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.

Startups

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.

Sourcing

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.

Organizations

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.

Conclusion

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.

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 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.

Requests for Startups: Andrew Weinreich

Andrew Weinreich is a serial entrepreneur, social networking pioneer, and active presence in NYC’s Silicon Alley for 2 decades. To date, he’s founded 7 startups and has been awarded 2 software patents. In the past few years, he has sold 2 businesses, including Xtify to IBM in October 2013, while advising 5 tech startups. He is currently the co-founder and Chairman of Indicative, a data analytics startup.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

Big Data, Renewable energies, Transportation, HealthCare, IoT

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

Robust funding for early stage businesses will continue. NYC will continue its growth as the clear number 2 in startup activity behind Silicon Valley.

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

I’ve thought about all the healthcare improvements brought about by the smartphone and specifically the opportunity for early diagnosis of curable diseases. I know there’s been some work in building hardware that attaches to a smartphone from which you can conduct a sonogram. I’d love to see someone work on perfecting that device and bringing the cost of the hardware down to $100. Much like the companies using artificial intelligence to recognize differentials in moles to recommend you visit a dermatologist, differentials in pictures taken from a home sonogram of organs (pancreas, kidneys, etc.) could mean the difference between life and death in visiting a doctor.

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?

Every coworking space should come equipped with a professional studio for making videos. I’m assuming that a majority of blogs in the future will be video-based, and while you can make a great video with a smartphone and Apple editing tools, the demand for professionally shot videos will increase, and not decrease over time. We’re working on a startup video series where entrepreneurs make videos for us to incorporate into our blog. Almost all of the entrepreneurs work from coworking spaces and none of them have access to professional equipment. We’d love to see the cost of outsourcing film production go down so that more people could have access to making videos, whether it’s a promo for their startup or a blog series.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

After building startups in NYC for 2 decades, I’ve created a boot camp for startup founders in order to give them all the information that I wish I’d known when I was just starting out. The course lasts 2 days and it’s a great opportunity for founders to get perspective on their companies and meet other founders who are at similar stages. You can learn more about Andrew’s Roadmaps here.


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If you have a startup or you’re interested in Andrew’s Roadmaps, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Andrew directly at aweinreich@andrewsroadmaps.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: Alex Lines (Notation Capital)

Alex Lines is an engineer and hacker and has been building products and companies in New York for the last 10 years. Prior to co-founding Notation Capital with Nick Chirls, Alex was an early employee at Betaworks, helping to build and scale many companies that came out of the studio.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

We’re most interested in companies that demonstrate not only capital but operational efficiency — the ability to scale quite far with a small, primarily technical, team. These are companies that can leverage their engineering resources and can achieve exceptionally high user to engineer ratios. These tend to be pure software companies but the business model can take many forms — marketplaces, api-driven businesses, software infrastructure, some consumer apps, etc.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

I predict most predictions will be wrong, including this rambling set.

Consumption will continue to be the default way to kill time (for-ev-er), but I think free-form creation canvas apps could be a nice mini-corrective in favor of more creation.

Speaking of wasting time, whoever creates a great time waster app for the Apple watch will not only have a huge hit, but will help rescue the device from the purgatory of “productivity tool” and make the platform attractive to developers again.

I hope and believe that password-based logins will continue to go away.

While there will continue to be some shakeout among on-demand companies, I expect the influence of the model to spread in the sense of seeing more companies where removing choice is a feature. Instead of DeliveryApp providing 200 restaurants and 6,000 menu items, something like Arcade texts you a single lunch menu item at 11am and your choice is limited to yes or no, or instead of browsing and evaluating hundreds of listings and reviews to choose a service provider (lawyer, babysitter, tutor), you get a single match based on your needs and schedule.

I hope and expect the proliferation of new open source databases and stream processors will continue, inspired by interesting work and research in distributed systems.

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

I can’t speak to funding, but there are a few areas. We need more providers of high quality, original mapping / GIS data. I also continually hope for an effective alternative to the slash and burn of the recruiting industry. Security companies that don’t feel like they’re selling snake oil and are actually useful are cool. While we’re just making shit up, maybe even alternatives to the funeral industry.

Generally speaking though, I would love to see more highly technical infrastructure companies being built in New York.


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If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Notation’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Alex directly at alex@notationcapital.com.

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

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

Requests for Startups: Leo Polovets (Susa Ventures)

Leo is a software engineer turned venture capitalist. He was the 2nd non-founding engineer at LinkedIn, where he worked on core products like LinkedIn Groups and LinkedIn Jobs. After LinkedIn, Leo spent 3 years working on payment fraud detection at Google, followed by 4 years at Factual working on large scale-data cleaning and entity resolution. In late 2012, Leo left Factual to start Susa Ventures, a 4-partner seed fund that’s focused on companies building valuable datasets. Leo’s writes about startups, data, and investing at www.codingvc.com.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

I’m interested in a lot of verticals. I rarely ask myself, “what verticals do I want to invest in and what are the most exciting companies in those verticals?” Instead, I like to look at companies one by one and think about whether each one looks like a great business model that addresses a large market. I am especially interested in areas that have been relatively untouched by modern software: convenience store management, expense auditing, food sourcing for restaurants, you name it. I think businesses in those areas have a lot of potential because customers are excited about becoming much more efficient with software, but the efficiency play is often a Trojan Horse for building up valuable, proprietary datasets that can be used to create very innovative, defensible products.

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

I’ve seen a lot of products that help you explore and run analyses on large datasets. What’s gotten me really excited is that I’m starting to see companies that are trying to generate predictive insights. That is, instead of giving you tools to explore data, they explore the data for you and give you actionable recommendations. I’ve seen this for specific types of problems, like churn prediction, but I’d love to see a company build a generalized product that can work for many different use cases. I think this is where the future is for a lot of data science: tools that empower non-engineers to figure out what their data is telling them. I’ve been working on a prototype of this on and off for a year or so, but I don’t have the bandwidth to take it as far as I’d like.

If you had to leave VC to start a company, what space would it be in and why?

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about how to connect experts to people who want their advice and are willing to pay for it. There are many jobs where experts’ salaries are much lower than what their expertise is worth on a task-by-task basis. For example, a college admission officer might make $20/hour, but I bet there are a lot of high school students that would pay $50 for 30-minute reviews of their college essays. There are obviously some kinks to work out (e.g. it would be a conflict to have a Harvard officer review an essay for your Harvard app), but there’s also a great opportunity to connect experts and clients and take a small fee. I’m interested in the problem because it seems like a great financial opportunity, but also provides a great social benefit by connecting people who want help to experts who can help them.


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If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Susa’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Leo directly at leo@susaventures.com.

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

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

Requests for Startups: Brian Sheng (Fresh VC)

Brian Sheng is a partner with seed stage firm Fresh VC and focuses on consumer technology companies. He is particularly interested in marketplaces, technology-enabled services, and digital healthcare. Previously, Brian worked with China’s largest venture capital firm, Shenzhen Capital Group.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

I’m very interested in the intersection of on-demand, big data and digital healthcare. We have two infrastructure level investments in healthcare (Aptible and Akido Labs) and are looking for more companies making it easier to innovate in the space. There are already companies that are leveraging data to provide more personalized and timely healthcare services, and I think there will be a lot more exciting companies to come. I’m also very interested in companies that are cheaply and widely enabling experiences or services that were not available before (Note: This can be, but often is not simply making an existing service / experience on-demand).

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

2016 will be a big year for cannabis related companies. We are already seeing some investors make bets in the space, but most big investors have still shied away. In fact, it’s a great opportunity for investors because most funds will have LP issues with investing in cannabis related companies. The cannabis industry is a $52B dollar industry of which there is no need to create consumer demand and legislation is rapidly moving towards legalization (Medical is already legal in 23 states). There will be a big need for capital without a mature funding ecosystem in place.

I also think we will start seeing some well funded on-demand companies start to fail. There are a lot of services for which the on-demand model either doesn’t work, or the approach certain companies are taking is unsustainable in the long run. A lot of money is being invested in on-demand companies, and some companies are using too much of that money for marketing pushes and expansion to increase revenue and raise even bigger rounds. Throwing money at expansion doesn’t solve fundamental flaws of operating on-demand companies (unit economics, CAC, stickiness, etc.).

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

Studying abroad is a big opportunity and popular life choice for many students from Asian countries. Yet, there is a tremendous lack of transparent resources and services for consumers (students and parents) to use to facilitate this process. Middle-man agencies charge exorbitant prices (anecdotally, upwards of hundreds of thousands) to facilitate simple processes such as visa applications, school discovery, tours, college applications, etc. It is a highly fragmented market with complete lack of transparency, and there’s room for great businesses to be built along every step of the process.

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?

I often help my mother call service providers (phone company, utility company, credit card company, etc.) and spend hours talking with customer service and getting transferred left and right. With so many human/software combo concierge companies being started, there should be one that targets the aging baby boomers and helps deal with these kind of daily life problems.


If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Fresh VC’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Brian directly at brian@freshvc.com.

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

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

Requests for Startups: Christina Bechhold (Samsung GIC)

Christina is a Senior Associate with the Strategic Investment team at Samsung’s Global Innovation Center, focused on early stage investments in software and services startups. Christina is also Co-Founder and Managing Director of Empire Angels, a member led, New York based angel group of young professionals investing in tech enabled startups with a focus on supporting young entrepreneurs. She is a Regular Contributor on the Accelerators, the Wall Street Journal’s startup blog, serves as a Venture for America mentor and is a member of VFA’s Women’s Initiative Committee.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

I’m particularly excited to look at companies focused on taking the vast streams of data coming out of connected and wearable devices and transforming them into actionable insights. We are surrounded by sensors, and all carry a smartphone full of them in our pocket, but what can we do with the data being collected that changes behavior or improves efficiency? I’m also fascinated by augmented and virtual reality, particularly content that moves beyond first person gaming and entertainment into consumer areas like wellness and enterprise applications like design.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

I hope to see early stage investors pushing back on valuation and encouraging companies to show real proof of product before taking on outside capital. There’s too much money being poured into non-businesses and most of it will ultimately be lost. The continued shift by enterprise into cloud and BYOD (bring your own device) is creating a lot of opportunity for software and service solutions, particularly with respect to cybersecurity. I’m also keeping an eye on what’s coming out of foreign markets like India, East Asia and Western Europe — the combination of growing, vibrant startup ecosystems and increasingly connected populations is fertile ground.

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

I most love companies that I would never imagine, but make me wonder, “why didn’t I think of that!”

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?

I’ve not yet found a perfect tool or collection of tools for tracking, analyzing and leveraging my personal and professional networks to help myself and others. Apps like Refresh and add-ins like Evercontact are great, but it’s still a disparate process that ultimately requires a lot of searching through emails, calendars and notes.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

You don’t need to live in Silicon Valley or New York to be a successful entrepreneur — there are great, supportive communities all over the country and world that can help you get started.


If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Samsung’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Christina directly atc.bechhold@samsung.com.

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

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