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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.

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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.

Update

“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.”
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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

Here’s a Guide to Startup Compensation Strategies

“Grow the pie, don’t just take our piece of it.” That was a founding mantra for Homebrew when Satya and I started the firm in 2013. Starting with a blank sheet of paper allowed us to lead with our values and incorporate them into our operating principles. Founding Homebrew wasn’t about our ability to raise a fund but rather whether we thought we could have a positive impact on the early stage landscape in addition to being successful investors.

But we also wanted to stay focused – no large platform or operations teams, no large-scale events, no 10x growth in funds raised before we proved whether or not we could return 10x. That forced us to think about how could we possibly contribute by running our own playbook, not a junior version of what many billion dollar funds attempt. We came up with three guiding principles for how’d we grow the pie:

  1. Make It Scale – Try as best we could to create resources that could scale 1:many, especially outside of the Bay Area.
  2. Put It In Front of the “Paywall”– Don’t make it about what we can do for startups post-investment — there’s plenty of work we do there, most which doesn’t scale infinitely — but try as best we could to give it away for free.
  3. Catalyze It, Don’t Own It – Put work out there but don’t seek to own it. Leverage the community to help us improve it over time.

People & Talent is one area where we’ve made strides to live up to our goals to contribute broadly, primarily because we brought on Beth Scheer last summer. As our Head of Talent, Beth works with the Homebrew portfolio on a mixture of tactical and strategic people work. From playing air-traffic controller over a small number of high priority searches, to helping companies hire their first in-house recruiter, to generally helping founders build their hiring culture. We punched above our weight in getting Beth on-board – she’d spent six years at Google and six at Salesforce (most recently leading executive recruiting) – and it’s paid off for our founders and our firm trajectory.

Earlier this year Beth released our first “living resource,” a guide to Diversity at Early Stage Startups, which she authored with assistance from industry experts and now updates quarterly with new tools, thinking and best practices.

Last week, Beth published our second document, this one focused on Compensation at Startups. Again, we intend to keep this resource up to date based on our evolving advice and resources we can incorporate. It makes me really proud to see people I respect from around the tech community referencing its value.

Satya and I believe we still have a lot of work to do to make sure Homebrew reaches its full potential but I’m glad that we’ve been able to try to “grow the pie” during our earliest years. And thank you to Beth for the great work executing Homebrew’s values!

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“We Made Sure We Got Our Asses Kicked Regularly” – Accompany Founder Amy Chang on Building a Polished Product

Update: if you want priority on the beta test list register at https://www.accompany.com/ with my code HWCHIEF

It’s been a blast to see my Google peers go off into their next adventures over the years. Amy Chang, who ran Google Analytics, departed a few years ago and has been quietly working on Accompany, a product she calls your “virtual chief of staff,” blending calendar, CRM, news and more into a single mobile app. Amy is starting to talk more broadly about her company and open up the beta, so I asked her to do a Five Questions with me.

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Hunter Walk: Accompany is very polished for a Beta product. You decided to take an extended development period rather than releasing an early rough version and iterate in public. What were some of the tradeoffs in this decision? Was it influenced at all by your product tenure at Google?

Amy Chang: We’re building a virtual chief of staff. Those are some high expectations from users, and we wanted people to be able to have those magic moments from the get-go. Leslie Blodgett, creator and former CEO of BareMinerals, told us recently that she was looking for a reason to reach out to someone new without being “that person.” Accompany sent her a news article one day about a foundation he was working on and she was able to reach out and say, “I love what you’re doing, and by the way we should get together about this other thing.” Accompany was able to create an opportunity for her to reach out. And we’ve got so many of those stories. We love hearing about those serendipitous moments.

I think you can’t help but be influenced by a place if you’re there for over seven years. Google’s a fantastic place. There’s one thing that Eric Schmidt used to say when I first joined that’s stuck with me ever since: start with the power users, the people who are going to be the most demanding. Once you can serve them, you can serve almost anyone. That’s what we did. By putting people like Godfrey Sullivan (Chairman of Splunk), Leslie Blodgett (founder, former CEO of BareMinerals), Hilarie Koplow-McAdams (President and CRO of New Relic), April Underwood (VP Product of Slack) and Mark Garrett (CFO of Adobe) on the platform from the very early days, we made sure we got our asses kicked regularly. They’ve given us so many ideas and helped shape the product in a thousand different ways.

HW: You also had the opportunity to raise quite a bit of capital based on the credibility of the team and expansiveness of the vision. How did you make sure that having too much money too early didn’t create lack of urgency in your company culture?

AC: You’ve known me for a long time. I think you’d probably say that everything about my very being is urgent! I think I was born impatient and have always been one of those people that even when standing is shifting from one foot to the other, aching to move. This sense of urgency about the market window is shared by the team. Some people are more easygoing than others, but we all know that there’s a window and we need to get out there during that window. This team also understands that every user matters, so once you take users on, you better serve them as well as you can, as fast as you can. So, the funding hasn’t touched that sense of urgency. It did give us the runway and the means to build a product that requires an underlying data platform and an intelligence layer that sits atop that platform. That takes time and it takes money – two things funding helped enable.

HW: How do you run your Board Meetings? You’ve got impressive experience serving on public company boards such as Informatica and Splunk. How did that inform the composition and goals of Accompany’s Board?

AC: We spend about 10-15 minutes covering all of the housekeeping stuff. Then the bulk of our time is spent on things we’re in the midst of vigorously debating within the company and figuring out what we want to do about those issues. We usually prep long-form reading materials for these discussions as opposed to slides. That way, the board can see where we’re coming from in more detail. This levels the discussion so we’re all aware of the assumptions that went into the preliminary point of view.  We’ll also show early mocks and visuals of new concepts, which helps spur more definitively positive or negative reactions to an idea. We want the reactions, whether sharply positive or negative.
Being on boards, and being with teams for the whole day, the one thing I’ve definitely figured out is that nobody wants to be presented at for the entire session. Board members are there because they actually want to be of use (hopefully). They want to engage in real discussion and hear about what’s really going on – not a sanitized version of events. That’s scary and hard for a CEO because you can’t control the conversation, but I’ve found it yields much better results for everyone involved when you can really lay it out there on these specific topics.

HW: Tell me a little bit about how you hire at Accompany?

AC: First of all, we’re 50% women. It wasn’t intentional, it just happened to work out that way. We’re really proud of that and proud that we have a lot of diverse points of view in one place  We also seem to attract people who have founded and sold their own companies, which is great because they come in seasoned, and with a lot of learning they can apply to our stuff. Our engineers hail from Google, LinkedIn, Salesforce, Dropbox, and a bunch of different startups, which means, when we face a problem, we’ve got people who’ve done it at scale previously, as well as people who’ve had to do it with minimal steady-state cost and with a whole lot of scrappiness.

Small plug – we have high standards, but we also know that to get the best talent, you sometimes have to move very quickly and decisively, which we’re not afraid to do.

HW: There’s a ton of young product managers who want to follow the path you’ve taken – run a large product at a great tech company, serve on Boards, found their own company. What advice would you share with them?

AC: I’ve made so many mistakes along the way. That’s always the first thing I want people who come to ask for advice to understand. And I have those 3am wake up and can’t go back to sleep for worrying moments all the time. It’s good for people who are just starting their careers to know that too, so that when they’re totally scared out of their minds of failure, or whatever else, they know it’s 100% normal.

There’s something my good friend David Hornik said to me once that always stuck in my brain. If you’re thinking about something right before you fall asleep and right after you wake up, then you need to pay attention to that. It’s your gut instinct telling you something, and even if you’re not quite ready to go there yet, you should at least pay attention to it and spend some time thinking about it. That’s how I felt about wrestling with leaving Google for months before I actually left. It’s a hard place to leave and I felt really conflicted about it for a long time. When David finally said that to me, things fell into place in my head.

The other piece of advice concerns anyone who’s in the midst of big life a decision, like where to work next. Usually they have multiple offers, they’ve done the background research, and they’ve agonized over each of the choices. So I tell them to go somewhere that makes them feel as if the world is open and rife with possibility for a day and be alone with no devices to distract them. For me, that’s Stanford campus, but it’s somewhere different for everyone. Just go and sit for a day with your own thoughts. Leave your computer, your lists of possible outcomes, your pros and your cons, and open yourself up to that gut instinct.

I think oftentimes, we get into this state where we overthink, analyze to death and start ignoring our gut. That’s something I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older — as long as you’re going somewhere, you can course correct later on. There’s very little that can’t be fixed, and knowing what you don’t want is almost as important early on as knowing (and appreciating) what you do want.

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

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Why Your CEO Should Give You An Election Day Vacation

I woke on Election Day 2012 with control of Barack Obama’s Twitter account. And Rihanna’s. And Ashley Judd, Eva Longoria, Donna Brazile plus several hundred other celebrities and Democratic Party influencers (not to mention hundreds of thousands of everyday citizens). Along with some friends, I’d built an app called Picswitch that made it easy to overlay graphics atop your Twitter and Facebook profile pics. The Obama campaign adopted it as their official campaign tool, and from there it was off to the races during the Fall election season. The way Twitter’s API permissions worked at the time, in order to sign into the Picswitch tool and allow it to change your avatar, you also had to grant the app the ability to tweet on your behalf. We obviously kept all of this software quite secure. But, still, wow.

Screenshots of Obama, Eva Longoria and Ashley Judd promoting the Twitter tool we build for the 2012 Elections 

It wasn’t my first experience using simple tech tools to help people spread a message across social media. Earlier in 2012, we deployed a simpler version of Picswitch in the battle against SOPA/PIPA legislation. Nearly 90,000 people used that tool to reach tens of millions of their followers.

While I was proud to have a hand in these two efforts, they were both a step removed from what actually matters in elections: voting. So, for this 2016 election I decided to get out of people’s social media and into their startups.

This time I wanted to seek out CEOs and founders of tech companies who would be encouraging their teams to vote and proactively give them time off if necessary.

The TakeOffElectionDay campaign started about a week ago with some tweets (sidenote: this awesome website was made by two brothers who saw the beginning of the effort and ran with it). Since then, more than 100 companies have signed-up, including Spotify, TaskRabbit, Survey Monkey, Wikimedia and The Skimm.

While I might be partisan (#ImWithHer), this voter effort is not. For too long the tech community has been accused of apathy around social issues. I know this to not be the case from my daily interactions with passionate entrepreneurs. At the same time, young voters need their responsibilities as citizens and turn out to vote — in national, state and local elections.

Just as our industry suggests tech literacy should be part of every American’s skillset, so too should civic literacy be part of ours.

In setting up TakeOffElectionDay, I was surprised to learn that some states have no legal requirement for employers to allow time for voting. Others are a messy patchwork of paid/unpaid and various conditions. Even in states like California, which allows for two hours of paid leave at the beginning or end of a shift, we shouldn’t rely upon individuals to exercise their right in the face of passive or obstinate CEOs.

Let’s flip the script and have the CEOs inform their teams of their right to go vote — and encourage participation. That’s what we’re looking to do with this effort. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a swing state or not. Register and vote in 2016. Your voice matters.

If you’re a CEO or executive who wants to make sure their company is listed, please reach out to me (hunterwalk@gmail.com). If you’re an employee at a company, go ask your HR department what their plans are for Election Day. The TakeOffElectionDay website even has the ability to anonymously email an executive in your company to pose this question if you don’t feel comfortable sending the query directly.

Thanks and see you in November! (And if you want to support Hillary, I encourage you to please donate — every dollar counts this year to ensure there’s strong voter turnout.)