People

How a group of creatives made Juneteenth 'spread like wildfire' in tech

It started with a group called HellaCreative, which helped convince hundreds of companies to turn Juneteenth into a company holiday.

Juneteenth

One of HellaJuneteenth's images for showing solidarity on Juneteeth.

Image: Courtesy of HellaJuneteenth

For the first time, more than a dozen tech companies are recognizing June 19, Juneteenth, the oldest-known holiday that celebrates the end of slavery in the United States, as a paid holiday for employees.

Among tech leaders, the first call came from Jack Dorsey, who tweeted that Juneteenth would be a company holiday for both Twitter and Square "forevermore." A slew of other companies also gave staff the day off this year, including Mailchimp, Lyft, Uber, Adobe and Spotify. Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Amazon instructed employees to cancel meetings and use the time for learning and reflection.

The movement to commemorate Juneteenth is broad and not without its controversy. As companies have announced their plans, some have wondered how the holiday would apply to gig and contract workers. One group in particular has been pushing the tech industry behind the scenes: HellaCreative, a group of mostly Black Bay Area tech creatives who launched HellaJuneteenth. In addition to information about the history of Juneteenth, the site includes a growing list of participating companies and resources such as templates for how to make the request for the day off to managers or set conscious out-of-office messages. It's aiming to get 500 companies this year, in tech and otherwise, to recognize the holiday — and hopes to add the day to the federal calendar as well.

Protocol spoke with one of the founders of HellaCreative, Miles Dotson, who is also managing partner at Devland, about the group's role in the movement to recognize Juneteenth.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

HellaCreative's co-founders HellaCreative co-founders (from left): Quinnton Harris, Miles Dotson and Brian Watson.Photos: Courtesy of HellaCreative

Who is HellaCreative?

We represent different industries and spaces, but inherently in our backgrounds, we have a very heavy creative niche. A majority of us work for Silicon Valley-based technology companies. Some work at startups, some work in venture, like myself, or capital markets. Some are in the advertising/marketing space, whether in-house or agency. All the shades of creativity.

When COVID hit, on the psychological side, we needed something to sustain us. We initiated HellaCreative as a project to bring the creative community that we were already tapped into together. That was started by myself, Quinnton Harris [creative director at Publicis Sapient] and Brian Watson [product manager at Apple]. As soon as we started HellaCreative on Slack, almost instantly, the first channel in Slack to really blow up was #personalprojects. We had about 30 folks initially. I think right now it's probably close to 100 people in our Slack team.

When did HellaJuneteeth develop out of HellaCreative?

Soon after George Floyd was killed, we had a happy hour. It was a really difficult happy hour to put together. We'd been doing a Thursday happy hour since COVID came into place, but that particular week, there was really a dark cloud and emotional heaviness lingering over everyone. Understandably so. It was catalyzing.

Some people, their response was like, "I'm very sad. I really can't connect this week. This is really getting to me. I need to focus on work, and I just can't do it." Some people were proposing like, "Hey, let's get active. Let's get involved with the protests. Let's make something." Other people were thinking about ways to insight joy or distraction from the news cycle. Then it was like, "Oh yeah, Juneteenth is coming up." But then, we realized that none of us would be off.

So two things happened at once: Let's do something, and … wait, those of us that have a lot of work activity, we're not even off. Excuse the language, but that's some bullshit. Thinking about this year that has been the most trying year, and still having to deal with the realities of the status quo, racial issues and inequalities in the present. Our inherent belief is that at some point, we can overcome this reality. If there's ever been a time, this is the time to use our talents.

That was the initial idea: Let's just put something into the ether. As visual people, we thought of making a very informational and visually aesthetic website and social campaign that people would gravitate to as a central reference to Juneteenth.

Forty-eight hours from that Thursday happy hour, Saturday morning [June 6], we launched it. Unbeknownst to us, over the weekend, colleagues of ours and our broader networks began sharing it — not only internally within their companies, but on social, direct messages, and a variety of places. The message started to grow.

At the point that Jack Dorsey made his announcement, we reached out to him. One of his former employees is a member of HellaCreative, and reached out to him directly to say, "Hey, we put this resource together so that other companies can do exactly what you've done. Would you mind posting it?" And he did it.

What is the core message of HellaJuneteenth?

Let's make it a national holiday. Respectfully, Juneteenth is not nationally known. For the longest time, it has been something mostly celebrated by African Americans, Black Americans in Texas, and millennials. Whether or not we get it federally approved this year, let's get companies to observe it this year, and let's get the message going.

It spread like wildfire. It was insane. We weren't expecting the reception we got, but that's exactly what happened. Whether from employee resource-group leads, executives, upper management or directors sharing it amongst email threads, it just started spreading. We have our minds set on breaking through the 500 [company] ceiling. Before Friday, we want to get over 500.

Companies have a specific and unique influence over culture. They also employ people who have been impacted by this history in our country. Juneteenth is everybody's history. I think that companies have an opportunity to make a repair, even if it doesn't happen on a national level, they have the opportunity to do it regardless of if it's written into law. These companies employ the people, so they can make that decision.

Have you gotten feedback from people who have used the employer request template?

On a high level, basically just, "thank you." People have sent the email to management or executive decision-makers, and we've heard some responses have been along the lines of, "We were pondering this, and this email really helped to drive the conversation through to completion. It helped to really impress upon us the urgency and importance of this even more than it did before."

We do know that there are companies that did not make public statements that decided to leverage the opportunity they have right now to celebrate Juneteenth.

It could be argued that there is some hypocrisy in company statements in support of Black Lives Matter, especially when tech as an industry is pretty homogenous and often fails at inclusivity. Is making Juneteenth a company holiday any different?

Performative response is an occurrence. Part of us adding you to our list is that you provide a representative contact of your company. We hope companies expect that right around May next year, we'll be making phone calls to make sure that they're still committed for the long term. I think the reality is it takes a process. It takes influence, it takes conversations, and ultimately what needs to be happening right now is conversations.

Part of our posture on Juneteenth was specifically around allies and other people that want to champion the broader message of what's going on. We need some folks standing with us. We need some support in carrying this forward. This is just the first step. As we start to build and start to seek a better future, this is the process that we must go through to get there.

How are you celebrating Juneteenth?

Juneteenth has always been important to me. I grew up in Houston, Texas, and I've been a Bay Area resident for over six years. The union soldiers arrived at Galveston, Texas, so that was a really important feature of my childhood and the nature in which I pick up on celebration. We'll probably be starting up the barbecue, playing our favorite music, thinking about various family members who are doing the same elsewhere and connecting with them.

I own my company. But even when I worked at Verizon or other companies, I used my PTO. I electively celebrated, it was a thing of self-choice. Now, we're hoping it doesn't have to be a choice to celebrate something that should be important for the country as a whole to acknowledge.

Image: Yuanxin

Yuanxin Technology doesn't hide its ambition. In the first line of its prospectus, the company says its mission is to be the "first choice for patients' healthcare and medication needs in China." But the road to winning the crowded China health tech race is a long one for this Tencent- and Sequoia-backed startup, even with a recent valuation of $4 billion, according to Chinese publication Lieyunwang. Here's everything you need to know about Yuanxin Technology's forthcoming IPO on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

What does Yuanxin do?

There are many ways startups can crack open the health care market in China, and Yuanxin has focused on one: prescription drugs. According to its prospectus, sales of prescription drugs outside hospitals account for only 23% of the total healthcare market in China, whereas that number is 70.2% in the United States.

Yuanxin started with physical stores. Since 2015, it has opened 217 pharmacies immediately outside Chinese hospitals. "A pharmacy has to be on the main road where a patient exits the hospital. It needs to be highly accessible," Yuanxin founder He Tao told Chinese media in August. Then, patients are encouraged to refill their prescriptions on Yuanxin's online platforms and to follow up with telehealth services instead of returning to a hospital.

From there, Yuanxin has built a large product portfolio that offers online doctor visits, pharmacies and private insurance plans. It also works with enterprise clients, designing office automation and prescription management systems for hospitals and selling digital ads for big pharma.

Yuanxin's Financials

Yuanxin's annual revenues have been steadily growing from $127 million in 2018 to $365 million in 2019 and $561 million in 2020. In each of those three years, over 97% of revenue came from "out-of-hospital comprehensive patient services," which include the company's physical pharmacies and telehealth services. More specifically, approximately 83% of its retail sales derived from prescription drugs.

But the company hasn't made a profit. Yuanxin's annual losses grew from $17 million in 2018 to $26 million in 2019 and $48 million in 2020. The losses are moderate considering the ever-growing revenues, but cast doubt on whether the company can become profitable any time soon. Apart from the cost of drug supplies, the biggest spend is marketing and sales.

What's next for Yuanxin

There are still abundant opportunities in the prescription drug market. In 2020, China's National Medical Products Administration started to explore lifting the ban on selling prescription drugs online. Although it's unclear when the change will take place, it looks like more purely-online platforms will be able to write prescriptions in the future. With its established market presence, Yuanxin is likely one of the players that can benefit greatly from such a policy change.

The enterprise and health insurance businesses of Yuanxin are still fairly small (accounting for less than 3% of annual revenue), but this is where the company sees an opportunity for future growth. Yuanxin is particularly hoping to power its growth with data and artificial intelligence. It boasts a database of 14 million prescriptions accumulated over years, and the company says the data can be used in many ways: designing private insurance plans, training doctors and offering chronic disease management services. The company says it currently employs 509 people on its R&D team, including 437 software engineers and 22 data engineers and scientists.

What Could Go Wrong?

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped sell the story of digital health care, but Yuanxin isn't the only company benefiting from this opportunity. 2020 has seen a slew of Chinese health tech companies rise. They either completed their IPO process before Yuanxin (like JD, Alibaba and Ping An's healthcare subsidiaries) or are close to it (WeDoctor and DXY). In this crowded sector, Yuanxin faces competition from both companies with Big Tech parent companies behind them and startups that have their own specialized advantages.

Like each of its competitors, Yuanxin needs to be careful with how it processes patient data — some of the most sensitive personal data online. Recent Chinese legislation around personal data has made it clear that it will be increasingly difficult to monetize user data. In the prospectus, Yuanxin elaborately explained how it anonymizes data and prevents data from being leaked or hacked, but it also admitted that it cannot foresee what future policies will be introduced.

Who Gets Rich

  • Yuanxin's founder and CEO He Tao and SVP He Weizhuang own 29.82% of the company's shares through a jointly controlled company. (It's unclear whether He Tao and He Weizhuang are related.)
  • Tencent owns 19.55% of the shares.
  • Sequoia owns 16.21% of the shares.
  • Other major investors include Qiming, Starquest Capital and Kunling, which respectively own 7.12%, 6.51% and 5.32% of the shares.

What People Are Saying

  • "The demands of patients, hospitals, insurance companies, pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies are all different. How to meet each individual demand and find a core profit model is the key to Yuanxin Technology's future growth." — Xu Yuchen, insurance industry analyst and member of China Association of Actuaries, in Chinese publication Lanjinger.
  • "The window of opportunity caused by the pandemic, as well as the high valuations of those companies that have gone public, brings hope to other medical services companies…[But] the window of opportunity is closing and the potential of Internet healthcare is yet to be explored with new ideas. Therefore, traditional, asset-heavy healthcare companies need to take this opportunity and go public as soon as possible." —Wang Hang, founder and CEO of online healthcare platform Haodf, in state media China.com.

Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.

The way we work has fundamentally changed. COVID-19 upended business dealings and office work processes, putting into hyperdrive a move towards digital collaboration platforms that allow teams to streamline processes and communicate from anywhere. According to the International Data Corporation, the revenue for worldwide collaboration applications increased 32.9 percent from 2019 to 2020, reaching $22.6 billion; it's expected to become a $50.7 billion industry by 2025.

"While consumers and early adopter businesses had widely embraced collaborative applications prior to the pandemic, the market saw five years' worth of new users in the first six months of 2020," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director of social and collaboration at IDC. "This has cemented collaboration, at least to some extent, for every business, large and small."

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning reporter and editor with 15-plus years of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in feature and business reporting. Kate's reporting has appeared in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic's CityLab, Atlas Obscura, The Telegraph and many other outlets.

Protocol | Workplace

How to make remote work work

Hofy made an early bet that COVID-19 would have a long-term impact on workplaces. The company recently raised $15.2 million for its remote workforce equipment management solution.

Hofy recently raised $15.2 million for its remote workforce equipment management service.

Photo: Jannis Brandt/Unsplash

It's your new employee's first day of remote work, but their laptop hasn't shown up yet. Not a good look.

This very 2021 persistent problem is part of why Hofy, a remote workplace management tool, recently raised $15.2 million to help companies deploy laptops, chairs, desks and other physical equipment to their remote employees. The idea for Hofy, which is launching out of stealth today, emerged in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic — before lockdowns went into effect in the U.S. and the U.K. Hofy's co-founders, Sami Bouremoum and Michael Ginzo, had a feeling that COVID-19 would have a long-term effect on society.

Keep Reading Show less
Megan Rose Dickey

Megan Rose Dickey is a senior reporter at Protocol covering labor and diversity in tech. Prior to joining Protocol, she was a senior reporter at TechCrunch and a reporter at Business Insider.

Protocol | Policy

Tech giants want to hire Afghan refugees. The system’s in the way.

Amazon, Facebook and Uber have all committed to hiring and training Afghan evacuees. But executing on that promise is another story.

"They're authorized to work, but their authorization has an expiration date."

Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Late last month, Amazon, Facebook and Uber joined dozens of other companies in publicly committing to hire and train some of the 95,000 Afghan refugees who are expected to be resettled in the United States over the next year, about half of whom are already here.

But nearly two months since U.S. evacuations from Kabul ended and one month since the companies' public commitments, efforts to follow through with those promised jobs remain stalled. That, experts say, is partly to do with the fact that the vast majority of Afghan arrivals are still being held at military bases, partly to do with their legal classification and partly to do with a refugee resettlement system that was systematically dismantled by the Trump administration.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Protocol | Fintech

How European fintech startup N26 is preparing for U.S. regulations

"There's a lot more scrutiny being placed on fintech. We are definitely mindful of it."

In an interview with Protocol, Stephanie Balint, N26's U.S. general manager, discussed the company's approach to regulations in the U.S.

Photo: N26

N26's monster $900 million funding round announced Monday underlined the German startup's momentum in the digital banking market.

Stephanie Balint, N26's U.S. general manager, said the funding will be used for expansion and also to improve "our core offering to make this the most reliable bank that our customers can trust," she told Protocol.

Keep Reading Show less
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.

Latest Stories