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About leaving

The rolling dunes of the Israeli desert shift all the time. Leave a footprint, and soon enough it disappears. The wind blows fine sand around and covers your tracks, until only the Bedouin rangers can track you down, if at all.

***

When I was twenty-nine years old, my boss at PayPal was let go. They didn’t say why. He was going to spend time with his family, corporate PR said. It wasn’t the truth.

I called my VP. I’m ready to take over the branch office, I said. She was polite, but nothing came of it. No one would say it to your face over there. She didn’t think I was ready. I thought I was. I was wrong, but I didn’t know that.

A few months later, they announced they hired someone. He’s Chief Risk Officer at PayPal now. On his first day, when I met him, I said – it’s not personal, I’m leaving Israel. I’m going to San Jose. Ok, he said, how soon can you leave?

W–what? I’m indispensable! I didn’t say that. I just knew it to be true.

When I left, I thought there would be much fanfare. I had just turned thirty. I told the story of how I started five years earlier. I choked up a bit. People were very nice. They clapped when I finished my talk. There were pretzels.

Within two months, the team reorganized without me. I left footprints, slowly covered by the sands of time. A sentence in a job description. A procedure file. Several hires. Eventually even the Bedouin couldn’t find me. I was gone.

Confused, I called my mentor, Davidi. I don’t understand this thing, I said. How come I vanished this way, so fast? It was five years of my life.

Davidi sighed. When are you going to take your head out of your ass and understand that it’s not about you? He was fifty-five years old and slowly dying of cancer. Gentle delivery wasn’t a priority.

I didn’t get it then.

***

In 2011 I was thirty-one years old. I was Chief Risk Officer at Klarna and had just parted ways with a senior manager from my team. I had to, for various reasons. I didn’t say he was going to spend more time with his family. He went to start a risk management team at another company, and within a short while he poached M.

I didn’t think much of M, I told the COO. It was the truth. Losing him was okay. I’ll be worried if he hired F.

The following week, F gave his notice.

The CEO came to my apartment. He was upset. He was on the phone with the COO, his co-founder. Niklas says you said you couldn’t afford to lose F, he said. I didn’t have an answer. That night was the first time I lost sleep. It wasn’t the last.

Within two months, the team reorganized without them. Some signs lingered. Lines of code. A document or two. A couple of hires. But people rose to the challenge. Some I promoted, some hired. Eventually all of the old team’s footprints were gone, covered by the sands of time. The organization got over them. 

***

I didn’t get it then but I get it now. People are important, but communities are stronger than the individuals that comprise them. Strong companies with strong momentum are especially resilient.

It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about this construct we build and maintain, a company. It’s bigger than just us. It has a life of its own. You leave when your story ends, hopefully not too soon, and you leave a footprint, but the company lingers. It is stronger than any individual. People will rise to the challenge; they will grow into new roles. Some stories will diverge from ours and some will join in. And that’s how it’s supposed to be.

With great power comes… a great misunderstanding

I don’t have the time to write an assay about the topic, but the growing disconnection between legality and morality in Silicon Valley is alarming. I’m going to just put this thing here so I’m on the record.

(Disclaimer: I don’t know Daniel Pearson and he may be the best guy on earth. I’m simply referring to the opinion he expresses here)

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Companies like Zenefits are a problem not only because they broke the law. That’s meaningful, but is not the only issue. They are meaningful because they enshrined abuse of power and misrepresentations as a way of doing business. They mixed inexperienced employees with power hungry inexperienced executives in a business that was growing too fast for its own good.

Zenefits is not alone, they are just the tip of the iceberg and they got caught because they also broke the law. The abuse of power is the much bigger issue. One, because it is prevalent. Two, because it is not often discussed. Three, because it is the result of people conflating financial success with moral superiority. The latter isn’t a new idea and was introduced by Max Weber in the start of the 20th century. The latest turn is using financial success to justify immoral behavior, and flaunting social norms because they aren’t the law. Yes, including with the elected President.

What’s abuse of power? It’s cashing out from your anonymous-abuse-enabling app that is only growing thanks to the abuse before it crashes and burns. It’s creating an excessive drinking culture in the workplace that may pressure inexperienced employees into acts they may not be interested in. It’s self dealing in office. It’s hiring managers who focus on rating employees by their looks. It’s founders buying back stock from employees at a discount because they know a valuation-popping event is coming up. All of these may not be illegal or provable in court. They’re still wrong. The fact that people (let’s face it – men) in SV express that they matter less because someone is rich or created business value is preposterous. Dollars are not the only way to measure value; they’re not even the most important way. We just lost our compass, as a subculture, because we got flush with too much money. It’s a sad realization.

Why I Can’t Get Behind John Oliver’s Latest Debt Collection Piece

We started TrueAccord in 2013 because we wanted to crowd out the “bad guys” in the debt collection space. Every dollar that will be paid through our system, we figured, is a dollar not paid through them. We will get involved in the messy world of debt collection, get our hands dirty, actually deal with those in debt instead of providing technology and hoping for the best. And we will emerge the winners.

Three years later, we still believe that. Those in debt who choose to work with us get flexible payment plans, where every dollar pays for their debt – principal first. Their interest is frozen. We don’t charge fees. More and more banks, issuers and large companies work with us, and they care so much about their customers’ experience that they push us to be even more lenient than we ever thought we could be.

Looks like we did it; we’re the good guys. And when John Oliver bashes debt collectors and debt buyers on his show, I should be thrilled. I should be one of those who stand on the sidelines and point and laugh and cheer at the tremendous feat of forgiving almost $15 million of old debt. But I don’t. I’m actually quite pissed.

Why is that? What’s in this piece that gets on my nerves?

Don’t get me wrong, I like the show. Who doesn’t like getting the news shouted at them with a British accent? I also get that he’s not a journalist, he’s an entertainer, and the video was indeed entertaining. It had another problem, though: it absolutely, completely, utterly managed to miss the point.

If you’re chasing clicks and eyeballs, debt collection is a great story. Being in debt is scary, it’s confusing, and being repeatedly asked to pay back adds another layer of stress. People in debt often have really sad life stories, and are in constant crisis mode, not always of their own making. The thing is, John Oliver did nothing more than to put them on display, and offer a hocus-pocus solution for their woes. He pretended all it takes is buying their debt for less than half-a-cent on the dollar, as though he didn’t buy extremely old medical debt that no serious business would collect on. Much like in his PayDay lending episode, which ended with Sarah Silverman suggesting that people steal instead of take a loan, Oliver isn’t about offering solutions. He’s about big gestures and laughs. None of these, unfortunately, pays the bills; what it does do is create false hope, confusion, and yet another reason to blame the collector instead of taking responsibility and getting yourself out of debt.

At TrueAccord, we often ask ourselves: what are we to those in debt, and especially to those who are chronically in debt? Are we the gym teacher, shouting at the short-breathed kid to keep his pace up? Are we a doctor, waving our finger at the diabetic who wants another bite of a doughnut? Are we the policeman, giving them a ticket for speeding? Can we be to each what they need, using our targeting technology? As our technology gets better, we get closer to tailoring the right solution to each individual.

One thing is certain, though: the relationship between collectors and those they collect from is a long and complex process. However we position ourselves, our job is to chaperone people through the winding road to getting back on their feet and planning their cash flow. We build tools to give them maximum flexibility with their payout plan, and to easily change it when the unexpected happens (and it usually does). We hope to never see them again in our system, and we feel disappointed when we do, or when they promise something and then change their mind. Above all, instead of distancing ourselves from the situation or turning it into a joke, we get deeply involved because we care – because we want to make a tangible difference. And we do. Day by day. Dollar by dollar.

To see This Week Tonight diminish all this work, to see them repackage the human suffering and complex emotion into several minute tidbits so they can compete with Oprah for biggest giveaway for the poor… I find it demeaning and disrespectful. Almost cynical. And no matter how much truth there is on the show (and there is!), I can’t bring myself to support a simplistic representation of such an issue. That is why I can’t get behind TV’s biggest “giveaway” ever.

 

TrueAccord is looking for a community manager

TrueAccord is reinventing the debt collection process through data and behavioral analytics. Instead of the grim and negative experience it is today, we’re turning the collections process into one that allows debtors to grow, and improve their financial standing.  Since we’re dealing with such a contentious situation, customers often reach us angry, disappointed, and negative. This is where we can help them the most.

As a community manager, you will be in charge of communicating with our customers and the general public through the use of our internal tools as well as all standard social media outlet. You will help define, promote and support the company’s brand as well as the impeccable service it aims to provide its customers.

You will:

  • Manage day to day interaction with customers and solve issues that our system cannot address
  • Manage the company’s outgoing social media participation through Facebook, Twitter, blog and so on
  • Monitor the company’s social presence and participate in online conversations wherever needed
  • Participate in PR and marketing activities

The ideal candidate:

  • Is passionate about helping people through rough times and can exude empathy and positivity even under pressure
  • Has superb writing and speaking skills; English is a must, Spanish is a big plus
  • Is highly proficient and has tangible experience in using social media: Twitter, Facebook, blog and other social media outlets
  • Is motivated to work for a startup at its early stages and eager to participate in setting a direction for the company’s brand and voice
  • May have consumer marketing experience – this is a plus

Note: this is not a debt collector’s position. Debt collection experience isn’t required and is in fact discouraged for this position.

For more details, please send resumes to osamet67@gmail.com

Babylon’s bait and switch (updated)

(UPDATE: Babylon responded and this matter is sorted out. See the bottom of the post)

This is off topic for this blog, but I wanted to tell you about a product experience I found preposterous, on the verge of misleading, by a company I thought was serious.

I’m working on a project and found out that I needed some text translated to Spanish. Since this is a proof of concept I didn’t go to a regular translator but was looking for a cheaper alternative. Yes, I know, you pay peanuts etc – I get it. I needed a quick translation to check something.

A trusted connection suggested Babylon’s translation services. I went ahead and found the website. The form counted my words, suggested a price for the word count, and sold me up on “proofreading”. Not sure what that is, but I went with it. Altogether $12 that I happily spent to get one small translation. Roughly 50 words.

Then, a day later, I get this email from someone named Orly:

Dear Ohad,

My mane is Orly [redacted] , I’m Babylons professional translations project manager.

I noticed that your last request is for translation of 56 word and proofreading. According to that it comes to the total of 84 words.

Currently your account shows the balance of 75 words, so there are 9 words missing.

Please purchase a suitable package that covers your needs so we can proceed with the translation and send you the results as soon as possible.

Thank you and awaiting your reply.

Wait, what? The website gave me a price. I said ok. I paid. Suddenly there’s a higher price to pay? What’s this about? I asked:

I paid $8 for translation and $4 for proofreading as your website asked me to. I don’t understand why I’m being asked to pay more. That doesn’t make sense to me. Do you have a different price than your website?

Because hey, maybe I’m dealing with the militant faction of the human translation network. Like an unplanned road block by the militia. Diligent Orly promptly responded:

Thank you for your reply.

The payment of 12 $ (8$ translation + 4$ proofreading) is related to 50 words translation and 25 words proofreading.

You exceeded this amount -56 words translation + 28 words proofreading.

Due to that you need to add more words to your account in order to get it done.

Something is clearly not coming through. So far I’m far beyond the “One page in one hour” promised on their front page, but hey, there’s an asterisk and maybe my text is that kind of text (it’s not). I try again:

But that’s what your website asked me to pay. How does it make sense that I ask for something, your website asks me for a certain payment, and suddenly I need to pay more?

Trying logic. She replies:

The website offer you to purchase the word quantity according to your decision.

The website doesn’t know how many words you intend to translate. In that case you should choose a bigger words package that will cover all the words.

But, wait, the website has a word counter. It gave me an offer based on my word count. In fact, the price changes according to word count. Check it out.

At this point I decided it wasn’t worth my time. I will move to another service and leave Babylon and their bait and switch techniques to themselves. I asked for a refund and I fully intend to cancel the charge if I don’t get it within three days, as my concern about this company grows. I just want to put the word out there: be careful with Babylon.

UPDATE: I got a response from Babylon. David from the team asked for the following response to be posted:

“We would like to apologize to Ohad. There was a problem with the Babylon Human Translation website, of which our translation account managers were unaware, that caused it to report a faulty word count. It was this glitch that led to the misunderstanding. We are sorry for any frustration or inconvenience this may have caused.”

I appreciate Babylon taking this seriously!