By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Since Tesla CEO Elon Musk joined the Trump business advisory team in December he’s been under intense pressure to step down. That pressure intensified this month after Donald Trump signed an executive order banning immigrants from seven countries with Muslim majorities. On February 2nd, Musk’s colleague, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick pulled out of the Trump team after a widespread #DeleteUber campaign went viral and his employees urged him to withdraw.
“Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that,” wrote Kalanick to his staff.
Musk faced a barrage of similar criticism, with some saying he’s a crony capitalist and others claiming to have cancelled their orders for Tesla Model 3.
Last week, I joined the BBC’s Fergus Nicholl on the BBC World Service program, Business Matters. We discussed Silicon Valley tech’s furious reaction to the Trump travel ban and Elon Musk’s high pressure predicament.
Listen to the podcast excerpt below (it includes commentary from the always provocative Lucy Kellaway):
Here’s a transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):
Fergus Nicoll: Elon Musk has run into Twitter trouble…when he spoke to Mr. Trump in person and when he was seen having a drink with Steve Bannon in the White House, a lot of people said: “What on earth are you thinking?” And he came up with a fairly strong defense…
Alison van Diggelen: His key message is: “Activists should be pushing for more moderates like him, to advise the president not fewer.” And he asks, “How could having only extremists advise him possibly be good?”
Alison van Diggelen: He’s faced a lot of criticism, people even saying they’re cancelling their orders for the next generation of cars, the Tesla Model 3. He is under this pressure, but he is a powerful influencer, a poster child for Donald Trump’s manufacturing jobs being in the U.S. Musk is an idealist, he wants to save the planet. He’s bringing his message of climate change and green jobs, almost as a Trojan horse, into Trump’s meeting rooms. I think a lot of people who think about this deeply deeply, are not having this knee jerk reaction and saying don’t associate with Trump. Instead they’re saying this might be a good conduit for Trump hearing this green point of view.
Here is some of the pushback Elon Musk received on Twitter and his responses:
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
What’s it like to be a black female CEO in Silicon Valley? How should you handle a powerful backlash when your company does a major pivot? I explored both issues with TaskRabbit CEO, Stacy Brown Philpot and my interview aired last night on the BBC World Service program Business Matters.
BBC host Roger Hearing, Seoul Bureau Chief for the Economist Stephanie Studer and I had a lively conversation about the gig economy, as well as fashion fumbles (like cargo shorts) and cool alternatives (like utility kilts).
Listen to the podcast at the BBC (Episode titled: Bank of England Lowers Interest Rates): TaskRabbit segment begins at 26:46
Or listen to the TaskRabbit segment below:
Here’s a transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity)
Roger Hearing: Alison, I know you’ve been looking into something that is a strange concept: the gig economy. Tell us, what is the gig economy?
Alison van Diggelen: It’s been borrowed from the music industry, Roger. Workers who work in the gig economy don’t have regular full time work, but work in “gigs” like at Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, Etsy, Upwork and TaskRabbit. I’ve been speaking with Stacy Brown-Philpot. She’s the CEO of TaskRabbit. It’s a website and app that matches job seekers with jobs – like house cleaning, shopping, delivery and handyman jobs.
It was founded in 2008 and was one of the first companies in the gig economy. Stacy told me how the company launched its international operation in London in 2012, and it did a pivot. It changed its “bidding for a job” model to a “direct hire” approach. This was a huge success in London but when they tried it back in the United States, they faced a severe backlash from contractors here. Yet, they stuck to their guns and last year the business grew 400%.
I first asked Stacy what advice she would give to other businesses about staying the course, when they try to pivot and face similar challenges.
Stacy Brown-Philpot: Know exactly what it is that you are focused on and don’t lose track of that. Stay laser-ly focused on what that goal is…despite the noise that comes into the market place, stay focused and believe more than anyone else and you can get there.
Alison van Diggelen: There are a lot of critics of the on-demand economy saying that it doesn’t offer a living wage, benefits to workers…this whole “Uber issue” of independent contractors not employees…Can you give me your perspective?
Stacy Brown-Philpot: Our Taskers are independent contractors – they can work in a flexible way and that is the No.1 reason why they stay. We have a very low churn: 10%. The flexibility that we’re able to offer our Taskers is unparalleled and necessary.
What needs to happen is that the regulations and policy has to change…to support the sharing economy. When you look at structures we’re working under…these were created in the 1900’s and they no longer apply…we need something that adapts to the technology-enabled businesses that we operate under today.
Alison van Diggelen: What specifically would you like to see as far as regulation change?
Stacy Brown-Philpot: One of the tradeoffs we face is the ability to offer training and more transferable skills to our taskers…We’d love to see regulations evolve to support that. We’d also love to see opportunities to access healthcare and retirement.
We empowered this community to create a social safety net for Taskers who really want the flexibility to work in a meaningful way, so we have a responsibility to also partner with them to do other things like have health care and retirement savings.
Alison van Diggelen: Let’s talk about diversity – you’re a rare person, you’re black… you’re a female CEO in Silicon Valley. Talk about the pros and cons of that.
Stacy Brown-Philpot: The pro is that I stand out…whenever I walk into a room and try to meet somebody…I say: trust me, you’ll find me…you’ll see who I am. (laughter)
But the con is that I stand out. Sometimes I look around and wish there were more people who look like me. At TaskRabbit over 58% of our staff are women, we have 11% African Americans – It’s a stated goal to increase those numbers. I feel a responsibility – just to feel more welcome wherever I go – to increase those numbers, and encourage everybody in our industry – not just for the sharing economy – but the tech industry overall to do the same.
Alison van Diggelen: What specifically do you do?
Stacy Brown-Philpot: We have goals around targets that we measure in hiring, so whenever we bring someone in that we want to hire, we want to make sure that population of people we’re interviewing is a diverse population of people. We also do things culturally in terms of our off-sites and events to make sure everybody can bring their whole selves to work because many of our new hires come from referrals….if you feel you can bring your whole self to work and bring someone who’s different and they be a great candidate for the company. (Brown Philpot also told me TaskRabbit has teamed with the Congressional Black Caucus to help increase the company’s diversity.)
Alison van Diggelen: Talk about your wildest dreams for where TaskRabbit can be in 5-10 years?
Stacy Brown-Philpot: Task Rabbit should exist everywhere in the world. We’re creating everyday work for everyday people – this is a phenomenon that is global and so I want to be global as a company. Millions of families are time starved, countless people are looking to find work, and they’re looking for an opportunity for growth and creating a meaningful income. That’s an economic responsibility that we take seriously. We’re shaping the future of work.
Roger Hearing: Does it change the future of work? These kinds of companies: Uber, Etsy etc?
Alison van Diggelen: There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence… and according to the US Census, the gig economy was the fastest growing employment sector last year. A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40% of American workers will be these independent contractors – it’s currently about 30% – and this will have knock-on effects. Here in the U.S. we don’t have a national health service so these people working these gig economy jobs don’t have health benefits through their employment, so there are things that will have to change.
Roger Hearing: It hasn’t all been roses, as you alluded to in the interview. There was a revolt against TaskRabbit. Tell us more about that…
Alison van Diggelen: They originally had a bidding process and the Taskers felt they had more control that way. After trying out this new on-demand service they got a huge backlash. They learned a lot of lessons -one of which was: you can’t overdo the communications. A lot of people didn’t understand the changes. Stacy Brown Philpot worked previously at Google for almost 10 years and she used her product experience there to stay the course. She recalled when a new version of Gmail came out, people hated it and hated Google for introducing it…People are opposed to change she found.
In the end, they’re saying the Taskers benefited and TaskRabbit benefited and it was a win win. It was a vocal minority who opposed the change.
Continue listening for more discussion…
The Economist’s Stephanie Studer explains why Uber was effectively banned in South Korea and why gig economy companies like TaskRabbit may face cultural and other challenges if they try to launch in the region. We also discussed trust and safety issues; and what TaskRabbit is doing to ensure Taskers are trustworthy and reliable.
And finally, Roger Hearing explored the business fashion trends in London, Silicon Valley and Seoul and was surprised to learn about the popularity of the utility kilt here in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Find out more
Meet more strong female leaders like Instagram COO Marne Levine and Wholly H2O’s Elizabeth Dougherty from our Fresh Dialogues Inspiring Women Series
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
As the seismic impact of Britains’s vote to leave the European Union rocks the political and financial world, the long term impact is still unclear. But it’s likely that the creation of a new political divide could have incessant repercussions around the world. What does it mean for globalization, and for U.S. presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton?
I was invited to take part in a live discussion on the BBC World Service last night with Simon Long, Banyan columnist for The Economist in Singapore; and Diana Furchtgott-Roth, director of Economics21 in New York.
I see Brexit as part of a larger trend: a widespread shift to nationalism and anti-globalization. It could be the beginning of the end of capitalism as we know it – the majority of Britons have voted against the status quo. Globalization is NOT working for them. In the US, it’s a big wake up call to establishment politics here. Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party need to take note.
BBC host, Fergus Nicholl led a lively discussion on the pros and cons of the Brexit vote. Here is a transcript of the globalization discussion (edited for length and clarity). Listen to the entire podcast at the BBC (Globalization focus starts at 38:38) or below:
Robert Hormats (former Under Secretary for Economic Growth for President Obama and Vice Chairman of Kissinger Associates) explained the U.S perspective:
Robert Hormats: We have a great stake in the global economic system…the global economy has a big effect on our own economy, as it does on other countries’ economies and if we give up that leadership or turn inward, it will hurt our economy…
Laura Trevelyan (BBC Correspondent, Washington D.C.): What can be done to restore economic stability?
Robert Hormats: I think it’s very important that political leaders try to help people who do not feel that they’ve benefited from globalization or from technology, to feel more included, to listen to those people. If these people feel more confident about their own lives, they’ll feel more confident about the global economy…We need to make sure the global economic system works effectively and that is now in jeopardy.
Diana Furchtgott-Roth: I’m fully in favor of globalization, but it doesn’t have to mean that Brussels can control what kind of vacuum cleaner you can buy…The EU has become too intrusive. And that’s why the majority of people voted to leave… not having to do with globalization but intrusion in everyday life…
Fergus Nicholl: Simon, take us into Asia with this issue of globalization…
Simon Long: It’s not just that people are uncomfortable with globalization, they’re uncomfortable with some of the byproducts: increased inequality, entrenched elites making decisions for them. And in that context this (Brexit) vote has resonated in some parts of Asia as a revolt against doing what you’re told is best for you. It’s a phenomenon one’s seen in elections in Indonesia in 2014…in the Philippines with the election of Rodrigo Duterte on an explicitly anti-elite, anti-establishment platform. It’s part of an anti-globalization trend…a general revolt by the people who feel excluded from the elites.
Fergus Nicholl: Alison, you’ve got friends and family back home in Scotland. I wonder how they’ve been reacting over the last few days…
Alison van Diggelen: It looks to me like another referendum on Scottish independence is almost inevitable. I’ve heard anecdotally that some Scots who voted “No” to independence in 2014 are now inclined to vote “Yes” – they don’t want to be part of what they see as an isolationist, xenophobic “little England” mentality.
I see Brexit as part of a larger trend: a widespread shift to nationalism and anti-globalization. It could be the beginning of the end of capitalism as we know it – the majority of Britons have voted against the status quo. Globalization is NOT working for them. In the US, it’s a big wake up call to establishment politics here. Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party need to take note of it and start doing more to address the people who’re not benefiting from globalization and doing something to help them.
Fergus Nicholl: Simon, that’s a very bleak message: a sense of fundamental danger to the global financial system?
Simon Long: I think it’s justified. What we have seen is a big step back to the international order of the past 40-50 years. It does reflect a sense of resentment, not just in the UK, against the EU, but felt around the world, against the current economic system. If one looks at pioneering trade agreements, for example, The Trans-Pacific Partnership, it’s hard to find any country where that’s a popular idea: people think it’s either nothing to do with them or is against their interest. The popular mood has disassociated itself from what governments are doing in globalization.
Read lots more BBC Dialogues and reports from Fresh Dialogues
Politics: Mexicans in Silicon Valley Respond to Trump’s Vitriol
Tech: How to Get More Women in Tech?
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
This week, I was delighted to discover that my interview with Solar Impulse pilot and clean technology enthusiast, Bertrand Piccard was featured on BBC Radio 4’s program, “Pick of the Week.” The program is described as “a selection of highlights from the past week on BBC radio” and it certainly makes compelling listening. BBC Presenter Caz Graham‘s picks are an eclectic mix of audio-rich stories: everything from Chairman Mao to Bob Dylan; and swimming in the Thames to soaring in solar flight. You can listen to the full 45-minute podcast here. The Solar Impulse segment starts at 22:20 but if you start listening at 20:10, you’ll get a fuller context, as Graham links the clean technology mission to the ideals of the influential economist, E.F Schumacher.
Listen to the Solar Impulse Segment here: (Schumacher starts at 0:07 and Solar Impulse at 1:45)
Here’s a transcript of the segment (edited for length and clarity):
BBC Presenter: Now on Radio 4, with the best of the BBC Radio this week, here’s Caz Graham…
Caz Graham: “Small is beautiful” challenged the idea of economies based on mass production. According to Schumacher, big isn’t always better….Leo Johnson tried to find out what Schumacher stands for and whether his ideas might be about to take off. He enlisted the help of Satish Kumar, founder of the Schumacher College.
Satish Kumar: We have been given these beautiful hands…they are like a miracle. What can we do with these hands? The word ‘poet’ means ‘to make’….’poiesis.’ In Schumacher’s view, we are all poets. If we make something with creativity and imagination, a garden can be poetry, dinner can be a work of poetry…Work is a source of pleasure and joy. Our philosophy of consumerism, of materialism, of disconnection, that humans are separate from nature…is the biggest problem…Financial wealth is only a means to an end. Real wealth is community, people, their skills, their talent, their imagination, their creativity…Real wealth is nature.
Caz Graham: It all sounds marvelous in theory, but what about in practice? You need people to channel that imagination and creativity to deliver and develop the kind of world that Shumacher was aspiring to. Maybe people like Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg? They have a unique plane. It’s called the Solar Impulse. It has a wing span of 230 feet and it’s powered entirely by solar panels attached to those wings. They want to prove that this kind of clean technology really can work and could help solve our energy problems, so they’re currently flying it right around the world.
Alison van Diggelen caught up with them for the World Service’s Business Matters, during a recent stop over in Silicon Valley. This is Bertrand Piccard…
Bertrand Piccard: You know, I never have enough of flying that plane or seeing it flying…when you see those four electrical motors that put the plane in the sky with no noise, no pollution, it’s like a jump into the future. Thanks to new technologies, the future is already today.
Alison van Diggelen: What for you is the biggest game changer?
Bertrand Piccard: The world cannot continue on combustion engines, badly insulated houses, incandescent light bulbs, outdated systems to distribute the energy…this is last century. It’s not only about protecting the environment, it’s a lot about making money, new industrial markets, economic development, profit, job creation. These clean technologies can be used for electrical mobility, LED lights, smartgrids. …. Maybe Solar Impulse is a way to try to overcome the resistance of the dinosaurs who have not yet understood where the future is.
Alison van Diggelen: You’re an entrepreneur, as is Andre (Borschberg). What do you say to these naysayers?
Bertrand Piccard: I tell them: be really careful because innovation does not come from inside the system. It’s not the people selling the candles who invented the lightbulb. What you’re doing now will be replaced. If you want to innovate be a pioneer…change your way of thinking. Dinosaurs disappeared, they were the strongest one, but the less flexible one to adaptation.
Caz Graham: Bertrand Piccard, speaking on the World Service.
Check out more Pick of the Week programs at BBC Radio 4
Find out more about the Solar Impulse team at Fresh Dialogues – Is this a Kitty Hawk moment for Clean Technologies?
Follow the Solar Impulse journey around the world
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Last Thursday, I joined a special BBC World Service program hosted by Fergus Nicoll in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. We began by discussing the large community of Vietnamese in Silicon Valley and its connection to Vietnam’s growing tech hub. Listen to the BBC podcast (at 21:00 re. Silicon Valley-Vietnam, and at 31:00 re. The Tech Awards)
We discussed my latest interviews in Silicon Valley on the BBC Business Matters program. Here’s a transcript of our dialogue, edited for length and clarity:
Fergus Nicoll: Alison, you’ve been talking to some of the winners of the Tech Awards in Silicon Valley. What kinds of things are they coming up with and what could Vietnamese developers seek to emulate?
Alison van Diggelen: I spoke with three young entrepreneurs who’re doing incredible things: Tricia Compas-Markman is founder of DayOne Response. What they’ve built is a 10 liter backpack – it’s very low-tech in fact. It provides clean drinking water on day one in a natural disaster. They’ve deployed it in places like Nepal after the earthquake; and what they want to do is pre-position it in places like the Philippines that are subject to natural disasters. It’s a wonderful way for families and individuals to collect and treat and get clean drinking water in disaster areas…
Fergus Nicoll: We were in the Philippines last week…we could maybe put them in touch with Senator Loren Legarda or the Red Cross in the Philippines? They would be very keen to hear about that kind of initiative. What else have you been hearing about?
Alison van Diggelen: Let’s do that for sure! The other winner is called Open Pediatrics and it’s an online community for pediatricians. It’s almost like a Khan Academy for pediatricians: an online learning community connecting the cutting edge technology of first rate hospitals like Boston’s Children’s Hospital with rural clinics in developing countries, so they get the same expertise. It’s a wonderful, simple idea and there are some top people involved in that. I talked with Traci Wolbrink, one of the key people (pictured at the podium, above).
And the last one I want to mention is a very simple app…It’s called BeeLine Reader, founded by Nick Lum, a corporate lawyer who’s become a tech humanitarian. This BeeLine Reader allows people to read on screens much more easily. If you’re suffering from dyslexia, or vision problems, you can read using a color gradient. So if you can imagine reading a line, and the color of the script changes from blue to red to black but it wraps around, it guides your eye so you can read faster or more clearly. This is available for either a dollar a month or $5 to buy the app.
There’s wonderful creativity going on…
Fergus Nicoll: Absolutely…
The Tech Awards in San Jose on Thursday November 12, 2015. (© Photo by Jakub Mosur)
Alison van Diggelen: All these entrepreneurs were given a good load of money to take it to the next level. It was very inspiring to see that not all techies are out to make a buck. Some of them want to change the world…make the world a better place.
Fergus Nicoll: Brilliant. That sounds fantastic.
Find out more at Fresh Dialogues
What is Tech Award winner Jeff Skoll doing to change the world and make it greener?