Dear Sophie: How will this election nail-biter affect immigration?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

The last 24 hours have been a nail-biter; I feel powerless and I’m angry that we’ve come to this. I’m worried things won’t improve and I’m confused about where we even stand.

Sometimes I just feel so very, very tired of the struggle. I am just so ready to let go. I want to live in a world where we can create harmony, peace and opportunity for all. Can I still find that in the United States?

— Wanting in Walnut Creek

Dear Wanting,

I hear you.

The good news is that there is great potential, even as the world watches the U.S. presidential election results. If anything, what the last four years have taught me is that two clichés are really true: necessity is the mother of invention, and, where there is a will, there is a way. I can relate to many folks around the world because I know what it’s like to have the world of Silicon Valley feel so close, yet so far away, at a time when I felt powerless to make a difference.

Looking back over the past four years, amazing things have been possible for our clients and my team at Alcorn Immigration Law. I founded the firm out of my kitchen just years ago when my kids were toddlers. I would look out my kitchen window hand-washing tiny baby dishes. I can still remember the feeling of the suds on my fingers as I gazed longingly at the tall building on Castro Street in downtown Mountain View where 500 Startups used to sit on the top floor. YC was just down the street.

I felt so powerless. I desperately wanted to make the world a better place, and reaching the world of Silicon Valley, even though it was just past my backyard, seemed like getting to Mars.

From those humble beginnings to now, as I founded and bootstrapped Alcorn Immigration Law on my own journey of becoming a single mom, I know what’s possible, even during the last four years of the Trump administration. We’ve had amazing success — claiming thousands of victories in supporting companies, people and families to live and work legally in the United States. If I was able to grow my firm during the last four years, I know that it’s possible for anybody to follow their heart and succeed. It’s our human essence to long to be a creator in this world, and anybody can and deserves to make a difference.

And here is what else I know: immigration law is created by acts of Congress and signed into law by the president. Mere tweets may be intended to try to bend the rules, but they cannot break them. That is what democracy is about.

In democracy, we have agreed to abide by basic laws, such as the inviolable dignity of the human being and that we want to agree on procedures for how we make decisions, like the process of passing a law about immigration. Democracy is not about majority tyranny. Democracy is about the fact that we uphold a few principles and we agreed on a decision-making process. When Trump ignores our basic laws and he ignores our legal processes, democracy is in peril.

But democracy does not need to be disrupted, it only requires small adjustments to thrive. In any group it is possible to make jointly supported decisions, taking the needs and resources of all into consideration. “Although the world is complex and decision making is complex, the components of decision making are simple,” according to Richard Graf, founder of K-i-E. Simple tools like the DecisionMaker can allow a miracle to happen — in an environment of openness and anonymity, we can all safely share our needs and concerns so that proposals can be formed based on collective best practices, knowledge, experience, intelligence and intuition. Even if it’s a complex situation, the way forward can immediately become clear.

And in our democracy, the paths to live and work in the U.S. will always remain viable, even if we need to remove a branch or navigate around a new boulder. Here at Alcorn, despite the furor and fear-mongering present in the world surrounding immigration, we are continually securing real victories for our clients. Not a client yet? Global founders can still create a startup, pitch it to investors and secure pathways to live and work legally in the United States with visas, green cards and citizenship.

So I know this and will repeat: Whatever the election results, there will still be many ways for people to legally navigate the U.S. immigration process and access the opportunity and security of life here. For more insight on these ways, please join my Election Results Webinar next week.

In the meantime, here are my thoughts on how the election results will affect the future of U.S. immigration:

Looking ahead, if Biden takes the victory, he has pledged to undo all Trump-era immigration regulations in the first 100 days and support comprehensive immigration reform. He promised to promote immigrant entrepreneurship, which could finally mean a startup visa! He also wants to speed up naturalization, rescind the Muslim travel bans, pass legislation to expand the number of H-1Bs, increase the amount of employment-based green cards, exempt international STEM PhD graduates from needing to await a priority date, create a new type of green card to promote regional economic development and support immigrant entrepreneur incubators.

Alternatively, we can expect that a Trump administration would continue restricting immigration, leading to litigation and judges deciding the fate of many recent policies. We can foresee a continued COVID freeze on green card interviews at consulates.

Also, DHS recently announced its intent to remove the randomness from the H-1B lottery and prioritize the annual H-1B selection process from highest to lowest wage starting in spring 2021. I’m sure there will be litigation about this; in the meantime, Alcorn Immigration Law continues to recommend that all employers proceed with registering employees and candidates in the lottery as usual. These details will take time to shake out and we don’t want anybody to lose a chance at being selected.

In other updates, immigration is just continuing along and there is actually some great news for folks: The State Department recently released the November Visa Bulletin and it stayed the same from October. (If you think your priority date is current or may be current soon, please contact your attorney as soon as possible to discuss filing your I-485 this month to avoid the possibility of retrogression in December!)

And if you need the freedom to build your startup, but were told that you don’t yet qualify for an O-1A visa, EB-1A or EB-2 NIW green card, you can join me in Extraordinary Ability Bootcamp with promo code DEARSOPHIE to receive 20% off.

We’re optimistic about the future. Life always offers us opportunities to grow through contrast and uncertainty, and we remain passionate about our mission to create greater freedom, empowerment, knowledge and love in the world.

Sophie


Have a question? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer here. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major podcast platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

B2B marketplaces will be the next billion-dollar e-commerce startups

Startups involved in B2B e-commerce such as Faire and Mirakl have burst out of the gates in 2020. Almost overnight, these startups transformed into consequential platforms, earning billion-dollar valuations along the way. The B2B e-commerce industry has broad reach, encompassing everything from commerce infrastructure and payments technology to procurement and supply-chain solutions. But one area of the B2B e-commerce sector holds outsized promise: marketplaces.

These venues for buyers and sellers of business-related products are exploding in popularity, fueled by better infrastructure, payments and security on the back-end and companies’ increased need to conduct business online during the pandemic.

Even before the pandemic, B2B marketplaces were expected to generate $3.6 trillion in sales by 2024, up from an estimated $680 billion in 2018, according to payments research firm iBe TSD. They were already growing more quickly than most B2C marketplaces that predated them, and when COVID shutdowns hit, many companies scrambled to shift all purchasing online. A survey of business buyers conducted by Digital Commerce 360 found that 20% of purchasing managers spent more on marketplaces, and 22% spent significantly more, during the pandemic.

For many entrepreneurs running B2B marketplaces, the pandemic created new demand for their platforms. Yet to convince businesses to make a permanent shift to online purchasing, B2B marketplaces cannot simply remain stagnant, serving as simple transactional platforms. Those that innovate now to introduce adjacent services will emerge as winners in the next few years, with some inevitably becoming billion-dollar companies.

As a venture capital investor in B2B e-commerce companies, I’m carefully watching the industry and have seen several forward-thinking business models emerge for B2B marketplaces. The predominant revenue model of B2C marketplaces, the gross merchandise value (GMV) take rate, or percentage of each transaction, doesn’t always translate well in the B2B world. Instead, B2B marketplaces are discovering creative new ways to monetize their networks, ensuring their approach is tailored to the complex and nuanced world of B2B e-commerce. I’ll delve into each of these models below, providing examples of marketplaces that have successfully begun implementing them.

What makes B2B transactions unique? Before discussing how B2B marketplaces can deploy new business models, it’s important to think about how B2B transactions typically work.

Payment methods: There are four main ways to make a B2B payment: paper check, ACH transfer, electronic fund transfer (wires), and credit/debit cards. Nearly half of B2B payments are still made by paper check, but digital payment solutions are quickly gaining.

Financing: It is customary in B2B transactions to pay “with terms,” such as net 30 or net 60, effectively giving a line of credit to the business buyer that enables them to send payment after delivery of the good or service. Supply-chain financing and dynamic discounting are two mechanisms business buyers use to settle invoices with suppliers on preferred timelines.

Bulk discounts: Business buyers often expect and receive discounts in return for placing high-volume orders. While not a concept unique to B2B, negotiated or custom volume discounts can complicate the checkout process.

Contractual pricing: Businesses often enter into enterprise-level pricing agreements with their suppliers. In some B2B verticals, such as the veterinary supplies market, there is little consistency and transparency regarding the market price of any given item; instead, each buyer pays a bespoke price tied to contractual agreements. This dynamic typically benefits suppliers, which can price discriminate based on buyers’ ability and willingness to pay.

Delivery method and timing: Unlike consumers, businesses may place orders for goods but delay delivery for weeks or months. This is particularly common in the commodities market, where futures contracts specify a commodity to be delivered on a certain date in the future. B2B transactions typically include a negotiation on delivery method and timing.

Insurance: Business buyers frequently purchase insurance as part of their transactions, particularly in high-value verticals such as jewelry. Insurance is designed to protect against damage to the goods in transit or theft.

Compliance: In some verticals, particularly those related to healthcare and chemicals, there is a heavy compliance burden to ensure goods are properly sourced and transported. Is the seller legally registered to sell and transport sensitive goods such as medical equipment or pharmaceuticals?

With all of these considerations, it’s no wonder B2B e-commerce has been slower to digitize than B2C. From product discovery through the checkout process, a consumer buying a bag of licorice looks nothing like a retailer buying 100,000 bags of licorice from a distributor. The good news for B2B marketplace founders is that, based on the parameters above, there are many creative ways to extract value from transactions that go beyond the GMV take rate. Let’s explore some of the creative ways to monetize a B2B marketplace.

Is fintech’s Series A market hot, or just overhyped?

According to industry reports, venture capital deal-making has notably rebounded since dropping off briefly in March as shelter-in-place orders gripped much of the country.

As seed-stage fintech investors, this has certainly been our experience: “Hot” deals are getting funded faster than ever, and we increasingly see the large multistage global funds competing for the earliest access to companies. However, in our experience and anecdotal conversations with other early-stage investors, that excitement has not been translating to the Series A stage.

We’ve increasingly wondered if the Series A market in fintech is really as hot as it seems. As pre-seed and seed-stage investors, we know that the health of the Series A market is of critical importance.

In early October 2020, the Financial Venture Studio put together a brief survey of the Series A market in fintech and shared it with more than 100 investors with whom we work closely. Despite the high-level numbers indicating a healthy market, our research indicates a market that remains in flux, with significant ramifications for early-stage founders.

Why Series A is so interesting

Although the seed and pre-seed fintech market continues to attract substantial entrepreneurial and investor interest, it is also in some ways one of the easiest parts of the market to fund. The check size is smaller, the velocity of new deals is highest, and while the potential returns are also the highest, this is also the part of the market where information is most scarce. Perhaps counterintuitively, the fact that there is so little information on a business — aside from a plan, a team and maybe some early anecdotal evidence to support the vision — actually makes it easier to “pull the trigger” on deals where those data points align. There just often isn’t a lot more to dig into.

Similarly, by the time a company is raising Series B capital, they typically have some objective evidence that the idea is working. Companies are typically generating revenue, small teams have grown and become more sophisticated in how they operate, and importantly, the governance functions of a company have (hopefully) begun to take shape. The simple existence of a board member with invested capital at stake means that some of the more existential risks of the earliest stage have been mitigated.

In contrast, one of the big milestones for any startup has been to raise a Series A from an institutional investor. Besides an infusion of capital (which is often 2-3x the aggregate capital a company may have raised since its inception), this “stamp of approval” lends credibility to a small company that is trying to hire talent, sell to customers, and, in most cases, raise substantial subsequent capital.

Thus, it’s critical that Series A investors remain active; if not, many of these upstart companies may fail due to a lack of investment, even if they are able to demonstrate early market traction. The Series A funding market is one of — if not the most — critical funding stage in the innovation economy because it acts as a bridge between scrappy early innovation and commercialization at scale.

It stands to reason, then, that dollar amounts invested may not be the best barometer of the ecosystem’s health. What really matters is the volume of companies being funded and the variety of product approaches being pursued.

The post-COVID Series A

Once the initial shock of the pandemic wore off, the VC community had to get back to business, which admittedly is harder to do for funds that write $10 million+ checks and like getting to know founders in person. Still, Series A investors made it a point to let entrepreneurs know they were, and continue to be, “open for business.”

As investors have gotten more comfortable with the new normal, they have been more open to a virtual diligence process. Of the firms we surveyed, only 15% stated they have not completed a Series A investment during COVID-19 work restrictions. Of the firms who completed a Series A investment during COVID-19 (~85%), about half invested in a company whose founder(s) they had a limited or no relationship with prior to the onset of shelter-in-place orders.

The shift to a virtual environment means that process is more important than ever. Numerous investors have cited their renewed focus on following a structured approach to sourcing and diligence. The interpersonal aspect remains important to close a deal, but customer references, referrals from trusted seed-stage investors and a heightened scrutiny of metrics are all at the forefront of investors’ evaluations.

Dear Sophie: Would a Trump win abolish the H-1B visa lottery?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

I heard the randomness of the H-1B lottery is going away. What will this mean for our startup’s ability to get an H-1B visa for one of our co-founders?

— Curious in Cupertino

Dear Curious:

Lots going on in immigration this week (as usual!). First, good news for green card applicants: the November 2020 Visa Bulletin did not change from October, when the dates for filing for Adjustment of Status sped up significantly for individuals born in India and China.

About the H-1B lottery: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), this week proposed a rule that ends the random H-1B lottery; instead, USCIS will determine who can apply for an H-1B visa based on the highest salary. DHS says this change will “incentivize employers to offer higher wages.”

The number of H-1B visas issued each year is capped at 85,000. Currently, when demand for H-1Bs outstrips the annual supply, which has been the case since 2013, USCIS uses an electronic random lottery to determine who can apply for an H-1B. For the first time this year, sponsoring companies electronically registered each H-1B candidate for the lottery in March.

We need new business models to burst old media filter bubbles

Access to information in the United States is fragmenting along social lines. This goes beyond the fuzzy, qualitative feeling many of us have that people can’t agree on key issues anymore — data show that people are increasingly breaking into disconnected ideological camps. While this is commonly viewed as a left/right issue, the reality is much more pernicious: It is a rich/poor issue.

Americans today are exposed to fundamentally different facts based on their news sources. Data are often arranged to fit narratives rather than the other way around. This effect spans the political spectrum: It is as relevant to The New York Times as it is to Fox News. One of the contributors to this information split is the rise of site-wide paywalls, which divide access to information along socio-economic lines.

As one magazine editor eloquently puts it, “The truth is paywalled but the lies are free.”

It’s time for us to think critically about how we can build business models that reunite information bubbles, so that people consistently get access to all sides of the story.

Ringing the division bell

Media polarization is not a new phenomenon. Studies have shown for over a decade that, when it comes to news, people have been dividing themselves into information camps. Social media platforms — quickly replacing publishers as the “front end” of news — act as an accelerant, using likes and reads to pattern-match content to readers. However, these studies often address the left-right split; little is said about the more fundamental difference in beliefs driven by a difference in ability and willingness to pay for news.

The pivot by major publishers to erect site-wide paywalls is a recent phenomenon, an answer to the “grand ad-supported content bargain.” These paywalls have grown in popularity, driving people to subscriptions as an alternative to ads revenue. In doing so, they have undoubtedly helped stem (and maybe reverse?) the decline in news revenues driven by the internet.

How bad has this decline been? Just see this OECD visualization of how circulation, titles and revenues have dropped over time.

As Rupert Murdoch said, “… sometimes rivers dry up.” From 2007-2009 alone, the U.S. saw a 30% decline in newspaper publishing. Staff layoffs have become the norm for smaller and midmarket news services, which find themselves driven to consolidate into larger news orgs in order to bring down prices and expand the reach necessary to attract ad spend.

The message is clear: If people want to continue consuming news, they and media companies need to work together to develop a business model that can support it. Yet, as news bookmarking service favor.it notes, “There is now a real cost to the user associated with acquiring accurate, insightful and well-produced news. [ … ] Exacerbating the problem is the fact that there is now serious competition to real news. Free, less-reliable news sources and aggregators that can push articles into a [F]acebook Newstream that go viral in a matter of seconds whether they are completely true, or properly researched, or not.” The data bear this out: an MIT study across 126,000 stories found that fake stories proliferate on average 6x quicker than true ones.

The new iron curtains

Across six European countries and the United States, the average price for paywalled news is about $15.75 per month. In a time where half of Americans are working low-wage jobs and many are experiencing a severe savings crisis, most don’t have the available funds to shell out for a $15 monthly news subscription — much less a subscription for each outlet they want to access. Free news and clickbait headlines on social media, much like fast food, are the easiest and most freely available options to a swathe of people who have neither the resources nor the energy to do the fact-checking for themselves.

A perennial suggestion is that outlets syndicate their content into a “Netflix for news” bundle. Indeed, aggregator initiatives like Apple News have grown to over 100 million users. Yet this still doesn’t solve a fundamental problem, which is that, in an age of instantly available free online media, most people are not willing to pay even for bundled news.

As Don Richard, senior PM at Shopify, puts it, “I just don’t think the mass appeal for a text-content bundle is as high as many tech folks believe it is [ … ] most people view text content as a less-valuable medium than TV and music  —  valuable being defined as worth paying for based on your personal needs and preferences. And when people have other expenses they have to pay for, paying for a text-content bundle will be hard to justify. Since a text-content bundle doesn’t exist today, the money for a text-content bundle has to come from somewhere else in the monthly budget for most people. That means the bundle price has to take share-of-wallet over something else. Basic needs (food, shelter, utilities) aren’t being reduced for a text-content bundle.”

So we end up with two fundamentally different types of media: On the one hand, free media, supported by independent journalists, freelancers and threadbare content teams; on the other, paywalled media, supported by more robust fact-checking teams and editors. As Robinson puts it, “It costs time and money to access a lot of true and important information, while a lot of bullshit is completely free.”

Coming back to the accelerating polarization of the American public, this media divide is not without consequence. People can always reasonably disagree about beliefs and ideas, so long as they have the shared context of facts. They cannot have productive debates if the facts are in-question.

This is where claims of “fake news” originate: Dividing the world into free facts versus paywalled facts means we are increasingly talking past each other. As favor.it puts it, we’re “moving toward a situation where there will be haves and have-nots in the very critical area of having basic, accurate information about what is going on in the world.”

Where do we go from here?

It is clear that the internet media model predicated on paywalls needs to be revisited due to these shortcomings. But what are the alternatives? Targeted ads have been shown to have their own disadvantages and provoke reader ire.

While this is not a comprehensive answer, here are a few suggestions:

Free facts, upsold details. Pull the key facts out of news stories and make them freely available to people, upselling the deeper and richer storylines. TechCrunch has found an elegant middle-ground of this format: The core news stories on the website are free, while the value-added analysis, investigative deep-dives and richer opinion content are available to subscribers.

The New Paper is another, newer service experimenting with a condensed version of news headlines to combat newsletter and information fatigue (albeit one that still plans to charge $5 monthly). This is something being spearheaded by the rise of platforms like Substack today for independent journalists; content producers with a good following or smart coverage can create self-sustaining businesses.

Could newspapers take a page from Scandinavian ticketing practices and charge based on income? A tiered subscription price adjusted to payroll could allow wealthier readers to create a public good for poorer ones.

Yet, when people pay for news, they should not just be paying for stories — they should be paying for the knowledge that an army of editors, fact-checkers and investigative journalists uncovered the truth behind a story. That is a good that Substack likely cannot provide.

Develop a publicly available, consensus-driven score for fact-based news outlets and prioritize this score in algorithms. The way we access information has changed; aggregators now sit at the top of the news funnel. This has created a significant user surplus — people are able to locate information by story, without being constrained by outlet. However, it has also created an ad-revenue-driven model that prioritizes unique views, which are in turn driven by people’s search for sensationalism and confirmation bias in media. Search engines, social media platforms, and aggregators should come together to develop a public, transparent scoring mechanism for information quality in news and implement that to drive more viewers to more trustworthy sources. An independent rating for factuality that becomes a key input into search and social rankings could significantly help curb the virality of fake news stories, but it would need to take into account the sometimes long half-life of the truth.

Public initiatives. The government needs to re-enter the business of protecting the quality of journalism.

One step is for the FCC to reintroduce the Fairness Doctrine, which required journalists to represent both sides of a given story.

Another is to increase funding for public news sources of all stripes: liberal, conservative, etc., and for those sources to submit to routine information quality audits. Every area in which we’ve taken public institutions and allowed people to pay their way out of the default option — healthcare, education — has led to wild underinvestment in the public option; news is no different.

The library model is surprisingly effective for those who select it as an option: well-funded and maintained public libraries still provide an amazing, information-rich resource to those who avail of their services. Digitizing library resources and allocating partial budget to make information not just available, but also surfaced at the right contextual moment could combat misinformation.

A last option would be to implement information quality scores, similar to public health and safety standards. A score could be as simple as an A-F grade on a restaurant or a calorie count on a fast food menu.

Micropayments and stories a la carte. As long as news media has been dealing with internet-related pressure, technologists have proposed micropayments as the answer. The desire to read an individual news story is stochastic, while media subscriptions are continuous. Few people, myself included, have the willingness to submit to a monthly or annual news subscription just to access the content in one article. Publishers should offer individual stories, sold in exchange for micropayments of, for example, $0.10 per story (10x the payout of some publishers to their content creators). Digital wallets embedded into browsers (see Metamask and Brave Browser as examples) can support these micropayments fluidly, either with opt-ins for each story or working in the background, to allow readers to move seamlessly around the internet, so that readers aren’t asked to pay for each story. As futurist Jaron Lanier noted 10 years ago, “Digital technology … unsettled the so-called ‘creative class’ — journalists, musicians, photographers” when access to information became free; micropayments (and royalties) could help rebuild that class of jobs. With that said, there’s a discrepancy between the amount that periodicals spend to publish a story (e.g., $100) and people’s propensity to pay (e.g., $0.10); unlike songs and movies, people only consume news stories once.

Alternative revenue streams. Media companies should again explore whether events, classifieds, paid editorials, in-depth research and other information-related services could allow them to offer “just the facts” as a loss leader. The New York Times, famously, launched The Daily podcast and spun off its cooking and crossword products into standalones. Publications should reinvest in hyperlocal journalism with local sponsorship.

The truth is that, as site-wide paywalls continue to be erected, there will be a real divide of news into haves and have-nots. There is no silver bullet solution to this problem. The public benefits from open news; factual reporting creates positive externalities. Yet we have not found a commercial structure to support these organizations. The answer is probably a combination of the above along with other revenue streams (including, yes, ads). But it is paramount to the strength of our social fabric that we continue to search for that answer.

We should ask ourselves what surplus is created by good news coverage, by deep investigative research and honest reporting? Who benefits? At this critical juncture when the stress fractures in our fragile democracy are beginning to show, it is obvious that all of us benefit from that surplus as a society. So let’s work together to support it, for the sake of society.

Thank you to Danny Crichton, Danny Zuckerman, Jason Wardy and Orion de Nevers for reviewing this piece.

Dear Sophie: Any upgrade options for E-2 visa holders interested in changing jobs?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column from a practicing attorney that answers immigration questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

I’m currently here in the U.S. on an E-2 visa.

My employer, a company based in Slovakia, moved me to the U.S. to help establish our U.S. operations. What are my options if I want to look for other job opportunities here in the U.S. with a different company? Is there a feasible process to upgrade my E-2 visa to another type, like an L? Thank you!

—Restless in Redwood City

Dear Restless,

Thanks for your questions. Nonimmigrant (temporary) visas that allow you to work in the U.S. require an employer to sponsor you for the visa, and those visas remain tied to the employer sponsor and the position for which you were hired. We recently launched the Extraordinary Ability Bootcamp (promo code DEARSOPHIE for 20% off enrollment) — this is a class that can help you strengthen your credentials if you end up pursuing an O-1A visa, which I’ll discuss more about below.

There are a few visa options available if you find a U.S. company willing to sponsor you such as J-1, O-1A and H-1B, and various green card pathways. You had asked about an L Visa, but this would only be an option if you had worked for the new company abroad for at least one year during the past three years. Both the L-1A visa and the L-1B visa enable multinational companies to transfer a manager, executive or specialized knowledge employee from an office abroad to a U.S. office — or to open an office in the U.S. — from an office abroad. The L-1A visa for intracompany executive or manager transferees is similar to the E-2 visa in that both allow the visa holder to come to the U.S. to set up a new office for the sponsoring company.

How to address inequality exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic

The novel coronavirus has accelerated the use of many digital technologies. Forced in the spring to close their doors, most K-12 schools and universities shifted to online learning where teachers lead classes virtually and students submit their assignments electronically.

According to the World Economic Forum, it is estimated that 1.2 billion students around the world this year were “out of the classroom” due to the pandemic, while in the United States, over 55 million K-12 students didn’t receive in-person instruction.

The use of telemedicine and video conferencing also has become a principal platform for medical consultations as a result of the coronavirus. For example, a Forrester analysis projected “general medical care visits to top 200 million this year, up sharply from their original expectation of 36 million visits for all of 2020.” Virtual connections allow patients to get recommendations wherever they are and draw on a broad range of medical expertise.

E-commerce is taking off as consumers abandon small retail outlets and large department stores. An industry study found that “total online spending in May 2020 reached $82.5 billion, up 77% from May of 2019” and those numbers almost surely will increase in coming months as people appreciate the convenience of online ordering and home delivery.

Yet the pandemic also has exposed dramatic inequities in technology access and utilization. Not everyone has the high-speed broadband required for online education, telemedicine and online shopping. The Federal Communications Commission has estimated it would take $40 billion to close the bulk of the broadband gap. But many people also lack laptops, notebooks, smartphones or electronic devices that allow them to stream videos and take advantage of new modes of service delivery.

It is not just that some are outside the online world, but that digital access is spread inequitably across various groups. According to an Education Week survey, 64% of American teachers and administrators in schools with a large number of low-income students said their pupils faced technology limitations, compared to only 21% of students in schools with a small number of low-income students. The problem isn’t simply broadband, but access to equipment and devices that allow pupils to make use of online resources.

There are substantial racial disparities as well. A McKinsey analysis found that 40% of African-American students and 30% of Hispanic students in U.S. K-12 schools received no online instruction during COVID-induced school shutdowns, compared to 10% of whites. These gaps in access to online education and digital services widen the already substantial educational inequalities that exist, but push them to new heights. If continued for a lengthy period of time, such differentials expose our most disadvantaged students to large barriers to advancement and a future of income deprivation or economic stagnation. Even more tragic, there may be a tipping point beyond which the gap is no longer recoverable.

These types of inequities are intolerable injustices that create nearly insoluble gaps with serious social and economic consequences. The variations noted above increase income inequality, widen the opportunity gap between social groups and doom those left behind to low-paying jobs, temporary positions without health benefits or outright unemployment. Not having access to the digital superhighway limits opportunities for online education, telemedicine and e-commerce and makes it nearly impossible to apply for jobs, request government benefits or access needed health or educational materials.

What is required right now is investment in digital infrastructure and improvements in digital access that eliminate unfair disparities based on race, income and geography. For example, the Federal Communications Commission needs to expand its current “Lifeline” program designed to promote phone connectivity for poor people to the internet. Many providers combine phone and internet usage so there is no reason to provide subsidies for phone service without also including internet service. With the availability of Voice over Internet Protocols (VoIP), it is easy for underserved people to combine phone and internet connectivity.

This FCC also should expand its “Schools and Libraries” program called “E-rate” to include home schooling and remote learning. With so many educational institutions closed and providing instruction through online education, the commission should use the millions in unexpended program funds to close the “homework gap” created by the COVID-19 pandemic. That would help impoverished students access online resources and video conferencing facilities.

The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service seeks to improve broadband service in rural areas but its funding currently cannot be used to improve low-speed broadband. At a time when many lack sufficient speed to access online educational resources, telemedicine or video streaming, that limitation makes little sense and needs to be altered so that rural-dwellers can upgrade their internet service.

In the education sphere, states and localities must ensure that racial and income-based disparities in access to online learning are not a permanent feature of the K-12 landscape. Addressing this issue is going to require much more than distributing free laptops to needy students, as is often advocated. Rather, it will involve making sure families can afford the broadband access that will enable pupils to use the laptops in productive ways, teachers are well-trained in distance learning and educational programs equip young people with the skills needed in the 21st century economy.

As we move into the future, broadband will be as vital to social and economic advancement as highways, bridges and dams were in earlier eras. Similar to the 20th century, improving access requires national planning and public and private sector investments. Indeed, digital access should be considered a human right in the same manner as access to universal healthcare. People cannot participate in the digital economy and online learning systems without high-speed broadband.

As noted in our recent AI book, the United States requires a national plan that funds digital infrastructure, reduces racial and geographic disparities, facilitates universal medical insurance and prepares workers for the digital economy. The list of national imperatives includes closing the digital divide, expanding anti-bias rules for the digital economy, building an inclusive economy through more equitable tax policies and training the next generation of workers.

New digital services or financial transactions taxes could help fund the programs that need to be undertaken to deal with these issues. One hundred years ago, as the United States underwent industrialization, national leaders adopted an income tax to pay for needed services, and as we move into a digital economy, there will need to be new types of taxes to pay for needed expenditures. We cannot allow current inequities in access to education and healthcare to deny opportunities to African-Americans, Hispanics, immigrants and poor people. Leaving those individuals behind as the digital economy grows is not a viable option if we’re ever as a nation to achieve our full potential by empowering all Americans.

Data is the key to many emerging technologies so it is crucial to have unbiased information to develop new services, evaluate digital innovation and deal with the ramifications of current products. Much of the current digital data is proprietary in nature and therefore limits the ability of researchers to improve innovation, close the digital divide and develop remedies that address equity problems. The federal government sits on a trove of data that should be made available for commercial and research purposes on an anonymized basis so that privacy is maintained. In the same way that census data enables research, economic development and program assessment, wider access to digital data likely would spur new products and services while also helping to address equity problems.

In a country that continues to be plagued by the coronavirus, it is vital to reduce the inequities that deny opportunity to large groups of Americans and make it impossible for them to share in the benefits of the digital revolution. As we envision a post-COVID world, it is essential we build an inclusive economy that allows everyone to participate in and gain the benefits of the online world.

The fundamental shifts wrought by COVID are not going to slow even after a vaccine is developed and the effects of the coronavirus dissipate over time. Nearly all of the technological trends generated by COVID this year will remain a large part of our ongoing landscape. Due to advances in computer storage and processing power, 5G networks and the growing use of data analytics, technology innovation almost certainly will accelerate in coming years.

Having a substantial part of our fellow citizens outside the digital environment is a recipe for continued racial injustice, social conflict, economic deprivation and political division. It will ensure that cynicism, discontent and anger will remain a feature of the American social landscape for decades to come. The last four years have exposed the massive inequities in American society, made worse not only by the intentional political polarization of the American public, but also by a digital divide that is virtually certain to lock in many pernicious dimensions of inequality in America.

This is not a technology problem, it’s a leadership challenge. Leadership can solve this national crisis by demonstrating the will to wield technology in the best interests of all Americans. The next administration has it within its capacity to address these matters head on and eliminate this divide, or conversely, if it doesn’t take appropriate action, condemn our most vulnerable citizens to four more years of neglect and inequity.

Financial institutions can support COVID-19 crowdfunding campaigns

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic adversely affected the financial outlook for millions of people, and continues to cause significant fiscal distress to millions more, but such challenging times have also wrought a more resilient and resourceful financial system.

With the ingenuity of crowdfunding, considered to be one of the last decade’s greatest “success stories,” and such desperate times calling for bold new ways to finance a wide variety of COVID-19 relief efforts, we are now seeing an excellent opportunity for banks and other financial institutions to partner with crowdfunding platforms and campaigns, bolstering their efforts and impact.

COVID-19 crowdfunding: A world of possibilities to help others

Before considering how financial institutions can assist with crowdfunding campaigns, we must first look at the diverse array of impressive results from this financing option during the pandemic. As people choose between paying the rent or buying groceries, and countless other despairing circumstances, we must look to some of the more inventive ways businesses, entrepreneurs and people in general are using crowdfunding to provide the COVID-19 relief that cash-strapped consumers with maxed-out or poor credit do not have access to or the government has not provided.

Some great examples of COVID-19 crowdfunding at its best include the following:

The possibilities presented by crowdfunding in this age of the coronavirus are endless, and financial institutions can certainly lend their assistance. Here is how.

1. Acknowledge that crowdfunding is not a trend

Crowdfunding is a substantial and ever-so relevant means of financing all sorts of businesses, people and products. Denying its substantive contribution to the economy, especially in digital finance during this pandemic, is akin to wearing a monocle when you actually need glasses for both of your eyes. Do not be shortsighted on this. Crowdfunding is here to stay. In fact, countless crowdfunding businesses and platforms continue to make major moves within the markets globally. For example, Parpera from Australia, in coordination with the equity-crowdfunding platforms, hopes to rival the likes of GoFundMe, Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

2. Be willing to invest in crowdfunded campaigns

This might seem contrary to the original purpose of these campaigns, but the right amount of seed-cash infusions to campaigns that are aligned with your goals as a company is a win-win for both you and the entrepreneurs or causes, especially now in such desperate times of need.

3. Get involved in the community and its crowdfunding efforts

This means that small businesses and medium-sized businesses within your institution’s community could use your help. Consider investing in crowdfunding campaigns similar to the ones mentioned earlier. Better yet, bridge the gaps between financial institutions and crowdfunding platforms and campaigns so that smaller businesses get the opportunities they need to survive through these difficult times.

4. Enable sustainable development goals (SDG)

Last month, the United Nations Development Program released a report proclaiming that digital finance is now allowing people from all over the world to customize and personalize their money-management experiences such that their financial needs have the potential to be more readily and sufficiently met. Financial institutions willing to work as a partner with crowdfunding platforms and campaigns will further these goals and set society up for a more robust rebound from any possible detrimental effects of the COVID-19 recession.

5. Lend your regulatory expertise to this relatively new industry

Other countries are already beginning to figure out better ways to regulate the crowdfunding financing industry, such as the recent updates to the European Union’s handling of crowdfunding regulations, set to take effect this fall. Well-established financial institutions can lend their support in defining the policies and standard operating procedures for crowdfunding even during such a chaotic time as the COVID-19 pandemic. Doing so will ensure fair and equitable financing for all, at least, in theory.

While originally born out of either philanthropy or early-adopting innovation, depending on the situation, person or product, crowdfunding has become an increasingly reliable means of providing COVID-19 economic relief when other organizations, including the government and some banks, cannot provide sufficient assistance. Financial institutions must lend their vast expertise, knowledge and resources to these worthy causes; after all, we are all in this together.

3 reforms social media platforms should make in light of ‘The Social Dilemma’

“The Social Dilemma” is opening eyes and changing digital lives for Netflix bingers across the globe. The filmmakers explore social media and its effects on society, raising some crucial points about impacts on mental health, politics and the myriad ways firms leverage user data. It interweaves interviews from industry executives and developers who discuss how social sites can manipulate human psychology to drive deeper engagement and time spent within the platforms.

Despite the glaring issues present with social media platforms, people still crave digital attention, especially during a pandemic, where in-person connections are strained if not impossible.

So, how can the industry change for the better? Here are three ways social media should adapt to create happier and healthier interpersonal connections and news consumption.

Stop censoring

On most platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, the company determines some of the information presented to users. This opens the platform to manipulation by bad actors and raises questions about who exactly is dictating what information is seen and what is not. What are the motivations behind those decisions? And some of the platforms dispute their role in this process, with Mark Zuckerberg saying in 2019, “I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.”

Censorship can be absolved with a restructured type of social platform. For example, consider a platform that does not rely on advertiser dollars. If a social platform is free for basic users but monetized by a subscription model, there is no need to use an information-gathering algorithm to determine which news and content are served to users.

This type of platform is not a ripe target for manipulation because users only see information from people they know and trust, not advertisers or random third parties. Manipulation on major social channels happens frequently when people create zombie accounts to flood content with fake “likes” and “views” to affect the viewed content. It’s commonly exposed as a tactic for election meddling, where agents use social media to promote false statements. This type of action is a fundamental flaw of social algorithms that use AI to make decisions about when and what to censor as well as what it should promote.

Don’t treat users like products

The issues raised by “The Social Dilemma” should reinforce the need for social platforms to self-regulate their content and user dynamics and operate ethically. They should review their most manipulative technologies that cause isolation, depression and other issues and instead find ways to promote community, progressive action and other positive attributes.

A major change required to bring this about is to eliminate or reduce in-platform advertising. An ad-free model means the platform does not need to aggressively push unsolicited content from unsolicited sources. When ads are the main driver for a platform, then the social company has a vested interest in using every psychological and algorithm-based trick to keep the user on the platform. It’s a numbers game that puts profit over users.

More people multiplied by more time on the site equals ad exposure and ad engagement and that means revenue. An ad-free model frees a platform from trying to elicit emotional responses based on a user’s past actions, all to keep them trapped on the site, perhaps to an addictive degree.

Encourage connections without clickbait

A common form of clickbait is found on the typical social search page. A user clicks on an image or preview video that suggests a certain type of content, but upon clicking they are brought to unrelated content. It’s a technique that can be used to spread misinformation, which is especially dangerous for viewers who rely on social platforms for their news consumption, instead of traditional outlets. According to the Pew Research Center, 55% of adults get their news from social media “often” or “sometimes.” This causes a significant problem when clickbait articles make it easier to offer distorted “fake news” stories.

Unfortunately, when users engage with clickbait content, they are effectively “voting” for that information. That seemingly innocuous action creates a financial reason for others to create and disseminate further clickbait. Social media platforms should aggressively ban or limit clickbait. Management at Facebook and other firms often counter with a “free speech” argument when it comes to stopping clickbait. However, they should consider the intent is not to act as censors that are stopping controversial topics but protecting users from false content. It’s about cultivating trust and information sharing, which is much easier to accomplish when post content is backed by facts.

“The Social Dilemma” is rightfully an important film that encourages a vital dialogue about the role social media and social platforms play in everyday life. The industry needs to change to create more engaged and genuine spaces for people to connect without preying on human psychology.

A tall order, but one that should benefit both users and platforms in the long term. Social media still creates important digital connections and functions as a catalyst for positive change and discussion. It’s time for platforms to take note and take responsibility for these needed changes, and opportunities will arise for smaller, emerging platforms taking a different, less-manipulative approach.

Leverage public data to improve content marketing outcomes

Recently I’ve seen people mention the difficulty of generating content that can garner massive attention and links. They suggest that maybe it’s better to focus on content without such potential that can earn just a few links but do it more consistently and at higher volumes.

In some cases, this can be good advice. But I’d like to argue that it is very possible to create content that can consistently generate high volumes of high-authority links. I’ve found in practice there is one truly scalable way to build high-authority links, and it’s predicated on two tactics coming together:

  1. Creating newsworthy content that’s of interest to major online publishers (newspapers, major blogs or large niche publishers).
  2. Pitching publishers in a way that breaks through the noise of their inbox so that they see your content.

How can you use new techniques to generate consistent and predictable content marketing wins?

The key is data.

Techniques for generating press with data-focused stories

It’s my strong opinion that there’s no shortcut to earning press mentions and that only truly new, newsworthy and interesting content can be successful. Hands down, the simplest way to predictably achieve this is through a data journalism approach.

One of the best ways you can create press-earning, data-focused content is by using existing data sets to tell a story.

There are tens of thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — of existing public datasets that anyone can leverage for telling new and impactful data-focused stories that can easily garner massive press and high levels of authoritative links.

The last five years or so have seen huge transparency initiatives from the government, NGOs and public companies making their data more available and accessible.

Additionally, FOIA requests are very commonplace, freeing even more data and making it publicly available for journalistic investigation and storytelling.

Because this data usually comes from the government or another authoritative source, pitching these stories to publishers is often easier because you don’t face the same hurdles regarding proving accuracy and authoritativeness.

Potential roadblocks

The accessibility of data provided by the government especially can vary. There are little to no data standards in place, and each federal and local government office has varying amounts of resources in making the data they do have easy to consume for outside parties.

The result is that each dataset often has its own issues and complexities. Some are very straightforward and available in clean and well-documented CSVs or other standard formats.

Unfortunately, others are often difficult to decode, clean, validate or even download, sometimes being trapped inside of difficult to parse PDFs, fragmented reports or within antiquated querying search tools that spit out awkward tables.

Deeper knowledge of web scraping and programmatic data cleaning and reformatting are often required to be able to accurately acquire and utilize many datasets.

Tools to use