Feb 21, 2019
In the wake of Davos 2019, the World Economic Forum, tensions are running high. Large companies are being scrutinized for reaping huge tax breaks while not giving back to the community. CEOs are trying to balance a board's expectation of making fiscally responsible decisions and also maintaining a culture of trust and creativity. Should tech entrepreneurs be tasked with fixing the world? Is it their responsibility?
PJ Bruno: What's up guys? Welcome back to Braze for Impact, your weekly tech industry discuss digest. I'm PJ Bruno, and I'm thrilled to have with me today two very close buddies. Across from me is Boris Revechkis, product manager here at Braze, and also I believe descendant of Rasputin? Is that-
Boris Revechkis: That's accurate, yes. What's up everybody?
PJ Bruno: Cool. Here he is. And to my right, your left, we have also a good friend of mine, Ryan Doyle, who's recently become an AE here at Braze. He is the legitimate country boy turned bonafide city boy. How you doing here Ryan?
Ryan Doyle: How y'all doing? Yeah, no. Only recently, seven months now.
PJ Bruno: Wow.
Ryan Doyle: Yes.
PJ Bruno: What a turn.
Boris Revechkis: Doyle Farms.
Ryan Doyle: Doyle and Son Farms.
Boris Revechkis: Doyle and Son Farms.
Ryan Doyle: Remember where you came from.
PJ Bruno: That's right.
Boris Revechkis: Love it.
PJ Bruno: How you guys doing? I know, Boris you're fighting a cold-
Boris Revechkis: I'm getting some cold.
PJ Bruno: And somehow you made it here today, I love that.
Boris Revechkis: I'm hanging in there, doing it for the podcast.
PJ Bruno: God, that's the commitment we need to see more of, kind of across the board.
Boris Revechkis: I may faint. I may faint during the podcast, but if I do, just go on without me.
Ryan Doyle: We'll keep going yeah.
PJ Bruno: Yeah, we'll edit it out. We'll edit out your faint-
Boris Revechkis: Perfect.
Ryan Doyle: I can do your voice.
PJ Bruno: Ryan, how you doing buddy?
Ryan Doyle: I'm doing fantastic. Just meetings, meetings, meetings, deals, deals, deals.
PJ Bruno: Cool.
Ryan Doyle: They really crack that whip.
PJ Bruno: They do, don't they?
Ryan Doyle: Yes.
PJ Bruno: You told me yesterday you had a cool little prospecting adventure and a weird experience.
Ryan Doyle: Yeah, you want me to talk-
PJ Bruno: Can you share? Yeah, yeah. Give a little splattering of it.
Ryan Doyle: So, just the background on it was, I had a prospect who came to Braze because they were launching an app. That app had to do with paying with your face. It's a facial recognition technology. They wanted to put in coffee shops, so when you walked in you wouldn't swipe, tap, nod, whatever, you would just grab your drink and go. So I walk up to this guy's office, and there's a camera, and a screen that shows me my face, and it pulls down a match from the internet of my face. Like with a little rectangular box and some matrix-y numbers side by side, and it says, "Welcome Ryan Doyle." I'm like, "Oh, this is weird." So I go in, and he's telling me about the launch. They're talking about these pieces of third party data that they've been using at this coffee shop downstairs to test this out. Where someone will come in and they'll say, "Hey Boris, welcome back. Do you want this latte? Your significant other loves it too." Or, "Maybe you'd like to try this," or, "How's your dog?" or, "How's your child?" On the creepiness scale, they found that mentioning someone's dog was much creepier than mentioning how their children were.
PJ Bruno: Yeah.
Ryan Doyle: Yeah, but, they ran into the issue of, a couple of people they talked to about their dogs, their dogs had passed away.
PJ Bruno: Oh God.
Ryan Doyle: Doesn't happen as frequently with children I suppose.
PJ Bruno: You hate to see that.
Ryan Doyle: You hate to see it.
Boris Revechkis: That's all very disheartening.
PJ Bruno: I mean, you got to walk that line between personalizing and not going too personal.
Ryan Doyle: Too personal.
PJ Bruno: I feel like that's same thing goes for conversation in general. Anyways, thank you Ryan for that little tid bit.
Ryan Doyle: Yeah. It was an interesting night on the live.
PJ Bruno: That's good. That's good. So we got a lot to get to today. Really excited to jump in. Our first article, Amazon Isn't Interested in Making the World a Better Place by Kara Swisher from New York Times. This is, we all know that, I mean, most of us probably know at this point if you live in New York City that Amazon pulled out of their second HQ that they planned to have in Long Island city. Boris, you're a Long Island city boy.
Boris Revechkis: I am. I'm a Long Island city resident.
PJ Bruno: Were you excited to potentially have them move into the neighborhood?
Boris Revechkis: Not particularly, and I don't think there were many in the neighborhood who were. Yeah, I have a lot of mixed feelings. Obviously, we working in tech, in some sense, have a horse in the race, but I don't know that they really considered the effect on the surrounding community. Obviously the backlash reflects that.
PJ Bruno: Yeah.
Ryan Doyle: Yeah.
Boris Revechkis: I think they could've done a lot better job in laying the ground work for that. A few weeks ago, I tweeted, which seven I think, at least seven people read that Amazon should just take some of the benefit that they were getting in taxes and just plow that into the subway system. Just be like, "Here. Love us."
PJ Bruno: Right.
Boris Revechkis: Then, "Okay, fine. Now we have, okay, we have common interest."
PJ Bruno: Exactly.
Boris Revechkis: Be a part of the community. Contribute.
Ryan Doyle: It's a corporate good will.
PJ Bruno: It's as easy as that. Right?
Boris Revechkis: Yeah. Kind of like get the public on your side, and it just didn't seem like they really cared what people thought about the whole situation.
Ryan Doyle: They were shopping for a deal.
Boris Revechkis: Yeah. Pretty much.
PJ Bruno: I guess so. Yeah, I think a lot of the uproar came up, I think Miss Swisher put it so well in her article. "In an era when all kinds of public services are being cut in the city's infrastructure is crumbling, why is a trillion dollar corporation getting so much?" Then it was finally revealed how much, $3 billion in tax breaks.
Boris Revechkis: Yeah.
Ryan Doyle: I think-
PJ Bruno: So people were kind of up in arms.
Boris Revechkis: This is really reflective, I think, of the whole, and this second article we'll talk about later, the whole combination of these factors where you just have a system that's sort of out of wack. The incentives that drive progress are now driving outcomes that are clearly undesirable. Like, this article doesn't hold back in that regard, but like I love the phrase "modern [hellscape]". Like shooter for to San Francisco is a modern [hellscape], which is, that's strong language.
Ryan Doyle: That's really strong.
Boris Revechkis: That's strong language and-
PJ Bruno: Pretty polarizing.
Boris Revechkis: Yeah. Obviously she's talking about genuine problems, but is that direction we want to go in, or is that something we want to try and tweak the system so that we don't get pushed in these directions? I do think that the Amazon move into the city was something that would exacerbate the kind of issues that would push us in that direction, in the direction of problems like San Francisco has.
Ryan Doyle: There was like an argument on the other side of it where the incentives that we were handing out as a city to get them here, we're far, far below what we would gain in economic incentives. Part of the argument was like, "Well, we're not giving them anything tangible. There's three billion in tax credits and what not," so it's not money that exists-
Boris Revechkis: A future tax, yeah revenue.
Ryan Doyle: And ready to put somewhere else, but I feel like my personal notion is that that money does come from somewhere. It comes from us in our future taxes, and part of it did come out of New York state incentives to bring new businesses here. It would've retired 1.5 billion out of a $2 billion grant that companies get for moving business to New York state. I just think part of the sentiment that I agree with is maybe people in general are tired of this trickle down notion where we put up a big amount of money, or some type of incentive with the hope that it would come back to us. I think we've just been fatigued with that type of situation over and over.
PJ Bruno: Yeah. I think that's spot on.
Boris Revechkis: In terms of concentrating the wealth too, we can, ideally, we would just replace that same activity by encouraging many other smaller companies to come to New York instead of one giant company. And trying to encourage the same type of outcome, but by spreading that tax revenue, or rather, break around to other companies and other industries.
Ryan Doyle: I mean, Braze is here. We're about to move to a new office in New York City. Where's the incentive? You know?
Boris Revechkis: That's true.
PJ Bruno: Where's the tax breaks guys? I was surprised to see Amazon buckle so quickly. You know? It just seems like at the first sign of scrutiny, boom, they're out. Now it seems like they just want to bolster their office in D.C. I was very surprised that they didn't-
Boris Revechkis: I think it becomes like a no-win scenario for them, because having to fight back all the negative attention if they tried to negotiate, the publicizing of the negotiations would probably be very damaging I think. So I think they decided it was just, "Why do this?"
Ryan Doyle: Yeah, and I wonder if they'd had so little investment in New York already. I mean, it was just in word that they were coming here. So far, this deal is only how old that another city might've reached about, but, "Look, here's the incentive, we can provide. If New York doesn't want it, we'll give it to you."
Boris Revechkis: Right.
Ryan Doyle: Maybe that's yet to be announced. I thought I heard Nashville somewhere out in the ether that that might be the other location they go to.
Boris Revechkis: But it's also, it's not like they're not here. Right? They have an office here. They have many employees here. They're going to continue hiring and expanding in New York and their existing office. So it's not like all or nothing. It's so-
PJ Bruno: They have a foot hole.
Boris Revechkis: Right.
PJ Bruno: They didn't feel like they were losing much I guess.
Boris Revechkis: Right.
Ryan Doyle: Yep.
PJ Bruno: Well, I for one, being an Astorian, and that's in Astoria for those of you who don't know.
Boris Revechkis: Nice.
PJ Bruno: I'm thrilled that there's not going to be so much congestion, and it's not going to turn into a complete circus on my train.
Ryan Doyle: Your apartment's going to stay nice and cheap.
PJ Bruno: You know what? Let's hope so. As long as I can not have a lease, and as long as my landlord just keeps all the stuff off the books, you didn't hear that here.
Ryan Doyle: Yeah, we're going to cut that out.
Boris Revechkis: Yeah, we'll take that out. We'll take that out in post.
Ryan Doyle: That's fine.
Boris Revechkis: Perfect.
PJ Bruno: Perfect. All right, well let's move on to the big topic this week. As you guys know, Davos, which we all know at this point is the knight, former smuggler in service of Stannis Baratheon from Game of Thrones-
Boris Revechkis: The onion knight. Man, I love the onion knight.
PJ Bruno: I'm just so curious, like what's going to happen to him in the final season. That's what I really want to know.
Ryan Doyle: I've never watched Game of Thrones, and you really lost me there for a second.
Boris Revechkis: Wow.
Ryan Doyle: I feel like I want to wait for it to all be released.
Boris Revechkis: Can we just edit Ryan out of the entire podcast?
Ryan Doyle: No, no, no. See, I've got the plan. They're going to release all of Game of Thrones. I'm not going to deal with all this anxiety and anticipation. I'm just going to watch it when I feel like it.
PJ Bruno: You're really good at planning anxiety out of your life these days. Like, any time you identify it-
Ryan Doyle: That's why I'm hanging out with you last.
PJ Bruno: Wow. I noticed that. The patterns are starting to, this is a loaded moment.
Boris Revechkis: This is a loaded moment. I'm not watching the last season, I'm just saying. I can't I refuse to watch it until the books come out.
PJ Bruno: You can't do it?
Boris Revechkis: I need the books. I need the books. Give me the books. Are you listening George R. R. Martin? You're out there, aren't you? I know you're listening to this podcast. Finish the damn book.
PJ Bruno: Let me course correct a little bit. Davos, of course we're talking about the world economic forum that went down just last week I believe. There's this great article that Tim Leberecht did for Ink Magazine called Purpose Washing, Hustle Culture, and Automation: Business at a Crossroads. It's just a really good, I mean, I love his opening statement here, so let me just read it for you guys to get us in the zone. "Business leaders today must constantly wrestle with opposing forces. They must embrace data, and at the same time listen to their gut feelings. They must cater to efficiency pressures, and also create a culture of trust and creativity. They must ensure short-term profit, while thinking about the long-term impact of their business, acting as 'civic CEOs', stewarding 'woke brands'. Now some may call this ambidexterity, or others schizophrenia. At any rate, it's not surprising that being stuck in the middle of such dichotomy breeds uncomfortable tension and conflicting rhetoric. Double agendas can lead to double speak." You guys read this one, right?
Ryan Doyle: Yeah, that's heavy.
Boris Revechkis: Sure did.
PJ Bruno: Oh, it's heavy. I mean, any initial thoughts? Ryan, you want to kick us off here? We're going to edit you out, but just go ahead.
Ryan Doyle: Just on the whole topic of Davos, there was ... I just found it so interesting, like its kind of come to the head as like our own New York representative, who was kind of in this Amazon fight. Like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been talking about this certain type of marginal tax rate, and those things get brought up at Davos. People laugh at it, but it was the reality for a long time in America to have a very high tax rate marginally on a certain group of users. So, just to hear these topics brought back up right now, and then at Davos, it all just seems so timely. Then was kind of kicked off, I think again yesterday when that Tucker Carlson-
PJ Bruno: Thing with Fox News.
Boris Revechkis: So beautiful. Can I just call out how amazing it was that you said, "Users," instead of, "Tax payers"?
PJ Bruno: Nice.
Boris Revechkis: Love it. That's Braze life right there.
Ryan Doyle: I just got out of a sales conversation, so let me reset. Let me reset.
PJ Bruno: Rewire.
Boris Revechkis: We have 300 million users in this country.
PJ Bruno: You got any hot takes from the article here?
Boris Revechkis: There were a lot of big ideas in this article. A lot of it was about inequality in general, which is, you know, that's a trip. We can spend a lot of time on that. A lot of it was about AI, and refers back to what we were talking about earlier with that company doing face recognition, and privacy, and responsibility. Like in the quote you read, the pressure, the tension between using data, and exploiting data, and making people uncomfortable. I thought it was interesting that the Microsoft CEO had come out in favor of a US version of a GDPR, which is very cool.
PJ Bruno: Yeah.
Boris Revechkis: I mean obviously, I think at Braze we're very much behind that idea.
Ryan Doyle: We would love that.
Boris Revechkis: We would love that idea.
PJ Bruno: Yeah.
Boris Revechkis: Yeah. I think that speaks to that sort of idea of responsibility. Right? Don't use data in ways that makes people uncomfortable when they're picking up coffee.
Ryan Doyle: Don't mention their poor, dead dog.
Boris Revechkis: Yeah, exactly. Maybe what we need is actually some legislation to create some barriers, some boundaries so that collectively we're not cringing when we walk by an advertisement and it's asking us about our last doctor's visit.
Ryan Doyle: Jeez. Well, if I could just add in, I think one of the reasons we haven't had legislation is, this was in one of those articles that kind of attack myth that's been going on for a long time. That Silicon Valley is here to save the world. All these tech founders come in, and they have an idea that will not only benefit us in a business sense, but, "We are going to change the world to be a better place." Maybe that's why legislation has been so slow to get up behind it, because we not only know what people are doing with our data because it's such a new occurrence, but we kind of trust these people who say that they are going to change the world for the better. So, I think we're starting to see for the first time that might not be the case.
PJ Bruno: But that's the thing. Does that mean that if you decide to start a company and become a tech entrepreneur, it is now on you to make the world a better place? Like, obviously I think if you have the means, you should try to give back, but does that mean it's just a given? It's inherent anytime a tech leader tries to start something new? Is it, "Well, you know, keep in mind you must be giving back"? You know, or is it just like, "You need to pretend to give back"?
Boris Revechkis: Question for life.
PJ Bruno: Question for life.
Ryan Doyle: I think because, is it our duty as human beings to always try to make the world a little bit better of a place? Not just tech founders PJ.
PJ Bruno: Jeez.
Boris Revechkis: Jeez. Personally, I don't know whoever believed that the full T-tech industry would unequivocally and unambiguously make the world a better place without making profit first. Like, our society, corporations, businesses, are economy is structured around organization which are obligated to increase value to shareholders.
PJ Bruno: Right.
Boris Revechkis: Put the shareholders interests first. Like, that's how our society is organized. It's great that tech founders want to make the world a better place. Anyone who does want to, it's great, but the reality is that when a company becomes large enough, and then also becomes publicly traded, you are obligated to make certain kinds of decisions. That's the way our society is structured. An interesting counter pointer alternative to that approach would be something like a B corporation, which is something that's come up in like the last decade or so, which is kind of cool.
Ryan Doyle: What's that?
Boris Revechkis: It's like a non-profit that basically has come up with this, so they're like S corps and C corps. They're like the, C corps are the most common and all that. This is like a non-profit that says, "We'll certify you as a B corporation," which means you're not just looking out for your share duty to your shareholders, but you're also incorporating into every decision you make, you're impact on the community, on the environment, on society at large. It's very difficult, and not a lot of huge brands have done this yet.
Ryan Doyle: Are their any examples?
PJ Bruno: I was about to say-
Boris Revechkis: Like Ben & Jerry's.
Ryan Doyle: Like an honest corporation?
Boris Revechkis: Kickstarter is a B corporation I think.
PJ Bruno: Ben & Jerry's?
Ryan Doyle: Of course they are.
PJ Bruno: I knew I liked those.
Ryan Doyle: Yeah.
Boris Revechkis: It's not widely popular yet, but because it's really onerous, because you're now saddling like your board and your whole organization with this responsibility, because you're not just here to make us money. You're here to think about your impact on everyone, your employees, your customers, your surrounding community, the environment, etc., etc.
Ryan Doyle: Right.
Boris Revechkis: In conjunction with your financial responsibilities and interests. So it's not easy, but the idea being that we're trying to change the incentives, or this is an attempt to change the incentives corporations to do better.
Ryan Doyle: We don't have to legislate that as a norm, but it would be cool to incentivize those types of bigs, just to have a little more people who are thinking in that mindset.
Boris Revechkis: Yeah.
Ryan Doyle: Yeah.
PJ Bruno: Sorry. One of the things they picked out from this article, that I thought was an interesting thing, was the idea of reinventing capitalism. Is it a business or a government affair? I mean, I'm curious to know what you guys think, because my instinct is that it should be ... Maybe I'm just more regulation prone, because at this point, there's like a lot of bullies in the game with a lot of money and a lot to lose. We need to level the playing field a little bit, but yeah. I mean it just, I don't know. Who's it on?
Ryan Doyle: I think that it has to be a dance, because it takes two to tangle. Right? Business is not going to have a direction without regulation, and regulation won't have anything to regulate without the growth of business.
PJ Bruno: Yeah.
Ryan Doyle: I just read this interesting book on Teddy Roosevelt, and some of his first run-ins with monopolistic industries, and how he really came to be known as the trust buster. It's just interesting this dance that happens where there might be a little give with business, and then government does a little take, but then government gives a little over here. Then there's a little more take by business. So, I think it's definitely something that happens in parallel. I just think that we might be asking it because business seems to be moving faster at the moment.
Boris Revechkis: Yeah. I think there's sort of this ideal that is always pushed that from the very start of a company to the point where it's Amazon's size, it can operate under the assumption that growing is always good, and representing a larger share of your market is better always. But ultimately, we have to recognize that, in a purely mathematical dynamical system sense, when you get that big your constraints are now different. You're not just like a fish swimming through the sea. You can now touch the edges of the sea. Right? You're like, it's a fish tank now and you're a big fish, and every motion of yours, you're hitting the walls and you're crushing other fish.
Ryan Doyle: That's a good way to put it.
PJ Bruno: Yeah, it is.
Boris Revechkis: Also, you have to, the rules of the game have now changed. The rules, as far as government is concerned, have to account for that. You can't just treat that big fish like a tiny fish in the ocean.
PJ Bruno: Yeah.
Boris Revechkis: With where the limits are, pretty much unreachable once you've started to actually hit the edges of the tank, like the rules of the game need to change. Otherwise, things will go wrong. I think that's just pretty much what monopolies are and why that happened 130 years ago, 140 years ago, and why we're running into it now with tech companies. Government is behind in this industry because we have people who ask Mark Zuckerberg in congressional hearings how his company makes money. They have no idea what they're talking about, and they're just completely out of their depth. Therefore, we're now in a situation where these companies are just occupying such a vast proportion of these industries, that their every decision rocks the boat, to use another ocean, water.
Ryan Doyle: I like how it metaphors dude.
PJ Bruno: Doesn't resonate with me.
Ryan Doyle: I'm a big fish in a small tank.
Boris Revechkis: So, yeah. I mean, we just have to, we have to come to the terms of the fact that we need to, and even the companies themselves need to realize like, "Hey, you're not just a company anymore that's striving to get more customers and generate more revenue. You have such an outsize influence on your surrounding society that you have to think ahead." It's like the same thing with climate change. You can't, not to invoke another massively complicated and heavy topic-
Ryan Doyle: You're not getting deep enough here yet.
PJ Bruno: We'll save it.
Ryan Doyle: Yeah, we'll save it.
Boris Revechkis: Like, you have to be aware of your outputs and what you're doing to the surrounding area. You can't just keep throwing poison into the river and assuming it'll wash away to the ocean, when now the whole river is tainted, and the ocean is tainted, and whatever, whatever.
Ryan Doyle: Still talking about metaphors.
Boris Revechkis: Total a metaphor.
PJ Bruno: Yeah. A little real life too.
Boris Revechkis: Yeah.
PJ Bruno: Cool. I mean, any closing thoughts from you two before we wrap her up?
Ryan Doyle: I mean, I just had one question in all of this to ask Boris, because we touched a little bit on AI and machine learning today. I wanted to ask with Boris, specifically his role here has to do with AI and machine learning. I guess, how do your moral obligations play into your day-to-day role or how you see yourself in the AI industry and learning industry? Do you ever think about the impact your decisions or your work has, and if so, how do you try to exercise judgment in the work you put out?
Boris Revechkis: I mean, the short answer is absolutely. The more involved answer that we may or may not have time for-
Ryan Doyle: It's a big closing question.
Boris Revechkis: It is. It is.
PJ Bruno: I love it.
Boris Revechkis: The bottom line is that we have to, you know. Braze as a company, I think, embraces the idea that we have to be responsible with our choices and we have to consider their impacts on people. So, we have to be mindful of how we allow our own customers to use data to influence their relationships with their own end users in a way that is responsible. To use another analogy, here we go again, the way I like to think of it, if you were just like a general store owner in the old west. Your customers are coming in, and you have a business, and you're trying to see where you're making money, where you're losing money. You would find your best customers, you would try to figure out what they want, and you would cater your business to insure your own livelihood and well being. So in a lot of ways, our customers are trying to do the same thing, but they're trying to do it for millions of their own customers. So of course they can't do it, and they can't have an army of people trying to parse all the data and interactions that they have with all their customers. You need machines. You need algorithms to go and figure out what the patterns are so you can say, "Oh, this pool of customers like products x, y, z. We should focus in this area. We should cater to these customers. We should communicate with them more. Here are the customers that are disaffected. They're not interested in us anymore. Why are they not interested? We need to do better." Right? It's like those common sense questions that any business own would ask, we're now just using machine learning and AI. We're helping our own customers use machine learning and AI to answer those questions, just at a scale that's unmanageable to do without those tools. Again, long answer, but as long as we're doing that without using data in a way that would clearly make people uncomfortable and would leverage data that they don't want us-
Ryan Doyle: We'll use data we didn't have the right to use.
Boris Revechkis: Exactly. So I mean, GDPR is really like almost the shield for this. Right? Like, "Hey, we're just not going to use data in ways that is irresponsible or that people don't want us to do in order to further these ends." But when people are explicitly told what's going to happen to their data, and how we and our customers are going to use it, and they're okay with that, great. That's sort of what it comes down to.
Ryan Doyle: Thank you for answering that.
PJ Bruno: Yeah, I appreciate that too.
Boris Revechkis: Yeah.
PJ Bruno: I want to close it out real quick. I think this article is so good, and I really love the closing paragraphs. So this is how he summed it all up. "A perfect storm is brewing: the agony of old systems, the void left by less and less trustworthy tech platforms, the disruption of the labor markets by the fourth industrial revolution, and the critical importance of reinventing capitalism and redefining the meaning of meaningful work. In the middle of conflicting agendas, CEOs will have to make tough choices. The most responsible of them know they will have their role to place in tackling all these issues, but are also humble enough to realize that, now more than ever, business can't do it alone." Is that a cough drop?
Boris Revechkis: Sorry. I had to get a cough drop.
PJ Bruno: All right. Well, signing off, this is PJ Bruno.
Ryan Doyle: This is Ryan Doyle.
Boris Revechkis: And Boris Revechkis.
PJ Bruno: You guys take care. Come see us again sometime.