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Of small businesses, seeing the worst of humanity and growth at all costs
Tech Bites #1. Your monthly dose of thoughts and learnings about the impact of tech
Welcome to Tech Bites, a newsletter where I share my two cents (and pennies) about the impact of tech. I’m Asta by the way.
Let’s get to it!
1. YAY - how tech does good 👏🙌🏾
Startups are trying to get small businesses back on their feet during the pandemic. Will they succeed?
We’ve all heard that businesses of all sizes are struggling. But I can’t help but think about small businesses, the local restaurant or coffee shop, the small clothing boutique or book shop. In the US 31% of small businesses have stopped operating. Governments around the world are trying to help them out but let’s be honest: that can only take you so far. So businesses are doing what they do best - they’re trying to adapt and become digital - probably for the first time.
Enter startups. Shopify expanded its 90-day free trial to new standard plans and is fast-tracking the expansion of Shopify Capital. Slerp is helping small businesses offer on-demand services on their terms, without sky-high commission charges. Linistry is offering digital queuing services to help businesses re-open safely. Elliot is enabling businesses to sell and ship to 200+ countries.
Of course, I am under no illusion that all of these small businesses will survive. Some will with battles scars, others will have to close their doors forever. But I am happy that tools exist to help them adapt to this new normal. These startups may not classify as “tech for good” in the traditional sense but anyone who is using tech to support the backbones of our economy is doing something good in my eyes.
2. NAY - how tech does harm 😭🤦🏾♀️
The toll of constantly seeing the worst humanity has to offer
The year was 2011, the Arab Spring was happening and everyone was talking about how protesters were using Facebook and other social media tools to organise demonstrations, share information and raise awareness. I remember thinking how great it all was - we were living in extraordinary times (YAY).
We were also incredibly naive. A few years down the line, here we were, learning about how Russian state organisations used those same social media platforms we saw as freedom enablers to try and influence the outcome of a presidential election.
It was a reminder that social media platforms are just tools and us humans can use them for good - to share stories of our own lives and family - or to cause harm by disseminating hate, fake news and horrible triggering content.
Facebook content moderators probably know this more than all of us, as they are required to deal with photos and videos of rape, murder, and suicide among other things.
This month, Facebook has agreed to fork out $52m to compensate moderators (current and former) for the mental health issues they have developed on the job. Moderators will get an initial $1k and will be entitled to more depending on their diagnosis. Facebook will also make changes to its content moderation tools, what they require of vendors they hire and provide mental health support to current moderators (e.g. weekly coaching sessions).
Facebook is doing the right thing. But I find sad that its efforts to remove more harmful content from its platform post-2016 have led to moderators being harmed.
3. Learning moments 🤔
I ask myself often...if I were to start a business one day and become a founder (okay I’ve been a co-founder before but still), what kind of business would I want to build? Would I aspire to build a venture-backed business, a company with 1000s of employees, a unicorn with amazing exit prospects?
I believe tech for good startups have the potential to be amazing investment opportunities that will make everyone win - society, investors and the team that worked hard to make it all a reality. But businesses - no matter whether they’re tech for good ones or not - need to be sustainable. If the value they’re bringing is in name only (e.g. I’ve raised x millions, I’m a unicorn, I got x, y, z investors backing me up), what’s the point? If all they’re doing is burning cash left and right like there is no tomorrow, what’s the point?
We’ve seen a lot of focus on growing at all costs, burning cash left and right and worrying about profitability later. And this has been undoubtedly fuelled by the likes of Softbank and many other investors. I was talking just about the major losses Softbank has experienced last week in my “Two Cents” Insta segment (where I, share my two cents on a tech news story weekly, shocker). This shit is not sustainable, and considering that we’re living in the worst economic crisis so far (maybe), I’m not sure we will go back to the times of abundance of the last decade.
Coronavirus may be the nail in the coffin for the growth at all costs with no regards to profitability era. Unicorns may soon become demodé unless they can show us they were camels after all - companies able to survive the harshest conditions.
But will we learn our lessons? Or will we forget them when times are good again?
4. Attention-grabbing stuff 😲
1. Facebook names the 20 people who can overrule Mark Zuckerberg. Finally, Facebook-land will get an oversight board (aka content Supreme Court). And I couldn’t be happier.
“For now, the board will only consider appeals in cases where Facebook took down user content; later it will tackle cases where arguably objectionable content was allowed to stand. (Take note, Nancy Pelosi.) It will also limit itself to Facebook’s main, blue app and Instagram at first.”
2. How Covid-19 pushed Twitter to fact-check Trump’s tweets. Trump vs Twitter. Get me the popcorn. I am ready for this showdown. But jokes aside, I am glad that Twitter has decided to stop giving special treatment to Trump and its tweets, clearly in violation of Twitter policies. It must not have been easy but this move shows that you may be the President of the United States, but that doesn’t mean that the rules don’t apply to you.
3. Jesus Christ was also misunderstood, Masayoshi Son tells investors. Okay...not sure the comparison is apt. But Son’s come back from the dotcom bubble burst. Will he manage a second coming?
4. Coronavirus might spell the end of tech hubs. That’s a good thing. Matt Clifford, Co-Founder and CEO of Entrepreneur First, shares his thoughts about what Coronavirus could bring.
“Perhaps the most frequent – and fruitless – question politicians ask about innovation is, “How can we build the next Silicon Valley here?” The answer used to be “you can’t”. But, perhaps, the new answer is “you don’t need to”. If the world gets this transition right, there’s an opportunity for many more countries and vastly more people to reap the benefits of innovation clusters without having to build one on their doorstep.”
5. Facebook launches Shops to bring more businesses online during the pandemic. Businesses can now set up shop on Facebook and Instagram for free. This is great news for cash-strapped small businesses that have had to close their brick & mortar stores because of the pandemic.
6. Robot waiters, video doctors: SKorea moves to less personal contact. Is this what our future will look like?
5. Podcast Corner 🎧
WeCrashed: The Rise and Fall of WeWork. A series tracing WeWork from its beginning, the crazy days following SoftBank’s investment and the fall from grace.
6. #startupcrushon 🥰🚀
Impak is a Canadian startup enabling the impact economy. It helps investors understand and track the impact of businesses with its impact scoring and reporting tools. It helps consumers shop responsibly and rewards them every time they do so with its cryptocurrency impak coin.
What makes them different?
The ecosystem they have built. They are enabling different aspects of the impact economy. They started by allowing people to submit impact businesses. Now they have managed to build a community of investors, businesses and consumers all keen to have a positive impact in the world. As an investor, you can evaluate the impact of your investments; as a consumer, you have access to a marketplace of impact businesses so you know how your cash has an impact; as a business, you can showcase your impact credentials and drive conscious consumers your way.
The reward mechanism they have created with impak coin. For each purchase at an impak accredited company, consumers receive impak coins. They can use this stable cryptocurrency to buy products and services from impak companies, make P2P payments and earn interest by supporting impact entrepreneurs.
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I’ve given you my two cents. I’d love to hear yours. Did you like the newsletter? What do you think about the questions I’ve raised? Just hit reply or find me at @astalagriotte on Insta, Twitter or Linkedin. Keep the feedback coming,
Bubble tea aficionado