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Exit Interview by Patrick Donegan – Newsletter #12

By: Patrick Donegan

For some time, I’ve been looking for one “source” that curates modern takes on HR Tech, perspectives from the people who build it, and its impact on enterprise — something that’s tailor-made by professionals for decision-makers.

I never found it — so I decided to build it.

Every week, I’ll be sharing fresh insights on tech platforms, design, data, and the future of work — straight to your inbox.

My Thoughts

We’ve all eaten more takeout than usual over the last year, and DoorDash and other delivery apps have allowed restaurants to continue business throughout the pandemic.  However, restaurants and consumers alike are growing frustrated with the platforms’ exorbitant fees, which can often exceed 30% of the order total. 📈 🐣 🍜 Fees deprive restaurants of crucial revenue while inflating prices for their customers, a reality that sharply contrasts with platforms’ messaging that they’re saving restaurants from bankruptcy. It doesn’t seem likely that things will change much until restaurants reopen, but the free market (as well as regulators) may come down sharply on delivery apps in the near future.

Tech Innovation at Work

I’ve been following how 2020 has accelerated technological growth. According to MIT Technology Reviewhere are the 10 breakthrough technologies of 2021. 🔥 ☁️ 🔮 Some notable ones include:

  • Lithium-metal batteries: Electrical vehicles are still out of reach for many consumers. This could boost the range of an electrical vehicle by 80%. 🚗
  • TikTok recommendation algorithms: TikTok’s algorithms are creator friendly and very adept at finding niche content. 💃 🌟
  • Green hydrogen: This could be an essential replacement for fossil fuels if we are to meet our climate goals. 🌍
  • Messenger RNA vaccines. With COVID, the moment for messenger RNA has definitely come. The 2 most effective vaccines against the coronavirus both use mRNA. 👨‍⚕️ 🔬

Stitch Fix is combining human stylists and A.I. to improve their personalized online shopping experience. 👚 🤖 Language modeling technologies like GPT-3 are having an impact — they are making data more accessible for consumers. Stephanie Yee, Stitch Fix’s VP of Data Science, explains it this way: 🛍️ “GPT-3 is a really great way to translate information into the format that people are used to absorbing information in, which is text. I think that it’s especially important going back to the idea of if you take a shirt, the specs of a shirt are not particularly helpful to a shopper. They can be helpful to a computer, but it’s like, ‘Okay, the sleeve is 13 and a half inches, who cares?’ And GPT-3 is able to almost add [information] in a way that would have been incredibly difficult before. It’s able to translate some aspects of an item into what that actually means in someone’s everyday life.”

Here’s an interesting breakdown of low versus high fidelity prototypes in UX and UI. 🤔 ✅ Depending on the product you’re creating and where you are in the development process, you may need a great deal of detail in your prototype or just enough to keep it flexible. The main takeaway is that instead of thinking about low or high fidelity prototypes as locked-in choices, see them as steps in the design process. If you’re still early in the development process — go with low fidelity prototypes to get the ball rolling. If your product is locked in and ready for a more detailed customer interaction — go with high fidelity prototypes. 

The startup Bowery Farming uses AI and machine learning to enhance corp yields and reduce costs. 👩‍🌾 🚜 The company has hired Injong Rhee — of Google and Samsung fame — to be its new CTO. Last year has been a year of tremendous growth for Bowery, and sales through retail outlets have skyrocketed. They still have some significant competitors including traditional agricultural giants like John Deere and Bayer’s Monsanto. 🍅 🌽 Rhee had this to say to Fortune: “Agriculture is sitting at the crux of the world’s most challenging problems like food shortages, climate change, water shortages, a lack of arable space. These are very challenging problems, and all of these are relevant to what Bowery tackles every day. Any advances we make here lead to a better world.”

Photo: Bowery / Fortune

The Changing Workplace

We’ve always suspected that working in coffee shops might be more productive, and there seems to be data to back it up. 📈 😎 ☕ A 2012 study in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that a low-to-moderate level of ambient noise can actually boost your creative output. A 2016 study found that participants sitting next to each other in front of a computer were more motivated to do assigned tasks than those sitting alone. Nevertheless, in Buffer‘s survey of 3,500 remote workers around the world for its 2020 State of Remote Work report, 80% of workers still prefer to work at home, instead of places like co-working spaces and cafés. Coffee shops won’t replace working from home — but workers will likely welcome them as restrictions continue to lift. 

Coa may be worth keeping an eye on. It’s an app that’s backed by NBA star Kevin Love and Casper cofounder Neil Parikh. 💪 🏀 It includes therapist matchmaking, group classes, and one-on-one therapy. The idea is to make mental health a proactive and daily practice—just like physical fitness. Apps like Talkspace and BetterHelp have seen a lot of growth in the past year. 🏥 💊 But they’re still corporate-lead, and it’s not clear whether workers really find them helpful. Virtual group classes as an entry point for therapy seems like a good idea. We’ll see if it pays off in the long run. 

Photo: Coa / Fast Company

It’s official: Airbnb is building its East Coast hub in Atlanta. In recent years, Atlanta has proved to be an attractive location for tech companies looking to avoid the challenges Silicon Valley presents — income inequality, high rents, and lack of space. ✈️ 🏠 The project was briefly put on hold during the pandemic, but since the company’s massive IPO in December, they are going full-steam ahead. The hope is that the new hires in Atlanta will reflect the company’s ambitious DEI goals. By 2025, 20% of the technical workforce should identify as an underrepresented minority, and 50% as women across all levels of the company. 👏 🔥

All About Data

Not exactly data, but I found this to be an important followup to the debate over the GameStop short squeeze. 🎮 📉 Andreessen Horowitz has done a great job breaking down the basics. After the events of last month, many Americans may be asking, how does a trade from a broker like Robinhood or E*trade even happen? 🤔 💸  I won’t go through the breakdown step by step, but to sum it up — market makers like Robinhood absorb the holding risk between buying and selling. It makes money by netting out buys and sells over time. If market prices run away on one side — it becomes riskier to recover and harder to find liquidity. This is a great guide. Of course, doesn’t explain everything that happened with Robinhood and GameStop. But it does clear up confusion about how trading platforms actually work for its customers.

Graphic: Andreessen Horowitz

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Patrick Donegan

Managing Director

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