Saturday, September 26, 2015

IP & Legal Structure Thoughts

This week, C and I were able to have a video conference with both of the potential collaborators mentioned last week. Having everyone in one meeting instead of a series of meetings allowed for some good bouncing of ideas around. Mostly this was a groundwork meeting, getting introduced to each other and making sure that our visions were in alignment.

There is lots of email flying, and I know that C is the center of a lot more of it than I am. I am excited by the energy and ideas, but the next few weeks will busy as we turn those broad visions into focus. I am feeling the pressure to have a full draft in only 3 weeks, but later after a working meeting with C, I think we have a good game plan to get it done.

More work needs to be done understanding and describing target markets. One of the things that is particularly challenging in this regard is the fact that we are interested in providing resources to people who often will not be direct customers. The differentiation between users and customers is important in a business sense, but it is also important to focus on the community being served as a whole. Solvency and the ability to reinvest and/or provide materials at no cost are all necessary considerations to staying viable.

We have an initial products and services sheet started, but there are some intellectual property questions about Creative Common licensing. We need to confirm, but it sounds like the AI workshops were an attribution style, with explicit discussion in their train-the-trainers workshops that participants were welcome to use it for commercial use.

It is under discussion, but there are reasons to continue our new materials with this model as well. The most important thing is that this material is out there, and that discussions on these important topics are being raised. With an Attribution CC license, we retain the value to build brand awareness, but we could easily spread this work, both directly and indirectly. Do you have concerns we should think more about? Please share your thoughts or experiences!

There also has been some conversation about legal company structure, and we are looking to pin that down on Tuesday. My own thoughts on the matter focus on a few options:

Sole Proprietorship:
This seem like a problematic match, given that from the beginning this will be a team endeavor. Also the liability concerns and lack of transferability does not align with the current vision. We have had some really candid and heartfelt conversation about making this organization be representative of the values of diverse perspective we want to see more of in the world. Having control by just a single individual runs a risk of not staying transparent and open to feedback. Also liability would rest on the sole-proprietor.

As long as it was built in from the beginning, we could make provision for allowing additional partners in the future. This is important, because we would like to increase the diversity of the partners. One of the drawbacks to this company structure, however is the liability concern. Also it does not have as many major tax benefits, beyond some minor exceptions that could allow for possible avoidance of double taxation.

Combining many of the tax advantages of a sole proprietorship or partnership with the some of the liability protection of a corporation, a LLC is in many ways a hybrid. In many states this is primarily a for-profit structure, but there are some exceptions. It would need to be researched further. This would allow for financing through the sale of stock.

Given the public good mission of the organization, non-profit is an option. The AI was a non-profit, and this was really important for their cash flow. More important than avoiding many type of tax liability, being non-profit would mean that donors could make their donations tax-deductible and eligible for donation matching by their employers.

Again the public good mission is central for this organization. Although it is relatively new structure, Benefit Corporations are an interesting solution.  In order to be eligible for B-Corp status, a company has to commit to rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. With required reports holding an organization accountable to its commitment, this would ensure that even as the organization grows and changes, it remains committed to all stakeholders. As a for-profit structure, this would not have the tax benefits of the non-profit. It also provides personal liability protection and financing options through the sale of stock.

This was raised, but it is not one that we had covered in class, and I am not as familiar with the details on it. We need to do some more research to understand how this would fit with our needs.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Power of Networking

One of my major takeaways from class this week was about the fact that your reputation can be a growth driver. Eventually this will be true for the organization by itself, but especially with a consulting company a lot of the initial credibility and interest has to do with the Founders themselves. So the reminder to update my LinkedIn page was quite timely.

This week we started conversation with several people who had been inquiring about the idea of a new initiative. I have already had one look me up on LinkedIn to learn a little more about me, as I am an unknown.

This had also lead to further thinking about outside events that we plan to conduct during the semester. So far we are thinking:

  • Sunday I am attending an Arisia ConCom with the goal to speak to the head of Diversity Team to better understand what the convention is currently providing for training and material is covered.
  • C and I have a meeting this week with an organizer of an open source conference that is representative of the market most closely served by the AI. This will give us early information about that market and potential interest in collaboration
  • On 9-28-15 WEST (Women in the Enterprise of Science and Technology) is hosting an event on Best Practices for Hiring, Developing, and Retaining Women Leaders in High Tech. I plan to attend to meet with learn about best practices and resources available, which would provide material to incorporate into our products, network and identify potential competitors already in this market.
  • Next week C and I have a meeting with an organizer from a similar organization to the one we are proposing except focused on technology and maker communities. Early discussions have included exploration of collaboration or alternative options such as having this work end up being within their organization at least initially. This might allow for some time to gain more reputation for this sort of work before needing to commit all the capital upfront in order to startup.
  • Oct 2nd-3rd C will be attending Open Source & Feelings, a two-day conference about the intersection of software and the humanities in Seattle, WA in order to network and start discussions with potential donors and customers.
  • Oct 9th-12th C will be attending JOFCon, a three-day convention for sharing best-practices on running fandom conventions. This will provide an opportunity to start conversations with leadership from many fandom conventions about what they would be looking for in a service such as ours.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Week 3 Agenda

Last week we met in class for the first and second time, wrote two sections of the Business Plan at a high level, made a project timeline (P4P) and did some reading on different legal structure options.

As I am developing this company and business idea with someone outside of the class, I have a great built-in reinforcement of concepts in explaining it to my colleague. From this week of class my summary of things that we need to talk about:
  • company vs business vs products
  • nature of the transaction
  • legal structures
  • growth & revenue drivers
  • why are we doing this?
Other things that we need to talk about:
  • norms and expectations (potentially friendship preserving!)
  • network of stakeholders who were already interested in this project
This week my goals are to further flesh out "thick descriptions" in the Product/Service/Experience portfolio and establish communication, accountability and meeting norms. I feel like I have a good grasp of the "company vs business vs products" and the hows to get started. However the details about content are more my partner's contribution. So together we need to firmly establish our first target market and focus on the products that will appeal to them, while keeping an eye towards future growth.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Slack Diversity Data

This week Slack posted their diversity data in a really thoughtful and reflective post on their official blog. For those who might not be familiar with them, Slack is a team communication tool that is available as an app for integrated communication, file sharing, notifications, comments and searching.

As an organization they have been very transparent about their efforts to analyze their practices so that they can make real-time adjustments to recruiting efforts and workplace policies.
Our primary goal is to avoid becoming yet another place where underrepresented groups exit the technology industry. We don’t want to be a place where people give up on their ambitions. All kinds of people should be able to be successful at Slack. While much focus has been on the pipeline, we understand that increasing the diversity of applicants and new hires will not result in any significant change if people from underrepresented groups cannot thrive at the company. Workplace policies that foster inclusion are equally important.
This sort of work is really exciting to see, in organizations in general and particularly in technology and software. It is fantastic that they recognize that even with the best intentions how important it is to keep taking data and doing analysis in order to minimize and remove bias in processes as much as possible.

How did they do? I encourage you to look for yourself, but more importantly I wanted to applaud them for having the bravery to lead the way from wherever they were rather than waiting for the data to look ideal. Sharing this sort of information allows us to start more public conversations, which we need as an industry and a society.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Starting the Journey

This is my last semester of my MBA at Simmons College, although prior to that my background is in science and engineering. I have worked professionally in a range of fields from consumer product R&D to teaching to operational management.

This Fall, I was approached with questions about starting an organization that would help provide tools to deal with harassment, discrimination, marginalization and imposter syndrome. As a women in science and technology, this is an area that I also feel strongly about supporting, both as someone who has had to face some of these problems and as an ally where I have more privilege.

Towards this end, I am developing my community of practice by taking the part in the Business Plans and Proposals Workshop. Together, I am looking forward to exploring different potential models, the impact of scalability, and learning about what it would take to move this idea forward.