March 13, 2020

How to Become a Steady Disruptor in the Workplace

For Women's History Month, YML is shining a light on the powerlessness far too many women feel, and how to be proactive about changing the status quo to drive impact.

by Marcela Lay | March 16, 2020

I was recently at a Together Digital meetup —a networking event where women help women succeed in digital - and in life — where a colleague shared something powerful and unfortunately disheartening with me:

“I feel about changing the status quo, the same way I feel about global warming – overwhelmed. I don’t even know where to start.” 

It was not the first time I heard this powerlessness sentiment when a gender equality topic has been brought up. So, it got me thinking about the state of women today, how our company perceives of and hires women in tech, and about where all of this fits in Women's History Month in 2020. 

What has created this analysis paralysis? 

On the one hand, we bring awareness to gender inequality issues through stats that, well, let’s face it, are overwhelming. 

I have used many of those data points during presentations to our staff and in public events alike, and I found it critical to create a sense of urgency. So, to be blunt — there's nothing we can do in the immediate that will change the fact that this issue is overwhelming, massive and institutionally bound to the culture we live in.

On the other hand, we read articles like the one published in December by Forbes, “The World’s Most Powerful Women: Newcomers To The 2019 List” that puts the spotlight on powerful women who are using their power to create change.  Or we participate in women marches that make us believe a massive movement is required to influence change.

Image result for women's march 2019
Source: WTOP.com

While the efforts from powerful women and women's movements have been necessary and the catalyst to influence change today, there is very little visibility into the small improvements that regular women are leading today. And if we don't have visibility into those more modest efforts done by regular women out there to drive impact, then that feeling of being overwhelmed and stuck will only persist.

Under our current climate, and when it feels like the world is finally listening, we can’t afford feeling powerlessness. If a window for change has finally opened, then it's our responsibility to take action. We owe it to ourselves, to our friends, to our daughters, and the generations behind us. We all have the opportunity to become agents of change today. If not today, then when?

So, what do we do?

We can start by bringing attention to our day-to-day and by embracing a steady disruptor mindset in our organizations.

Step 1: Identify the issue and label it.

In order to become a steady disruptor, first, we must become hyper-aware of the issues around us. And I know what you might be thinking, "We are already aware."

Yes, to a certain degree. 

But remember that for centuries, women have been trained to dismiss or justify the warning signs. A constant example I've encountered involves blaming ourselves for our co-workers’ inappropriate behaviors – maybe I smiled too much?

Becoming a Steady Disruptor requires an awakening.

Only then will we be able to recognize the warning signs at our organizations. As we start paying attention to that tension inside of us when something is not the way it is supposed to be, we will allow ourselves to admit the tangible problems of equality our team or organizations are facing. Once you identify a particular issue, go ahead and label it (harassment, bro-culture, mansplaining, etc.)  because unless you can accurately identify the problem, you won't be able to identify a potential solution. 

Image result for bro culture
Source: MindTools

For instance, our tech industry is dominated by men (80%), but at YML Atlanta, we ended 2019 with 57% women. How did we achieve this result? By identifying the right issue.

The issue I came across took place during hiring periods.  Our recruiting team would share a wide variety of candidates' resumes, but they were resumes of mostly men. So, I asked, where are the resumes of women? And they would answer, women didn't apply. 

The label I gave to this issue was: "Unbalanced pool of candidates." Then I moved to step #2.

Step 2: Assess opportunities for small and impactful change

Now, because of the countless years women have been socialized to dismiss the tension inside of us, as we try to identify opportunities for change, we will find many reasons that will stop us from doing anything about it. But now that you are not ignoring the tension anymore, fight those mental blocks.  

Here are some example of mental block:

  • Am I qualified to help? — This is the self-doubt mental block. 
  • I'm not sure if I have the right answer. — The uncertainty mental block.
  • What if I fail? — The indecision mental block.
Image result for small and incremental change

Get rid of those mental blocks, whatever those might be. That takes practice, and intentionality. But once you overcome them, you will allow yourself to move into a more creative space where anything could be possible.  It is at this stage that you will start asking yourself a different series of questions: 

  • How can I make this situation better?
  • How can I create an opportunity for change?
  • Who can I invite to help? What role could I play?
  • What type of small improvements could we implement?

The key here is to consider small improvements. Remember — we are not trying to boil the ocean.

Small and incremental improvements are the key to steady disruption. 

On our ‘unbalanced pool of candidates” issue example, I assessed three opportunities for small and impactful change:

  1. Educate our recruiting team on the fact that women only apply to jobs when they match 100% of requirements and that men often apply to jobs when they believe they match about 60% of those requirements. 
  2. Proactively reach out to female candidates to balance the candidate pool.  
  3. I needed to work on a women's empowerment initiative at YML to ensure our women developed a strong sense of confidence.

Step 3: Commitment to translate the opportunity into action

Once you have one small opportunity for change, all that is left is to commit to translating that opportunity into action. This is a critical step to ensure change. Unless we act on our ideas, the attention is not going to translate into meaningful results. 

Here is how I translated into action the three opportunities I assessed in step 2:

  1. I added to our ATL leadership scorecard a metric to ensure our team was requesting and only interviewing a balanced pool of candidates.
  2. I know our Atlanta talent better than my California recruiting team, so I needed to lean into a recruitment role.  I vetted local talent by reaching out on LinkedIn to potential female candidates and inviting them to connect over coffee. 
  3. I spearheaded our Women Initiative (WIN) at YML. Every month, we present content related to personal development, career development, and women empowerment across our US offices.

The first two small actions resulted in a more balanced pool of candidates and how we were able to reach 57% women by the end of 2019. While our efforts ensure more women participate in the interview cycles, we only hired the best candidate for the role regardless of gender.

Yes, small changes can have significant impact at your organization.

Women are poised today with the most power we've ever had to initiate change. The question is, what are you going to do with this power? 

Pay attention to the tension and translate that insight into action.  It is the ripple effects of our combined small actions that will redefine the status quo for this and the next generations. 

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About the Author

Marcela Lay is the co-head of YML's Atlanta office, and she shoulders leadership roles across account management, strategy, and people operations. As a strategic customer experience executive with over 18 years of experience, Marcela has worked with Fortune 500 clients like Lowe’s, Delta Air Lines, The Coca-Cola Company, State Farm, and Fresenius Medical Care. Marcela’s experience allows her to bring a holistic understanding of all aspects of digital, including marketing strategy, experience design, and platform development. Throughout her career as a trusted advisor to her clients, combined with a solid background in customer experience strategy and process optimization, Marcela has led cross-disciplinary teams to deliver a range of transformational customer experience solutions. 

January 29, 2020

Getting to Know Debasish Bhadra, Program Manager at YML

January 29, 2020

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hello! I am Debasish, an ardent technophile and one among the passionate ‘Dreamers and Doers’ of YML 💪

As a program manager, I lead and drive program objectives, determine deliverables, make milestones, and pursue the critical path to help achieve strategic and business goals of YML and it’s clientele. 

Fresenius Medical Care, ADAA, Orig3n, FS and EMC are a few of my most recent completed programs at YML. 

Where are you from?

I was born and grew up in the suburb city of Joy, Kolkata, India. 

Coming from a city with a soul which carries 330+ years of rich culture, as a kid I was curious to explore creative, abstract art, sports, technology, and education. The pursuit of knowledge and the warmth of being together with family helped me to build my 'never back down' attitude towards life. 

I moved to Bangalore, India, to study information science and engineering. With ample freedom to flourish and nurture my passion that converge — skills, value, quality, and yes, the cult of the great minds around — I’ve discovered what it takes to deliver a lasting impact on everything I do. 

Tell us a little about your background.

I have had a strong passion for technology since my childhood. It fascinates and pushes me to find a simple tech solution for a complex problem. 

When I received my first computer, I was dazzled to experience the symphony of MS-DOS, Windows 95, CPU system and a printer orchestrating together. I was happy to be hooked to the computer all day long.

Fast forward 15 years, I carry the identical enthusiasm every moment with strong tech management in mobile platform, AI/ML, data science, enterprise and human aspects of software engineering. 

I joined the Vimeo Livestream team as a fresh grad and over the years contributed significantly to deliver world class quality products and projects across multiple Fortune 500 clients later on including Facebook, Dell, HP, and Disney before joining YML.

Why did you choose to come to Y Media Labs?

I believe in the vision and mission of YML's founders and leadership team.

We have some of the brilliant people in the industry working here. 'Work hard, play hard' is our culture. YML means business and value with a lasting impact.  

Apart from work, I love the engaging events of YML. YML hack day is organized for 'YML'ers who want to showcase their unique ideas and coding skills. We regularly participate in corporate sports events such as marathons, duathlon, and corporate relay races. 

Above all, I love the energy, the vibe, and passion of YML. Thats why I choose to come to this world-class mobile development studio. 

What about this industry are you most passionate about?

Technology, software, people, innovation and value converges to motivate me. Faster access to internet enables ubiquitous access to new innovation and new opportunities at our finger tips. Clearly, the world is evolving at a rapid speed.

My conscious involvement with the rapid transformation in the tech industry helps me with effective visualization and successful execution. It feels great to be a part of this industry! And, It's a feeling that will never go away. 

What are some other companies you admire?

Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon, and Samsung need no introduction and I admire them for the contributions they have made so far to the technology industry.  Lesser known start-ups and good business models I admire are:

  • CureFit - A digital and offline platform offers a healthy lifestyle and holistic cure across fitness, food, and mental well-being through its three products: cult.fit, eat.fit and mind.fit. 
  • Byju’s - Ed-tech startup that offers highly-adaptive, engaging and effective learning programs for students from classes 4-12 and competitive exams.
  • Practo - Digital healthcare platform that enables users to find medical services & solutions. 

What are your favorite spots to eat?

My favorite spot is my residence because I am in control of taste, portion and quality of the food. We like to experiment with fresh quality ingredients and we absolutely love what we cook! Here is a list of nearby favorite places in Bangalore, India, we enjoy dining out:

My favorite spot to eat outside of India is Epicure - Le Bristol Paris and Hibou Deli in Chamonix, France because of their heavenly dishes and flavors of the world they offer. 

How do you spend your spare time?

My family is surrounded with strength of love and with every union in my spare time, our bond grows stronger.

I enjoy reading, boxing, football, yoga, and activities for physical & mental fitness. I also love adventure sports and building prototypes. Expressing myself through fine art painting is another treasured passion of mine. I feel accomplished and get the sense of fulfillment when I create a wonderful masterpiece because art works as a springboard for exploration of my inner self and peace ✌🏼.

August 5, 2019

Getting to Know: Adam Talcott – Software Engineering Manager at YML

August 8, 2019

YML's team is diverse, insightful and bound together by a dedication to the agency's mission — make a lasting impact. The "Getting to Know" series shines a light on various members of the YML team.

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Adam Talcott, and I’m a software engineering manager at YML.

I’ve been at YML for four years, and during that time I’ve had the pleasure of leading a number of different technology projects. I usually get involved in the early stages of an engagement, even before a client has committed to partnering with us, to bring an engineering perspective to the table. I then get to see that project through strategy, design, development and deployment.

Where are you from?

I was born in Chicago, but I grew up in California, splitting my time between the San Fernando Valley in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area.

I went to college and grad school in southern California, and, after a brief stint in Austin, Texas, I returned to the Silicon Valley about 20 years ago.

Tell us a little about your background.

After completing my Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering, I worked as a computer architect designing microprocessors for IBM, Sun Microsystems and Cisco. In 2008, I started developing iOS (then just “iPhone”!) apps in my spare time.

I started my own consulting company in 2009 working on iPhone apps for a wide variety of customers. I worked at a startup in the machine learning and video space prior to joining YML.

Why did you choose to come to Y Media Labs?

At YML I saw a great opportunity to work with a great team and to partner with amazing clients. I also really love the variety of projects I get to work on and the variety of technologies I get to learn about and use here.

What about this industry are you most passionate about?

I love to bring great designs and user experiences to life. It doesn’t matter what the technology may be, but nothing gives me more pleasure than having something I’ve helped build improve people’s lives in some way.

What are some other companies you admire?

Apple is definitely one. I was an Apple fanboy since I first started programming on my parents' Apple II Plus computer. That’s long before it was normal to see everyone in a meeting, classroom or airport with Apple computers or using an iPhone.

It’s been amazing to watch the growth of that company, and I still get inspired by the story of how the first Macintosh computer was developed.

What are your favorite spots to eat in San Francisco?

I live in Los Altos, so when I eat in San Francisco, it tends to be for a special event. As a result, my favorite restaurant in the city is Gary Danko, which I’ve been fortunate enough to visit on a few occasions.

Closer to home, and more affordable: I love eating at Patxi’s Pizza in Palo Alto or Estrellita Restaurant in Los Altos.

How do you spend your spare time?

With my family, usually in the car shuttling the kids between activities. My wife and I have a ten-year-old daughter and and an eight-year-old son, and I always look forward to weekends or traveling with them.

And when I do have a moment to myself, I also love reading history books or getting some video game time in playing Rocket League or a hockey game in NHL 19.

July 18, 2019

Getting to Know Hamish Macphail — Chief Financial Officer at Y Media Labs

July 18, 2019

YML's team is diverse, insightful and bound together by a dedication to the agency's mission — make a lasting impact. The "Getting to Know" series shines a light on various members of the YML team.

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Hamish, which is a Scottish name pronounced “Hey-mish”, but in the US by necessity I will respond to Hammish, Hameesh, Amish, Shamus and occasionally Angus.   

I’m a UK qualified Chartered Accountant, and I’ve been working as a CFO / COO for professional services agencies for most of my career.

Where are you from?

Despite the extremely Scottish name, I was born and raised in South East England and spent the first two decades of my career in London.  When the agency I was the CFO for in London expanded into the US in 2003, I took the opportunity to move with it to the San Francisco Bay Area where I’ve been living and working since 2006.

Tell us a little about your background.

My time at school and university was dominated by mathematics – almost all of my high school qualifications are mathematics subjects, and my bachelor’s degree is in mathematics.  So after graduating, becoming a Chartered Accountant was a natural route into the business world for me.  

Why did you choose to come to Y Media Labs?

From the start, I’ve wanted to work with business leaders to help them build and grow their organizations.  Fast-growing businesses are the most fun and challenging to work for, and I’m a professional services agency specialist and a technology enthusiast – so Y Media Labs checked every single box for me. I couldn’t have been more excited when Ashish and Sumit asked me to join.

What about this industry are you most passionate about?

I’ve always been a tech geek – before computers I was a gadget guy, in the early 80’s I was programming an 8-bit computer with machine code, and I love the things that technology enables.  I keep in touch with friends and family all over the world using social media. I listen to just about any book in the world or any music I want to during my commute using a wireless super-computer that fits in my pocket. I can deal with my anxieties by checking my garage door is closed from anywhere in the world – all these things I love with a passion and muse on with awe on a daily basis, and I’m excited for the things to come too.

What are some other companies you admire?

I admire people more than companies, and it’s the people behind them that drive inspirational companies.  Coming from the UK I grew up being inspired by Richard Branson, and his values of fairness, inclusion and humility, which infuse the Virgin brand.  And people like Roger Federer, who despite his phenomenal success and domination of his sport for years, maintains a humility and kindness to all which is an example for everyone.

What are your favorite spots to eat in San Francisco?

I worked for several years on the Embarcadero, in what is now Google’s San Francisco office.  Favorite places around there are Ozumo for sushi, and Boulevard for a splurge.  Where I live in Marin, I have to give a big shout out to Insalata’s.

How do you spend your spare time?

Living in Marin, our family does a lot of outdoors stuff – tennis, hiking with our dogs, swimming, and mountain biking which was invented in Fairfax the town next door to us.  We love movies too, and being able to stream HD movies on demand onto a projection screen in our living room is amazing – just another reason I love technology!

Follow Hamish on Linkedin!

July 17, 2019

We Are People: What it Means to Have a People-First Approach

By Shayna Stewart / July 17, 2019

A people-first approach is neither easy to create or quick to implement. But it is the secret sauce at the core of the biggest and best brands in the world today.

Customer experience is a strategy that all digital insiders know has to be a focus if they want to have a lasting impact in their industry. However, the execution of customer experience isn’t as easy as just coming up with a plan to leverage emerging technology and building digital products. It’s as much about igniting cultural change within a company as it is about planning for the evolution of the experience.

At YML, we’ve designed a dynamic and thorough people-first strategy built to cultivate cultural change.

That people-first approach is what is missing from the majority of CX initiatives — and it shows. 

  • Executives who have made a push for a CX strategy have not seen a tangible business improvement.  20% of companies scored 9-10 for seeing a Return on Investment, with 14% of companies scoring 0-2 (Confirmit, 2018). 
  • The public doesn’t believe they have reaped much benefit from CX initiatives. 
    • 54% of U.S. consumers say customer experience at most companies needs improvement (PWC, 2018).  
  • Culture and legacy technology systems have been major reasons for people not seeing the consumer benefit of CX initiatives.
    • 54% of organizations cite culture as the primary challenge to becoming more agile, followed by the inflexibility of legacy technologies (Confirmit, 2018).
  • The companies who are reaping the rewards of CX initiatives, whom are mainly located in Silicon Valley, are the ones who have unequivocally added benefit to people’s lives.  
    • The S&P Index is largely a Technology Index as of 2018, including companies such as Alphabet/Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon (Seeking Alpha, 2018).

What differentiates the Silicon Valley behemoths and startups is the people-first approach. 

Source: Conformit, 2018

A people-first approach comes with a shift in mindset that is drastically different from the historical business executive mindset. You suddenly are talking about the broad spectrum of all people, internally and externally,  instead of just customers, and ultimately revenue. You are talking about emotions as opposed to products. Instead of technology solutions, you are building conversational tools. Lastly, whereas a business-centric mindset is one that optimizes based on minimizing risk and maximizing revenues, a people-first mindset is one that optimizes for transparency and intrinsic value.

In the short term, when first making this cultural shift, these optimization goals can constrain each other. In the long run, a people-first approach will maximize revenue, reduce risk, build loyalty with your team, and, quite frankly, keep your business relevant. 

But this is a very difficult story to tell when in a boardroom meeting. Often times a savvy executive can make the initial case for investing in CX, but isn’t able to clarify the full scope of that CX investment, which includes a gradual and tangible, cultural change to people-first. What ends up happening is that the first part of the project may go well and the customer may come first, but then the returns on revenue and reduced risk are not immediately recognized and therefore the mindset shifts back to business as usual.  

The trick is to trust the strategy. Trust consistency of message and approach. 

Here are some examples of companies optimizing for people-first.

  • Netflix created an easy to cancel monthly subscription experience along with reminders to cancel after the trial period so that customers never felt like they were overcharged or cheated in someway. However, this people-first change, optimizing towards transparency, had an estimated loss of $50M in subscription revenue. At the time, that was still a small percentage of overall revenue and in making the change towards transparency it built long term trust. As a result of improved brand perception, they continue to increase their monthly subscription base, hitting their highest level of subscribers in Q1 2019. 
  • In 2016 McDonald’s invested in elevating the interior environment of their stores to feel more premium, along with adding in self-ordering digital kiosks and table service. Investing in improved interiors is a table stakes strategy. Let’s face it — they needed to make this people-first investment just to stay relevant. It is table stakes because the outcome will get you to a net-neutral spot; it’s not going to increase customer base, it’s just going to make sure you don’t lose customers at a faster rate than if you did not implement that update. A clean, premium eating environment is the expectation. But the digital kiosk paired with the improved interior is what took the strategy to a level that would actually increase sales.
Image result for mcdonalds self service

  • The digital kiosk solved a customer pain point of waiting in lines in a way that was hard for competitors to copy right away.  Their strategy was to ensure their experience met standards and then improved the standards of the industry. This investment didn’t start to see a return until 2018 for stores within the test. McDonald’s has many other competitive pressures, such as new restaurants with the perception of better quality food and convenience offered through delivery overriding in-store speediness. But refreshed strategy may not be enough to overcome these new customer expectations. Changing expectations raises the importance of adopting a people-centric approach that will allow you to rethink the entirety of the business and how it can pivot from an existing model to a new one.

In both of these instances with Netflix and McDonalds, the immediate impact on the business metrics (revenue, profit) went down. In the long run, these CX strategies resulted in heightened retention over time. Brand perception and revenue drastically improved. They illustrated how creating a people-first culture will help mitigate the initial shock of investment and reduce risk over the long run because the investments made are directly informed by people’s emotions. 

Image result for netflix
According to Forrester, a one point gain in CX index results in a $5M-$185 million return on the business (depending on industry). Netflix has been ahead of the curve when it comes to CX and a people-first approach.

At YML we have created a step by step hierarchy to help you understand what actually goes into creating a people-first cultural mindset. Breaking it down into steps can help your teams understand where they are in maturity. The plan is also a tool to understand what steps were missed in the past. The key to this model is that it implies a high level of collaboration from stakeholders from historically siloed teams at every step.   

Levels to Creating a People-First Culture: 

  1. Feel What People Feel 
    • Extensive marketing research that looks beyond your customers, your competitors’ customers and the points of interaction with you and your competitors
    • Employees from each team pretending to be your own customer
    • Employees from each team pretending to be a service rep that interacts with the customer
  2. Empathize to Solve Problems
    • Build your strategy around the crucial moments of emotions in step 1
    • Identify what part of the strategy is table stakes vs. what will move customer expectations
    • Projects that only have table stakes will fail because that only postpones the inevitable of customers churning, it will not promote long term engagement
    • Ideas that will move customer expectations should be prioritized despite being harder to develop (See how to prioritize innovation with Innovation Index
  3. Igniting Cultural Change
    • All team members should be aware of the new people-first research and strategy 
    • The people-first strategy should be outlined in terms of how every person and team can help implement this new strategy and what is expected of them
    • New rules of engagement defined, highlighted by a culture of not being afraid to fail, must be adopted.  This about making a transition from fear of change to perceiving of smart risk-taking as admired 
  4. Talk the Way People Talk
    • Your backend systems and content need to reflect the nomenclature of the way people talk, as opposed to the way an industry insider speaks.
    • The backend systems must be able to support people’s desired navigation 
    • This sometimes can be a significant change to legacy data architecture. 
  5. Build The Experience
    • Design, develop and deploy
  6. Continuous Optimizing of The Experience
    • Must have the ability to move quickly and make quick decisions.
    • Much of this is about empowering mid-level employees with the ability to have more decision making power.  
  7. Creating New Customer Expectations 
    • Continuous pulse on changing expectations and creating new solutions to meet those new expectations
    • Creating new technology
    • Taking a new technology to solve an unsolved problem 

Each step is crucial, and completion of a step without completing the one before it will invalidate all steps. In addition, the investment in each level is additive and represents a cost that is continuously incurred. This means the investment does not go away once a team has leveled up. The result for each step will be unique to every brand and even the approach to all steps is not a one-size fits all. Even if you meet the requirements in each step there are still some cultural habits that will undermine this entire investment. 

Habits to Avoid in Order to Preserve a People-First Mindset

  • Don’t forget to create advocates across all teams. Be sure to allow lines of communication for input and collaboration from all teams. This is a high-collaboration sport. 
  • Don’t say the investment will end with a specific project. Your teams should be continuously optimizing the project and there is no end to the investment. Remember, the CX leaders are actively investing billions every year in creating new expectations (i.e., Steps #1-#7 never go away).  
  • Don’t a business case around just Step #5. Steps #1-#4 are crucial to making sure the investment incurred in Step #5 is not wasted. 
  • Leveraging emerging technology without contextualizing why and how people would use it creates costly mistakes. That can only come once you have hit step #7 and shouldn’t come sooner. 
  • Not investing in robust people-first research. This seems simple enough, but most companies think they have the right research based on satisfaction scores from customers. This is too narrowly focused for a people-first approach.  
  • Not properly communicating the people-first research and initiatives built from it to all teams in the entire company. Teams need to understand what this shift means for them and how they can support it. 
  • Not allowing for employees to feel comfortable about outcomes that weren’t positive. Not everyone will get it right the first time, but they should learn from why it didn’t work. That insight will get teams to the next big thing.  
  • Not expecting team structure shifts in order to become more agile. 
  • Not expecting major changes to database warehousing teams. Usually CX initiatives are considering just what it takes to build a website or app, but fail to consider that the systems that they may read from are not set up to comply with the new people-first strategy.  

A people-first mindset should permeate the underlying thinking of all teams. It should be an iterative process that produces long term business results.

It should unite and empower all employees to stand up for what’s right for the customer.

Employee thinking should be able to shift seamlessly between their executive persona and people persona. And most importantly, it should allow employees to feel like people feel because, at the end of the day, all of us are just people.

March 20, 2019

Is it time to break up the technopoly?

An analysis of the Democrats’ argument to break up tech.

By Stephen Clements

Have you ever heard of Wrapp, Giftly, Giftivo, Giftdish, Gifthit, GiftSimple, GiftDrop, DropGifts, YouGift, Ziftit, Let's Gift It…?

Probably not, which isn’t surprising.

They are just a handful of startups that were trounced when Facebook reintroduced gifting on the platform in 2017. I imagine this happens a lot—a tech giant launches a new feature and a slew of energetic and dynamic startups go up in smoke.

Talk about a tenuous existence.

No doubt it makes investing in a technology company very risky, and starting one even riskier. Sure, this has been going on since the dawn of business—the big eats the small—it’s a dog eat dog world, and Facebook has the biggest teeth.

So it was with some interest that I tuned into Elizabeth Warren’s talk at SXSW, during which she ripped into big tech and threatened to disrupt the disruptors by breaking them into smaller parts.

No doubt the cynic in me thinks this is just populist posturing from the 2020 hopeful.

Senator Warren picked SXSW to take her stand against big tech, because—as we all know—it’s hotbed of entrepreneurialism. It’s a who’s who of tech, and for 1 week the halls, bars, and BBQ joints of Austin are walked by any startup founder or tech-investor looking to rub shoulders with the world’s technorati, to get inspired, network, and maybe (just maybe) get funding.

And so the message was wildly cheered by her audience as she built her case to break up the G-MAFIA (Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, IBM, and Amazon).

Her logic is that by limiting the power of these tech giants, it will give smaller companies room to breathe, help them innovate more freely, and boost the economy.

Sounds lovely.

And it’s not just a ray of hope for the startup community, it could also be a gift for big brands that aren’t so technologically endowed.

For example, I have lost count of the many meetings I have had with clients from all kinds of verticals—banking, insurance, automotive, etc.—all fretting the question “what happens when Amazon starts selling insurance/banking/cars/…?

For me, this is the exciting part.

As the big tech elites control the future of AI, and they are busy shoring up their digital advantage, the oxygen of innovation is being squeezed out of startups and big businesses alike. It will be an effed up world when you get your insurance, banking, healthcare and gym membership, all from the same provider.

What Senator Warren is proposing might scare the big tech giants—obviously.

They haven’t felt much in the way of regulation for so long, and so now, as legislation starts to catch up with their mercurial rise, the pigeons are maybe coming home to roost.

It’s an agreeable message for an audience of technological progressives at SXSW, but on the flip side, Democrats rely on big tech as their piggy bank for political donations, so we’ll see if they are really willing to do anything should they win the 2020 election.

It’s a debate worth having, for sure, but the cynic in me doesn’t expect much will actually come from it.

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