How Two Friends Crowdsourced a List to Help L.A. Tech Workers Find Jobs Amid COVID-19

Rachel Uranga

Rachel Uranga is dot.LA's Managing Editor, News. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.

How Two Friends Crowdsourced a List to Help L.A. Tech Workers Find Jobs Amid COVID-19

As COVID-19 layoffs cost friends and families jobs, Liora Simozar, a product manager at Clutter Inc., and her friend Ranika Kejriwal, put together a crowdsourced list of open tech and startup jobs in Los Angeles.

Simozar and Kejriwal, who head the local chapter of Women in Product and both have jobs, started their nascent effort in a Slack group in early March figuring many of their 500 members would be impacted. Eventually, they blasted it out to hundreds of their contacts and now have nearly 200 local employers looking for candidates on their crowdsourced list. Similar efforts have been playing out across the tech world as others release lists among friends and colleagues.

It's been a reprieve in an otherwise grim job market as companies like Bird and ZipRecruiter slashed their workforce in abrupt and sometimes brutal manners.

"It's tough being a laid off, you go through a lot of different emotions," said Simozar. "I felt a real sense of urgency because when you are losing your job, you are losing your health care benefits and this is a health crisis."

More than 26 million people have filed for unemployment since the pandemic halted normal life. Last week, USC researchers estimated 1.3 million workers in Los Angeles County alone have lost their job since mid-March. Startups and tech companies have seen a reversal of fortunes, cutting jobs that once seemed secure and eliminating six-figure positions. But, the downturn has helped some big tech and smaller thriving companies pick up hard-to-catch talent.

The spreadsheet by Simozar and Kejriwal, who works on Tinder's product team, posts positions for engineers, product designers and data analytics from companies like Jessica Alba's Honest Company, the board game maker Exploding Kittens and Northrupp Gruman. The lists are being shared on LinkedIn, among friends and within tight-knit networks.

"I think a lot of people are encouraged by how many companies are still hiring through the crisis," she said.

One advantage to the list the two put together is that its local companies, as opposed to other ones that include jobs across the county.

"We got more high-quality candidates from this list than from LinkedIn or AngelsList," said Sam Byker, founder and chief executive of downtown-based Atticus, a tech firm aimed at making legal representation more accessible. The firm closed a $4.5 million seed round in December and is more than doubling its 8-person staff. The pandemic has stoked demand for the firm's services. A lot of the company's work is helping disabled people qualify for government benefits and demand tends to spike during downturns.

"It is always hard for us to find candidates that are the right fit," he said. "We are on a lot of platforms but at the end of the day, it was that google sheet that got many of our best applicants."

A few candidates who reached out through the sheet are going through the interview process. "There are a few folks that we are really excited about," he said.

Karan Talati said he turned to the list when he had to layoff two of his eight employees at First Resonance, a small startup that builds software for aerospace manufacturing.

"We have had to make these hard decisions that we don't want to," he said. "Most of our investors have been spending time with portfolio to make sure they are set for surviving and that means cost cutting where needed and unfortunately that means people."

He offered the employees severance and insurance, but he has been sending them leads and lists like this one in hopes that his former employees would find a job.

"If we have to part ways with people that we care about, hopefully can land as quickly as possible," he said.

Jerry Nickelsburg, the director of UCLA's Anderson Forecast, said the good news is that the region's tech sector — which spans an array of industries from logistics to restaurants to software — will likely recover.

"Are there firms in every sector that are struggling and have laid off staff? The answer is yes, but there also are firms in many sectors in finance, in some of the tech businesses, we see it in the distribution of goods that have actually added some employees. Still, not nearly enough," he said. "The tech sector has been growing and growing very rapidly in L.A., and then greater L.A. and Orange County as well over the last decade. Our expectation is that that will continue."

Meanwhile, even those lucky enough to find jobs after a layoff have a bit of survivor's guilt.

"The reality is, I feel super guilty that I gave notice right before layoffs happened, which ended up saving me from said layoffs," wrote recruiter Ashlyn McIntosh about her new job. "Here's the thing my amazing former manager and now friend for life Darren Stewart reminded me of: I hire people for a living. If I keep going, more people have jobs, meaning less people are living in anxiety."

Just days before the posting she watched her 17-person recruiting and human resources team at PatientPop dwindle to three after the company laid off about a quarter of its staff in a round of COVID-19 layoffs, she said. The data science team was also wiped out she said, noting that those are difficult positions to fill.

The company did not respond to a request for comment.

McIntosh who now works at TeleSign said she's seen a rush of applicants to jobs. Other recruiters, who she once competed against, are now calling her and sharing job applicants that they would have guarded before the pandemic. Hard to fill positions now have candidates clamoring.

The dire circumstances have reshuffled the job market for those with the right skills and it has also opened up talent that wasn't accessible before.

Matt Alling, who runs headhunting firm Marius Group, said that in some ways he has felt like a first responder dealing with so many people that have been laid off. Although about 80% of his clients froze hiring, the rest are hiring more than usual and keeping him busy.

"If we averaged 30 new candidates a day, now we are imputing 200 people a day," he said. "We have been working double time to connect with really good candidates."

Companies like Chinese-owned startup ByteDance is looking to hire 10,000 new employees, Bloomberg reported last week. The company's app TikTok is based in Culver City and has been advertising jobs. Other big tech companies like Amazon and Apple have been on a hiring spree as they see an opportunity to pick up hard to find talent.

Arteen Arabshahi, vice president at Jeffrey Katzenberg's WndrCo, which develops and operates consumer technology businesses, said he has seen it play both ways. On the other side are companies sharing lists of employees that have been laid off in hopes of placing talented workers.

"Everyone is trying to make the best of a terrible situation," said Arabshahi, who oversees the firm's venture arm. "These types of initiatives have been really helpful for smaller businesses that are trying to hire. These are amazing for those companies.

Do you have a story that needs to be told? My DMs are open on Twitter @racheluranga. You can also email me.
🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
Image Source: Paramount

Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

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😊🚘 Rivian's $5 Billion Lifeline

🔦 Spotlight

Volkswagen announced on Tuesday a significant investment of up to $5 billion in Rivian, a struggling electric truck manufacturer known for its vehicles' distinctive smiley-face design reminiscent of Volkswagen's iconic Beetle. This partnership marks a unique collaboration between the world's second-largest automaker and a startup grappling with profitability challenges akin to those faced by Tesla. Volkswagen's infusion of $1 billion initially, potentially rising to $5 billion pending regulatory approval, underscores its strategic pivot towards enhancing its electric vehicle (EV) software capabilities, an area where analysts believe the company has lagged.

For Rivian, which has received acclaim for its electric trucks and SUVs but struggles with production ramp-up and financial losses, the investment offers crucial financial backing. The company plans to utilize Volkswagen's expertise in manufacturing, leveraging the German automaker's annual production of nearly 10 million vehicles. This alliance aims to bolster Rivian's efforts to launch new models like the R2 midsize SUV and complete its Georgia factory, paused earlier this year to conserve funds. Rivian's stock surged upwards of 40% following the announcement, reflecting investor optimism in the company's future prospects.

Despite their differing corporate cultures—Volkswagen's traditional, structured approach contrasted with Rivian's agile tech startup ethos—the CEOs of both companies expressed mutual admiration and shared goals during the partnership announcement. The collaboration is expected to yield EV software solutions benefiting Volkswagen's various brands, potentially including Audi and Porsche, while allowing Rivian to maintain its brand identity and separate vehicle marketing strategies. This strategic partnership between Volkswagen and Rivian not only promises to revolutionize the electric vehicle market but also highlights the potential for collaboration between established automakers and innovative startups in Southern California, where Rivian is based. Here’s to hoping these smiling cars will balance out some of the inevitable LA road rage.

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • HeyGen, a startup that allows users to generate videos with AI-created avatars that can lip-sync to provided audio, making it easier for businesses to create engaging video content, raised a $60M Funding Round at a $500M post-money valuation. The deal was led by Benchmark, with Conviction, Thrive Capital, and Bond Capital also stepping up. - learn more
  • Pomerium, a startup that provides a secure access platform that dynamically verifies user identities to ensure authorized access to applications and services, raised a $13.8M Series A round led by Benchmark and including previous investors Bain Capital, Haystack, and SNR. - learn more
  • Etched, a maker of transformer-specialized AI chips, raised a $120M Funding Round. - learn more
  • Rocketlane, a customer onboarding platform, raised a $24M Series B co-led by 8VC, Matrix Partners India, and Nexus Venture Partners. - learn more
  • Sift, a developer of unified observability solutions for hardware sensor data, raised a $17.5M Series A led by GV. - learn more
  • LOST iN, a travel media brand, raised a $4M Seed Round led by MaC Venture Capital. - learn more

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