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He lost 2 jobs to coronavirus. Now he's part of Instacart's 300,000-worker expansion.

Some gig-economy hiring spikes as layoffs begin and delivery explodes to serve COVID-19 lockdowns.

Instacart shopper

Jacob Sadowski, 21, delivers groceries in Petaluma on Monday. He started as an Instacart shopper on Sunday after losing both of his jobs due to the coronavirus.

Photo: Demian Bulwa/Protocol

Jacob Sadowski lost not one but both of his jobs. With millions of people in the San Francisco Bay Area ordered to shelter in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, Sadowski's jobs as a server at the Cheesecake Factory and a sales associate at Verizon vaporized overnight.

Making matters worse, on that same day, March 15, his Toyota Corolla died as he drove to see his uncle, who had offered him a place to stay.

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But Sadowski, a 21-year-old from the East Bay suburb of Danville, had an idea where to look for a quick new source of income: delivering groceries for Instacart as residents panic buy en masse.

"It's surreal," Sadowski said during a delivery run on Monday, which he completed with a Buick that he rented for the new gig. "Everything was looking up for me, and then within a week, everything flip-flopped."

If all goes according to plan, some 300,000 other new Instacart recruits may soon follow Sadowski. On Monday, the company announced plans to more than double the number of contract shoppers and delivery drivers in its ranks to keep up with unprecedented demand as tens of millions of people from New York to San Francisco shelter in place.

"The last few weeks have been the busiest in Instacart's history," Instacart founder and CEO Apoorva Mehta said in a statement Monday. "Our teams are working around the clock."

The aggressive expansion effort at Instacart and fellow delivery giants like Amazon — which last week announced its own plan to hire 100,000 new warehouse and delivery workers — illustrates a broader reordering of the economy as city and state officials escalate precautions for COVID-19.

Brick-and-mortar retailers and restaurants are reeling after governments ordered consumers to stay home; many must either rapidly scale take-out offerings or lay off staff. But Instacart's carefully worded hiring announcement plays off the language in government orders that only "essential" businesses can continue operating as officials work to slow the spread of the virus.

"Instacart has become an essential service for millions of customers," a press release notes — and few people without other options for getting their own groceries would disagree.

The San Francisco company plans to add the hundreds of thousands new contractors over the next three months. Instacart, which operates in more than 5,500 North American cities, plans to concentrate new roles in California (54,000 additional contractors), New York (27,000), Texas (18,000) and Florida (15,000).

The expansion highlights questions about what the workforce might look like during and after a prolonged COVID-19 outbreak or a resulting long-term recession. Labor groups in California and beyond have questioned why gig economy companies are even allowed to operate during a national state of emergency, given that many contractors lack basic protections guaranteed to full-time employees.

"Gig workers have become frontline responders, often driving people to the hospital or delivering food to those who have been quarantined," labor advocacy group Gig Workers Rising said in a statement after six Bay Area counties announced a shelter-in-place order last week. "Yet these drivers have no sick days, no protective equipment, and no guidance about how this lockdown will affect them."

In an example of how contentious gig economy hiring has become amid battles over potential worker reforms like California's Assembly Bill 5, the Instacart press release skirts words like "hiring" or "employees." Instead, the company says it plans to "bring on an additional 300,000 full-service shoppers."

The vast majority of Instacart's current shoppers and delivery workers, about 175,000 people, are contractors, the company told Protocol on Monday. Another 12,000 are part-time employees.

Those part-timers are now eligible to accrue paid sick leave, the company said. However, in policies spurred by the pandemic that mirror those of companies like Uber, contractors are only eligible for compensation if they can document a COVID-19 diagnosis or an order to quarantine.

Still, Mehta sees his company as a bright spot in an uncertain landscape: "As more people look for immediate, flexible earnings opportunities during this time, we hope that Instacart can be an additional source of income," he said in a statement.

The company also has the backing of big business. Suzanne Clark, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a press release that Instacart is "stepping in to support the economy by unlocking much-needed earnings opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people who can no longer rely on their previous incomes."

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For Sadowski, who started Sunday, the foray into on-demand shopping has so far worked as a stop-gap after the sudden loss of his other jobs. He's started working 14-hour shifts — and pulled in $80 in tips after two grocery runs — which he hopes will continue long enough for him to buy his own car and reassess.

"I really like it. It's relaxing," he said. "If this is more profitable than what I was doing before, I might stick with it."

Protocol | Fintech

Plaid’s COO is riding fintech’s choppy waves

He's a striking presence on the beach. If he navigates Plaid's data challenges, Eric Sager will loom large in the financial world as well.

Plaid COO Eric Sager is an avid surfer.

Photo: Plaid

Eric Sager is an avid surfer. It's a fitting passion for the No. 2 executive at Plaid, a startup that's riding fintech's rough waters — including a rogue wave on the horizon that could cause a wipeout.

As Plaid's chief operating officer, Sager has been helping the startup navigate that choppiness, from an abandoned merger with Visa to a harsh critique by the CEO of a top Wall Street bank.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

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The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
People

Citizen’s plan to keep people safe (and beat COVID-19) with an app

Citizen CEO Andrew Frame talks privacy, safety, coronavirus and the future of the neighborhood watch.

Citizen added COVID-19 tracking to its app over the summer — but its bigger plans got derailed.

Photo: Citizen

Citizen is an app built on the idea that transparency is a good thing. It's the place users — more than 7 million of them, in 28 cities with many more to come soon — can find out when there's a crime, a protest or an incident of any kind nearby. (Just yesterday, it alerted me, along with 17,900 residents of Washington, D.C., that it was about to get very windy. It did indeed get windy.) Users can stream or upload video of what's going on, locals can chat about the latest incidents and everyone's a little safer at the end of the day knowing what's happening in their city.

At least, that's how CEO Andrew Frame sees it. Critics of Citizen say the app is creating hordes of voyeurs, incentivizing people to run into dangerous situations just to grab a video, and encouraging racial profiling and other problematic behaviors all under the guise of whatever "safety" means. They say the app promotes paranoia, alerting users to things that they don't actually need to know about. (That the app was originally called "Vigilante" doesn't help its case.)

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Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

People

Why the CEO of GoFundMe is calling out Congress on coronavirus

GoFundMe has seen millions of Americans asking for help to put food on the table and pay the bills. Tim Cadogan thinks Congress should help fix that.

"They need help with rent. They need help to get food. They need help with basic bills," GoFundMe CEO Tim Cadogan said. "That's what people need help with to get through this period."

Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images

Tim Cadogan started his first day as CEO of GoFundMe about two weeks before the pandemic wrecked the world. He knew he was joining a company that tried to help people make extra money. He didn't know his company would become a lifeline for millions of Americans who couldn't pay their bills or put food on the table.

And so after a year in which millions of people have asked for help from strangers on GoFundMe, and at least $600 million has been raised (that number could be as much as $1 billion or more now, but GoFundMe didn't provide fundraising data past August) just for coronavirus-related financial crises, Cadogan has had enough. On Thursday, he wrote an open letter to Congress calling for a massive federal aid package aimed at addressing people's fundamental needs. In an unusual call for federal action from a tech CEO, Cadogan wrote that GoFundMe should not and can never replace generous Congressional aid for people who are truly struggling.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (@ anna_c_kramer), where she helps write and produce Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

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