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Exit Interview by Patrick Donegan – Newsletter #21

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

Epic Games is swinging for the fences in two high-profile lawsuits against Apple and Google. 🍎📱👨‍⚖️ Apple takes a commission of 15% to 30% on purchases made within apps, including everything from in-app purchases to subscriptions. This has rubbed Epic, the creator of Fortnite, the wrong way, and they’re going to court to prove that Apple squeezes mobile app developers for a significant slice of their earnings. Apple might say that the gaming company is worried that Fortnite’s popularity has peaked, and is looking for a payout. But this doesn’t mean that Epic doesn’t have a point. Epic’s claims have already made their way to the DOJ, and Congress will be watching. 🤔💼 👀

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that companies like Google and Apple will have to atone for the increasing pressure they’ve put on the fair market in order to avoid significant antitrust regulation, but they may just be staving off the inevitable. Depending on the outcome of this head-to-head, this might be the beginning of the end of “walled garden” ecosystems — and we might be better off. 

Tech Innovation at Work

Amazon is bringing hand-scanning payment technology to Whole Foods. ✋ 🛍️ Amazon already accounts 40% of e-commerce sales, and now they’re introducing a new payment technology — a customer will scan their palm and insert their payment card at a terminal; after that, they can simply pay with their hand. This payment method is now available at the grocery chain’s Madison Broadway store in Seattle, Washington. The e-commerce giant now plans to sell both hand-scanning and their cashier-less, “just-walk-out” technology to other retailers. 💳 💡🤔 It remains to be seen whether competitors will want to do business with Amazon — and whether consumers will embrace the new payment method. 

Hollywood is finally embracing Youtube and TikTok stars. Previously on the fringe of the mainstream, creators are now a key part of attracting Gen Z audiences. 🔥📱 📈 Netflix and Hulu have both green lit shows starring TikTok stars, and streaming platforms specifically designed to reach Gen Z by working with creators are emerging. For example, Creator+ is building a studio dedicated to producing feature-length films starring creators that the company will sell on its forthcoming streaming platform. 👩‍💻 🌎 That studio is being run by Adam Wescott, recently a partner at Select Management Group, a talent managing group. Wescott had this to say:  “I want to move the creator space forward. I want to remove that stigma of traditional entertainment execs thinking the word ‘influencer’ means they’re just a personality. No, guess what? That’s where the audience is, and if you don’t figure it out, you’re going to be left behind.”

Robinhood‘s reputation is still recovering from the GameStop incident. 📱 💸 🏹 But there’s no denying that the app’s UX and UI designs are top notch. If you’re interested, here’s their head of design Rich Bessel telling their story.

Photo: Robinhood

Aspiration is another fintech company that’s disrupting the finserv industry. 💡 🌳 📈 Aspiration’s user’s-choice fee structure, fossil fuel and firearm-free investment vehicles and 10% charity give-back differentiate the company from the competition. To keep people informed and engaged, Aspiration incorporates game-like features into its user experience design. 🌎 💅 For example, the “Aspiration Impact Measurement” gives you feedback about your environmental footprint while you are shopping. The program called “Plant Your Change” allows you to plant a tree with every purchase in exchange for your change rounded up to the nearest dollar for each transaction. The app also includes the “Treemometer” that rewards users with cash back after reaching planting benchmarks.

Forbes, along with venture firms Sequoia Capital and Meritech Capital, have partnered to create a third annual AI 50, a list of private, promising North American companies that are using artificial intelligence in ways that are fundamental to their operations. This 2021 list features 31 companies appearing for the first time, while seven have qualified for three years in a row. In terms of valuation, at least 13 of the AI 50 are valued at $100 million or less, while 13 are unicorns valued at $1 billion or more. 📈 🔥 Silicon Valley remains the hub for AI startups, with 37 of 50 honorees coming from the San Francisco Bay Area. You can see the full list here. 🤖✨

The Changing Workplace

There have been some developments in the “War for Talent.” Many companies are trying to recuperate from layoffs in 2020. HR organizations have invested massive amounts in building out talent management and learning and development functions in efforts to maximize their return on talent. 🏆 🎓 With so many flush firms trying to hire, smaller companies are struggling to compete. In a market like this, retention will be key: manager relationship, career growth, fair compensation, culture, DEI, tools/resources, brand/reputation, flexibility and pride in the work they’re doing. The business case is obvious, as the cost of turnover is often 50%-200% of the annual salary of a departed colleague, according to Gallup. 📊 🙋 HR will be required to double-down on employee experience efforts, making them more focused on what employees want/need, rather than simply defining what the organization is offering from the top-down.

Eateries everywhere are facing a problem — not enough workers. 🍔🍷💸 The pandemic wiped out 2.5 million restaurant jobs and forced more than 100,000 eateries to shutter. And now the ones that made it through 2020 can’t find staffers. This is due to a number of reasons: 

  • Many Americans who worked in hospitality have simply left the industry amid the pandemic. Anecdotally, there are plenty of servers and bartenders joining training programs to get new jobs in tech or finance. ☁️ 💰
  • On top of that, restaurant work — especially customer-facing roles like server and host — is still seen as hazardous. “Some people are still concerned about getting the virus at an in-person job,” says Jed Kolko, chief economist at Indeed.
  • There’s been a  shortage of foreign workers due to former President Donald Trump’s ban on temporary foreign workers and pandemic travel restrictions.
  • Some employers are saying they can’t compete with unemployment insurance checks and that workers would rather collect benefits than go back to work. But a 2020 study by Yale economists found that unemployment benefits don’t create a disincentive for job seekers. 📊 🤔

That said, the latest COVID-19 relief package includes a $28.6 billion fund to help restaurants get back up and running. Democrats’ proposed legislation to raise the federal minimum wage would also help restaurant workers by boosting the minimum tipped wage, which currently sits at $2.13 an hour, to $4.95 an hour.

Photo: MVTIMES.COM

All About Data

Surprisingly, disaster response organizations have been slow to reap the benefits of data. Fortunately, this is changing with the accelerated growth of IoT. IoT sensors are now everywhere in America and across the world. Temperature, atmospheric pressure, water levels, humidity, pollution, power, and other sensors have been widely deployed, emitting constant streams of data back into data warehouses ready for analysis. 🚚🌡️💡🚥 This will have enormous benefits for firefighting, flood response, and more. For instance, IoT sensors are already improving visibility and providing better ways of monitoring air quality during forest fires. Aaron Clark-Ginsberg, a social scientist at RAND Corporation who researches community resilience, said that air quality sensors have become ubiquitous since they are “very cheap [and] pretty easy to use” and can offer very fine-grained understandings of pollution — a key signal, for instance, of wildfires.🌍🔥👨‍🚒 He listed the  company Purple Air, which in addition to making sensors, also produces a popular consumer map of air quality.

Glassdoor has released its report on D&I gaps in the workplace. The report found that unsurprisingly, whether workplaces are diverse and inclusive depends on who you ask. Here’s how it breaks down: 

Here are a few other findings to note: 

  • A large and statistically significant gap in D&I Perceptions remains even after controlling for occupation, industry, gender and many other factors.
  • Asian, Hispanic, and Black workers are more likely to rate their employers a 1 out of 5 stars on D&I than their white peers. Black workers are 56% more likely than white workers to rate their employers a 1 on D&I; this dynamic also applies for Hispanic/Latinx (44%) and Asian workers (47%).
  • Black or African American employees still rate workplace D&I nearly 8 percent lower — a large and highly statistically significant gap. Since 2019 this gap has grown rather than shrunk, expanding from 0.2 to 0.6 stars (on a 1 to 5 star satisfaction scale) despite many employers increasing investments in D&I programs in the last two years.

Here’s the 2020 Sustainability Report from Goldman Sachs. GS breaks down its ESG commitments, its corporate partnerships around sustainability, and notably, its workplace figures. 🌲 📈 🐻The takeaways from that last one are pretty dramatic: 

  • Of the 12,521 professionals that the Wall Street firm employs, just 870 are Black.
  • Of 1,548 US executives and senior managers, just 24 are Black men and 25 are Black women, or about 3.2% of the total
  • On the brighter side, the firm has an initiative to invest over $10 billion in Black women-led organizations.  
  • GS also deployed over $970 million in capital for small business loans, 32% of which went to low-income communities and 45% of which went to minority communities. 

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Patrick Donegan

Managing Director

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