You won the H-1B lottery: Don’t lose your ticket when changing jobs

Getting an H-1B skilled-worker visa is like winning the lottery — literally: With the number of new visas issued each year capped at 85,000, most of this year’s over 200,000 applicants face disappointment. But if you’re already working in the United States, then you’ve already won the H-1B lottery, and that makes you a hot commodity.

With H-1Bs in short supply, successful companies frequently poach skilled workers. Everyone knows the tech sector thrives on this free exchange of people and ideas, so if another employer needs your skills, why not start working for them?

Well, not so fast. H-1B holders can work only for the company that originally sponsored their visa application. So if you want to change employers, you’ll need to “transfer” your H-1B.

That process used to be relatively straightforward but not in the Trump era. (Boundless recently underwent this process with an employee, so we understand the pain.) The denial rate for initial H-1B applications spiked over five-fold to 32 percent just in the first quarter of fiscal 2019, up from 6 percent in 2015. Crucially, the Trump administration is targeting “continuing” H-1B applications used by existing employees to either renew their H-1B or switch it to a new employer. Even tech giants like Amazon are now seeing double-digit rejection rates.

The bottom line: The days of getting an H-1B transfer quickly rubber-stamped are long gone, and that makes it vital to do whatever you can to keep the odds in your favor. The stakes are high — if things go south, you could lose your right to live and work in the United States. Here’s what H-1B holders need to know about the right — and wrong — ways to set about switching employers:

Don’t take your transfer for granted.

First, understand that an H-1B “transfer” is actually a brand new visa application, not a simple handover of your existing H-1B visa from one employer to another — there’s no such thing.

How to negotiate term sheets with strategic investors

Three years ago, I met with a founder who had raised a massive seed round at a valuation that was at least five times the market rate. I asked what firm made the investment.

She said it was not a traditional venture firm, but rather a strategic investor that not only had no ties to her space but also had no prior investment experience. The strategic investor, she said, was looking to “get their hands dirty” and “get in on the ground floor.”

Over the next 2 years, I kept a close eye on the founder. Although she had enough capital to pivot her business focus multiple times, she seemed to be at odds, serving the needs of her strategic investor and her customer base.

Ultimately, when the business needed more capital to survive, the strategic investor didn’t agree with the founder’s focus, opted not to prop it up, and the business had to shut down.

Sadly, this is not an uncommon story as examples abound of strategic investors influencing startup direction and management decisions to the point of harm for the startup. Corporate strategics, not to be confused with dedicated funds focused on financial returns like a traditional venture investor like Google Ventures, often care less about return on investment, and more about a startup’s focus, and sector specificity. If corporate imperatives change, the strategic may cease to be the right partner or could push the startup in a challenging direction.

And yet, fortunately, as the disruptive power of technology is being unleashed on nearly every major industry, strategic investors are now getting smarter, both in terms of how they invest and how they partner with entrepreneurs.

From making strong acquisitive plays (i.e. GM’s purchase of Cruise Automation or Toyota’s early-stage investment in Uber) to building dedicated funds, to executing commercial agreements in tandem with capital investment, strategics are getting savvier, and by extension, becoming better partners.  In some instances, they may be the best partner.

Negotiating a term sheet with a strategic investor necessitates a different set of considerations. Namely: the preference for a strategic to facilitate commercial milestones for the startup, a cautious approach to avoid the “over-valuation” trap, an acute focus on information rights, and the limitation of non-compete provisions.

Tackling ‘big tech’ issues through storytelling, with Jessica Powell

Jessica Powell, Google’s former head of PR from 2012-2018 (years in which Google required a not-insignificant amount of PR leadership), is now a rock star writer whose 2018 debut book, The Big Disruption: A Totally Fictional But Essentially True Silicon Valley Story, was the first novel published by Medium.

I recently spoke with Powell for this series on the ethics of technology, because The Big Disruption, for all its manic energy and a playfulness at times bordering on sci-fi sitcom level-absurdity, should be viewed as a key work in the emerging field of tech ethics. In scenes like the one that begins below, her comic timing and characters help us see how “disruptive” technologies may not so much change humanity, as reveal it.

As a product manager, you are tasked with leading a team and bringing an idea to life. You are the visionary who must direct not just engineers but also marketers, sales teams, lawyers, and others. You are a mini-CEO, the ruler of your product!

“Just like king!” Arsyen shouted to the empty stalls.

It’s part Dave Eggers’ The Circle; part “Coming to America” (the classic 1988 Eddie Murphy comedy about an African prince’s incognito sojourn in New York City); and part dystopian Tarzan. In this rather amazing sequence from an early chapter in The Big Disruption, Arsyen Aimo, an exiled prince from the fictional backwater country of Phyrria who has been working in Silicon Valley as a janitor, has accidentally convinced executives at the tech behemoth Anahata to hire him as Project Manager for the company’s disruptive new project – a car slash social network. Now, Arsyen has locked himself in the bathroom to scroll his phone for info on what Project Managers at tech companies actually do.

Of course, there is one important difference: You have no direct authority over anyone, and you must lead through influence.

“Hmmph, more like queen,” Arsyen grumbled. But then he reconsidered: Other than the receptionists, he had yet to meet any women at Anahata. He probably didn’t need to worry about being treated like one of them.

Jessica Powell, of course, was a woman you might well have met at Google, if you’d been working at the highest levels in or around the real-life tech giant over the past decade. While she joins others who’ve left Big Tech to write important philosophical books shedding light on the political and social implications of their industry (James Williams, Chamath Palihapitiya, Tristan Harris, and others come to mind), no one has yet succeeded like Powell in illuminating our current culture of technology. And if we can’t see our own culture, how can we change it?

After the short scene below, you’ll find part one of my two-part conversation with Powell, where we discuss the importance of satire in ethics, and how her background may have led her to become one of Silicon Valley’s most interesting and important class traitors.

Arsyen skimmed a few more blogs, trying to memorize the P.M.’s language — words like “action items,” “B2B solutions,” and “use cases,” and then something mystic called a “roadmap,” which as far as Arsyen could tell had little to do with either roads or maps. There was an even greater obsession with “alignment,” a concept Arsyen struggled with as his translation app told him that the equivalent word in Pyrrhian was pokaya, meaning to place the chicken coop parallel to one’s home.

Suddenly there was a banging on the stall door.

“Arsyen? You in there?”

It was Sven.

“Listen, you’ve been in there long enough. Only senior engineers get to work in the bathroom. Roni has some sort of roadmap question for you, so come on back.”

Arsyen washed his hands and returned to the cubicle, armed with his new vocabulary.

When Roni asked Arsyen about prioritization, Arsyen asked, “Is this on the roadmap?”

When Sven suggested adding images of attractive women to the car dashboard, Arsyen rubbed his chin.

“Does this align with our strategy?”

When all three looked to him for an opinion in how best to implement Symmetry Enhancement, Arsyen stood and put his hands on his hips.

“Does this align with the strategy on our roadmap?”

No one seemed to notice anything was amiss. If anything, it seemed like product managers just asked questions that other people had to answer.

Jessica P.: When you first reached out to me, I knew your name. Then I looked you up, and ended up reading your Wikipedia page and being intimidated.

There’s this amazing line in there, and because it’s Wikipedia, it’s written so straight…something to the effect of, he went to Asia, discovered that actually no one has enlightenment, so he came back to the US and became a rock star. And it was like, “Oh, wait. I can talk to this guy.” It was just so funny.

Greg E.: That made me more relatable?

Economic development organizations: good or bad for entrepreneurial activity?

In developing VC markets such as the Midwest, some may think that funding from the government or economic development organizations are a godsend for local entrepreneurs. Startups are often looking for all the help they can get, and a boost in funds or an attractive set of economic incentives can be perceived as the fuel they need to take the next step in their growth journey.

While this type of funding can be helpful, a startup should ensure that funding from these sources is not a double-edged sword. The biggest positive, of course, is the money, which can help startups with product development, hiring, marketing, sales and more. But there can also be certain restrictions or limitations that are not fully understood initially—these restrictions could hinder growth at an inopportune time later on.

The inevitable question, then, is should startups consider partnering with the government or various economic development groups as they look to get off the ground? Let’s take a closer look.

What Local Economic Development Organizations Have to Offer

Today, particularly in the Midwest, it’s common for state and local governments to offer startups incentives such as tax exemptions or grants in an effort to keep local businesses around and also attract companies from other regions.

So how do these incentives work? When it comes to tax credits or exemptions, local governments are sometimes willing to provide these incentives if a startup can demonstrate how paying lower taxes will benefit the wider community.

The 10 benefits and policies any modern workplace should have

Want to attract (and retain) top talent, making your company’s workforce more competitive and cutting down on turnover costs to boot? The simplest way to do so starts with the benefits and policies you offer to employees.

We already know that benefits play a major hand in how candidates evaluate a job offer. One recent survey conducted by Fairygodboss, the largest career community for women, in partnership with Extend Fertility, found that 87% of professional women say a benefits package is important or very important to them when interviewing at a company. Respondents stated that the presence (or absence) of certain benefits would impact their likelihood to stay at an employer, too.

So, which specific benefits and policies are the ones that will set your company apart as a modern, desirable workplace? We spoke to experts — from CEOs to heads of HR — to find out exactly what the benefits package of today’s most relevant employers looks like.

1. Summer Fridays

Giving employees a few extra hours to jumpstart their weekend through “Summer Fridays” can lead to a whole spate of positive benefits, including improved morale, focus and engagement at work, according to Brian Kropp, Group Vice-President of HR at Gartner . “Most companies have told us that with this benefit in place, they’ve found employees work harder earlier in the week because they know they have to complete their work before Friday,” Kropp said.

2. Pay transparency

Via Getty Image / abstractdesignlabs

The days of salary and bonus conversations happening only behind closed doors are long gone. Thanks to whisper networks and a growing belief in salary sharing, for many companies, this information is available with or without their consent. Companies who want to appear modern (as well as do the right thing) should embrace this trend through official pay transparency policies.

“Companies that don’t want to appear outdated have written pay, incentive and bonus plans for all employees at all levels so that how pay is calculated is not a mystery,” Sarah Morgan, Senior HR Director of SafeStreets USA, said.

“The compensation is equitable across gender and races so everyone is paid fairly based on the position, experience, skills and responsibilities. Such companies are also open about their pay policies and share general information about how much people are earning at every level. This may be shared as ranges or as specific amounts.”

3. Inclusion initiatives

8 benefits and policies that are making your company seem outdated

The competition for top talent today is more fierce than ever. And when it comes to attracting and retaining that talent, we know that benefits play a major hand in how well an employer fares.

To that end, Fairygodboss, the largest career community for women, in partnership with Extend Fertility recently conducted research on the benefits today’s female talent cares most about. After surveying 1,000 professional women, we found a full 87% of them said a company’s benefits package was either important or very important to them when evaluating a job offer.

The presence — or lack thereof — of certain benefits also had a noticeable impact on respondents’ likelihood to stay at an employer. Given that, when a worker leaves a company, it can cost 33% of their annual salary to replace them, ensuring benefits packages are up to snuff is crucial for companies that want to avoid turnover.

Not all benefits are created equal, though. If the package at your company seems outdated, it’s possible you could actually be driving top talent away. So, we spoke to thought leaders — from CEOs to heads of HR — to find out which benefits and policies send a red flag to job seekers that an organization is behind the times. If your company’s handbook includes any of the following eight policies, it’s possible you’re seen as outdated, according to experts.

Check out our accompanying article highlighting the 10 benefits and policies any modern workplace should have on Extra Crunch.

1. Paid maternity leave is offered — but other leave benefits aren’t.

Image via Getty Images / Aleutie

Considering at least 40% of middle- and large-sized U.S. companies still offer zero paid maternity leave to employees, we’re not saying this benefit isn’t worth having. But as Sarah Morgan, a Senior HR Director of SafeStreets USA, said, to stop at a paid maternity leave benefit is to fail to acknowledge our expanding understanding of families and the ways those families need to be supported.

“The definition of family is changing, and people are living longer,” Morgan said. “Employees need more than just time away from work when they have a baby or someone dies. They also need time for school-aged children, aging parents, deployed spouses and even pets…when they need this time, they should not have to choose between their loved ones and financial hardship.”

2. There’s a gym reimbursement benefit.

Again, at face value, this isn’t exactly the worst benefit for a company to offer. The problem, as Tasia Duske, CEO of Museum Hack, put it, is that too many companies see a gym membership credit as checking off their “employee wellness” box in full.

“What if an employee wants to join a yoga studio, or what if they want a massage instead? Especially with millennial employees, defining what’s ‘healthy’ varies from person to person,” Duske said. “A smart benefit to provide is a Healthy Lifestyle Credit where there’s a lot more flexibility and no judgment. Employees can use their credit to pay for a visit to the dentist, tai chi lessons, to see a therapist or anything in between.”

3. Employees are beholden to a set time and place to work.

A lack of flexibility is one of today’s biggest tell-tale signs of an outdated employer, something Matthew Ross, Co-owner and COO of The Slumber Yard, spoke to. “We don’t have a set time employees need to be in the office by and we frequently allow them to work from home, coffee shops and sometimes even bars for a change of scenery,” Ross said.

“I know how mentally draining it can be to sit down at the same desk all day, so it’s nice when employees are able to leave and work from different locations. I believe this helps keep the work fresh and boosts overall morale.”

4. There’s a strict dress code.

Image via Getty Images / TatianaKrylova

Unless a uniform is legitimately required for a role, companies that mandate strict employee dress codes should seriously rethink these policies, said Greg Kuchcik, VP of HR at Zeeto.io. “Almost all companies have moved to a business casual at most with a lot of companies moving to no dress code altogether,” Kuchcik said.

“If you have strong HR/management and trusted employees, there is no reason that you can’t allow your workers to be comfortable all day, every day.” Nicole Green, HR and Employee Engagement Manager at Perfect Search Media, echoed this. “Casual dress can lead to an environment that is more open-minded and allows for focus on ideas over a dress code,” she said.

5. There are policies that restrict employees’ social media use.

Not long ago, it wasn’t uncommon for companies to have set policies in place that regulated employees’ use of and access to social media platforms. But now, such a policy makes a company look outdated, as Lucas Group’s Chief People Officer, Carolina King, said.

“I certainly feel that limiting employee’s access to social media is a thing of the past and detrimental to a company’s ability to attract top talent,” King said. “I also think when companies do not offer bring your own device (cell phone) programs or policies, they feel behind the times.”

6. Performance reviews are the only policy for sourcing employee feedback.

Research shows that 75% of the causes for employee turnover are preventable. But companies that remain married to an outdated model of performance review-based feedback miss out on opportunities to address those causes. “Performance reviews are often the only official opportunity for an employee to share concerns, ask questions, and have a conversation with a manager,” Vivek Kumar, a recruiter, said.

“However, performance reviews are also used by companies to determine bonuses and raises, which restricts employees from speaking freely and without fear of consequences. Implementing a system of continuous employee feedback is an excellent replacement for an uncomfortable, high-pressure quarterly or yearly performance review.”

7. There’s an official bereavement leave benefit or policy.

Image via Getty Images / Nataliia Kostiukova

On the surface, bereavement leave may seem like a humanitarian benefit for employers to offer. But by enforcing a set number of days for this kind of leave, companies are engaging in a form of employee hand-holding that has no place in the modern working world, said Cindy Harvey, CEO of Amelia Dee.

“Instead of dictating how long it should take someone to recover from an illness or to grieve, these policies should be more flexible, empower managers and employees to have conversations, and do what is right for the person and situation,” Harvey said. “Doing this also supports positive employee mental health and wellness practices in the workplace, two critical issues in workplaces today.”

8. There’s unlimited PTO.

A policy of flexibility, as referenced earlier, is crucial for any employer that wants to remain relevant today. An increasingly trendy benefit in this space is unlimited paid time off; but research around the detriments of this policy may soon make it an outdated offering, argued Samuel Johns, HR Specialist and Office Manager at Resume Genius.

“On the face of it, unlimited PTO is a blessing, since an employee can theoretically take off the time they need to recenter and recharge themselves. However, recent 180-degree about-faces by several companies have revealed that unlimited PTO policies are unworkable, since employees end up toiling away with less PTO than they would using a standard PTO system,” Johns said.

“At Resume Genius, we do offer unlimited PTO, but we also have a minimum PTO requirement of 10 days a year. On top of that, managers are notified if their team members haven’t taken a day off in the last six months, and are asked to schedule them some much-deserved time off.”

Check out our accompanying article highlighting the 10 benefits and policies any modern workplace should have on Extra Crunch.

Unraveling the “Secrets of Sand Hill Road” and the VC thought process, with Andreessen Horowitz’s Scott Kupor

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos sat down with Scott Kupor, managing director at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz to dig into his new book Secrets of Sand Hill Road, discuss his advice for new founders dealing with VCs and to pick his brain on the opportunities that excite him most today.

Scott gained inspiration for Secrets of Sand Hill Road after realizing he was hearing the same questions from different entrepreneurs over his decade in venture. The book acts as an updated guide on what VCs actually do, how they think and how founders should engage with them.

Scott offers Connie his take on why, despite the influx of available information on the venture world, founders still view VC as a black box. Connie and Scott go on to shed some light on the venture thought process, discussing how VCs evaluate new founders, new market opportunities, future round potential and how they think about investments that aren’t playing out as expected. 

“[Deciding on the right amount of money to raise] is one of the areas where I think people will rely on convention too much, rather than figuring out what makes sense for them. And what I mean by convention is, they say, “Hey, my friends down the street just raised a $7 million A round, so $7 million must be the right size for an A round.”

The way we try to help entrepreneurs think about it is think about the pitch that you’re going to give at the next round of financing. Let’s say you’re raising a Series A, imagine sitting here 18 or 24 months from now doing the Series B financing, what’s the story you’re going to want to be able to tell the investor then, as to what you accomplished over that last 18 to 24 months?

And then, almost work your way backwards to say, “If that’s the story that I want to tell, and we all agree that’s a compelling story where somebody will come in hopefully, and fund it at a valuation that’s higher to reflect the progress of the business, then let’s work our way back, and say “how do we de risk that?””

Image via Getty Images / Heidi Gutman/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Connie and Scott also dive deeper into Andreessen Horowitz’ investing and post-investing structure, and what the future of the firm and its key investments may look like down the road.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Connie Loizos: Hi, everyone. It’s time to kick off today’s call with Scott Kupor, a managing partner at the venture firm, Andreessen Horowitz, and more recently, the author of the book, Secrets of Sand Hill Road: Venture Capital and How to Get It. Thank you so much for making time for us today.

Scott, I’m still in the process of reading the book, but I have to say, much like your colleague, Ben Horowitz’s book, and this is really true, I’m really enjoying it.

Scott Kupor: Well, thank you.

Connie: It doesn’t really feel remotely like work, which I find to be true with the vast majority of business books.

Scott: Well, I appreciate that. I had great help from Ben [Horowitz] in terms of inspiration from his book. So I’m glad to hear that. Thank you very much.

Is your event strategy paying off? How to calculate your event ROI

Events have increasingly become an important channel in the marketing mix, despite how notoriously “impossible” it is to measure the ROI, or return on investment. When people show up to your event, they are willingly giving you their attention for hours on end – not trying to avoid attention-grabbing ads.

A well produced experience provides a great way to reach outside of your existing networks, build a pipeline of new customers, transform existing customers into superfans, and position your brand as a thought leader. In 2017, only 7% of marketers said that events were their most important marketing channel. Last year, that number rose to 41% according to a survey done by Bizzabo.

As the founder of Happily, the largest network of event producers in the United States, I’ve had backstage access to thousands of events – some wildly successful like TED and others that didn’t ever get traction in building an engaged community.

What has defined the successful ones?

The experiential marketing industry has long struggled to measure success in a meaningful way. They propose all the same KPIs (key performance indicators), but rarely do those KPIs provide a benchmark to determine if an event is successful or give marketers the ability to tell what worked and what didn’t. They especially fall down when customers aren’t won until months after an event.

An insider’s look into venture with Andreessen Horowitz’s Scott Kupor

After a decade in the peculiar world of venture capital, Andreessen Horowitz managing director Scott Kupor has seen it all when it comes to the dos and don’ts for dealing with Valley VCs and company building. In his new book Secrets of Sand Hill Road (available on June 3), Scott offers up an updated guide on what VCs actually do, how they think and how founders should engage with them.

TechCrunch’s Silicon Valley editor Connie Loizos will be sitting down with Scott for an exclusive conversation on Tuesday, June 4 at 11:00 am PT. Scott, Connie and Extra Crunch members will be digging into the key takeaways from Scott’s book, his experience in the Valley and the opportunities that excite him most today.

Tune in to join the conversation and for the opportunity to ask Scott and Connie any and all things venture.

To listen to this and all future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free.

How we scaled our startup by being remote first

Startups are often associated with the benefits and toys provided in their offices. Foosball tables! Free food! Dog friendly! But what if the future of startups was less about physical office space and more about remote-first work environments? What if, in fact, the most compelling aspect of a startup work environment is that the employees don’t have to go to one?

A remote-first company model has been Seeq’s strategy since our founding in 2013. We have raised $35 million and grown to more than 100 employees around the globe. Remote-first is clearly working for us and may be the best model for other software companies as well.

So, who is Seeq and what’s been the key to making the remote-first model work for us?  And why did we do it in the first place?

Seeq is a remote-first startup – i.e. it was founded with the intention of not having a physical headquarters or offices, and still operates that way – that is developing an advanced analytics application that enables process engineers and subject matter experts in oil & gas, pharmaceuticals, utilities, and other process manufacturing industries to investigate and publish insights from the massive amounts of sensor data they generate and store.

To succeed, we needed to build a team quickly with two skill sets: 1) software development expertise, including machine learning, AI, data visualization, open source, agile development processes, cloud, etc. and 2) deep domain expertise in the industries we target.

Which means there is no one location where we can hire all the employees we need: Silicon Valley for software, Houston for oil & gas, New Jersey for fine chemicals, Seattle for cloud expertise, water utilities across the country, and so forth. But being remote-first has made recruiting and hiring these high-demand roles easier much easier than if we were collocated.

Image via Seeq Corporation

Job postings on remote-specific web sites like FlexJobs, Remote.co and Remote OK typically draw hundreds of applicants in a matter of days. This enables Seeq to hire great employees who might not call Seattle, Houston or Silicon Valley home – and is particularly attractive to employees with location-dependent spouses or employees who simply want to work where they want to live.

But a remote-first strategy and hiring quality employees for the skills you need is not enough: succeeding as a remote-first company requires a plan and execution around the “3 C’s of remote-first”.

The three requirements to remote-first success are the three C’s: communication, commitment and culture.