had more direct contact with Zuckerberg despite technically reporting to CTO Mike Schroepfer, and the insertion of a layer of management between them frayed their connection. 6 years after being acquired, Facebook started breaking its promises, Instagram felt less autonomous, and the founders exited.

The message again was that Facebook expected to be able to exploit its acquisitions regardless of their previous agreements.

Reduced Visibility For Oculus

Zuckerberg declared Oculus was the next great computing platform when Facebook acquired the virtual reality company in 2014. Adoption ended up slower than many expected, forcing Oculus to fund VR content creators since it’s still an unsustainable business. Oculus has likely been a major cash sink for Facebook it will have to hope pays off later.

But in the meantime the co-founders of Oculus have faded into the background. Brendan Iribe and Nate Mitchell have gone from leading the company to focusing on the nerdiest part of its growing product lineup as VPs running the PC VR and Rift hardware teams respectively. Former Xiaomi hardware leader Hugo Barra was brought in as VP of VR to oversee Oculus, and he reports to former Facebook VP of Ads Andrew “Boz” Bosworth — a long-time Zuckerberg confidant who TA’d one of his classes at Harvard who now runs all of Facebook’s hardware efforts.

Oculus’ original visionary inventor Palmer Luckey left Facebook last year following a schism with the company over him funding anti-Hillary Clinton memes and “sh*tposters”. He was pressed to apologize, saying “I am deeply sorry that my actions are negatively impacting the perception of Oculus and its partners.”

Lesser-known co-founder Jack McCauley left Facebook just a year after the acquisition to start his own VR lab. Sadly, Oculus co-founder Andrew Reisse died in 2013 when he was struck by a vehicle in a police chase just two months after the acquisition was announced. The final co-founder Michael Antonov was the Chief Software Architect, but Facebook just confirmed to me he recently left the division to work on artificial intelligence infrastructure at Facebook.

Today for the first time, none of the Oculus co-founders appeared on stage at its annual Connect conference. Obviously the skills needed to scale and monetize a product are different from those needed to create. Still, going from running the company to being stuck in the audience doesn’t send a great signal about how Facebook treats acquired founders.

Course Correction

Facebook needs to take action if it wants to reassure prospective acquisitions that it can be a good home for their startups. I think Zuckerberg or Mosseri (likely to be named Instagram’s new leader) should issue a statement that they understand people’s fears about what will happen to Instagram and WhatsApp since they’re such important parts of users’ lives, and establishing core tenets of the product’s identity they don’t want to change. Again, 15-year-old Instagrammers and WhatsAppers probably won’t care, but potential acquisitions would.

So far, Facebook has only managed to further inflame the founders versus Facebook divide. Today former VP of Messenger and now head of Facebook’s blockchain team David Marcus wrote a scathing note criticizing Acton for his Forbes interview and claiming that Zuckerberg tried to protect WhatsApp’s autonomy. “Call me old fashioned. But I find attacking the people and company that made you a billionaire, and went to an unprecedented extent to shield and accommodate you for years, low-class. It’s actually a whole new standard of low-class” he wrote.

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Posted by David Marcus on Wednesday, September 26, 2018

But this was a wasted opportunity for Facebook to discuss all the advantages it brings to its acquisitions. Marcus wrote “As far as I’m concerned, and as a former lifelong entrepreneur and founder, there’s no other large company I’d work at, and no other leader I’d work for”, and noted the opportunity for impact and the relatively long amount of time acquired founders have stayed in the past. Still, it would have been more productive to focus on why’s it’s where he wants to work, how founders actually get to touch the lives of billions, and how other acquirers like Twitter and Google frequently dissolve the companies they buy and often see their founders leave even sooner.

Acquisitions have protected Facebook from disruption. Now that strategy is in danger if it can’t change this narrative. Lots of zeros on a check might not be enough to convince the next great entrepreneur to sell Facebook their startup if they suspect they or their project will be steamrolled.

Source: Tech Crunch

At Oculus Connect keynote, original co-founders absent onstage

At Oculus Connect keynote, original co-founders absent onstage

As Facebook execs took to the stage during the opening keynote for the company’s VR-focused Oculus Connect 5 conference, one thing was clearly missing, the founding team that had built the virtual reality startup Facebook bought for $2 billion in 2014.

None of the five original OculusVR co-founders took to the stage at the company’s big keynote, while Facebook executives including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, long-time VP of Ads Andrew Bosworth — now VP of VR/AR — and Hugo Barra, Facebook’s VP of VR, delivered the bulk of major announcements.

VP of VR/AR Andrew Bosworth

The absence of OculusVR co-founders onstage at Facebook’s biggest VR event of the year comes as a flurry of news circulates surrounding the former leaders of high-profile Facebook acquisitions. Earlier this week, Instagram’s co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger announced they were unexpectedly leaving the company. Today, we heard more WhatsApp founder Brian Acton who left Facebook earlier this year and walked away from $850 million after growing dissatisfied with the direction of the company he originally built.

From 2014

Oculus has had a more turbulent time at Facebook than other acquisitions, the company was at the center of a $3 billion lawsuit last year with ZeniMax Media over the founding of the company and the theft of intellectual property. Ultimately, Facebook was made to pay up $250 million.

Founder Palmer Luckey also proved to be quite the headache for Facebook’s public communications after his donation to an anti-Clinton group during the 2016 election led a firestorm of negative press. Luckey left Facebook last year. While the company’s other co-founders held onto leadership roles following the acquisition, a big shakeup at the end of 2016 downgraded the roles of then-CEO Brendan Iribe and then-VP of Product Nate Mitchell, with Xiaomi’s Barra coming onboard later to lead Oculus as Facebook’s VP of VR reporting directly to Zuckerberg.

The OculusVR co-founders have been taking more of a backseat role in the past couple of years at events as well. While Iribe and Luckey held a major presence during the keynotes at early conferences, last year, only Mitchell took to the stage. This year there were plenty of callbacks to Connect keynotes of the past with early employees like Chief Scientist Michael Antonov speaking about the future of the VR platform, but ultimately none of the startup’s original leadership were present onstage during the nearly 2-hour presentation.

As Facebook continues to shift its high-profile acquisitions away from autonomy and further under its core leadership umbrella, the future of founding leaders driving the public vision of the companies they originally built seems even more uncertain.

more Oculus Connect 5 coverage

Source: Tech Crunch

You’ll now need a subscription to get the best of Microsoft Office

You’ll now need a subscription to get the best of Microsoft Office

Microsoft released Office 2019 for Windows and macOS this week, the latest version of its regular, non-subscription productivity suite. It’s the kind of Office that, ten years ago, you would’ve bought in a shrink-wrapped package at Office Depot. But it’s really not the version of Office that Microsoft would like you to buy — or that you probably want to have. That’s because at this point, Office 2019 is basically a limited version that doesn’t include the most interesting new features of its Office 365 subscription counterpart.

“We are really working very hard to position Office 365 in all its flavors — ProPlus for the commercial users — as very different from these versions of Office that have a year number in them,” Microsoft’s corporate VP for Office and Windows Jared Spataro told me. “Office 2019, all the features that we released in it, had previously been released in Office 365. So are our way of talking about the cloud versions of Office 365 is that they’re connected, that this breathes life into them.”

Spataro also noted that Microsoft wants users to remember that the connected Office 365 apps will offer higher productivity because of their cloud connectivity and a higher degree of security. He also argues that these versions deliver a lower total cost of ownership.

Back when Microsoft launched Office 2016, those releases were essentially snapshots (‘carbon copies,” Spataro called them) of the regularly updated Office 365 versions, which get monthly updates and feature releases. For the first time now, the on-premises version of Office only provides a subset of the full functionality, with a lot of missing functionality because virtually all of the most interesting new features — including all the machine learning smarts that are now rolling out to Office 365 — will be missing from Office 2019.

“I think there will be some confusion,” Spataro acknowledged. “It’ll take us some time to train people that the year number doesn’t mean it’s the best version.”

In a way, though, this makes sense, given that a lot of the new functionality that Microsoft is now building into Office 365 only works because it’s connected to the cloud. That’s the only way to pull in data for the new Microsoft Search functionality, for example, and to run the machine learning models and pull in data from those — and Microsoft has decided that the best way to charge for those is through a subscription.

Microsoft’s strategy isn’t all that different from Adobe’s, for example, which now focuses on its Creative Cloud subscriptions and the cloud features that come with those to promote its subscription service over shrink-wrapped versions of its applications. That has been a very successful transition for Adobe and Microsoft is looking for the same with Office 365 (and its Microsoft 365 counterpart).

more Microsoft Ignite 2018 coverage

Source: Tech Crunch

Coinbase hires Fannie Mae exec Brian Brooks as chief legal officer

Coinbase hires Fannie Mae exec Brian Brooks as chief legal officer

Coinbase has made yet another addition to its C-suite. The cryptocurrency trading platform has hired Brian Brooks, the former executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Fannie Mae, as its chief legal officer.

The hiring is part of the company’s effort to expand its legal, compliance and government affairs teams. Mike Lempres, who until now held the chief legal and risk officer title, will transition into the role of chief policy officer.

“From the time it was founded seven years ago, Coinbase has been a leading advocate for the adoption of cryptocurrency,” Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said in a statement. “We’ve engaged proactively with regulators as we built products and services that allow people to buy, sell and use cryptocurrency all over the world. In recent years, the industry expanded faster than we could have imagined with an explosion in customer demand and entrepreneurial activity pushing the capabilities of the ecosystem forward. As this trend continues, it is more important than ever that we contribute to a public policy and regulatory environment that fosters innovation while protecting investors.”

Brooks joined Fannie Mae in 2014; before that, he was the vice chairman of OneWest Bank and a managing partner at the law firm O’Melveny & Myers.

The news comes one day after Coinbase announced the hiring of Michael Li as VP of data. Li had spent the last seven years at LinkedIn, most recently as its head of analytics and data science.

Here’s an updated round-up of Coinbase’s other notable 2018 hires:

  • Michael Li, VP of data (September). Li was previously the head of analytics and data science at LinkedIn.
  • Tim Wagner, VP of engineering (July). Wagner was previously a general manager at Amazon Web Services.
  • Jeff Horowitz, chief compliance officer (July). Horowitz was the former global head of compliance at Pershing.
  • Jennifer Jones, chief accounting officer (July). Jones joined from EY, where she was a senior manager.
  • Alesia Haas, chief financial officer (April). Haas joined from New York-based alternative asset management firm Oz Management.
  • Balaji Srinivasan, chief technology officer (April). Srinivasan joined through the company’s acquisition of, where he was CEO.
  • Rachael Horwitz, VP of communications (April). Horwitz was formerly a partner at Spark Capital.
  • Tariq Meyers, global head of belonging and inclusion (April). Meyers was formerly the head of diversity and inclusion at Lyft.
  • Emilie Choi, VP of corporate and business development (March). Choi joined from LinkedIn, where she was head of corporate development.

Source: Tech Crunch

Twilio is working toward a 50% female workforce by 2023

Twilio is working toward a 50% female workforce by 2023

Diversity fatigue is a real thing, but that’s not news to Twilio Global Head of Culture & Inclusion LaFawn Davis. What that does mean for her, however, is less talk and more action. Since coming on board as Twilio’s diversity and inclusion leader about one and half years ago, Davis has been focused on creating a global approach, rather than one that is just U.S.-centric.

That strategy is based on three pillars, Davis told TechCrunch. Those are having an equitable approach (i.e. hiring people without traditional backgrounds), equal promise (unbiased recruiting process, equal pay and promotion opportunities) and creating a sense of belonging. As part of that, Twilio is unveiling its first diversity report today and publicly setting a five-year goal to hit specific diversity targets.

“We believe that the data is how we stay accountable and measure it but it’s really our actions that are going to speak for us,” Davis said. “We wanted to intentionally set goals publicly so that we can be transparent.”

By 2023, Twilio aims for its workforce to be:

  • 50 percent female
  • 30 percent black, Latinx, two or more races, Pacific Islander or Native, LGTBQ+

By that time, Twilio also aims to have 100 percent of its employees report feeling like they belong, based on Twilio’s employee engagement survey around belonging and inclusion.

Today, Twilio is:

  • 31 percent female
  • 24 percent international
  • 37 percent white
  • 22 percent Asian
  • 1 percent black
  • 3 percent Latinx
  • 3 percent two or more races

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JUNE 06: Left to right, Wayne Sutton, Nicole Sanchez and LaFawn Davis participate in a panel at Alamo Drafthouse New Mission on June 6, 2017 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

While Twilio does not have goals in place around age, it’s still something the company tracks. For example, 66 percent of its workforce is from a millennial population, 31 percent are from Generation X and 3 percent are baby boomers.

Twilio has yet to capture data around people with disabilities, but Davis said that’s because the company first wanted to make sure it was focused on the inclusion aspect.

“It’s more about accommodations or having an environment where they feel included, feel like they belong and feel supported,” she said. “What we’ve been working on is more exposure, programs, more understanding of what their needs are before asking for demographics from that population. The same goes for our veteran population.”

Some of the initiatives Twilio has in place to achieve those goals are an overhaul of its hiring process. Part of that entails looking at the hiring funnel to identify places where biases might be occurring and where women and underrepresented people fall out of the funnel.

Meanwhile, for technical roles, Twilio is now using rubrics to ensure a standard evaluation process for candidates. Twilio is also hosting emotional intelligence training for managers, rolling out emphatic leadership for those at the VP level, as well as working with nonprofit organization tEQuitable to identify problematic themes and areas where Twilio can intervene. This could be around discrimination, harassment and any other workplace issues that may come up.

“I believe the ideal Twilio is one that perfectly reflects the communities we serve,” Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “We need every person with the skills and desire necessary to help us fulfill our mission to want to join us and to be successful in working at Twilio. While we haven’t solved the diversity problem, we are investing in the programs that foster an environment where people can do the best work of their careers. I’m personally committed to ensuring that our employees feel a sense of belonging when they come to work at Twilio.”

Additionally, Twilio is hosting a diversity, inclusion and belonging bootcamp for people of color to better understand and discuss their unique experiences in the workplace.

“We’re trying to tell the story of actions we’re taking,” Davis said. “The thinking is, we’re going to get yelled at regardless so let’s just be authentic. There will be things we try that work and things we try and fail, and we want to be honest about those things. If there was a playbook that really worked or that one action you could take, everyone would be doing it. We’re going to be talking about our progress toward those.”

Source: Tech Crunch

Base10’s debut fund is the largest-ever for a Black-led VC firm

Base10’s debut fund is the largest-ever for a Black-led VC firm

Adeyemi Ajao (above left), the co-founder and managing director of Base10 Partners, was surprised to hear his firm’s $137 million fund was the largest debut to date for a black-led venture capital firm.

He and his co-founder — managing director TJ Nahigian (above right) — found out from none other than their fund’s own limited partners, who told them they should seek out institutions looking to invest in diverse fund managers.

“Oh man, I was like, ‘yeah, I know I’m black but so what?’” Ajao told TechCrunch. “I can be a little bit naive about these things until they become extremely apparent.”

Ajao is African, European, Latin, and now, having spent a decade in San Francisco, American. Growing up in between Spain and Nigeria, it wasn’t until landing in the Bay Area that he was forced to confront a social dynamic absent in his international upbringing: racial inequality and being black in America.

“The U.S. is pretty different about those things,” he said. “I was surprised when at Stanford I got an invitation to a dinner of the Black Business Student Association. I’m like, ‘why would there be a Black Business Student Association? That’s so weird?’ It took me a while, a good, good while, to be like ok, here there’s actually a really entrenched history of a clash and people being treated differently day-to-day.”

In the business of venture capital, the gap in funding for black founders and other underrepresented entrepreneurs is jarring. There’s not a lot of good data out there to illustrate the gap, but one recent study by digitalundivided showed the median amount of funding raised by black women founders is $0, because most companies founded by black women receive no money.  

Ajao certainly hadn’t thought the color of his skin would impact his fundraising process, and, in retrospect, he doesn’t think it did. Still, he recognizes that pattern recognition and implicit bias continue to be barriers for diverse founders and investors.

Now, he plans to leverage his unique worldview to identify the next wave of unicorns others VCs are missing. Base10 doesn’t have a diversity thesis per say but it plans to invest in global companies fixing problems that affect 99 percent of the world, not the Silicon Valley 1 percent. 

I sat down with Ajao in Base10’s San Francisco office to discuss his background, the firm’s investment focus and the importance of looking beyond the Silicon Valley bubble.

Automation of the real economy

Base10 is writing seed and Series A checks between 500,000 and $5 million. It’s completed 10 investments so far, including in Brazilian mobility startups Grin and Yellow, which closed a $63 million Series A last week.

The firm is looking for entrepreneurs who have spent years in their industries, whether that be agriculture, logistics, waste management, construction, real estate or otherwise, and are trying to solve problems they’ve experienced first-hand.

“We are much more likely to fund someone that actually worked for eight years on a construction site and was like, ‘you know what, I think this could be done better and maybe I can make my life easier with automation,’ rather than a Ph.D. in AI out of the Stanford lab that says ‘I think construction is inefficient and it can be done without people,’” Ajao said. “[We are] kind of flipping the paradigm in that sense.”

The firm has also backed birth control delivery startup The Pill Club, on-demand staffing company Wonolo and Tokensoft, a platform for compliant token sales. 

Beyond the bubble

Ajao and Nahigian have a mix of operational and investing experience.

On the VC side, Nahigian, a Los Angeles native, spent seven years investing via Summit Partners, Accel, then Coatue Management. In 2014, he co-founded Jobr, a mobile job platform that was later acquired by Monster, where he became the VP of product and head of mobile.

Ajao was most recently a VP at Workday where he led the launch of Workday Ventures, a VC fund focused on AI for enterprise software. He joined Workday after the company acquired his startup, Identified, in what was his second successful exit to date. Before that, he co-founded Spanish social media company Tuenti, which Telefonica paid $100 million for in 2010

He also helped incubate and launch Cabify, a Spanish ride-hailing company based in Madrid. The Uber competitor raised $160 million at a $1.4 billion valuation earlier this year.

Ajao was Nahigian’s first investor in Jobr, which was also backed by Tim Draper, Redpoint Ventures, Eniac Ventures, Lowercase Capital and more. The pair stayed in touch, discussed startups and potential deals, ultimately deciding to go into business together. 

They agreed Base10 should support companies solving real problems and that as investors, they needed to be able to see beyond the Silicon Valley bubble.

Do we feel a little bit of a responsibility? Like … ‘hey, you should help Silicon Valley be more aware of global issues.’ Yes,” Ajao said. “I try to spend a lot of time meeting with founders that either look different or are trying to make it here and I try to be super open about my journey and my travels.”

His piece of advice to other VCs is one that countless diverse founders and investors have been shouting at the top of their lungs: Invest in underrepresented founders, it’s just good business.

“If you have the same company and one is run by a female and one is run by a male, and it’s the same stuff, you should probably invest in the female, because that person probably had a harder time getting there,” he said. “It’s actually good business. I believe that.”

“The more open and comfortable we get about talking about these things, the better it is for both parties.”

Source: Tech Crunch