US national security, climate change, startup HR, and launching in the Midwest

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How US national security is holding the internet hostage

I have written quite a bit about CFIUS, the inter-agency process for reviewing venture capital investments and company acquisitions made by foreigners. Now, our special correspondent Mark Harris explores a much less well-known group known as Team Telecom who has been actively reviewing — and denying — additional fiber bandwidth beneath the Pacific Ocean.

The on-going delays to submarine cable projects, which can cost nearly half a billion dollars each, come with significant financial impacts. They also cede advantage to connectivity projects that have not attracted Team Telecom’s attention – such as the nascent internet satellite mega-constellations from SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon.

Team Telecom’s investigations have long been a source of tension within Silicon Valley. Google’s subsidiary GU Holdings Inc has been building a network of international submarine fiber-optic cables for over a decade. Every cable that lands on US soil is subject to Team Telecom review, and each one has faced delays and restrictions.

The climate is our biggest threat. Carl Pope is fighting to change our fate

Our resident tech ethicist Greg Epstein has an upbeat interview on a decidedly depressing topic — how the world and particularly the tech community is responding to climate change. His subject is Carl Pope, the former president of the Sierra Club, who as Epstein writes, “…at this point can probably be called one of the most influential environmental activists in history.” Pope built a relationship with former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, which eventually led to Bloomberg’s $500 million commitment to climate change announced last month.

Epstein and Pope discuss NASA, Tesla, Silicon Valley congressman Ro Khanna and much, much more as they try to find a path to a greener future. Be sure to also check out part two of the interview.

Epstein: In A Climate of Hope you talk about Elon Musk and Tesla. Which companies in the Silicon Valley tech community have you found to be especially worth engaging with?

Pope: My engagement with Silicon Valley really came at the end of my time with the Sierra Club. I did a fair amount of work with people in Silicon Valley, from let’s say 2012 to 2016, trying to solve the problem that elected Donald Trump president, which is the problem of the decline of American manufacturing.

I don’t think I was particularly effective. But I was very surprised by an encounter with K.R. Sridhar at Bloom Energy.

K.R. makes fuel cells, he’s a NASA engineer who built reverse fuel cells in space for NASA, and decided to reverse the technology to something useful back here. He founded a company, and I heard about it, and I was interested and intrigued, and I went to see and meet. He took me around what at that point was a bench-scale factory, but they were making product.

We were sitting down, and he said to me something about how he would like to be able to make this technology in the United States, but he didn’t think he’d be able to. Being at that point quite naïve about manufacturing, [I assumed it was] because of wages. He sort of laughed at me, and said, “The reason advanced manufacturing has weakened in the United States has nothing to do with American wages; wages are a trivial part of the cost structure.

[K.R.’s concerns] were with the lack of political priority US politicians were placing on manufacturing — for example, when someone he knew wanted to locate a silicon chip factory on Long Island they were told that in a drought the golf courses would get priority for access to water.

I began to go to a bunch of conferences and worked with a bunch of people including now Congressman Ro Khanna, who wasn’t then a congressman. Ro was working in manufacturing at the Obama Administration, and we tried to get the Obama Administration to really do something serious about manufacturing in a much more high-priority way, and we were never able to get that level of attention from them.

How much HR does a scale-up need?

HR consultancy Bright + Early founder Nora addresses a critical question we get a lot from founders: how should they grow HR as their startup expands? She explores when to start introducing classic HR processes, the best practices of each, and overall tips about thinking through HR.

Many founders are convinced that their team doesn’t want a formal performance review structure. However, when we speak to the employees, more feedback is often the first thing they ask for.

For the best results, I’m still a believer in the 360 review, which asks folks to review themselves, their peers, their manager, and anyone they manage. Just be sure to focus on constructive growth goals instead of discipline.

The tools: Reflektive, Lattice, and CultureAmp can help you conduct reviews, with built-in templates included. Many HR systems, like Bamboo, also have their own performance review systems built-in.

Extra tip: A review is only as good as the manager delivering it. Make sure managers are comfortable delivering feedback in a way that is honest, empathetic, motivating and growth-oriented.

How to go to market in Middle America

Finally this week, we have Pittsburgh-based Deborah Eisenberg, who founded TechStars PR, discussing how to launch into markets outside the coasts. While many a startup has launched with a local strategy in the Mission District in SF or Brooklyn in NYC, Eisenberg argues that a better path may be through the suburban towns that dot the country’s heartland. She provides tactics for maximizing the quality of any outreach.

There are, of course, a huge number of potential hazards you could run into when conducting a rollout, or just generally selling in an area you are unfamiliar with. The number one pitfall is making assumptions.

There are all sorts of companies who have stubborn founders or marketing heads, who are convinced of their assumptions and don’t think it’s necessary to test them. Even if your founder grew up in the midwest, or worse yet has a best friend or girlfriend who did, getting some feedback in the market is never a waste of time.

I find people make the worst assumptions about middle America when they read one single article about life there and then think they are experts. I have lived in Pittsburgh for almost four years and I am still a tourist.

ICYMI: Earlier this week:


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