Amsterdam is a melting pot, yet a new survey says its startup scene isn’t: what needs to change?

Diversity in Amsterdam Igneta Skliaustyte interview

The city of Amsterdam is considered a delightful melting pot of people from all shapes, sizes, colours, sexual orientations, and cultures. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said from its bustling startup ecosystem. The good news is: many startups have taken their first steps towards a more inclusive team, according to a survey from the Dutch Startup Association (DSA). We spoke with StartupAmsterdam’s Talent & Diversity Lead Igneta Skliaustyte about the steps ahead.

First steps to more diversity

One of the main findings of the Diversity and Inclusion report of 2020 [pdf here] by the Dutch Startup Association is that many companies are doing ‘something’ to increase their diversity. 89 Percent of startups have implemented at least one diversity policy. Most frequent policies include having a clear understanding of how diversity is linked to bottom-line performance, using a diverse team to interview candidates and including the value of diversity in the company’s mission.

However, the report also highlights the startup scene in Amsterdam is mostly homogeneous. White men are disproportionally featured in the composition of teams. 62 Per cent of respondents identify as male, 70 per cent as white. Men and white people also hold more equity in companies than women or people with a different cultural background. Together with The Next Women and Young Global People, DSA now launches a Diversity & Inclusion Desk where startups can find advise on changing these dynamics.

‘We miss action from companies’

“I’m a bit disappointed”, says Igneta Skliaustyte about the findings in the report. As Talent & Diversity Lead at StartupAmsterdam, her job is to advise companies on how and where they can find tech diverse tech talent to join their fast-growing teams. “Especially seeing that less than half of the companies answered they do not have an understanding about how diversity relates to business goals and don’t include diversity in their mission statement. We do miss more action from companies in general. However, we should also evaluate whether our methods and the message we are sending as a city is the right one.”

Read also: With female founders receiving hardly any funding, Amsterdam’s push for diversity continues

A good example Skliaustyte and StartupAmsterdam are involved in is the TekkieWorden Week. The week-long programme aims to introduce youngsters of different backgrounds to an education and a job in the tech world. Another initiative StartupAmsterdam is involved in is TechMeUp, which recently started offering an interest-free loan for people to enrol in a tech-related education. Both actions strive to introduce more of the underrepresented demographics into the world of tech. StartupAmsterdam is also building on a new joint initiative with over twenty female organisations called RISE.

The benefits of a diverse team

A vital question tech leaders have when facing the call for more diversity is: what’s in it for the company? According to the report from DSA, ‘there is no general evidence available of increasing a companies’ profit by adding minorities.’ 

Skliaustyte acknowledges for starting companies, the long term investment of increasing diversity may not be of the highest priority. “When you’re only just beginning, your company may not have the financial flexibility to make decisions that seem like an investment. So when deciding who to hire, smaller companies tend to make more quick and safe choices.  They mostly end up hiring men for tech jobs, also because the majority of candidates are men.

So Skliaustyte urges tech leaders not te be discouraged in finding different people for the same job. “I truly believe a diverse team can increase performance and provide better dynamics in the company. More than half of the people in Amsterdam have a migration background. You can’t afford not having them in your team. And everyone brings something new to the culture, something you can learn from with time.”

Protip: check your job postings

Skliaustyte says it is up to the leadership of a company to create the correct mindset and communicate that vision for the team. That might be easier said than done. Because what to do if you put out a job posting, and only white dudes show up? “Maybe I sound a bit harsh, but you might then be targeting the wrong group”, says Skliaustyte. 

For instance, Skliaustyte says that in her experience, from talking to female coders, a job post can already imply it is not a suitable environment for women. “Coders say that sometimes it is already clear from the job posting that a team is not diverse. I know this is a chicken and egg problem, but it can also be about company culture. The way you describe team building and the values your company hold.” 

Recruiters should have this in mind when looking for people outside the usual pool of talent, says Skliaustyte. “They need to try and speak the same language. If you want women or people with a migrant background, you need to incorporate it into your acquisition strategy. Enough is going on in the city for you to find this talent pool.”

To find out what is going on exactly and how your startup can increase its diversity, you can contact the Dutch Startup Association, which has its own Diversity & Inclusion Desk for tips and advise. You can also get in touch with Igneta Skliaustyte at StartupAmsterdam.

Picture: Igneta Skliaustyte, Talent & Diversity Lead StartupAmsterdam

Startups – Silicon Canals

Reverse Vesting Mechanism. Isn’t it a red flag??

Hello r/startups

I am curious about the legal standard in startup contracts called a reverse vesting mechanism. Why is this a norm? Why are so many founders okay with signing away such power in their venture, and doesn’t this lead to lots of founders getting kicked out of their own companies? Thanks so much!

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

Starling Bank founder Anne Boden says new book ‘isn’t a memoir’

Penguin Business describes Starling Bank founder Anne Boden’s “Banking On It” as the “first-hand account of one woman’s quest to rebuild Britain’s broken banking system.” Written with the help of a ghost writer, Boden relates how she came up with the idea to found a challenger bank and the many obstacles she faced along the way.

Fewer than 300 pages, the book parachutes the reader immediately into a cab journey in Ireland that Boden is taking post-financial crisis, when bankers weren’t exactly close to the public’s heart. Everything had changed. Yet, concludes the future Starling founder, the big banks had learned nothing and were determined to continue with business as usual. Thus, the scene is set for why a woman in her fifties would be ambitious enough to start a bank of her own.

I wouldn’t characterize Boden’s story as a page-turner in its entirety, but from then on in there’s more than enough narrative drive to get any fintech aficionado to where they want to go, including an account of Boden’s split with former Starling CTO Tom Blomfield, who left with other early members of the management and engineering team to found rival challenger bank Monzo.

As someone who has had the pleasure of speaking to and spending time with a number of people on both sides who were there when the alleged “coup” took place, this section made for uncomfortable reading. And, of course, it’s worth remembering that Boden’s book shares just one side — her side — of the story, which she has every right to own. However, we are yet to get Blomfield’s version of events directly (and may never), while others who were there have already reportedly disputed Boden’s account following the publication of an abbreviated extract in the Sunday Times two weekends ago.

Although the book presented very few surprises for a journalist who has spent the last five years obsessively covering Europe’s fintech industry, there were still one or two “a ha” moments, not least that Boden’s first contact with Harald McPike, the wealthy hedge fund manager who would go on to back Starling, came via a cold inbound message from a member of McPike’s team.

The Starling founder nearly ignored the message completely, but what followed was an offer not just to invest in Starling’s seed round but to do a mega-round released in tranches. This meant that Boden, who had struggled to raise traditional venture capital from VCs in London and beyond, could focus on recruiting a new team and building out the infrastructure required to launch an actual bank.

She paid a high price, giving away a majority stake in the process. As one former Starling employee told me, having diverted from the VC playbook, lower-ranking staff at the challenger bank would sometimes scratch their heads as the money taps kept running without the numerous fundraising rounds typically required. Now we know how.

This is not my memoir, right. You know, people at the end of their career write memoirs. I’m at the beginning.

There is also the £1 million in debt that Boden racked up employing management consultant firms to help her with the bank license application process. The issue of that debt, and who should take responsibility for it, would add further complications and conflict during the founding team’s split amid Starling’s fundraising woes.

What we don’t always get is a tremendous amount of introspection, with Boden telling me that “Banking On It” is not a memoir but a business book, even thought it often reads like one. “This is not my memoir, right. You know, people at the end of their career write memoirs. I’m at the beginning,” she says, in an exclusive interview with TechCrunch.

Boden said she isn’t going to retire any time soon and that Starling isn’t planning to sell to a big bank. Instead, her sights are set on an IPO. “I’ve had a long career, which is full of interesting things. And the next challenge is in front of me,” she says, with Starling aiming to be profitable by Christmas or early next year.

During our conversation, Boden dispelled one media myth (which my own sources confirm): There was never any kind of gagging order or confidentiality agreement prohibiting parties from talking about the Starling-Monzo split. Instead, by both camps, the media were sold a line designed to avoid a “he said, she said” scenario, creating the clear space needed for each bank to develop its own narrative. If everyone involved was free to talk after all, it seems that Boden has grabbed first-mover advantage.

It’s often said that history is written by the victors, but in the Starling-Monzo split story, it’s still not clear which bank will be victorious, while a less emotional assessment points to both upstarts having already won. For the real enemy was never “Anne” nor “Tom,” but an incumbent banking industry that had grown not just too big to fail but too big to listen and respond to a generation of digital-savvy customers who wanted a more modern banking experience. And it’s within this context that, regardless of who chooses next to disclose their account of events, the real Starling-Monzo story is still being written.

Below is a transcript of Boden’s interview with TechCrunch, lightly edited for length and clarity.

TechCrunch: Why publish a memoir, and why now?

Anne Boden: As you know, I’ve already done another book, “The Money Revolution.” I like words and I like being able to write things down and convey ideas. So I suppose I always knew that I would write a book. And I spend a lot of time and get inspiration from listening to audiobooks from other entrepreneurs, reading entrepreneurial books, anything about other people’s experiences, I take that information to try to help me on this journey.

Therefore, I came to the conclusion that I also had something to give. And I really wanted to do my best to put down and describe the journey of being an entrepreneur, the journey of a startup, and it’s not easy. I think that I come across lots of people asking me for advice, so I wanted to do that, I wanted to put it all down into a book about entrepreneurship. And of course, there’s no point in having a book about entrepreneurship, that’s sort of academic, you have to put a lot of your own experience into it.

Why now? Well, you know, Starling is going to be profitable by Christmas. And last year, and the year before, I just didn’t have enough bandwidth to do it. I thought the time was right, where I had enough to say about sharing my experiences.

I think the first thing is, never give up. And I think the lesson is that you’ll have ups and downs in any particular venture, and you have to recover, you have to be resilient.

Somebody asked me, “does this mean Anne is planning to retire?”

This is really putting down on paper where we are at the moment. It’s been written over several years, and I’m hoping to use this to inspire a generation of entrepreneurs. But also quite excited about the next phase of Starling, of fintech, of tech. I’m still excited by technology, I still get the real buzz about what it can do. I’ve been very, very fortunate to work in some interesting places, and do some interesting things, [and] I think the world could really, really change in the next 10 years, and I think that fintech could really be part of it. So I’m excited about the future. And to you maybe interviewing me in five years’ time about the next book, and in 10 years’ time about the next book after that. This is all about really passing on the knowledge to date.

So you’re not planning to sell or to try and sell Starling anytime soon?

No, no. Look, I didn’t do all this to sell out to a big bank. And I’ve got my sights on an IPO. I’d very much like to do that. I’ve been very, very fortunate, I’ve had a long career, which is full of interesting things. And the next challenge is in front of me. And no, this is setting my sights on the next challenge. And there’s lots going on.

At times during the book — aside from perhaps the chapter dedicated to the alleged “coup” — it’s not entirely clear what you want the reader to take away from the book. If you could pick your top three takeaways, be that business lessons or things people might not know about you or your thought process, what would they be?

I think the first thing is, never give up. And I think the lesson is that you’ll have ups and downs in any particular venture, and you have to recover, you have to be resilient. And every single entrepreneur gets a near death experience, and you have to come back from it. It’s all about recovery and resilience and using that for the next phase.

I think the second thing is that you can’t do it on your own, you have to do it with lots of different types of people and different sources of knowledge. I read a lot, whether they are Paul Graham essays or Stanford podcasts. I reached out to lots of different people through this process that helped me along the way, and I think that you have to figure out where those resources are and bring them all together.

And I think the third thing is, you’ve got to change. People talk about the project and the product iterating and pivoting, but you have to add your own personality and your own learnings have to do that as well. Because as an entrepreneur, as a leader, you are part of the product, you have to think, you have to absorb things and you have to evolve. I was mid-fifties when I decided that I was no longer working for a big bank, but I was going to be an entrepreneur with a startup. And that was a huge transition. But we all can do transitions, and we can do transitions throughout our life. And I hope that people take away that from the book.

It’s interesting you say that. I guess one of the aspects in the book that I felt was slightly missing was, I didn’t get a sense of what that transition was for you personally, whether that be in your management style, your understanding of the difference between corporate life and startup life etc. Was that on purpose; you didn’t want to do too much personal development and [instead] stick with the business side of the story?

I think that this is a business book. You know, I was quite surprised that people started calling it a memoir. And it’s doing really well in the memoir section of Amazon at the moment, so I’m quite flattered. But this isn’t a memoir. This is much more of a practical book about, you want to be an entrepreneur, you want to do a startup, you want to build something that’s never been done before. And the ‘me’ part of it all is to illustrate what happens. This is not my memoir, right. You know, people at the end of their career write memoirs. I’m at the beginning.

I think the pivotal moment in the non-memoir memoir is when Harald McPike said I’m not going to do a seed round, I’m going to do three tranches, so like a mega round, based on very specific and well-aligned milestones tied to the banking license application process.

From my understanding, that allowed you to have some breathing space to get to the stage of a licensed bank. Instead, it could have been, especially when you lost the team, that if you’d got a seed round but then had to almost immediately focus again on trying to raise another round, that may have also been the death of Starling. Do you think I’m over-egging the significance of that funding round coming in tranches and being committed up front?

It is very, very unusual. But it was [also] quite unusual for a startup to have so much documentation, to have so much that had been thought through. I’d been working on Starling for two years, I had a lot of information, lots of research, and I really, really understood the business I was going to build, and I hadn’t raised money. So the first money in was Harald McPike’s money, and I was two years into it all. I had an application for a banking license in three boxes, basically stacked up because they only take boxes and physical paper.

Therefore, I could really define what would be in the three stages, I could really define what you’d get for 3 million, what you’d get for 15 million, what you get for 30. So then I just had to hit those milestones. And hitting those milestones is really, really tough. But I had a lot of experience in running really big projects that are costing hundreds of millions, so I knew very well I could hit those deadlines; I could deal with having to hit the deadline by a certain date and releasing the money. So it was a big advantage that I didn’t have to go back out and fundraise. That was an advantage. But it was also an advantage and a disadvantage that I was two years in. If I advise anybody in a startup, it’s raise money early on and try something. It’s much easier to do that than wait two years whilst you have everything ready, and then raise a big round.

Startups – TechCrunch

Why isnt a startup solving the problem of voting?

It does look like there is acute pain in the electoral process in America. If anyone was doing a customer development process, it would come up fair and square that there is a dire need for a system that would be reliable and can scale – as the pandemic and lack of trust with ballots is a double whammy otherwise.

With all the talk about consensus based systems and blockchains, why isnt there consideration for a system that can solve this at scale? It might even be a system that would benefit the whole world at large conduct free and fair elections, all via their mobile devices.

Edit : While I say Startup, it could also be a non-profit foundation, backed by tech giants who could commit resources plus talent to build this solution, which would then be managed / executed via the government + volunteers.

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

Why isn’t Robinhood a verb yet?

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week Natasha MascarenhasDanny Crichton and your humble servant gathered to chat through a host of rounds and venture capital news for your enjoyment. As a programming note, I am off next week effectively, so look for Natasha to lead on Equity Monday and the both her and Danny to rock the Thursday show. I will miss everyone.

But onto the show itself, here’s what we got into:

Bon voyage for a week, please stay safe and don’t forget to register to vote.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Startups – TechCrunch

Schools are closing their doors, but Opendoor isn’t

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week Natasha Mascarenhas, Danny Crichton and myself hosted a live taping at Disrupt for a digital reception. It was good fun, though of course we’re looking forward to bringing the live show back to the conference next year, vaccine allowing.

Thankfully we had Chris Gates behind the scenes tweaking the dials, Alexandra Ames fitting us into the program and some folks to watch live.

What did we talk about? All of this (and some very, very bad jokes):

And then we tried to play a game that may or may not make it into the final cut. Either way, it was great to have Equity back at Disrupt. More to come. Hugs from us!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Startups – TechCrunch

What a startup isn’t – the fun and sexy part!

So a local journalism student wanted to do a "day in the life" project on someone from our area. I volunteered as my business is going through a lot of change (we were retail primarily with ecommerce as an after thought-ish and now going to wholesale and smoother/more focused ecommerce). I thought it might be interesting since I'm back to startup mode, wearing all the hats and days are crazy.

Instead the student hears "chocolatier" and only wants to shadow on a production day. Absolutely not. My production days are intense and can't be interrupted. Besides, it's actually the most uninteresting part of the business, it's just following recipes I created quite a while ago.

After I say no and explain that another day is not only more feasible for me, but more interesting (to be fair, I'm a nerd for business), they write back saying they "respectfully decline if they can't sit in on a production day."

Ugh! Being a business owner of any sort means so much more than the fun and "glamorous" side, especially when you're in (or back in as in my case) startup mode. And not only that, it's incredibly more involved, interesting and exciting! Spreadsheets and sales meetings are intensely intriguing when you're risking it all!

Sorry, I guess there's not a lot of point to this point other than to vent to people who would hopefully understand. Product =/= business!

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

Boston’s Q2 shows that the startup rebound isn’t ahead of us, it’s upon us

The coronavirus caused some disagreement amongst Boston’s venture capital community. Looking back at our mid-2020 survey of its VCs, some saw the city’s strength in biotech and healthcare as a competitive advantage, while others saw Boston’s diverse startup ecosystem as key to its survival.

And some were worried that activity was about to clamp down. Jeff Bussgang, Flybridge Ventures, put it most frankly: “Q2 financing for Boston is going to fall off a cliff. The biotech industry may see some bright spots […] but the financing market has frozen up as solid as the Charles River in February.”

With fresh data in hand, it appears that the more bullish were more right than the bears and that, in a good turn of affairs for Boston startups, Bussgang was wrong.

The city, much like the country, did not see the sharply negative quarter that many anticipated. Boston posted record venture capital investment in the period, its highest total since at least Q3 2018 according to CB Insights data.

The same dataset also says that Boston-area companies raised $ 3.7 billion across 126 deals. Indeed, the good news from Boston’s Q1 bested better-than-anticipated-results from both the global venture capital community, and the domestic VC world in Q2.

Bussgang sent an updated metaphor to the TechCrunch team in response to this data: “It was a tundra in March and April but, as happens in Boston, April showers and May flowers kicked in and the financing markets started to gush again in the late spring/early summer, just in time to save Q2 .”

While the data isn’t historically definitive due to reporting lags, it can be used as a directional sign that Boston’s rebound isn’t ahead of us, it’s upon us.

The solid numbers are a sign that COVID-19 and economic turmoil have put many startups in greater demand than before, which means that they need to amass money to meet growth needs.

Startups – TechCrunch

DoubleDown is going public: Why isn’t its IPO worth more?

Agora isn’t the only company headquartered outside the United States aiming to go public domestically this quarter. After catching up on Agora’s F-1 filing, the China-and-U.S.-based, API-powered tech company that went public last week, today we’re parsing DoubleDown Interactive’s IPO document.


The Exchange is a daily look at startups and the private markets for Extra Crunch subscribers; use code EXCHANGE to get full access and take 25% off your subscription.


The mobile gaming company is targeting the NASDAQ and wants to trade under the ticker symbol “DDI.”

As with Agora, DoubleDown filed an F-1, instead of an S-1. That’s because it’s based in South Korea, but it’s slightly more complicated than that. DoubleDown was founded in Seattle, according to Crunchbase, before selling itself to DoubleU Games, which is based in South Korea. So, yes, the company is filing an F-1 and will remain majority-held by its South Korean parent company post-IPO, but this offering is more a local affair than it might at first seem.

Even more, with a $ 17 to $ 19 per-share IPO price range, the company could be worth up to nearly $ 1 billion when it debuts. Does that pricing make sense? We want to find out.

So let’s quickly explore the company this morning. We’ll see what this mobile, social gaming company looks like under the hood in an effort to understand why it is being sent to the public markets right now. Let’s go!

Fundamentals

Any gaming company has to have its fun-damentals in place so that it can have solid financial results, right? Right? [Editor’s note: A

Anyway, DoubleDown is a nicely profitable company. In 2019 its revenue only grew a hair to $ 273.6 million from $ 266.9 million the year before (a mere 2.5% gain), but the company’s net income rose from $ 25.1 million to $ 36.3 million, and its adjusted EBITDA rose from $ 85.1 million to $ 101.7 million over the same period.

Startups – TechCrunch