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Equity and Inclusion

August 7, 2020
Written By
August 7, 2020
Season 2 Episode 4
40:57
Written By

Tom and Vivek talk about inclusion and reflect on their personal experiences as brown guys in tech. Inclusion feels like a moral imperative, but does it really make for stronger, better companies? Are there unintended consequences of acting on good intentions to 'fix' an inclusion problem at a company? Why is tech so lacking in diversity, and what can we do to get it right?

Transcript

Speaker 1:

Welcome to The Closed Session, How to Get Paid in SiliconValley, with your host, Tom Chavez, and Vivek Vaidya.

Tom Chavez:

Welcome to this edition of The Closed Session, again,conducted via Zoom. My name is Tom Chavez.

Vivek Vaidya:

And I'm Vivek Vaidya.

Tom Chavez:

Vivek, this is what? I have it in the notes. This is thenth version of the closed session. How many of these have we done? 14, 15, 16?

Vivek Vaidya:

I think this would be number 14 if I'm counting correctly.We did 10 last season, and I think this is the fourth episode of the secondseason.

Tom Chavez:

Well, we are rolling now. 14, so be it. And since we'rerolling so deep, let's get out over a ledge and take up a topic that weighsheavily on everyone's minds these days. And not just in the company buildingcommunity, but also at a national level. And it's the topic of diversity,equity, and inclusion. Again, why make it easy? It's so charged, but you're sofearless. We should just do this.

Vivek Vaidya:

It's a heavy, heavy, heavy topic, Tom, especiallyconsidering the times we are in right now. But there is no better moment totake it up than now.

Tom Chavez:

But before we hit the record button on the Zoom, you weresaying, "I don't know how I feel about this." You're a little concerned.You're skittish about this section, aren't you?

Vivek Vaidya:

I am. Because I also, and we've talked about this, the twoof us, and in other forms as well, about the cancel culture that exists. Ithink it plagues our society these days, and that's what worries me. This isgoing to be a charged conversation, as we know, and both of us are going to saythings that not everybody will agree with.

Tom Chavez:

But the good news is we're on a Zoom, so you're not in thesame room. I can't reach across the screen and punch you in the face oranything based on anything you say.

Vivek Vaidya:

This is true. This is true.

Tom Chavez:

There's a silver lining there.

Vivek Vaidya:

But you know what? If there were a case of you wanting topunch me, you would've punched me a long time ago.

Tom Chavez:

I just don't want to get in trouble with the police. Andthat's the main thing there. But look, it is a charged topic and we've beenhaving conversations inside our own hive at super{set} about systemic racism onthe heels of George Floyd. I remember one of the people we work with had one ofthose first conversations, and this is a courageous thing for Lindsay to say,is like, "Look, I want to lean in here, but I'm afraid of saying the wrongthing."

And I think that's on so many people's minds. They want totake up these topics of diversity and systemic racism and so on, but they'reworried about being canceled, as you say. And I share the concern, I think alot of these conversations degenerate way too quickly into an opportunity forthe cancel culture warriors to put the smack down or tar and feather you forsaying something they don't like, or with tones or phrasing that they don'tlike.

So I'm always about, can we have a little more compassionfor people? Because I'm sure I'd flub it. You'd flub it. We don't always say itexactly the way people would like to have it phrased. And so maybe that shouldbe our caveat, our disclaimer at the beginning of this thing. We'll probablysay the wrong thing. Actually, you'll probably say many more wrong things,wouldn't you?

Vivek Vaidya:

I will. You're absolutely right. Yes. That's part of beingme.

Tom Chavez:

It's your special gift. But for anybody listening, we'rejust two people who happen to care a lot about these topics and are buildingcompanies and systems that we think, we hope, get it right. We'd like to bejudged on the basis of action more than verbs or phrasing. We're not, you and Iaren't just tweeting it, we're actually trying to do it. But if we flub some phrasing,we thank everybody for their compassion in advance.

Vivek Vaidya:

Yeah. I think, Tom, one of the things that I've realizedas you mentioned these conversations we've been having at super{set}. One ofthe things I've realized, and some people have come out and said this to me inso many words, is that they just don't know how to talk about these things,because it's not something that they've discussed growing up. Not because theywere oblivious to it or anything like that, but they just don't have a frameworkfor it. They don't grow up with it. They don't have a framework for it. Forwhatever reason, whether right or wrong, it is a separate thing.

But to your point about compassion, that's what I think weneed to just put that in the back of our mind as we have these conversations,that first, everybody wants to do the right thing. They don't necessarily havethe tools for the most part. Of course we are familiar with the Karensphenomenon that's going on. So there's that. But a lot of people actually justwant to do the right thing, want to say the right thing, just don't know how.

Tom Chavez:

Yeah. Well, let's give everybody the benefit of the doubt.And in terms of what we want to kick around here, what's the case for diversityin tech? Why should we care what our effective means of achieving it? How andwhy do good intentions and tools designed to achieve it frequently devolve intounintended consequences? Those are the things we want to kick around today. Andso I'm going to put you on the spot. Why do we care? Vivek, let's start withyou. Why do you care about these topics?

Vivek Vaidya:

Well, I'll give you a multi-part answer. One is that I'veactually seen firsthand how people from different backgrounds can come togetherand learn from each other. People always think like, oh, it makes bettercompanies, more revenue and all of that. Yes, that is the result of that. Butfrom a personal level, I really benefited from the diversity of the people thatI worked with, and it's made me a better human being. It's made me a more awarehuman being, both personally as well as from a worldwide point of view. Sothere's that, right?

So that's part one. The second part is I'm old enough toremember when people like me were not in as much of a majority or maybe even aminority as compared to today in the tech industry. And I've seen how peoplehave worked hard and achieved great things, so I know it's possible. And theycouldn't have done that without the support that they got from, again, adiverse community in tech. So there's that.

Then I think both you and I come from a background wherewe've had to work really hard to get to where we have and where we've gottento, and we want to provide an environment where other people from whateverbackground they come from, as long as they have the gumption to work hard, youwant to make sure that they succeed or give them a platform at least that theycan use to be successful.

Tom Chavez:

Well, on those lines, and we'll come back to it, but youare, as you say, really old, you're older than dirt. But when you first came toSilicon Valley, it wasn't taken for granted that you had the Sundars and theSatchits in all of these high places. There's been a huge pendulum shift, Iwould say, in the last 25 years. So you come from a background that was oncethe underdog. You didn't have as many people, again, in such high places. Soyou've been on that journey.

Vivek Vaidya:

I have. And I think I've seen most of the challenges thatsomeone in my position, having come here a long time ago, faces or has gonethrough. Whether it's the accent, whether it's not understanding culturalreferences. People talk about othering a lot. Imagine now you come from Indiaand first, you're just not familiar with football or baseball, because the footballin India is what we call soccer over here. And baseball, there's no such thingas baseball here. We play cricket. So sporting references, two out of thethree, ice hockey, there's no such thing as ice hockey in India. We just playhockey. It's called field hockey over here. So three out of the four maybesports references are down the toilet. And all the pop culture references, andwhether it's music or comedy, whether it's a Saturday Night Live or things likethat, shows that people may have watched. I did know Diff'rent Strokes.

A lot of people know Diff'rent Strokes because it used tobe aired when we were kids back in India. But the textbook definition ofothering, and I was different, I'll admit. I was, and a lot of people like me,there are a lot of people like me who are familiar with American cup popculture the way somebody over here is. But even then, it was difficult. And nowit's just become, it's great, it's great. It's great to see CEOs of IBM andMicrosoft and Adobe and Google, to name a few, are Indian. There's been atremendous shift in the last 20-odd years.

Tom Chavez:

Can I just add that these days I do see you catching atleast three out of five of my hip hop references, speaking of the journey.

Vivek Vaidya:

Yeah, it's a journey. I'm still on that journey, Tom, asfar as hip hop is concerned.

Tom Chavez:

But you're a continuous improver and we love that.

Vivek Vaidya:

That's right.

Tom Chavez:

So here's why I care about this and it's personal to me.It's certainly all of those same reasons. And we'll come back to these aboutwhy it just makes us better, stronger with more diversity. But at a morepersonal level, look, I come from a family that was first in family to go tocollege. My parents did not go to college. Two older brothers, they went tocollege and then my sisters and I went to college. And my parents grew upwithout English as their first language, and Mexican Americans in Albuquerquefrom very humble circumstances. So I always do enjoy it when people see me, andI'm fair skinned as you know, and I enjoy seeing how flummoxed they are whenthey see or hear that I'm Mexican American because, oh my goodness, look atyou. Your English is actually pretty good. Chavez, how did that happen?

So by the way, the reason that happened is because my momand dad didn't speak English as their first language, and they wanted to makedamned sure that their kids had it firmly under their belts. But I grew up inthat culture and for the last 20 plus years, my mom has asked me over and overagain, Tommy, why can't you find more Latinos to bring into your companies? AndI'm not sure. In the past, especially when you're a first time entrepreneur,you're just clutching to survive. I'll own it. I'm not sure that that was on mytop five list. Again, survival and just getting to the other side and landingit somehow was urgent and important. But these days, especially for you and me,it's been gratifying as we build super{set} and build all these companies toreally just stop and try to take these design time decisions around diversityinclusion. It's very seriously.

Vivek Vaidya:

For sure. Yeah, for sure.

Tom Chavez:

Well, let's talk about how in the heck did we get here andfrom the balcony, I think we're having this podcast because we recognize it's aproblem, it's an opportunity, it's a first class thing. So I'd love to, myquick thoughts on how we got here first start from a supply consideration. Ithink whether we like it or not, when we're trying to hire Latinos or morewomen or other people from diverse backgrounds into some of these roles atthese tech companies we're building, we are kind of reaping what was sown 20plus years ago. And we don't like that. I hate it. But reality is the safestplace to be, right? There weren't enough people from diverse backgrounds 20years ago when I graduated from college, I think, and this was in 1990, I wasone of, I don't know, 11, 12, 14 CS majors in the entire university. Now I'mtold there's like 500 CS majors.

So the supply equation has shifted from that perspective.And if the demographic breakdowns fall as they do, we should see at least somemore supply of younger people from diverse backgrounds showing up with alittle, and that's not to say that you need to just have a CS degree to be intech. I'm just saying that if we look at how the whole system kind of unfolds,it is a technical undertaking. There's lots of ways to participate and getinvolved, but we have to go back and start taking seriously these questions,supply and training and making sure that younger people understand that it'sall within reach. I think that's the first big explanatory variable in terms ofhow [inaudible 00:14:31]

Vivek Vaidya:

Yeah, I know, I completely agree. And just to add a littlebit more color to that, we talk about the lack of diverse leaders, especiallyas you go higher up the hierarchy. We talk about they're not being enough womenin leadership positions especially, and focused on technology or engineering inparticular. You think about if you're hiring for 100 positions and you say thatI want 30, 40% of them filled by women, you just do the arithmetic. Because noteverybody who you hire, not every woman you hire, not every man you hire, endsup becoming a director or senior director and whatnot.

So the standard percentages of, or ratios really, ofpeople coming in at the bottom and then going up to the top apply. So in orderfor you to have 30 or 40 people of women at a certain level, you just need tohave that many more coming in 10, 15 years ago. Because career growth takestime, as time as well. And there just weren't that many coming in 10, 15 yearsago. So the supply pool is limited from that perspective as well. And hopefullynow, given these new numbers, 10 years from now, the situation will bedifferent and much, much better than what it is right now.

Tom Chavez:

In the parlance of a revenue operation, you got to fillthe top of the funnel for there to be progression down to the bottom or inreverse here. You have to have more people showing up for those other roles sothat you have more opportunities for them to rise statistically over time.

Vivek Vaidya:

And I think just building on that, I think there has beenthis systemic, I should say, or this deeply ingrained pattern of exclusionthat's been burnt in over decades and decades of operation. And whether thereare different ways that people refer to it, the old boys network or you need tojust be from Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, what have you, who you know, yournetwork, you know someone who knows someone, that type of thing. Andultimately, it's the people who have the money or the venture capitalists whoare in control of who gets access to their money. And that also has a lot to dowith explaining where we are today.

Tom Chavez:

100%. Look, I think it's a very apt point. The money,people who generally correlate with the power come from fancy institutions. Bythe way, I studied at a couple of those fancy institutions. I was there, I canreport firsthand in a lot of those conversations that we've had when it came tofunding along the way, that pedigree, as they call it, mattered a lot. Iremember feeling many days like a horse trotted out from the stables withdegrees to be bandied about and to make people feel good that I knew my stuff.And I don't curse it, I understand it. But I think you and I both know afteryears of doing this, in fact, remember in our first company, we actually bannedHarvard and Stanford's people for a while because they were just so snooty.They all came in with this entitlement attitude and they weren't ready to dothe work.

I remember when we actually banned. We said, no, no, wedon't want to look at any more candidates from those places. And we've learnedfirsthand, you and I, that there's hardworking, super smart people who areready to get the job done, who don't have, quote, pedigree. Those are thebroad-shouldered people you really want to work with. But I think the otherthing that explains how we got here is that there's this systemic kind of ideathat you want to just work with people, with pedigreed people. If you don'tknow them, they are people who make you feel like they're your people. They'reyour tribe.

So that's another key thing. I think if you're insistingthat tech is a meritocracy and all is well, and there's nothing to discusshere, you might just want to turn off the podcast at this point, becauseeverything we're probably going to cover from here on is just going to really,really bother you. So we are kind of beginning here toward the first half ofthis podcast that, okay, Houston, we've got a problem. We're very far from aperfectly meritocratic system. Now with that said, doesn't necessarily meanthat diversity is needed and will make it better at a moral level. At a morallevel we want this, but I think we also need to be clinical business people andcome back to something you touched on, V, which is to examine the business casefor diversity. Why did it make us better, stronger?

Vivek Vaidya:

Look, there's been plenty of research and there's plentyof data to go around that says that more diverse teams perform better than lessdiverse ones. Businesses that have more diverse leadership teams, more diverseexecutive teams make more money and kick than less diverse ones. But there isan interesting kind of twist or paradox, if you will, in this whole diversityequation. And that is, if you look at it from the perspective of immigrants.Again, in this whole debate of vis-a-vis immigration and whatnot, there'splenty of reports and research that's come out with hard data to back it upthat says that immigrants have done wonders for the American economy andAmerica in general. But the paradox that we find ourselves in is that, again,from a tech perspective, it's just focused on tech. It's gotten to the pointwhere I think you may have been there at this event where there was some talkon, again, diversity inclusion in tech where somebody said that there aren'tenough brown people in tech. And that kind of jarred me. I first, I felt sooffended that, don't you see, are you going see the color?

Or perhaps it's become this thing that, and this is also,I was listening to a podcast recently where they said, as far as politics isconcerned, they're all white. Meaning that once you get beyond a certain stage,you are considered white. It's not really a commentary on your skin color, butit's more like how you are perceived as going with the flow, if you will, isthe best way to put it. So that bothers me that, and that's a paradox. So yeah,I think those are two things that I come back to when making the business case.One is data's for diversity. There's definitely plenty of data to back up thecase. But then as you look at it, there is this interesting paradox as well.What do you think?

Tom Chavez:

Well, the numbers don't lie. More diverse teams justgenerate better results. We don't have to trot out all of the McKinsey studiesand others, but it is a statistical fact that more diverse teams are generatingbetter results. I have a psychosocial kind of theory, which I'm happy to sharehere, which is that in tech, especially these days, the nature of the problemsare such that you just need a broader array of talent to get it right. So onceupon a time, especially when everything revolved around circuit design andsignal processing problems, you had double engineering, double E guys solvingthose problems. And if the intelligence and acumen required to solve them was aT, the top of the T was a very narrow little sliver, and the length of thetrunk of the T was very tall, that you needed to be a signal processing God ora circuit designer who knew certain things, that the problems werecircumscribed and you could just apply all of your brain power to get it done.

Most of the interesting problems today, I conjecture, arejust different. They require pattern matching and sort of a lateral movementacross different disciplines. We have a lot of good examples of that in thecompanies we're building. Tesla is an example of the confluence of lots oftechniques and technologies that need to get flown into a team like a carcompany. But actually behind the frame of the car, It's a very grandundertaking. Genomics, lots of good examples of that. So I think the hardest,coolest problems are exercises and synthesis, which means you need teams withvery different and diverse training and backgrounds and perspectives to cometogether to get it done.

Vivek Vaidya:

No doubt, I think, and I think this is true. To your pointabout the T, if you think about the open source phenomenon that's taken over inthe last 30, 35 years, all the stuff that requires that T, that requires you togo deep, specialized expertise, odds are you're going to find an open sourcelibrary that solves that problem really, really well. So to your point aboutsynthesis, the name of the game these days is to how do you assemble differentcomponents into solutions that can solve business problems, whether it's Teslaor Genomics, or any of the companies from our portfolio. That is the challengethese days.

Tom Chavez:

That's right. And we're doing a lot of that, you and I, aswe've tried to put teams together. I remember there was this anecdote aboutJobs when he was trying to pull together a team to launch a hard new product,they would say internally, this, it's a good team, but we really need amusician on this team. What does a musician have to do with hardware design?But the point is you need to have somebody with a quirky, out there, sort ofmusical sensibility to chop it up and add the sizzle and the outlandish anglethat's required if you're going to have breakthroughs. And it's not justmusicians, you just need all types. So the top of the T in the problems we'resolving today is not that narrow little sliver. It's broad and sprawling. Sothat's the other piece of the equation there. So let's switch gears and talkabout methods that people are using today to try to promote diversity. What'sworking? What are the unintended consequences? I think you and I both look at alot of these well intentioned efforts and we sometimes scratch our heads.

Vivek Vaidya:

I have a great example for you on that. As you know, we'vebeen on the hunt for a few engineers at Habu, and we're using many recruitingplatforms to source candidates and whatnot. One of those platforms, I submittedmy criteria and I was trying to be as generic as possible. So front endengineer with experience in React, yes. Data engineer with experience in Spark.That's it, I just left it at that, nothing else. And came back with a bunch of differentoptions, candidates. There was an interesting checkbox, radio button, whateveryou want to call it, at the top of this platform, which said, reduce bias. Andwhen you hover over, you see explanatory text, which says hide people's namesand photographs from the results. And like, okay, that's interesting. So Ichecked it and lo and behold, the names and the pictures for those candidateswho had uploaded their pictures disappeared.

Now, because I had the before and after, I could do my ownarithmetic and figure it out by looking at the names and the pictures, how manymales, how many females, how many people of color, so on and so on. So now, ifI turn that feature on and I randomly assume that everybody who's returned inthat list is a perfect match for a phone screen, and of course my bandwidth islimited, I can only talk to so many people at a given point in time. So Irandomly pick 30% of the candidates shown to me. So if the thing comes back ina hundred, I pick 30 candidates. Now, given the distribution of candidates,this goes back to your supply problem and unintended consequence, the ratio ofdiverse candidates to what are called non-diverse ones, as in white, Asian,Indian male engineers, would be very low.

So by checking that box and just doing random selection, Iam making the problem worse. Because it's not solving the problem of havingmore people, having more women, having more women and people of color in tech.And so maybe that was not their intention, and maybe the intention is to, okay,this is just a blind list of candidates, pick the best ones. But when I dothat, just because of the supply problem, because the ratios are the way theyare, the pipeline problem, I would not solve the problem of creating morediversity in tech.

Tom Chavez:

Under the auspices of a blank slate or a meritocraticbehind the veil assessment, they actually constrain the presentation ofcandidates that actually are exactly the ones you'd like to have more of inyour consideration set.

Vivek Vaidya:

Right, and this is the other messed up thing, which isthat I almost have to apply what I would call reverse bias and or bias in theother direction, to pick candidates and put them in my pipeline, like thediverse ones and the women and people of color. I just have to do practicereverse bias or whatever that word is, to do that.

Tom Chavez:

Well, that takes me back to ... We'll get to Eskalera in aminute. But as we are starting super{set}, and when I'm reflecting on, okay, mymom asking me all these years, "Tommy, what are you doing?" I wouldgive a lame answer and say, "Ma, it's hard, I'm trying," but I'm nottrying that hard. Here's a vignette where actually try 10 times harder to get aslate of diverse candidates. And that's not to prejudge the outcome and justgive a diverse candidate the job. Not at all, they're diverse. But it's to sayyou have to work a lot, lot harder to find more of those candidates and getthem into your funnel.

Vivek Vaidya:

100%

Tom Chavez:

Be biased in surfacing candidates like that, if you'regoing to attack this the right way. I think that's one path. Hiring is animportant piece of the total equation, and then that's an important ditch tostay out of as we attack that. I think it's safe to say that we're seeing a lotof declarations and policies from companies who are wanting to show thatthey're good citizens and they're doing the right thing. Last week there was anarticle on the front page of the Wall Street Journal about the average tenureof a chief diversity officer, and it's alarmingly low. So what the article waspresenting is a fact that I think you and I have seen in some form where theseCDOs, chief diversity officers, are appointed at high levels by companies,again who want to show that they're good citizens and they're doing the rightthing.

But it's not clear that these CDOs have charter. It's notclear that they have decision rights and authority internally to shift theequation. They in some sense become emblems of a company's commitment, butthat's not enough. That's not actually going to-

Vivek Vaidya:

By no means.

Tom Chavez:

So it's a dangerous little pageant that some of thesecompanies conduct when they bring in CDOs and don't empower them fully toactually do more than just show them panels and carry a flag. You actually haveto have, again, the authority to install new systems and policies, not just forhiring, but for promotion, for employee performance appraisal and the like.That seems like it's mostly undone.

And the bigger worry that it creates is, for me at least,is that it can too quickly devolve into tokenism. I'm a proud Mexican Americanguy. I've told people, please, whether it's me or anybody else, don't put oneof my people into a role. Don't put me into a role just for the sake ofchecking a box. Tokenization is terrible for everybody, and you might thinkthat you're doing the right thing. By the way, the fact I'm thinking also hireswe've made in the past where we were very zealously trying to get a ratio rightand maybe didn't properly appraise the implications and the unintendedconsequences there. It never ends well.

Vivek Vaidya:

It doesn't. It just doesn't.

Tom Chavez:

It just puts somebody into a role for which they're notequipped. And if a diversity calculus is kind of shaping your logic, okay, that'slaudable, that's good, but you really got to tamp down and be open-eyed, atleast of the risks you're running there.

Vivek Vaidya:

Yeah, I think I continue to believe that you need to havea diverse pipeline and then after, if you solve that problem by working 10 xharder or whatever it is, but if you have a truly representative pipeline, thenthe rest of your hiring process needs to unfold the net regularly. Meaning thatyou cannot compromise, you have to put everybody through the same ringer, ifyou will, in terms of assessing their fit for the job that they have to do.Because by not doing that, you're only sending them up for failure and creatingall sorts of unintended consequences for your team as it exists.

Tom Chavez:

That's right. That's right. Yeah. Now, look, you and Ihave so much passion for this topic that it compelled us to help launch acompany at super{set} called Eskalera, which is now under the extremely capableleadership of a super talented guy named Dane Holmes. And the founding team,there are people that, at least a couple of whom we've had an opportunity towork with over decades. So that team is building software that in some sense,systematizes inclusion. And that idea inspires us because you can have CDOs,you can have the right hiring, you can change the slate, but there's still thismassive challenge that companies have, to do something that you touched onearlier in the conversation, which is to give people the tools. I heard you usethat you have the tools and the framework so that employees can learn what thisactually looks like.

You and I have hired a lot of engineers along the way whoI think we both would agree are adorable, but sometimes broken. They havemindsets or quirky, funny things that they want to say that are funny to them,but no, no, no, you can't say it. And shame on us if we're not arming them withtools and vocabulary for, and this isn't about cancel culture, you can saythis, you can't say that, but giving them a mental model for thinking through whymatters of inclusion will get them more of what they want.

Vivek Vaidya:

Correct. Correct. The way I like to think of Eskalera isthat diversity and inclusion go hand in hand. Diversity is a pre-hiringproblem. And then inclusion is a post-hiring problem. You need to have both. Ithink Eskalera does a great job of blending the two together into beautifulsoftware.

Tom Chavez:

Yeah. So the third leg of the stool here is to first getyour hiring right. Second, pay off some of these policies and claims that companiesare establishing through the hiring of CDOs, but actually making it so in theorganizations. And then empowering or enabling it wherever you can withsoftware from companies like Eskalera and many others that are taking this outthere.

So as we wind ourselves up here towards a conclusion,let's make some suggestions for getting it right. And we've been kicking thesearound as we go. One thing I'm hearing is that we need to be open-eyed, all ofus, about the unintended consequences of good decisions focused on diversity,but working intentionally to sort of tamp those down.

Vivek Vaidya:

Yeah. I think we need to be aware of and think through anddo the kinds of exercises that I did when I was evaluating these candidates onthis recruiting platform, that what if this happens, and what if I do this?What's going to happen down the road? So to use a phrase that you use a lot,which is game it all the way out, to see what results you might get. And if youdon't like the results you get after you follow that path, go back and changewhatever you were going to change. But you have to do it intentionally, to yourpoint, very intentionally.

Tom Chavez:

Right. When you're hiring, we're saying it, be biased.Fill a slate with diverse candidates. Don't prejudge the outcome, as you said,make sure everybody sings for their supper and competes for the role, but youcan be intentional about the people who are being given consideration there. Wesaid you got to do more, hiring a chief diversity officer is a fantastic start,but now what are you doing as a leader to really make it so? How are youempowering that person and other people who work inside your company committedto that same cause? Are you giving them the tools and authority to actually getit right? We spent a lot of time talking about initial conditions. Foundingteams and boards, you want to speak to them a little bit?

Vivek Vaidya:

Yeah. I think that you have to think about this right fromthe very beginning because if you let it fester and you let it persist forlong, then you run the risk of people looking at you from the outside andsaying, no, no, no, I'm going into an environment where I don't see anybodylike me. And so you have to get the mindsets and the team really right, maybenot for founding time. If you do it at founding time, that's great, but if notfounding time, then early, early teams, you have to pay attention.

You have to pay asymmetric attention to that. And it's notjust with the team, but I think, Tom, even with boards, if you have a diverseboard, then it just makes the company that much stronger because there's justbetter ideas coming through, more lively discussion happening about thebusiness. And overall, I think it makes for a much more powerful dynamic in theboardroom and in the company if you have diversity baked in right at the groundfloor.

Tom Chavez:

100%. And then I guess the final note is it's hard and wehave to work 10 times harder to get it right. Hard is what makes it good,right? Hard is what makes it worth doing well. Well, look at that. That wasn'tso bad, now was it?

Vivek Vaidya:

It wasn't, was it?

Tom Chavez:

We're all finished at the beginning.

Vivek Vaidya:

Yeah. Yeah. It wasn't.

Tom Chavez:

It all worked out.

Vivek Vaidya:

Well done.

Tom Chavez:

All right, everybody. Well that wraps up this next Zoomedition of The Closed Session. Thanks for being with us today.

Vivek Vaidya:

Thank you so much. This is Vivek and Tom, signing off.

 

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Introduction to The {Closed} Session

In the first episode of The Closed Session, meet Tom Chavez and Vivek Vaidya, serial entrepreneurs and podcast hosts.

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Starting From Scratch

In the second episode of The Closed Session, Tom and Vivek discuss the framework for starting your own company from scratch, and the three dimensions that should be taken into account.

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The Business Plan

You’ve decided to launch a business, but before you hurtle blindly into the breach, you need a bulletproof plan and a perfect pitch deck to persuade your co-founders, investors, partners, and employees to follow you into the unknown.

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Early-Stage Funding Do’s and Dont’s

In this episode of The Closed Session, Tom and Vivek talk about dilution, methods, mindset, benchmarks and best practices for raising investment capital for a new tech startup.

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Early Team Formation

Now that you've written the business plan and raised money, it's time to recruit your early team. In this episode, Tom and Vivek cover the do's and dont's of building a high-output team - who to hire, how to build chemistry and throughput, how to think about talent when your company is a toddler versus when it's an adolescent.

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Creating a Winning Culture: Must-Haves, Memes, and Tips

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Building a Kickass Product & Technology Engine

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Women in Tech

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How to Interview for a Startup

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Is Tech Stingy? The Case for Doing Well *and* Doing Good

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And, we’re live at super{set}!

Welcome to Season 2 of The Closed Session! In this first episode of 2020, Tom and Vivek talk about the five companies super{set} launched in 2019 and the lessons they’re learning as they go.

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To Sell or Not to Sell

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Quarantine Edition: Let the Rants Unfurl

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Equity and Inclusion

Tom and Vivek talk about inclusion and reflect on their personal experiences as brown guys in tech. Inclusion feels like a moral imperative, but does it really make for stronger, better companies? Are there unintended consequences of acting on good intentions to 'fix' an inclusion problem at a company? Why is tech so lacking in diversity, and what can we do to get it right?

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Big Tech and Regulation

The drums are beating for Big Tech, and for good reason. In this episode, Tom and Vivek break it all down and explain why you need to watch your wallet, or at least raise your antenna, whenever Google or Facebook say they're making a new product decision "to protect user privacy." Exactly how do their product decisions erode competitive markets and our own data dignity? Recorded at the tail end of 2020 before all of the post-election events unfolded, this episode explains exactly how the major platforms abuse data, why you should care, and what we can do to fix it.

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super{set}’s Spectrum Detoxifies The Online Space

We are living in a time of extraordinary concern about the negative consequences of online platforms and social media. We worry about the damage interactive technologies cause to society; about the impact to our mental health; and about the way that these platforms and their practices play to our most destructive impulses. Too often, the experiences we have online serve only to polarize, divide, and amplify the worst of human nature.

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Back to the Office, Kinda Sorta

With vaccines on the horizon, the idea of getting back to the workplace doesn't seem so far-fetched anymore. In this episode of The Closed Session, Tom and Vivek discuss what it's been like working from home, their likes, dislikes, and lessons learned. What pandemic habits are here to stay, and what pre-pandemic routines are likely to re-emerge? Between the 'back-to-workers' and the 'work-from-homers,' Tom and Vivek wonder whether a middle course is within reach.

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To SPAC or not to SPAC

Harpal Sandhu, a Silicon Valley veteran and friend of super{set}, joins Vivek and Tom and explains what the excitement about SPAC's is all about. How did we get from IPO's to SPAC's? What's a PIPE? And why does the $10 price show up? In this episode you'll understand why entrepreneurs might prefer a SPAC and how they navigate its possibilities and pitfalls with investors.

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From Watsonville To The Moon

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Not Just On Veterans Day

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Silicon Valley’s Greatest Untapped Resource: Moms

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Good Ideas, Good Luck

Coming up with new company ideas is easy: we take the day off, go to the park, and let the thoughts arrive like butterflies. Maybe we grab a coconut from that guy for a little buzz. While this describes a pleasant day in San Francisco, it couldn’t be further from the truth of what we do at super{set}. If only we could pull great ideas out of thin air. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way.

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Data Eats the World

The wheel. Electricity. The automobile. These are technologies that had a disproportionate impact on the merits of their first practical use-case; but beyond that, because they enabled so much in terms of subsequent innovation, economic historians call them “general-purpose technologies” or GPTs...

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The Four Types of Startup Opportunities

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VCs Write Investment Memos, We Write Solution Memos

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People, First

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The super{set} Entrepreneurial Guild

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Why Head of Product is Our First Co-Founder

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Why I'm Co-founding @ super{set}

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Too Dumb to Quit

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The Product Heist

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Founder and Father: A Balancing Act

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Early Stage Customers

Tom and Vivek discuss what the very first customers of a startup must look and act like, the staging and sequencing of setting up a sales operation with a feedback loop to product, and end with special guest Matt Kilmartin, CEO of Habu and former Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) of Krux, for his advice on effective entrepreneurial selling.

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Overheard @ super{summit}

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The Era of Easy $ Is Over

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How To Avoid Observability MELTdown

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When Inference Meets Engineering

Othmane Rifki, Principal Applied Scientist at super{set} company Spectrum Labs, reports from the session he led at super{summit} 2022: "When Inference Meets Engineering." Using super{set} companies as examples, Othmane reveals the 3 ways that data science can benefit from engineering workflows to deliver business value.

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Infrastructure Headaches - Where’s the Tylenol?

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Calling BULLSHIT

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Former Salesforce SVP of Marketing Strategy and Innovation Jon Suarez-Davis “JSD” Appointed Chief Commercial Officer at super{set}

The Move Accelerates the Rapidly Growing Startup Studio’s Mission to Lead the Next Generation of AI and Data-Driven Market Innovation and Success

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Why I'm Joining super{set} as Chief Commercial Officer

Announcing Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) as super{set}’s Chief Commercial Officer: jsd tells us in his own words why he's joining super{set}

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When and Why to Bring on VCs

Tom and Vivek describe the lessons learned from fundraising at Rapt in 1999 - the height of the first internet bubble - through their experience at Krux - amid the most recent tech bubble. After sharing war stories, they describe how super{set} melds funding with hands-on entrepreneurship to set the soil conditions for long-term success.

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Startup Boards 101

Tom and Vivek have come full circle: in this episode they’re talking about closed session board meetings in The {Closed} Session. They discuss their experience in board meetings - even some tense ones - as serial founders and how they approach board meetings today as both co-founders and seed investors of the companies coming out of the super{set} startup studio.

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Q&A with Accel Founder Arthur Patterson

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Four Tips for a Distributed Workforce

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Arthur Patterson on Company Building

Arthur Patterson, legendary VC and founder of Accel Partners, sits down with Tom Chavez to discuss insights into company building. Tom and Vivek review the tape on the latest episode of The {Closed} Session.

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7 Ways to Turn an Internship Into a Job at a Startup

Chris Fellowes, super{set} interned turned full time employee at super{set} portfolio company Kapstan, gives his 7 recommendations for how to turn an internship into a job at a startup.

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Frida Polli, CEO and co-founder of pymetrics

Kicking off the fourth season of the {Closed} Session podcast with a great topic and guest: Frida Polli, CEO and co-founder of pymetrics, which was recently acquired by Harver, joins us to talk about the critical role that technology and specifically AI and neuroscience can play in eliminating bias in hiring and beyond.

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Diamonds in the Rough

Obsessive intensity. Pack animal nature. Homegrown hero vibes. Unyielding grit. A chip on the shoulder. That's who we look for to join exceptional teams.

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The RevOps Bowtie Data Problem

Go-to-market has entered a new operating environment. Enter: RevOps. We dig into the next solution space for super{set}, analyzing the paradigm shift in GTM and the data challenges a new class of company must solve.

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Alysa Hutnik, Chief Privacy and Data Security Architect @ Ketch

We are delighted to share our new episode of the {Closed} Session podcast with guest Alyssa Hutnik. Alyssa looms large in the privacy world, and she’s been thinking deeply about the intersections of data, technology and the law for nearly two decades. She’s also the Chief Privacy and Data Security Architect at Ketch, a super{set} company, as well as a lawyer. Hope you enjoy the episode!

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The Information: "TikTok Is Not the Enemy"

Tom writes a nuanced take on the TikTok controversy and outlines ethical data principles that will restore people’s sense of trust and offer them true control over how and when they grant permission for use of their data.

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boombox.io Raises $7M to Build Out Creator Platform for Music Makers

super{set} startup studio portfolio company’s seed funding round was led by Forerunner Ventures with participation from Ulu Ventures Raise will enable boombox.io to accelerate product development on the way to becoming the winning creator platform for musicians globally

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Building the Creator Platform for Music Makers at Boombox.io

On the heels of boombox.io's $7M seed fundraise led by Forerunner, Tom Chavez and Vivek Vaidya sit down with boombox co-founders India Lossman and Max Mathieu for a special episode straight from super{summit} 2023 in New Orleans!

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From Chords, to Code, to Chords Again: The Story Behind Boombox.io

super{set} founding general partner Tom Chavez wasn’t always set on a life of engineering and entrepreneurship – music was his first love. For a time, he was determined to make a career out of it. With boombox.io, Tom has combined the best of both worlds into a product that inspires and delights both the engineer and the musician.

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Horizontal Scaling at super{summit}

Vivek gives us the rundown on what the hive is buzzing about after super{summit} 2023: how to 'horizontally scale' yourself.

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Generative AI + Creative Work with Big Technology's Alex Kantrowitz

Alex Kantrowitz, journalist and author of Big Technology, joins Tom and Vivek in the studio to discuss his road to journalism, ad tech, and the business and ethical considerations of generative AI.

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Jamming with Habu’s Matt Kilmartin on Partnership Strategy

Discover how Habu, a trailblazer in data clean room technology, utilizes strategic partnerships with giants like Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and AWS to expand its market reach and foster the potential of an emerging category. Learn from CEO Matt Kilmartin's insights on how collaboration is the secret sauce that brings innovation to life.

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MIT Professor Rama Ramakrishnan on How ChatGPT Works

MIT Professor Rama Ramakrishnan joins Vivek on the pod to delve into the evolution of Generative AI and ChatGPT, as well as his own journey as an entrepreneur turned business school professor.

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Pivots and Possibilities

Discover how lessons from law enforcement shape a thriving tech career. Ketch Sr. Business Development Representative Brenda Flores shares a bold career pivot in our latest "Pass the Mic" story.

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The Future of Work and Talent in Tech

Does it matter where you go to college? Should the SAT be abolished? Do you have to have a degree in computer science to work in tech? What are the differences between higher education in the US and in India? Why did Tom and Vivek ban Harvard and Stanford degrees from working at their first company?

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AI Alignment with Brian Christian of 'The Alignment Problem'

What does ‘AI alignment mean? Can philosophy help make AI less biased? How does reinforcement learning influence AI's unpredictability? How does AI's ‘frame problem’ affect its ability to understand objects? What role does human feedback play in machine learning and AI fine-tuning?

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Hold Fast: Game-Changing Wisdom from Seamus Blackley

Creator of the XBox and serial entrepreneur Seamus Blackley joined Tom Chavez on stage at the 2023 super{summit} in New Orleans, Louisiana, for a free-ranging conversation covering the intersection of creativity and technology, recovering back from setbacks to reach new heights, and a pragmatic reflection on the role of fear and regret in entrepreneurship.

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An Intro to Product-Led Growth from MarkovML

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Building Tech on a Moving Regulatory Target

In an interview with Ketch co-founder Max Anderson, the focus is on data privacy laws and AI's role. Anderson discusses the global privacy landscape, highlighting Ketch's approach to helping businesses navigate regulations. The conversation also emphasizes data dignity and Ketch's unique role in the AI revolution.

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AI Hot Takes: Deepfakes, The Big Stakes, and What to Make

Is AI our salvation or is it going to kill us all? Tom and Vivek roam widely on others’ takes about artificial intelligence, adding their insight and experience to the mix. Along the way they consider Descartes, Ray Kurzweil, Salt Bae, Marc Andreessen among others. If you are looking for a down to earth conversation that tempers the extremes at either end of the debate, this is the one you’ve been waiting for.

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Lessons from the Startup Circus

super{set} Technical Lead and resident front-end engineering expert Sagar Jhobalia recaps lessons from participating in multiple product and team build-outs in our startup studio. Based on a decade of experience, Sagar emphasizes the importance of assembling the right engineering team, setting expectations, and strategically planning MVPs for early wins in the fast-paced startup environment.

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Navigating the Startup Journey from Launch to Finish Line

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Understanding The AI “Alignment Problem”

Vivek Vaidya recaps his conversation with AI researcher and author of "The Alignment Problem" Brian Christian at the 2023 super{summit}.

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High-Velocity Personal Growth

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Harvard Computer Scientist James Mickens on The Ethical Tech Project

Are we walking a tightrope with AI, jeopardizing humanity's ethical core? Is AI more than just algorithms, acting as a mirror to our moral values? And when machine learning grapples with ethical dilemmas, who ultimately bears the responsibility? Harvard's Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science, James Mickens, joins Tom Chavez and Vivek Vaidya on "The {Closed} Session."

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How Boombox Nurtures Customer Collaboration for Success

In a conversation with boombox's co-founder India Lossman, the discussion pivots to the art of fostering customer collaboration in music creation. Lossman unveils how artist-driven feedback shapes boombox's innovative platform, with a glimpse into AI's empowering potential. Understand the synergy between technology and user insights as they redefine the independent music landscape.

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ActiveFence Acquires super{set} Company Spectrum Labs

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How Engineers Should Talk to Customers with Empathy

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Tech Crunch: Answering AI’s biggest questions requires an interdisciplinary approach

Tom Chavez, writing in TechCrunch, calls for new approaches to the problems of Ethical AI: "We have to build a more responsible future where companies are trusted stewards of people’s data and where AI-driven innovation is synonymous with good. In the past, legal teams carried the water on issues like privacy, but the brightest among them recognize they can’t solve problems of ethical data use in the age of AI by themselves."

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Spectrum Co-founders Launch Nurdle AI

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Spotlight Series: Gal Vered, Co-founder of Checksum.ai

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The Product Mindset for Engineers

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Why Headlamp Health is Bringing Precision to Mental Health

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Marketing in the Age of AI with Rex Briggs

How is AI steering the future of marketing strategy? With the convergence of AI and marketing tactics, Rex Briggs paints a compelling picture of what's possible: AI agents that revolutionize user interactions, and generative techniques that craft persuasive content. Drawing from his deep expertise in marketing measurement, Rex joins Tom Chavez and Vivek Vaidya to explore the cutting-edge of AI-driven marketing strategies. Listen for insights on harnessing AI's potential in modern marketing.

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Tom Chavez in Huffpost Personal for Hispanic Heritage Month

Writing in the Huffington Post: "My Mom Sent Me And My 4 Siblings To Harvard. Here's The 1 Thing I Tell People About Success."

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Running cloud platforms efficiently while keeping them secure can be challenging. In this blog post, learn how two of super{set}’s portfolio companies, MarkovML and Kapstan, are leveraging tools like KEDA for event-driven scale and Boundary for access management to remove friction for developers. Get insights into real-world use cases about optimizing resource usage and security without compromising productivity.

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Watch: Sandeep Bhandari Fireside Chat

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Spotlight Series: Andrew Marshak, Co-founder of Headlamp Health

The {Closed} Session Spotlight Series showcases a different co-founder from the super{set} portfolio every episode. Up now: Andrew Marshak is Co-founder and Head of Product at Headlamp Health (Headlamp.com), a healthtech company bringing greater precision to mental health care.

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Philosophy, Data, and AI Ethics with NYT Best-selling Author + Data Scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

From unpacking Google search patterns to understanding the philosophical underpinnings of big data, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz offers a unique lens. As the NYT Best-selling author of “Everybody Lies” and a renowned data scientist, he delves into the ways data mirrors societal nuances and the vast implications for tech and its intertwining with everyday life.

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Forbes: 5 Startup Studio Misconceptions

It's still early for the startup studio asset class - and we hear misconceptions about the studio model every day, ranging from the basic confusion of accelerators versus studios to downright incorrect assumptions on our deep commitment to the build-out of every company. Read Tom Chavez' latest in Forbes.

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Ringside Tales from Serial Startup Champion Omar Tawakol

Like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed, the fiercest competitors can sometimes become friends. Omar Tawakol is a prime example. As the founder and CEO of BlueKai, he went head-to-head with Tom, Vivek, and the 'Krux mafia' for dominance in the Data Management Platform arena. A serial entrepreneur with roots in New York and Egypt, Omar eventually steered BlueKai to a successful acquisition by Oracle before creating Voicea, which Cisco acquired. Today, he's pioneering a new venture called Rembrand (rembrand.com), which innovates in product placement through generative fusion AI.

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Spotlight Series: Lindsey Meyl, Co-founder of RevAmp

The {Closed} Session Spotlight Series showcases a different co-founder from the super{set} portfolio in every episode. Today's guest is Lindsey Meyl, Co-founder at RevAmp (rev-amp.ai), a "Datadog for RevOps" platform that offers observability across the revenue engine, monitoring performance, flagging when something is amiss, and determining the root cause of how to fix it.

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Why Proprietary Data Is the Linchpin of AI Disruption

Read Vivek Vaidya's latest in CDO Magazine and learn why in this new AI landscape, those who harness the potential of proprietary data and foster a culture of collaboration will lead the way—those who don't risk obsolescence.

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MedCity News: It’s Time for the Tech Revolution to Come to Mental Health Diagnoses

Headlamp Health co-founder Andrew Marshak writes in the MedCity News that "We need to take inspiration from the progress in oncology over the last few decades and challenge ourselves to adapt its successful playbook to mental illness. It’s time for precision psychiatry."

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What Consumers Think of AI and Their Privacy

Everyone’s talking about AI - so The Ethical Tech Project decided to listen. Joining forces with programmatic privacy and data+AI governance platform Ketch, The Ethical Tech Project surveyed a representative sample of 2,500 U.S. consumers and asked them about AI, the companies leveraging AI, and their sentiment and expectations around AI and privacy. On the latest episode of The {Closed} Session, get an inside look at the survey results in a deep-dive conversation with the team at The Ethical Tech Project.

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Why the AI Revolution Will Be Data-Centric

Pankaj Rajan, co-founder of MarkovML, joins super{set} Chief Commercial Officer Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) to discuss the role of data in gaining a competitive advantage in the AI revolution. Learn the difference between optimizing models and optimizing data in machine learning applications, and why effective collaboration will make or break the next-gen AI applications being created in businesses.

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The Product Mindset for Engineers

Ever find yourself scratching your head about product management decisions? Join India Lossman, co-founder of boombox.io, as she unpacks the product mindset for engineers. Unravel the art of synergy between PMs and engineers and delve into strategies to enhance collaboration and craft products that users will adore.

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Tom Chavez in Huffpost Personal for Hispanic Heritage Month

Writing in the Huffington Post: "My Mom Sent Me And My 4 Siblings To Harvard. Here's The 1 Thing I Tell People About Success."

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Four Tips for a Distributed Workforce

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Watch: Sandeep Bhandari Fireside Chat

Sandeep Bhandari, Former Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Risk Officer at buy now, pay later (BNPL) company Affirm, joins Vivek Vaidya, Founding General Partner of super{set}, in conversation.

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From Watsonville To The Moon

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ActiveFence Acquires super{set} Company Spectrum Labs

ActiveFence, the leading technology solution for Trust and Safety intelligence, management and content moderation, today announced its successful acquisition of Spectrum Labs, a pioneer in text-based Contextual AI Content Moderation.

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From Suitcases to Startups: Why Immigrants Innovate

How are immigrants like entrepreneurs? Peter Wang of Ketch arrived in the U.S. at age 7 with two suitcases and a box. Read his story in the latest "Pass The Mic."

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Infrastructure Headaches - Where’s the Tylenol?

Head of Infrastructure at Ketch, and Kapstan Advisor, Anton Winter explains a few of the infrastructure and DevOps headaches he encounters every day.

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super{set} Celebrates First Exit: LiveRamp to Acquire Data Collaboration Software Startup Habu for $200M

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Overheard @ super{summit}

Vivek Vaidya's takeaways from the inaugural super{summit}

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Why I'm Joining super{set} as Chief Commercial Officer

Announcing Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) as super{set}’s Chief Commercial Officer: jsd tells us in his own words why he's joining super{set}

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VCs Write Investment Memos, We Write Solution Memos

When a VC decides to invest in a company, they write up a document called the “Investment Memo” to convince their partners that the decision is sound. This document is a thorough analysis of the startup...

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The Four Types of Startup Opportunities

In our last post, we discussed how data is the new general-purpose technology and that is why at super{set} we form data-driven companies from scratch. But new technologies are a promise, not a sudden phase change.

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From Chords, to Code, to Chords Again: The Story Behind Boombox.io

super{set} founding general partner Tom Chavez wasn’t always set on a life of engineering and entrepreneurship – music was his first love. For a time, he was determined to make a career out of it. With boombox.io, Tom has combined the best of both worlds into a product that inspires and delights both the engineer and the musician.

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Navigating the Startup Journey from Launch to Finish Line

Are you a launcher, or a finisher? The balance of conviction, a guiding vision, and the right team to execute it all make the difference between entrepreneurial success and failure. Tom Chavez delves into his journey as a first-time CEO and the invaluable guidance he received from a key mentor.

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Building Fast, Scaling Globally

Harshil Vyas joined the super{set} Hive (i.e., portfolio companies community) in March 2023 as Co-Founder of Kapstan and employee number one in India. We jumped on a Zoom recently to talk about accelerated timelines, globally distributed workforces, and what is unique about the super{set} model.

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We don’t critique, we found and build.

The super{set} studio model for early-stage venture It is still early days for the startup studio model. We know this because at super{set} we still get questions from experienced operators and investors. One investor that we’ve known for years recently asked us: “you have a fund — aren’t you just a venture capital firm with a different label?”

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Data Eats the World

The wheel. Electricity. The automobile. These are technologies that had a disproportionate impact on the merits of their first practical use-case; but beyond that, because they enabled so much in terms of subsequent innovation, economic historians call them “general-purpose technologies” or GPTs...

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Jamming with Habu’s Matt Kilmartin on Partnership Strategy

Discover how Habu, a trailblazer in data clean room technology, utilizes strategic partnerships with giants like Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and AWS to expand its market reach and foster the potential of an emerging category. Learn from CEO Matt Kilmartin's insights on how collaboration is the secret sauce that brings innovation to life.

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How To Avoid Observability MELTdown

o11y - What is it? Why is it important? What are the tools you need? More importantly - how can you adopt an observability mindset? Habu Software Architect Siddharth Sharma reports from his session at super{summit} 2022.

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Lessons from the Startup Circus

super{set} Technical Lead and resident front-end engineering expert Sagar Jhobalia recaps lessons from participating in multiple product and team build-outs in our startup studio. Based on a decade of experience, Sagar emphasizes the importance of assembling the right engineering team, setting expectations, and strategically planning MVPs for early wins in the fast-paced startup environment.

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Too Dumb to Quit

The decision to start a company – or to join an early stage one – is an act of the gut. On good days, I see it as a quasi-spiritual commitment. On bad days, I see it as sheer irrationality. Whichever it is, you’ll be happier if you acknowledge and calmly accept the lunacy of it all...

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The super{set} Entrepreneurial Guild

Has someone looking to make a key hire ever told you that they are after “coachability”? Take a look at the Google ngram for “coachability” — off like a rocket ship since the Dot Com bubble, and it’s not even a real word! Coaching is everywhere in Silicon Valley...

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How Boombox Nurtures Customer Collaboration for Success

In a conversation with boombox's co-founder India Lossman, the discussion pivots to the art of fostering customer collaboration in music creation. Lossman unveils how artist-driven feedback shapes boombox's innovative platform, with a glimpse into AI's empowering potential. Understand the synergy between technology and user insights as they redefine the independent music landscape.

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Understanding The AI “Alignment Problem”

Vivek Vaidya recaps his conversation with AI researcher and author of "The Alignment Problem" Brian Christian at the 2023 super{summit}.

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Silicon Valley’s Greatest Untapped Resource: Moms

This post was written by MarkovML Co-Founder, Lindsey Meyl, as part of our #PassTheMic series.

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Why Head of Product is Our First Co-Founder

At super{set}, we stand side-by-side and pick up the shovel with our co-founders. Our first outside co-founder at a super{set} company is usually a Head of Product. Let’s unpack each portion of that title....

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Podcast: Tom Chavez on How AI Startups Can Show Us What’s Next in Marketing

Tom Chavez joins the "Decoding AI for Marketing" podcast published by MMA Global and hosted by well-respected international marketing & AI experts Greg Stuart (CEO, Author, Investor, Speaker) and Rex Briggs (Founder/CEO, Inventor, Author, Speaker).

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Why I Left Google To Co-found with super{set}

Gal Vered of Checksum explains his rationale for leaving Google to co-found a super{set} company.

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How I Learned to Stop Optimizing and Love the Startup Ride

Reflections after a summer as an engineering intern at super{set}

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7 Ways to Turn an Internship Into a Job at a Startup

Chris Fellowes, super{set} interned turned full time employee at super{set} portfolio company Kapstan, gives his 7 recommendations for how to turn an internship into a job at a startup.

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Hold Fast: Game-Changing Wisdom from Seamus Blackley

Creator of the XBox and serial entrepreneur Seamus Blackley joined Tom Chavez on stage at the 2023 super{summit} in New Orleans, Louisiana, for a free-ranging conversation covering the intersection of creativity and technology, recovering back from setbacks to reach new heights, and a pragmatic reflection on the role of fear and regret in entrepreneurship.

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Forbes: Why The Biden-Xi Talks Should Put A Microscope On San Francisco

The prettifying and securing of downtown San Francisco, where super{set} is headquartered, should be the norm - not just for special state visits from the world's dictators. Here are 3 things the city of San Francisco should be doing all year round to make the city better to live, work, and invest in. Read Tom Chavez' latest in Forbes.

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Developer tools that are worth their while: KEDA and Boundary in action

Running cloud platforms efficiently while keeping them secure can be challenging. In this blog post, learn how two of super{set}’s portfolio companies, MarkovML and Kapstan, are leveraging tools like KEDA for event-driven scale and Boundary for access management to remove friction for developers. Get insights into real-world use cases about optimizing resource usage and security without compromising productivity.

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CalMatters: Why visa reforms benefit not just California’s tech sector but the economy overall

Vivek Vaidya writes that America needs more H-1B workers. Common sense reforms to the program will even the playing field for startups, not Big Tech, to bring innovative talent to American's shores.

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Founder and Father: A Balancing Act

Making It Work With Young Kids & Young Companies

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Building Tech on a Moving Regulatory Target

In an interview with Ketch co-founder Max Anderson, the focus is on data privacy laws and AI's role. Anderson discusses the global privacy landscape, highlighting Ketch's approach to helping businesses navigate regulations. The conversation also emphasizes data dignity and Ketch's unique role in the AI revolution.

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The Era of Easy $ Is Over

The era of easy money - or at least, easy returns for VCs - is over. Tom Chavez is calling for VCs to show up in-person at August board meetings, get off the sidelines, and start adding real value and hands-on support for founders.

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Forbes: 5 Startup Studio Misconceptions

It's still early for the startup studio asset class - and we hear misconceptions about the studio model every day, ranging from the basic confusion of accelerators versus studios to downright incorrect assumptions on our deep commitment to the build-out of every company. Read Tom Chavez' latest in Forbes.

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Horizontal Scaling at super{summit}

Vivek gives us the rundown on what the hive is buzzing about after super{summit} 2023: how to 'horizontally scale' yourself.

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Former Salesforce SVP of Marketing Strategy and Innovation Jon Suarez-Davis “JSD” Appointed Chief Commercial Officer at super{set}

The Move Accelerates the Rapidly Growing Startup Studio’s Mission to Lead the Next Generation of AI and Data-Driven Market Innovation and Success

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The Information: "TikTok Is Not the Enemy"

Tom writes a nuanced take on the TikTok controversy and outlines ethical data principles that will restore people’s sense of trust and offer them true control over how and when they grant permission for use of their data.

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High-Velocity Personal Growth

What's the price you put on personal growth? In his most recent note to founders, super{set} Founding General Partner Vivek Vaidya outlines 7 points of advice for startup interviews and negotiations. Vivek explains his compensation philosophy and the balance between cash and the investment in personal and career growth a startup can bring. Here’s the mindset you need to reach your zenith at a startup.

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An Intro to Product-Led Growth from MarkovML

Want to grow your product organically? This blog post breaks down understanding costs, setting up starter plans, and pricing premium features using MarkovML as an example. Learn how to engage new users and encourage upgrades, enhancing user experience and fueling growth through actionable insights.

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How Engineers Should Talk to Customers with Empathy

Do you get an uneasy feeling anytime you get added to a customer call? Do you ever struggle to respond to a frustrated customer? Peter Wang, Product lead at Ketch, discusses how customer feedback can help drive product development, and how engineers can use customer insights to create better products. Learn best practices for collecting and interpreting customer feedback.

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Pivots and Possibilities

Discover how lessons from law enforcement shape a thriving tech career. Ketch Sr. Business Development Representative Brenda Flores shares a bold career pivot in our latest "Pass the Mic" story.

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Good Ideas, Good Luck

Coming up with new company ideas is easy: we take the day off, go to the park, and let the thoughts arrive like butterflies. Maybe we grab a coconut from that guy for a little buzz. While this describes a pleasant day in San Francisco, it couldn’t be further from the truth of what we do at super{set}. If only we could pull great ideas out of thin air. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way.

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Why CTOs Should Care About Gross Margins, Cost-to-Serve, and Product Management

Why should a tech exec care about profit and loss? Aren’t our jobs to make the product great, and someone else can figure out how to make the numbers add up? That was my attitude for a long time until I finally appreciated the significance of gross margins for SaaS businesses during the early part of my tenure as the CTO of Krux.

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Detecting Software Bugs with AI

Gal Vered is co-founder and Head of Product at Checksum (checksum.ai), an innovative company that provides end-to-end test automation that leverages AI to test every corner of an app. He sat down with Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) to discuss the exciting problem that Checksum is solving with AI and what Gal likes best about working in super{set}'s startup studio model.

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Redefining Customer Experience in Data-Driven Tech Startups

Ted Flanagan, Chief Customer Officer at super{set}-founded Habu, sat down with Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) to provide insights into how Habu's strategies in customer experience set it apart in the data collaboration market. Learn how customer experience strategies helped Habu land a $200 million after being acquired by LiveRamp in January 2024.

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Tech Crunch: Answering AI’s biggest questions requires an interdisciplinary approach

Tom Chavez, writing in TechCrunch, calls for new approaches to the problems of Ethical AI: "We have to build a more responsible future where companies are trusted stewards of people’s data and where AI-driven innovation is synonymous with good. In the past, legal teams carried the water on issues like privacy, but the brightest among them recognize they can’t solve problems of ethical data use in the age of AI by themselves."

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The Information: The People OpenAI Should Consider for Its New Board

Tom Chavez writes in The Information that "OpenAI’s board needs a data ethicist, a philosopher of mind, a neuroscientist, a computer scientist with interdisciplinary expertise and a political strategist."

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Spectrum Co-founders Launch Nurdle AI

Justin Davis and Josh Newman, Co-founders of Spectrum Labs (acquired) launch Nurdle to get AI into production faster, cheaper & easier.

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Diamonds in the Rough

Obsessive intensity. Pack animal nature. Homegrown hero vibes. Unyielding grit. A chip on the shoulder. That's who we look for to join exceptional teams.

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Why the AI Revolution Will Be Data-Centric

Pankaj Rajan, co-founder of MarkovML, joins super{set} Chief Commercial Officer Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) to discuss the role of data in gaining a competitive advantage in the AI revolution. Learn the difference between optimizing models and optimizing data in machine learning applications, and why effective collaboration will make or break the next-gen AI applications being created in businesses.

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Why Proprietary Data Is the Linchpin of AI Disruption

Read Vivek Vaidya's latest in CDO Magazine and learn why in this new AI landscape, those who harness the potential of proprietary data and foster a culture of collaboration will lead the way—those who don't risk obsolescence.

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Q&A with Accel Founder Arthur Patterson

Arthur Patterson, founder of venture capital firm Accel, sits down for a fireside chat with super{set} founding partner Tom Chavez as part of our biweekly super{set} Community Call. Arthur and Tom cover venture investing, company-building, and even some personal stories from their history together.

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Not Just On Veterans Day

This post was written by Ketch Developer Advocate, Ryan Overton, as part of our #PassTheMic series.

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When Inference Meets Engineering

Othmane Rifki, Principal Applied Scientist at super{set} company Spectrum Labs, reports from the session he led at super{summit} 2022: "When Inference Meets Engineering." Using super{set} companies as examples, Othmane reveals the 3 ways that data science can benefit from engineering workflows to deliver business value.

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Forbes: Why A Collaborative Approach Trumps "Lone Genius" In Company-Building

Off the heels of super{set}'s first exit - the acquisition of data collaboration company Habu by LiveRamp for $200 Million - Tom Chavez writes how the super{set} approach to collaboration in company building leads to successful outcomes.

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The Balancing Act For Women in Tech

This post was written by Ketch Sales Director, Sheridan Rice, as part of our #PassTheMic series.

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boombox.io Raises $7M to Build Out Creator Platform for Music Makers

super{set} startup studio portfolio company’s seed funding round was led by Forerunner Ventures with participation from Ulu Ventures Raise will enable boombox.io to accelerate product development on the way to becoming the winning creator platform for musicians globally

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super{set}’s Spectrum Detoxifies The Online Space

We are living in a time of extraordinary concern about the negative consequences of online platforms and social media. We worry about the damage interactive technologies cause to society; about the impact to our mental health; and about the way that these platforms and their practices play to our most destructive impulses. Too often, the experiences we have online serve only to polarize, divide, and amplify the worst of human nature.

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Why Headlamp Health is Bringing Precision to Mental Health

Co-founder of Headlamp Health, Andrew Marshak, describes the frustratingly ambiguous state of mental health diagnoses - and the path forward for making mental health a precision science.

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MedCity News: It’s Time for the Tech Revolution to Come to Mental Health Diagnoses

Headlamp Health co-founder Andrew Marshak writes in the MedCity News that "We need to take inspiration from the progress in oncology over the last few decades and challenge ourselves to adapt its successful playbook to mental illness. It’s time for precision psychiatry."

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Why I'm Co-founding @ super{set}

Pankaj Rajan, co-founder at MarkovML, describes his Big Tech and startup experience and his journey to starting a company at super{set}.

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The RevOps Bowtie Data Problem

Go-to-market has entered a new operating environment. Enter: RevOps. We dig into the next solution space for super{set}, analyzing the paradigm shift in GTM and the data challenges a new class of company must solve.

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