White Lies

by Richard White

Founder & CEO of @UserVoice. Future mayor of San Francisco. Seeking out the complex (and sometimes hard) truths behind the simple lies of the world.

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On our Nation & our Future

Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” is generally regarded as the greatest speech of the 20th century, but for me this speech, recorded just two years prior, is the most important, and prescient, speech not just of the 1960’s but of our modern era.

On this Thanksgiving, I hope that you can take the time in your post-Turkey food coma to watch Eisenhower’s farewell address. You’ve probably heard the military-industrial complex piece before, and that is certainly a highlight, but you’ve probably not heard the rest which is equally important.

There’s certainly much we have to be thankful for today but there’s also a lot of troubling developments, foreseen by this great man over half a century ago, that we as a nation still need to address. Food for thought.

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On the Inevitability of Automation

There’s a lot of discussion about whether automating people out of a job is ethical or even good for society. I’ve been called some not so nice things for suggesting that we solve the BART strike by automating it (BART trains are actually already automated).

But the point is really this: regardless of whether you believe automation is good or bad it is inevitable.

The various unions that represent BART workers may postpone that inevitability for a while (as the NY transit unions did) but eventually it will happen. Does anyone really believe that we won’t have a fully automated transit system in 10 or 20 years time?

But this is about more than a local transit issues.

The bigger point is that we’re on the cusp of an era of accelerated automation of our workforce. (see: Why Software is Eating the World by Marc Andreessen)

This automation will happen at a speed that will mean people...

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On Hiring Intangibles

As the company has grown, my role in hiring has changed. No more am I involved in the “can they do it” part of the process (ex: assessing the technical aptitude of engineering candidates or the portfolios of designers). Nor am I the sole gatekeeper of the all-important “culture fit.” Everyone on the team is trained to look for signals to determine whether a candidate would be a fit with our values.

I now only have two roles in the hiring process: getting the candidate excited about working at UserVoice and assessing the intangibles.

The former is pretty straightforward; the latter less so. In fact, I’m not even sure until recently that I knew I was doing it at all.

I’ve come to realize that one of the biggest intangibles I look for is whether someone has been the master of his or her own destiny.

I determine this by asking candidates to tell me their...

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On Severance

I recently observed a heated startup mailing list discussion about whether a to give severance to an employee of a early stage (but funded) startup. Most of the discussion focused on what was legally required and whether or not to couple severance with a separation agreement. This was my response:


I hate severance. Hate it. The thought of paying someone I was forced to fire because he (or she) is incompetent burns me up inside.

However. I always provide severance and I always require a departing employee sign separation agreements. For everyone from an executive to the janitor.

Why? Because it’s a small town and current and future employees will notice how you take care (or don’t take care) of people on their way out.

Other employees won’t always know why a former employee was fired, but they will know that you fired them with little notice* and no severance. It...

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An Entrepreneurship Tale

From lowly dev to funded founder and the missteps and lessons along the way.

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Of all the talks I’ve given this one, on my journey from being a developer to being a founder to being a non-starving founder, was the one I loved giving the most. I’d given everywhere from Mountain View to Helsinki to Singapore and I hope my rather sordid tale about the genesis of UserVoice has inspired those in the audience to pursue their startup dreams.

Last year I had the special opportunity to give this talk, for the final time, at Triangle Startup Weekend 2012, hosted at my alma mater (NC State University) in my hometown of Raleigh, NC (and where we have our newest UserVoice office). Most importantly it gave me a chance to give this talk in front of the folks that really made this all possible, my original angel investors, my amazing parents who supported me both emotionally...

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