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4 ways martech will shift in 2021

Tim Parkin
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Tim Parkin, president of Parkin Consulting, is a consultant, advisor, and coach to marketing executives globally. He specializes in helping marketing teams optimize performance, accelerate growth, and maximize their results.

The tidal wave of growth is upon us — an unprecedented economic boom that will manifest later this year, bringing significant investments, acquisitions and customer growth. But most tech companies and startups are not adequately prepared to capitalize on the opportunity that lies ahead.

Here’s how marketing in tech will shift — and what you need to know to reach more customers and accelerate growth in 2021.

First and foremost, differentiation is going to be imperative. It’s already hard enough to stand out and get noticed, and it’s about to get much more difficult as new companies emerge and investments and budgets balloon in the latter half of the year. Virtually all major companies are increasing budgets to pre-pandemic levels, but will delay those investments until the second half of the year. This will result in an increased intensity of competition that will drown out any undifferentiated players.

The second half of 2021 will bring incredible growth, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time.

Additionally, tech companies need to be mindful not to ignore the most important part of the ecosystem: people. Technology will only take you so far, and it’s not going to be enough to survive the competition. Marketing is about people, including your customers, team, partners, investors and the broader community.

Understanding who your people are and how you can use their help to build a strong foundation and drive exponential growth is essential.

Tactically, the most successful tech companies will embrace video and experimentation in their marketing — two components that will catapult them ahead of the competition.

Ignoring these predictions, backed by empirical evidence, will be detrimental and devastating. Fasten your seatbelts: 2021 is going to be a turbocharged year of growth opportunities for marketing in tech.

Differentiation is crucial

The explosion of tech companies and startups seeking to be the next big thing isn’t over yet. However, many of them are indistinguishable from each other and lack a compelling value proposition. Just one look at the websites of new and existing tech companies will reveal a proliferation of buzzwords and conceptual illustrations, leaving them all looking and sounding alike.

The tech companies that succeed are those that embrace one of the fundamentals of effective marketing — positioning.

In the ’80s, Al Ries and Jack Trout published “Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind” and coined the term, which documented the best-known approach to standing out in a noisy marketplace. As the market heats up, companies will realize the need to sharpen their positioning and dial in their focus to break through the noise.

To get attention and build traction, companies need to establish a position they can own. The mashup method — “Netflix but for coding lessons” — is not real positioning; it’s simply a lazy gimmick.

It is imperative to identify who your ideal customer is and not just who could use your product. Focusing on a segment of the market rather than the whole is, perhaps counterintuitively, the most effective approach to capturing the larger market.

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From pickup basketball to market domination: My wild ride with Coupang

Ben Sun
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Ben Sun is co-founder and general partner at Primary Venture Partners, a seed-stage VC firm based in NYC.

A month ago, Coupang arrived on Wall Street with a bang. The South Korean e-commerce giant — buoyed by $12 billion in 2020 revenue — raised $4.55 billion in its IPO and hit a valuation as high as $109 billion. It is the biggest U.S. IPO of the year so far, and the largest from an Asian company since Alibaba’s.

But long before founder Bom Kim rang the bell, I knew him as a fellow founder on the hunt for a good idea. We stayed in touch as he formed his vision for what would become Coupang, and I built it alongside him as an investor and board member.

As a board member, I’ve observed a brief quiet period following the IPO. But now I want to share how exactly our paths intersected, largely because Bom exemplifies what founders should aspire to and should seek: big risks, dogged determination and obsessive responsiveness to the market.

Bom fearlessly turned down an acquisition offer from then-market-leader Groupon, ferociously learned what he didn’t know, made a daring pivot even after becoming a billion-dollar company, and iteratively built a vision for end-to-end market dominance.

Why I like talking to founders early

In 2008, I met Bom while playing a weekend game of pickup basketball at Stuyvesant High School. We realized we had a mutual acquaintance through my recently sold startup, Community Connect Inc. He told me about the magazine he had sold and his search for a next move. So we agreed to meet up for lunch and go over some of his ideas.

To be honest, I don’t remember any of those early ideas, probably because they weren’t very good. But I really liked Bom. Even as I was crapping on his ideas, I could tell he was sharp from how he processed my feedback. It was obvious he was super smart and definitely worth keeping in touch with, which we continued to do even after he relocated to go to HBS.

I soon began investing in and incubating businesses, starting mostly with my own capital. When I got a call from an executive recruiter working for a company in Chicago called Groupon — who told me they were at a $50 million run rate in only a few months — I became fascinated with their model and started talking to some of the investors, former employees and merchants.

Inspired, and as a new parent, I decided to launch a similar daily-deal business for families: Instead of skydiving and go-kart racing, we offered deals on kids’ music classes and birthday party venues. While I was working on this idea, John Ason, an angel investor in Diapers.com, said I should meet with the founder and CEO Marc Lore. By the end of the meeting, Marc and I etched a partnership to launch DoodleDeals.com co-branded with Diapers.com. The first deal did over $70,000 — great start.

I’ve observed a brief quiet period following the IPO. But now I want to share how exactly our paths intersected, largely because Bom exemplifies what founders should aspire to and should seek: big risks, dogged determination, and obsessive responsiveness to the market.

All that time, I kept in touch with Bom. In February 2010, we were catching up over lunch at the Union Square Ippudo, and he asked if I had heard of Buywithme, a Boston-based Groupon clone. He hadn’t yet heard about Groupon, so I explained the business model and shared the numbers. He thought something similar might transfer well to South Korea, where he was born and where his parents still lived.

This kind of conversation is exactly why I love working with founders early, even before the idea forms: You learn a lot about them as they explore, wrestle with uncertainty and eventually build conviction on a business they plan to spend the next decade-plus building. Ultimately, success comes down to founders’ belief in themselves; when you develop the same belief in them as an investor, it is pretty magical. I was starting to really believe in Bom.

The idea gets real — and moves fast

I'm not Korean — I am ethnically Chinese — so Bom put together slides on the Korean market and why it was perfect for the daily-deal model. In short: a very dense population that’s incredibly online.

I’m not Korean — I am ethnically Chinese — so Bom put together slides on the Korean market and why it was perfect for the daily-deal model. In short: a very dense population that’s incredibly online. Image Credits: Ben Sun

I told Bom he should drop out of business school and do this. He said, “You don’t think I can wait until I graduate?” I responded, “No way! It will be over by then!”

First-mover advantage is real in a business like this, and it didn’t take Bom long to see that. He raised a small $1.3 million seed round. I invested, joined the board. Because of my knowledge of the deals market and my entrepreneurial experience, Bom asked me to get hands-on in Korea — not at all typical for an investor or even a board member, but I think of myself as a builder and not just a backer, and this is how I wanted to operate as an investor.

Once he realized time was of the essence, Bom was heads down. For context, he was engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Nancy, who also went to Harvard undergrad and was a successful lawyer. Imagine telling your fiancée, “Honey, I am dropping out of business school, moving to Korea to start a company. I will be back for the wedding. Not sure if I will ever be coming back to the U.S.”

I emailed Bom, saying: “Bom — honestly as a friend. Enjoy your wedding. It is a real blessing that your fiancée is being so supportive of you doing this. Launching a site a few weeks before the wedding is going to be way too distracting and she won’t feel like your heart is in it. Launching a few weeks later is not going to make or break this business. Trust me.”

Bom didn’t listen. He launched Coupang in August 2010, two weeks before the wedding. He flew back to Boston, got married and — running on basically no sleep — sneaked out for a 20-minute nap in the middle of his reception. Right after the wedding, he flew back to Seoul. Nancy has to be one of the most supportive and understanding partners I have ever seen. They are still married and now have two kids.

Jumping on new distribution, turning down an acquisition offer

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Billion-dollar B2B: cloud-first enterprise tech behemoths have massive potential

Dharmesh Thakker
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Dharmesh Thakker is a general partner at Battery Ventures and a former managing director at Intel Capital.

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Tracking the explosive growth of open-source software
How viral open-source startups can build themselves into enterprise-IT powerhouses

More than half a decade ago, my Battery Ventures partner Neeraj Agrawal penned a widely read post offering advice for enterprise-software companies hoping to reach $100 million in annual recurring revenue.

His playbook, dubbed “T2D3” — for “triple, triple, double, double, double,” referring to the stages at which a software company’s revenue should multiply — helped many high-growth startups index their growth. It also highlighted the broader explosion in industry value creation stemming from the transition of on-premise software to the cloud.

Fast forward to today, and many of T2D3’s insights are still relevant. But now it’s time to update T2D3 to account for some of the tectonic changes shaping a broader universe of B2B tech — and pushing companies to grow at rates we’ve never seen before.

One of the biggest factors driving billion-dollar B2Bs is a simple but important shift in how organizations buy enterprise technology today.

I call this new paradigm “billion-dollar B2B.” It refers to the forces shaping a new class of cloud-first, enterprise-tech behemoths with the potential to reach $1 billion in ARR — and achieve market capitalizations in excess of $50 billion or even $100 billion.

In the past several years, we’ve seen a pioneering group of B2B standouts — Twilio, Shopify, Atlassian, Okta, Coupa*, MongoDB and Zscaler, for example — approach or exceed the $1 billion revenue mark and see their market capitalizations surge 10 times or more from their IPOs to the present day (as of March 31), according to CapIQ data.

More recently, iconic companies like data giant Snowflake and video-conferencing mainstay Zoom came out of the IPO gate at even higher valuations. Zoom, with 2020 revenue of just under $883 million, is now worth close to $100 billion, per CapIQ data.

Graphic showing market cap at IPO and market cap today of various companies.

Image Credits: Battery Ventures via FactSet. Note that market data is current as of April 3, 2021.

In the wings are other B2B super-unicorns like Databricks* and UiPath, which have each raised private financing rounds at valuations of more than $20 billion, per public reports, which is unprecedented in the software industry.

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Building customer-first relationships in a privacy-first world is critical

Travis Clinger
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Travis Clinger is SVP, head of addressability and ecosystem at LiveRamp, a data connectivity platform safely moving data through the pipes connecting most every brand, tech platform, publisher and advertiser on the open internet.

Jeff Nienaber
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Jeff Nienaber is senior director, global audience ads at Microsoft Advertising, which provides intelligent solutions that empower advertisers to deliver engaging, personalized experiences to over half a billion people worldwide.

In business today, many believe that consumer privacy and business results are mutually exclusive — to excel in one area is to lack in the other. Consumer privacy is seen by many in the technology industry as an area to be managed.

But the truth is, the companies who champion privacy will be better positioned to win in all areas. This is especially true as the digital industry continues to undergo tectonic shifts in privacy — both in government regulation and browser updates.

By the end of 2022, all major browsers will have phased out third-party cookies — the tracking codes placed on a visitor’s computer generated by another website other than your own. Additionally, mobile device makers are limiting identifiers allowed on their devices and applications. Across industry verticals, the global enterprise ecosystem now faces a critical moment in which digital advertising will be forever changed.

Up until now, consumers have enjoyed a mostly free internet experience, but as publishers adjust to a cookieless world, they could see more paywalls and less free content.

They may also see a decrease in the creation of new free apps, mobile gaming and other ad-supported content unless businesses find new ways to authenticate users and maintain a value exchange of free content for personalized advertising.

The truth is, the companies who champion privacy will be better positioned to win in all areas.

When consumers authenticate themselves to brands and sites, they create revenue streams for publishers as well as the opportunity to receive discounts, first-looks and other specially tailored experiences from brands.

To protect consumer data, companies need to architect internal systems around data custodianship versus acting from a sense of data entitlement. While this is a challenging and massive ongoing evolution, the benefits of starting now are enormous.

Putting privacy front and center creates a sustainable digital ecosystem that enables better advertising and drives business results. There are four steps to consider when building for tomorrow’s privacy-centric world:

Transparency is key

As we collectively look to redesign how companies interact with and think about consumers, we should first recognize that putting people first means putting transparency first. When people trust a brand or publishers’ intentions, they are more willing to share their data and identity.

This process, where consumers authenticate themselves — or actively share their phone number, email or other form of identity — in exchange for free content or another form of value, allows brands and publishers to get closer to them.

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Knowing when your startup should go all-in on business development

Mike Ghaffary
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Mike Ghaffary is a general partner at Canvas Ventures, where he invests in innovation for consumers and software. Previously, he was a partner at Social Capital, co-founder and VP of Business Development of Stitcher, VP of Business and Corporate Development at Yelp, and Director of Business Development at TrialPay.

There’s a persistent fallacy swirling around that any startup growing pain or scaling problem can be solved with business development. That’s frankly not true.

Business development is rarely, if ever, the solution to succeeding in a crowded industry, differentiating an offering or delivering a truly exceptional customer experience. But standing up an effective BD operation that brings in sustainable revenue and helps validate product-market fit can be the difference between survival and failure for a startup.

Business development is rarely, if ever, the solution to succeeding in a crowded industry, differentiating an offering or delivering a truly exceptional customer experience.

I’ve had the opportunity to lead business development functions at three companies experiencing three very different stages of growth: Yelp, Stitcher and TrialPay.

At Yelp, I served as vice president of business development and corporate development for seven years. The business development team I was brought in to lead was a core business unit with accountability to the COO, CEO and board. During my tenure, I was involved in securing around 200 partnerships with companies like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Samsung, as well as with scores of organizations ranging from early-stage startups to corporate giants.

Yelp was on its way to becoming a go-to source of information and customer value before I arrived. But partnerships like the one I secured with Apple made Yelp into a global market leader.

At Stitcher, I took on business development as central to my role as a company founder. While it may seem like an early phase to go all-in on BD, the partnerships with music and media companies that I orchestrated in the earliest days were essential to the company’s very survival. Stitcher is an example of a company where early BD investment made sense because of the dual importance of brand name involvement in concept validation and rising above podcast market congestion.

At TrialPay, an e-commerce platform acquired by Visa in 2015, there was already an established founding team and business model to involve customers in the marketing and payment of offerings by the time I showed up. In fact, I was brought in to run business development because the company was approaching an inflection point: There was pressure internally from investors and externally from customers to expand TrialPay’s network of merchants in order to diversify commercial offerings more rapidly.

The need for business development was directly tied to consumer demand and the company’s own position between growth funding rounds.

When to go all-in on BD — and when to avoid it

There are certain market conditions that make it smart for companies to invest in BD as a growth engine and others that signal it’s best to place money, talent and time elsewhere.

You should invest in business development early when your startup’s early success depends on it. For example, at Stitcher, we wanted — and perhaps needed — early buy-in from large media companies who created the podcast content we were going to feature. We didn’t want to get in the same murky legal territory early music startups had gotten into, like Napster.

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Dear Sophie: When can I finally come to Silicon Valley?

Sophie Alcorn
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Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

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Dear Sophie: What type of visa should we get to fundraise in Silicon Valley?
Dear Sophie: What are the pros and cons of the H-1B, O-1A and EB-1A?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Dear Sophie:

I’m a startup founder looking to expand in the U.S. I was originally looking at opening an office in Silicon Valley to be close to software engineers and investors, but then … COVID-19 🙂

A lot has changed over the last year — can I still come?

— Hopeful in Hungary

Dear Hopeful:

How and where work is getting done in Silicon Valley (as well as in much of the world)  shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, yes, it can still make business sense for many to join the Silicon Valley ecosystem.

According to a recent report from PitchBook, Silicon Valley will continue to be the center for VC investment and high-tech talent, even though several large tech companies relocated out of Silicon Valley and implemented full-time work-from-home policies — and many predicted that “the Bay Area tech scene as we know it would be lost, and VC would find a new home.”

Clearly, while the pandemic’s impact on the venture industry will be felt in years to come, VC will continue to be centered in Silicon Valley. In a recent episode of my podcast, I discussed work trends and how to use immigration to support company priorities as well as attract and retain talent in the United States.

The PitchBook report points out that Silicon Valley “has kept a tight hold on fundraising in the U.S., closing on commitments exceeding $151 billion over the past five years, more than the rest of the U.S. ecosystems combined. LPs have continued to funnel capital to area VCs because of the region’s track record of success, which includes 17 of the 22 U.S. companies to ever receive a private valuation of $10 billion or more.”

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

So while VCs will likely return to the old ways of networking and funding post-pandemic, we’ll see a hybrid of online and in-person meetings because there are so many benefits to in-person networking and exchanging ideas.

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Regenerative agriculture is the next great ally in fight against climate change

Nancy Pfund
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Nancy Pfund is founder and managing partner of DBL Partners, a venture capital firm whose goal is to combine top-tier financial returns with meaningful social, environmental and economic returns in the regions and sectors in which it invests.

It seems that every week a new agribusiness, consumer packaged goods company, bank, technology corporation, celebrity or Facebook friend announces support for regenerative agriculture.

For those of us who have been working on climate and/or agriculture solutions for the last couple of decades, this is both exciting and worrisome.

With the rush to be a part of something so important, the details and hard work, the incremental advancements and wins, as well as the big, hairy problems that remain can be overlooked or forgotten. When so many are swinging for the fences, it’s easy to forget that singles and doubles usually win the game.

As a managing partner and founder of DBL Partners, I have specifically sought out companies to invest in that not only have winning business models but also solve the planet’s biggest problems. I believe that agriculture can be a leading climate solution while feeding a growing population.

At the same time, I want to temper the hype, refocus the conversation and use the example of agriculture to forge a productive template for all business sectors with carbon habits to fight climate change.

First, let’s define regenerative agriculture: It encompasses practices such as cover cropping and conservation tillage that, among other things, build soil health, enhance water retention, and sequester and abate carbon.

The broad excitement around regenerative agriculture is tied to its potential to mitigate climate impact at scale. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine estimates that soil sequestration has the potential to eliminate over 250 million metric tons of CO2 per year, equivalent to 5% of U.S. emissions.

It is important to remember that regenerative practices are not new. Conservationists have advocated for cover cropping and reduced tillage for decades, and farmers have led the charge.

The reason these practices are newly revered today is that, when executed at scale, with the heft of new technology and innovation, they have demonstrated agriculture’s potential to lead the fight against climate change.

So how do we empower farmers in this carbon fight?

Today, offset markets get the majority of the attention. Multiple private, voluntary markets for soil carbon have appeared in the last couple of years, mostly supported by corporations driven by carbon neutrality commitments to offset their carbon emissions with credit purchases.

Offset markets are a key step toward making agriculture a catalyst for a large-scale climate solution; organizations that support private carbon markets build capacity and the economic incentive to reduce emissions.

“Farming carbon” will drive demand for regenerative finance mechanisms, data analytics tools and new technology like nitrogen-fixing biologicals — all imperatives to maximize the adoption and impact of regenerative practices and spur innovation and entrepreneurship.

It’s these advancements, and not the carbon credit offsets themselves, that will permanently reduce agriculture emissions.

Offsets are a start, but they are only part of the solution. Whether generated by forestry, renewable energy, transportation or agriculture, offsets must be purchased by organizations year after year, and do not necessarily reduce a buyer’s footprint.

Inevitably, each business sector needs to decarbonize its footprint directly or create “insets” by lowering the emissions within its supply chain. The challenge is, this is not yet economically viable or logistically feasible for every organization.

For organizations that purchase and process agricultural products — from food companies to renewable fuel producers — soil carbon offsets can indirectly reduce emissions immediately while also funding strategies that directly reduce emissions permanently, starting at the farm.

DBL invests in ag companies that work on both sides of this coin: facilitating soil carbon offset generation and establishing a credit market while also building fundamentally more efficient and less carbon-intensive agribusiness supply chains.

This approach is a smart investment for agriculture players looking to reduce their climate impact. The business model also creates demand for environmental services from farmers with real staying power.

Way back in 2006, when DBL first invested in Tesla, we had no idea we would be helping to create a worldwide movement to unhinge transportation from fossil fuels.

Now, it’s agriculture’s turn. Backed by innovations in science, big data, financing and farmer networking, investing in regenerative agriculture promises to slash farming’s carbon footprint while rewarding farmers for their stewardship.

Future generations will reap the benefits of this transition, all the while asking, “What took so long?”

Corporate sustainability initiatives may open doors for carbon offset startups


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Dear Sophie: What’s the recipe for an H-1B?

Sophie Alcorn
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Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

More posts by this contributor

Dear Sophie: How can I sponsor my mom and stepdad for green cards?
Dear Sophie: What are Biden’s immigration changes?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Dear Sophie:

I want to sponsor a potential employee for an H-1B but the process for an H-1B petition seems pretty complex.

What goes into an H-1B petition? How has it changed in recent weeks? Is the lottery going to be wage-based or random?

— Hungry to Learn in Hillsborough

Dear Hungry:

This is a great time to get started on the H-1B lottery process — the time is fast approaching. In my most recent podcast episode about H-1Bs on Immigration Law for Tech Startups, we covered planning for the H-1B lottery.

For all those foodies out there, in this column, I include a recipe for making your very first H-1B, plus the latest on lottery timing, whether the lottery will be wage-based and pay-to-play, the end of Buy American, Hire American, and changes in how H-1B wage levels are calculated.

New to the H-1B?

To get started, if you’re a newbie looking to whet your appetite with what’s involved in the H-1B process, there’s no need for the H-1B lottery season to feel complex or daunting. In fact, I wrote out a recipe so you can easily understand how to cook up an H-1B petition. 😉

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Composite image credits: Joanna Buniak (opens in a new window) / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Alcorn H-1B Petition Recipe
Ingredients

1 hungry employer seeking top global talent
> 1 motivated job seeker(s) from around the world
> 1 experienced business immigration attorney
> 1 compassionate business immigration paralegal
1 package clear communication
1 gallon legal strategy; add more to taste
1 gallon hard work, divided
4 cups enthusiasm and dedication
2 questionnaires
1 Labor Condition Application (LCA)
4 forms for USCIS, 5 if you want to broil the case and eat sooner
1 robust letter of support from the company
To taste: Job seekers’ supporting documents, as needed
For startup flavor: sprinkling of company formation documents

Directions

It’s important to start off the H-1B with a solid legal strategy. Start by combining the employer and job seeker with at least one business immigration attorney and at least one business immigration paralegal. Add communication, half gallon of legal strategy and 1 cup of enthusiasm and dedication.
After the legal strategy has been prepped, separate the rest of the ingredients into separate containers (there will be some overlap).
Take the two questionnaires and distribute evenly between the employer and job seeker. Add to pan over medium-low heat or high heat depending on how soon everyone wants to eat.
Once the questionnaires are evenly browned, remove from heat and examine to make sure everything is cooked properly.
Once the questionnaires are reviewed, use some of the flavors to prepare the Labor Condition Application (LCA). Add in 1 cup of legal strategy and 1 quart of hard work. Let simmer for 7-10 days.
While the LCA is simmering, prep your forms one at a time. Add ½ cup of legal strategy and 2 cups of hard work.
After the forms are prepped, use the remaining legal strategy (more if necessary), 2 quarts of hard work, and 1 cup of enthusiasm and dedication to prepare the letter of support.
Once that’s ready, and the LCA is fully cooked, use ½ quart of hard work to add the glazed forms, LCA and letter of support into a bowl (preferably Adobe Acrobat). After adding the letter of support, fold in the job seekers’ supporting documents. Add 1 cup of enthusiasm and dedication. Add startup sprinkles if desired.
Finally, use the remaining 2 cups of enthusiasm and dedication to bake the case with USCIS!
Allow to cool for 15 calendar days if famished, or 4-6 months if you’re not that hungry.
Enjoy!

For those experts out there hungering for the latest H-1B updates, here’s a rundown of what we’ve been seeing over the last two weeks since the Biden Administration took office:

Lottery timing

We expect an imminent announcement regarding the details of the upcoming FY2022 H-1B lottery registration process for cap-subject nonimmigrant visa petitions. The electronic registration period lasts at least 14 days, and the latest possible start date will be March 18, 2021. We’re also awaiting details on when the initial registration period will begin; last year it lasted from March 1 to 20. Feel free to listen back to Get Ready for the H-1B FY2022 Lottery for more details on how this worked last year and please stay tuned if you’re planning on filing an H-1Bs this year: Following these dates is crucial.

Will the lottery be pay-to-play?

A final rule called “Modification of Registration Requirement for Petitioners Seeking To File Cap-Subject H–1B Petitions” issued under Trump is currently scheduled to take effect on March 9, 2021. It would change the lottery from being random to being allocated based on highest to lowest relative wage. On January 20 the Biden administration instructed all agencies to consider delaying the effective date of certain rules not yet in effect, such as this one.

We’re all waiting with bated breath to see if this new change will go through. So far USCIS has not published any rule in the Federal Register indicating that the wage-based H-1B lottery will be delayed until after the scheduled start date. Also, over the past few days, there are some preliminary indications that the system will go forward as Trump planned, even under the Biden administration. This includes changes to the H-1B registration online tool and the form.

Although a wage-based allocation might make H-1B salaries more expensive for some employers, it would also dramatically increase immigrant security and employer predictability. As we all wait to see what USCIS will decide to do here, you can also access our free H-1B guide for more information on H-1Bs.

The end of Buy American, Hire American

On January 25, President Biden issued Executive Order 14005, “Ensuring the Future Is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers.” This ends Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” Executive Order and ensures a broader focus of helping American businesses “compete in strategic industries” and helping “America’s workers thrive.” We anticipate that this change will probably lead to higher rates of U.S.-business-based visas and green cards being approved in the future.

Changes in wage-level calculations

There are changes to the way that prevailing wages are calculated for visas such as H-1Bs and the PERM portion of the green card process. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain indicated that new rules may be withdrawn or delayed. We’ve already seen the Department of Labor withdraw the Office of Foreign Labor Certification H-1B Program Bulletin and a Wage and Hour Division Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB) on LCAs, so it is no longer in effect. Additionally, DOL announced this week that it will delay the rule regarding prevailing wage levels, to not take effect until May 14, 2021.

We’re tracking all the major H-1B changes here, so stay tuned to Dear Sophie for all the latest!

All my best,

Sophie

Have a question? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer here. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major podcast platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!


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Industry Watch: Assessing a developer’s work, and worth

It’s a new year, and organizations around the world are giving developers goals for the new year and reviewing their past year’s efforts.

A question I often hear is, ‘How do you assess a developer’s work, and his/her worth to the organization?’

Some organizations still cling to the metric of lines of code produced by a developer, which — given the extra responsibilities of testing, ensuring security, adhering to policies and regulations, and more — might not be a fair valuation in today’s complex world. 

This method is entrenched in the finger-pointing of the past, which modern development organizations have largely eschewed as they look to create a blameless culture.

Forward-thinking companies will look at the role of the team around development, assembled with software engineers, testers, security experts and people from the business side, and look holistically at how that team performs.

“Line counts is a terrible metric, and I think we all agree on that,” said Chris Downard, vice president of engineering at Gigsmart, a website for hiring gig workers. “There are times … when it could be useful as an additional data point, but not necessarily for information.”

When you’re managing humans, he said, reducing every action to data points is not good. Time must be spent building context, as data can often misrepresent things. At Gigsmart, Downard said they don’t use sprints, instead taking what he called “an ongoing, non-stop kind of combat approach.” But they do use sprint reports, from metrics captured every two weeks, to communicate what happened in that time period.

He pointed out he knew what his team was doing between the sprint reports — they were working hard, pairing up, and he saw the number of merge requests going up. “But one of the normal indicators of productivity is, ‘are we moving things across the line to delivered,’ as points completed,” he said, and that number was going down. But based on their knowledge of the team and of the context of everything else going on, they discounted the number, knowing the team’s productivity was very, very high. “It’s just the way the ticketing shook out, producing a data point that was not necessarily indicative of what was accurate,” he noted.

As an organizational leader, Downard said, you need to think about the things you want the organization to produce, and then think about the measurements that will indicate that you’re having success or struggling. Different teams, of course, have different goals.

“If you’re running a DevOps team, you might care about time to resolution, and if you’re tracking the development portion of an IT department, it might be turnaround time for customizing reports and data stuff. You need to track the things that matter to your organization’s success. So for us, I track merge request counts for a week. And we don’t necessarily do anything with that data. It’s not a carrot-and-stick thing. It’s just, it gives me additional information. Kind of like a doctor would be diagnosing a patient.”

But data points often don’t align with assessing developer productivity because while much programming involves the logical reasoning side of the brain, it also involves the creative side. So for Downard, raw data points are “typically terrible. But what we do get is a lot of soft indicators. You get information out of standup updates of people communicating how they feel about what they’re doing. You get hard data points in the sense that you can see their commit activity, but you have to keep context.” As a leader, he said, you have to advocate for developers and translate what they’re running into, to every other organization around development.

Downard said Gigsmart uses Bushido, the samurai code of conduct that defines the values of how you should act and conduct yourself as an individual, as its organizational ethos. “Jason Waldrip, our CTO and I sat down and crafted it into a set of ideals to drive the organization, and I use that as the core for everything we do. So if I’m going to start tracking something, it has to map to some sort of value from there, because if I try to track things that don’t map well to those values, I can’t advocate for those values with the team. It’s not gonna stick, it’s going to become hollow.”

Data points, he said, are nothing more than signals to go look into something and start asking questions. “And it should always be exploratory, not accusatory. That’s important to us. 

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Guest View: Breaking the low-code barrier

Can you scale an entire enterprise software architecture with zero code? Probably not. Can a low-code platform singlehandedly create and expose compelling infrastructure? Maybe. Can the new generation of low-code tools conquer their predecessor’s limitations to deliver fast, efficient and extendable technology for the modern business?

RELATED CONTENT: 2021: The year of low code

Enterprise low-code platforms provide a more robust and disciplined method to application development than earlier versions of low-code by providing the capabilities to build enterprise software, not just simple apps. 

The modern CIO: Pace beats framework
As technology becomes increasingly important, an organization’s success depends on whether the CIO can balance the demands of managing traditional IT operations and driving strategic initiatives, with transformational change high on the list. To do so, the modern CIO is on the road to digital disruption and is on the lookout to automate manual and repetitive business processes to save time and improve efficiencies.   They are increasingly turning to tools designed to create applications quickly, without the sweat of writing and debugging lines of code. In a world where everything has to happen faster, low-code and no-code platforms are now viewed as essential tools to gain a competitive advantage for developers and the organisations employing them.

Trapped by design?
But they worry too.  They worry because, despite the apparent benefits of faster development, there have been several issues across the industry that have continuously frustrated and tormented users over the years. The biggest of these – and in any application development environment, no matter the technology – is the dreaded “ty’s” – complexity and extensibility.

They worry that they will move fast at first but encounter platform limitations later in the development process that will prevent them from extending their applications. They worry about how best to integrate with the myriad of systems and databases that exist in their environment. They fear that applications built with no-code tools are usually challenging to customize and have no unique functionality—which can be troublesome if you need to address challenges. They worry about vendor lock-ins. About architectural considerations. About hosting. They worry about the platform’s capability beyond the necessary efficiency of delivering a simple departmental app. Sound familiar?

The new generation of Low-code
That was then. The now is a new generation of application development platforms emerging that don’t quite fit the boundaries of ‘traditional’ low-code development. These tools are more mature, more robust and quickly address and eliminate the valid concerns of the first-generation tools.  They are focused on delivering faster solutions,  greater granular control and a myriad of newer features for the modern IT environment. They are concentrated on providing a platform for skilled developers (not citizens!) to work smarter and quicker. They still eliminate repetitive coding, but additionally offer the ability to implement customization unique to the business, from design, through to development and architecture.

Being a professional software developer today is not about writing within a programming language, and writing code is not the most crucial part of the job. Software development is mostly about the stack, the platforms, data sources, databases, network layers, APIs,  security mechanisms and procedures that you use to build software solutions.

These new low-code platforms offer a modern software experience that aligns with today’s changing user demands.  They provide scalable architectures, the ability to extend platform capabilities with open APIs for reusability, and more flexibility when it comes to cloud and on-premises deployment. They enable developers to exercise control with application testing, quality and performance tooling while incorporating the high productivity techniques seen in low-code solutions to speed development through visual means.

They are also ideal for highly scalable applications that support complex logic—the kind of custom applications that support digital transformation of your business.   The requirements may have changed – you do need IT knowledge to gain the benefits – but it has made it easier to build robust, unique, and intricate applications more quickly than with conventional development tools.

In this way, the new generation of low-code tools are dramatically abstracted from standard software development. Vendors such as Siemen’s Mendix, Amazon’s Honeycode, Google’s AppSheet, Microsoft’s Power App and independent players such as Linx and OutSystems, will reduce cycle times and improve agility by delivering applications at the pace of business. 

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