Crowdfunding a Community in Haiti After Hurricane Matthew: Checking in With New Story’s CEO

YC started accepting nonprofits a few years back. Every Demo Day, these teams are consistently among the most impressive startups presenting. In Aug 2015 I interviewed New Story to learn more about what they got from the YC experience. Earlier today, their CEO Brett Hagler shot me an update which I wanted to share.

Accomplished since Y Combinator S15

We finished Y Combinator in September 2015 at a total of 116 homes, and today we have a total of 610 homes funded. Each home is still about $6,000. What’s next is a focus on building sustainable communities, not just homes. You can think of it like a community platform – New Story supplies the land and homes – then we curate partnerships (school, income opportunities, better health, etc.) for other components of a community. Right now, we are crowdfunding a community in the area of Haiti hit worst by Hurricane Matthew. All of our 211 homes built in Haiti withstood Hurricane Matthew.

Different Now

Last year we raised our “seed” round of funding for operations – a total of $750,000 to last us through 2016 and a little of 2017. We are now raising our “A Round” of operational funding with a goal of $2M ($1.7M committed to date) to last us through 2018. The funding will be primarily used to grow our team with top talent (developers, marketers, ops, growth, video, head of content). This funding comes from a private group of donors (mostly venture capitalists and tech executives from the valley) known as The Builders.

Help Haiti After Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew destroyed 4,000+ homes in Haiti, and we are on a mission to rebuild the area hit worst by the hurricane. We have a goal of $1M to build 180 – 200 homes. You can start a personal crowdfunding campaign, or your company can start a team crowdfunding campaign here: https://impact.newstorycharity.org/collections/relief-for-haiti

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151 Homes built in Haiti

If you liked this. There. Are. So. Many. Places. To. Find. Me.


Should Ethics 101 Be Part of CS Degree Requirements?

“I’d require graduate level biologists to take an ethics course.” That was the surprising response we heard from a noted scientist in response to questions about the future of genetic modification and CRISPR. Her point was, it’s not about restricting access to the knowledge but rather giving practitioners more than just a cursory level understanding of the implications of choices you make in your work.

The point stuck with me and I’ve come around to wondering why more Computer Science and Engineering departments don’t teach Ethics as part of a core curriculum.


Report above done by Wonder virtual assistant – here’s $15 credit for 1st time customers

As more of the world is driven by blackbox algorithms, AI decision machines and, well, software in general, I fear there will be a push towards regulation as a way of ensuring “fairness” in systems. While there may certainly be new laws and oversight required, I’d prefer a base level awareness in the authoring engineers themselves before we escalate to outsourcing oversight.

I’m not an engineer myself (history major in undergrad) but curious how those with technical degrees encountered these questions of ethics in their own studies.


So. Many. Places. To. Find. Me.

My Blog

Google Steps Up to Protect Security Analyst from Humongous DDoS

So there’s an amazing story that sort of got lost (at least I didn’t see people talking about it much in my Twitter feed).

Brian Krebs, a very talented Internet Security analyst, got hit with one of the most intense denial of service attack ever recorded. Krebs often gets targeted by spammers and hackers who want to punish him for looking into their affairs.

It turns out that this bot attack utilized hijacked IoT devices!

Akamai, who was hosting his blog pro bono, eventually had to kick him off their network because it was costing them so much money to fend off the DDoS. Lesson: it’s still quite possible for websites to be taken offline for prolonged periods by hostile attacks so long as the aggressors are persistent and the target isn’t wealthy.

Who came to Krebs rescue? Motherfucking Google!!!!! And their Project Shield which was built to help protect journalists and activists targeted in this fashion. Freedom of speech enforced using tech, not just policy. Go Larry & Sergey! I love when Google puffs out their chest to bad actors and says “come at us.”

Part of me wonders what role the US Government should be playing in helping US citizens maintain their business capabilities in the face of foreign attacks (Krebs’ website is part of his business and the DDoS was certainly emanating from outside the US).

Anyway, after also recently watching Zero Days documentary about Stuxnet, the next President is going to have to do a lot of thinking around our security tech infrastructure and nation state actors.


The Robots Are Coming for Investment Bankers, Not Just Truck Drivers

The whole process had taken just a few minutes. Generating a similar query without automation, he said, ‘‘would have taken days, probably 40 man-hours, from people who were making an average of $350,000 to $500,000 a year.’’

Fascinating New York Times article of the impact an analytics startup called Kensho is having in investment banking. High frequency trading driven by algorithms have dominated the transaction side of public markets and it makes sense to see software crawl (literally in this case) down the stack into research, analysis and other more sophisticated tasks previously rate-limited by human capacity.

‘‘In 10 years Goldman Sachs will be significantly smaller by head count than it is today.’’

Goldman Sachs is Kensho’s largest investor. It’s also, per the quote above from Kensho’s CEO, likely to transform its human resources as well. Maybe in ten years investment bankers will stand alongside truck drivers in discussions about safety nets, universal basic income and skills retraining.


Personally I’m a techno-optimist, in the sense that I believe technology grows the overall pie and provides over time, great opportunity for human beings in terms of quality of life, economic mobility and so on. But I also strongly recognize that these changes do create negative impact for groups and segments during every phase, and we have a societal and civic need to figure out to support those individuals.

In late 2013, two Oxford academics released a paper claiming that 47 percent of current American jobs are at ‘‘high risk’’ of being automated within the next 20 years. The findings provoked lots of worried news reports about robots stealing jobs. The study looked at 702 occupations, using data from the Department of Labor, and assigned a probability of automation to each one, according to nine variables. The conclusions made it clear that this was no longer just the familiar (and ongoing) story of robots replacing factory and warehouse employees. Now software is increasingly doing the work that has been the province of educated people sitting in desk chairs. The vulnerability of these jobs is due, in large part, to the easy availability and rapidly declining price of computing power, as well as the rise of ‘‘machine learning’’ software, like Kensho, that gathers and assimilates new information on its own.

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Google Finds That Successful Teams Are About Norms Not Just Smarts

Which Google employees has made the biggest impact to the company over the past decade? Besides the familiar choices of Larry and Sundar, I’d nominate Google’s outgoing CPO Laszlo Bock. Under Laszlo’s direction Google’s hiring and management assumptions have been challenged by real data, resulting in transformative shifts such as *not* assuming college test scores are a predictor of success as a Googler.

Another important question was “What makes a team successful (or not)?” and Google’s research into this topic was beautifully recounted in a NYTimes Magazine article earlier this year.

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It would make sense to start with some assumption that a team’s success is tied to its composition in some fixed way. For example, a ratio of engineers to non-engineers. Or senior leaders with junior followers. But when Google started to examine the variables it couldn’t find a connection.

‘‘We looked at 180 teams from all over the company,’’ Dubey said. ‘‘We had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference. The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.’’

What did the research – called Project Aristotle – eventually discern? That team norms – how teams agree to behave and function – were more important determinants than purely team composition. So they dove into understanding what type of norms mattered most.

What interested the researchers most, however, was that teams that did well on one assignment usually did well on all the others. Conversely, teams that failed at one thing seemed to fail at everything. The researchers eventually concluded that what distinguished the ‘‘good’’ teams from the dysfunctional groups was how teammates treated one another. The right norms, in other words, could raise a group’s collective intelligence, whereas the wrong norms could hobble a team, even if, individually, all the members were exceptionally bright.

I can only imagine how shocking this would be to Googlers who often prided themselves on raw intelligence and generally believe throwing data and brains at a problem is the surest solution.

So what were the norms of successful teams?

First, on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’

Second, the good teams all had high ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ — a fancy way of saying they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues.

On one level these are intuitive conclusions but they’re certainly not the characteristics that I’ve ever seen an organization build teaming or training around. The entire article is wonderful and I’d recommend it for anyone who works on a team or helps teams succeed. So basically, everyone.


“This is Craig Rubens from Google’s re:Work team. re:Work is where we’re showcasing data-driven methods from Google and elsewhere to try to help #makeworkbetter.
We just saw your post about our teams research and thought you might be interested in a new guide on understanding team effectiveness we’ve published on re:Work. The guide offers more details on the the research team’s methods and results. The guide also includes tools to help teams determine their own needs and actions that managers can take to help foster psychological safety on the teams they lead. We’re sharing this in the hopes that more teams will start to discuss psychological safety and figure out how best to support it in their organizations.”

New Yorker Longreads for the Holiday Weekend

I’m on vacation this week back East with my family. One of my personal anachronisms is a love of print magazines. Since so much of my life is spent in front of a screen, I can’t imagine reading longer articles or books in the same format I do email. There’s something comforting and familiar about the paper format for me (my first job was working in a bookstore!) and I maintain many magazine subscriptions.

The New Yorker is a consistently excellent read but it’s weekly format means I tend to get a few months behind on issues. During summer and winter vacations I catch back up and by Labor Day should be near current. If you’re looking for some great writing this weekend, here are a few of the excellent New Yorker longreads:

Citizen Khan – A story of immigration, our melting pot and never forgetting what American values truly are, told through the personal history of a Muslim man selling Tamales in 20th century Wyoming.

Godmother of Soul – Profile of performer Erykah Badu as she grows comfortable with her formable place in recent-era soul and what it means as a performer to look backwards and forwards.

In Living Color – Kenya Barris brings “black-ish” to life as a modern era family sitcom, able to confront race and class directly.

The Tasting-Menu Initiative – “Can a restaurant for the rich benefit the poor” is this piece’s subtitle. That should be enough to get you to click…

Soul Survivor – The New Yorker’s Editor David Remnick catches us up with Aretha Franklin.

Mezcal Sunrise – How mezcal, and no, that’s not the same thing as tequila, is having its moment in America and what that means for this traditional Mexican spirit.

Unfollow – Can someone so full of hate find peace?

I blog at www.hunterwalk.com, tweet@hunterwalk & Snapchat: hunterwalk