If You Do Benefits, You Need Noyo

The company: Noyo

Noyo is the company transforming data exchange across the insurance ecosystem by delivering the universal API for embedded benefits. By building the connections gateway that allows for fast, accurate, and secure data exchange, Noyo is helping benefits software companies and insurance providers deliver next-generation benefits experiences to their customers. 

Why you should pay attention 

Co-founders Shannon Goggin (CEO) and Dennis Lee (COO) are leading a team that’s powering the age of connected insurance, where it’s as easy to access benefits as it is to connect to a bank account or make a payment online. Leading insurers including Unum, Humana, Ameritas, Beam, Principal, Sun Life, and Brella are using Noyo APIs to power their data exchange and meet the demands of the digital age. The industry’s most innovative benefits software platforms, including Zenefits, Rippling, Namely, and Sana, are using Noyo to deliver a new era of seamless benefits experiences. But the biggest beneficiaries of Noyo’s innovation are the people that these companies serve, consumers who can now expect insurance data to move freely, giving them easy access to the benefits they need, when they need them. 

The details 

Noyo’s APIs for benefits administration cover the entire lifecycle of a policy. APIs for member enrollment changes facilitate sending transactions, receiving confirmations and automating accuracy. The  verification API helps principals confirm enrollment status for any member at any time. And the Noyo 360 end-to-end APIs bring benefits full circle by streamlining installation and renewal. Noyo has delivered a fast, intuitive developer experience that lets leading insurers and benefits platforms redefine what’s possible for open enrollment as they transform their digital strategies and accelerate growth. 

Why we’re obsessed 

Health insurance is a trillion-dollar industry running on disconnected and outdated systems. Technology is reshaping how people engage with health insurance, with a new generation of software emerging to modernize how people shop for, enroll in, and manage their coverage. Behind the scenes, though, insurance is administered by a tangle of disconnected systems stitched together by manual processes. Noyo is upending this status quo by building the infrastructure that will power modern insurance distribution.  

Get involved

Whether you’re building, upgrading, or scaling a benefits offering, Noyo can help you get there. Want to lead in the age of connected insurance? Get started with Noyo

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

How to get started with angel investing

*WARNING* What I’m about to say about angel investing will annoy the heck out of professional investors and rightly so. I am an amateur shooting from the hip, but I’m happy doing so. 🤠

Investing money is just one type of investing to me. It’s no different than spending time, sharing your brain power, advising, supporting, or advertising. All of these things are limited resources. 🧠 When I was at Microsoft, for example, the “investing” I did was in recruiting, onboarding, and development: I was a person you could go to for hugs and cookies 🍪, cheerleading 📣, and championing. I have always tried to put my resources where my mouth is, to solve problems worth solving. And those are to create more time ⏳, freedom 🆓, quality of life 🥂, and joy 😄 for more people. Isn’t that what tech is all about, to create tools for people to solve problems?

To me, angel investing is enabling a person with an idea to 3D-print it herself. I particularly enjoy being an enzyme 🧬, a catalyst 🧫, that first follower who endorses and lends credibility to a thing. Therefore I invest in people doing things I think are cool and making the world be more the way it ought to be, and where I think I can be useful. It is a relatively new tool in my toolbox 🧰, one I started using in 2019 when I really began digging into startups and entrepreneurship. I wanted to learn from people who were doing what I dreamed of. 🏫 Plus it seemed a great way to give, not just to take. But it’s also direct and visceral. 👼🏼  Many people with world-changing ideas can’t afford to quit their day jobs and work on their ideas full-time — not without money. And it’s hard to raise money unless you’ve already raised some money. 💱 

To be an early-stage people-and-idea investor is to be a gardener. 👩🏻‍🌾 And I don’t mean growing blackberry bushes, which grow here in the Seattle area no matter what you do. It’s more like olive grove or grapevine gardening. 🍇 You don’t just plant and harvest. You have to cultivate and tend, age and develop, and support and water for years. It takes a long time and you need to love it. 🌸

My biggest tips for operators who want to get into angel investing:

  • Figure out what problems drive you crazy and what areas you love, and invest there.
    You’ll have better intuition and help more on things you care about and understand. You are also more likely to connect well to people working on those things. 💖
  • Find or build a community.
    Join an existing angel syndicate, a group or conference (like Seattle Angel Conference or Alliance of Angels), crowdfund (Backstage, Hustle, and Rarebreed have them), or pull together a group of friends who want to get into it too. 🤝🏽
  • Make an investment and put it in your LinkedIn/Twitter bio.
    You’ll bring awareness to the thing you invested in, but it will also make you visible to those looking for investors. Try it. Seriously, put “Angel Investor” in your activity list on LinkedIn and see how many messages you get from founders looking for investors who find you in a search. 🤯
  • Leverage your superpowers.
    Part of investing is to change the probabilities of good outcomes. Anything you can do to nudge one bit left is helpful and it adds up. So why not invest where things you are great at and come easy to you can change the result for the better? 🦸‍♀️
We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Operator Spotlight: UpLift Co-Founder & CTO Laura Butler

Looking for practical help and advice on an operational area that may be outside your realm? Each month we spotlight one of our talented operators, who’ll share their expertise and offer insights and ideas that may help improve your own operations. This month we spoke to UpLift’s Co-Founder & CTO Laura Butler.

You spent 22 years as an engineer and technical fellow at Microsoft during some incredibly pivotal times. How did your time at Microsoft help you develop as a leader? 

LAURA: First, I got to work at the company during an incredible time in the early 1990s when mission was so front and center to everyone. We were changing the world by expanding the set of people who had access to top-notch tools and information through devices by orders of magnitude. I learned the value of a great mission and vision; they energize people. They help teams through tough times to know why they’re slogging and how it matters. They guide more coherent decisions, features, and products. 🔭 

Second, I got to see great leadership in action during the early days of Windows and Office. People such as Brad Silverberg, Jodi Green, David Cole, Rich Tong, Julie Larson-Green, and many more. Space is infinite, right? ♾ The set of stuff that works is the interior of a cube and that’s finite. Unfortunately the set of stuff that doesn’t work outside that cube is infinite. That’s to say that learning what not to do and when not to do it only goes so far; being able to observe how incredible people operate and how they solve problems is huge. 🕵🏾‍♀️

Third, rage-quitting after a reorg in 2000 was a transformative moment. I had to grow up, figure out what really matters to me, and develop a philosophy. You can’t be a good leader, especially an engineering leader, without these things. When you’re an engineering leader, part of your job is to engineer the engineering culture. Before I quit the first time, if I’m being honest, my approach to leading/managing was like a refrigerator light 🔦.  Everybody around me was there to turn on when I opened the door because I needed something, and it wasn’t my fault if they were illogical or unable to understand my genius.  

You had a hand in the user interface (UI) of many of the Microsoft programs and apps we use on a daily basis. Looking back on it now, what was the environment like for engineers? 

LAURA: Computing resources were very tight in the 1990s. 🧮 You couldn’t work on the UI and not be deeply familiar with memory usage, CPU, I/O, and more. Rendering used math front and center:  rasterops and vectors and sets and matrices. Everyone, regardless of specialty, had a solid fundamentals base. There was less silo’ing, more respect, and a lot less “you’re just a front-end engineer, while the real programming is back-end services” kind of elbowing. 👩🏽‍🔬

You absolutely had to be able to debug up and down the stack to make things work, and work well, in Windows ‘95. On top of that, you had to intuit what app developers were doing and how they were doing it so you could solve compatibility problems your changes caused. (You would not believe the number of bugs that increasing the width of a line from 1 to 2 pixels can cause. 🐜)

Because releases were slower and computing resources were tighter and the cost of correcting errors in shipped software was higher, engineering teams invested a lot more in design and architecture, documentation, tools, and training. It was part of the job to keep things up to date, and we had support from technical writers, product support, and others. 📝

Today you can try and test things in minutes, and if you don’t cut corners, you can right roll back the changes in minutes when you find out how badly you’ve broken things. That’s wonderful; it gives such space and freedom to experiment and learn. But the flip side is that the engineering rigor muscles have atrophied. Distributed services have layers of resiliency and robustness — as they must — but some of that is at the expense of debugging and truly fixing problems, rather than putting band-aids on them. 🩹

Here’s a photo from the launch of Windows ‘95 with some state-of-the-art laptops. We look like a New Wave band!

You founded UpLift Group in 2020. Tell us about UpLift and what prompted you to start a business. 

LAURA: Thank you for using the word business! I’m proud that we have revenue from people who aren’t related to us, don’t even know us, and choose to pay us. 📈

First let me explain what my startup is doing. UpLift Group is building the CarFax and Consumer Reports of condos. We want happy owners in healthy Homeowner Associations (HOAs). Our mission is to provide quality information and accessible expertise about condo and townhome HOAs for individuals. 💪

So how did we get here?

Carol, my co-founder and CEO, and I knew in 2019 we wanted to found a company and we wanted to do it old-school: bootstrapping and starting from square 0 for the learning and experience.🛠  

As part of making changes, I Marie Kondo’ed my life. I had a house that was too much work to care for, plus had tripled in value, so I sold it and bought a condo. Condos are supposed to be easy, right? They make great homes for people who don’t have the time, desire, ability, or money to take care of a stand-alone house. They offer amenities, security, logistical efficiency, and access to opportunity and culture in urban areas. 🌆

I almost bought a condo that I would have regretted immediately due to pet restrictions 😿 and an upcoming special assessment. 💸 I fell in love with the space and didn’t even think about the HOA. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. HOA docs are immense and inscrutable, but they are also often incomplete, out of date, or just plain wrong. So even if I’d had a clue, I would’ve had difficulty establishing the facts. 😱  

It turns out that HOAs are hard. Understanding them requires mastery of arcane finance, governance, and maintenance. Fortunately Carol is a world-class expert on condo/townhome HOAs. She’s owned many condos herself and served in every board position. Plus she’s an economist with a background in data science and econometrics, specializing in utilities and public policy. You couldn’t manufacture a better person in a laboratory if you tried. 🧪  I’m now a happy owner of a different condo because of her. 

So a lightbulb went off 💡 and we decided to focus our startup on HOAs. The more we dug in, the more convinced we became that there were huge gaps, huge problems, and therefore a huge opportunity to help people and create value. Our core service today is a Resale Review, scouring the indigestible stack of material a buyer gets about an HOA as part of resale disclosure, analyzing it, extracting what matters, and making it easy to understand. We help buyers and their agents decide whether to go through with a purchase, give them data that helps with offer negotiations, and ensure they’re prepared to be owners. We provide peace of mind. 🧘‍♀️

As a bonus, here are a few ideas we didn’t pursue. If somebody out there wants to run with one of them, hit me up for details and possibly an angel investment 🙂

  • Patroness 🎨🎻… a way to support artists, actors, and musicians by letting them stay for free in your home, buying them meals, or hosting an event in exchange for tickets.
  • Carma 🚗👍🏼… a mobile app you can point at a license plate and then send thanks or a small gift to the driver when they do something nice (like let you out of a parking garage on a busy street)
  • Lo-cat-or 🚁🐈… rentable drones with infrared, microphones, speakers that maybe also can emit treats you can use to find your lost pet

The number of technical women founders and CTOs is on the rise. How has the landscape changed for technical women over your career? 

LAURA: It’s come back around to where it started, even better, and that’s a good thing. When I joined Microsoft, there were more women in programming, more women engineering managers, and more women in senior positions. There was no engineer cookie cutter stamping out the same shape. The industry was creative problem solvers and misfits figuring things out that hadn’t been figured out before. 👩🏿‍🎨 

Somehow it got middle-aged, pompous, exclusionary, stratified, and unwelcoming around 2000. 🏹🗡 I’m not sure where the zero-sum winners-losers kind of behavior came from. Insecurity must have been a factor. Maybe getting more removed from real purpose and humans was a factor too. Programming became a priesthood and cult of its own, instead of a toolset. 🏛  In any case, this impacted a whole lot of people besides women. Who’d want to study computer programming if it was all or nothing, you didn’t think you could pursue your other interests, and you didn’t look like the people already in the industry? 🚫

I love how less binary and more quantum programming has become in the past 5-10 years.  Open source, SaaS, and low-code are here to stay. If you have an idea, there are multiple ways you can build it. You don’t have to get a CS degree. The whole “technical” vs “non-technical” distinction is less relevant and clear every year, which is fantastic. It’s ever more about making things to solve problems and solving problems to make things, as it should be. 🤗

In your opinion, what are some ways the tech and venture industries could do a better job of empowering the next generation of diverse leaders?

LAURA: I feel like the “adventure” isn’t as front-and-center with tech and venture as it should be. Of course there is risk. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. But risk is something you manage with action like support and advice, not just assess with data. The point of risk is reward. Following the pack and staying safe are not how you win.  They are defense not offense. 🥅

Tech and venture folks should examine Cirque du Soleil, martial arts, ice skating, gymnastics, rock climbing, and skyscraper construction. Case studies in these areas should be taught in business school. All these areas require failing a lot and are arenas where failing can be catastrophic. So rationally they invest in safety equipment and practice over and over again handling errors and problems to recover as safely as possible. Tech and venture ought to do the same and build virtual harnesses, trampolines, mats, ropes, self-arrest techniques, and rope teams. 🤸🏽‍♀️

Why does this matter? Because great management and leadership take practice and development. And underrepresented groups have less room to fail. More visibility, more pressure, less resources, and fewer tools to use to mitigate slips and falls = less chance of succeeding and more damage when problems arise. If the industry truly wants to invest in people, it should invest in the equivalent of safety equipment and padding to minimize the bruising. 🦺

AOC often talks about the skills she picked up as a bartender, and others talk about what they learned working retail. What were some of those formative jobs for you?

LAURA: I went to college young, plus I was a bookish nerd, so I never had a real job before joining Microsoft as a summer programming intern in 1989. Then I got paid to sit in front of a computer with air conditioning, play Tetris, and blow things up with dry ice inside of plastic bottles, all while getting unlimited free soda and snacks. It was awesome! But I didn’t learn practical things. Between school and Microsoft I was in a cocoon. 🐛🦋

More practical knowledge and experience honestly came after I left Microsoft the first time in 2000. I was fun-employed for 6 years and decided to try things I had only read about.  Adventure travel and cooking were really formative. The former because of a mindset and skill set that carry over so well to innovation. You don’t know exactly where you are going and there aren’t paved superhighways. 🥾🗺 So you need to figure out how to go the distance sustainably and you better enjoy it. The latter requires logistics by restaurant staff at a level that puts engineers to shame. Peaks are crazy high, time is tight, it’s got to be a personal and customized experience, and it’s emotional for your customers. 👩🏿‍🍳🔪

So if your engineering team is complaining about how hard it is to get a feature done and shipped on a schedule, have them spend a Friday night as a prep chef or a line cook at a restaurant that handles a lot of pre-theater traffic. 😰

What’s your secret super power? 

LAURA: Active contrarianism. If you need to lead a rebellion and overthrow an evil space empire, I am your princess general. 👹🌌👸🥊

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Make your SaaS portfolio more Productiv

The company: Productiv

SaaS is everywhere these days. But the awesome proliferation of SaaS applications has also added an intense level of complexity to our tech stacks. Enter Productiv, a SaaS Management Platform that gives IT leaders unparalleled visibility and control of their app portfolios. The platform provides a unified view of SaaS apps, enabling smarter renewal decisions, more intelligent license allocations, and stronger application adoption. With Productiv, businesses are improving the employee software experience by maximizing application value and containing risk within sprawling IT portfolios that can involve hundreds, if not thousands, of apps. 

Why you should pay attention 

Some of the world’s most innovative companies including Uber, Zoom, Okta, Box, and many more are using Productiv to enhance their SaaS planning and governance. Typical customers see 30% in cost savings on renewals thanks to the detailed software usage and engagement data provided by Productiv platform. Productiv customers have used the platform to discover that a typical 43% of apps used in the organization are shadow IT. On average, Productiv saves companies 38 hours weekly across IT teams. 

SaaS is vital to every modern business. As the number of SaaS apps continues to grow, so do the challenges IT has in managing them. Productiv is giving companies new ways to keep their SaaS portfolio under control, stay agile, save money, and make transformational decisions.  

How it works

Productiv gives businesses details about application engagement — everything that happens after the employee logs in. This allows IT leaders to see and analyze exactly how applications are being used. These insights can also be easily surfaced to IT’s business partners across the organization, delivering a single source of truth to stakeholders across the company. Productive equips leaders with actionable insights and smarter recommendations to strategically negotiate upcoming renewals, seamlessly allocate existing licenses, and improve employee engagement.

Why we’re obsessed 

While precise estimates of the SaaS market vary, everyone agrees on this: it’s worth hundreds of billions of dollars and it’s experiencing double-digit growth. Productiv co-founders Jody Shapiro (CEO), Munish Gandhi (COO), and Ashish Aggarwal (CTO) have built an incredible workplace that has attracted a stellar team — including alumni from leading innovators like LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, Slack, and Amazon — to deliver a data-driven platform that helps IT leaders get a handle on their enterprise SaaS portfolios. The company has built a powerful solution and is already seeing incredible traction with analyst accolades and a customer roster full of A-listers who love the product. 

Get involved

It takes 10 minutes to set up SaaS Management with Productiv. Unify your sprawling portfolio, simplify operational workflows, and get the intelligent data you need to unlock employee productivity. Get started now for free.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or on Twitter and LinkedIn.


4 tips for designing your org’s post-pandemic transition plan

In 10+ years in SaaS, I don’t recall another time in which people practitioners have been so cosmically overwhelmed. When COVID hit, HR leaders had to modify their people and culture strategies seemingly overnight, leading their organizations through multiple traumas and crises. And it hasn’t stopped since; recent months have continued to bring unknowns. As we explore new ways of working (like hybrid work structures), there’s the added complexity of the employee post pandemic existential crisis and an ongoing raging war for talent

Despite how important the post-pandemic transition is, more than 60% of executives still don’t have a solid plan in place to support their employees through it. Smaller organizations in particular – those without a dedicated HR presence – are searching for strategies that align both to progressive practices and their goals around culture. Here are 4 things to think about as you work to cement your post-pandemic transition. 

1. Please don’t call it a “return to work.” 

The great philosopher LL Cool J once said, “Don’t call it a comeback. I’ve been here for years.” It’s a lyric that’s been living rent-free in my brain for the past few months. 

That’s because every HR leader I’ve spoken to lately has had the same reaction to the phrase return to work: Annoyance and frustration. I’ve had the same reaction, and it’s largely just a syntax issue. Return to work may flow off the tongue, yet it implies that employees have been… not working

The reality of the pandemic year is that many employees have been working even harder than usual, while also balancing the seemingly impossible conditions and new responsibilities. It feels wrong – and condescending, honestly – to imply that these employees are returning to work, as if they’ve been on vacation this whole time. Words matter; as your company defines its workplace model, be sure to choose yours carefully. Before rolling out your communications plan company, ask your DEI leader, ERG, or even simply a diverse group of employees to provide thoughts and feedback. 

2. Get up to speed on Equitable Organizational Design

A strategic approach I endorse is one I first learned about from Operator Collective LP and Culture Amp Director of Equitable Design and Impact Aubrey Blanche: Equitable Organizational Design. While leaders focus on building a diverse and inclusive culture, this model encourages them to evolve their design practices towards equity and belonging. As Aubrey puts it, “Moving from inclusion to belonging is critical because it’s moving from ‘We created a space, and it’s fine if you show up,’ to ‘We created a space for you,’ or ‘We created a space with you.’”

Incorporating practices from equitable organizational design impacts not only the employee experience, but also the company’s bottom line. Companies mandating a return to the office are now watching employees quit, rather than give up their work-from-home lifestyles. As Lars Schmidt recently tweeted in response: “You thought recruiting was hard? Retention will be the biggest challenge companies face for the next several years.” Indeed, it is a whole new frontier.

Regardless of where your company lands on Equitable Organizational Design, incorporating some of the approaches SAP, Microsoft, and others took to research their strategies before rolling them out may help you avoid getting caught on your retention strategy heels.  

3. Leverage open-source resources to build your strategy

There’s no baseline practice for navigating the post-pandemic transition. When I co-founded HR Open Source in 2014, our aim was to create a free, peer-based community where HR leaders could open their playbooks, particularly where best practices hadn’t been defined. Today more than 11,000 practitioners across 70 countries share learnings, ask advice, and publish their work to advance everyone. This online community is now one of many that share free resources for everyone to tap into. Here are some places to start with regard to your post-pandemic transition:

4. Share your plan

You probably saw this tip coming from me, and I’m happy to say that this is already happening at a higher frequency than ever before. In the months ahead, I hope companies and leaders will continue to share not just what they are doing, but how they’re doing it on open source forums and communities.

By working out loud and sharing our learnings (and mistakes!), we can all move forward faster and better than before. It’ll also help us to define more progressive practices for the proverbial future of work that’s already at our doorstep.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Operator Spotlight: Chief People & Diversity Officer Tracy Williams

Looking for practical help and advice on an operational area that may be outside your realm? Each month we spotlight one of our talented operators, who’ll share their expertise and offer insights and ideas that may help improve your own operations. This month we spoke to Tracy Williams, New Relic’s widely experienced HR and People leader.  

You recently became New Relic’s Chief Diversity Officer, in addition to maintaining your previous role as VP of Global Business Partners. What are some ways that you integrate these two People functions? 

TRACY: I really wanted to keep the HR Business Partner (HRBP) team after I took on the Chief Diversity Officer role. I knew that the HRBPs would be the perfect partners for the aggressive goals we were setting — not just for the year, but for into the future. Our HRBPs have strong relationships with the leaders they support, plus a high level of influence and trust across the org. They also have the pulse of the organization and continue to provide influential feedback on our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) strategy. The HRBPs make sure we keep the focus on the business, and we also knew they’d be champions out in the organization, talking about our company culture and working to build a foundation of DE&I across New Relic.

It was just announced that you’re going to be the new Chief People Officer at New Relic, too. How will this change your focus on DE&I?

Our DE&I initiatives continue to be a top priority for New Relic, so it’s important to note that my new job title is actually Chief People and Diversity Officer. This gives me the opportunity to have more influence in driving our DE&I initiatives at the executive level. It will also ensure that DE&I continues to be a focus that’s embedded right into the work our amazing People team does, from talent acquisition and org design to rewards, operations, and social impact. There’s been a strong commitment across the people team already, and I’m excited about all the things our People team will deliver this year, not just in DE&I.

What does the People Business Partner function specialize in? How do you measure the success of the team? 

TRACY: The People Business Partner is a business professional who happens to have a concentration in HR. They have a deep understanding of the businesses they support and collaborate with leaders to ensure that their organizations deliver value to customers by defining and delivering competitive strategies. They help shape the business strategy, conduct organizational diagnoses to determine which capabilities are most critical, design and deliver HR programs to accomplish said strategy, and coach business leaders to behave in alignment with strategy. They’re also key partners back to the rest of the People team, ensuring that our People programs fill the needs of the business and are executed out in the field. We use a few metrics to measure success: feedback from the leaders they support and our People team COEs on partnership and effectiveness, and the HRBPs ability to meet expectations on the many projects that they support.

In your opinion, what key metrics should companies track to gauge DEI? Does it differ for early stage versus later stage? 

TRACY: This all depends on where a company is in its lifecycle; what matters most is your commitment to tracking data. It’s hard to measure some attributes when you’ve only been in business for a short time or are still really small. The metrics we use are employee engagement, and hiring, promotion, and retention rates by demographic. We’ve also recently committed to participating in two indexes run by independent 3rd parties for gender (GenderIDEAL) and race (Race Equality). The goal of these indexes is to measure ourselves against a specific set of key metrics for our industry so we can continue to hold ourselves accountable. 

What’s one thing any company can do to foster a sense of belonging at work? 

TRACY: The one thing every company can do is make sure people feel like they’re being heard. People will tell you what they need, so collect the data, find themes, and act on the feedback when and where appropriate. You can use engagement surveys, listening sessions, or whatever other methods you use in your organization to communicate. An open ear and flexibility are essential.  

What advice can you share for early stage companies just getting started on their diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies? Where should they start?

TRACY: DE&I should be an important part of your thinking from the beginning. As a business, it’s important to think about DE&I from both a product AND talent perspective. Many companies have suffered unrealized revenue because, for example, they didn’t understand that their customer, a woman, would be greatly offended by the mansplaining in their advertising. Another example is the company that didn’t ensure their product wasn’t unintentionally biased against a certain demographic (think automatic soap dispensers and their inability to detect darker skin). On the talent side, you should have a representation of diverse perspectives and experiences if you really want to accelerate your growth. Look at the foundational systems you’re building and your internal processes. How are you recruiting talent? How are you developing your talent? You should ensure that as you build HR programs, you’re mitigating bias at every step, including hiring, development opportunities, and the performance evaluation and promotion process. Solicit feedback frequently, and set goals for engagement and accountability.

AOC often talks about the skills she picked up as a bartender, and others talk about what they learned working retail. What were some of those formative jobs for you?

TRACY: A few jobs and experiences really helped form my views as an HR professional. Law school taught me that details matter. Customer service jobs (shout out to Taco Bell!) taught me to always put customers first. As an Employee Relations Manager at Esprit, I learned the importance of compassion and to always treat people with dignity, no matter the circumstances. As an HRBP/HRD at CJ Affiliate and Michaels, I learned I had to be a business executive first; that helped me connect with others and accelerate my impact. 

What’s your secret super power?  

TRACY: I’m not sure they’re secret, but I definitely have some super powers. I’m calm in chaos; when things get crazy, I have the ability to find the real problem to help get it solved. I also care deeply about people, so I build trusted and meaningful relationships with others. Finally, I have the ability to accept and act on feedback. Good feedback sometimes comes from unexpected places, and I recognize that I don’t know everything and am not always right. 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or on Twitter and LinkedIn.


A tech company’s new Most Valuable Position

There’s no denying 2020 brought an onslaught of business challenges. Among the eye-popping statistics is the International Labour Organization’s study showing 114 million jobs were lost worldwide in 2020Yet despite those numbers, the enterprise software landscape has never been stronger. When COVID took hold, companies who’d yet to embrace the cloud sank, while online companies discovered a competitive advantage. The world realized the need for the kind of flexible, work-from-anywhere infrastructure technology affords, which led to a jump in software for collaboration, automation, customer relationship management, and more. 

Now that economies are reopening, businesses won’t return to their pre-pandemic ways. Instead they’ll continue to rely on and invest in the technology platforms that ensure continuity. The software industry, much of which saw a boom during the pandemic, will likely continue to reap the benefits. People leaders, overwhelmed on so many fronts right now, have seen this coming for a while.

Technology is on the rise, but we’re still powered by people 

There’s been speculation over the years that the increased adoption of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will shrink the role of humans — but we’ve yet to see this theory pan out. Instead, we’ve seen the rise of more companies created to innovate on this trend. So while technology like AI has certainly eliminated some jobs, it’s also responsible for creating many others. 

At Operator Collective we’ve seen this growth firsthand. Our portfolio companies are all actively looking for both operators and individual contributors. We’ve heard from recruiters who were on the verge of closing a candidate, but lost out when another company swooped in with an outrageous offer at the 11th hour. And it feels like LinkedIn profile visits have tripled.

This huge demand underscores the need for one placement in particular: the Chief People Officer, or CPO. 

So how do you hire a Chief People Officer?

Tech companies are desperate to hire a CPO to help place qualified contributors, but people leaders are in such high demand that companies everywhere are struggling to find solid candidates. In something akin to a snowball effect, that one deficit leaves companies backed up in hiring across the board. We’re finally seeing earlier and larger investments in the People function, but even recruiting agencies are challenged to find experienced leaders. 

This is a shared and growing challenge — and while there’s not a simple or short-term solution, here are a few steps companies can take when kicking off a search.

Steps to help you find the right Chief People Officer or HR leader

  1. Evaluate your initial talent attraction strategy. What employer value prop or other company differentiators can you market to appeal to a CPO? Apply the same practices you would for a customer acquisition strategy. Going beyond writing a regular job description will help you stand out.
  2. Be prepared to demonstrate how you “walk the talk.” One of the ways HR leaders evaluate job opportunities is by pressure testing your commitment to things like company culture, values, and other declared people priorities. Include examples of how you operationalize and resource these areas.
  3. Build trust and credibility in your candidate experience. I often hear HR leaders losing interest in a job opportunity based on a poorly organized interview process or a CEO who doesn’t communicate with them thoughtfully. Spend time mapping this out and communicating it to candidates along the way.
  4. Get creative in your candidate profiling. With a shortage in senior talent, ask yourself if there is an opportunity for an emerging CPO to be successful in this role. If so, seek out communities like Redefining HR and the People Leader Accelerator.
We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Taking employee benefits to a whole new Level

The company: Level

Level is helping companies and their employees get the most out of their dental and vision benefit dollars by rebuilding insurance from the ground up. Simple plans, flexible networks, and instant claims mean companies can provide bigger employee benefits for less. Employees get more freedom, choice, and clarity in billing. And healthcare providers see claims processed in hours, rather than months. Level is changing the benefits game, and it’s giving everyone plenty to smile about in the process.  

Why you should pay attention 

Employee benefits are vital to attracting and retaining top talent and the traditional insurance model most companies use to deliver benefits is slow, confusing, and always ends up costing both companies and their employees more than expected. Level is disrupting legacy models with a modern approach for people-first companies. Now, getting the most out of vision and dental benefits, understanding what they cost, and paying for them is simple, clear, and fast for Level members. No more paperwork and bills in the mail. It’s a new model, and it’s all in the Level app.  

The details 

Founder and CEO Paul Aaron was one of the first employees at Square and holds numerous patents in the payments space. Level is making paying for vision and dental benefits as easy as any other purchase. Companies like Intercom, Udemy, and Docker are seeing savings as they give their employees lots more benefit flexibility and choice through their Level membership. First Round Capital saved 47% while bringing bigger benefits to their team. Thistle saved 41%

How it works

The Level app puts employees in control. Level members manage their own benefits with transparent costs and a continuously updated individualized benefits balance. Level members can find and visit any provider, and can easily compare in- and out-of-network prices before deciding where to receive care. The app sorts out all the paperwork before the member arrives for the first appointment, and lets members pay on the spot for any out-of-pocket copays during check out. 

Why we’re obsessed 

We’ve witnessed the modernization of virtually every aspect of the workplace in recent years. Yet benefits and insurance, which are among the top incentives companies have to land and keep the best employees, has yet to transform — until now. Level is revolutionizing the employee benefits experience. It’s driving simplicity, efficiency, and value into the system for employers, employees, and healthcare providers. This space is ripe for disruption, and Level is the company out front driving it.  

Get involved

Partner with Level to offer modern dental and vision employee benefits at your company. Get a demo to learn more. You might also want to check out their open positions here.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Operator-investors: What they are + why they’re important


If you spend any time with startups, it’s not hard to notice the venture world revolves around founders and VCs – the people who start the companies and the people who fund their growth. But until recently there’s been a critical piece missing: Operators. Operator-investors have become a hot topic in venture capital lately, so let’s take a step back and talk about what they are and why they’re important.

What are operators? 

In the startup and tech world, operators are the senior leaders who build and scale companies as they grow. They’re not usually in the limelight; most often they’re the ones working quietly in the background, studying tactics, analyzing data, and figuring out what works. Operators are vital for the success of any startup because they’re the ones building the right infrastructure for scale and long-term growth. 

Why are operators important in venture capital?

Experienced operators – the ones who’ve gone through the product development, growth cycles, funding stages, hiring, and more – have exactly the knowledge new businesses need to grow and thrive. Yet operators haven’t typically been involved in the venture process; the industry just wasn’t designed for people who give 150% to their day jobs and use any time leftover for their families and friends. 

We wanted to bring operators into venture capital, so we created the Collective Venture Model, which brings together founders, operators, and VCs to find, invest in, and support the next generation of tech. The Collective Venture Model was designed to jive with the busy lives of today’s most respected tech operators, many of whom are women. These operator-investors bring not only their tremendous experience, but also empathy, critical thinking, and deep networks.

How the Collective Venture Model works 

Our operator-investors actively engage at every step.  

  • We collectively source. Our operator-investor LPs are our #1 source for inbound leads.
  • We collectively diligence. We engage our 130 operator-investor LPs for feedback.
  • We collectively partner. Our connections result in customer intros, exec/board referrals, and angel co-investments.

Beyond that, they share their expertise with our portfolio companies and offer advice through sessions on topics like building a world-class customer success org, establishing an ecosystem, and incorporating diversity in your executive team.

Our operator experience is unmatched

We’re proud to have a community of operator-investors as LPs to help our portfolio companies as they scale and grow: 130 ultra-talented leaders who bring decades of experience building and growing the world’s most admired companies. In fact, they bring more than 1800 years of collective operator experience. More than 65 of our LPs have built unicorns, at least 38 have taken their companies public, and at least 77 have founded a company. The amount of revenue they own and people they lead is staggering.

Operator Collective channels this experience to bring new perspectives and a welcome level of diversity to any cap table. Please connect with us here to learn more, join our community, or submit a funding proposal.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.


How we close the patent gap and diversify innovation

You’ve probably heard of the wealth gap, but do you know about the patent gap? It’s the term used to describe the discrepancies in the makeup of inventors and patent holders. Just like other gaps, the patent gap is detrimental to our system. We need to increase the diversity and inclusivity of our innovation ecosystem and help more women, minority and low-income entrepreneurs patent and commercialize their inventions.

I was recently invited by Senator Patrick Leahy, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to testify and offer suggestions at its hearing on Improving Access and Inclusivity in the Patent System. A slightly edited version of my remarks is below.  

My background in patents

I’ve spent my career furthering innovation – starting with patents and now with startups. I’m an unusual combination of IP attorney, operator, founder, and investor.

For many years, I was the VP of Worldwide Intellectual Property at Cisco. When I was promoted to that position in 2005 there were so few women Chief Patent Counsels that it was front-page news. That led all seven of us to start a nonprofit called ChIPs, which is now the world’s largest organization for women in patent law with almost 4,000 members in 17 chapters worldwide. My ChIPs co-founder, Michelle Lee, was the first and still only woman, and the first and still only person of color, to serve as a Senate-confirmed Director of the PTO in its 219 year history. I then built up a startup called RPX that helps companies reduce and insure against patent risk. I’m also a member of the National Council for Expanding American Innovation.

Bringing diversity to venture capital

A few years ago, I actually invented something – the Collective Venture Model, which serves as the basis of my current startup, a venture fund called Operator Collective

If you spend any time with startups, it’s not hard to notice the venture world revolves around venture capitalists and founders. Both homogeneous groups that are about 90% male, predominantly white, and 40% of whom went to Harvard or StanfordBut having been a founder, investor, and operator, I saw a huge missing piece: operators. Operators are those who are often not the founders, but the ones brought in to build and scale companies as they grow. They are not typically in the limelight, but the ones quietly working in the background. 

So here are these wildly experienced operators who have exactly the right skill sets to help businesses grow and thrive, but they’re typically left out. Most people aren’t trying to exclude these operators, it’s just that the system was not built for people who give 150% to their day jobs and use any time leftover for their families. 

I knew operators were the critical missing piece. And since the traditional model didn’t work for them, I created a new model that would, rebuilding it from the ground up to optimize for bringing in busy women operators. To do so, we added three things: education, accessibility, and representation. 

  • We knew women operators didn’t have ready access to the right information, so we created short, enjoyable programs.
  • We knew a big hurdle was the cost of entry, so we created a sliding scale for financial participation. Another obstacle was time, so we made it flexible by crowdsourcing deals and diligence, and creating redundancies.
  • We knew women are often criticized for self promoting, so we built a supportive community that does it for them.  

In short, instead of making women conform to a rigid traditional construct, we changed the system to make it easier and more user friendly for women. Today, our $51M fund has over 130 operator investors who are 90% women and 40% people of color, over 70% of whom had never invested in venture before.

How this relates to patents and innovation

There are several parallels to the patent world. Data shows that “children born to parents in the top 1% of income are 10x more likely to become inventors than those born to families with below-median income,” and that whites are 3x more likely to become inventors as blacks. Women’s rate of patenting has increased from 2.7% to 10.8% in 40 years. (Assuming a consistent rate of increase, it would take 194 years to increase that to 50%.)

Securing a patent is complex, daunting, expensive. You have to learn a system that uses terms outside of everyday language. You need to dedicate time on top of your day job and family obligations. And you have to have the financial means to hire an attorney or agent. 

The system wasn’t built for today’s would-be inventors who have countless other projects and obligations. If we want to capture the innovations that reflectrst-time inventors having to recreate the wheel just to know where to begin, we have to make it easier to understand. We also need outreach to underrepresented communities early and consistently.

  • Second, we must make it more accessible in terms of access to resources. The America Invents Act added four satellite offices. A good start, but more would be better. Another idea is to revisit the USPTO’s patent pro bono program, potentially to have it apply to underrepresented groups with a traditionally low rate of patenting.
  • Third, representation. Highlighting inventors from diverse backgrounds helps create a new normal. It’s always easier to do something when you s the contributions of all of America, we need to evolve the system. That includes the same three things: Education, access, and representation. 
    • First, education. Instead of fi

    ee someone like you doing it already. This includes having a USPTO Director from an underrepresented background.

We cannot measure progress if we do not track our results

Finally, there is one fundamental piece that underlies this all, and it’s something the tech industry has been doing for years: data. The PTO is not permitted to track even the most basic demographic information, such as age or gender. Senator Hirono’s IDEA Act goes a long way toward ensuring this fundamental piece. 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.