Diversity Builds Successful Teams in Tech

By on August 15th, 2017 in Company News, Culture, Industry Insights

The subject of diversity is a hot topic in leading tech companies today. Many of them would have you believe that cultural and gender diversity is an important subject that they actively promote. Frequently, they use diversity statements and marketing materials to advertise the importance of programs geared towards building diverse teams. All too often, these efforts end up being nothing more than empty words on a page.

While it may sound politically correct to support diversity and inclusion efforts, behind the scenes, many tech leaders dispute how important this work truly is. Throughout the years, I’ve been confronted with executives in leading enterprises who have privately denied the importance of diversity. In each of these situations, I’ve prevailed in making tangible changes that have proven the importance of diversity to the success of a company. As a result of these changes, we closed the gender compensation gap with women employees earning 99.8% of the total compensation of men, as well as increasing the population of minorities in leadership positions by 18% in a caucasian dominated environment.

Obtaining buy-in to adopt diversity from leaders who don’t understand it’s importance can be tricky and challenging. In my experience, the lack of buy-in is due to one fundamental issue. Most arguments in favor of diversity are usually based on subjective or social opinions. For example, in the following statement, “Diversity is good for companies because of today’s more accepting societal changes,” the subjectivity is undeniable.

The methodology for implementing changes is grounded in facts, but it is also based on the values of a company. I’ve found that when you use company values as a measuring stick in addition to logic and evidence, arguments in support for diversity are much more compelling. Arguing over whether or not diversity is a good or righteous is simply the wrong question to ask. A better one is, “How is the performance of our company linked to diversity?”

Once you ask this question you can begin to define what both “performance” and “diversity” mean in familiar terms. For example, you can define “performance” as KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) i.e. profitability, and market share etc; and “diversity” – as the blending of multiple characteristics of a company’s talent. After doing this, you can connect characteristics to demographics such as gender, ethnicity, race, age, experience, education, and attitude. Finally, after clearly defining “performance” and “diversity” you can point to many leading case studies that substantiate all the benefits of a heterogeneous workplace.

At TrueAccord, we believe that diversity is not just advantageous, but paramount to our success. We’ve experienced firsthand how this work can strengthen a company, especially in the following areas:

 

Innovation

The diversity of thought and expression will help tech companies develop the courage it takes to move from what is familiar to what is different. When you bring people together with different backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives at the early stages of a company, you can seed the importance of fostering inclusion which promotes new ways of thinking as your company grows. The bottom line here is that diverse teams generate creative ideas that will ultimately drive your company’s results, and a company that harnesses that diversity has a much higher chance of success.

Attracting Top-Talent

The rare opportunity to join a multicultural environment in tech is a key selling point when recruiting top-talent in the Bay Area. As a potential employee, first impressions can make or break your decision to join a team, walking into an office and seeing a diverse work force shows you that the company is committed to diversity. Working at a place that truly values this work is incredibly rewarding. The best talent comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Harnessing this talent to accomplish your company’s goals will unleash ideas and solutions that will remove many of the roadblocks for those who only hire the same type and class of individual.

Productivity

Hiring diverse teams increases the range of knowledge and skills within that team, as each individual brings knowledge from past experiences to the table. This breadth of collaborative knowledge can be the secret sauce that gives your company the key advantage in a fast-paced, ever-changing industry like tech.

Concrete steps to increase diversity in your company:

#1 Remove unconscious bias during interviews

The recruitment process must support cultural, age, and gender differences at every stage; it’s important that managers are trained to combat the less spoken about unconscious biases they hold. This will curb the unconscious ability for managers to treat qualified candidates unfairly.

At TrueAccord we counteract the unconscious bias by redacting names and education on resumes which directs the focus to practical skills and accomplishments. Interviews are conducted with diverse panelists who focus on competency based questions, putting less importance on factors such as ethnicity, age, gender or the school someone attended.

#2 Make diversity part of your company culture

We’ve found that placing a strong focus on diversity contributes to higher employee engagement and retention rates. This is extremely important as technical roles typically have higher turnover rates.

#3 Implement a zero-tolerance policy for prejudice and install “Collaboration” as a Core Value.

Saying that diversity is part of our identity is a promise we take seriously. We take a zero-tolerance approach towards any negative actions or beliefs related to personal identity.

We also made a commitment to not just accept, but to celebrate our differences. To make this real we have implemented a Diversity Committee with rotating members who regularly serve as a resource to our working community by providing education, information, referrals, advocacy, coordination and support for specific diversity-related events and activities throughout the company.

TrueAccord Culture 

One of the main challenges of managing diversity is the demographic changes in populations. The constantly changing demographic profile of the broader population means that organizations need to develop strategies that will meet the needs and desires of the communities they work within. At TrueAccord, we service all types of people in debt across the US. Our mission is to help consumers in debt by offering options and trust as an alternative to blame and conflict, and it has proven incredibly successful. And because we have a diverse population of employees that reflects the diversity of people we serve, we continue to experience tremendous growth. As of August 2017, we have an almost equal gender divide with 53.85% male and 46.15% female population. Our combined multicultural population consists of 60.29% staff compared to 39.71% caucasian employees. Compared to national leading industry surveys 28% female vs 72% male populations in proprietary software, 25% female vs 75% male populations in Information Technology, we are changing the perception of what populations tech companies employ.

 

While we’ve had and will continue to experience growing pains associated with our significant gains in revenue, we work to overcome obstacles by practicing full transparency when looking back on our mistakes. This type of transparency starts at a grassroots level. We’ve learned that creating feedback loops and cascade meetings works in a culture that incorporates inclusive behaviors. These behaviors extend to performance evaluations, training, and when remediating problems.

By building inclusive communication practices, encouraging differences in opinion, and not tolerating negative attitudes, we continue to increase the diversity of our teams as we scale and grow. Not only are we reinventing an 80-year-old industry through technology and values, we are also redefining what populations in tech companies can do when they are composed of people from different backgrounds, ages, and perspectives.

The Results Are In:TrueAccord Consumer Satisfaction Survey

By on July 17th, 2017 in Company News, Industry Insights, Product and Technology

Today, 80 million consumers are in debt. They are often not treated well by collectors, and subjected to harassment, intimidation and an overall bad user experience that does not encourage or empower resolution. According to a recent CFPB survey 1 in 4 consumers felt threatened by collectors, 3 in 4 consumers reported that a collector did not honor a request to cease contact, over ⅓ reported being contacted at inconvenient times, and 40% of consumers reported they were contacted 4+ times per week. These results are quite disheartening, and demonstrate that the traditional debt collection agencies have not adopted user centric practices and behaviors, nor have they integrated technology into the process to adapt to changing consumer needs. They are stuck making large volumes of phone calls to uninterested consumers who end up complaining.

When we set out to survey our consumers about their experience with TrueAccord we weren’t quite sure what to expect, or if they would even respond. On one hand, we believe our data driven, consumer centric, digital first experience is reinventing the debt collection process and will replace legacy agencies, and consumer will appreciate that. On the other, we are still talking about debt collection, and most likely a lot of these consumers have experienced multiple negative collections experience and have low expectations of the process. They aren’t likely to recommend a debt collector, and as we’ve seen above, are highly likely to have had a bad experience.

Overall satisfaction

What we found was both exciting and inspiring, 80% of respondents were satisfied with their experience with TrueAccord. It’s an unprecedented number in an industry that, for decades, only attracted negative attention. TrueAccord is building a product and brand focused on delivering great user experiences and helping consumers rebuild financial health, and consumers are reacting to that. Traditional agencies’ behaviors have been impacting liquidation, hurting brand reputation and causing a lot of compliance risk. Yet they haven’t changed their ways. We show that working differently is possible – and will yield better results.  

Tone

81% of consumers stated that the tone and personalized offers in our messages were appropriate for their individual needs. Our content is personalized, and tailored to empower and motivate consumers to want to pay off the debt, combined with the ability to offer a wide selection of custom payment plans. Consumers’ needs are served and they are treated like customers. Our clients understand that debt collection is part of a natural consumer life cycle;at one point or another, most of us will encounter debt collectors, but unfortunately traditional agencies lack the technology and best practices to deliver good user experiences, leaving consumers feeling frustrated, angry and wronged. This does not have to be the case.

User experience

80% of our users had an overall positive experience with TrueAccord and recognized TrueAccord as different and better than other agencies. A large proportion of the other 20% resolved their debt by disputing it, so even though they may not feel great about their experience, they were able to dispute and discharge a debt electronically and with minimum hassle. It’s exciting to see that consumers see our brand the way we see ourselves, as innovators focused on great user experiences. We believe helping people get out of debt has positive impact for everyone involved, even (and sometimes more so) if getting out of debt means it can’t be collected.

What consumers had to say:

You were easy to work with and the payment plan worked for me. Even when I had to make a small change, it was no problem. I’m glad to have the debt behind me. I appreciate the email correspondence as opposed to numerous phone calls.”

“They worked with me and I needed that.”

“It is always a pleasant experience dealing with True Accord.”

“Wish you could handle all my debts.”

“I love the fact that TrueAccord was kind and polite! I wanted to pay my debt but needed a plan that wouldn’t leave me over spent or struggling every month. TrueAccord was happy to accept the payment plan I requested. Thank you!”

“TrueAccord provided me a way to be true to my word.”

“The agents are all very friendly and accommodating. It doesn’t feel like you are dealing with a collection agency.”

“The best collection agency ever!”

 

I’m Excited to Join the CFPB’s Consumer Advisory Board.

By on July 7th, 2017 in Company News
TrueAccord Blog

I’m honored and excited to have been appointed to the CFPB’s Consumer Advisory Board. With this appointment, the CFPB is sending a strong message about how it views technology’s role in shaping the future of consumer finance in general, and debt collection in particular. I’m proud to be able to represent the industry’s point of view while making sure we usher in a new era of great user experience and technology innovation.

When we founded TrueAccord in 2013, we set set a goal for ourselves – to go to Washington and influence policy making in the debt collection space. Ever since then, we engaged with the CFPB in various ways: quarterly meetings through Project Catalyst, participating in the SBREFA panel for the proposed debt collection rule, and even potential data exchange. We view policy making that enables better debt collections as our mission, and this appointment is just another step in the process.

This appointment isn’t about me, when I attend these meetings I will represent the industry, TrueAccord, its team and our consumers. I will take as very seriously, like we all take our mission. This could not have happened without the TrueAccord team’s hard work and laser focus on making a difference.

Why we chose a 7 year exercise window (and other startup thoughts)

By on June 28th, 2016 in Company News
Why we chose a 7 year exercise window (and other startup thoughts)

I wrote this post to talk about how we view startup culture at TrueAccord. In a way, it’s also an indirect response to a16z’s post about employee equity. We believe people who worked hard deserve their share, much like investors who put in money do.

Recently we announced to our team that we’re adopting a new policy to let employees who stayed with the company for two years keep their unexercised options for up to 7 years. This is considered very pro-employee (though we think it’s not that extreme) and I want to give context to why we did it – because the move is rooted in our deep beliefs regarding what a startup company should be for its team members.

I started my startup career at FraudSciences (FSC), in March of 2005. It was an amazing ride, ending with a $169m acquisition by PayPal. It gave me a lot – insights, experience, enough cushion to skip a few months of work when I started my next company. Interestingly, though, while being a part of FSC’s success, I never got a good look behind the scenes. I rarely spoke to investors, was not exposed to leadership dynamics, and saw almost none of the sausage making. There was almost no discussion of the “meta” of building a startup. FSC was amazing, but upon starting my own company, I only had what I could learn on my own.

Learning how to Startup together

When we started TrueAccord I had a lot more experience. It helped me and my co-founders align on what we wanted company culture to be like; much as TrueAccord is working to be a force for good in a traditionally problematic industry, we wanted it to be more than a workplace for team members. We wanted it to be a stepping stone, a company that’s not only good to work at but also to be from. One whose team members go on to start their own successful companies, and perpetuate this world view. That seems to be the best way to help our community – train its future leaders, forged in the fire of actual startup making. It also creates incredibly effective team members, committed to the goal not by blind admiration to founders or a cult-like culture but by being actually, tangibly vested in the company building process.

To reach the best learning and vesting environment, we had to overcome three different issues: one, team members often don’t have enough information to understand what’s going on. Two, there’s little to no time to reflect on and re-evaluate strategy outside of a small group of people. Finally, only a small subset of the team typically feels truly vested in the business through meaningful equity ownership.

This is what we did.

Radical transparency

The first step to understanding why things happen a certain way is knowing what’s going on. When an organization is opaque, knowledge accumulation starts being equated with power, and it becomes too easy to spread misinformation. We wanted people to know what’s going on. Keeping operations transparent also keeps leadership honest – when you don’t keep secrets, you become a lot more calculated in your decisions. A great example is compensation: while I don’t recommend that team members share what they make, I’m not worried about them doing so because as a leadership team, we stand behind every compensation decision we make. Being transparent doesn’t mean we never make mistakes – but we own them openly with the team, because that makes us stronger.

We adopted radical transparency (though we don’t find it radical): unless it shouldn’t be shared, knowledge is open to all. We share company progress, financials, thoughts about strategy, reasons for various decisions and more. We discuss them openly in all hands meetings and distribute them internally. All team members know what the founders’ share of the company is, how much is in the options pool, what terms investors got, what our terms are with our largest clients and so on.

Transparency has its limitations. We don’t share personal matters, or legal matters outside of what can be shared. We also don’t overshare details about fickle processes like enterprise sales (outside of major milestones) nor do we share notes from every meeting. These are trinkets that less experienced employee mistake for knowledge. Still, everything meaningful is available, and team members are encouraged to ask questions and be informed.

Thinking about work

Once you have information, what do you do with it? It’s not only knowing what’s happening that matters, but also putting it in perspective. What should our strategy be? What are our market conditions? How should we change going forward? These are important questions that are rarely asked outside the executive team.

It’s important to understand: we didn’t adopt holacracy. We didn’t abolish management. We have clear areas of responsibility with accountability and authority owned by the same person or function. That doesn’t mean that we can’t challenge ourselves to recognize our mistakes as a team and get better.

Our group reflection exercises take shape in a few forums:

  1. A chat channel to discuss industry news and how they influence our industry and company. Anything from changes in the funding environment to how recent case law influences our operations in certain market segments.
  2. Monthly breakfasts where attendees discuss company strategy and raise pressing issues, and monthly sessions with smaller functional group with open agenda.
  3. Q&A sessions with the Leadership team, preceded by collecting anonymous questions, so we can raise the most difficult issues the team wants to discuss.

There’s still more work to do here. I’m happy that no question we’ve been asked, even the toughest ones, was surprising. I always feel prepared to answer tough questions because these are the topics my leadership team struggles with on a daily basis. On the other hand, we have to continue learning how to raise strategic concerns as a team and think about work beyond the daily grind. It all starts from leadership teasing out tough questions by challenging themselves in public. What were our biggest mistakes? Why do we continue working in this or that segment? Once that snowball’s big enough, it starts rolling.

Sharing the upside

You don’t need f-you money to start a company, but “ramen profitability” limits talented potential founders with families and responsibilities from working on their ideas. I didn’t “score” anything big from FSC but it allowed my then co founders and me to approach Signifyd and Analyzd with ease of mind, and refuse the first acquisition offer that came our way. We want that for our team members; the feeling that 1) they own enough of the company, right now, for it to matter for them financially and 2) that they get to keep that value. That means two things:

First, we aimed to be generous with option grants. Our founding team has equal holdings and we wanted team members to benefit from the pool as much as possible, too. I estimate that, after the next round, employees could cumulatively own more equity than founders do, and I think it is healthy.

Second, when someone spends time creating value for the company, we don’t want them to leave without it or feel trapped because they need too much money to exercise their options. That’s why the board decided to let anyone who worked at TrueAccord for more than two years have a 7 year exercise window for their vested options (this is the “Pinterest Model”).

We’re still grappling with ownership, control and upside. Maybe there’s a way to distribute upside in hindsight (after a liquidity event) that optimizes taxes, but doesn’t undermine control for the founders while the company is still running. As an investor, I wouldn’t automatically support a structure that allows founders to give out more equity while maintaining their key holder rights in the company. So it gets complicated really quickly, but I think we’re striking the right balance at TrueAccord given the constraints.

Bottom line

Part of creating a new company is setting its culture. I think culture shows in what you do with and for team members, more than massages or unique color schemes. For us at TrueAccord, turning the company building experience into a learning experience that everyone can benefit from, driving a positive change through the way we do things, is a key cultural component. If you like these ideas, feel free to steal them or come join us (we’re careful with our money and hire for very specific positions).

If you’d made decisions that you believe are helping your company deal with these issues effectively – let us know. We’d love to learn from you!