By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
It’s day four of the Donald Trump presidency and he’s already infuriated women’s rights campaigners, the environmental movement and free trade advocates by signing controversial executive orders. Tech mastermind, Steven Levy put it best in his latest tech report: God help us all.
Millions around the world took to the streets within hours of Trump’s inauguration, in anticipation of these actions and more to come. The San Jose Women’s March took place here in Silicon Valley on Saturday, and in my twenty years in the South Bay, I’ve never witnessed such an outpouring of alarm, dismay and rage. One 70-year old educator I interviewed said that this was the first time in her life, she’s ever felt the need to stand up and take to the streets: not for women’s rights, not for civil rights, but to protest Trump’s presidency. And she was fired up. Today, my report aired on the BBC World Service.
One protester had this message for Silicon Valley tech leaders:
“Lead with faith, lead with truth, and lead with a kind of human dignity that is absent in a lot of our daily conversations…They gotta get rid of the fake news, people are being led down a kind of primrose path, thinking that by being angry and violent they’re going to create a better world for the future…that’s not the path, the truth, the reality that everyone can see here today,” Patrick Adams, science teacher at Bellarmine College Preparatory School in San Jose
Listen to my report and the discussion at the BBC World Service (from 2:40 in the podcast)
Gareth Mitchell: The President Elect became President on Friday….the crowds were back on the streets on Saturday, this time in protest at the new administration. The marches around the world were led by women, but in Silicon Valley, the tech people, male and female were venting their concerns too, along with scientists, and entrepreneurs, all of them worried by Trump’s stance on trade, innovation, science and the climate. It comes in an era of disquiet about Facebook and fake news, of post truth and cyber threats. To gauge the sentiment, our reporter in Silicon Valley, Alison van Diggelen, was at one of the marches.
Alison van Diggelen: I’m here at the San Jose Women’s March in the center of Silicon Valley and the women are out in force…
Yogacharya O’Brian (reading her poem, “Forward Women”): Not to the back of the line, because Delores walked in front; not to be held down, not even by gravity because Sally soared in space.
Alison: That was Yogacharya O’Brian, founder of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment and one of the rally’s powerful speakers.
Alison van Diggelen: Silicon Valley took to the streets in record numbers on Saturday to protest the country’s new president. Donald Trump’s proposed tax cuts and infrastructure investment could benefit the tech community; the U.S. economy and many of those marching in Silicon Valley. As could his plans to repatriate millions of dollars of tech companies’ overseas profits. Last month Trump even hosted a cordial summit with some top tech leaders. Despite all this, many in this community are fearful of what his presidency might mean for innovation, transparency, multiculturalism, and social progress.
Nick Shackleford: I’m here because of Trump’s election…he is bringing America back in time instead of leading us forward. As a nation we need to go forward and not backwards.
Alison van Diggelen: Here in the world tech center of innovation, what do you expect from this community of innovators?
Nick Shackleford: Like you said, we are innovators and I think we’re going to continue to innovate and lead the country – and sometimes the world – in the innovations that are being developed here in the Silicon Valley. And we have a lot of millionaires and billionaires who are liberal, believe in the cause and are true Californians and they will continue their fight, be it with their money, and their power or just lending their voice to causes that are important to our nation.
Alison van Diggelen: What would you say to Mark Zuckerberg and people like him with power?
Nick Shackleford: I think Mark Zuckerberg did not to enough to stop the fake news. I think he cared more about (getting it re-shared and) his personal stake in his company…and he can’t convince me otherwise. He’s to blame for a lot of the fake media.
Alison van Diggelen: What would you have him do?
Nick Shackleford: I’ve reported about 100 things in the last six months and nothing has been in violation of their policy, but I’ve seen other people get the same picture and be sent to Facebook jail for it. So he’s not consistent, there needs to be more transparency on this fake news fight.
Patrick Adams: They gotta get rid of the fake news, people are being led down a kind of primrose path thinking that by being angry and violent they’re going to create a better world for the future…that’s not the path, the truth, the reality that everyone can see here today.
Alison van Diggelen: Patrick Adams was one of many men who came out to support the women’s march. Like many protesters who couldn’t keep quiet, he was energized by the proliferation of fake news, and Trump’s use of “alternative facts” which continues this week in the heated dispute over his inauguration numbers. Adams had a message for Silicon Valley’s tech leaders….
Patrick Adams: Lead with faith, lead with truth, and lead with a kind of human dignity that is absent in a lot of our daily conversations …Everywhere I go I see wonderful, amazing, beautiful people working together to make this future happen and I also see people who’re giving up…either to escape into an alternate world of the Internet or they want to pretend that this doesn’t affect them. But if affects everyone. Everyone is involved.
Yogacharya O’Brian: We do not wait for you to lead with sons and with daughters in hand, with husbands and with wives, lovers and friends by our side…we march!
Crowd chanting, cheering
[End of report]
Gareth Mitchell: What do you make of the comments you heard there, Bill Thomson?
Bill Thomson: It was fascinating to hear via Alison’s excellent report just how confused people are, and how uncertain they are; and how many different perspectives there are. For me, as a member of the press, what we need to be doing is reporting effectively on what’s actually happening, not just reporting on an agenda set by politicians…So the limitations on women’s reproductive rights, the Keystone XL pipeline, the Dakota Access pipeline, the Transpacific Trade Partnership, the nomination of the Supreme Court justice, are all far more important than the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd.
There’s a real sense from Alison’s report that many people are confused because they don’t know what’s actually going on and are trying to project on that. It’s the role of us in the press to cut through that and be much clearer about what’s actually happening and not get dragged into debates or agendas set by other people.
Read more stories about Donald Trump on Fresh Dialogues
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
The race to build the “ultimate” electric car is heating up. Every month, it seems another electric car company joins the fray to offer a car stylish enough to attract the Tesla crowd, and affordable enough to meet the growing demand from China, the United States and Europe.
NextEV stands out from the crowd for two reasons:
- It has solid backing, from a broad range of top venture capital and Internet companies like Sequoia and Tencent.
2. Its Silicon Valley R&D facility is led by Padmasree Warrior, “The Queen of the Electric Car” and she’s rapidly attracting top tech talent from the likes of Tesla and Apple.
Last month, I attended the grand opening of NextEV Silicon Valley and interviewed its founder, William Li. He shared his “Blue Sky” ambition (he means it literally) and how his grandfather inspired him to go from cattle herder to Internet multi-millionaire. It was the first interview he’d ever done in English. I filed this report for the BBC World Service’s Tech Program, Click.
Here’s a transcript from today’s program, with some great insights from host Gareth Mitchell and BBC contributor, Bill Thompson. The transcript has been edited for length and clarity:
BBC Host, Gareth Mitchell: One event that did happen was the recent launch of yet another electric vehicle outfit in California. This is the Silicon Valley division of a Chinese startup called NextEV. The champagne flowed and the ribbon was cut – the digital ribbon – but our reporter Alison van Diggelen was most interested in the economics of it all. You don’t need to be an investor to know just how risky these ventures are as the technology gradually matures. In California and China state funding and tax breaks are all part of getting these businesses off the ground. Alison tracked down NextEV founder, former cattle herder and now big time entrepreneur, William Li.
Alison van Diggelen: At NextEV’s Silicon Valley launch, William Li confirmed that on November 21st, NextEV will reveal its first supercar in London. The electric car is expected to offer a 0-60 acceleration in under three seconds. Its Formula E racing team has used a dual-motor setup on its race car, and it’s likely to be a feature of the supercar. (The top speed of the sleek two-seater will be over 180 mph, and its price is likely to be equally extravagant!)
NextEV is late join to the electric car race. So how does Li intend to challenge Tesla and the dozens of electric car companies popping up worldwide?
William Li: Tesla is a great company, I respect them. But Tesla was founded 2003. Lots changed. It’s a mobile internet era. We can do better to communicate with our users, give our users a much better holistic user experience.
He aims to do for the car what Apple did for the smart phone.
He learned a lot about user experience from Bit Auto, a popular web portal in China and his first business success. He’s now built a global startup – with facilities in Beijing, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, London and Munich. The global workforce is 2000.
In Silicon Valley, its 250-strong team of auto and software experts is growing rapidly. U.S. CEO Padmasree Warrior – former CTO at Cisco – is hiring experts in artificial intelligence, voice interaction and user interface from the likes of Tesla, Apple and Dropbox. Warrior says they’re already working on affordable cars for China’s burgeoning demand.
Padmasree Warrior: In China, There’s a large shift happening … Environment issues are driving the government to look at electric vehicles as part of the solution… It’s healthier for the environment to drive an electric vehicle.
China is offering generous tax incentives to electric carmakers and consumers, driving a flood of companies into the space. NextEV recently signed an agreement with the Nanjing Municipal Government in China, to build a $500 million factory to build electric motors.
Similarly in Silicon Valley, a fleet of electric car companies has chosen to locate here, thanks to state tax incentives and the strong talent base. These include Tesla, Atieva, and Le Eco.
I spoke with California’s Director of Economic Development, Panorea Avdis. She explained how state policy is helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by focusing on the tech industry…
Panorea Avdis: The goal is to have 1 million electric zero emission vehicles on the road by 2020.
(Today, California has about 300,000 electric cars, about half of the nation’s total.)
Alison: NextEV secured $10M in tax credits. Tell me why that’s cost effective for the people of California.
Panorea Avdis: The return on investment…nearly 1000 jobs in the next 5 years, speaks for itself. California is leading the way, there’s no other state in the union that has this type of aggressive polices and it’s really inspiring this innovation in technology to come forward.
But making cars is notoriously hard. News broke this month that Apple is shelving its electric car plans to focus on self-driving software.
William Li knows it’s a tough road ahead. He gives his company just over a 50% chance of success.
As a boy, Li was a cattle herder in China. He’s come a long way and credits his grandfather’s wisdom:
William Li: [Speaks first in Mandarin ] The journey is more important than the result. So follow your heart….your original wish. Don’t worry about failure.
Like Tesla’s Elon Musk, Li is concerned about climate change and also the dense smog in Beijing and Shanghai. He blames polluting gas-guzzling cars.
NextEV’s brand in China is called “Way-Lye”
William Li: It means blue sky coming. That’s my original wish.
It’s an ambitious goal that could be a very long way off, especially in China’s congested and polluted cities.
Gareth Mitchell: That’s Alison van Diggelen reporting from Silicon Valley. So Bill Thompson – the journey is more important that the result?
Bill Thompson: The result is much more important than the journey here, because unless we get much cleaner public and personal transport, then we’re in big trouble. It’s really good to see another serious entrant in this market. It’s not sewn up yet by anyone. As we heard there about Tesla, there’s no first mover advantage because the technology is developing so quickly.
We know Padmasree Warrior’s reputation for delivering. She’s been on the show a few years back. She was senior at Motorola, then went to Cisco. They’ve got really good people.
But the really interesting part of this is what happens in China. In China because they have much more control over what people can do. The government can actually mandate a move to electric vehicles much more easily than they ever could in California and that gives a great market. So NextEV may be getting money and expertise over in Silicon Valley, but it’s what happens in China that’s really interesting.
Gareth Mitchell: I was interested in the economics side of the piece: the reliance partly on state funding to get these businesses going.
Bill Thompson: Occasionally state funding helps. You might have heard of this little thing called the Internet, kicked off with defense department funding from the US. It did pretty well by being able to rely on that funding for a critical period while it developed and then was able to be used by the private sector. One or two of these examples of it actually working…
Photo: Skyward CEO Jonathan Evans is convinced we’ll see “Jetsons” human-moving drones in 5 to 10 years
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Portland is better known for its environmental activism and the quirky comedy Portlandia
than its tech; but that reputation is beginning to change. This month, I visited two Portland startups that are helping accelerate the future of transportation through innovative technology for drones and autonomous vehicles. Skyward
, a drone operations startup, predicts that the Jetsons
future of flying cars is closer than we think. And in the fast-moving autonomous vehicle sector, Polysync’s
software is being widely used to speed up the development of self-driving cars.
“It’s harder to move from A to B and when you look at the sky, you have a blank slate. Within 5-10 years you will see human-moving aero robots that will be moving programmatically in space. It’s a lot like the vision we have of the Jetsons. It’s going to be much more on-demand, much cheaper, empowering all of us to be able to access the sky for whatever we want to,” Jonathan Evans, CEO Skyward
“That’s the problem with autonomous driving: each one of these sensing modalities has their limitations: some don’t see well in rain, in fog, at dusk. The Mobile Eye, what Tesla was using to detect lanes, some objects…that does very poorly at dusk….when the sun is head on. You really want backup, systems that are all corroborating its perception of the environment. In my opinion, the more sensing, the better,” Evan Livingston, Polysync Test Engineer
BBC tech writer, and Click contributor, Bill Thompson
shared some good insights on my report, emphasizing the importance of new drone regulations
that will help bring drones from the Wild West era to “civilization in the sky.”
Here’s a transcript of my report (edited for length and clarity).
BBC Click Host, Gareth Mitchell: Flying cars are part of the subject for our final item. We’re off to Portland, Oregon to its famous “Silicon Forest”, their counterpart to Silicon Valley in California. There’s a startup there working on flying cars, another is working on autonomous vehicles and we have this report from Alison van Diggelen, who’s been there.
Alison van Diggelen: My first stop was the Technology Association of Oregon. Its President, Skip Newberry is bullish about Portland’s growth prospects: in data, software development, and the Internet of Things.
Skip Newberry: I refer to Portland as having this Goldilocks phenomenon: we’re not too big, not too small, not too expensive and yet we also have some interesting amenities and international connections. We have a great quality of life.
Alison van Diggelen: He sent me to Polysync, a software startup that helps speed up the development of autonomous cars.
Polysync just earned a top 10 startup ranking at this year’s L.A. Auto Show.
Evan Livingston: On the right trigger we have acceleration, on the left trigger we have breaking. [Ambi: car accelerating and breaking]
Alison van Diggelen: In a converted warehouse, Polysync’s engineers test the software of autonomous cars to make sure all the sensors are communicating. Field engineer, Evan Livingston gave me a demo.
Evan Livingston: On this car, we have about 15 different sensors…we have 4 cameras that give us 360 degree views of the environment, we have six radars. We have 2 different LIDAR systems, and then we have a GPS inertial movement unit…so it gives us a very accurate location of the vehicle.
Alison van Diggelen: We discuss the recent fatal crash involving Tesla’s autopilot feature.
Evan Livingston: That’s the problem with autonomous driving: each one of these sensing modalities has their limitations: some don’t see well in rain, in fog, at dusk. The Mobile Eye, what Tesla was using to detect lanes, some objects…that does very poorly at dusk….when the sun is head on. You really want backup, systems that are all corroborating its perception of the environment. In my opinion, the more sensing, the better.
Evan Livingston sets up a demo of the Polysync software that connects the car’s 15 sensors.
Alison van Diggelen: Polysync’s team has doubled in size in this year, driven by partnerships with over 50 major car manufacturers and their suppliers. The company uses a 32-acre “mock city” campus near Detroit for testing. It’s called M-City. Here’s Polysync’s CEO, Josh Hartung.
Josh Hartung says MCity’s physical test track allows them to test near collisions and real world simulations.
Josh Hartung: They have cute fake buildings, and intersections, a small section of highway, little stop lights…. They have different ways they can trick an algorithm to think that it’s a real person with cardboard cutouts or inflatable targets. It’s one of the first in the world.
Polysync demo shows the car sensors in action
Alison van Diggelen: Across the Willamette River, I meet with Jonathan Evans, a former Blackhawk pilot in the army. He leads Skyward, an operations platform for commercial drones. He’s excited about how our perception of drones is changing as they touch our lives ever more closely…from fun toys to aerial surveys to even delivering breaking news.
Jonathan Evans: They look at this really beautiful piece of technology that is really like a flying cellphone. It’s gyro-stabilized, grid-oriented, information-oriented robot that can move ubiquitously in space… We take the pilots and the aircraft and we put them into the global airspace and help them conform to whatever the rules of the road are there. We were in the era of the Wild West… but now we have regulators that have provided us the channels to flow into responsibly. You can see a dramatic shift into civilization in the sky.
Alison van Diggelen: Evans thinks that drones will soon make (package) deliveries –even Internet delivery – and anticipates a paradigm shift in transportation.
Jonathan Evans: On the ground, things are getting much more clogged and it’s harder to move from A to B and when you look at the sky, you have a blank slate. Within 5-10 years you will see human-moving aero robots that will be moving programmatically in space. It’s a lot like the vision we have of the Jetsons. It’s going to be much more on-demand, much cheaper, empowering all of us to be able to access the sky for whatever we want to.
Alison van Diggelen: Silicon Valley companies may steal the limelight but behind the scenes, Portland’s “Silicon Forest” is making its mark on the evolution and impact of technology around the world. [Ambi: Skyward flight ops team, DJI Phantom 3 Professional drone]
Jonathan Natiuk: “That’s kinda cool, man!”
Gareth Mitchell: Are we really heading for the Jetsons in our lives, do you think Bill Thompson?
Bill Thompson: Well, I started off being really skeptical about this…but then I discovered a human carrying drone is being tested in Nevada, the eHang drone…the actual hardware is being built. It can go 100 km/hour. The hardware is there and what we hear from Skyward is that the regulation is starting to be there. That’s the crucial thing. It’s about making sure if we have the technology that can deliver these things. It fits into a broader regulatory environment, so it becomes both legal and as safe as it can be to do them. It took a long time for the automobile, for the car, to go from being something strange and mysterious to dominating our cities. I do think we will get to the stage where we’re using the skies in these new ways, so actually, yeah: it is coming.
Find out more about electric and autonomous vehicles, from Tesla to Hyperloop at Fresh Dialogues EV archives
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Today began with news that Apple was in talks with British carmaker McLaren about a possible acquisition, linked to Apple’s “Project Titan” electric car. Rumors were later squashed by McLaren, but attention is still on Apple’s autonomous car plans and speculation is mounting.
Meanwhile, my friends at the BBC invited me to share my (verified) interview with new electric vehicle company, NextEV. This Chinese startup, with a growing R&D facility in Silicon Valley has just come out of stealth mode and plans to reveal its “supercar” in November. When I interviewed Padmasree Warrior, CEO of NextEV USA last month, she couldn’t reveal the specs of the car, but my investigations concluded that it would be autonomous. This week, her spokesperson confirmed that both the first generation NextEV cars, to be manufactured in China, and those to be made at a manufacturing facility in the U.S. will be autonomous.
Listen to my report at the BBC’s Business Matters. Our electric/autonomous car discussion starts at 32:46.
Here’s a transcript of our discussion and my report (edited for length and clarity)
BBC Host, Anu Anand: Apparently Apple is NOT in talks with McLaren as reported by the Financial Times. This all underscores the feverish speculation about driverless car technology and where the major tech companies like Apple are putting their chips and what they’re doing to prepare products for this market. This is something you’ve been looking at too, isn’t it Alison?
Alison van Diggelen: Absolutely. Apple is notoriously secret…It’s well known they’ve been working for two years on the electric car (Project Titan). The latest speculation says they may be in talks with a San Francisco startup called Lit Motors. There is a race for electric vehicle talent and Apple recently laid off dozens of its team and is looking to fill that gap. I’ve been talking with NextEV, a real electric car maker that’s just coming out of stealth mode. Its CEO, Padmasree Warrior, invited me to visit its brand new R&D facility in San Jose. Here’s my report:
The race for affordable electric vehicles is heating up around the world. Here in Silicon Valley, just 10 miles from the factory where Tesla makes its electric cars, NextEV, an electric vehicle startup is racing to get on the track. Former CTO at Cisco, Padmasree Warrior now leads the U.S. facility of this global startup with operations in China, Germany and the UK. Despite her lack of car experience, Warrior’s bold approach to beat Tesla in China is earning her the name: “Queen of the electric car.”
Padmasree Warrior: When you think about cars in the old paradigm…people used to talk about Horse Power…we think in the future people will talk about ease of use, user interface, Artificial Intelligence. And so the shift from HP to AI is one of the shifts that we will embrace much more rapidly. Our opportunity within China is to combine all of the capabilities from the mobile Internet to focus on user experience – from ownership, to maintenance to post ownership services.
NextEV US headquarters in San Jose is 85,000 square feet. When remodeling is complete, it will house a 10,500 square feet auto lab.
Alison van Diggelen: Energized by NextEV’s $1Billion in funding, Warrior and her Silicon Valley R&D team has gone from zero to 160 employees in about 9 months. It has attracted auto and software experts from the likes of Tesla, Apple and Dropbox. It’s this focus on the software that Warrior hopes will differentiate her products in a crowded race. She suggests that the touch screens on NextEV cars will be more actively utilized than Tesla’s and the car will automatically “know who’s driving it.”
New team member skill-sets suggest that features will include voice interaction and autonomous driving.
I asked her if building an attractive car was important too?
Padmasree Warrior: This is why we have a design center in Munich; we have an amazing industrial design team and styling expertise… We believe European design is unbelievably superior in the consumer product space.
Alison van Diggelen: NextEV’s founder, Chinese Internet billionaire William Li has a global strategy that aims to leverage each location’s comparative advantage and use virtual reality tools to make sure that all its teams are driving forward together.
Padmasree Warrior: Silicon Valley is obviously the place to be for looking at technology, looking at disruptions. China’s expertise is manufacturing, supply chain…obviously the market is there.
NextEV hopes to make a flying start in the Chinese market next year, but is keeping the specs of its cars under wraps, until the “supercar” is revealed before the year end. Co-President Martin Leach confirmed that their cars will definitely be cheaper than Tesla’s.
He spoke to me from NextEV’s London office:
Martin Leach: We’re not making a company for ultra millionaires and billionaires and then trying to transition the company to a more affordable solution…the supercar plays a role in our overall strategy, and is being developed alongside our other mainstream products… from day one.
The “living wall” in NextEV US Headquarters in San Jose, CA
With about 200 electric car companies in China alone, NextEV’s William Li has put his company’s chance of success at just 5%, but that doesn’t deter Warrior.
Alison van Diggelen: Although the odds are against her, Warrior – who’s known as a champion for women in tech – is following her own advice to women in business:
Padmasree Warrior: Be confident, go for what your dreams are. Sometimes, we second guess ourselves, we stay with what is comfortable rather than what we really desire to do. Take risks wisely, but take risks.
Alison van Diggelen: Her team in Silicon Valley is putting pedal to the metal to make it happen…
Continue listening to the podcast (@38:00) to hear our discussion about driverless car fears and the impact of this week’s Department of Transport guidelines for automated cars.
Find out more about Tesla’s plans and other Electric Vehicle developments at Fresh Dialogues
NB: As with all my BBC Dialogues and Reports at Fresh Dialogues, the copyright of this report remains with the BBC.
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.
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