February 5, 2022
Image: Christopher T. Fong / Protocol
Hello, and happy Saturday. I’m Jamie Condliffe, Protocol’s managing editor, and I’m standing in for Biz Carson for a few weeks, bringing you a selection of Protocol stories from the week that was to keep you in the loop.
This week, we’ll kick off with a little reflection on the existential angst you’re probably feeling about hiring right now. Also: how to know when to upgrade your tech stack, a defense of Coinbase’s desire for a crypto regulator, and more.
Do you wake up in a cold sweat because your startup can’t hire the right people? Or worse: Do you wake up in a cold sweat every night because that’s true of your entire portfolio?
I’m not sure this will help with the sweats, but do know: You’re not alone.
Protocol’s Allison Levitsky chatted with tech workers this week, and the message was pretty clear: To attract and retain staff right now, you need to offer it all. Compensation, flexibility, mission, work-life balance; you name it, employees want it. And as Dave MacLeod, the CEO and co-founder of ThoughtExchange, told Amber Burton this week, many employees are leaving jobs right now because they feel those demands aren’t being heard.
So no wonder that, perhaps just like you, the mood among tech executives who are currently hiring — and that is basically every tech executive everywhere — could be described as … tense, to say the least? As Sarah Roach reported this week, employers are struggling to fill roles and grappling with a skills gap when they can fill them. Hiring now is hard, and it’s hard for everyone.
So what the hell do you do?
One option is to do it all: you offer more perks, you throw money at salaries, you fine-tune your culture, you embrace remote work, you go to whatever lengths you can to hire the people you need to. But that is tiring, expensive and, in the long term, unsustainable. And remember that once those perks and corporate changes are implemented, there’s not much going back.
Another course of action, especially if cash and time are tight, is to prioritize ruthlessly. Which roles do you really need to fill? Which ones do you need to fill soonest? Throw your time and money behind those, worry less about the others and hope you made the right assumptions. But even if you’re right, your growth is going to hurt.
You could hire headhunters, but they’ve been slammed for months. Or you could staff up a bigger HR team, but hiring the hirers is unsurprisingly tricky right now — and, uh, that’s just more hiring to do.
Clearly, none of this is easy, and there is no totally correct decision. But we’d love to know how you’re trying to cope: Drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll include any good tips for hiring in next week’s newsletter.
The concept of flex work isn’t new, but its widespread adoption is. Flex work helps all of us find some semblance of control in the middle of an uncontrollable pandemic. Giving options makes people happier and less stressed. This leads to a greater desire to participate, which helps us build our communities and culture.
Maybe you have engineers demanding those new MacBook Pros. Or your lone talent person insists you shouldn’t run HR from a Google Sheet. Maybe everyone keeps telling you how much they want to use Office 365 instead of Google Workspace. (OK, nobody is doing the last one.) Anyway, everyone always wants to upgrade the tech stack of the company they work for, but how do you listen to those voices and actually make sensible business decisions? Our Braintrust dug into that question, and I thought some of the answers were pretty smart. And this, from Freshworks CIO Prasad Ramakrishnan, is ringing in my ears: “If something isn’t broken, don’t feel forced to fix it.”
We’re in the midst of a funding boom in climate tech, and there’s been a lot of hand-wringing about whether that’s going to go the same way as the green tech boom of the 2000s. Which is to say, up in a fiery ball of carbon-rich smoke. My hunch is probably not: Things have changed, climate action seems far more urgent and important now, and corporate responsibility has become A Thing. But perhaps one of the surest ways to make money in climate tech right now is in helping those corporations measure and understand their carbon footprints. Aisha Counts wrote this week about how that business is booming — but with no clear winner yet, there’s still a lot to play for if you’re an aspiring entrant.
The other headline to this story was “Coinbase: Give crypto its own regulator. Everybody else: Are you crazy?” Most crypto leaders, and perhaps you too, think Coinbase’s policy framework — which proposed a single regulator for crypto — was fantasy. Or overkill. Or self-sabotage. Take your pick. But in this interview with Benjamin Pimentel, Coinbase Chief Policy Officer Faryar Shirzad flexed his 15 years of experience at Goldman Sachs to argue the case. He thinks crypto is just too big a phenomenon not to have its own regulator, and that anything short of that will result in “fragmented and inconsistent regulatory oversight.” Maybe he has a point.
Well, it was fun over there while the party lasted. (Actually, it wasn’t always fun, was it? But it’s probably even less fun now.) Facebook users have now declined for the first time ever, Meta announced on its earnings call this week, and the company lost a horrific $200 billion from its market cap on the back of it. And it’s now in a tailspin where a(nother) pivot to video looks like a good idea! Having ditched its cryptocurrency experiment, Zuck is hoping that the metaverse is the next engine for growth. But the question is: How long does that take? And in the meantime, do you think you can eat some of its lunch?
Remember how Bolt CEO Ryan Breslow took to Twitter last week to lambast Stripe and its early backer Y Combinator for acting like “mob bosses” and making his life harder? Well, the fact that he stepped down soon after probably explains why he felt a little more freedom to get so spicy. But it also prompted Owen Thomas to reflect on the various mafias of Silicon Valley history. Owen pointed out something important about Breslow’s attacks: that this isn’t so much mob rule as it is simple business. And if you don’t like capitalism, is Silicon Valley really the place for you?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that California’s Proposition 22 was done and dusted. But, no. In fact, it might only be beginning: A similar battle over classifying gig workers as independent contractors is now taking place in Massachusetts, and it’s going to be fought over the course of the next eight months. As Hirsh Chitkara and Anna Kramer write, tech companies have a better plan this time around. But if your startup operates in Massachusetts and involves gig work, I hope that your backers have deep pockets: The original Prop. 22 was the most expensive ballot measure in California history, costing companies fighting against making workers employees a little over $200 million in total, and Round Two could prove to be equally costly.
Thanks for reading! I’ll be back next week with some more of the best stories from Protocol.