Mar 222016

A New Path Forward

A New Path Forward

Welcome to the world, Path Forward, Inc.!

I’m thrilled to announce the launch today of Path Forward, a new non-profit with a goal of empowering millions of women to rejoin the workforce after taking time out for childcare. We are launching today with a Crowdrise campaign.   See more about that below.  And we launched with a bang, too – the organization is featured in this really amazing story on Fortune.

The concept started at Return Path two years ago, as I wrote about here and again here, when our CTO Andy Sautins came to me with a simple but powerful idea of creating a structured program of paid fellowships with training for women who want to reenter the workforce but find it difficult to do so because of rusty skills, lapsed networks, or societal bias. We expanded the program later that year with partner companies ReadyTalk, SendGrid, MWH Global, SpotX, and Moz, as I wrote about here.  The response from both participants and companies has been nothing short of amazing.

The day after I put up that last post about v2 of the program, a human resources leader at PayPal gave me a call and asked if we could help them structure a program for their engineering organization, too.  That’s when it struck me that the idea of midcareer internships as one means of providing an on-ramp to the paid workforce for people who’d been focused on caregiving could work for many companies, and also that for this program to work and scale up, it couldn’t be an “off the side of the desk” project for the People Team at Return Path.  So we decided to create a new company separate from Return Path to carry out this important work.  And we decided that with a practical, but social mission, it should be a non-profit, dedicated to creating and managing networks of companies offering opportunities to many more people.

To date, the program has served nearly 50 participants (mostly women, but a couple of stay-at-home dads, too!) and 7 companies in 6 cities around the world, producing an impressive 80% hire rate.  The participants who have been hired by us and our partner organizations have made impressive contributions to their companies’ businesses and cultures.  The companies have benefitted from their experience and passion.  That’s what I call product-market fit.  Now it’s time to officially launch the new organization, and scale it up!  Our BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal, in the language of Jim Collins) is that within 10 years, we want to serve 10,000 companies and 1 million women and men.  We want to reduce the penalty that caregivers face when they take time away from paid work.  We want to transform lives by getting people who want to work, back to work in jobs that leverage all their many skills and talents.  We want to help companies tap into an incredibly important but overlooked part of the talent pool to grow their workforces.  We want to change the world.

We’ve been able to assemble a strong Board of Directors to lead this effort.  Joanne Wilson, often better known as Gotham Gal and the founder of the Women’s Entrepreneur Festival, is joining me as Board Co-chair. Joanne is a force to be reckoned with in championing women founders in tech.  Brad Feld joins our Board with great credentials as an early-stage investor, but more importantly he’s served for more than 10 years as Board Chair of the National Center for Women and Technology.  Media luminary and investor Cathie Black was most recently the President of Hearst Magazines having previously served as President and Publisher of USA Today.  Cathie has been the “first” woman many times and has broken her share of glass ceilings.  Rajiv Vinnakota is the Executive Vice President of the Youth & Engagement division at the Aspen Institute and prior to that was the co-founder and CEO of The SEED Foundation, a non-profit managing the nation’s first network of public, college-preparatory boarding schools for underserved children which he started and successfully scaled up for more than 17 years.  Cathy Hawley, our long-time VP of People at Return Path, gets (though often deflects) the lion’s share of the credit for conceiving and championing the original return to work program at Return Path.  It is, truly, an embarrassment of riches. We are so thrilled to have them all on board Path Forward’s Board.

On the staff side I’m also pleased to announce that one of my long-time executive lieutenants at Return Path, Tami Forman, has accepted the role of Executive Director of Path Forward. I can’t think of anyone better for this role. Tami is the consummate storyteller, which every good founder and Startup CEO needs to be! More importantly she has been living and breathing work/life integration for eight years since the birth of her daughter (followed by a son). She is absolutely passionate about the idea that women can have jobs and families and live big lives. And, more importantly, she’s dedicated to the idea that taking a “break” (she and I agree it’s not a break!) to care for a loved one shouldn’t sideline anyone’s career dreams.

I can’t wait to see how far this idea can go. I truly believe this program can have a measurable, positive impact on thousands of companies across the country and the world.

Please join me and Tami and our talented Board on this journey.  Help us change the world.  There are three ways to participate:

(Please note – we haven’t yet received word of our non-profit status yet from the IRS, though we expect it in the next couple of months.  As such, any donation now is not tax deductible until after the certification comes through.  While there’s some risk that we don’t gain non-profit status…we don’t think the risk is large.)


Mar 172006

A New Member of the Internet Axis of Evil

A New Member of the Internet Axis of Evil

Fred has written a series of postings over the years about the Internet Axis of Evil, roughly in order here, here, here, here, and here (I’m sure I missed some).  The basis of the postings is great — that, as Fred says:

There’s a downside to an open network. It’s the same downside that exists in an open society. There are a lot of nuts out there who want to do bad things (the evildoers as George W Bush calls them). And we all have to spend a lot of time and money making sure that we are protected from them. It’s a huge burden on an open network and an open society, but i see no way around it.

So far, the members of Fred’s club are:

DNS Hacking
Comment Spam/Link Spam
Click Fraud
Really Simple Stealing

So today, I propose a ninth member of this esteemed club:  Survey Fraud.  A lot of people don’t know it, but one of our biggest businesses at Return Path is market research — or a subset of market research known as online sample.  Our brand for this part of our business has historically been Survey Direct , but next week, entirely appropos of this posting, we are changing the name to Authentic Response.

What we do in this business is work with market research firms to drive qualified, interested, double opt-in members of our research panel to take online quantitative surveys.  It’s a little like the email database marketing business (which is why we’re in it), although the dynamics of qualifying for and taking surveys are totally different than lead generation, and we have a separate team that supports the research business.

Occasionally, surveys carry a small cash incentive, usually in the $2-5 range, to thank people for the time they spend taking the survey, which can often be 15-20 minutes.  Usually we just pay people via PayPal, although we also allow people to donate their incentives to our favorite charity, Accelerated Cure.  You’d think at $2 a pop, it’s not so interesting, but there seems to be a cottage industry that’s sprouting up that I’m now calling Survey Fraud — the art of faking your way into a survey or completing a survey multiple times, in order to collect as much incentive money as possible.

First, there are message boards on the Internet where the Survey Fraud perpetrators hang out and share information with each other about surveys — things like “hey for XYZ survey, you need to be a 40-year old homemaker in zip code 12345 with a college degree” that encourage people to fake their way in.

Second, there are more serious thugs out there who write bots and scripts and create dozens or hundreds of phantom online identities in order to “take” a single survey 100 times over.  $2 adds up when you can earn it 100x in 5 minutes with the help of a little Perl script.

The people who conduct Survey Fraud are just as pathetic as the other members of the Internet Axis of Evil.  We have to constantly stay 10 steps ahead of them in making sure our system has state of the art security — a feature we are trademarking called Authentic Validation — in order to fend them off and make sure our clients get 100% authentic survey results as promised.  I can’t share with you our complex security methodology, since that would compromise it (geez, I sound like the White House, sorry), but as Fred says, it’s a huge burden that we have to bear in order to run our survey business on the Internet.

So congratulations to our Authentic Response team on their new name and their constant efforts to fight the Axis of Evil, and to all who commit Survey Fraud, please take your “business” elsewhere!

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