culture

The gig economy: A labor force for the future

The ratio of unemployed high-earners to low-earners is wider now than it has been in a decade. Similarly, during the Great Depression, the unemployment rate for those earning less than $20,000 was close to 21% — that stat nearly matches the current figure for low-earners.

But from where I stand, there’s hope. A new force of entrepreneurial labor is emerging: The Gig Economy. This revolution could soon represent up to 50 percent of the US workforce.

For many, business success was traditionally measured by the time spent at one company and the ultimate climb up the corporate ladder. The Gig Economy, however, takes a different view. In this economy, there is a shift in attitude and motivation.

In the wake of the Great Recession, consulting or freelancing for five businesses at the same time is a badge of honor. It illustrates the value and experience an individual can bring to several projects. Many companies now look to these “ultimate professionals” to solve problems their full-time teams can’t. Or they save money by hiring “top-tier experts” only for particular projects.

In fact, I believe this trend could be the thing that saves the American worker.

A look back

My father, for instance, is a successful senior executive in the semiconductor industry. In 35 years, he worked for only three companies. My own career, however, has proved different. For me, if you weren’t changing companies every three or four years, you simply weren’t getting ahead in your career.

And still, a short time ago the title “freelancer” or “consultant” wasn’t accepted the way it is today in American society. Back then, these “unprofessional professionals” were seen as less-than-desirable employees.

Today, a goal for many millennials is to work at home, or in local cafes; to start businesses with teams of digital freelancers, and to launch companies without fear of failure. Desired traits in businesses are now adaptability, initiative, and creativity. In order to swim, one must avoid sinking – the American worker has to find alternative ways to create success, both financially and personally.

A balance of tradition, innovation, hard work, and great benefits are all crucial in business today. A balance of work and play has always been necessary, but to create a work environment and business venture that is based around individual passion leads only to increased productivity, focus, and client value.

What’s next

Who are the people of The Gig Economy? They’re artists and designers. They’re writers, editors and translators, animators, videographers, and sound professionals. They’re programmers, DBA’s, and Q&A experts, and they’re providers of office services and career advice. They are our friends, and our kids. And in a decade, I think they will be nearly everyone.

Digital platforms, in 2013 and the coming years, can become the home base of an individual’s personal brand and professional identity. Business community, experience, and skills can all develop through the Internet and these advanced technologies. A community will build where the culture and value of a Gig Economy is reinforced and where honest businesses and services are rewarded with positive reviews.

Over time, as the traditional skeleton for business success diminishes, these digital platforms have the opportunity to bridge “old school” enterprises and the emerging Gig Economy. Perhaps most importantly, as the global economy continues to be disrupted, the Gig Economy will become an engine of economic and social transformation — giving workers, everywhere, a breathe of fresh air.

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create

Learning to Riff

If you know your way around jazz at all, or even if you don’t, you’ve probably heard of Charlie “Bird” Parker—the legendary saxophonist, cultural icon, and bebop pioneer. How Parker become the mythological “Bird,” or less abstractly, how a high school dropout from Kansas City got his face on a U.S. postal stamp for playing saxophone, is what led me to pick up Stanley Crouch’s Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker.

The book is the first of two volumes and it took Crouch nearly 30 years to write. In it, Crouch only gets as far as Parker’s early 20s before he hits the 350-page mark. But for the purpose of figuring out how Parker made it into the pantheon of 20th-century music, there’s a lot you can learn from his earlier life that’s useful whether you play the sax or develop apps.

Like many origin stories, Parker became “Bird” not just because he was a musical genius (although he was), but also because he worked really hard to get there. Starting with a saxophone his mother bought for him at a pawn shop, Parker began playing when he was 11 years old. For some prodigies, that may seem like a late start, but consider that, as Crouch notes, Parker was rumored to have spent as many as 15 hours a day playing the sax. He eventually dropped out of high school to master it.

Nevertheless, as any obsessive will tell you, there’s more to being successful than just being really proficient at something, especially in an era where such a premium is placed on being innovative or disruptive. Parker knew that too.

“Charlie Parker wanted to be more than good; he wanted to be different,” Crouch writes. “Part of your statement was your sound, and the one he was developing struck some more conventional musicians as brittle or harsh. Parker didn’t care.”

And once he figured out what was good, Parker just went for it. In a conversation with Crouch, guitarist William “Biddy” Fleet tells a story of what it meant to be with Parker when inspiration struck.

“The thing I loved about Bird is this: he wasn’t one of those who’s got to write something down, go home, study on it, and the next time we meet, we’ll try it out. Anything anyone did that Bird liked, when he found out what it was, he’d do it right away. Instantly. Only once on everything.”

There are plenty of lightning-in-a-bottle instances of genuine inspiration that get lost to overthinking and procrastination. Jazz may be the art form that’s most reliant upon improvisation, but anyone who works to create, draft, or build something, knows that brainstorming and riffing in collaborative moments are how brilliant ideas get hatched.

Bebop didn’t become real because Parker cloistered himself to think it up. Bebop became real because Parker and others played together and pushed the boundaries of what they knew. Or as trumpeter Orville “Piggy” Minor tells Crouch, “Charlie Parker was a guy who didn’t like anything according to Hoyle and if he could bend it, he would bend it quick.”

Parker would bend Hoyle’s rules a lot, but in doing so, he started a musical revolution. He also let his passions and obsessions overtake him and eventually burned out. He got hooked on drugs and lost all of his money over and over again. The way Crouch writes of Parker it seems like no surprise that when Parker was found dead at age 34 (inside the swank apartment of a Rothschild heiress no less), the coroner thought that legendary sax-man had been at least 50 or even 60 years old. There’s a lesson in that, too.

Photo credit: William P. Gottlieb Collection/Library of Congress

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techcrunchdisrupt

TechCrunch Disrupt Still Has the Power to Shake Things Up

Is there a more resonant, all-encompassing, ubiquitous term in our current cultural lexicon than “disrupt”? Listen, and you’ll hear it repeated often: sometimes as mantra, sometimes—as in the case of HBO’s hit comedy Silicon Valley—as a punchline, sometimes as a bit of cultural criticism, and, often enough, as a business plan.

But disruption, like all forces of change, faces an innate challenge the more prevalent it grows; vibrant and sweeping in its infancy, what does disruption look like when it’s all grown up?

For answers, look no further than TechCrunch Disrupt. The venerable conference started five years ago as a smallish affair. Its first New York iteration focused on a few big-name entrepreneurs giving intimate “fireside chats,” with a handful of startups riding their coattails.

Today the scale is very different: 194 companies will jockey for the attention of investors and the press at the conference’s renowned Startup Alley, and a wide variety of marquee names—from presidential aspirants to WeWork’s CEO and co-founder Adam Neumann—will share their thoughts on the nature of innovation.

Join them, and you’ll see that, for all the hype, the spirit of disruption is still alive and well, figuring out new ways to create more effective, more pleasurable experience for consumers in any realm of life, from ordering socks to forging a community of likeminded creators.

The latter, of course, is WeWork’s mission, and this year WeWork is proudly sponsoring 19 of its member companies’ participation in Startup Alley.

Roee Adler, WeWork’s chief product officer, knows Startup Alley’s charms and pressures all too well: In 2010 he won the conference’s first-ever award with his PC-troubleshooting company Soluto.

techcrunch feature  2“We think Startup Alley is great exposure, a great opportunity,” says Adler. “The audience includes many journalists, investors from a wide variety of companies whom we believe could add value to and promote our members’ business.”

There is also the competitive aspect of Disrupt, the vaunted Battlefield. If a startup can convince skeptical judges who come with decades of investment experience that theirs is a worthy idea, they can win $50,000 and the bragging rights of the Disrupt Cup.

Jukebox wants to make the experience of listening to music in a bar or gym interactive and profitable for both venues and artists, and it’s one of the companies WeWork is sending into the fray. When asked if he thinks Jukebox could win Battlefield, founder Sairam Chilappagari laughs.

“We think we have an amazing product,” Chilappagari says. “Judges in these sorts of competitions are always looking for different sorts of things, so it can be hard to say. Certainly, we want to win. We definitely have the confidence that we could win this thing.”

What, after all, is a community of creators all about but a little bit of faith, a little bit of promotion? Mayer Mizrachi, the founder of Criptext, a company focused on email encryption and another of the companies WeWork is sending to the Startup Alley, is grateful for both.

“We moved from Panama to New York City,” he says, describing his company’s first month in New York. “We didn’t know anybody in NYC, much less the tech scene when we first moved into WeWork, but that would soon change.

“We joined happy hours, meet-ups, and other tech-centric events at WeWork,” says Mizrachi, “and before we knew it, we had an entire network of advisors, investors, entrepreneurs, engineers, and journalists rooting for us.”

And that, perhaps, is the most remarkable thing about disruption as a mature philosophy: it’s still as restless as ever, still looking for new solutions to thorny problems, but it’s a joint effort now, a joyful collaboration of countless creators who observe the world and look for ways to make it a little bit better.

Photo credit: courtesy of TechCrunch

Photo credit: Max Morse/courtesy of TechCrunch

 

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techcrunchdisrupt

Let Your Mood Illuminate the Room

Our surroundings often influence our moods. The beach prompts serenity, while museums muster up amusement and curiosity. Libraries and coffee shops invoke a get-down-to-business vibe for focusing better, and bars and restaurants bring a sexy vibe.

Along comes LumiFi, a smartphone app created by award-winning lighting designers that combines LED wireless bulb technology with pre-prepared lighting options to suit your every mood: Rest, Focus, Lounge, Party, Romance, and Rainy, to name a few. So now, staying inside can be a lot more exhilarating.

“I was always interested in how technology and architecture come together, and how it influences the people within a space: their behavior, their emotions, the atmosphere,” says Frankfurt-born and bred architect Beatrice Witzgall, LumiFi’s founder and CEO. The NYC-based company operates out of WeWork’s Meatpacking District location.

“I was so frustrated with the technology at hand, but also that you cannot make a space more dynamic,” explains Witzgall, who’s been working as a lighting designer for almost 15 years, nabbing the Lumen Award in 2010 for her work on Lincoln Center’s renovation. “People are dynamic, nature is dynamic, and we are all sitting in these static environments. And they don’t react to us; they don’t adapt to what our needs are, or our feelings, or what we’re doing.”

Witzgall collaborated with the MIT media lab on various responsive environments like physical floor sensors and movable walls.

TechCrunch Lumify 2“I realized at some point, lighting, with LED lighting, it’s a medium you can easily influence,” Witzgall says. “An LED chip is basically a computer you can program, so now we were able to make architecture spaces responsive and able to adapt to what people do within a space.”

LumiFi stands for “lumification” and “Wi-Fi” (“wireless lighting,” Witzgall clarifies). It was born out of her other company, I3D, “an interdisciplinary design company with a strong emphasis in hospitality lighting design.” Witzgall and her compact, yet global team have worked on hotels all over, but her specialty is super yachts.

“Very high-end clients, very technological, difficult spaces, and these clients can afford the best of the best, and they are after the ultimate experience,” Witzgall reveals. “That’s where we started with some of the ideas around LumiFi: we had these clients who were like ‘I don’t want to look for a light switch. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of the Legacy lighting control systems that I need to call my engineer to turn the lights off.’”

Witzgall and her team started designing and customizing the lighting control systems (there were roughly 10 light scenes for different moods), simplifying it as much as possible. With LumiFi, they’ve simplified it even further, making “the ultimate experience” accessible and affordable to a much wider audience.

She attributes this to the rise of smart lighting and the Internet totally changing technology.

“People don’t understand how powerful lighting can be,” says Witzgall. “Lighting is one of these things where if you have good lighting, nobody recognizes. You just feel good lighting.”

Photo credit: Lauren Kallen

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techcrunchdisrupt

Transform the World into your Private Playlist

This company’s idea is so simple that you’ve probably experienced it dozens of times over without realizing it. The scene: you’re in a bar by yourself, reading a book, with music playing in the background and it’s a bit too loud. Or, the reverse: you’re there with your friends on a Friday night, looking to unwind. There’s one specific song you’ve had stuck in your head all day, and if by some magic it could suddenly start playing, everything in the universe would align.

Jukebox is that magic: it takes the previously passive-at-best atmosphere of random jukebox plays and turns it into its own ecosystem: if you’re at the bar, or the gym, or the café, you can search from an ever-expanding selection of songs, pay a little bit, and get it blasting out before you know it.

It sounds a lot like the traditional jukebox, and it operates on a similar principle: you should be able to hear the music you want, and it should be a social experience. But the company doubles down on the venerable diner mainstay by shrinking it down to the size of your phone. And it’s been growing at a rapid rate.

TechCrunch Jukebox 2“We started with five venues in January,” says founder Sairam Chilappagari. “Now we’re up to 25, and we’re expecting another 35 to come on board in the next one- and-a-half months.”

Jukebox is actually two apps: one for the venue and one for the consumer. In the company’s initial vision, the venue’s app would have been a private one. But as the company’s growth continues even before it officially hits Apple’s App Store, Chilappagari says they decided to make both apps public.

This makes sense, considering how infectious the idea has proven: on a recent family trip to India, Chilappagari just started talking about his company. Before he knew it, Indian coffee chains were interested in trying it out.

Chilappagari and his team have been working to expand Jukebox to include all the curation features you’d expect from Spotify and other similar apps, including playlists for genre, mood, and themes. A café or restaurant, Chilappagari says, could “schedule different moods for every day of the week.”

Chilappagari Is pleased about the attention that the company is getting these days.

“We think we have an amazing product,” he says. “We are very motivated to make this a really big thing.”

Photo credit: Lauren Kallen

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