The Bot Registration Act of 2017 Could Improve Twitter For Us Humans

This sounds like an X-Men storyline, but Twitter needs to ask all bot accounts to register as such & then badge. Bots can be very useful but users should know they’re following a bot & bots should follow certain ToS. Treat bots like a developer ecosystem, not like user accounts.

Twitter hasn’t been able to effectively police their bot ecosystem – I don’t know if it’s will (desire) or way (ability, prioritization) – but it seems that they’d want to understand what percentage of their activity is machine-driven versus accounts piloted by actual human beings. The company’s policy lead published some general “we take bots seriously” thoughts earlier this summer but the post doesn’t clarify whether Twitter believes bots should be identified in a consistent user-facing manner. One of my favorite Bot-ologists, Renee DiResta, also recently suggested that bot accounts be labeled with a robot emoji, or some similar demarcation in the name or bio. (In that article Renee also distinguished between Bots and Cyborgs, both automated accounts but where the latter spoofs human behavior).

So want to follow a bot which tweets whenever NYTimes Maggie Haberman publishes a new article? Awesome. Whenever USGS detects a big earthquake? Yes! Which combines two current news events into a single headline? I don’t, but you do you. These and many more wonders exist on Twitter, but without a Bot designation and Bot directory, who knows what the average user assumes. It also gives Twitter license to shut down Bots which don’t register and more easily monitor account behaviors. As it stands, who knows what percentage of Twitter accounts are bots and what impact these bots are having on user experience. Well, I guess we’re incrementally answering this question without Twitter’s help….


The One Question Investors Should Ask Founders On Demo Day

“What you’ve accomplished is really great and we’re excited to introduce ourselves and chat a bit more. Would you be willing to share your application to [incubator/accelerator] with us so that we can use it as a way to collaboratively discuss what you’ve learned since then?”

For many accelerators and incubators, demo days kick off a fundraising process for a full round or additional capital based on inbound demand. Homebrew’s focus is ~8 or so seed commitments per year, and we’re putting dollars, sweat and reputation behind those companies ongoing. As a result our investment process is geared towards giving teams a chance to understand what it’s like to work with us and, on our end, confirming that we can be a good partner to the founders. Sometimes we already know the team but what happens when you’re meeting them for the first time on demo day and want to accelerate towards familiarity?

Well, instead of just focusing on where the company is today and what the go-forward plan looks like, I’d add a perhaps counter-intuitive discussion: where they’ve come from, using their accelerator/incubator application as a starting point. Why “waste” time looking backwards? Two main reasons:

  1. Evaluate Learning, Not Just Milestones: every demo day presentation – complete with ‘up and to the right’ curve – is marketing. It’s the best attempt to showcase where this company is today and where they hope to go. Reviewing their application, which is usually 5-6 months old, provides a sense of who they were at that time, what they thought was important and how they ‘pitched’ themselves then. I wouldn’t expect it to have fully or accurately represented the future any more than a Five Year Plan at seed stage is a true roadmap, but it does serve as another “dot” for us to connect the dots and “draw a line.”
  2. Cultural Alignment: Are we going to have a long, productive relationship where we can trust one another and Homebrew can put 100% of itself behind helping you build a company that you’re proud of? That’s probably the central question we look to answer during a fundraise and equally, we want to display to a founder that we’re going to be worthy of their trust and commitment ongoing. Reviewing the application together shows you how an investor will react to founders making decisions with incomplete information. Will your investors want everything to be neat and tidy all the time (and cause you grief when it isn’t) or do they understand that building a company is difficult and messy? Are they investing in the glossy Instagram version of you, or are they investing in the real you? The messy version. The high-potential version. The version that sometimes needs a pat on the back or a kick in the ass. That’s who we invest in. So, to me, finding a way to ‘get real’ during an accelerated fundraising process creates mutual signal as to whether we’re going to be a good fit for one another. Because if not, let’s find that out now, not 1, 10, 100 days after we’ve lashed ourselves to each other.

In reflecting, perhaps this isn’t just the “one question” investors should ask founders, but one founders want to offer up. Take your potential lead investors through your evolution, not just your pitch deck. My bet is anyone you “lose” wasn’t the right investor for you to begin with. And you might just end up with better investors who are committed to the journey with you, not just the demo day hype.

“My editors value impact stories” – Recode’s Jason Del Rey on Evaluating His Success

I think his colleague Peter Kafka introduced us? Or at least that’s my best guess for how Recode’s Jason Del Rey and I started hanging out a few years back. Jason rocks the Commerce beat but his reporting chops are only the start of my admiration. He’s a dad to two young kids and it’s been fun seeing that side of him develop. In fact, I ask about it below and Jason’s answer is a great reminder about the importance of us all seeing one another as humans. So here’s Five Questions…

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Asa Mathat for Vox Media

Hunter Walk: The way media companies make money (or measure success) can sometimes be inconsistent with what I think leads to good reporting. For example, page views and being “first” versus in-depth analysis. How does Recode measure a reporter’s contributions? How do you know if you’re doing a “good job?”

Jason Del Rey: I have quarterly check-ins with our managing editor, where we discuss my goals for the coming quarter, what I accomplished in the previous three months and how I can improve. My editors value impact stories—articles that typically start a conversation and/or serve as a jumping-off point for a lot more coverage on a specific topic within a beat.

Oftentimes, impact stories are well-read. And if they’re not, there’s usually something that went wrong, whether it be the headline or some other part of the packaging. It’s important to try to suss out what that is.

Impact stories don’t just come overnight, though. They are usually the result of a steady stream of smaller reports on a topic, which are also important for a site like Recode to maintain momentum and freshness each day. The never-ending battle I have with myself is how to best balance the newsier items with the big, step-back impact pieces. It’s not a science and, when in doubt, I ask one of my editors.

HW: Continuing with the “making money,” Recode has a very valuable event businesses alongside their site. You run Code Commerce, which relies upon getting interesting tech folks to serve as guests. How do you maintain objectivity in your reporting given these potential conflicts?

JDR: My reporting and writing is what has gotten me to this point, and is what will hopefully allow me to enjoy several more decades in this profession. Most smart people in the industry realize and respect that, and will sit down with me onstage whether they view my coverage as “positive” or “negative,” so long as they believe it’s well-researched and fair. There are exceptions, of course, but you won’t see them on my stage. It’s a big industry and I don’t have time for that strain of BS.

HW: Similarly you’re a conscientious reporter but also maintain friendships with many of the people in our industry. Has that put you in awkward situations? You and I are close—how do you think I’d react if you came out with a really negative piece about one of our portfolio companies?

JDR: I’m friendly with lots of people in the industry, but I spend the vast majority of my non-work time with my family and with my friends that I’ve known since college or earlier. I don’t know that that’s intentional, but it probably does help me avoid some awkward situations that clubbier reporters may face.

As for you, I think you’d understand it if you thought the piece was well-researched and fair. You’d be surprised how many times someone on the wrong side of a harsh story sends me a text that says something like: “Sucks you had to write that, but thanks for being fair.” You should try it sometime!

HW: You’re a dad now. How has having kids changed your approach to work generally?

JDR: Is there a word limit on this? The first thing that comes to mind is how I judge the people I interview. I’ve always been a reporter who over-analyzes everything about a subject the first time I meet them: What is their tone with the waiter at the cafe? How real was their apology when they show up 15 minutes late? Why did their body language change when I ask about their co-founder?

I still think reading people is a really important part of the job, but I now understand that I’m not seeing their whole life in front of me in a 30-minute meeting. Maybe their one-year-old threw up on their shoulder on the way out the door. Maybe they’re in the middle of a rough patch in their marriage and they’re not being cold—they’re just distracted. In short, I probably give people the benefit of the doubt much more than I did pre-kids, even though I still bring a healthy dose of skepticism to every interview.

The other thing I certainly have had to adjust is how and when I get my work done. I work as hard as I ever have but I refuse to work a ton on weekends if it’s not a breaking-news situation. That means being much more productive during weekdays than I may have been earlier in my career. It also means working on stuff later on weeknights than is ideal a lot of the time.

HW: When a source leaks news to you, how do you decipher what their motivation might be and how does your estimation of their trustworthiness factor into how you use that information?

JDR: A lot of times people tell me or it is just obvious. If I can’t figure it out, I just ask. Either way, knowing someone’s motivation is crucial to weighing if and how to use the information they are sharing.

Trustworthiness is critical, too. I, like other reporters I respect, probably have missed out on stories because it’s coming from a source I don’t know well or don’t fully trust. On the other hand, that approach greatly reduces the chances of getting duped, looking like a fool, and ruining my credibility. If you want to have a long career, I think this is the way to go.

Thanks Jason! Follow him on Twitter!

This Former Hillary Staffer Is Building Aloe, A Self-Care App. Meet Amber Discko.

I know Amber via her kind and helpful Twitter presence (I *think* @Iano introduced us). So when she launched a recent Kickstarter for Aloe, a self-care app, it felt right to jump in and support her. As the project gained momentum I was surprised by two types of reactions: first, the large number of teens who really were into the idea, and second, the harassers who belittled the concept. As a friend, and now Aloe backer, I wanted to learn a bit more about Amber and Aloe, so Five Questions.


Hunter Walk: Besides the holder of an awesome name, who is Amber Discko?

Amber Discko: Professionally I’m a freelance digital strategist who most recently worked on the Hillary for America campaign, a creative strategist at Tumblr, and fun fact I was the community manager for Denny’s Diner back when it was innovative for a brand to be good on Twitter. Personally? I’m still figuring that one out. I live in Brooklyn, NY with my cat @ScotusCat and partner. I’m a huge fan of using social media to create social change and filling my followers feeds with wholesome memes and positivity.

HW: You spent a few years working at Tumblr. What was your gig there and what did being on the inside teach you about how people were using Tumblr?

AD: I was on the creative strategy team there which involved helping brands understand Tumblr and all the wonderful communities that make it so special. I’d also sometimes go to different agencies to talk about using the Tumblr platform and working with its creators. Talking about these communities constantly and seeing how they interacted and grew was really cool to watch. It definitely made me feel like I was witnessing something unique.

HW: Should platforms like Twitter or Facebook take stronger stances on harassment and hate speech or is it too slippery a slope to centralize this type of judgment instead of giving users the tools to moderate their own experiences?

AD: Yes I do believe social networks have a responsibility to protect its users from harassment and hate speech. As someone who was a target of online harassment for many years, the self moderating tools are nice to see. It just sucks that they allow people to cause so much pain to others. It would be nice to see more action and holding people accountable versus just making the community do the work. The people at the top of these platforms shaped their communities and allowed hate and harassment to thrive, it’s their responsibility to make it better if they truly care about their users.

HW: I backed your Kickstarter for Aloe, a self-care app. What’s the origin story behind the project?

AD: Thank you so much for backing!!! Long story short, I was not taking care of myself while working on the Hillary Clinton campaign. I realized that I kept forgetting to do basic tasks like drink water, give myself a break from the news cycle, and even eat. I created a self-care survey tool which I used to help me check-in with myself at various times throughout the day by setting alarm reminders on my phone. It was the only thing that seemed to be working for me. After the Inauguration, I decided to share my tool and start building this new community around a topic that is so important, especially now. I noticed a lot of people were using the check-in tool on mobile, and I kept getting people asking me for an app, so it only made sense.

HW: Since I follow you on Twitter, I’ve seen you RT a number of teenagers who seem really excited about Aloe, why do you think it’s connected with that demographic so intensely?

AD: Growing up I always felt an intense pressure to be “normal” or “fit in” and in return was always too hard on myself for how hard it seemed to be this way. I would have loved to have had a pocket cheerleader encouraging me on days that seemed extra hard. There’s so much pressure to be online and using social media, so having an app to remind someone to take a break when they need it is proven to be something that works. Since bringing this idea to life, hundreds of young people have come to me expressing how much they love Aloe and how excited they are for this app to come to life.

The reality though is that these teens can’t afford to back this app. That’s why I’ve made it so people can donate their beta ($30) or alpha tester ($60) account to someone in need. After the campaign ends I’ll be matching people with a sponsor and it will be really wholesome and good for all.

Thanks Amber! You can follow her on Twitter

Founders Should Set Aside More Equity for Their Team & “Split the Pain” With Investors

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As you can see, Weekend VC Twitter gets pretty wild and crazy!!!! But employee option pool is important enough that I wanted to briefly expand upon my comment above.

Employee options pools, typically created at the point of financings, shouldn’t be treated as haggling over dilution, but rather a strategic resource that will help founders build the best team and, by extension, a more valuable company. Satya and I rarely see less than a 10% pool created at seed and Series A, but are increasingly engaging with founders about 12-15% pools, especially if you’re going to be hiring in-demand engineers (computer vision, AI) and/or (more typically post Series A), building out a senior executive team. While you should expect these sorts of hires to take below market cash comp versus what Google is paying them, this tradeoff needs to be replaced with equity upside.

Since Homebrew typically leads/co-leads seed rounds, we assist in helping founders design and manage their pool against their hiring forecast. No one wants to run out of equity pool midway between financings (and larger seed rounds these days usually means more hiring pre-A)! As a result we’re often amenable to a CEO suggesting, “hey, I’ve thought about it and I’d actually like to create a 12% pool instead of a 10% one. What if we split the pain [ie increase pre-money valuation slightly on our end and founders take slightly more dilution off their end]?” To me these types of conversations, when backed by a hiring plan, show real maturity and proactively valuing the construction of a high quality team.

Of course these conversations also work best when both the founders and investors have had a productive, give-and-take negotiation up to this point. If I’ve been stretched to my absolute limit on pricing and beaten up a bit, it’s less likely I can dig deeper for these other points, even if I think they’re overall constructive. There just may not be any more flesh to give! But in most cases it’s worth at least engaging with your investors around strategic pool creation rather than just termsheet defaults.

“We are one of just 13 industrialized countries with a rising maternal mortality rate” – Christy Turlington Burns on Fighting for Healthy Mothers

I’d open this post by saying “Christy Turlington Burns works tirelessly to improve maternal health” except Christy doesn’t seem even recognize the concept of ‘tired.’ Attribute this energy to her yoga and running dedication, or maybe the very personal experiences in Christy’s own pregnancy which caused her to start Every Mother Counts, but either way her internal combustion engine breaks the rules of physics. And it grabs everyone she meets, including me when I first learned about EMC and have been an enthusiastic supporter since, helping them connect with theSkimm and other startups which can spread their message. So it thrills me to share a bit more about Christy, EMC and being a public personality here in Five Questions.

Citizens of Humanity 2013

Christy doing work in Haiti

Hunter Walk: Every Mother Counts is a nonprofit focused on supporting maternal health. It’s difficult to imagine that mission would be controversial but we seem to be in an era where everything becomes politicized—including women’s bodies. How has this reality impacted the type of community building you do—does it make you more careful? More fearless?

Christy Turlington Burns: Our focus from the start has been to educate the public with the facts. Hundreds of thousands of girls and women die every year from largely preventable complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Every Mother Counts raises awareness of the issue and highlights the challenges and the solutions, of which there are many. Our goal is to ensure that every woman has the same chance to survive pregnancy and childbirth and thrive in motherhood.

The best way to achieve this is to have access to evidence-based information, good nutrition and quality health care well before pregnancy and throughout one’s reproductive years. There will always be those who want to hijack the conversation and put the value of individual lives at odds with one another when in fact, you cannot have one without the other. It can be frustrating and disheartening to see the constant efforts to lessen what we know to be essential and a human right, but that makes the work we support all the more urgent. We have to stick with the facts and work together to create change.

HW: When I first learned of EMC my assumption was that your work was outside the US, erroneously believing maternal health is a “solved problem” here in the US. In reality, there are still many challenges for women in our country too. As you built EMC did the scale of the challenges domestically surprise you? Has the situation in the US gotten better?

CTB: I became aware of the global problem after giving birth in the US and experiencing a childbirth complication personally in 2003. I soon learned that women around the world with the same complication die because they don’t have access to care. The majority of these deaths occur in the developing world but the US is ranked 46th in the world. That was almost more shocking to discover. Every day 2-3 American women die bringing life into the world and every 10 minutes a woman in the US suffers a near miss, a near-death experience from a complication during pregnancy or delivery. That’s what happened to me and to more women than people realize. We are also one of just 13 industrialized countries with a rising maternal mortality rate, which has been steadily climbing for the past two decades. This is unacceptable and should shock people. And it is only going to get worse with the decreases in funding for women’s health and cuts to Medicaid that have been proposed.

The future of Georgia's Obstetric workforce

The United States is going backwards and we must do something about it. Perhaps most troubling is the outrageous health disparities that exist for women of color in this country. Black women are as much as 4 times more likely to suffer or die from a pregnancy or childbirth related complication as white women. In some states such as Georgia, the number of counties without a single obstetric provider is staggering (“In much of rural Georgia, maternal healthcare is disappearing”). We created a film series in late 2015 to examine the contributing factors impacting American women called Giving Birth In America and to inform people about the maternal crisis here at home heading into an election year. The first three short films highlighted three states (New York, Florida, and Montana) and we will be releasing our 4th installment profiling Louisiana on in November.

HW: EMC has been pretty tech-forward, such as your 2015 participation in Apple’s Watch launch and use of social media. Any of this attributable to your upbringing in the Bay Area? Did you feel connected to Silicon Valley back then?

CTB: Being a part of the Apple Watch launch was really exciting. We have a very active community of supporters and running distance races such as a marathon or half marathon has become one of the ways we communicate how far some women have to walk when in need of healthcare. There are many common metaphors between childbirth and marathons that have proven effective in helping to convey what women go through to bring life into the world, and what is needed to get her to the finish line in good health.

Apple helped us to amplify our message by sharing their vast platform with Every Mother Counts. I grew up in the East Bay but left for NYC in 1987 and Silicon Valley was just starting to percolate. I still feel like a California girl at heart and come back as often as I can. My mother and one of my sisters are there and a few of our board members and many partners are based in the Bay Area. As a result, we have been cultivating a community on the West Coast through events and races and we are grateful to the Silicon Valley community for being so supportive and active on our behalf.

HW: You’ve been a recognizable, public figure since your teens. There’s always an opportunity to trade off your privacy, and that of your family, to promote the causes you care about, such as EMC. How have you decided where to draw the line on a public life versus a private one? And did that change over time?

CTB: I was barely a teenager when I started working as a model. I did not think that it would take me half of the places I have been since those early years when I would take the bus to Bart and commute into the city after school to work for Emporium Capwell or Macy’s. Modeling was hardly a childhood dream or destination in my mind, but it did offer me opportunity and life experiences beyond my wildest imagination. But I always saw myself doing more, making an impact of some kind. I have never sought the trappings that come with living a public life and I feel blessed to have had the option of leading a very private one.

My public persona has been useful for getting Every Mother Counts’ mission out in a broader way, but I am conscious of taking the focus off of me and my story and putting it on the challenges and solutions of a tractable problem. I also want my children to have the freedom to choose for themselves what lives they want to lead so their privacy is important for me to protect as their mother. I talk about them often in the work that I do, why it is so important and how it could impact their futures. Because my daughter’s birth is what put me on this path, our birth story is shared a lot, but I am careful not to exploit her and hope that she learns a bit of self-control as a result. We are living in a very strange time where we all know too much about everyone and it is hard to turn that around. I value discretion and anonymity immensely.  

HW: You’re a dedicated practitioner of yoga. Also a runner who has done multiple marathons. Do you listen to music or podcasts when you run (if so, what) or are you more the type who enjoys the silence and nature?

CTB: I am lucky to have discovered the benefits of yoga early in life and have had a practice since I was 18. I studied comparative religion and eastern philosophy at NYU’s Gallatin School and that deepened my practice substantially. I wrote a book called Living Yoga: Creating a life Practice (Hyperion 2002) and continue to thrive on all that the philosophy of yoga has to offer at every stage of my life. Before yoga, I was an active child and teenager and played soccer and softball, ran, skied and rode horses. Growing up in the Bay Area was great for all that.

I returned to running in 2011 when I trained for my first NYC marathon with Team EMC. Since then, I have run six full marathons and 10 half marathons and am training now for my 7th, the Berlin Marathon this fall. I have found yoga and meditation in running and so really enjoy the solitude and peace of no music. There is a lot of stimulation in the races themselves and live music along most marathon courses. It is a fun change from my day-to-day runs, but I prefer to go inward. Our running community is inspiring and we have had almost 80,000 people run on behalf of our organization. We still have a few spots left for the iconic New York Marathon on November 5th so email to join us!   

Thanks Christy! You can follow Christy and Every Mother Counts on Twitter, and donate to their work here