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July 23 2011


I Don’t Want To Be A Diversity Candidate

Editor’s note: Guest author Bindu Reddy is the CEO of MyLikes, a word-of-mouth ad network funded by former Googlers

When we were raising our angel round, I had a phone conversation with a prominent Silicon Valley investor who did not have time to meet me face-to-face but was interested in investing in MyLikes because I was a female entrepreneur—aka the “diversity candidate.”

While it is difficult to say no to money, especially when someone is giving it to you without even listening to what it is that you are doing, I felt insulted and unhappy.  I felt that I was competent enough to raise money and build a successful business regardless of my gender, not because of it.

In all fairness, this angel and many other supporters of women in technology have good intentions. However, they don’t realize that by calling out someone’s gender they make the system less meritocratic.

Coming from India, I have a personal perspective on the unintended consequences of such policies. My alma mater (the Indian Institute of Technology) is a highly meritocratic institution—admission is based on a completely objective criteria: stack ranking in a single entrance examination taken by students all across the country.

However, there is one exception: a certain number of seats are reserved for students from castes who have been historically discriminated against. It helps in some cases by providing opportunities to people who could really use them, but in most instances it simply does not work. It undermines the really good people who would have been admitted without the quota and causes a lot of insecurity and stress amongst people who don’t have the ability to cope in a highly competitive environment.  There is also a lot of anger and resentment from others who just missed getting admission as well.

Stepping back, at a more fundamental level, I am not really sure we should worry about the lack of women in tech any more than worrying about why there are not more female truck drivers or more male nurses.

Women and men are different.  Even in an ideal world, where women and men have the freedom to choose what they want to do, without any prejudices or social bias, we will continue to have male and female dominated professions.

Fundamentally, people will gravitate towards professions and careers that they are good at or have an innate advantage at.

That said, we are still far from that perfect world. Women tend to get paid less than men even if they perform equally well and there is no denying that there are still many biases against women even in professions that they are likely to be better at. While I do think we should do what we can to foster gender equality, I don’t believe preferential treatment or having diversity quotas is the answer.

Quotas always tend to be bad for everyone concerned in the long run—the female candidate who got the job because she was a woman, the hiring manager who may have compromised with a B player and the rest of the team who will always harbor the thought—“she is where she is, because she is a woman.” Worst of all it does a real disservice to the women who are simply better at their jobs.

February 28 2011


Khosla Ventures Leads $5.6 Million Funding For MyLikes; Buchheit Joins Board

Khosla Ventures likes social advertising startup MyLikes. The VC firm is leading the startup’s $5.6 million Series A financing. Lightspeed Partners and Metamorphic Ventures, who participated in the $600,000 seed round, ponied up again.

Additionally, seed investor Paul Buchheit is joining MyLike’s board of directors. Buchheit, the creator of Gmail and founder of FriendFeed, recently left Facebook to become a partner at Y Combinator (although MyLikes is one of his private investments).

MyLikes tries to match social influencers with advertisers. Anyone can sign up to endorse products and brands to their social networks via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or blogs. MyLikes calculates your social influence based on how many followers you have, how often they click on your endorsements, and other factors. The more social influence you have, the more money you can make.

Today, the company is also launching a mobile app on both iPhone and Android, which allows users to endorse products by uploading and sharing photos or by checking into a business location.

February 13 2011


Why Engineers Are Better Off Joining Startups

Editor’s note: Guest author Bindu Reddy is the CEO of MyLikes, a word-of-mouth ad network funded by former Googlers. Previously at Google she managed a team of product managers in charge of various Google apps including Google Docs, Google Sites, and Blogger. Her last guest post was on Facebook overtaking Google.

It is truly a great time to be an engineer building new things. Gadgets from sci-fi movies of 10 years ago are creeping up on us in the real world and mobile devices and social networking have made the internet go truly mainstream. We are on the cusp of seeing even more world changing ideas becoming a reality when everyone is walking around with powerful computers connected with over 20MBps of bandwidth to millions of people.

To top it all off, there is another technology boom happening right now. Anyone who has lived in Silicon Valley through a few business cycles can feel it just by watching the traffic on 101, or reading aboutbubbles” in the tech press.

In the previous tech booms, a steady stream of top-notch technical graduates from other countries helped fill the recruiting needs of startups flush with VC money. But that is no longer the case. When I talk to recent top graduates from the IITs, my own alma-mater, I can clearly see the trend—very few of the rest of the world’s best recent graduates are planning to build their careers in the US over the next decade. In addition, we have multiple successful large companies, most notably Google and Facebook, which have hired huge numbers of engineers and plan to grow their hiring rates even more.

All this has caused a severe shortage of good engineering talent. Which is why, the time has never been better to work at a startup.

The downside risk is relatively low. With lots of venture capital funding, salaries and benefits at startups are competitive to those at large companies. And the potential upside possibilities are big, as the IPO and exit markets heat up. Worst case scenarios are also getting better as the big internet companies are doing lots of talent acquisitions and acqhires of failed startups.

More importantly, the one thing that every passionate engineer cares about—the ability to build and ship products—is harder at large companies. Engineers become hobbled by large code bases, bureaucratic processes, countless meetings, common infrastructure, and endless email threads, among other obstacles. Amazon web services and other cloud-computing technologies have enabled small teams of engineers to build large scalable products and scale to millions of users without a lot of upfront capital. The competitive advantage has swung over the last couple of years to smaller, more nimble companies.

Until recently, engineers developed their careers by becoming proficient at the latest and greatest platforms, languages and techniques either through experience or by having the ability to quickly get up to speed.

Today, most interesting technology is built directly for end users and it is a crucial skill for an engineer to understand quick iteration based on user feedback, however complex the technology. Increased technology and distribution leverage means that in the future, smaller teams are going to build higher impact things and being able to build an end to end solution as part of a small team is going to be a necessary skill. A startup is an ideal environment to develop your career for the future as far as both these aspects go.

People usually consider making big decisions in terms of what they stand to lose or gain. But often times, the cost to consider is that of an opportunity not taken and a decision not made.

So here’s my admittedly self-serving advice to all engineers working at large companies: Yes, it is a comfortable job. You probably don’t have to work very hard. There are lots of people to keep you company. But think about the cost of staying.

The time is now . . . to join a startup.

Photo by Anirudh Koul.

April 27 2010


MyLikes Brings Pay-Per-Video Advertising To YouTube

It was inevitable. First we had pay-per-post, then pay-per-tweet, and now we have pay-per-video. As personalities on YouTube start attracting larger, and more loyal audiences, they are increasingly seen by marketers as an effective advertising channel. MyLikes, a social marketing network that already matches influential bloggers and Twitterers with advertisers, is now moving to YouTube. For instance, blogger Chris Pirillo, who has 120,000 subscribers to his Lockergnome YouTube channel, produced a sponsored video for the iPhone app Siri which shows him doing a demo of the virtual personal assistant.

Sponsored YouTube videos are nothing new. Brands have been having success with hand-crafted campaigns (in fact, earlier today I wrote about sponsored video ads backed by GE and Howcast which collectively have been viewed more than 8 million times). But MyLikes takes a more automated approach. After all, it was founded by ex-Googlers including the former top engineer on AdSense.

Youtubers need to apply to get into the program. It helps if you have more than 10,000 subscribers to your YouTube channel. Each YouTube video creator creates a profile on MyLikes, which i slinked to the categories associated with his or her channel. They set their price per video and get an influence score based on factors such as how many subscribers they have, and the average number of views and comments per video. Then advertisers are matched to video creators, who then choose if they want to endorse the advertiser’s product in their own words. The videos are supposed to be identified as sponsored messages.

As more and more people spend time in social media, marketers will gravitate there. Already we are seeing new business models such as OpenSky which tries to turn bloggers into direct marketers. YouTube is next.

MyLikes just recently raised a seed round from other former Google employees. And it is announcing that it just hired another former Googler, David Scacco, to become chief revenue officer. Scacco was the first ad sales executive at Google.

April 13 2010


MyLikes Raises $630,000 Seed Round, All From Ex-Googlers

Social marketing is just starting to bubble up and everybody wants in. But only ex-Googlers needed to apply to invest in MyLikes, a social marketing ad network which just raised a $630,000 seed round. The company, which was founded by two ex-Googlers—former Google Apps product lead Bindu Reddy and former AdSesne tech lead Arvind Sundararajan—took money only from 11 other ex-Googlers.

CEO Reddy says she wanted to take money from people she knew and trusts, and those happened to be all Ex-Googlers. Individual investors included FriendFeed co-founders Paul Buchheit and Sanjeev Singh, angel investor Georges Harik, Digg VP Keval Desai, David Hirsch of Metamorphic Ventures, LinkedIn product VP Dipchand Nishar, Aydin Senkut, and Greg Lee. Robert Scoble and Louis Gray will be joining as advisors.

MyLikes matches advertisers with influencers who publish sponsored messages on Twitter or their blogs. It is a pay-per-post model, with each Tweet or post clearly labeled as an ad. Since launching in January, MyLikes has signed up 20,000 “influencers” who collectively spread 15 million ad impressions a day, or about half a billion per month. MyLikes measures clicks per followers, and is currently getting about 4 clicks per thousand followers on average, which comes out to about 20 cents per click. The average cost-per-click on AdSense in the U.S. is at least 2 to 3 times more expense, says Bindu.

Just like with AdSense, the effectiveness of the ads is measured and affects their price. Each d publisher gets an influencer’s score and the higher their clickthrough rate for a particular ad, the more money they make per click. MyLikes, of course, will now have to compete with Twitter’s own promoted Tweets which it is about to launch, as well as competing social advertising networks such as Idealab’s Tweetup. The difference is that MyLikes distributes ads through popular users, whereas the others insert ads directly from advertisers. Regardless of how they will appear, get ready to see a lot more ads on Twitter.

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