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Design’s dirty secrets and how to address experience bias – TechCrunch

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I had a conversation recently with a huge technology company, and they wanted to know if their work in human-centered design guards against experience bias. The short answer? Probably not.

When we say experience bias, we’re not talking about our own cognitive biases; we’re talking about it at the digital interface layer (design, content, etc.). The truth is that pretty much every app and site you interact with is designed either based on the perceptions and ability of the team that created it, or for one or two high-value users. If users don’t have experience with design conventions, lack digital understanding, don’t have technical access, etc., we’d say the experience is biased against them.

The solution is to shift to a mindset where organizations create multiple versions of a design or experience customized to the needs of diverse users.

Going back to this tech company I was talking with, any company’s investments in empathetic design are essential, but, as someone who has launched and runs design functions, we need to address a few dirty secrets.

The first is that UX and design teams are often instructed on very limited target users by a strategy or business function, and experience bias starts there. If the business doesn’t prioritize a user, then a design team won’t have the permission or budget to create experiences for them. So even if the company is pursuing human-centered design or employs design thinking, they’re often just iterating against a user profile based on commercial interests and not aligned with any definition of diversity in terms of culture, race, age, income level, ability, language or other factors.

The other dirty secret is that human-centered design frequently assumes humans design all of the UX, services and interfaces. If the solution to experience bias is to create tailored variations based on users’ different needs, this hand-crafted UI model won’t cut it, especially when the teams making it often lack diversity. Prioritizing a variety of experiences based on user needs requires either a fundamental change in design processes or leveraging machine learning and automation in creating digital experiences — both necessary in a shift to experience equity.

How to diagnose and address experience bias

Addressing experience bias starts with understanding how to diagnose where it might appear. These questions have been helpful in understanding where the problem can exist in your digital experiences:

Content and language: Does the content make sense to an individual?

Many applications require special technical understanding, use jargon oriented to the company or industry, or assume technical knowledge.

With any financial services or insurance website — the assumption is that you understand their terms, industry and nomenclature. If the days of an agent or banker translating for you are going away, then the digital experiences need to translate for you instead.

UI complexity: Does the interface make sense based on my abilities?

If I have a disability, can I navigate it using assistive technology? Am I expected to learn how to use the UI? The way that one user needs to navigate an interface may be very different based on ability or context.

For example, design for an aging population would prioritize more text and less subtle visual cues. In contrast, younger people tend to do well with color-coding or preexisting design conventions. Think about terrible COVID-19 vaccine websites that made it your problem to understand how to navigate and book appointments — or how each of your banks has radically different ways to navigate to similar information. It used to be that startups had radically simple UIs, but feature upon feature makes them complex even for veteran users — just look at how Instagram has changed in the past five years.

Ecosystem complexity: Are you placing responsibility on the user to navigate multiple experiences seamlessly?

Our digital lives aren’t oriented around one site or app — we use collections of tools for everything we do online. Almost every digital business or product team aspires to keep users locked into their walled garden and rarely considers the other tools a user might encounter based on whatever they’re trying to accomplish in their lives.

If I’m sick, I may need to engage with insurance, hospitals, doctors and banks. If I’m a new college student, I may have to work with multiple systems at my school, along with vendors, housing, banks and other related organizations. The users are always to blame if they have difficulty stitching together different experiences across an ecosystem.

Inherited bias: Are you using systems that generate content, design patterns built for a different purpose or machine learning to personalize experiences?

If so, how do you ensure these approaches are creating the right experiences for the user you’re designing for? If we leverage content, UI and code from other systems, you inherit whatever bias is baked into those tools. One example is the dozens of AI content and copy generation tools now available — if those systems generate copy for your site, you import their bias into your experience.

To start building more inclusive and equitable experience ecosystems right now, new design and organizational processes are needed. While AI tools that help generate more customized digital experiences will play a big role in new approaches to front-end design and content in the coming years, there are five immediate steps any organization can take:

Make digital equity part of the DEI agenda: While many organizations have diversity, equity and inclusion goals, these rarely translate into their digital products for customers. Having led design at large companies and also worked in digital startups, the problem is the same across both: a lack of clear accountability to diverse users across the organization.

The truth is that at big and small companies alike, departments compete for impact and who is closer to the customer. The starting point for digital experiences or products is defining and prioritizing diverse users at the business level. If a mandate exists at the most senior levels to create a definition of digital and experience equity, then each department can define how it serves those goals.
No design or product team can make an impact without management and funding support, and the C-suite needs to be held accountable for ensuring this is prioritized.

Prioritize diversity in your design and dev teams: There’s been a lot written about this, but it’s vital to emphasize that teams that lack any diverse perspective will create experiences based on their privileged background and abilities.

I would add that it’s essential to cast for people who have experience designing for diverse users. How is your organization changing its hiring process to improve design and developer groups? Who are you partnering with to help source diverse talent? Are your DEI goals just check boxes on a hiring form that are circumvented when hiring the designer you already had in mind? Do your agencies have clear and proactive diversity programs? How well-versed are they in inclusive design?

A few valuable initiatives from Google are exemplary: In its efforts to improve representation in the talent pipeline, it has shifted funding of machine learning courses from predominantly white institutions to a more inclusive range of schools, enabled free access to TensorFlow courses and sends free tickets to BIPOC developers to attend events like Google I/O.

Redefine what and whom you test with: Too often, user testing (if it happens at all) is limited to the most profitable or important user segments. But how does your site work with an aging population or with younger users who don’t ever use desktop computers?

One of the key aspects of equity versus equality in experience is developing and testing a variety of experiences. Too often, design teams test ONE design and tweak based on user feedback (again, if they’re testing at all). Though it might be more work, creating design variations considering the needs of older users, people who are mobile-only, from different cultural backgrounds, etc. allows you to link designs to digital equity goals.

Shift your design goal from one design for all users to launching multiple versions of an experience: Common practice for digital design and product development is to create a single version of any experience based on the needs of the most important users. A future where there’s not one version of any app or site, but many iterations that align to diverse users, flies in the face of how most design organizations are resourced and create work.

However, this shift is essential in a pivot to experience equity. Ask simple questions: Does your site/product/app have a variation with simple, larger text for older audiences? In designing for lower-income households, can mobile-only users complete the tasks you’re expecting, as with people who would switch to desktops to complete?

This goes beyond simply having a responsive version of your website or testing variations to find the best possible design. Design teams should have a goal of launching multiple focused experiences that tie directly back to prioritized diverse and underserved users.

Embrace automation to create variations of content and copy for each user group: Even if we create design variations or test with a wide range of users, I’ve often seen content and UI copy be considered an afterthought; especially as organizations scale, content either becomes more jargon-filled or so overpolished that it’s meaningless.
If we take copy from existing language (say, marketing copy) and put it into an app, how are you limiting people’s understanding of what the tool is for or how to use it? If the solution to experience bias is variation in front-end design based on the needs of the individual, then one smart way we can dramatically accelerate that is to understand where automation can be applied.

We’re at a moment in time where there is a quiet explosion of new AI tools that will radically change the way UI and content are created. Look at the volume of copy-driven AI tools that have come online in the last year — while they’re largely aimed at helping content creators write ads and blog posts faster, it’s not a stretch to imagine a custom deployment of such a tool within a large brand that takes users’ data and dynamically generates UI copy and content on the fly for them. Older users may get more textual descriptions of services or products that have zero jargon; Gen Z users may get more referential copy with a heavier dose of imagery.

The no-code platforms show a similar opportunity — everything from WebFlow to Thunkable speaks to the possibility of dynamically generated UI. While Canva’s designs may feel generic at times, thousands of businesses are using it to create visual content rather than hire designers.

So many companies are using the Adobe Experience Cloud but seemingly ignore the experience automation functions that are buried inside. Ultimately, the role of design will change from handcrafting bespoke experiences to being curators of dynamically generated UI — just look at how animation in film has evolved over the past 20 years.

The future of design variation powered by machine learning and AI

The steps above are oriented toward changing the way that organizations address experience bias using current state technology. But if the future state of addressing experience bias is rooted in creating design and content variations, AI tools will start to play a critical role. We already see a huge wave of AI-driven content tools like Jarvis.ai, Copy.ai and others — then there are automation tools built into Figma, Adobe XD and other platforms.

AI and machine learning technology that can dynamically generate front-end design and content is still nascent in many ways, but there are interesting examples I’d call out that speak to what’s coming.

The first is the work that Google released earlier this year with Material You, its design system for Android devices that’s intended to be highly customizable for users as well as having a high degree of accessibility built-in. Users can customize color, type and layout, giving them a high degree of control — but there are machine learning features emerging that may change the designs based on user variables such as location or time of day.

While the personalization aspects are initially pitched as giving users more ability to customize for themselves, reading through the details of Material You reveals a lot of possible intersections with automation at the design layer.

It’s also important to call out the work that organizations have been doing around design principles and interactions for how people experience AI; for example, Microsoft’s Human-AI eXperience program, which covers a core set of interaction principles and design patterns that can be used in crafting AI-driven experiences alongside an upcoming playbook for anticipating and designing solutions for human-AI interaction failures.

These examples are indicators of a future that assumes interactions and designs are generated by AI — but there are precious few examples of how this manifests in the real world as of yet. The point is that, to reduce bias, we need to evolve to a place where there is a radical increase in variation and personalization for front-end designs, and this speaks to the trends emerging around the intersection of AI and design.

These technologies and new design practices will converge to create an opportunity for organizations to radically change how they design for their users. If we don’t begin to look now at the question of experience bias, we won’t have an opportunity to address it as this new era of front-end automation takes hold.



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Marcy Venture Partners, cofounded by Jay-Z, just closed its second fund with $325 million – TechCrunch

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Marcy Venture Partners, the venture firm cofounded in 2018 by Shawn Carter (Jay-Z), former Roc Nation CEO Jay Brown, and former Walden VC general partner Larry Marcus, says it has closed its second fund with $325 million in capital commitments. The team, which closed its debut fund with $85 million, is now managing $600 million in assets altogether, says cofounder Marcus.

The firm describes itself as having a “consumer, culture and positive impact” investment strategy, and it says the majority of its existing portfolio companies are founded or run by people who identify as women or people of color.

To date, the trio has written checks to at least 21 companies, including in fashion, skin care, and food companies. Among those many bets includes Rihanna’s lingerie company Savage X Fenty; the sneaker marketplace StockX; Therabody, which makes percussion therapy tools; Simulate, which makes plant-based, chicken-flavored nuggets; and an allergen-free cookie maker called Partake Foods.

Carter and company have also begun investing in crypto projects, supporting Bitski, a San Francisco-based startup NFT marketplace, earlier this year, and investing more recently in spatial LABS (sLABS), a tech incubator that focuses on the metaverse and blockchain-based products

The San Francisco- and L.A.-based firm, named after the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn where Carter grew up, was initially targeting $200 million for the newest fund, per an SEC filing from April.



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Heart to Heart raises $750K to bring sweet, sweet flirtation to your ear-holes – TechCrunch

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Radio has long been described as the most intimate of media. Quips about putting radio on the internet aside, the persistent popularity of podcasting and the cockamamie climb of Clubhouse shows that audio-based platforms will continue to echo around the upper echelons of the ecosystem for a while yet. Joining the fray is Heart to Heart, an audio-first dating app aiming to bring back some intimacy to the process of finding the right person for your next foray, whether that’s a saucy encounter or a mate for life.

“I used to act, and from my time in acting, I saw how much voice, and audio experiences drive intimacy between people,” explains Joshua Ogundu, co-founder and CEO of Heart to Heart. “When it came down to the dating apps, it was never something I could get into. I felt like you needed to come up with a textual one-liner. That was never my way of approaching romantic conversations.”

Heart to Heart is pushing back against the endless swiping and messaging of many of its competitors, offering a contrasting experience to sending the same opening line to dozens of people or typing with your thumbs until deep into the night.

“I believe that the best consumer investments come from people who have unique insights on consumer behavior and ways that new tech products can allow new forms of social interaction,” said Charles Hudson from Precursor Ventures, who led the pre-seed investment round. “I have been a big fan of Josh’s TikTok videos for some time and his ability to poke at the tech industry with timely, relevant videos really showcased his creativity and ability to communicate via short-form video. I think the idea around confirming photos, storytelling, and audio will yield a product that really speaks to people’s unmet needs around communication and will create a whole new way for people to connect.”

While Precursor doesn’t particularly focus on audio-first startups, the team has seen a number of opportunities in that space. It was an early investor in Howard Akumiah’s company, Betty Labs (acquired by Spotify), as well as Isa Watson’s company (Squad), Falon Fatemi’s company (Fireside) and several others that are still in stealth.

“I believe that there is a major wave of interesting activity happening around non-music audio and I believe that we are still in the early innings of non-music, audio-driven social experiences,” says Hudson. “The last two companies that I feel really innovated in this category were Tinder and Bumble. I think Josh and his team have a new mechanic that feels differentiated and unique and I think it has the potential to be the foundation for a new way for people to meet and get to know each other in ways that aren’t easily accomplished today.”

Joshua Ogundu, co-founder and CEO of Heart to Heart (Photo provided by Heart to Heart)

The company raised the pre-seed round of $750,000. The round was led by Precursor Ventures, and Bryce Roberts of OATV & Angelica Nwandu of The Shade Room partnered on the investment, as well as Marie Rocha at Realist Ventures. In addition, a number of angel investors joined the round, including Chris Bennett (Wonderschool), Andy Weissman (USV) and Gregory Levey (Robinson Huntly).

“The main thing we are trying to accomplish with the $750K, is to focus on building our iOS app, and making LA our first launch market,” says Ogundu. “Dating is such a local experience, and it makes sense to us to build and improve locally, then scaling it up from there.”

“Voice is so intentional and intimate, and that is exactly what we’re building here at Heart to Heart,” says Ogundu, suggesting that the voice mechanic is helpful in a dating context because it helps slow people down. “I think that because it takes more energy to send that voice snippet to someone, you’ll be more intentional with who you even look to strike up conversations with.”

The founding team consists of Joshua Ogundu, who wears the CEO hat. He is joined by Arihant Jain and Komal Shrivastava, who have been heading up the engineering and design efforts. The company hopes to get its product to market by the end of the year.



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The return of text is inevitable – TechCrunch

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Welcome to Startups Weekly, a fresh human-first take on this week’s startup news and trends. To get this in your inbox, subscribe here.

On Equity this week, we discussed the value of the written word. You can imagine that the resulting argument is inherently biased, considering we are three journalists who have bet our livelihoods on ink; but, I promise, there’s more nuance here beyond how important a lede is.

We recently published a recent deep dive on Automattic, the commercial media company behind the WordPress publishing platform. Founded in 2005, Automattic is one of the few companies that has been able to evolve and expand its way through a graveyard of media sites. Valued at $7.5 billion, it has also convinced investors of the financial promise of its vision.

I was most struck by how text has shaped Automattic’s hiring process: The company offers a purely written interview, where potential new hires never need to reveal their face or voice to anyone through the recruitment funnel. It takes away the inherent bias that comes with a Zoom interview, which, at its core, is just a digital version of a face-to-face interview. Monica Ohara, chief marketing officer of WordPress.com, explained more about her thinking:

“You normally think you’ve got to talk to them; see them on video. With text only, you remove all this bias and focus on the content of what they’re saying, and also test for a style of communication that’s really important in a distributed team.

“In Silicon Valley, everyone is competing for the same people that would add diversity to your pool. Which is great for those people, but what about all the others who don’t have those opportunities because of where they were born or live? For me, I was born in the Philippines and if I hadn’t had the luck to move here, I’d be living a different life.”

Rethinking the value of text, the same way we rethink how many synchronous meetings should be on our calendar, feels like the natural next step for companies figuring out how to scale distributed work. Even in a world seemingly ruled by short-form video, words — and sound — seem to matter in a way that other formats never will.

In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll talk about PayPal’s reported new friend, the Chinese venture capital market and not at all about Facebook’s impending new rebrand. 

PayPal picks Pinterest

Image Credits: TechCrunch

We rushed to Twitter Spaces this week after rumors came out that PayPal may be buying Pinterest for a reported $45 billion. The fintech giant has been on an acquisition spree of sorts, but scooping up a social, photo-sharing platform may signal its hungry to own the content — not just the customer.

Here’s what to know: This feels nostalgic. PayPal potentially joining forces with a more content-focused e-commerce business comes more than a half-decade after it divorced from eBay. But, as Finix Chief Growth Officer Jareau Wadé pointed out, Pinterest is not a shopping destination like eBay — it’s a place where shopping begins for nearly 450 million users.

In a Substack post, Wadé makes the following argument to describe why PayPal may buy Pinterest:

At its core, Pinterest is more like Google than eBay. It’s a search engine that conducts over 5 billion searches per month for fuzzy, hard-to-describe ideas where pictures, rather than words, are often the best place to start. It also has a growing ads business that produced $613 million last quarter, up 125% YoY. With Pinterest, PayPal would be buying the top of the funnel — the awareness and interest stages — for millions of websites on the internet. PayPal would provide Pinterest with the bottom of the funnel, allowing them to see the purchases that result from shopping that began on Pinterest.

Imagine if PayPal could use their core product and the commerce assets they’ve acquired over the past five years to build a deconstructed sales funnel, not just for one website, but for the whole internet.

Put a pin in it:

China is thriving

Flag of China with pile of bitcoin

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Data from CB Insights shows us that, aside from a single outsized 2018 round, China’s third quarter of 2021 was the best three-month period for Chinese startups ever — both in deal value and deal count.

Here’s what to know: We’re surprised, too. On Equity, we discussed how the growth of China’s venture capital market contrasts in sentiment with the region’s government restrictions. It seems that regulatory impact hasn’t stopped all companies from raising, and growing, their businesses there.

Internationally speaking:

Around TC

TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 is next week! My colleagues have put together an amazing show about the sector that seemingly can’t stop attracting millions from investors. We’ll see what stopped eating the world, how hunger is turning into innovation and definitely hit a few SaaSy notes through panels with experts.

Check out the event agenda, buy your pass and come hang with us on October 27.

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

A massive ‘stalkerware’ leak puts the phone data of thousands at risk

What do people want in a co-founder? YC has some answers

Station F adds an online program to educate the next generation of entrepreneurs

Trump to launch his own social media platform, calling it TRUTH Social

Seen on TechCrunch+

Mission-driven ventures are growing fast during the pandemic

Dear Sophie: Any suggestions for recruiting international tech talent?

Lessons from founders raising their first round in a bull market

Udemy targets valuation of $4B in major edtech IPO

Talk soon,

N 



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Decoupling tech supply chains would do more harm than good – TechCrunch

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For a technology sector that would much prefer to focus on growth over geopolitics, the push for U.S.-China “decoupling” poses an inescapable threat. The fuzziness of the concept only increases the danger.

U.S. distrust of China, particularly in technology, is nothing new. Indeed, Congress took action to keep Huawei and ZTE out of U.S. telecommunications almost a decade ago, during the Obama administration.

But during the administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, there was a broad push to engage in dialogue and find common ground between the world’s two biggest economies. As China emerged as a leading global economy and became an increasingly important trading partner to the U.S., (accounting for 2.5% of U.S. imports in 1989 and rising to a peak of 21.6% in 2017), there were moves to incorporate it into the U.S.-led global trading system. In 2005, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick put forward the idea of China as a “Responsible Stakeholder,” under the assumption that embracing China’s entry into the global trading system would ensure that it helped that system continue to function.

Not long before that, the U.S. had agreed to China’s 2001 accession to the World Trade Organization. But while it was seen by many as a turning point, it was really just a waypoint. That year, China’s share of U.S. imports was already 9.0%. Growth in Chinese imports, moreover, reflected a rebalancing of Asian trade more than anything else; from 1989 to 2017, Asia’s share (including China) of U.S. imports grew from 42.3% to just 45.2%. China’s relative growth instead ate into the share of countries like Japan and Malaysia, reflecting a reordering within Asia. The standard system of trade accounting overplayed this shift, as a good that was finished in China and had 10% Chinese value added would count as 100% Chinese for trade statistics.

Regardless of what was labeled as produced where, the bottom line was that a well-developed Asian supply chain incorporated China as a major player. With increased engagement, however, and very different economic systems, the points of economic disagreement between China and the United States accumulated. During the Trump administration, dialogue took a back seat to new trade barriers. The United States applied tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese imports and China responded with barriers of its own. Although the Trump tariffs were initially cast as temporary measures meant to achieve finite policy objectives, some key policymakers within the Trump administration saw value in diminished interaction between the two countries.

Matthew Pottinger, who served as Deputy National Security Adviser under President Trump, subsequently wrote that “important U.S. institutions, especially in finance and technology, cling to self-destructive habits acquired through decades of ‘engagement,’ an approach to China that led Washington to prioritize economic cooperation and trade above all else.” His solution calls for bold steps “to frustrate Beijing’s aspiration for leadership in … high-tech industries.” The Biden administration recently announced, after a prolonged review, that it was maintaining the Trump tariffs and Congress has pushed to fund initiatives that would subsidize technological independence. These moves for lessening dependence, particularly in technology, have fallen under the broader rubric of “decoupling.”

Amidst all the newfound enthusiasm for U.S. decoupling from China, one might imagine that the term is well-defined. Yet it takes relatively little probing to discover a lack of clarity. Of course, the above-mentioned tariffs have served to discourage trade between the two countries, but how far is this policy meant to go?

Does decoupling mean the U.S. will turn away from inbound and outbound foreign direct investment? What about portfolio investment, such as the purchase of U.S. Treasuries? Does it mean that the U.S. should avoid importing final goods produced by Chinese firms? What about European firms producing in China? What about U.S. firms producing in China? Or European or U.S. firms producing outside China but incorporating Chinese parts? Or companies selling into the Chinese market and thus, presumably, subject to Chinese influence?

The sheer breadth of economic interactions between the two giant economies illustrates the implausibility of a clean divide between them. Instead, the most likely result of an attempt at exclusion would be another reordering, not China’s disappearance as a supply chain power. This is particularly true when other global economic powers, such as the European Union, do not share even the vague objective of decoupling.

TechCrunch Global Affairs Project

The nebulous nature of the decoupling push poses a particular threat to the tech sector. Over decades, the push to take advantage of scale economies and to drive down production costs has resulted in highly-integrated global tech production. Further, in subsectors that have recently emerged as particularly contentious, such as the production of semiconductors, investments have to be made at large scale and well in advance. That leaves the sector especially vulnerable to rapidly-shifting rule changes, as policymakers struggle to give substance to a problematic concept at a time of difficult supply chain disruptions. Policy responses that shower the sector with subsidies, as some bills in Congress have proposed, seem appealing, but lose their effectiveness when countries such as Japan move to match them.

A world in which the United States provides an extreme answer to the above questions and is absolutist in its separation from China is likely to be one in which the United States cripples itself technologically, denying itself access to globally-competitive sourcing and empowering competitors elsewhere. The only politically viable alternative at the moment, a world in which the United States takes a more moderate stance and struggles to find a middle ground, is likely to be an unpredictable one in which rules are constantly evolving.

In either case, proponents of U.S.-China decoupling will find such a move counterproductive. Far from resolving strategic policy concerns, its primary impact may be to challenge U.S. technology leadership instead.



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Software product company Arbisoft on the growing startup market in Pakistan – TechCrunch

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“In 2007, I, along with a few other colleagues, founded Arbisoft because we loved solving a variety of computing problems rather than staying close to one particular domain or technology vertical. We felt it was much easier to do that in a software services company than a software product company,” says Yasser Bashir, co-founder of Arbisoft. “In addition to our love for software development, we also had strong ideas on the kind of culture that would likely inspire smart people to do their best in a technology-focused organization. Arbisoft is a manifestation of many of those ideas.”

Over the past two weeks, Anna Heim has interviewed Bashir from Arbisoft as part of our Experts project. They were recommended to us through our survey; we’d love to know which software consultants you’d recommend to other startups. We also had guest columns focused on growth marketing about growth tactics and early-stage comm teams, but more on that below.

Software Consulting

Consultant: Arbisoft
Recommended by: Omri Traub, CEO of Popcart
Testimonial: “We were able to create a high-performance dev team that includes dev, QA and DevOps. We had access to top talent and, importantly, elasticity in hiring. If we wanted to add a developer, we could have an incredible one join our team in under one week. It would have taken us weeks and months to recruit and hire a developer in Boston or the U.S.”

Consultant: Solwey Consulting
Recommended by: Paul Shaked, Sandland
Testimonial: “They helped us tremendously — a not so great dev team in Europe built our site with no documentation and lots of sloppy code, but Solwey was able to come in and sort through everything. Not to mention, our e-comm site is built on a headless CMS x Shopify checkout. Solwey was one of the only teams that was able to jump in and really get things to a good place with almost no major delays due to tech debt.”

Consultant: Planetary
Recommended by: Ryan Doney, Ad Lunam
Testimonial: “I vetted several different consultancies, and Planetary not only brought technical expertise to the table, but their startup-specific mindset meant that it was incredibly easy to get aligned on our mission, and how to best build it. Josh is a great talent, and he’s built a remarkable team. Their work dramatically cut down our time to market, as well as giving us a ready-made jumping off point to start iterating on our product.”

Consultant: OpenCubicles
Recommended by: Anonymous
Testimonial: “The OpenCubicles team helped us improve our infrastructure utilization, response time and other aspects critical to e-commerce success. We were able to rationalize cloud infrastructure costs due to thorough analysis and optimization. They helped us automate many aspects of operations. Would recommend to those looking for reliable technology services, especially e-commerce development.”

Consultant: ThinkNimble
Recommended by: Philip Deng, Grantable
Testimonial: “They are focused on helping startups succeed and they care deeply about the missions of the companies they help. They brought us way forward in terms of our design and also connected us with lots of thoughtful people beyond the company who have helped us move forward.”

Arbisoft co-founder Yasser Bashir on building trust with early-stage startups: Anna and Bashir spoke about how Arbisoft has grown over the past 13 years, how they build trust with their clients and the startup scene in Pakistan. Bashir says, “I have been very involved with the startup and tech ecosystem in the country since its inception. It is indeed taking off like a rocket ship right now, and we couldn’t be more excited about it. This year, startups raised more funding than all of the previous years combined. Arbisoft is excited because many of these startups need technology services, and therefore, we have a new and exhilarating market at our disposal.”

Growth Marketing

Marketer: Ki from WITHIN
Recommended by: Anonymous
Testimonial: “Ki has been supporting our business for over three years, and every time he finds unique ways to exceed expectations. From launching new products that sell out in days rather than weeks, being able to onboard new members of our team so they can contribute faster, and being someone that can work at a strategic level with our VPs and at the data-driven level with analysts, his range is truly outstanding and I believe he is in the 1% of the 1% of marketers.”

Marketer: Kaveh from WITHIN
Recommended by: Anonymous
Testimonial: “Kaveh is one of the most empathetic and collaborative marketers I have ever worked with. Our team was largely brand marketers and Kaveh did a great job of bridging their world and our profit-optimized media strategy seamlessly (even if it meant an after-hours marketing jam session). Not only that, but you could tell he really cared about the brand, catching small issues with the site and sharing them with the team proactively, etc.”

(TechCrunch+) Smart growth tactics put account-based marketing within reach for startups and SMBs: Jonas van de Poel, head of content marketing at Unmuted, says, “F​​or many startups and SMBs, successfully setting up account-based marketing strategies can feel like a pipe dream. Startups still struggling to find product-market fit wouldn’t dream of being able to identify and map out their ideal customer profile (ICP) clearly enough. At the same time, small and midsize businesses often lack the resources to invest in elaborate multitouch-point content marketing strategies.” Van de Poel shares what account-based marketing is, the importance of mapping a customers journey to marketing content and more.

(TechCrunch+) Hiring is just the first step when building an early-stage comms team: Yousuf Khan, partner at Ridge Ventures, writes about not just the importance of having an early-stage comms team, but the importance of communicating with them. Khan says, “It’s not just important to have relationships between executives and media — you should have solid relationships with your comms people, too. Allow them to get to know you, your likes and dislikes, the environments in which you thrive and where you feel most comfortable.”



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SaaS on Oct. 27th – TechCrunch

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This year automation hit center stage when robotic process automation (RPA) vendor UiPath went public after raising $2 billion in private investment. Investors who had been a part of that were richly rewarded when it closed above its private valuation. At the same time, established companies like ServiceNow, Microsoft, IBM and others were seeing the value in building automation into their product sets.

We are fortunate to have three people who have been smack dab in the middle of this trend on a panel called “Automation’s Moment Is Now” at TC Sessions: SaaS happening on October 27th. Those panelists include UiPath CEO Daniel Dines; Laela Sturdy, general partner at CapitalG and Dave Wright, chief innovation officer at ServiceNow.

Dines’ company, which went public in April, concentrates mostly on RPA, and is the market leader according to Gartner, but automation has many dimensions beyond RPA, including no-code/low-code tools and workflow automation. As we wrote on in an article on the hot automation market earlier this year:

What we have here is a frothy mix of startups and large companies racing to provide a comprehensive spectrum of workflow automation tools to empower companies to spin up workflows quickly and move work involving both human and machine labor through an organization.

RPA helps companies automate a series of mundane legacy tasks, which can include human intervention or not. Think of pulling information from an insurance claim, adding it to a spreadsheet and emailing a human administrator with the needed information — and doing all of this without a human touching it.

ServiceNow got into RPA in March when it bought Indian startup Intellibot. It also has several tools for low-code and workflow automation, and with the Intellibot purchase, other acquisitions and organic development, has built automation across its entire platform.

Sturdy was an investor in UiPath and serves on its board. Other investments include Stripe, Cloudflare and Credit Karma, which Intuit bought last year for $7.1 billion. She was also the captain of the women’s basketball team while attending Harvard, and participated in the 1998 NCAA basketball tournament, helping defeat No. 1 Stanford in a huge upset.

We’re going to discuss why automation is coming to the fore now, the role of the pandemic in its rising popularity and whether it’s a jobs killer or if it’s actually making life easier for employees.

We hope you’ll join us at TechCrunch Sessions: SaaS on October 27th. We’ll also be talking to Monte Carlo CEO Barr Moses, Microsoft executive Jared Spataro and investor Casey Aylward.



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Tech watchdog campaign challenges big tech for hiding behind small business – TechCrunch

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Time and time again, tech’s most powerful companies have pushed the narrative that any threat to their own trillion-ish dollar businesses will trickle down, hurting the small companies that rely on their products.

But counter to the warm and fuzzy anecdotes that big tech has rolled out over the years, some business owners struggle with relying so heavily on massive, opaque corporations and often have little recourse if things go wrong.

Those struggles are the kind of thing that tech watchdog group Accountable Tech wants to draw attention to with its new awareness push, “Main Street Against Big Tech.” The six figure campaign includes a full-page ad in San Jose’s daily paper the Mercury News next week, digital ads across social platforms and an ongoing video series highlighting experiences from small business owners that run counter to the PR narratives from tech companies.

The project has received support from the Main Street Alliance, Small Business Rising, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and the American Economic Liberties Project.

“The [campaign] really underscores the litany of Big Tech’s harms to which these small business owners are subject – from misleading and unreliable data, to hidden costs and sudden changes to rules or algorithms that can kneecap their entire company without any access to customer service,” Accountable Tech co-founder Jesse Lehrich told TechCrunch. “Each entrepreneur has their own story and reason for speaking out.”

Lehrich calls Facebook’s longstanding PR campaign around standing up for small business “incredibly cynical and opportunistic” — a position that some Facebook employees appear to share. The reality of running a business on big tech platforms isn’t always rosy for small business owners, who are subject to the whims of massively powerful corporations they have only a tenuous relationship with.

“They are completely at the mercy of these giants, with little access to legitimate metrics or customer service,” Lehrich said. “It’s not a partnership; it’s exploitation.”

Public sentiment also seems to be moving into a phase where people widely acknowledge that even free tech platforms extract a cost, whether that’s in the form of privacy sacrifices or the endless streams of user-created content that provide a canvas for advertising.

Small businesses may rely on tools from dominant tech companies, but that doesn’t mean that in theory an upstart competitor couldn’t build something that serves them just as well or better. “This is how monopolies and oligopolies work –– these Big Tech corporations and their services are only ‘essential’ because they’ve engaged in an endless array of anticompetitive behavior to ensure they’re the only game in town,” Lehrich told TechCrunch.

As Congress wrestles with how to update laws designed for an era well before internet businesses even existed, the biggest companies in tech will continue to lean into their market dominance, leaving businesses and users alike stuck with what they’ve got.

“In an effort to avoid regulatory scrutiny, monopolists like Facebook, Google, and Amazon have spent millions of dollars persuading lawmakers and the public that their business products are a lifeline for small businesses when in fact the opposite is true,” Accountable Tech Co-Founder and Executive Director Nicole Gill said. “… But now small business owners are fighting back by sharing their lived experience to expose the real relationship between Big Tech and Main Street.”



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