Robot assistants and a marijuana incubator

We’ve had plenty of time to get used to our robot overlords and Boston Dynamics is helping us get there. This week we talk about the company’s addition of a door-opening arm to its SpotMini robot. It’s not spooky at all.

We then switch gears and discuss Facebook’s Messenger for Kids. Is it good, bad or the company’s master plan to get every last human being with a smartphone on the platform?

Later in the episode, MRD chats with Lanese Martin, co-founder of the Hood Incubator. The Hood Incubator is an Oakland-based organization that aims to foster equity in the marijuana industry. Through its programming, Hood Incubator supports people of color building businesses in the legal marijuana industry.

Check it out at the top or head over to your favorite podcasting platform to download, subscribe and rate. Until next week!

Featured Image: Bloomberg / Contributor/Getty Images

Uber, Google and other tech employees form Coalition of Black Excellence


When black employee resource groups from a variety of tech companies come together, black magic happens. More specifically, black excellence happens.

The Coalition of Black Excellence Week, spearheaded by Uber Litigation Counsel Angela Johnson in collaboration with black ERGs from over 40 tech companies like Facebook, Google, eBay, Lyft and Microsoft, kicks off this Monday in the San Francisco Yay (Bay) Area.

The idea for CBE Week came in part from Johnson’s experiences living in Washington D.C., and being able to attend events put on by the Congressional Black Caucus, she told me at Uber’s headquarters this week.

“When I moved out to the Bay Area, I really wished there were similar types of experiences for tech,” Johnson said. “And I thought if we could bring together different black ERGs, or diversity and inclusion committees, or people who were interested in some of the issues the black community is passionate about, a lot of positive change and impact could come from that.”

CBE Week entails a series of 14 events designed to promote black excellence, establish community among people of color and support non-profit organizations. Some of the events include Wise and Woke: Wellness for the Black Community, organized by Zendesk’s people of color ERG group, a viewing of “Hidden Figures” at Twilio, a moderated conversation with SuperPhone founder Ryan Leslie at Google and the Black Joy Parade in Oakland.

For the events that charge money, companies have committed to donating a portion of the proceeds to non-profit organizations like BUILD, Oakland Digital, Level Playing Field Institute and Yes We Code.

The event Uber’s black employee resource group, Uber Hue, is specifically spearheading is the CodeBlack Tech Gala, which will recognize leaders in the black community, like Blavity co-founder and CEO Morgan DeBaun and 500 Startups Partner Monique Woodard. Once the week wraps up, the plan is to hit the ground running for next year, Johnson said.

National Labor Relations Board rejected Damore’s claim that Google fired him unjustly


A federal body overseeing labor disputes advised the dismissal of Jeremy Damore’s claim that Google fired him unjustly for his controversial memo regarding inclusion and diversity programs at the company. Citing similar precedents, the National Labor Relations Board counsel deemed parts of the memo “so harmful, discriminatory, and disruptive” as to shed their status as protected speech in the workplace.

The NLRB memo, issued on January 16 and published publicly yesterday, does not constitute an official ruling or legal action. It is however the official advice of a federal lawyer who specializes in this field, and its conclusion, that the complaint be dismissed, would likely have been followed by the regional board being advised. Instead, Damore withdrew the complaint.

In her handling of the complaint, Jayme Sophir (Associate General Counsel of the NLRB’s Division of Advice) examined the public documents relating to the case — viz. the memo itself and the post by CEO Sundar Pichai, among other things — and internal ones, such as posts to employee forums and emails sent to and from Damore and others.

Sophir found that Damore’s memo contained a great deal of protected speech, as he clearly seems deeply concerned with company policies that he thinks discriminatory. His opinions on those programs and advice for Google regarding them are certainly protected, she found, and an email from an HR manager to Damore emphasizes this (brackets NLRB’s):

I want to make clear that our decision is based solely on the part of your post that generalizes and advances stereotypes about women versus men. It is not based in any way on the portions of your post that discuss [the Employer’s] programs or trainings, or how [the Employer] can improve its inclusion of differing political views. Those are important points.

But she also cited several precedents where employees, in the course of “concerted activities regarding working conditions,” exceeded the bounds of protected speech, such as accusations that a foreman was a Klansman, or making degrading allusions to a co-worker’s sexual orientation. These forms of speech could be banned and the speakers in question disciplined or fired “as a reasonable precaution against discord and bitterness.”

Portions of Damore’s memo fell under the same category as these examples, Sophir found (brackets mine to interpret redacted portions).

The Charging Party’s use of stereotypes based on purported biological differences between women and men should not be treated differently than the types of conduct the Board found unprotected in these cases. [Damore’s] statements about immutable traits linked to sex—such as women’s heightened neuroticism and men’s prevalence at the top of the IQ distribution—were discriminatory and constituted sexual harassment, notwithstanding [his] effort to cloak [his] comments with “scientific” references and analysis, and notwithstanding [his] “not all women” disclaimers.

Google’s firing of Damore, therefore, was justified. (Pichai has said he doesn’t regret it, either.)

Damore’s defenders have steadfastly maintained that the memo does not say outright that women are biologically less suited to engineering than men, and that critics are being uncharitable in their reading of his arguments. While that may stand up in comment section arguments, it’s harder to assert that Sophir, an expert in the field who evaluates such situations for her profession, failed to closely read the memo.

The charge that Google violated the law in firing Damore was advised to be dismissed, should he not withdraw the complaint — which he did. The case was closed on January 19, three days after the NLRB’s memo was issued.

It’s not the end of the road for Damore, though this decisive refutation of his complaint is a significant and public setback. He has also filed a class action lawsuit against the company and is agitating in other ways against the political correctness he feels led to his dismissal.

Featured Image: Getty Images

National Labor Relations Board rejected Damore’s claim that Google fired him unjustly


A federal body overseeing labor disputes advised the dismissal of Jeremy Damore’s claim that Google fired him unjustly for his controversial memo regarding inclusion and diversity programs at the company. Citing similar precedents, the National Labor Relations Board counsel deemed parts of the memo “so harmful, discriminatory, and disruptive” as to shed their status as protected speech in the workplace.

The NLRB memo, issued on January 16 and published publicly yesterday, does not constitute an official ruling or legal action. It is however the official advice of a federal lawyer who specializes in this field, and its conclusion, that the complaint be dismissed, would likely have been followed by the regional board being advised. Instead, Damore withdrew the complaint.

In her handling of the complaint, Jayme Sophir (Associate General Counsel of the NLRB’s Division of Advice) examined the public documents relating to the case — viz. the memo itself and the post by CEO Sundar Pichai, among other things — and internal ones, such as posts to employee forums and emails sent to and from Damore and others.

Sophir found that Damore’s memo contained a great deal of protected speech, as he clearly seems deeply concerned with company policies that he thinks discriminatory. His opinions on those programs and advice for Google regarding them are certainly protected, she found, and an email from an HR manager to Damore emphasizes this (brackets NLRB’s):

I want to make clear that our decision is based solely on the part of your post that generalizes and advances stereotypes about women versus men. It is not based in any way on the portions of your post that discuss [the Employer’s] programs or trainings, or how [the Employer] can improve its inclusion of differing political views. Those are important points.

But she also cited several precedents where employees, in the course of “concerted activities regarding working conditions,” exceeded the bounds of protected speech, such as accusations that a foreman was a Klansman, or making degrading allusions to a co-worker’s sexual orientation. These forms of speech could be banned and the speakers in question disciplined or fired “as a reasonable precaution against discord and bitterness.”

Portions of Damore’s memo fell under the same category as these examples, Sophir found (brackets mine to interpret redacted portions).

The Charging Party’s use of stereotypes based on purported biological differences between women and men should not be treated differently than the types of conduct the Board found unprotected in these cases. [Damore’s] statements about immutable traits linked to sex—such as women’s heightened neuroticism and men’s prevalence at the top of the IQ distribution—were discriminatory and constituted sexual harassment, notwithstanding [his] effort to cloak [his] comments with “scientific” references and analysis, and notwithstanding [his] “not all women” disclaimers.

Google’s firing of Damore, therefore, was justified. (Pichai has said he doesn’t regret it, either.)

Damore’s defenders have steadfastly maintained that the memo does not say outright that women are biologically less suited to engineering than men, and that critics are being uncharitable in their reading of his arguments. While that may stand up in comment section arguments, it’s harder to assert that Sophir, an expert in the field who evaluates such situations for her profession, failed to closely read the memo.

The charge that Google violated the law in firing Damore was advised to be dismissed, should he not withdraw the complaint — which he did. The case was closed on January 19, three days after the NLRB’s memo was issued.

It’s not the end of the road for Damore, though this decisive refutation of his complaint is a significant and public setback. He has also filed a class action lawsuit against the company and is agitating in other ways against the political correctness he feels led to his dismissal.

Featured Image: Getty Images

National Labor Relations Board rejected Damore’s claim that Google fired him unjustly


A federal body overseeing labor disputes advised the dismissal of Jeremy Damore’s claim that Google fired him unjustly for his controversial memo regarding inclusion and diversity programs at the company. Citing similar precedents, the National Labor Relations Board counsel deemed parts of the memo “so harmful, discriminatory, and disruptive” as to shed their status as protected speech in the workplace.

The NLRB memo, issued on January 16 and published publicly yesterday, does not constitute an official ruling or legal action. It is however the official advice of a federal lawyer who specializes in this field, and its conclusion, that the complaint be dismissed, would likely have been followed by the regional board being advised. Instead, Damore withdrew the complaint.

In her handling of the complaint, Jayme Sophir (Associate General Counsel of the NLRB’s Division of Advice) examined the public documents relating to the case — viz. the memo itself and the post by CEO Sundar Pichai, among other things — and internal ones, such as posts to employee forums and emails sent to and from Damore and others.

Sophir found that Damore’s memo contained a great deal of protected speech, as he clearly seems deeply concerned with company policies that he thinks discriminatory. His opinions on those programs and advice for Google regarding them are certainly protected, she found, and an email from an HR manager to Damore emphasizes this (brackets NLRB’s):

I want to make clear that our decision is based solely on the part of your post that generalizes and advances stereotypes about women versus men. It is not based in any way on the portions of your post that discuss [the Employer’s] programs or trainings, or how [the Employer] can improve its inclusion of differing political views. Those are important points.

But she also cited several precedents where employees, in the course of “concerted activities regarding working conditions,” exceeded the bounds of protected speech, such as accusations that a foreman was a Klansman, or making degrading allusions to a co-worker’s sexual orientation. These forms of speech could be banned and the speakers in question disciplined or fired “as a reasonable precaution against discord and bitterness.”

Portions of Damore’s memo fell under the same category as these examples, Sophir found (brackets mine to interpret redacted portions).

The Charging Party’s use of stereotypes based on purported biological differences between women and men should not be treated differently than the types of conduct the Board found unprotected in these cases. [Damore’s] statements about immutable traits linked to sex—such as women’s heightened neuroticism and men’s prevalence at the top of the IQ distribution—were discriminatory and constituted sexual harassment, notwithstanding [his] effort to cloak [his] comments with “scientific” references and analysis, and notwithstanding [his] “not all women” disclaimers.

Google’s firing of Damore, therefore, was justified. (Pichai has said he doesn’t regret it, either.)

Damore’s defenders have steadfastly maintained that the memo does not say outright that women are biologically less suited to engineering than men, and that critics are being uncharitable in their reading of his arguments. While that may stand up in comment section arguments, it’s harder to assert that Sophir, an expert in the field who evaluates such situations for her profession, failed to closely read the memo.

The charge that Google violated the law in firing Damore was advised to be dismissed, should he not withdraw the complaint — which he did. The case was closed on January 19, three days after the NLRB’s memo was issued.

It’s not the end of the road for Damore, though this decisive refutation of his complaint is a significant and public setback. He has also filed a class action lawsuit against the company and is agitating in other ways against the political correctness he feels led to his dismissal.

Featured Image: Getty Images

Uncommon.co launches and raises $18m to bring objectivity and efficiency to hiring


Traditional models of recruiting are a mess. At companies like Google, quite literally millions of people apply for open roles, forcing hundreds of recruiters to sift through thousands of resumes per job opening. Worse, in their race to process through those applicants, recruiters often use fuzzy and subjective impressions of a candidate to match them to a role, rather than clear and unambiguously objective facts.

Uncommon.co, which launched today, is hoping to change this manual model by using artificial intelligence to identify exactly the requirements for job postings and matching those jobs perfectly to qualified applicants. Also today, the company announced that it has raised an $18 million Series A round from Canaan Partners, Spark Capital, and Zeev Ventures.

CEO Amir Ashkenazi and President and CTO Teg Grenager founded the company in 2016, after working together on Adap.tv, which sold to AOL for $405 million in mid-2013 and was the largest acquisition AOL had made up to that time (AOL, now Oath following its merger with Yahoo, is TechCrunch’s parent company). Adap.tv was a programmatic video advertising network that allowed ad buyers quick à la carte access to targeted audiences with a real-time bidding pricing system.

Ashkenazi and Grenager started Uncommon.co when they realized that some of the insights they had learned from programmatic advertising as a marketplace could be applied to recruiting. Grenager studied AI at Stanford as a PhD student and has been working the past two years building out the models used for understanding hiring. In fact, the founders told me that they had ingested around 5 million job postings and 50 million resumes in order to tune their models.

Grenager called the new platform the “world’s first merit-based talent marketplace.” Ashkenazi explained that there are “two important transformations that we are making in the recruiting industry.” The first is “Programmatic recruiting based on qualification data, which means that for the first time, companies will be able to subscribe to a stream of only qualified applicants.” The second transformation is that job seekers will have a much better shot at getting the eye of a recruiter if they are actually qualified for a position, rather than merely thrown into a pile of resumes that might never be read.

For companies using Uncommon.co, recruiters will set up a job description which includes traditional factors like skills, industry background, experience level, as well as factors that have been requested from customers such as average length of duration at former employers. That job description then becomes a posting on the web where job seekers can apply for a role.

It’s here that the intelligence starts. Uncommon.co uses artificial intelligence and NLP to evaluate the resume and compare its information to the description requested for the job. Applicants who perfectly match the qualifications are set aside for recruiter review, while other applicants are placed in an “unqualified” pool, ranked by how close they fit with the job requirements. The company has used its own software for its own job openings, and found that for one position they had about 30 qualified applicants from hundreds that applied.

There were three concerns I had about the product. One was whether the lack of specific words on a resume might disqualify applicants. Grenager explained to me that the company has spent months agonizing over how to create robust intelligence models to evaluate resumes.

Using an example of someone who wanted to work in product, he explained that “if you look through those resumes, it hardly says product manager, you could also be a product marketing manager, or a product owner, or a founder, or a product designer. If you look at it holistically someone might have four years of product management” even if the titles might not be directly connected.

The second concern I had was whether recruiters can competently set the right job description. Every recruiter wants more highly qualified candidates than a position really requires, which is why you see job postings for a new programming language demanding “five years of experience.” The founders quickly discovered this issue, and solved it by giving instant feedback to recruiters on how their choices are affecting the size of the pipeline. So if you require an applicant to hold two PhDs, you might find that there are literally only a handful of applicants in the world that are going to be even possibly qualified for a role.

Finally, with diversity issues being top of mind in the Valley today, I asked whether there might be unconscious bias in the algorithm powering the platform. Ashkenazi explained that he has seen “unconscious bias sneaking in when there isn’t enough data.” Grenager said that “Our qualifications are all around three dimensions, skills they bring to the table, job roles they have been in, and the education they have gotten.” By using fact-based, objective data as opposed to recruiter impressions or cultural matching, the idea is that Uncommon.co will improve the hiring funnel for companies while avoiding “black box” hiring algorithms.

When it comes to the business model, Uncommon.co is eschewing traditional listing fees or cost per click models in favor of something it is calling “cost per interested & qualified” applicant or CPIQ. The idea is that companies should only pay for applicants that meet their own criteria, rather than any person on a job listing board who clicks a hiring link.

For these two programmatic ad founders, the hope is that as their platform reaches scale, there will be real-time bidding for certain qualifications that will determine the price of a listing. The company is charging a nominal flat-rate price today as it scales up, and counts companies like Gap, Aflac, and Lyft as clients.

Dan Ciporin led the investment for Canaan, and has known Ashkenazi for almost twenty years since the two worked together in 1999 on Shopping.com, where Ashkenazi was CTO and Ciporin was CEO. “It was just a very special experience because of Amir, and we became very close in the way that people become close in trench warfare,” Ciporin said. He sees a connection running through all three of Ashkenazi’s companies. “It is helping to qualify things that are raw data into much more refined data, and really enabling people to access information that they want rather than having to do that themselves.”

Uncommon.co is entering a crowded space, but with $18 million in the bank, a group of founders who have returned hundreds of millions to shareholders, and an artificial intelligence platform to scale up quickly, the company hopes to revolutionize hiring and make it easier for both sides of the market to get the applicant — or job — they want.

Featured Image: Anthony Lanzilote/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Slack adds Edith Cooper to board of directors


Slack had added Edith Cooper, who most recently served as the global head of human capital management at Goldman Sachs, to its board of directors. As Slack prepares “for accelerated growth at scale,” Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield wrote in a blog post today, Cooper marks Slack’s second independent board member.

“She has an unrivaled depth of experience in the hardest challenges that modern organizations face, and Edith is going to be a huge asset as we continue to expand our capabilities,” Butterfield wrote. “She is a deep thinker, a good listener, and a wise strategist, and I’m thrilled to have her join us as Slack enters its next phase of growth.”

In March, Slack added its first independent board member, Square CFO Sarah Friar. Just last week, Slack named Allen Shim as its first-ever chief financial officer.

All of these appointments may signal Slack’s preparation to go public at some point. As Butterfield noted in his blog post, which he kicked off with some references to how public company executives operate, Cooper’s appointment is part of a longer-term plan to continue growing Slack.

Equally important, Cooper is a black woman. And it’s not just important from the ethical standpoint of inclusion, but from the perspective of financial bottom lines.

Companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity at the executive level are 33 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile, according to McKinsey’s 2018 report, “Delivering through Diversity.” And essentially the same goes for gender diversity, with companies in the top quartile for gender diversity being 21 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile.

This year has marked an increase in the number of black people on tech board of directors. Last month, both Airbnb and Facebook appointed Kenneth I. Chenault, the outgoing CEO of American Express, to their respective board of directors.

But the number of black women on tech company board of directors is very low. Of the major tech companies, Salesforce is the only other company with a black woman of its board of directors. Her name is Robin Washington, the executive vice president and chief financial officer of Gilead Sciences.

Slack, which launched about four years ago, said in September it had six million daily active users. In September, Slack raised a $250 million round led by Softbank, which valued the company at $5.1 billion.

Featured Image: Slack