Posts tagged Silicon

Yik Yak’s Secret Advantage: It’s Outside The Silicon Valley Bubble

The two 24-year-old founders of the social app Yik Yak carry themselves cautiously. They leaned back in their chairs during their recent SXSW interview, sporting matching green socks adorned with their yak mascot. They remained very still throughout the one hour conversation, as though they wanted to disappear into the background.

This was the first big, live interview that Brooks Buffington and Tyler Droll had ever done, and it happened in front of an audience of about 500 tech enthusiasts and journalists. (And me, the discussion moderator.) Up to that point, they’d kept themselves out of the public eye, preferring to build their service quietly from their home in Georgia.

But Yik Yak is growing so quickly that it’s not clear how much longer it can avoid the usual dog-and-pony show the tech industry tends to force upon startups.

The App That Twitter Copied

Left: Yik Yak’s hot and new feed in Austin at SXSW; Right: Yik Yak’s Peek Anywhere function

Yik Yak is a location-based social networking app that wants to be the next Twitter. It essentially broadcasts your posts to other users in a 10-mile radius, who can upvote or downvote them.

In the span of a year, Yik Yak has mushroomed into a social media giant. It’s a staple on every college campus in America; Twitter even paid it the compliment of ripping off its location feature. There are some controversies around the app, including allegations of cyber-bullying, but it also holds the potential of creating another new way for us to communicate with people—strangers and otherwise—who are physically near us.

Over the days and weeks prior to the SXSW panel, I had long conversations with the Yik Yak founders in preparation. What emerged from our chats was a picture of two cautious entrepreneurs whose success has come despite—even perhaps because of—their deliberate avoidance of the tech world.

Reporters Don’t Bite, Right?

Photo credit: Juan Ramón Gomez; Yik Yak founder Brooks Buffington and moderator Carmel DeAmicis at SXSW

As Yik Yak saw meteoric adoption on college campuses across America over the last year, Buffington and Droll avoided tech reporters as much as possible. I can personally attest to this; my texts and emails frequently went unanswered even after I interviewed them for a big feature last October.

On stage, they laugh nervously and shrug when I ask why they’re reticent to talk to the media. Buffington uncrosses his legs and smiles. “We didn’t grow up in San Francisco, our users are more in college,” Droll explains. “Our time is limited so we want to be focused on moving the brand within our core demographic.”

The duo might turn down interview requests from major outlets and tech publications, but they do a lot of college paper interviews. “Those are the real people that are using our app,” Buffington added.

The wariness has been mutual. Even as mainstream media outlets like the Today Show and the Washington Post flocked to cover Yik Yak, many in Silicon Valley remained diffident. They had seen too many high profile location networking failures before and grouped Yik Yak in with confessional apps Secret and Whisper.

It was dismissed as the last place contestant. A reporter friend of mine ruefully remembered his response when he was first pitched on the concept, “It’s an anonymous location-based social network based in Atlanta? Hahaha—good luck, Brooks Buffington!”

In the last few months, however, this narrative has reversed itself. Yik Yak raised $62 million in funding from prestigious venture firm Sequoia—a round led by Jim Goetz, known for making an early big bet on WhatsApp. Soon after, Secret redesigned its entire product to look like Yik Yak, and Twitter previewed a location based networking feature that was a blatant Yik Yak rip off.

In short order, the tech world started wondering “Is Yik Yak the new WhatsApp?”

It’s Peachier In Georgia

Photo credit: Juan Ramón Gomez; Yik Yak founders Brooks Buffington and Tyler Droll during their SXSW interview

Buffington and Droll observed the melee from their perch in Atlanta. Most social networking apps either come out of the Bay Area, like Snapchat, or move there once they’re successful, like Facebook. Investors often insist on it. But Buffington and Droll held their ground when it came to such a negotiation. They wanted to stay in Georgia.

“We’re hometown heroes,” Droll said. “That’s where our families are, and that’s where we want to be. Why do we need to move?” The duo cites nearby universities like Georgia Tech as a source for recruiting engineering talent.

“Not every single engineer comes from California,” Buffington said wryly. In past conversations they’ve told me they like saving money on rent, cost of living, and salary expenses. They use their investment backing frugally.

Their reluctance to flee to Northern California, court tech press, and become part of the Silicon Valley startup world isn’t just a quirk. It’s Buffington and Droll’s secret weapon. With little knowledge of the high profile location failures that came before, Buffington and Droll lack both blueprints and fear.

Dead Apps On The Path To Success

The path to location success is littered with dead, dying, or stagnant apps—names like Foursquare, Gowalla, and Highlight. To attempt location networking yet again, and from the distant reaches of Atlanta, takes a certain amount of arrogance. But when I asked the Yik Yak duo why they thought they could succeed where others like Foursquare had failed, Buffington said something to the effect of, “Well, I don’t use Foursquare, so I’m not really sure.”

That fresh perspective is clear in their product design. They didn’t bother with check-ins or maps of people nearby. Instead, they applied a Reddit-like feed to the location problem. They focused on socializing and communication first, instead of gamification, which is perhaps what draws college students into the app regularly. People use Yik Yak to connect to people around them, not to collect badges or rewards.

Photo credit: Juan Ramón Gomez; Yik Yak founder Tyler Droll during the SXSW interview

Buffington and Droll are building for themselves and their friends, so they don’t spend time on concepts that might be relevant in the Bay Area but nowhere else. For example, when I asked whether they had thought about building for the Apple Watch, they looked at me like I was an idiot. “College students can’t afford the Apple Watch,” Droll said.

In that sense, the founders seem to be more in touch with their core audience then if they were building out of Stanford or MIT.

And Here Come The Me-Toos

None of that has kept Silicon Valley darlings from trying to imitate Yik Yak, of course. Twitter’s upcoming location feed, which it previewed during its analyst call in November, looks almost identical to Yik Yak’s Peek Anywhere function. (That lets you beam into a different location to check up on conversation there, although you can’t participate.) With more money, users, and brand recognition, Twitter could theoretically beat Buffington and Droll to other demographics besides college students.

The Yik Yak like location feed Twitter previewed during its Analyst Call in November

Not surprisingly, Yik Yak’s founders say they’re not worried about Twitter. (Do entrepreneurs ever admit if they’re worried?) “It was a nice shoutout from Twitter, but I’m curious to see how it plays out,” Droll said when I asked about it at SXSW. “It’s not core to their experience.”

Yik Yak benefits from being known as location first and foremost, but that very aspect of its product also limits its growth. People don’t have any incentive to get their friends in far flung places using it.

It has yet to expand beyond college kids, so it’s not clear whether strangers in a ten mile radius outside school environments will have enough in common. Location can unite people in powerful ways—whether you’re looking for a restaurant recommendation, want to sell something you own, or just need information on the weird parade happening outside.

In the meantime, Buffington and Droll are in no rush to expand beyond the university crowd. “That’s the most powerful demographic to have, college campuses,” Buffington said. “In a lot of ways, they’re tastemakers for not only America, but the world. Any large social network has to pass the sniff test by college students before it goes anywhere else.”

As the SXSW panel drew to a close, audience members stepped up to ask questions at the mike. It’s college student after college student, professing their love of Yik Yak and thanking the founders for making the app. Buffington and Droll sit up a little straighter and start smiling. These are their users, the people they build for.

The rest of us are clearly just bystanders who don’t quite get the Yik Yak phenomenon yet. 

Photos by Juan Ramón Gomez, used by permission

View full post on ReadWrite

How Zendesk Captured Its Silicon Valley Spirit In A London Office

This post is presented by Business Is Great Britain.

When Zendesk picked up its roots and moved from Denmark to the United States, its founders didn’t expect to be back in Europe so soon. CEO Mikkel Svane vowed not to get on a plane again—a promise that only lasted two years, as Zendesk grew so quickly that going global was the only solution.

One of its first outposts on its return to Europe was London, where it opened an office in 2011.

Nick Peart works there as a marketing director for Zendesk, which offers Web-based tools for customer support. He’s spent the last three years working from its office in the Paddington area of central London spreading good vibes about Zendesk to an audience that spans Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

“I think the real advantage is that Britain has one of the biggest economies and business market spaces in the whole region,” Peart said. “It just makes sense that you base your people close to your customers. That’s the primary reason that we are where we are.”

See also: How Zendesk Reluctantly Staked Out A Customer-Support Empire

Business in Britain is so promising that Zendesk execs have begun looking around for a larger space, one that can accommodate 70 to 100 people, up from 50. Besides just housing employees, Peart hopes the new office will be a place “to meet and mingle and share ideas” with community and industry groups, including ones promoting women in engineering.

In an interview with ReadWrite, Peart gave us insight into Zendesk’s diverse approach to staffing and its decision to make itself at home in Great Britain.

Nick Peart, Zendesk’s European marketing director, splits time between its London regional headquarters and the home office in San Francisco.

A Central Hub

Prior to Zendesk, Peart specialized in helping American brands in the larger region, often dubbed EMEA. (He worked for Adobe for nearly five years in a senior communications role.) The challenges when you take in not just the core of Europe but the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe and Russia include balancing the needs of 120 different countries with more than 23 major languages, and 16 time zones if you count Russia east of the Urals.

“EMEA is a complicated place, but it’s also an easy place to work,” Peart said. “That’s where the power of London comes in when you’re looking for a base for a pan-European company. It’s such a vibrant, multicultural city, that attracting key talent to work for you in London is a relatively easy task,”

While based out of Paddington, Peart does spend a bit of time at headquarters. He’s often asked to compare and contrast the cultural, technical and logistical differences between San Francisco and London.

“I think the biggest difference is perhaps an awareness of how diverse and huge the office in Britain is,” Peart said. “Maybe that comes from the old colonial past. But there seems to be more awareness of how to go about doing business across [multiple] cultures. “

Community Approach To Tech

The location’s convenient enough, especially if you’re getting on the Heathrow Express to catch a flight. It’s not particularly close to Silicon Roundabout, the supposed “tech center” of London, or Canary Wharf, another hub—but that doesn’t stop Zendesk from inviting folks over.

“There’s a really big just general tech community here,” Peart said. “We’re lucky to be just around the corner from a couple of the key London universities. From a technical perspective, we never struggle to hire the right talent in London. And so whether we’re looking for a highly skilled Ruby engineer to join our customer success team, or a very talented customer services person, we can always find them in London. Plus, you can always find someone that can speak almost any language in London.”

You won’t find that great depth of talent across job categories in other cities, Peart said. Dublin does rank high as a technology hub, he added, but Zendesk chose London for its regional headquarters for its global reach.

Another benefit of establishing roots in central London is that the engineering work can be sensitive to regional privacy and security laws.

“Our customers’ data or the data that resides within Zendesk stays in the EU,” says Peart. “That’s been a differentiator and also a reason why we’d want to be doing business in that region.”

London Calling

“I think you definitely need to come to London, just to experience the pace, and the ability to be super-agile,” Peart said. “London is a very cosmopolitan, dynamic place to be. I think one of the cool things I really love about working at Zendesk is that we have the ability to test in our market, and then see the results of the tests that we can do really quickly in different countries, and see them taken on and embraced and used globally.”

Culturally, the London office is extremely diverse with more than 10 nationalities speaking more than 20 different languages.

There’s a tradition that “sounds awful, but it’s very much loved in the London office,” says Peart: “If it’s your birthday, then everybody gathers around and sings ‘Happy Birthday’ in his or her own language to you.”

As London is still considered the gateway to Europe, Peart said he sees the most opportunities coming from startup service businesses.

“Our whole economy is increasingly becoming a service-based economy,” Peart said. “So it’s a cracking place to come to start, to test. And if you get it right, the country will take you to its heart and will embrace and enable you to be successful.”

Photos courtesy of Zendesk

View full post on ReadWrite

What Search Marketers Can Expect To Learn @SMX West In Silicon Valley

2015 SMX West Conference Preview: Big Brands, Platforms, Agencies and Consultants Converge in San Jose For 3 Days, 12 Tracks, 60 Sessions & 125 Expert Speakers Sharing Search Insights

The post What Search Marketers Can Expect To Learn @SMX West In Silicon Valley appeared first on Search…



Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

View full post on Search Engine Land: News & Info About SEO, PPC, SEM, Search Engines & Search Marketing

Lauren McCarthy Takes On Silicon Valley Optimism

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published by our partners at Kill Screen

When iOS 8 was injected into Apple smartphones worldwide in September, one of the biggest stories that emerged about it was the predictive typing “feature.” If you’re still bumpin’ dat Blackberry or are a Windows Phone disciple: Quicktype enables “the keyboard [to get smart] and typing gets easier. It suggests contextually appropriate words based on whom you’re typing to and in what app.”

In case you missed it, yes, Apple is implying that typing and communicating with your friends and loved ones is too hard and must be made easier—overlooking the fact that, culturally, the iPhone has made the act of calling your friends or loved ones without texting first an out-and-out befuddling intrusion.

For more stories about videogames and culture, follow@killscreen on Twitter.

Additionally, the sentences you can piece together via Quicktype are single-malt insane robo-hatchling pseudo-English. (“The fact that you are the only thing is that I have to do it for the next few years and years of the best thing about the new update is the only way you can get it together for a while,” is a recent example I confused a friend with.) Plenty of stories and Twitter feeds popped up in the last few weeks centered on this techno poetry, amounting to not much more than giggling, “LOL did you see this?” instead of pondering “OMG what does this mean?”

It’s the latter question that Brooklyn artist/programmer Lauren McCarthy has been exploring since 2005: How do technological advances impact our interactions with one another as humans?

“A lot of times I see new technologies painted black or white, but it never feels that simple to me,” says McCarthy. “I think many of these things could go either way and it will take a lot of good debate and thoughtful design if we want to swing toward a future we actually want.”

See also: Mark Zuckerberg’s Mythic T-Shirt And Fake Silicon Valley Do-Goodery

She decided to start tinkering after thinking abstractly about the gym: “this public/private space where people gather to refine their identities amid various dynamics of surveillance, control, and utopianism—and comparing this to the online social spaces that were developing in the mid-2000s,” as she described it. Some of her earlier experiments included 2009’s Showertweet, where, as the Twitter Artist in Residence for the Brooklyn Museum of Art, she waterproofed her phone and tweeted everyday from her shower.

In 2014, this hardly sounds like a social experiment at all, right? We’ll blare Spotify from our iPhones precariously perched atop our toilets and maybe grab it mid-shower if we think of an especially witty, acerbic, or inspiring tweet. But in 2009, McCarthy’s intent was to “explore the effect technology has on the boundary between private and public life. What happens if the most intimate experiences are shared online?”

Crowdsourcing Conversations

Today we all know the answer but likely can’t get enough perspective on it to step outside and properly label it, much less decide do anything to course correct if necessary. It says something about us that in five short years, our online identities and our offline ones have become enmeshed to the point of being lockstep—a potentially unhealthy and obsessive existence. More importantly, we stopped asking ourselves that question.

See also: How To Use Emoji Anywhere With Twitter’s Open Source Library

“The vulnerability and self-awareness of everyday moments interests me a lot,” explains McCarthy. “Not necessarily the times when you’re at your most blank, but the times when things are pretty normal while everything you feel as a person conscious in the world is bubbling just below the surface.”

McCarthy’s way of doing that, historically, has been by highlighting or heightening awkward or uncomfortable moments in conversations or social interactions and making them the centerpiece rather than the silences we pretend not to notice. After all, we spend most of our time not being raconteurs extraordinaires but verbally stumbling our way through interactions, asking people to repeat themselves, or sheepishly admitting we weren’t really listening.

This year she launched Crowdpilot, an app that “lets you crowdsource your conversations by bringing a group of your friends or strangers along to listen in and assist you in any situation. Say you have a blind date and are unsure what to say. Crowdpilot lets you stream your conversation and lets others (Facebook friends, “hired assistants who speak English,” whoever) suggest dialog options: Making your next OKCupid excursion a mish-mash of Mass Effect, Monkey Island, and You Don’t Know Jack.

Fox News declared people “are not going to be happy” about their conversations unknowingly being eavesdropped on, and dredged up a number of comparisons between McCarthy’s app and the NSA. In a certain sense, yes, this was Fox News being Fox News—sensationalistic and provocative—but when was the last time you heard mainstream-media skepticism around technology beyond “Which smartphone should you buy?”

This is McCarthy’s intent: “I am hoping people feel the conflict with the things I put out there, and negotiate with the experience to find their own answers or questions.”

It helps that the runway she takes people on is heavily paved with coyness—all the copy accompanying her creations deftly matches the tone of Silicon Valley techno-optmism, cranking the dial a notch or two up to the invasive/frightening implication side. Even when she’s dabbling firmly in sheer, terrifying absurdism, as with 2009’s Happiness Hat, a “wearable conditioning device that detects if you’re smiling and provides pain feedback if you’re not.”

As her website plainly describes: “An enclosed bend sensor attaches to the cheek and measures smile size, a servo motor moves a metal spike into the head inversely proportional to the degree of smile. Through repeated use of this conditioning device you can train your brain to smile all the time. The device runs on Arduino.”

Basically, NBD—if you aren’t happy, a metal spike will force you to fake it, thanks to microcontrollers!

Clearly she’s being facetious here, right?

“I might use a familiar tone or framework but then twist it a bit to see how it feels just a few steps away,” explains McCarthy. “With each piece I am trying to engage with the tension and let the audience do this too. I’m more interested in provoking questions than trying to impose one point of view.”

But, she admits, responses to her work tends to be “usually pretty mixed.”

Can Technology Really Make Us Better Humans? 

Then again, if you’ve ever spent any amount of time not staring at your glowing rectangle while out and about, that shouldn’t surprise you: We’d rather be distracted and “connecting” than working on our self-awareness and connecting. McCarthy’s work tries to push us somewhere in the middle—able to use technology to heighten our self-awareness. A great example of this was last year’s us+, a supplement to Google Hangouts that “analyzes speech and facial expression to improve conversation.” Like Crowdpilot, it covertly monitors a conversation, but will give you onscreen prompts to be more positive, to listen more, or it will mute you if you’ve been talking too much.

See also: Apple: Your Right To Receive Texts Is A “Subjective Belief

By way of contrast, Google thinks a great supplement to Hangouts is letting you toss virtual hats or mustaches on yourself. It’s doofy, and in the spirit of fun, but again glosses over the question McCarthy zeroes in on. Yes, it’s okay to have fun online and fire off iOS 8 poetry to our friends—but obviously on a long enough timeline these types of interactions serve to further isolate us, not make our bonds tighter.

Take, for example, her Facebook Mood Manipulator from earlier this year, an obvious nod to the platform’s “secret” mood-manipulation experiment. Rather than let the social-media giant decide how you should feel, this browser extension lets you “manipulate your emotions.” Want to only see positive things in your feed? No problem. But, it obviously comes at a hidden cost: “If you can use an algorithm to make you feel better on a rough day, is there any reason [ever] not to? What if this comes at the price of filtering out your friends when they’re calling out for help?”

But that, in turn raises another set of questions: Can technology actually make us better humans? If so, are we actually becoming better humans, or something else altogether?

“That is one of the main questions I’m always thinking about,” McCarthy says. “I don’t really believe a particular technology is ever going to make us ‘better’ or ‘more human’ on its own though, we have to do that part. But maybe there is a possibility of using or arranging the tools in some unexpected way to trigger moments of awareness, to temporarily knock us out of our comfort zone into a space where we may find deeper understanding and connection.”

Header illustration by Jordan RosenbergEmoticon Love Pattern via Flickr1968 Vintage Home/Bathroom Remodeling… via FlickrWhy I Decided to Become a Cyborg via Flickr

More From Kill Screen

For more stories about videogames and culture, follow@killscreen on Twitter.

View full post on ReadWrite

Mark Zuckerberg’s Mythic T-Shirt And Fake Silicon Valley Do-Goodery

Mark Zuckerberg wears a version of the same gruel-toned T-shirt every day not because media handlers suggested he rock a signature look in the manner of visionary icons Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs. Nor does the Zuck don apparel of a color that exists only in dystopian tales (sort of a 1984-gray) simply because he’s a really busy guy who can’t be bothered. According to Zuckerberg, in his first public Q&A conducted in English, the lack of diversity in his personal wardrobe is because he cares.  

See also: Thanks Mark Zuckerberg! Now China Knows We’re Stupid

“I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve the community,” Zuckerberg told the audience during Thursday’s town hall on the Facebook campus in Menlo Park. “I’m in this really lucky position where I get to wake up every day and help serve more than 1 billion people, and I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things.” Things like the color spectrum, clearly.

Is Zuckerberg ingesting nothing but soylent, too? Think of time saved! Does the Zuckerberg uniform include astronaut diapers, so he can “go” on the go? And by serving “the community” does Zuckerberg mean “capitalism”?

The Truth Is Out There

Truth in Silicon Valley, like Einstein’s Spacetime theory, is relative.

Running a multi-billion dollar for-profit corporation with a dodgy history of hiring practices, privacy rights, and “customer service” is neither a priestly calling nor noble endeavor. Mother Theresa, Zuckerberg ain’t. Doctors Without Borders serves humanity. Teachers and firefighters serve humanity. Building shareholder value when you are yourself the biggest shareholder is a somewhat less selfless undertaking. 

Nonetheless, do-goodery—the marketing tool du-jour in Silicon Valley—saturates every aspect of Zuckerberg’s media-honed public persona. The reason is obvious. Public acts of charity are more than a sweet tax-write off if you’re a billionaire CEOs who can easily afford to flip a few couch cushions in the name of, say, eradicating Ebola.

See also: Facebook Wants You To Help Eradicate Ebola

It shows your “community”—who may feel burned by your company more than a few times—that you care. It also plays great with shareholders, at least one of whom recently expressed concern that despite the social network’s public support of the gay and transgender community, its political action committee “has donated 41% of contributions since its inception to politicians voting against LGBT rights.”

Trust No One

That shareholder’s concern that Facebook’s fiduciary hypocrisy could cause it to fall from public favor is documented in Facebook’s April filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That same filing includes a note about how 30% of the PAC’s contributions have gone to “politicians voting to deregulate greenhouse gases,” the filing states, “despite Facebook’s public support for the environment.”

Zuckerberg, one of the richest men on the planet trying to pass himself off as a do-gooder, is one of the most spectacular cases of personality overreach ever.  That doesn’t mean you should quit Facebook. But just because you use Zuckerberg’s product doesn’t mean you have to drink his Kool-Aid.

Screengrab by Facebook

View full post on ReadWrite

Mark Zuckerberg’s T-shirt And The Myth Of Silicon Valley Do-Goodery

Mark Zuckerberg wears a version of the same gruel-toned T-shirt every day not because media handlers suggested he rock a signature look in the manner of visionary icons Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs. Nor does the Zuck don apparel of a color that exists only in dystopian tales (sort of a “1984-gray”) simply because he’s a really busy guy who can’t be bothered. According to Zuckerberg, in his first public Q&A conducted in English, the lack of diversity in his personal wardrobe is because he cares.  

“I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve the community,” Zuckerberg told the audience during Thursday’s town hall on the Facebook campus in Menlo Park. “I’m in this really lucky position where I get to wake up every day and help serve more than 1 billion people, and I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things.” Things like the color spectrum, clearly. 

See also: Thanks Mark Zuckerberg! Now China Knows We’re Stupid

Is Zuckerberg ingesting nothing but soylent, too? Think of time saved! Does the Zuckerberg uniform include astronaut diapers, so he can “go” on the go? And by serving “the community” does Zuckerberg mean “capitalism”?

Truth in Silicon Valley, like Einstein’s Spacetime theory, is relative. 

Running a multi-billion dollar for-profit corporation with a dodgy history of hiring practices, privacy rights, and “customer service” is neither a priestly calling nor noble endeavor. Mother Theresa, Zuckerberg ain’t. Doctors Without Borders serves humanity. Teachers and firefighters serve humanity. Building shareholder value when you are yourself the biggest shareholder is a somewhat less selfless undertaking. 

Nonetheless, do-goodery—the marketing tool du-jour in Silicon Valley—saturates every aspect of Zuckerberg’s media-honed public persona. The reason is obvious. Public acts of charity are more than a sweet tax-write off if you’re a billionaire CEOs who can easily afford to flip a few couch cushions in the name of, say, eradicating Ebola.

It shows your “community”—who may feel like your company has burned them more than a few times—that you care. It also plays great with shareholders, at least one of whom recently expressed concern that despite the social network’s public support of the gay and transgender community, its political action committee  “has donated 41% of contributions since its inception to politicians voting against LGBT rights.” 

See also: Facebook Wants You To Help Eradicate Ebola

That shareholder’s concern that Facebook’s fiduciary hypocrisy could cause it to fall from public favor is documented in Facebook’s April filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That same filing includes a note about how 30% of the PAC’s contributions have gone to “politicians voting to deregulate greenhouse gases,” the filing states, “despite Facebook’s public support for the environment.”

Zuckerberg, one of the richest men on the planet trying to pass himself off as a do-gooder, is one of the most spectacular cases of personality overreach ever.  That doesn’t mean you should quit Facebook. But just because you use Zuckerberg’s product doesn’t mean you have to drink the Kool-Aid. 

Screengrab by Facebook. 

View full post on ReadWrite

Not All Hot Silicon Valley Live Up To Their “Change The World” Billing—And We Have Data

There has never been a better time to be an engineer, with companies feverishly competing to recruit the best and brightest. But while some engineers may be motivated to work for the highest bidder, most are driven by something more intangible, according to VisionMobile survey data: They want to change the world.

Each year LinkedIn measures the most in-demand Silicon Valley startups, a window into the employers that engineers think can do more than help them pay their mortgage. But does the expectation match up with reality? Glassdoor data may have the answer.

Who’s Hot With The Engineering Crowd?

How does LinkedIn measure the most in-demand startups? According to its blog, LinkedIn “compiled the list by analyzing millions of interactions between Bay Area startups with less than 500 employees and the more than 337,000 Bay Area software engineers and IT professionals on LinkedIn.” It’s not a perfect measure of the hottest startups to work for, but it’s certainly a helpful indicator.

In 2014, LinkedIn determined that the most in-demand startups for engineers are:

  1. Lytro (“The first high-end camera that lets you capture and harness the power of light field”)
  2. Theranos (“Working to shape the future of lab testing”)
  3. Fitbit (“Design products and experiences that fit seamlessly into your life so you can achieve your health and fitness goals, whatever they may be”)
  4. Coursera (“An education platform that partners with top universities and organizations worldwide, to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free”)
  5. Minted (“The world’s premier marketplace for independent design”)
  6. Wealthfront (“The world’s largest & fastest-growing automated investment service with over $1 billion in client assets”)
  7. Bromium (“Redefines endpoint security with a new approach focused on isolation rather than detection”)
  8. Twilio (“Lets you use standard web languages to build voice, VoIP and SMS applications via a web API”)
  9. Egnyte (“Provides Enterprise File Sharing built from the Cloud down”)
  10. Leap Motion (“Senses how you naturally move your hands and lets you use your computer in a whole new way.”)

Remembering Cloudera co-founder Jeff Hammerbacher’s lament that “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” it’s telling that these in-demand startups tend to be working on important problems, even if they’re not searching for the cure to cancer. 

If LinkedIn’s past lists are any indication, the most in-demand startups tend to do well financially, too. Looking at 2013’s crop of the top-10 in-demand startups, six are now worth between $1 billion and $10 billion (Cloudera, Hortonworks, Dropbox, Jawbone, Nutanix and Pinterest), while three went public (Violin Memory, Nimble Storage and GoPro). The tenth? Big Switch Networks, which appears to be doing quite well even without either distinction.

And, After The Honeymoon

So that’s the promise of working for a hot startup. How does it match up with reality? 

Just as I did for the top big data startups, it turns out that Glassdoor review data can reveal a lot about the realities of working at a hip company. 

See also: What It’s Like Working At A Red-Hot Big Data Startup

Digging through Glassdoor data, it’s clear that…a job is a job. While engineers definitely remain enamored with the missions of their companies, the day-to-day grind of working with jerks or incompetent fools takes its toll on their happiness. 

The good news, however, is that these in-demand startups mostly get things right. A rating of 4 or more on the Glassdoor scale suggests the company is an ideal employer. Half of these 10 companies meet that criteria.

That said, the ratings aren’t specific to engineering talent. Also, it’s hard to separate out exactly who is an engineer and who isn’t, as most reviewers prefer to remain anonymous. But with a little sleuthing here’s a reasonably accurate view of how engineers feel about these top-10 startups.

  1. Lytro (3.9 of 5)—Some technical staff praise the company because they get to “work on technology that will absolutely change the camera industry someday,” while others struggle with “middle management [that] is ineffective, or worse, jerks” and “micromanagement [that] is on the rise.” 
  2. Theranos (4.1 of 5)—Most of the engineering employees sound like this reviewer, who says that “I have been a scientist for 20 years and never felt that my works actually matters until I started working here.” Others say that “co-workers are great, but here only because they need their job” and complain that “Often times you will work over 40 hours a week.” Imagine that.
  3. Fitbit (3.9 of 5)—Sixty-nine percent of employees would recommend Fitbit to a friend, with some lauding “how passionate everyone is” about the company’s mission. Others, however, say “management only cares about the engineers.” This isn’t a bad thing if you’re an engineer, of course, and the engineering reviews tend to be quite positive. 
  4. Coursera (4.4 of 5)—A whopping 85% of Coursera employees want their friends to work with them, and it’s a bit of an engineering playground because of its “pretty unique Scala+Play stack, which is a pleasure to work on and [there are] plenty of interesting high growth projects in the pipeline.” While some loathe the dual-CEO structure, most seem pretty happy with the company and its future.
  5. Minted (3.2 of 5)—LinkedIn may rate Minted as hot, but its employees sure don’t. A mere 53% of employees would recommend it to a friend. Part of the problem may be that “Certain parts of the legacy codebase are brittle and need to be refactored” with the company disinclined to “paus[e] new feature work to reduce technical debt.” That, however, isn’t enough to explain the “insanely high turnover rate.”
  6. Wealthfront (4.5 of 5)—Only two reviews, so it’s hard to give the data much credence to the glowing reviews of the “amazing engineering culture” where “everyone is brilliant.” Still, those two people really seem to like it.
  7. Bromium (3.8 of 5)—Though 75% approve of the company, only 67% like the CEO. One product manager “feel[s] like I am in the process of birthing a new giant technology company,” yet also says “If you are at the stage in your life when you are prepared to work very hard and move up, this place may not be for you.” That sounds … promising?
  8. Twilio (4.2 of 5)—Some suggest that the “talent at every corner of this company is staggering,” while another engineer wonders why “A lot of focus is around what new features people are working on with very little thought around fixing existing infrastructure beyond the hyperbole people hear in group meetings.” Overall, engineering employees seem happy.
  9. Egnyte (3.6 of 5)—Only 76% of employees would recommend Egnyte to a friend. Some engineers suggest that Egnyte has a “strong mentor system in place to help new hires get up to speed,” but others bemoan a “[t]oxic culture that starts at the top and is pushed down.”
  10. Leap Motion (4.5 of 5)—Only two employees have bothered to write a review, but at least one of them has imbibed the Kool-Aid, gushing that “Everyone there is clearly passionate about the core mission,” concluding that “This is a rare opportunity to actually change the world.”

Most of these companies are not only hot with recruiters but also hot with employees, as the reviews show. But it still pays to do your homework before jumping into one of these startups, no matter how hot LinkedIn data suggests they are.

Lead photo by Cory Doctorow

View full post on ReadWrite

Has Silicon Valley Reached Peak Hoodie?

I hear a man strolling by the Original Stitch pop-up stand on San Francisco’s 4th and Townsend nonchalantly say, “That’s a nice shirt.”

The Original Stitch pop-up stand.

He’s eyeing two button-ups neatly folded on a table, next to a giant Goodwill donation bin. The pop-up stand is part of last week’s #DitchTheHoodie event by Original Stitch, the startup where people can design and order their own custom dress shirts. The startup’s goal for the day? To have the good people of San Francisco donate their hoodies to Goodwill in exchange for a free button-up shirt.

The startup asks people to #DitchTheHoodie.

The “button-ups for techies” idea is not entirely novel. A whole slew of startups are attempting to monetize the stereotype of Silicon Valley’s fashion-challenged males. The latest buzz around men’s fashion in San Francisco’s tech set is Black V Club, a startup that sells only black v-necks for the entrepreneur who is too busy to be bothered to pick out an outfit each day. Throw on a black v-neck, and you’re good to go.

See also: What Banana Republic’s “The Startup Guy” Collection Gets All Wrong

A button-up in exchange for a hoodie donated to Goodwill. 

An image driven by mainstream media like The Social Network movie and HBO’s Silicon Valley, and reinforced by real-life San Francisco techies, the hoodie has come to represent tech culture’s sartorial weapon of choice for the lazy coding nerd.

People gladly rid of their hoodies. 

Not to be bothered with fleeting trends and style choices, the stereotypical programmer pulls on a company tee and hoodie in the morning and scooters into work.

See also: Does Silicon Valley Look Like Silicon Valley?

A ceremonious recycling of hoodies. 

Many agree that fashion in tech could step up a notch. While the hoodie in its physical form—perfect in its light fabric and soft versatility—will never go away, the hoodie as metaphor and everything it has come to represent in Silicon Valley, is being thrown away.

I inquired those who were donating hoodies about their thoughts of other San Francisco hoodie-wearing brethren.

Richard Sim and Matt Sim discuss button-ups. 

Brothers Richard Sim and Matt Sim agree that Silicon Valley needs to get some style. They see fashion startups gaining traction. 

Matt, a customer operations specialist at Google, tells me about a friend who is renting out suits on a monthly basis. “There’s a large market for fashion in Silicon Valley,” he says.

Richard and Matt Sim with the hoodies they’re about to donate.

I ask Richard, a technical sourcer at Duran HCP, what the fashion landscape looks like in Silicon Valley. 

“Or lack thereof,” Richard replies. “You can tell who is in marketing and who is in engineering—you could point it out if you see them walking on the street. A lot of engineers look like college students who have just rolled out of bed; they wear whatever their companies give them. Let me just say this—if it’s fitted, then they’re probably not an engineer.”

Alan Fineberg in his own engineering attire. 

Alan Fineberg, an iOS engineer at Square, is actually an engineer with some fitted clothing. Surprisingly, he tells me he doesn’t think too much about his style choices, but that everyone at his company is just constantly on point in terms of fashion. 

Alan attests that good fashion is usual for working at Square. 

“People at Square are very well dressed,” says Alan, “I have even been asked if Square has a dress code. Everyone is just really design conscious and that comes out in their aesthetic and style choices.”

Liam Hausmann flashes his teal hoodie. 

“Fashion in Silicon Valley is pretty terrible,” Liam Hausmann tells me. An associate at PR firm Bateman group, Liam believes that the tech fashion sense is being glorified by certain individuals—the Zuckerbergs of the world. 

Liam thinks Silicon Valley style could use a little spice. 

“Everyone is playing into this certain aesthetic, but it’s based on something less than awesome,” says Liam, “There’s a hive mind in men’s tech fashion. There are expectations that people should be dressing a certain way. People can definitely spice their wardrobes up—its easy to dress nice.” 

Jason Park models an Original Stitch shirt. 

Jason Park, working the Original Stitch stand, believes that with tech companies and startups expanding and going global, sooner or later people will have to start dressing better. 

“Traditionally speaking, engineers don’t dress very well and we are in a city full of engineers,” says Jason, “Tech is so much a part of our society that it’s not a niche space anymore. Engineers have to talk to more people, they have more meetings, they work with more businesses. You have to learn how to dress up and stand out. But it’s not just a necessity, it’s cool to feel good.”

Images by Stephanie Chan 

View full post on ReadWrite

HBO’s “Silicon Valley” Is Getting More Women

The actors and creators behind the hit HBO show Silicon Valley took to Twitter Wednesday to answer questions from fans with the hashtag #AskSiliconValley. The hit show parodies the technology industry from its perch in Hollywood, but it’s beloved by techies and critics alike. 

The second season begins airing in April 2015—which seems like a long time to wait in an era of binge-watching. Until then, we’ll have to make do with the tidbits of information the cast and crew shared on Twitter. One key point: The show’s gender balance is changing for the better.

How Silicon Valley Is Really Like “Silicon Valley”

The show follows a startup named Pied Piper through its battle with Hooli, a Google-like giant. It’s a David vs. Goliath battle of algorithms, and, although humorous, the show features a number of aspects of the tech industry that are all too real—including the fashion, the absurd aspects of startup marketing, and an obsession with jokes about male genitalia

The #AskSiliconValley Twitter chat was in part a marketing ploy by HBO to get fans to purchase the first season on Apple’s iTunes, but creator Mike Judge and actors Thomas Middleditch and Kumail Nanjiani shed some light on behind-the-scenes aspects of filming and what to expect in Season Two.

Many viewers asked about the lack of women in the show, specifically in technical roles. This was a case of art mirroring life, as many big tech companies have revealed how skewed the gender ratios are in their workforces—but some hoped “Silicon Valley” could show a better vision for the industry.

So here is a bit of good news: According to Judge, two new female characters will be added to the cast. It’s unclear whether their roles will be technical. In the first season, women were mostly treated as disposable props or love interests for men—and every episode failed the Bechdel Test, a yardstick which measures movies and TV shows for meaningful female characters.

Bay Area locals have noted the show’s visual faithfulness to the real Silicon Valley, a bland realm of suburban houses and office parks. That’s because the show filmed many exterior shots in northern California.

Middleditch, the lead actor who plays awkward Pied Piper founder Richard on the show, dropped some hints about what people can expect from the upcoming season. One person suggested comedian John Hodgman should make an appearance as a relative of venture capitalist Peter Gregory. Middleditch hinted he might.

Maybe we’ll also see a glimpse of Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak. Perhaps not. Judge managed to give fans a tiny bit of hope while throwing some shade in Woz’s direction.

Nanjiani, the comedian who plays Dinesh, has some experience working as a programmer. He received a degree in computer science, and says his role on Silicon Valley playing a startup programmer is much more exciting than being an actual programmer.

If you were disappointed that the first season of Silicon Valley only lasted eight episodes, you might be excited for this: Season Two will run for 10 episodes.

Big Head, the friend of Richard who ditched Pied Piper in favor of a cushy gig at Internet giant Hooli, made a handful of cameos in the show after his startup departure. Fans of the deserter will be pleased to know that he will be back for season two.

During the season finale, the Pied Piper team developed a particular method of stimulating … well, let’s just say data to get their pitch to fly at TechCrunch Disrupt. So how long did it take the team to film that one scene?

If you haven’t seen the show yet, you have plenty of time to catch up before its April 2015 return. And we’ll be recapping every episode on ReadWrite.

View full post on ReadWrite

The Westboro Baptist Church’s Silicon Valley Protest: An Illustrated Guide

An ambitious plan by the Westboro Baptist Church to picket Silicon Valley’s biggest names may run into a problem that neither God nor technology can solve: traffic.

The Topeka, Kansas-based hate group, which made its way to infamy by picketing funerals of soldiers and sundry other dead folks of note with “God Hates ____” signs, is taking its “God Hates The Media” act to the San Francisco Bay Area on Tuesday, August 12. 

The church group’s schedule is more exhausting than your average tech IPO. The planned protests span almost 70 miles, with the hateful faithful aiming to hit nine tech companies between 11:35 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., allowing just two hours for travel time.

Yeah, good luck with that.

God Hates I-280

Recently ranked among worst commutes in the United States, Silicon Valley’s rush hour starts before dawn and never really ends. San Francisco drivers spent 56 hours in 2013 just sitting in traffic, according to research firm Inrix. And in San Jose, drives spent 35 hours they’ll never get back.

How the Westboro protesters plan to get from Facebook and Instagram in Menlo Park to Reddit’s office in San Francisco—hitting Google, Apple, Skype, YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest in between—remains a mystery. 

ReadWrite repeatedly attempted to contact the Westboro Baptist Church, and were continually met with an endlessly ringing phone. We didn’t even get voicemail. Does God hate Google Voice, too?

Church Of The Poison Mind

The Westborovians have been making some concessions to Silicon Valley realities. They finally noticed—two years after Facebook splashed $1 billion on Instagram—that Instagram had moved out of its startup offices in San Francisco and into Facebook’s corporate headquarters. That and other changes have added 25 minutes of travel time to the original protest schedule.

What’s more, the updated travel time no longer seems to rely on the travel time suggested by Google Maps—which anyone in Silicon Valley knows is a wishful fantasy at best.

Perhaps the Westboro congregation put some seed money into a quantum teleportation startup using funds inherited from WBC founder Fred Phelps, who went to his just reward in March.

Or maybe the church is counting on using ridesharing services to surmount a Jericho’s Wall of Tesla-driving VCs and brogrammers in Google buses. Uber Pool isn’t out quite yet, but the new Lyft Line carpooling app is out just in time for them to get from Point A to Point B efficiently.

We do know that the Westboro Baptist Church sometimes uses the very same technology it condemns. Case in point: The Westboro Baptist Church is participating in an “ask me anything” interview on Reddit on August 10, just two days before the group marches on its San Francisco office. 

Navigating Silicon Valley is always tough, especially when you’ve just dropped in from out of town. To help the protesters get around, we’ve created this handy map of Silicon Valley. And in case traffic stymies them from getting around, they can at least see what they’ve missed.

Illustration by Madeleine Weiss for ReadWrite

View full post on ReadWrite

Go to Top
Copyright © 1992-2015, DC2NET All rights reserved