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The DL - An inside view into Pacific Northwest Tech

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Welcome to The DL, a weekly newsletter about tech, startups, and investing in the Pacific Northwest.
 
December 16 · Issue #26 · View online
The DL
Welcome to The DL, a weekly newsletter about tech, startups, and investing in the Pacific Northwest.

This week’s issue looks at how many tech jobs are created in Seattle, a new program to help people start startups called Venture Out, an AI project to get free meals, and a great job opportunity at Buckingham Palace.

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1 in 5 new tech jobs are based in Seattle
Between 2005 and 2017, high tech industries (like software, pharma, aerospace, and semiconductors) created 256K jobs in the United States. Seattle accounted for 56K of these jobs, which means 22% (1 in 5) of all new tech jobs were created in Seattle.

During this period, Amazon grew from fewer than 5K local employees to 48K, so not only were 22% of all new tech jobs in the US created in Seattle, 17% of all new tech jobs were created at Amazon, in Seattle. Microsoft, which added 10K+ employees, accounts for most of the remainder.

Tech is all about “winner-take-all” businesses, so this isn’t a huge surprise, but it’s interesting to think about these jobs as a regional R&D investment. Assuming these 56K jobs pay an average of $200K, that’s $11B+ per year going into the local innovation economy. While there are plenty of articles about “the next Silicon Valley,” it’s going to be really difficult for any other city to catch up to the Bay Area or Seattle’s level of investment in tech.

Venture Out - a nights and weekends launch pad
www.ventureoutstartups.com
www.ventureoutstartups.com
People often ask why there aren’t more startups in the PNW given all of the local tech talent. Last week, two Microsoft and Amazon alums announced a new program called Venture Out that is targeting this opportunity. Here’s my Q&A with Sean and Ken, the founders of Venture Out:

What’s Venture Out and who is it for?
Venture Out (VO) is an organization dedicated to supporting founders venturing out of their tech day job and into their startup. The Venture Out Program is a nights and weekends launch pad for founders that are either currently working on their startup on the side of their day job, or who have recently left their tech day job to go full time on their startup.
 
As founders who left great jobs at big tech companies to start something new, what inspired you to take the leap?
While at Amazon, Sean noticed there were many people who had brilliant startup ideas but they did not want to pursue them full-time for two main reasons: First, they did not want to give up their paycheck or healthcare benefits, but second, and more importantly, they were so busy in their day jobs that they did not have time to identify a community of startup mentors, founders, and investors to support them. 
This is when we launched a monthly event called Founder Forums. The key to this was that each member had to be either moonlighting on a startup idea, working on their startup full-time, or be a prior founder. Fast forward 20 months and our group has grown to over 170 people and the number one request from the community has been to make this a full-time offering for those serious about venturing out of their day job. 

Is compensation typically the biggest hurdle for someone to start something new, or is it something else?
While we have not collected data from our members, we have had numerous anecdotal conversations. For most individuals leaving their tech job they are leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table, especially for those with RSUs/options that have appreciated in the past few years. 
Venture Out’s goal is not to convince people to leave their day job, but rather to support those who already know they are going to leave. Usually compensation is not the biggest factor for them to venture out, but rather the need to identify support early on and derisk their concept enough to feel confident to cut the cord and take the leap of faith. 
Venture Out’s member base is comprised of engineers, product managers, data scientists, program managers and others. At Amazon they are between an L5-L7 and at Microsoft they are between a level 61-64. But these are not hard rules, we have members who are senior in their jobs with 10-20 years of experience at the director level or above, and some founders that are recently out of college.
 
The full interview with Sean and Ken covers more questions like
  • What are the biggest surprises that people who leave big tech for startups experience?
  • Besides for Amazon and Microsoft, where do you see a lot of the top engineers, PMs, designers, and tech talent gathering in Seattle?
  • …and a few others. Read it here!

Also, if Venture Out sounds like something that would be a great fit for you or someone you know, applications are now open for a ten week, nights and weekends program beginning January 15th. Get more info here!

Cool AI project - How to get free meals in NYC
left = good post; right = bad post
left = good post; right = bad post
Definitely a startup idea in here! Great post on how someone built an automated system to conquer Instagram and get free meals.
Here’s the Medium article with the full rundown, and here’s my summary:
  1. Pick ~50 Instagram accounts with good content and scrape all of their photos and videos
  2. Use some NLP and some simple rules to decide what is a “good” post vs. a bad post (e.g., ad, controversial stuff, spammy stuff)
  3. Try out some ML algorithms to find the “best” posts based on data like caption content, mentions, hashtags, views, like, comments, etc.
  4. Automate the captioning process using a template that combines pre-written text with some simple text manipulation
  5. Write a script that grabs a photo, auto-generates a caption, and posts new content three times a day
  6. Grow your following by building an ML model that follows and unfollows the right accounts in order to find people that are most likely to follow back and engage with your content
  7. Get enough followers that restaurants offer you free meals!

I think this is a great demonstration of an intelligent application because it uses some ML to select and optimize stuff, but the real magic is in the workflow automation + AI that accomplishes a goal.

Other stuff Dan's talking about
Green screens are so last decade
Green screens are so last decade
🚀 Fortnite x Mandalorian - Sarah and I finally watched the Mandalorian this weekend, and we love baby Yoda. Separately, here’s a cool article about Disney used Fortnite’s game engine to film a lot of the shots. They render imagery on LED screens and point a camera at the screens. Cool demo
🗣️ Ablaut reduplication - Fun fact. Whenever there are words/phrases with repeating sounds, the vowels always go I -> A -> O. Examples: tic tac toe, criss cross, dilly dally, King Kong. If you flip the words, they sound really weird: zag zig, hop hip, mash mish. Reddit explains why
👫 Virtual boyfriends - A growing trend in China is single women hiring ‘virtual boyfriends’ who text them throughout the day to chat and keep them company. Think there’s a market for this in the US?
👑 Job alert - Love The Crown? Love Instagram? Looking for a new job? The Royal Household is hiring a Head of Digital Engagement. Unfortunately, you’ll have to leave the PNW and work at Buckingham Palace

Please hit reply! (Or subscribe or forward!)
About me: I work as an investor at Madrona Venture Group, a Seattle-based venture capital firm that has been early partners with companies like Amazon, Smartsheet, Apptio, and Redfin.

If you have thoughts, questions, or comments, hit reply!

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