The New Generation of Tech in Silicon Valley

A word cloud image featuring terms such as "Silicon Valley," "Technology," "Internet," and "California."

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Lest anyone forget, Silicon Valley remains a valuable tech hub. Recent investments, such as the Warriors’ Kevin Durant’s in cloud computing startup Rubrik, show that the tech industry is alive and strong. In the face of potential new policies, the landscape is likely to change, but growth continues.

In some cases, the old guard is providing guidance for the new Silicon Valley tech startups. For 37 years, investment banker Thom Weisel spearheaded investments in companies like Yahoo and Geocities. Post dotcom bubble, he’s expressing great faith in the new wave of social media, commenting that “the big difference is, these companies, in many cases, are enormously profitable out of the gate.”

New tech companies have certainly caught the eyes of up-and-coming investors. The Warriors’ Kevin Durant recently added tech to his portfolio by investing in cloud computing startup Rubrik. Durant is one of many professional athletes increasing their support of the Silicon Valley companies of today.

“Being in Silicon Valley, I play in front of [tech executives] and run into them at restaurants,” Durant said of expanding his tech investments with companies like Rubrik.

Durant’s umbrella corporation, the Durant Company, has also invested in the financial app Acorns and the on-demand delivery service Postmates.

Meanwhile, official policy may or may not support the new wave of Silicon Valley tech. A recent TechNet study found that cooperation between federal, state, and local policymakers could add one million jobs to the US economy each year if they work together to promote pro-startup policies.

In addition to hoping for more relaxed regulation and opportunities for rising tech companies, CEOs are also set to support expanded H-1B programs for highly-skilled workers coming to the US specifically to work in the tech industry.

However, with anti-immigration policies like the recent rescinding of the DACA legislation, Silicon Valley execs may be out of luck when it comes to adding more STEM-focused professionals to their teams.

Nevertheless, the Silicon Valley of today continues to grow, exhibiting more maturity and innovation since the days of the dotcom bust. Whether it’s taking cues from big names of the past or boldly moving forward with new tech opportunities, Silicon Valley is not about to let a few policy setbacks keep it from holding its position as the hotbed of the country’s technology innovations.

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America’s First Vegetarian Fast Food Restaurant Could Be Coming to a City Near You

A photo of the outside of Amy's Drive Thru, a fast food restaurant that serves vegetarian and gluten-free meals.

Amy’s Drive Thru, a fast food restaurant that serves vegetarian and gluten-free meals.
Photo courtesy of Tony Webster at Flickr Creative Commons.

Two years ago, vegetarian fast food restaurant Amy’s Drive Thru opened in Rohnert Park, CA. Since its inception, business has been booming. In fact, the restaurant is doing so well that the company recently announced plans to open more eateries across the U.S.

If the name “Amy’s” sounds familiar, that’s because there’s a good chance you’ve seen their food in the frozen isle of your local supermarket. The brand has been in business for over 27 years and specializes in providing convenient, pre-made, organic vegetarian meals. Stick it in the microwave for a couple minutes and you’ve got a wholesome dinner made with natural ingredients.

As the company grew in popularity, loyal customers began requesting dairy-free and gluten-free options. Today, you can find a variety of heat-and-serve Amy’s meals for nearly every diet imaginable. There’s even vegan and kosher options.

If the company’s steady growth shows anything, it’s that there’s a demand for healthy fast food, whether that be frozen or freshly made. Most everyone wants to eat healthy, but most don’t have the time to eat healthy.

And that’s the brilliance behind Amy’s business model. The company meets this demand by providing easy-to-make meals that feature high quality ingredients.

So if the thought of a healthy fast food chain with vegetarian and gluten-free options excites you, that’s great. But don’t get too excited, as it’s going to be a while before the new Amy’s Drive Thru locations are in operation.

Fast Company reports that the newest location in Corte Madera, CA isn’t slated to open until 2018. Also of note: Amy’s is eyeing five more locations in Northern California.

Unfortunately, the company hasn’t announced any locations outside the state of California as of yet. However, director of operations Paul Schiefer told Fast Company that Amy’s does intend to expand across the U.S., there’s just no word yet on when that will be happening.

Most Americans Face Hostile Work Environments, According to Survey

According to a new survey, most Americans face a hostile work environment.

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A recently released survey from the RAND Corporation, Harvard Medical School, and UCLA revealed some pretty disturbing findings about the current American workplace: many employees are under constant stress, workplaces are often hazardous, and social environments are frequently hostile, especially for women.

The survey was given to about 3,000 workers, and while not all of the information gleaned was negative, much of it does give reason for pause:

  • More than one in four American workers say they have too little time to complete their work. This complaint was most frequent among white-collar workers.
  • More than half do some sort of work outside of their workplace, impacting their ability to spend quality time with their friends and family.
  • More than half of those surveyed reported that they are exposed to unpleasant and even hazardous working conditions, including hostility and threats.
  • About 62 percent of American workers reported their work tasks are typically monotonous and unenjoyable.
  • Only 38 percent reported opportunities to advance within their employment.

It’s not all bad news, though. The survey revealed some positive traits of the modern workplace, too:

  • Four out of five Americans said their jobs met at least one definition of “meaningful” most of the time.
  • Eight out of ten American workers said their job is steady and predictable.
  • The majority of those surveyed said they saw “solving unforeseen problems” and “applying [their] own ideas” as important parts of their work.
  • Many reported a certain degree of autonomy and confidence about their skillset.
  • More than half of the surveyed workers (58 percent) said their boss is supportive, and 56 percent said they have good friends at work.

“There’s a message for employers here,” said the study lead author, Nicole Maestas. “Working conditions really do matter.”

This was the first survey of its kind, focusing on American workers ages 25-71. The RAND Corporation and its partners intend to collect data again next year to compare American and European working conditions.

Airbnb Offers Free Housing to Harvey Victims

The Airbnb logo.

Image credit: tanuha2001 / Shutterstock

Airbnb has just extended its efforts to help those displaced by Tropical Storm Harvey. 

The company’s disaster relief program offers free room-and-board to anyone who has evacuated and/or lost their homes this week, and will continue to do so until September 25. The program was originally set up to help those affected when the hurricane made landfall, scheduled to end September 1. However, heavy rains have caused intense, unexpected flooding that has displaced upwards of 30,000 Houston residents, so Airbnb has extended the program to keep people safe and dry.

“We encourage hosts in safe, inland areas to aid in this effort by listing their available rooms or homes on the platform to help the growing number of evacuees,” Kellie Bentz, Airbnb’s head of global disaster response and relief, said in a statement.

Those who offer their homes will not be charged the usual three percent listing fee, but they will still be backed by Airbnb’s host guarantee, which covers any potential property damage. There are currently 340 listings for Harvey evacuees.

Federal officials predict more than 450,000 people will need some type of assistance due to the storm, so this program is a godsend to Texans who may have lost everything (or may not see their homes for many months). Airbnb has expanded the program to reach all of Houston, and is even spreading out as far as Austin and Dallas. Now that rain and flooding is affecting Louisiana, it won’t be surprising if Airbnb extends the program to them as well.

Airbnb’s disaster relief program began in 2012 after Superstorm Sandy hit the northeast United States. Airbnb emails hosts in safe areas that are close to disaster zones, asking them to add their homes to the program. Airbnb is currently offering disaster relief to those affected by the floods in Mumbai, India as well as Tropical Storm Harvey.

New Ways to Show Employees Some Love

Check out these three new ways that employers are showing their appreciation.

There are many ways to show employees you appreciate them. Photo via Pixabay

Whether it’s providing employees with a stake in the company, creating an intranet system of recognition, or rearranging a profit-sharing plan so that it takes into account age (and thereby rewards employees who have been with the company longer), the business world continues to create new ways to show its appreciation for hardworking individuals.

Gardner Denver

In May of this year, Gardner Denver, an industrial company based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, made a bold move toward showing appreciation for its employees…to the tune of $100 million in stock.

“It makes our companies stronger and more effective,” explained Pete Stavros, the KKR executive who represents KKR’s investment in Gardner and is also chairman of the Gardner board. He added that this sort of incentive helps motivate employees and encourage engagement.

More than 6,000 Gardner employees will be receiving stock as part of Gardner’s recent IPO. The shares will be worth up to 40% of their annual salaries.

“We have big aspirations for Gardner Denver,” said Stavros. “We hope a significant portion of the [employees] will see what we see—that there’s a lot of room to run.”

Jostle and Bonusly

This month Jostle and Bonusly teamed up to offer their employees a new sort of benefit: an easier way to receive recognition from their coworkers. The new intranet is set up to encourage employee engagement via a point system. When employees leave notes about the good things they’ve seen or experienced each other doing, the person on the receiving end gets points that can be redeemed for small rewards.

Called the People Engagement platform, this intranet has already had a positive effect n the various companies like Bonusly and Jostle who use it.

“What we have created is a framework for post hoc recognition,” explains Raphael Crawford-Marks, co-founder and CEO of Bonusly. “People want to be able to give praise and recognition in the workforce, but they often don’t have a venue to do it. That is what we provide.”

Cross-Tested Plans

For small professional firms looking to reward long-time employees, a cross-tested plan allows managers to divide workers into groups when it comes to determining contributions to their retirement plans. That means older employees can get bonus contributions as an extra thank you for all their years of service. Small physicians’ offices, law firms, and engineering companies often take advantage of this setup.

“This [program] takes age into account, enabling the contributions allocated to older employees to be larger than those made to younger employees” because older employees have a shorter time to go until retirement, says Rob Massa, Director of Retirement at Ascende Wealth Advisors in Houston, Texas. This year, the maximum that can be contributed is $54,000.

A cross-tested plan can help with employee retention—not to mention giving a big thank you to the dedicated workers who have helped build a company over the years.

All three of these options are great ways to show employees that their work is valued—and that it will be rewarded, both in the long term and the short term.

MoviePass is Now Only $10 a Month

People watching a movie in a theatre.

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This week, MoviePass (the movie theater subscription app) has drastically lowered its prices from $50 a month to just $9.95. This means you can now see a new movie every single day and only pay $10. For people who live in major cities, that is less than a regular priced ticket.

MoviePass has been around since 2011 but has only recently gained traction. According to Business Insider, the news of the price slashing caused MoviePass’ site to crash from all the newfound interest.

So how does MoviePass work?

Once you sign up for the service you will be sent a debit card in the mail. Register the card on the MoviePass app then enter your zip code and it will give you a list of participating theaters (MoviePass claims that 91% of theaters nation-wide accept the service). Choose your preferred film and MoviePass adds money to your debit card for you to purchase the ticket.

There are, of course, a few caveats.

For starters, it will only work for standard 2D films, so you will have to go ahead and pay separately for a 3D or IMAX showing. You’re also limited to day-of showings, so you can’t plan ahead. Most importantly, you have to be near the theater for the app to work, as this ensures someone else isn’t using your account. As soon as you are within tracking distance, the app will let you choose your movie and book a ticket, which you have to buy at the counter. This, of course, can be a problem if the movie is popular and the chances of being sold out are high.

While consumers are happy, AMC Theaters is not. The company has threatened a lawsuit against MoviePass, claiming its business model is unsustainable and MoviePass (and therefore AMC) could potentially lose money.

“From what we can tell, by definition and absent some other form of other compensation, MoviePass will be losing money on every subscriber seeing two movies or more in a month,” the company stated.

An Inside Look at the Equestrian Business

A photo of a man riding a horse.

Jürgen Gabler (photo: A. Moser).

A business that one doesn’t hear much about (unless you are in the equestrian world) is horse training.

It’s actually somewhat of a lucrative market, considering that wherever there are horses and people riding them, there are horse trainers. I spoke with Jürgen Gabler, a horse trainer in Hannover, Germany, to find out more about the business.

Gabler explained that the primary purpose of a horse trainer is to teach the horse to perform specific behaviors. Most often, these behaviors are related to riding, racing, or therapy. It’s important to understand that a horse’s first instinct is to run, especially when someone is on its back. A good trainer will help a horse relax and be attentive to the rider’s needs.

Gabler started out as a horse farmer (Pferdewirt in German). He began training horses at the young age of 16. He went on to study breeding and stock (the handling of horses and their young) and then became a veterinarian’s assistant. After his Abitur (end of high school degree), he pursued a degree in veterinary medicine but dropped out due to financial reasons.

He then started riding full-time on a professional basis. He noticed that there were many problematic horses. But he also noticed that he had a knack for training them and smoothing out the issues, bringing the rider and the horse back to a harmonious relationship. This led to full-time horse training becoming his main form of income.

However, on a long-term basis, he feared that if he suffered a serious injury (a very real and common occurrence in horse training) he needed an additional activity to ensure that he would have a steady stream of income. So he obtained the necessary licenses to transport horses: driving a trailer and livestock transportation. This is also an activity he can pursue when he is too old to continue training horses.

His customers include horse owners from all over the world, and he often crosses European borders. He also holds a teaching license that allows him instruct riding courses.

Gabler also participates in the equestrian sport of dressage and frequently enters championships. In dressage, the horse and rider perform a series of predetermined movements from memory, which include specific gait sequences. Gabler reached the “M**” level, which is just two levels below the “last championship” stage.

Just recently, yet another happy horse rider said of him: “Without Jürgen, I would not be riding any longer, or [even] have my lovely horse. I was so frightened of riding him, and he was so confused. He [Jürgen] got us back together, built our trust in each other, and we are a great team again.”

This is Jürgen’s goal: to help riders and their horses work as a team.

Tech Leaders Warn of the Dangers of AI

A human hand touching a robotic hand.

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In one of Elon Musk’s ever-quotable interviews, he mentioned something that has spurred quite a bit of debate online. Should we be afraid of the development of artificial intelligence, also known as AI?

Speaking at the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics department’s Centennial Symposium, Musk warned that we should tread carefully when it comes to AI.

“Increasingly scientists think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish,” Musk stated. “With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon.”

Yes, Elon Musk compared working in AI to summoning a demon.

But it’s not just Musk. Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates have also issued dire warnings on the topic. But the thing that is interesting about all of these tech leaders is that none of them are actually doing work in AI themselves; they’re merely reacting to the theoretical danger of AI without doing any of the practical work.

While there is a tendency to associate AI with sci-fi movies, in the real world AI is nothing close to the sentient computers shown in blockbuster movies. And while there’s a possibility that we might eventually reach that stage, it’s still quite a long ways off.

Some are so spooked by the idea that they propose federal regulation on this type of technology. But we have to remember that such regulation can often have a chilling effect. Look at the effect that making marijuana a Schedule I drug had on testing its medical capabilities, for example. For a fledgling technology that isn’t anywhere close to being a real danger yet, putting undue restrictions on it could cause the entire industry to be stillborn.

Should we worry? Maybe. But let’s not panic about our space elevators until they’re funded, okay?

Amazon Crushes It, and Possibly You

A photo of Amazon's website.

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The Onion recently put out a wonderful parody article that was uncomfortably close to the sad reality of tech business these days. Purported to be written by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, it was entitled “My Advice To Anyone Starting A Business Is To Remember That Someday I Will Crush You.”

In it, Bezos provides advice for new entrepreneurs that is actually fairly reasonable, but which always ends with the idea that no matter what happens, eventually Amazon will step in and destroy whatever startup that you might hope to build.

The reason this article hits a bit close to home is because of a Gizmodo piece from earlier in July that argues that “At This Point, Amazon Can Crush a Company Just By Filing for a Trademark.” Jones points out that Amazon is such a large company that simply announcing a plan to compete in a specific market is enough to send other company’s stock toppling, citing the unfortunate state of Blue Apron’s IPO after Amazon announced it was filing a “meal-kit trademark that covers prepared food kits composed of meat, poultry, fish, seafood, fruit and/or vegetables . . . ready for cooking and assembly as a meal.”

Partnering with the large company is a not a good option, either. Just ask Nucleus cofounder Morley Ivers, who had received an investment from Amazon through its Alexa Fund to create an intercom that allowed non-Amazon devices to work with Amazon’s Alexa. Nucleus returned the favor by giving Amazon insights into how its system worked and its user behavior, only to find out that Amazon was using that information to create their own Echo Show—a device that completely made theirs obsolete.

The worst thing is that, while they were aware that Amazon was working in the space, they did not know that the new device would make theirs truly obsolete until the product was officially announced.

Ivers warns that other companies that work with Amazon to develop Alexa-related devices should be careful that they don’t make the same mistakes he did, although he doesn’t believe that the company is actually malicious.

But with quotes like, “Be prepared, among other things, for my company to duplicate your product or service and sell it at prices you can never compete with, all the while turning your board members against you one by one and, eventually, buying your company for less than it’s worth just so we can shut it down,” clearly The Onion doesn’t see things the same way.

KKR Appoints Joe Bae and Scott Nuttall as Co-Presidents and Co-Chief Operating Officers

Two businessmen shaking hands.

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Multinational private equity company KKR has announced a new line of leadership. As of July 17, 2017, Joe Bae and Scott Nuttall will oversee KKR’s day-to-day operations as co-presidents and co-chief operating officers.

Unusual? Yes. Unheard of? No.

Other companies have appointed co-presidents before. Take Santander Bank, for example. This past June, Santander appointed Robert Rubino and Michael Clearly as co-presidents of the bank.

And even more recently, on July 24, 2017, Sony named Jason Clodfelter and Chris Parnell as co-presidents of Sony Pictures Television Studios.

But what’s particularly unique about KKR is the fact that the firm also has co-CEOS: cousins Henry Kravis and George Roberts. Kravis and Roberts co-founded KKR in 1976 alongside their former colleague Jerome Kohlberg, Jr.

According to The New York Times, the appointment of Joe Bae and Scott Nuttall as co-presidents and co-chief operating officers is “the biggest shakeup in the 41-year-old firm’s history since KKR’s other co-founder, Jerome Kohlberg, Jr, left it in 1987.”

But in all honesty, the announcement couldn’t have come at a better time. Kravis and Roberts, both 73, have already passed retirement age. This new level of leadership will act as a line of succession for whenever Kravis and Roberts decide to step down.

“Having joined the firm together over 20 years ago, Joe and Scott have a strong foundation of trust, professional respect, and personal friendship that is critical for success,” Kravis and Roberts said in a joint statement. “They think and act globally, they embody KKR’s core values, and they are two of our most accomplished business leaders, with proven track records of managing large teams, building new businesses, and driving value for our fund investors and our public unit holders.”

Together, Bae and Nuttall will oversee more than $90 billion in KKR assets. It’s a huge responsibility to take on, but one that both men are prepared for.

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