I’m An Entrepreneur Because Of My Mom

happy international women’s day, mom.

By Joe Laresca

There’s no possible way I could encompass what my mom has done for my family and the sacrifices she’s made in a blog post. It probably deserves a book (stay tuned, wink wink), but I wanted to write something down. And, what a better time to do so than on International Women’s Day — because, let me tell you, she is the most baller woman I know. Period.

My mom, Caterina Liliana Larriva Laresca, came to the Big Apple (Brooklyn, to be exact) in 1990 at 16 years old — by herself. Yeah, that’s right. 16, alone, living in New York City.

She didn’t know anybody. She didn’t have a dime in her pocket. Oh, and one more thing, she didn’t speak English.

An entrepreneur isn’t someone who starts a business; it’s a lifestyle. It’s someone who doesn’t take no for an answer, knocks on doors (breaks them down, occasionally), creates their own opportunities, never stops learning, isn’t afraid to take risks, and approaches every single day with a positive mindset — even when life continues to throw you curveballs.

Being a single mom at age 20 in a foreign country seems pretty daunting. As a matter of fact, daunting, probably isn’t the best word.

Mom, Jesse, and I circa 1995 — the day 1 crew.

But, my mom always figured things out. She made things happen — because she is an entrepreneur. It’s who she is.

Here are some short anecdotes on what I mean:

  1. She supported my brother Jesse and I by working 3 jobs at 20 years old. She’s now a real estate broker, but she’s sold electricity, water, clean energy, and used to hostess at multiple restaurants to make ends meet.This is where I learned to hustle.
  2. She taught herself how to speak English, along with a little bit of Arabic, Hebrew, Russian, and Polish. She listened to every type of music, studied every career there is, and knew “who was who?” at every dinner party. People love that about her. This is where I learned that it always pays off to do your research and know “a little bit of everything.”
  3. I once her saw negotiate with a major car dealer. They wanted at least $8,000 as a down payment towards the car she was leasing. We walked out of there without putting a cent down, free tire insurance, and lower monthly payments. This is where I learned people skills and how to negotiate.
  4. This next one happened on two occasions. I had gotten a partial scholarship to attend Poly Prep Country Day School, but it definitely wasn’t enough. My mom went directly to the Head of Financial Aid and convinced them that I deserved more. The next day I committed to Poly. Same thing happened with college. As a matter of fact, I remember heading down to college and not being enrolled. This time it was me calling; I called both the Director of Admissions and Financial Aid. I’ll never forget sitting in the financial aid office for 3 days straight, convincing them to let me in — but I learned from the best, so same story there. This is where I learned that there’s always a way in.
  5. She loves Barbara Corcoran. You know, the real estate mogul who’s a judge on Shark Tank? My mom does real estate. So, what did she do? She emailed Barbara telling her why she should hire her. Barbara didn’t get back, but that’s not the point. This is where I learned why it never hurts to just go for it — even if it’s swinging for the fences.

My mom is where I learned entrepreneurship. Every venture I’ve started, sport I’ve tried, monologue I’ve done, song I’ve played, article I’ve written, she’s always said, “I think you should go pro — you’re gonna be great.” Her unwavering support and go-for-it attitude towards life is why I am the way I am. It’s why I enjoy taking risks and doing things that scare me — whether it’s pursuing an idea or covering a Sublime song on stage.

I think everyone can learn something from her. Whether you’re into entrepreneurship or not, it always helps to be entrepreneurial. It’s this quality that separates you from the rest and gives you that edge; people respect hustle. There’s a reason why every company out there — from a bank to a startup — lists “entrepreneurial, thinks outside the box, can take on multiple tasks at once, etc.” under the requirements section for a job posting.

Entrepreneurship isn’t starting a business; it’s a way of life.

Sometimes I wonder why I’m into the stuff I’m into. And, then I remember, I got it from my mama.

Happy International Women’s Day to all, and thanks so much for reading. ByJoe Laresca. You can also find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or my website.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of entrepreneurial ideas & perspectives by investors, operators, and influencers. Subscribe here. Curated by Isaac Madan (email).

Here’s what it’s like to be on Shark Tank as a student entrepreneur

Jason is a student entrepreneur at the University of Chicago. He enjoys making videos, trying new foods, and building tools that are meaningful to improving society.

How did you find yourself on Shark Tank? What was the Shark Tank experience like?

This is actually a really funny story. My first company, IReTron, began as a school project that got out of hand. We buy back used electronics, refurbish them, and resell or donate to schools or hospitals. We built web software that scraped the internet to find all websites for cellphones, and their buying price points. We set our price at 95% so that we beat out 95% of our competitors but at the same time, if we cannot sell a phone, we can sell it to a competitor and not lose money. We built this technology for phones and tablets.

Then, I made a Youtube video for a funding competition. IReTron in its entirety was funded by award money from competitions. The SharkTank producers found this video on Youtube and contacted me, asking if we would want to be on Shark Tank. I don’t watch TV, because I’ve never owned a TV, so I assumed this was some spam email asking me to swim in a tank of sharks! But after looking it up, it looked legit. I said yes and things started rolling— my dad and I were watching videos and preparing; however, before we signed the contract, I realized that IReTron was not making enough money to be on the show. We would have been laughed at. So, I told the producer “Sorry, I can’t do it this time.” The next year, the Shark Tank producer called me again and at that point, I agreed to be on the show. It was senior year, why not?

Shark Tank flew me to LA on a first class plane (the only time I’ve taken a first class flight!). After arriving, I went through my 2-minute pitch with the producers. They told me, “You’re a kid! You’re not excited enough! You sound too adult-like!” So that night, I worked endlessly revamping the pitch for TV standards. As for wardrobe, my khakis weren’t cool enough. The fashion directors took me to Forever 21 and there, I bought a pair of jeans. You can see them in the show! But anyways, the day of filming, I was the sixth person to go on the show that day. The doors open, you walk, and then stand there in front of the Sharks. One take. All the way through. I was in there for about 50 minutes however it was cut down to 8 minutes of TV footage.

For me, the most stressful part of the experience was the pitch. To prepare for the questions and answers, I watched every episode of the show and formulated answers to every question. By the time I went on the show, everything was premeditated so that I was never caught on the spot. To prepare, I also did practice pitches with startups and spoke with many professors.

Ultimately, I got a deal with Barbara Corcoran and Mark Cuban: $100,000 for 10% of the company. The episode was filmed in September, the deal closed in October, and the episode aired in March. With Barbara and Mark’s assistance, IReTron is now growing and self-sustainable. We have high school students and actual employees working with the company. Now, the focus is helping high school students with getting business experience and making money. I’m thankful for Mark and Barbara because they have assisted with both IReTron and UProspie!

What problem does UProspie solve?

The summer before college started, I was very scared to come to UChicago. Rumors claimed that the school was very rigorous… And that the kids were really weird. I wasn’t sure if I would fit in, or if this was the place where fun comes to die! Many stereotypes are inaccurate and UProspie seeks to break these stereotypes by conducting one on one conversations between college and high school students. UProspie has a web platform, and channels and feeds so that each prospective student can have an individualized experience with getting to know the school. While the Admissions Office does a great job, it can be challenging to individualize the experience. What if you want to go out? With UProspie, the prospective student can find a host. This makes the overnight experience safer. With $15/hour, the knowledge about the school grows exponentially. If you are an undergraduate, you can make money on your own time simply by sharing your opinions and experiences.

UProspie does not want to just help the rich kids who can afford such luxuries therefore we try to connect students who have similar academic interests and socioeconomic backgrounds. From my involvement inMoneythink, I have been exposed to many charter school students. In these schools, there are many smart students who don’t have the right resources: guidance counselors are stretched too thin and cannot assist in navigating through financial aid or scholarships. With UProspie, college students can lend knowledge to someone who is in a similar position. In Texas, LA, and NYC, we offer subsidized tours for students who cannot afford the services.

More recently, we have been matching international high school students with international college students. With UProspie, the information is tailored to your needs to help you understand the experience more directly.

While we are not endorsed by admissions offices, there is a 95% commitment rate: Of the students who use UProspie, 95% of them will commit to the school they prospied at. Since launching on Halloween, we have spread to 80 universities with over 5,000 hosts.

What’s your advice to students starting companies while they’re in school? What resources did you take advantage of that you would recommend to others?

School is the best time to start a business but it can also be the worst. While in school, it is very important to prioritize your classes, your GPA and your academic record. Definitely. However, once you become a real person (aka exit the college bubble) you have SO many real obligations. Mortgage, a partner, kids… As a student, you don’t have any of that. Instead, your school is like an incubator. With UProspie, for example, my co-founder lives on the floor above me. The promo video maker lives across the hall. College is great because there are always people around who will have the technical skills that can assist you in creating a company. From computer science and video making to marketing and advertising, whatever it is, you have a team. To build something, you just need friends. I would highly recommend all students to embark on an entrepreneurial endeavor while in college. Every moment you are in college, you are spending money. Money is just flying out of your pocket every second. That motivates me. I could either watch Netflix or work on my business. If I am going to spend money to be surrounded by brilliant people, I want to take advantage of that.

There are many great resources on campus. At UChicago specifically, I utilize connections through Career Advancement and UCIE (UChicago Careers in Entrepreneurship). Advisors can provide great advice, and also direct you to other entrepreneurs or financial resources. Last quarter, I traveled to over a dozen pitch competitions across the United States and UChicago was very supportive in funding our travels.

If you’re interested in IReTron or UProspie, feel free to reach out to Jasondirectly via email. This issue was curated by Kaesha Freyaldenhoven (email).

Interested in artificial intelligence? Join us at the AI meetup on Thursday at 6pm in San Francisco at Sandbox Suites, 404 Bryant Street, with special guest Lukas Biewald, CEO of CrowdFlower. Details & RSVP here! If you can’t attend, let us know anyway, and we’ll keep you updated on how it goes.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of entrepreneurial ideas & perspectives by investors, operators, and influencers. If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending Isaac Madan an email.

8 Major Keys to Success: Getting Hired in the 21st Century

feat. startups and tech, advice from DJ Khaled, and beyond. By Joe Laresca.

A lot of people ask me how to get into tech or how to land a job at a cool startup. And, I’ve noticed that many brilliant, creative people either a) count themselves out or b) have the misconception that you need to be a coder (this_is_not = true).

Like DJ Khaled said, “don’t play yourself.” Many just don’t know how to approach the process, and therefore, aren’t putting their best foot forward. After working in startups/tech for 5+ years and going through the process myself, I’ve devised a formula that works.

Disclaimer: Although this is geared toward tech and startups, all types of companies value this process (banks, consulting companies, non-profits, gov agencies, etc.) so don’t discount these 8 critical pieces.

1. Make A Website

  • It’s mandatory nowadays. Just about every job application has a field for “links” or “website.” So, make one. It should say who you are, what you like to do, and what you’re all about.
  • Are you a marketer? Developer? Social media guru? Finance wizard? Who just so happens to be a foodie, triathlon obsessionist, part-time photographer, etc.?
  • Besides putting your own creative spin on it, link some projects you’ve worked on, education, and any relevant experience you may have.

You don’t code = You can’t build a website. FALSE!!!

Here are some great resources for making a snazzy website without coding at all: Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, etc. My personal favorite is Squarespace, by the way.

2. Be Visible Online (or BVO)

  • This one is definitely easier for some, but if you want to work for a tech company or any kind of startup, you need to be active online.
  • At the very least, you need to be on LinkedIn. Make sure you have a fun/professional photo and engaging summary.
  • Other than having your website and LinkedIn, be active somewhere else — whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, Medium, or Tumblr.
  • You don’t need to be tweeting, gramming, and snapping every second; however, you should be building your “online street cred,” as Kim Phamputs it in her article.
  • Show what you’re interested in, what you blog about, what spaces you’re passionate about, etc.

All of the above create backlinks and help you rank higher on Google. Nine times out of ten, the first thing a company/recruiter will do to learn more about you is Google you. So, make sure that when someone Googles your name, you come up first — your website, LinkedIn, Twitter, Blog, and any other fun stuff you’ve worked on.

All of this makes you more reachable. One should be able to Google you and find you in seconds. Eric Friedman (EIR at Expa) coins this as “Always Be Reachable,” in an interview called “How to Get a Job At a Startup.”

3. Create A Resume

  • The most obvious requirement — it should be action-oriented and filled with quantifiable metrics.
  • Keep it on 1 page, 2 to 3 bullet points per job, and only include the most relevant experience.
  • Remember, whoever reads your resume, will probably only glance at it — meaning he or she will skim it for about 7 to 10 seconds. So, keep it short and simple, and focus on the important stuff.

Your resume should follow this formula: Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y] by doing [Z] (Laszlo Bock).

Here’s the full article written by Laszlo Bock (SVP, People Operations at Google and author of WORK RULES!) on how to write the perfect resume: My Personal Formula for A Winning Resume.

4. Learn A Hard Skill

  • Tech companies, especially startups, want to know what tangible skills you possess. For example:
  • Web/Mobile Development, Front-end, Back-end or full-stack, iOS, Android, or both, Design, UI, UX, or both;
  • Digital Marketing, Social Media, Data Analytics, Data Science, Sales, Excel, etc.

General Assembly is great, and if you can afford it, you should absolutely take a class there. However, there are plenty of free resources to learn new things, from digital marketing to iOS development to data analytics. Codecademy,Treehouse,Khan Academy, and Coursera are some of my favorites.

Here’s my favorite article on learning anything, “The 37 Best Websites to Learn Something New,” by Kristyna Z.

5. Work On Projects

  • You have a website, you’re networking on LinkedIn, you’re blogging on Medium, tweeting interesting stuff, and you’ve acquired some in-demand skills. But, the number 1 thing people want to see are tangible projects you’ve worked on.
  • Apply those sweet skills to a project, startup idea, organization you’re in, or blog you run.
  • If you want to be a social media manager, you should be managing social media accounts. If you want to be a developer, you should be attending hackathons and filling your Github with the websites, apps, and tools you’ve made. If you want to be a designer, you should be loading yourdribbble with the flyers you’ve designed, icons you’ve created, and apps you’ve mocked up.

In other words, you need to apply those skills you have to a tangible project. Companies want to see more than what school you went to, what classes you took, and that certificate you have in mobile development.

6. Reach Out

  • I honestly cannot stress this one enough. You could be the candidate of someone’s dreams, but if you don’t do this, then the likelihood of them getting back to you is slim.
  • Submitting your resume and cover letter through a job posting is notenough — especially if you’re applying to a tech company or hot new startup. Understand that some of these companies get 100s of applications per week, so give yourself the best shot by reaching out.
  • If you know someone who’s connected to someone at the company you’re interested in, ask them if they’d be willing to make an intro!
  • If you’re gunning for an iOS dev role, reach out to both the recruiter at said company and someone on the engineering team. Applying to a social media internship? Then reach out to someone on the marketing team or the social media manager.

All of this information can be found through LinkedIn and on a company’s website. Here’s an example of how to reach out:

Hi Sarah,

I absolutely love the work you’ve done both solo and over on the Growth team at Slack. I’m very interested in the Growth Manager Associate role available, and I’d love to learn more about your experience there before applying.

I’ve attached my resume; you can also learn more about me on my website,creative agency’s site, blog, and LinkedIn. I understand that you must have a busy schedule, but I’d love to chat. I’m free Monday-Thursday between 8am and 3pm EST — do any of those times work for you?

Thanks so much and I look forward to hearing from you!



7. Be In The Know

  • If you’re interested in a company, you should know everything about them. Who’s their CEO, when were they founded, latest news article on them, where are they located, etc.?
  • You can find this information through their website, LinkedIn,Angellist,Crunchbase, Twitter, Facebook, and through good ol’ Google searching.
  • Same thing goes for industries. If you’re interested in tech and startups, then you should skim TechCrunch and Product Hunt daily. Interested insocial entrepreneurship, adtech, fintech, SaaS, on-demand, consumer-tech, etc.? Then, know about that industry! Know the major players and up and commers.
  • The information is out there, so there is no excuse for not knowing it.

All of this reflects your motivation and your genuine interest. It shows that you’re not applying just because you think Snapchat is “cool” or because Slack just locked in another major funding round.

8. Hustle Hard

  • Ok, let’s face it, this word gets thrown around a ton in the tech/startup realm — probably a bit too much. But, all in all, it’s really what it all boils down to.
  • Keep pushing the bar — continue learning new things, building out your network, working on new projects, and continue to create opportunities for yourself.
  • Here’s a great story on the first employee for Uber, Ryan Graves: From Dead-End Job to Uber Billionaire: Meet Ryan Graves. He embodies what it means to be a hustler. He didn’t play by the rules and he was always trying new things to create opportunities for himself.

I’m not saying that this is a magic formula that will guarantee you a sweet job, but I can guarantee you that it will put you in a much better position than before.

Make sure you’re following these 8 Major Keys and don’t get discouraged when someone doesn’t get back to you or if you get denied for a role that you applied for. It’s happened to me, it’s happened everyone.

Moral of the story? Be like Ryan.

By Joe Laresca. If you have any questions or need some help getting started feel free to reach out to Joseph directly at josephlaresca@gmail.com. You can also find him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or his website.

Going to SXSW? Let us know.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of entrepreneurial ideas & perspectives by investors, operators, and influencers. This issue was curated by Isaac Madan, investor at Venrock (email).

Requests for Startups: Jeremy Harper (Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator)

Jeremy is a Principal at Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator and is focused on investing in early stage technology start-ups across multiple sectors, both enterprise and consumer. Jeremy was previously an early employee on the Booz Allen Hamilton commercial team, a digital strategist for Unilever, and the head of marketing for The5thMedium. Jeremy received a B.A. from Brown University, and spends his spare time struggling to keep up on soccer and rugby fields in NYC.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

Being a New York only accelerator, ERA tends to focus on industries that we see as being housed in NYC. The theory being that if you’re serving or disrupting a major NYC based industry, this is where your startup should be located. Things like fintech, adtech, edtech, fashion, commerce, and more are all verticals that interest us.

Fintech is a particularly interesting one, as NYC is the obvious hub of that industry, we see great opportunity here for both investors and entrepreneurs. Much has been said about the recent trend of un-bundling bank services, and I believe there’s still a long road ahead and plenty of areas to innovate here. On top of that, there are other trends — such as the current generational wealth transfer, millennials becoming more active players in the financial ecosystem, the introduction of crypto-currencies and entirely new asset classes enabled by tech — that make this vertical ripe with opportunity.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

In general, I’m excited to see how big data and sophisticated analytics can move across more verticals and create new value for players in those industries. We’ve invested heavily in this concept at ERA, whether its Cognical (machine learning applied to lending), Agolo (automated financial news summarization engine), or ModernLend (alternative data for credit card decisions). Highly sophisticated technical teams have a great opportunity to create the next wave of innovation across a range of verticals.

Another — larger and more complex products being purchased online, enabled by tech. It’s not necessarily a new trend, but an ongoing one. It’s a trend ERA is invested in, through TripleMint (residential real estate), FourMine (online jewelry), SaleMove (automotive and financial products), and Machinio (machinery equipment). Just a few years ago many of these complex and consultative-sale products would not have been bought online, but technology and innovative business models are changing that, and purchasing behavior continues to adapt a new level of online transactional comfort.

Are there any specific company ideas that you really want someone to build and would potentially fund?

More solutions focused on reducing friction in government and regulatory processes. ERA is invested in SeamlessDocs, which simplifies PDF form management for governments, and also Smart Screen, which automates background checks for enterprises. Government and regulatory processes have traditionally been avoided by entrepreneurs in part because of red tape and a perceived brutal sales cycle. But we’ve seen companies successfully navigate the landscape, and when they do there’s plenty of opportunity with relatively low competition.

If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have any imaginable solution to a problem you’re facing (personally or at work), what problem would you solve?

These are all relatively personal and aspirational, but…

  1. Something that solves the problem of inbox overload.
  2. Limitless battery life (obvious one)
  3. Something that actually engages all tiers of society in productive and fact-based political discussions (Donald Trump meme’s on Facebook does not count)

And finally, ERA’s application is now open for the Summer 2016 class! Applyhere.

If you’re interested in ERA, feel free to reach out to Jeremy directly via email.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of entrepreneurial ideas & perspectives by investors, operators, and influencers. This issue was curated by Akshay Goradia (email).

Requests for Startups: Edward Coady (LaunchCapital)

Edward first started working with LaunchCapital as a summer analyst in 2010. After graduating from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science, he joined as a full time analyst in 2012. As an analyst, Edward is responsible for performing due diligence, financial modeling, researching emerging trends and discovering new companies. Edward has always been captivated by the intersection of technology and culture and is excited to meet entrepreneurs looking to disrupt the status quo. We interviewed Edward by phone, so what follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

In terms of specific verticals, we’ve been excited about disrupting supply chains in unsexy industries. There are a shocking number of industries where pricing is variable, orders still occur by fax machine, etc.

There are inefficient supply chains out there where a lot of value and time is being lost. So, we’re interested in solutions that add efficiency, and particularly, marketplaces that allow this to occur. There are suppliers on one end, buyers on the other, and this is revolutionary for a lot of industries, as simplistic as it sounds.

Related to that, we’re interested in the food production supply chain, where there’s a huge amount of waste: ~40% of food produced in US goes uneaten and farmers represent less and less of the consumer’s dollar. This is pretty unfortunate considering how much better this process can be.

Another area of interest is agricultural technology. Leveraging big data for sustainable production, especially in light of water shortage, damaging effects of fertilizers on aquifers, etc. So, we’re excited about companies that revolutionize the way food is produced in a more sustainable way.

We’re also interested in the area of reducing the cost of shelter. Home construction has been unchanged over the past several decades, and there are a couple interesting angles to take on it. For example, the Wiki House is a pretty cool effort.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

1. We’re part of generation that has a high expectation for efficiency and user experience. That expectation carries from our general software use for day-to-day activities to all processes we interact with. For example, it’s frustrating when we have to fill out forms at a doctor’s office. I think this is going to increasingly carry over to existing industries. It does require significant behavior change, particularly in the food production industry, where consumers have to demand lower prices, for example.

2. Technology has advanced so much that farmers have struggled to be able to tinker with it and be able to hack it. So, empowering farmers to interact with the technology that they’re working with will be important in the years to come. Farmers are known to be incredibly resourceful. They’re already known to be hacking together solutions, so technology that facilitates that, whether its open source software or ‘malleable’ hardware, will be important going forward.

In that space, we’ve invested in Freight Farms, which is a fascinating concept. By localizing production, you can understand demand better. For example, if there’s a huge spike in basil demand, you can respond to that demand very quickly. Production cycles are also short: in 5 weeks you can produce a different crop — it’s game changing.

If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have any imaginable solution to a problem you’re facing (personally or at work), what problem would you solve?

To aid in research and discovery, I would love a platform that lets you see related content across certain topics. For example, the debate surrounding Jill Lepore’s New Yorker article about the theory of disruption was shockingly hard to follow — you have to find relevant rebuttals, and there’s so much pertinent information out there. I would love it if we could discuss all the related news articles, blog posts, and Youtube videos, surrounding the debate. Currently, there’s no great solution. A big part of this is comments — comments on Hacker News, tweets, etc. It’d be great to see that all in one place.

Anytime you’re doing research on X, Y, and Z, you need to check all around and make sure you didn’t miss anything, and then suddenly you discover a blog post by someone in the industry and it cracks everything open. I think that process is valuable, but one centralized place to follow topics across all these media sources and content hubs would be insanely powerful.

Other interesting ideas:

  1. Make search for Gmail a lot better
  2. Podcasts for newsletters — text to speech, for example

If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of LaunchCapital’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Edward directly at edward@launch-capital.com.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us a tweet. Alternatively, if you have startup ideas, submit them here, or email us directly.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. This issue was curated by Isaac Madan and Shaurya Saluja.

The Diversity & Inclusion Tech Landscape

For the better part of last year, Shaurya and I had the privilege of speaking and working closely with many HR & recruiting leaders at fast-growing tech companies. As you might suspect, an area that we discussed frequently was Diversity & Inclusion. The most commonly asked questions we received on this topic were along the lines of, “What products/services are out there solving this problem? What are our peers at other companies doing?” As such, we thought we’d compile some of the exciting products, approaches, and programs we’ve seen to date.

It’s important to note that this list is by no means comprehensive. Likewise, we do not have direct experience working with all of the organizations & services mentioned below, so we cannot claim to have personally vetted them. If you are working on something in this realm or know of anything missing below, please do let us know.


Paradigm is a diversity consulting firm that helps companies implement a diversity strategy. This means making changes within the organization to better attract, select, develop, and retain diverse talent. They also conduct workshops and ongoing advisory sessions to help with behavioral aspects of recruiting, like minimizing unconscious bias during the interview process. They have partnered with companies like Pinterest, Airbnb, and Slack.

Glassbreakers is both a personal and enterprise platform for P2P networking & mentorship among women. The software helps foster introductions and relationships between women with similar career goals.

Levo League is another P2P career mentorship platform that was initially geared for women. They also produce a lot of great career related content in the form of articles and videos, alongside a job marketplace.

Jopwell is a job marketplace for Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American professionals & students. Job seekers create a profile on the platform and can browse among opportunities or receive inbound interest from recruiters.

Blendoor is a Tinder-like job matching platform, like Jobr, for women, veteran, and underrepresented minority candidates. Similar to Jopwell, job seekers and recruiters have profiles on the platform and can discover/match with one another.

Textio uses AI to optimize the wording used in job listings. By choosing the right words and phrases, companies can avoid inherent bias that turns certain candidates away. For example, the blurb on their site suggests that using the word “rock star” in a job listing (e.g. “We’re looking for a rock star engineer”) draws more male candidates.

Culture Amp is an employee survey platform to assess culture and organizational health. They feed data and insights back to talent operations leaders, so they can make changes that impact all parts of the employee lifecycle. They’ve announced that they have partnered with Paradigm to develop an Inclusion survey to specifically assess diversity & inclusion in the workplace.

BUZZ is building an interviewing platform, starting with on-demand technical phone screens. Their platform helps companies execute gender and race blind interviews by abstracting these details away from both interviewers and hiring managers.


Platforms like Entelo and Gild scrape public data and leverage data science to help companies bring diverse candidates into their funnel that they would otherwise never meet. TalentIQ enriches pre-existing candidate data.

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Platforms like Greenhouse help recruiting teams improve diversity and eliminate bias through the recruiting funnel, via product features like structured interview scorecards, to ensure that interviewers are asking appropriate questions. In some cases, an ATS can also provide basic reporting on key diversity metrics. In other cases, companies are forced to do this manually.

HR Information Systems (HRIS)

Platforms like BambooHR similarly have reporting modules that report on basic diversity metrics on the current employee population.

We’ll address the sourcing, ATS, and HRIS landscapes in a later blog post.

Workforce Analytics

One of the classic problems in HR is that data sits across silos: systems like an ATS (e.g. Greenhouse), HRIS (e.g. BambooHR), engagement (e.g. Culture Amp), performance (e.g. Small Improvements), payroll (e.g. ADP), equity (e.g. Solium), etc. all rarely talk to one another, and when they do, it’s usually on the basis of basic data movement from one to the next. For example, when a candidate gets hired in the ATS, a profile is generated for them in the HRIS.

In the scenario where HR data is integrated and does talk to each other, we open up a new realm of possibilities in the Diversity & Inclusion space. For example, we can assess the relationship between past promotion/compensation increases, employee performance, and general characteristics like gender and tenure — this can help us better understand deeper issues like institutional biases that affect the fair compensation or promotion of women.

Through integration & analytics, we can understand diversity & inclusion across candidate attraction, selection, development, and retention. This sort of full-stack analysis is fascinating. Visier is a prominent company in the workforce analytics space.


There are a variety of programs & communities that promote diversity from which companies can hire as well:

Girls Who Code is working to “close the gender gap in the technology and engineering sectors.” More specifically, they run programs to “educate, inspire, and equip high school girls with the skills and resources to pursue opportunities in computing fields.” Companies can offer internships to their alumni here.

Girls Teaching Girls Who Code is a program where “Stanford women teach and inspire Bay Area high school girls to explore Computer Science and Engineering. Students learn coding basics, build exciting projects, and develop strong relationships with mentors in the field.” Companies can sponsor the program.

She’s Coding is an open-source project developed in cooperation with the documentary film CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap. They’ve launched a mentorship program and have an extensive library of content for folks interested in helping to bridge the gender gap.

XX+UX is “a monthly meetup for women in UX with the goal of fostering greater diversity in the field.” They’ve also launched a mentorship program. Companies can host a meetup.

Hackbright Academy is “an engineering school for women with a mission to increase female representation in tech through education, mentorship and community.” They offer a 12-week fellowship as well as part-time night courses. Companies can hire their alumni here.

Code2040 runs programs to “create access, awareness, and opportunities for top Black and Latino engineering talent.” They run a fellowship program for CS students and have an EIR program across the country for entrepreneurs. Companies can connect with their talent here.

Anita Borg Institute supports women in technology through a variety of events, programs, and thought leadership. They run the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing as well. Companies can partner with ABI here as well as many other opportunities for involvement.

Internal Goals & Programs

Finally, companies are implementing a broad range of internal goals & programs. For example, Pinterest announced they’re targeting a “full-time engineering hiring rate to 30 percent female and 8 percent minorities.” Likewise, they’re putting in place a policy “where at least one person from an underrepresented background and one female candidate is interviewed for any executive position.” Many companies are hiring or appointing Diversity & Inclusion officers / advocates as well to manage, track, and initiate these programs as well as lead workshops in-house.

We’ve seen numerous companies implement internal dashboards via BI tools (like Tableau, Looker, etc.) that pull data from cloud SaaS tools (like ATS, HRIS, etc.) to surface relevant diversity metrics. Generally, this is challenging: even when the data can be integrated, it’s often unclean and missing. In other words, one major issue with tracking diversity data is we often just don’t have it — small companies that don’t have EEO reporting requirements may not know about the Diversity & Inclusion related characteristics of their workforce. And through the recruiting process, the data is often not asked for upon the time of application. The data can be enriched via third-party sources (e.g. name databases to assess sex), but that which is often most accurate is self-reported by employees & applicants.


There are a variety of products, services, and programs that companies are leveraging to support Diversity & Inclusion within their organizations.There’s still much work to be done, and we’re looking forward to learning about new developments in this arena. If you’re working on something here or are interested in chatting further about this, we’d love to hear from you.

By Isaac Madan and Shaurya Saluja. Isaac is an investor at Venrock (email). Shaurya is a co-founder of a stealth startup (email).

Requests for Startups is a weekly newsletter of entrepreneurial ideas & perspectives by investors, operators, and influencers. Subscribe at www.requestsforstartups.com. Email us to contribute.

The Future of Digital Health with Paul Veugen of Human

Paul Veugen is co-founder and CEO of Human, an award-winning all-day activity tracker for iOS and Android that gives context to your everyday activity. Previously, Paul founded Usabilla, a SaaS company focused on visual feedback on websites, helping customers like Virgin, Booking, The Economist, Nike, and thousands of others to continuously improve their online presence. Paul now combines his passion for health & fitness and his focus on people, technology, and data to create an environment that inspires people to get active.

What does the future of digital fitness look like? Where are things headed?

The current story we’re told about health & fitness stems from an unfortunate side-effect created by old generations of step counters and activity trackers. Their technical limitations defined the product affordances and their monopoly in the space cemented this idea that a plastic band will improve your well-being and overall happiness — that more steps is more health. Looking at the Health & Fitness sections of current app stores, one quickly realizes that everything is a variation on the same theme: metrics, bars, charts, goals. Maybe a timeline.

If health & fitness was about counting steps or generating stats, we’d have a clear winner in this space — a single company that provided products which undoubtedly improved its users’ well-being. This isn’t the case, and the unidimensional focus on weight loss or single purpose exercise tracking will sink the ones pursuing these objectives. Sensor data and full-day tracking is readily available, the same is true for infrastructure tools to analyze this data in real-time. The tools to create rich, contextual features will render step counters obsolete, and just like anything that lacks context, will feel strange in retrospect.

What are your digital health predictions for the year ahead?

There has been very little innovation in consumer-focused products recently. App Store charts are currently dominated by an aging first generation of products. There’s no break-out company that turned health & fitness into a real lifestyle category yet. After the over-promise of the first generation of wearables and the lukewarm reception of the Apple Watch, the market cooled down. At the same time there’s a great undercurrent of fun and exciting new products that understand how to turn the ever-growing stream of data into amazing experiences. With consumer interest lagging behind and distribution challenges inherent to different platforms, it’ll take more long term bets to crack the category.

Location and activity data give us the context of our life and is one of the first layers that’s getting commoditized, and other layers of sensor data will follow. With sensor-packed connected devices, the infrastructure to process & interpret data in real-time, and early consumer interest, we have everything we need to start building truly engaging experiences.

We’re moving from a very functional approach of displaying data, into a new generation of products that turns it into engaging experiences. Products like Strava, Lark, and of course Human are designed to increase value with every user on the platform. By virtue of connecting the data to the real world, this new generation of products become contextual and engaging.

How is Human adapting to the needs of consumers?

We use data to give you context about your daily activity and create a world around you that inspires you to get active. We built a passive feedback loop that runs in the background of your phone and shares real-time data with Human. With every minute on Human, we learn more about you and the world you live in.

We help people to understand their everyday activity and answer the question “Am I doing enough?” Instead of just throwing stats at people, we give you context. We let you compare yourself with similar people and map out your world. Every minute that you run Human in the background, we learn more about you, the environment you live in, and the people around you. With over 100M activities a month and about 3B location updates we’re shaping a world that inspires everyday activity.

Any insights people might miss when thinking about the digital health landscape?

Most of the first generation of products either focus on the promise of weight-loss or on exercise specific tracking. With about 150 million total downloads for the biggest player in our space, focusing mostly on the promise of weight loss, there’s no winner yet.

The infrastructure to collect, analyze, and exchange data from different sources is improving and adoption rates are pushed by players like Apple & Google, focusing on our phones as the central hub to collect and exchange data. The biggest challenge is that most of this data is not real-time and locked-in on individual devices. Centralized, real-time data gives us superpowers to build amazing contextual experiences and engaging social features.

Turning digital health into a real lifestyle category means we have to make this less about health & fitness and changing behavior, and more about providing context to our day, connecting people, and enjoying everyday life.

If you’re interested in Human or the future of digital health, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Paul directly at paul@human.co.

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Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund.

Requests for Startups: Brian Scordato (Tacklebox, General Assembly)

Brian Scordato is the founder of Tacklebox Accelerator and Tacklebox Beta Shop, tools for early stage founders to evaluate, build, and launch the first version of their product. He writes here and teaches at General Assembly. Previously, Brian worked at JJDC (Johnson & Johnson’s internal venture group), and founded Find Your Lobster, a mobile dating app. He has an MBA from UNC and loves competing in triathlons. Go Heels.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

A lot of verticals excite me. Taking liberties with the term “vertical,” one idea I love is simplification by curation — the “Wirecutter for x” model.Benedict Evans tweeted the other day that “all curation grows until it requires search. All search grows until it requires curation.” When I search Yelp/Foursquare to find a place for lunch or Netflix to find a new series my life gets more complicated rather than less. Search has grown across a bunch of verticals the past ~10 years and it’s time to start curating aggressively. Helping people with “discovery” is sexier and feels less risky than saying “here’s one option, you’ll love it,” but the latter is the more relevant use case 90% of the time, so pursuing the first is probably the riskier play.

I also love Slackbots. There’s going to be an app store-like gold rush as the Slackbot infrastructure materializes. We’ll have an opportunity to reboot classic apps treating Slack as the OS. Scale comes instantly within organizations, so everything from re-thinking LinkedIn for the freelancing / project-based generation to CRM’s will be fair game.

Last, as always, babies/pets/weddings/baldness. No one knows what they should cost and everyone spends money on them / talks / thinks about them constantly.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

Huge strides in VR. Not exactly a unique opinion, but after playing with some of the devices that will launch in 2016 it’s hard not to be a believer. Games will lead, but people will get creative with the tech quickly — education VR will have a big year.

Along with the verticals answer above, I think treating chat as an OS in general (not just Slack) will be huge. AI will seep into chat apps, and the core features of other apps will as well (seeing this with Uber already).

Content shakeout. There’s a lot of great free (ad-driven) content out there but that pricing model is wonky. Classpass for content with a bundle of providers (ex: NYT, Wash Post, WSJ, Economist) might make sense.

Are there any specific company ideas that you really want someone to build and would potentially fund?

Hiring has made big strides the past few years, but I think one huge gap is for people switching industries. Getting into a BD or PM role at a startup coming from a ~5 year career in finance/consulting/law is tough, but a lot of people want to do it. Each side is flying blind when the candidate hasn’t done the exact job they’re applying for. A platform that allows potential hires to work with the company they’re applying for before any hiring decision is made would be interesting to me.

The other piece is internal training. There is the internal Stack Overflow-type product (I know they offer this on a limited basis), as well as continual training. Investing in employees is something companies are starting to recognize the value of, but the methodology and metrics / measurement of success is unclear. Training before a hiring decision is made could also make sense.

If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have any imaginable solution to a problem you’re facing (personally or at work), what problem would you solve?

Three and a bonus:

1) Unlimited battery on iPhone / mac. Sad but true.

2) Biometrics with respect to personal diet, exercise, work, and meditation to maximize output — what I should do and when.

3) Blog editing as a service — quick turnaround from a professional writer/editor.

BONUS: Do something creative with scaffolding in NYC. I don’t know how to “solve” scaffolding, but it’s everywhere, looks awful, hides businesses, and is not going anywhere.

What are your key learnings you’d like to share as a past founder and current instructor at General Assembly?

Here are a few things I’ve learned watching lots of people try to start businesses:

1) You can’t fix market. You need to start with the customer funnel flipped upside down and seek out the customers that desperately need what you’re doing. If you can’t reach those people, if they don’t talk to each other, or if they can’t succinctly communicate and pass along your value, you’re in trouble. Early customer acquisition will be through word of mouth, so the above characteristics of a market segment are mandatory. This segment can be tiny, but it needs to be there.

2) You can’t do what everyone else is doing — if everyone else is getting customers through Facebook ads you can’t do that, you need a channel that makes sense, is differentiated, and is supported by your product.

3) You need a secret weapon — a reason why you’re the best and the only person that can start whatever you’re starting. Very hard.

4) Initially, you can get people to switch gyms. You probably can’t convince someone to start exercising (your successful initial users will do that).

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Separate yourself from your startup idea. Too many founders take things personally, myself very much included. If you can’t find people that really want what you’re going to build, that’s not a reflection on you. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad entrepreneur. You just misread something about your customer, so go back to your assumptions and try to find a small group of customers that you can build something great for.

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If you’re interested in Tacklebox or General Assembly, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Brian directly at brian.scordato@gmail.com.

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Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund.

Requests for Startups: Eileen Lee (Venture for America)

Eileen, a born and raised New Yorker, graduated from Columbia University with a degree in economics. As VFA’s first official employee and founding team member, Eileen has been actively involved in defining VFA’s mission,core values and culture. Overseeing operations, she ensures that VFA runs smoothly and communicates effectively while fostering a healthy, yet competitive, team spirit. Eileen also heads up the VFA women’s committee and diversity initiative — VFA Rise, it’s goal to engage more women to better support VFA’s growing number of female entrepreneurs.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

Artificial Intelligence — I’m just as fascinated as the next person. I use an A.I.assistant to schedule meetings (I might have refused assistance from someone/a human otherwise), and it is a big time saver. I’m excited to see what comes next with tools and in medicine.

Are there any specific company ideas that you really want someone to build?

Improving the hospital stay experience. I’ve spent a lot of time visiting and caring for loved ones at various hospitals and think there’s got to be a better way for patient care — how patients are kept informed with what’s going on, wait time, response for needs and care…

If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have any imaginable solution to a problem you’re facing (personally or at work), what problem would you solve?

A problem we’re focused on at VFA is the fact that entrepreneurship is at a 24-year low and most young people are not starting businesses. Startup ecosystems are emerging across the country but there are factors working against the next generation who are opting to not take the risk to start companies. VFA hopes to help push the needle in the right direction and support aspiring young entrepreneurs to build innovative and meaningful companies. We’d welcome any help to accomplish our mission.

What are some of your favorite startups that VFA Fellows are currently working on?

The awesome companies that our Fellows are founding: Banza, Castle,Compass — all are solving real problems they see in their communities. They are continuing to grow and are building their teams with other VFA Fellows. It’s a beautiful virtuous cycle that we always hoped for at VFA. 🙂

Shameless plug: if you’re interested in our Fellowship program, visit ventureforamerica.org!

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If you’re interested in VFA, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Eileen directly at eileen@ventureforamerica.org.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund.

Requests for Startups: Suraj Kapoor (Lerer Hippeau)

Suraj Kapoor is the Director of Product at Lerer Hippeau Ventures, a New York based seed stage venture capital fund. He is a self-taught programmer, Hacker School alum and co-founder of LookLab, an online platform for fashion stylists. Previous to LookLab, Suraj worked in marketing and public relations and is a graduate of NYU.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

Augmented Reality is really interesting, although it is currently beingovershadowed by Virtual Reality. AR will infiltrate many verticals (SaaS, gaming, shopping, etc.) with practical use cases, whereas VR will most likely have a focused impact on media and entertainment. The next few years should see significant advances across both technologies, I am really looking forward to seeing how this shakes out.

The blockchain outside of bitcoin. I’m a believer in Bitcoin, but if we really believe the blockchain can be a thing, we need to put it to the test in as many verticals as possible. The underlying tech still needs to evolve and be more accessible to the public at large, with education and proof of concept being concrete first steps.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

I think a startup out of Asia will impact a US vertical in a noteworthy way.

Are there any specific company ideas that you really want someone to build and would potentially fund?

ISPs in America need a change. The quality of broadband in the US is poor compared to other countries and the lack of competition is hurting consumers. What Google is doing with Fiber is great and an encouraging first step. I would love to see the technology underlying service providers improve e.g. wireless routers that can power a city block vs a household.

If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have any imaginable solution to a problem you’re facing (personally or at work), what problem would you solve?

Authentication drives me crazy and I don’t think the solution is browser plugins or passwords. TouchID on the iPhone is a really cool doorway into biometrics for the average consumer, there could be more there. I can imagine Apple, or a 3rd party, creating a service that uses the TouchID on your phone (or Apple Watch) in order to log you in to services on the web. There might even be an extension here that could open the door to your home or car, but let’s solve one problem at a time!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I’m excited to see how technology impacts government. I think social has created some awareness here but there’s much more to do. I’m interested in anything that empowers people to have their voice heard and create transparency around political decision-making, and I’m excited by organizations that are promoting innovation in this space.

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If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Lerer Hippeau’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Suraj directly atsuraj@lererhippeau.com.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. This issue was curated by Isaac Madan.