Guest Column: Fernish Co-Founder Says He's Taking Every Precaution During COVID-19

Lucas Dickey
Lucas Dickey is an aspiring polymath, lover of inventions and the co-founder of Fernish.
Guest Column: Fernish Co-Founder Says He's Taking Every Precaution During COVID-19

Let's call this the 'lede' and not bury it: I'm a co-founder, father, partner, community member and I've got a lot going on in my head right now. This piece serves as a rapid-fire, stream of consciousness glimpse into my mental montage, which at times shifts swiftly from Boschian fear-scapes, to gallows humor, to intentional positivity to give the vagus nerve the stimulus it needs right now.

Courtesy of Fernish

However, a bit of a necessary preamble here to know prior to digging in further: I'm co-founder of a company in L.A. — that also operates in the original U.S. coronavirus hotspot, Seattle — called Fernish, a full-service premium furniture rental company. It's important to share this bit of background:

A) Much like all VC-backed startups we're always thinking about the next raise, managing cash flow closely, and doing everything we can to retain staff,

B) That we have in-the-field delivery staff that are still entering customers' houses and apartment buildings despite possible exposure and accompanying risk, and

C) Our business has the "fun" and complexity of any bits+atoms business, including supply chain, logistics infrastructure, fixed capital costs associated with things like warehousing, and other upstream ramifications.

Also, much of what "I" am thinking about and "I" am doing are a direct reflection of my co-founder, Michael Barlow, our COO, Kristin Smith, and the rest of our team at large. And with that, we can begin…

What I'm thinking about:

  1. Our team. I'm spending probably 50% of my mental space thinking about the Fernish team. That might be an underestimation given 200% startup capacity. Questions like: Will our team even be able to continue to operate legally? Will there be an unexpected change to businesses designated as "essential services" that'll force us to shut down our warehouses or delivery services? Will we continue to receive demand for our services while people are hunkered down in order to justify the variable cost of contracted labor (i.e. keeping those non-Fernish employees we think of as our "team" employed)? Will our team be safe—both physically and psychologically—during these unprecedented times? Will our team have confidence that we know WTF we're even doing? (That last one is standard founder imposter syndrome that's only exacerbated given current circumstances.) Can we continue to live by our operating values—the values that should reflect who we are in thick and thin?
  2. Our customers. What can we do for them differently in terms of the service we're offering? What new product selection should we consider for them to meet their (temporarily?) changing needs? What sort of financial impact will "stay in place" orders have on their lives, their livelihood, and—not to be crass in any way, but—their ability to continue paying Fernish for their monthly subscription plans? And on a longer horizon, will they think of their home's differently and how might that interact their relationship with Fernish?
  3. Reading: Part 1: Biz Lit as a Tool. I'm reading. A lot. I've always read a lot, but I've found myself circling back to classics like Ben Horowitz's "The Hard Thing About Hard Things", his original "Peacetime CEO/Wartime CEO" blog post, Andy Grove's "High Output Management" (which is my all-time favorite business book). But I'm also reading new pieces by the likes of NfX including "28 Moves to Survive (& Thrive) in a Downturn" and dot.LA Chairman (and amazing operator) Spencer Rascoff's post "Advice to CEOs on Their Upcoming Layoffs — From Someone Who Has Done it Before". I have a strong preference and bias for sober, clear, and practical advice from those who have been there and done that, hence Ben and Spencer's posts speaking to me. Whether facing these choices directly or just to have back-of-pocket for "what if" scenario planning, these are great tools for steeling yourself mentally, and honing your empathetic muscles a bit in an anticipatory fashion.
  4. Reading: Part 2: The News as Direct Input to Operations. Much like everyone else, I'm following COVID news closely, but especially—much like my founder and operator peers—I'm following news out of Capitol Hill and state/county/municipal governments vis-a-vis fiscal stimulus packages, ever-changing "safer-at-home" order details, and further things that directly impact Fernish and offer us a lifeline via credit facilities, tax deferments, grants, and anything else that helps Fernish extend our runway AND has an impact on how we keep our front-line staff as safe as possible (i.e. Team Fernish delivery drivers and warehouse workers). Thank GOD that congress just managed to pass a multi-trillion dollar COVID financial package.

What I (and Fernish executive team) are doing:

  1. For our team. We've tightened all of the safety guidelines, secured all the cleaning and protective gear we can responsibly hold (as yes, we're being mindful of the health community needing this same gear), and are proactively reaching out to customers in advance of delivery to verify that no one in the destination household is symptomatic (while simultaneously being aware that COVID can be transmitted even by asymptomatic carriers). And for our now-distributed HQ team WFH, we're holding more virtual events (virtual taco Tuesday, virtual happy hour…but honestly our team is "caring for the communal" and arranging these from the bottom up), checking in daily over Slack on mental/physical health, and trying to make the teams as productive and happy as they can be in their "new" surroundings. And we're discussing all of this daily as an exec team as part of a recurring COVID war room (and yes, fighting this epidemic really does feel like war, even for us who aren't front-line medical professionals). So, succinctly: safety and security.
  2. For our customers. Like many of our delivery peers, you can expect to see options for "no contact delivery"—win, win for the customer and our team. We're also beefing up office furniture for the WFH masses that weren't quite set up for this to be an everyday thing for months. We're working out how to manage the inevitable financial hardships of our customers in the face of unexpected downtime due to sickness or unemployment due to business closures or at least furloughs. We're showing empathy in all of our communication—this is not new, but we're doubling down here as hardship runs rampant. Not surprisingly, these initiatives, much like those for our team, are also about safety and security.
  3. For our community. We're giving our time to our peers, as we always have, to contemplate all sorts of scenarios and how to manage that in the context of our businesses. We're giving our money to charitable effortsthat will ideally help those in the communities within which we operate. We're participating in forums to share thoughts, emotions, and posting things like this…that make us vulnerable, but also allow us to connect and allow others to feel isolated within the constraints of social distancing.
  4. For our company. As any fiscally responsible business should in a time of market volatility and economic uncertainty at a global level, you best believe we're finding opportunities to tighten belts, including filing SBA loans (thanks to new provisions in the recently passed legislation—see a great breakdown in tools for VC-backed startups in this NVCA post), revisiting vendor pricing & relationships (knowing those who work with us now will be good long-term partners), fundraising (but, really, what startup isn't always fundraising?), revisiting any and all variable costs to see what additional burn we can eek out (no sacred cows when you're at war!). Startups aim to survive and thrive in scarcity, so to a certain extent this is just more testing of our mettle, but damn if this isn't really pushing the startup community to our creative financial limits!
  5. For the future. And yet. And yet, despite all of the arguably defensive and short-term efforts above, we're still making time to think about how we might "gain ground" now, or at least tee up strategic efforts through the blessing of today's unique vantage. We're a funny bunch, entrepreneurs, and right now our delusions are coming in handy, for sure.

For lack of a pithy summary, I simply want to sign off by saying that I hope we all find collective safety and security, and solidarity in this shared crisis, sooner than later.

Lucas Dickey is the chief product officer and co-founder of the furniture rental service, Fernish.

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Another Round of Layoffs Points to the Growing Tension Within the Tech Industry

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
Another Round of Layoffs Points to the Growing Tension Within the Tech Industry
Drew Grant Midjourney

According to a new report from Bloomberg, Facebook and Instagram owner Meta are planning a fresh, significant round of layoffs that could happen as soon as this week. Thousands of employees are expected to lose their jobs, and that’s after the company cut 11,000 workers – 13% of its total workforce – in November of last year.

The November cuts were part of an ongoing project Meta leadership has dubbed “flattening,” an attempt to reorganize the entire company from the top-down to make it more “nimble.” CEO Mark Zuckerberg has dubbed 2023 Meta’s “Year of Efficiency,” in an attempt to familiarize employees with his thinking and prepare them for the changes to come. Broadly, the thinking goes that, while multiple layers of management and supervision make organizations more predictable and reliable, the bureaucracies ultimately stifle innovation and individual employee development. As well, they make the organizations slower to react to change, because so many different individuals on so many layers have to re-evaluate and alter their workflows.

The latest round of cuts is not directly connected to the flattening plan, according to internal sources who spoke with Bloomberg, but will be made out of necessity, due to a downturn in ad revenue and a shift in focus toward the Metaverse. They’re the latest indication of Meta’s increasing desperation for new revenue streams. (Fortune reports that the layoffs ALONE likely cost Meta around $88,000 per employee.)

Regardless of the specific motivations behind the layoffs, and beyond their immediate costs, dropping so much staff in so little time is bound to have some ongoing consequences and ripple effects. Even before Bloomberg’s report about new layoffs, Meta’s flattening project and “Year of Efficiency” announcement was already being blamed for a downtown in productivity at the company. In February, the Financial Times reported that Meta managers lacked clarity around their team budgets, headcounts, and other important information, making them functionally unable to plan for their workloads and ongoing projects. Some staffers told FT that “zero work” was being done amid all the uncertainty, adding that the Year of Efficiency began with “a bunch of people getting paid to do nothing.”

Elon Musk’s Twitter has also entered the “Find Out” phase after F*cking Around with layoffs over the past several months. On two separate recent occasions, minor code changes to the microblogging platform and social network caused widespread problems and outages. Most recently, on Monday, what Musk described as a “small API change” behind the scenes interrupted Twitter users’ ability to post both links and images. Musk blamed an “extremely brittle… code stack” which will ultimately require a “complete rewrite” to fully repair, but it’s worth pointing out that Twitter rarely had these kinds of widespread major outages before letting go of a considerable chunk of its engineering squad.

Beyond the organizational and practical impacts of losing so many people so quickly, there are also bound to be long-term implications for recruitment and morale. On Monday, the same day that links and images broke platform-wide, Musk was confronted publicly on the app by an Icelandic employee (or former employee, depending on who you believe) named Haraldur Thorleifsson, or Halli for short.

Thorleifsson – who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair for mobility – founded a creative agency named Ueno in 2014, which had partnered with Twitter on a number of design and product experiences over the years. In 2021, well prior to Musk’s direct involvement with the company, Twitter acquired Ueno and brought in Thorleifsson as an employee. He explained in a series of tweets to Musk on Monday that he’d lost remote access to Twitter’s system, and was unable to confirm with HR whether or not this was because he’d been terminated from the company. Musk responded aggressively, with a string of questions and challenges implying that Thorleifsson’s work was not providing value, and even referring to his disability as an “excuse.” He added “you can’t be fired if you weren’t working in the first place.” Thorleifsson’s stinging response, sent on Tuesday morning, now has nearly 30,000 retweets and over 200,000 likes, at the time of this newsletter’s publication.

PR-wise, it’s probably a bad look for Musk, and he may even be potentially running afoul of some Californian and international labor laws, if the thread’s many commenter-spectators are to be believed. But the situation also points to a larger tension within the technology industry, between managers who rely on what they view as essentially an infinite supply of fresh young talent eager to work for big brands and hot startups, and a pandemic-hardened workforce that has come to expect more equitable treatment and compensation.

University College of London professor Anthony Klotz – who originally coined the term “The Great Resignation” in May 2021 to refer to all the people who quit their job during the pandemic – predicts that the trend will finally even out this year, as labor shortages abate and more people gradually return to offices. (Klotz cites the potential for a recession, which will potentially force some people to return to jobs they were maybe happy to have left, as a major factor.)

But while most charts, including data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, show the resignation trend becoming more “muted,” there are signs that the Great Resignation may still be influencing overall decision-making on both sides of the employee-employer divide. According to HR Digest, companies that invested in employee development and efforts to attract and keep talent saw a 58% increase in employee retention in 2022. On a recent LinkedIn survey, 61% of US employees said they were considering resigning from their jobs in 2023.

In the aggregate, it’s probably too soon to tell whether or not the pandemic and Great Recession were a blip on the labor market radar or a significant milestone event that with any kind of real long-term impact.

SoundCloud’s Attempt at a Revamp? An AI-Driven Recommendation Feed

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

SoundCloud’s Attempt at a Revamp? An AI-Driven Recommendation Feed
Photo by C D-X on Unsplash

AI has infiltrated just about every creative field. Poets have complained about the tech’s shoddy imitations of famous writers, anime fans can watch an unending AI-generated show and artists are suing an AI company over copyright usage. The music industry is no exception.

Though there are plenty of examples of people using ChatGPT to write songs, AI has been most successfully implemented as a way for music platforms to recommend music.

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Behind Her Empire: Gobble Founder and CEO Ooshma Garg On Finding Product Market Fit

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Behind Her Empire: Gobble Founder and CEO Ooshma Garg On Finding Product Market Fit
Courtesy of Behind Her Empire

On this episode of Behind Her Empire, Gobble Founder and CEO Ooshma Garg discusses raising capital for her company and her ever-evolving business model.

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