Watch: 'Bring Your Humanity,' A Town Hall on Building Equality into L.A. Tech's Future

Tami Abdollah

Tami Abdollah was dot.LA's senior technology reporter. She was previously a national security and cybersecurity reporter for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C. She's been a reporter for the AP in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times and for L.A.'s NPR affiliate KPCC. Abdollah spent nearly a year in Iraq as a U.S. government contractor. A native Angeleno, she's traveled the world on $5 a day, taught trad climbing safety classes and is an avid mountaineer. Follow her on Twitter.

Watch: 'Bring Your Humanity,' A Town Hall on Building Equality into L.A. Tech's Future

At a virtual town hall held Thursday by dot.LA and PledgeLA to identify actions leaders in the L.A. tech and startup community can take now to break down racial barriers to jobs and capital, and to democratize economic opportunity for the region -- there were ultimately a robust number of questions asked and interest expressed around the issue, though tangible actions remain to be seen.

Nearly 30 years after the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, protesters across the U.S. gathered this time to march against systemic racism and violence faced by the black community after George Floyd was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis.

Across social media, tech companies in L.A. and beyond have posted and tweeted their support for #blacklivesmatter, muted their feeds, and opened their pocketbooks, while music companies took part in a blackout. Companies have also donated to various diversity, equity and inclusion causes, but it remains an open question as to what impact those efforts will have.

"I'm very happy to see that the conversation has shifted, so quickly. I mean, I say that, and kind of almost have to laugh to myself, because this is the conversation that black folks have wanted to have for the last several decades," said Austin Clements, partner at OPV, an early stage venture capital firm created to address the unmet investment needs of small business owners, and managing director of Grid 110 South LA, which provides entrepreneurs with free access to community, mentors and critical resources.

"Now that people are paying attention, I have two options, I can either be shaming people for like, 'Why are you late to this party?' or I can be welcoming and say 'hey, you know, thanks for showing up.' And I tend to take the latter because that's going to be what makes the next decade, look a lot different than the last."

Unlike the response to COVID-19 pandemic, where the tech community rushed to directly help and support the effort for PPE, testing and other needs, the response to the protests have been a little more subdued and mixed.

Some tech companies and leaders have asked how they can help, but for many people, "they don't necessarily see the connection (to) their professional career, their professional skill sets, and how it can address the current issue," said Jasson Crockett, manager of economic policy for the Los Angeles Mayor's Office of Economic Development.

"I would encourage tech (workers) not to feel uncomfortable wading into this space simply because they are tech and they don't see a direct resolution from their professional skill set. Bring your humanity. Bring your commonality as an Angeleno and as a person."

In an annual countywide survey released in April, the Luskin School of Public Affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles found "a growing generational and economic divide" among residents. Nearly ⅔, or 64%, of respondents between the ages of 18 and 39 said that L.A. wasn't a place where people who work hard can succeed, but merely a place where the rich can keep getting richer. That's not even accounting for the racial aspects of widening income inequality issues.

Clements said in recent years, despite increased conversation around diversity and inclusion in Silicon Valley, "there are a lot of minorities, particularly brown and black people that have been left out, and no one could really understand why. Or, there have been all kinds of excuses from, you know, there's a pipeline problem to, you know, all the culture fit and every excuse that you could possibly come up with." He added: "I haven't been seeing a lot of broadly accepted diversity efforts in tech."

As the chair of PledgeLA, an initiative created by the Annenberg Foundation and the mayor of Los Angeles to promote civic engagement and diversity within the tech community, Clements has been trying to help broaden that effort. Today, PledgeLA has more than 200 signatories from L.A.'s venture capital and tech community who have pledged to "increase our community engagement by supporting organizations that are making a difference throughout Los Angeles"; "to actively and continuously improve equity, diversity, and inclusion at all levels of our organizations and in our investment decisions"; and "to hold ourselves accountable by measuring and transparently reporting on our progress and impact on these outcomes."

It is on that last point that many companies have been less willing to engage. The results for the survey and data from the participating companies who did respond are expected to be released soon, Clements said.

But, as an example of their findings, one of the questions asked to respondents was about how people got their jobs. For the overwhelming percentage of white respondents to the survey, they got their jobs through a friend or referral from someone that worked at the company itself. That was not the case for every other group, Clements said.

"If you're not tied into this community and these aren't your firsthand relationships, it's hard to actually break into this (tech and VC community)," Clements said. "If you're black, you're literally replying to a LinkedIn post cold and you're at a disadvantage, quite frankly."

Clements added: "If we just keep asking everybody that's sitting in the room who else they know in the room isn't going to look any different over time."

That seems to be evident in past actions by the tech community. Roughly five or six years ago, some of the larger tech companies began publicly admitting that their employees were less representative of the overall population, especially at the executive level, Clements said.

"Unfortunately, they either just have not been equipped or just haven't tried or made it a priority to make any meaningful or substantive advances to improve those numbers," Clements said. "And the reality is, they've gotten away with it. I mean, if we look into stock prices of all these companies, like they've shot up and so I guess theoretically, they haven't had to from a business case standpoint prioritize that. I think that there's the moral case and a business case at this point for ensuring that your staff and your community is more representative of the actual populations of the city."

The numbers have been clear, in studyafter study, that diverse companies and funds reap dividends from the diverse perspectives and insights brought to the table. Take just one conclusion, from McKinsey & Company, "Our latest research finds that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians."

But recruiting people outside of your network takes work. With the shakeup of the economy due to the novel coronavirus, there's a real danger that companies especially in the startup community abandon any existing diversity efforts because of a tightened bottom line, said Emily Slade, cofounder and COO of Valence, a new tech platform and community incubated by Upfront Ventures that's focused on connecting black professionals with mentorship, job opportunities and capital.

"We just have to really encourage everybody to stay focused on the fact that this work is very important," Slade said, "and we've just begun."

Valence currently works with hundreds of companies and has more than 7,000 black professionals on it.

The American ideal of a meritocracy has long been a vaunted ethic in the tech and business world. Those communities and their leaders have evangelized the idea that with hard work anyone can pull themselves up the ladder of wealth and influence by their bootstraps. But the panelists did not agree.

"We live in a world in which your talent, your skill and your ability and potential come secondary at best, probably tertiary to who you know," Crockett said. "And when you start with that as the baseline, then by no way is this a meritocracy, not even close."

As a former teacher for at-risk young adults, Crockett said it seems as if "we continually feed this message of meritocracy to keep people going, because if not, fi we all in one voice admit we don't have a meritocracy right now and there's no plan for how we're going to change it, we're just admitting it, that's a scary reality for a lot of people who are on the fringes of society, who say, 'shit, why am I trying.'"

All of us should be asking what we're doing to acknowledge and support and foster the efforts of everyone, and requires first taking the step of admitting that there is no meritocracy right now, Crockett added.

The speakers weighed in on many more issues and also addressed some of the many audience questions received by dot.LA, including around the topic of recruitment and a perceived "pipeline problem." dot.LA also plans to post additional responses by panelists to questions asked during Thursday's panel. In the meantime, please watch the video below for insights directly from these speakers.

Lastly, a takeaway thought from Crockett:

"What is important is that we capture (this) momentum, unlike in the past, when there has been a moment in time that these conversations have reached a fever pitch but then the energy dissipated," Crockett said. "It is tough to sustain that energy for a topic that makes so many people feel so incredibly uncomfortable, and for which there are so many such a wide range of opinions and perspectives. And so my hope is that the tech community can be an important part in sustaining this conversation beyond the protests beyond next week (because) when you talk, my boss listens."


Do you have a story that needs to be told? My DMs are open on Twitter @latams. You can also email me at tami(at), or ask for my contact on Signal, for more secure and private communications.

Strategy Session: Lessons of the Moment – Rebuilding & Equality in the Future of LA

Austin Clements, Partner at OPV and Managing Director of Grid110 South LA

Austin Clements, Partner at OPV and Managing Director of Grid110 South LA

Austin Clements is Managing Partner of OPV, an early stage venture capital firm created to address the unmet investment needs of small business owners and the technologies that support them. He is also Managing Director at Grid110 and is leading their expansion to South LA.

Austin serves as the Chair of PledgeLA, an initiative created by the Annenberg Foundation and the Mayor of Los Angeles to promote civic engagement and diversity within the tech community. Today PledgeLA has over 200 signatories.

Jasson Crockett, Manager, Economic Policy, Mayor's Office of Economic Development

Jasson Crockett, Manager, Economic Policy, Mayor's Office of Economic Development 

Jasson Crockett is the manager of economic policy for the Los Angeles Mayor's Office of Economic Development and a seasoned public speaker and financial analyst.

Tami Abdollah, Senior Reporter at dot.LA

Tami Abdollah, Senior Reporter at dot.LA

Tami Abdollah is dot.LA's senior technology reporter. She was previously a national security and cybersecurity reporter for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C. She's been a reporter for the AP in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times and for L.A.'s NPR affiliate KPCC. Abdollah spent nearly a year in Iraq as a U.S. government contractor. A native Angeleno, she's traveled the world on $5 a day, taught trad climbing safety classes and is an avid mountaineer.

Emily Slade, CoFounder & COO of Valence

​Emily Slade, CoFounder & COO of Valence

Emily is the co-founder & COO of Valence, a new tech platform and community incubated by Upfront Ventures that is focused on connecting black professionals with mentorship, job opportunities and capital.

Before that, she was the global head of growth/partnerships at Working Not Working where she created their "Work In Progress" initiative which connects the creative community with causes and social impact work. This resulted in a food-recovery program supporting the homeless in L.A. called FoodFight, which focused on making Abbot Kinney the first zero food waste street in America and now is a feature within the Postmates app in 19 cities with 3000+ participating restaurants.

Throughout her career, she's focused on helping tech companies and startups scale strategically and authentically, contributing to the $1B IPO & sale of Active Network during her 7 year tenure there. Her side hustle is behind the lens as a co-founder of a travel production company, Pindrop Films, which takes her on photo adventures all over the world. She's also worked as an indie film consultant supporting the development of features including "Man's Search For Meaning" based on the iconic memoir by Viktor Frankl and she is the L.A. chair of The Schusterman Family Foundation.

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As TikTok Faces a Ban, Competitors Prepare to Woo Its User Base

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.

As TikTok Faces a Ban, Competitors Prepare to Woo Its User Base
Evan Xie

This is the web version of dot.LA’s daily newsletter. Sign up to get the latest news on Southern California’s tech, startup and venture capital scene.

Another day, another update in the unending saga that is the potential TikTok ban.

The latest: separate from the various bills proposing a ban, the Biden administration has been in talks with TikTok since September to try and find a solution. Now, having thrown its support behind Senator MarkWarner’s bill, the White House is demanding TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, sell its stakes in the company to avoid a ban. This would be a major blow to the business, as TikTok alone is worth between $40 billion and $50 billion—a significant portion of ByteDance’s $220 billion value.

Clearly, TikTok faces an uphill battle as its CEO Shou Zi Chew prepares to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee next week. But other social media companies are likely looking forward to seeing their primary competitor go—and are positioning themselves as the best replacement for migrating users.


Last year, The Washington Post reported that Meta paid a consulting firm to plant negative stories about TikTok. Now, Meta is reaping the benefits of TikTok’s downfall, with its shares rising 3% after the White House told TikTok to leave ByteDance. But this initial boost means nothing if the company can’t entice creators and viewers to Instagram and Facebook. And it doesn’t look promising in that regard.

Having waffled between pushing its short-form videos, called Reels, and de-prioritizing them in the algorithm, Instagram announced last week that it would no longer offer monetary bonuses to creators making Reels. This might be because of TikTok’s imminent ban. After all, the program was initially meant to convince TikTok creators to use Instagram—an issue that won’t be as pressing if TikTok users have no choice but to find another platform.


Alternatively, Snap is doing the opposite and luring creators with an ad revenue-sharing program. First launched in 2022, creators are now actively boasting about big earnings from the program, which provides 50% of ad revenue from videos. Snapchat is clearly still trying to win over users with new tech like its OpenAI chatbot, which it launched last month. But it's best bet to woo the TikTok crowd is through its new Sounds features, which suggest audio for different lenses and will match montage videos to a song’s rhythm. Audio clips are crucial to TikTok’s platform, so focusing on integrating songs into content will likely appeal to users looking to recreate that experience.


With its short-form ad revenue-sharing program, YouTube Shorts has already lured over TikTok creators. It's even gotten major stars like Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift to promote music on Shorts. This is likely where YouTube has the best bet of taking TikTok’s audience. Since TikTok has become deeply intertwined with the music industry, Shorts might be primed to take its spot. And with its new feature that creates compiles all the videos using a specific song, Shorts is likely hoping to capture musicians looking to promote their work.


The most blatant attempt at seducing TikTok users, however, comes from Triller, which launched a portal for people to move their videos from TikTok to its platform. It’s simple, but likely the most effective tactic—and one that other short-form video platforms should try to replicate. With TikTok users worried about losing their backlog of content, this not only lets users archive but also bolsters Triller’s content offerings. The problem, of course, is that Triller isn’t nearly as well known as the other platforms also trying to capture TikTok users. Still, those who are in the know will likely find this option easier than manually re-uploading content to other sites.

It's likely that many of these platforms will see a momentary boost if the TikTok ban goes through. But all of these companies need to ensure that users coming from TikTok actually stay on their platforms. Considering that they have already been upended by one newcomer when TikTok took over, there’s good reason to believe that a new app could come in and swoop up TikTok’s user base. As of right now, it's unclear who will come out on top. But the true loser is the user who has to adhere to the everyday whims of each of these platforms.

We Asked Our Readers How They’re Using AI in a Professional Setting. Here's What They Said

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.

We Asked Our Readers How They’re Using AI in a Professional Setting. Here's What They Said
Evan Xie

According to Pew Research data, 27% of Americans interact with AI on a daily basis. With the launch of Open AI’s latest language model GPT-4, we asked our readers how they use AI in a professional capacity. Here’s what they told us:

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The Near Miss Apocalypse: Predictions for Post SVB Collapse

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.

The Near Miss Apocalypse: Predictions for Post SVB Collapse
Evan Xie

The historic Silicon Valley Bank collapse dominated headlines recently, and the tech and financial communities have only just started processing the aftermath. The 48-hour breakdown was both historic and a few inches away from economically catastrophic, and thanks to the swift moves of the FDIC, complete disaster was avoided.

But it’s still been disruptive. SVB was the banking partner for nearly half of U.S. venture-backed technology and healthcare companies that listed on stock markets in 2022, making it one of the biggest lenders for early-stage startups. The aftershocks of SVB’s breakdown spread just as far and fast as the main event: the close of Signature Bank just two days later, major market volatility, other banking crises at Credit Suisse, tech industry troubles, and much more.

In the days since, things have settled slightly, and the world’s fingers are crossed that depositors are comforted enough and confident enough to avoid another bank run. It’s good news, but we aren’t out of the woods yet. Now that we know the second-largest bank failure in U.S. history could be looming around any corner, how does that change the ways startups do business?

Level, Set, Go

Before we get into what could happen, it’s smart to level-set about how we got here. (And for an introductory primer, this short podcast can help.)

  • The government 100% did the right thing by assuring depositors that they will be made whole. The FDIC swooped in, steadied the ship, and made sure people had the money they needed when they needed it.
  • Some have called this a ‘bailout', but it’s not for two reasons. 1) SVB shareholders and creditors will be wiped out and 2) taxpayer money is not being used to do any bailing.
  • Remember: depositors are not creditors. When companies and people put money into their accounts at SVB, they had every reason to expect that it would be there when they needed to withdraw it. They weren’t loaning the money to SVB (as a creditor would), they were depositing money into their own account at SVB for safekeeping.
  • People who say “depositors took a risk by having more than the FDIC insured $250K limit” are, ahem, a bit misguided. (I’m being polite). The truth is that $250K is not that much money for a company, especially of the size and scale of some of SVB's major customers.

Here’s where I think we should go from here.

The Short Term

While SVB’s failure didn’t launch us over the precipice, many people are rightfully feeling very nervous being this close to the edge.

Looking out to the next few weeks, I predict we’ll see venture funding slow way down. It’s been chilly out there recently, but it’s going to be ice cold, piggybacking on the already struggling tech landscape. Writing new checks will take a backseat to checking in on existing investments. VCs will need to assess where their cash is and where their portfolio companies stand, and likewise startups are going to have to start thinking hard about what it means to be lean and extend runway. Hopefully this only lasts a few weeks and the wheels of the machine start turning again before summer.

If there is a positive take on the SVB wreckage, it’s that the Fed will likely slow down the rate of increases. I’d predict a 25, maybe even 0, basis-point increase next week, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a rate cut later this year.

Whither venture debt?

Prior to SVB’s failure, it was very common for a startup to have enough cash at SVB for one year of runway, plus a venture debt line for an additional another year. SVB profited from this by charging interest plus warrants and requiring banking exclusivity. It was part and parcel of how they did business, and since they’ve transitioned from success story to cautionary tale, expect to see new regulations prohibiting banks from requiring customer exclusivity in exchange for additional services.

In the immediate term, companies who had venture debt lines with SVB are trying to decide whether to put their cash back in SVB in order to access that venture debt. The whole situation is surreal, since just a few days ago these same companies were scrambling to pull their money out of SVB, and now they are considering returning. There are conflicting reports, but it appears that SVB is allowing these companies to keep a second banking relationship with another bank (so no more exclusivity), but at least half of their cash must be with SVB.

For startups choosing not to access that venture debt line, now trying to figure out how to operate without venture debt (aka less hiring, less spending, less growth), they’re in for challenging times ahead. To fill that funding gap, maybe we’ll see more private lenders step in and provide venture debt as a product. If that is the case, I suspect terms will be tougher and many VCs will recommend against it for their companies.

Another prediction: audit committees of boards will come into play much earlier than they often do now. Given the ever larger seed and Series A/B rounds, it wasn’t uncommon to see startups that had raised $100M+ and had 200+ employees before an audit committee was formed. I suspect these will now be formed upfront and have a much bigger role to play in early stages.

Silver Lining

The good news: the world isn’t ending and won’t in the near future (at least, not because of this). Yes, things will be different and it will take some time to settle into a post-SVB startup environment, but with change comes adaptation. And with adaptation comes innovation, which is what startups are all about.