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Fake news? Well, what about fake reviews?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Amazon is swamped with fake reviews, making it harder than ever to trust whether or not a product is legit. How can you spot them and avoid falling victim to this shady practice?

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Person shopping online with credit card, but are they reading fake reviews?

These days, most of us have turned to online shopping in lieu of brick-and-mortar establishments to get our favorite items shipped directly to our front door. With many retailers still closed, and many more of us understandably wary of exposing ourselves to the risk of COVID-19, it’s easier to just click “buy” and then spend the next two days with our noses pressed to our windows in anticipation of the arrival of our new toy or garment. But are we at risk of being tricked by fake reviews?

If you’re like most people, you probably depend on product reviews to make a purchasing decision. Honestly, it’s perfectly reasonable to see what others thought of the item before you buy it. These online reviews are almost like your neighbor, who whipped out his lawnmower and bragged how it goes from 0 to 4 mph in less than thirty seconds. Obviously — obviously — you had to run out to your nearest garden center to pick up one of your own after his glowing review of it, right?

That’s kinda like online reviews, too. You can’t just knock on the purchaser’s door and ask them what they thought of it, which is why you carefully peruse those reviews and weigh those pros and cons. Okay, this shirt fits loose. Fine, these kitchen shears broke after three uses. Whoa, this brand of potato chips puts hair on your chest…? Sweet! And you also probably looked at those 3-star reviews, too, to see what was merely “meh” about the product. With this assortment of mixed reviews, you can be confident that you’re making a rock-solid choice.

Uh, sadly, nope.

Unfortunately, Amazon (as well as other major retailers, such as Walmart) are often fraught with a glut of fake reviews. In fact, there are numerous Facebook pages dedicated to the purchase of these reviews, and many of the reviewers are compensated with a monetary reward (usually the cost of the item, plus a few extra dollars for their work) for posting the glowing 5-star rave.

So what can you do to help protect yourself for falling for these seemingly harmless lies?

Well, first and foremost — a fake review isn’t necessarily harmless. If a defective or dangerous product is boosted by a false review, it can seriously harm you. Sure, there’s a good chance the fake reviews are benign, and the worst you’ll be in for it is losing a few bucks on a crap item. But if something is using counterfeit or unsafe ingredients (such as minoxidil in potato chips because, real talk, chips aren’t supposed to put hair on your chest), then yes, you need to be informed of it so you can make an educated decision about whether or not that item is coming home with you.

So, the question remains: How can you, intrepid shopper extraordinaire, avoid purchasing a lemon? (Unless, of course, your goal was to buy an actual lemon in the first place. Margaritas, anyone?) The good news is that there are a couple things you can do. For starters, common sense goes a long way. Do the reviews offer any context, or is it just line after line of, “Loved it!” without any actual feedback on the item? That’s why those 3-star reviews are so priceless. Usually the reviewer actually used the item and had a valid reason for their tepid review, allowing you to make an educated decision about it.

Finally, there are a couple of websites you can use to help you out. First, there’s Fakespot. This web extension will cull out all the fake reviews, allowing you to see at-a-glance the remaining genuine reviews. It then reviews the item for its credibility, letting you know if the seller was trying to pull a fast one on you. Then there’s ReviewMeta. Unlike Fakespot, this website goes through the views and instead of grading the seller, it actually grades the item based on the average score of the remaining real reviews. And by using both of these websites together to check those reviews? You’ve now got yourself a pretty decent idea if the product is actually worth your hard-earned dollars.

It’s far too easy to get scammed these days. However, by staying alert and remaining mindful about your online purchases (and avoiding the temptation to give into those stress-motivated impulse buys), you can avoid being bilked, too. And hey, instead of looking at online reviews, maybe you should go back to the old-fashioned way of doing it: By asking your neighbor for their opinions of items. Just, y’know, do it from at least six feet away, while wearing a face mask.

Karyl is a Southern transplant, now living on the Central Coast with her husband. She's proud to belong to two very handsome cats, both of which have made it very clear as to where she ranks on the social hierarchy. When she's not working as an optician, you can either find her chipping away at her next science-fiction novel or training for an upcoming race. She holds an AAT in Psychology, which is just a fancy way of saying that she likes poking around inside people's brains. She's very socially awkward and has no idea how to describe herself, which is why this bio is just as dorky and weird as she is.

Business News

You should apply to be on a board – why and how

(BUSINESS NEWS) What do you need to think about and explore if you want to apply for a Board of Directors? Here’s a quick rundown of what, why, and when.

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board of directors

What?
What does a Board of Directors do? Investopedia explains “A board of directors (B of D) is an elected group of individuals that represent shareholders. The board is a governing body that typically meets at regular intervals to set policies for corporate management and oversight. Every public company must have a board of directors. Some private and nonprofit organizations also have a board of directors.”

Why?
It is time to have a diverse representation of thoughts, values and insights from intelligently minded people that can give you the intel you need to move forward – as they don’t have quite the same vested interests as you.

We have become the nation that works like a machine. Day in and day out we are consumed by our work (and have easy access to it with our smartphones). We do volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities, but it’s possible that many of us have never understood or considered joining a Board of Directors. There’s a new wave of Gen Xers and Millennials that have plenty of years of life and work experience + insights that this might be the time to resurrect (or invigorate) interest.

Harvard Business Review shared a great article about identifying the FIVE key areas you would want to consider growing your knowledge if you want to join a board:

1. Financial – You need to be able to speak in numbers.
2. Strategic – You want to be able to speak to how to be strategic even if you know the numbers.
3. Relational – This is where communication is key – understanding what you want to share with others and what they are sharing with you. This is very different than being on the Operational side of things.
4. Role – You must be able to be clear and add value in your time allotted – and know where you especially add value from your skills, experiences and strengths.
5. Cultural – You must contribute the feeling that Executives can come forward to seek advice even if things aren’t going well and create that culture of collaboration.

As Charlotte Valeur, a Danish-born former investment banker who has chaired three international companies and now leads the UK’s Institute of Directors, says, “We need to help new participants from under-represented groups to develop the confidence of working on boards and to come to know that” – while boardroom capital does take effort to build – “this is not rocket science.

When?
NOW! The time is now for all of us to get involved in helping to create a brighter future for organizations and businesses that we care about (including if they are our own business – you may want to create a Board of Directors).

The Harvard Business Review gave great explanations of the need to diversify those that have been on the Boards to continue to strive to better represent our population as a whole. Are you ready to take on this challenge? We need you.

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Business News

List of Austin tech companies recalling staff to the office (or not)

(BUSINESS NEWS) Many Austin tech companies were reluctant to send people home when COVID-19 hit – will they be equally reluctant to put employees back in desks?

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returning to the office (or not) in austin

The masks are coming off in America and agree with that practice or not, many employers are in an ongoing series of meetings regarding bringing staff back into the office.

Large companies are quickly playing commercial real estate hot potato – we recently broke the story that Dell had not only sold some of their massive campus near Austin, but rented out the third floor of their building to the Army Futures Command (AFC). As the dust settles on these contractions, the next step is bringing humans back into said buildings.

The spectrum of individuals’ emotions regarding this return varies from enthusiasm, to trepidatious, to complete refusal to return.

As the global pandemic hit and employers were responding so differently to sending folks home, our list of Austin tech companies sending folks home (or NOT sending employees home) went viral.

At the time, we noted that keeping humans in the office makes sense for some sectors (service, hospitality, medical, even financial), called it an “impossible situation” for business leaders, but some employers were stupidly insensitive…

One executive told workers as they were allowed to work from home to not expect it to be a “corona vacation” (which did NOT go over well).

Our question is: Will employers handle a return to the office more gracefully than when they sent folks home?

Just as protocols were untested sending employees home, as some employers get the itch to call them back into the office, a whole new set of unchartered protocols will be implemented.

What follows are quotes from employees telling us about their companies’ statuses. We will update this list over time as we learn more. If there are updates to your company’s status, let us know here.

– Cognite AS

“As of June 1, remote/on-site as we wish. Fridays in-office preferred for team lunch/team building days. Must be vaccinated with shot record proof uploaded to our HR system to attend in-person events.”

– Dover Fueling Systems

“Currently it’s voluntary to go back in until some time in autumn when it will be required. Hybrid options are available. Masks are still required in the office when not able to socially distance but that might change soon.”

– EpisodeSix

“Devs and project related roles remote. HR in office. C level occasionally in office.”

-Fathom5

“Full return to work date of 6/21. Remote work on exception (heads-down, need to be at home to tend to a matter at home — cable man cometh!, sick kid, relocating).

While not company policy, I look forward to revisiting this in a few months, particularly as it relates to recruiting, and some implementations of tools to improve internal operations & culture; I expect these tactics in the office to improve working together OVER ALL. In turn, I hope to prove out conditions are met, that predict similar outcomes from working remotely.

This is the long way to say that our CEO did not have some positive experiences of WFH, which I suspect had more to do with us not doing WFH well/providing conditions for that. And, now I’m here so things will be even awesomer (technical term).”

– FEMA/DHS

“Currently 100% Telework. Plan to start coming back to office August 31, however, it has not yet been decided that everyone will return to office. Some may continue some % telework.”

– Homeward

“Our company was just getting started when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Like a lot of businesses, we shifted to remote work, thinking it would be temporary. As we grew from 20 to 200 employees remotely, we realized that a remote workforce offered a few advantages. But we recognize that in-person collaboration fosters strong relationships and sometimes makes problem solving easier. So when it makes sense to be together at our headquarters in Austin, we encourage teammates to do that, too. Employees are required to wear a mask when walking around the office or in common areas (restroom, kitchen, etc.), but masks are optional while working at a desk. Social distancing is encouraged and signage around the office denotes which seats should remain vacant.”

– Indeed

“Currently remote – working on hybrid and fully remote scheduling when offices reopen.”

“No one has to be in an office until at least September. 80% of positions have the ability to be remote or flex (part in person, part in office). Every position can be in person if desired. We are picking now (in June) what we want to do and can change our delegation one time per year.”

– inKind

“We’re back to the office since the team is vaccinated! Still have flexible WFH days but we’re excited to be able to work together again safely.”

– Lightspeed Systems

“All employees are primarily still remote, with the option to come to either office in Austin as desired for majority of employees. Masks encouraged when in common areas, but not required at desk. No plans to require in-office attendance have been expressed at this point.”

– MediaTech Ventures

“Staying remote. No need to be back in office but we would like to be back in office. Cost <> Benefit just isn’t there (which is to say, if space is vastly more affordable, we’d consider it).”

– National Instruments

“Currently: returning to the office requires manager approval with mask/capacity limits within the office
September 1: General back-to-office date with a lot of individual flexibility as to working remotely or in the office. Long-term location strategy is in progress, but will likely be a defined policy allowing a mix of remote and in-office work.”

– Netspend (a Global Payments company)

“Mar 2020—everyone remote, no exceptions, no office visits;
Aug 2020—survey sent about full-time office / hybrid office & remote/ full time remote preferences, split 1/3 in each category;
Oct 2020—closed/sold offices in San Mateo, CA, Alpharetta, GA, and downtown Austin TX (no layoffs/furloughs at any offices), talk of “return-to-office” delayed until new year;
Jan 2021—”return-to-office” talks, but decided to delay, no office visits except req’d/VP-approved personnel, masks req’d, temp scans req’d, social distancing, desks 6′ apart;
Mar 2021—”return-to-office” talks resume as COVID vaccine deployed, still req’d social distance, masks, temp scans, desks 6′ apart, etc., talk of some hybrid remote/office (flex days);
Jun 2021—”return-to-office” open season, masks/social distance optional for vaccinated employees, flex days by team determination. SOP going forward is team-by-team basis, no assigned desks (all flex/hotel stations) except Director & above.”

– NFP

“One week on, one week off since May 1 until they bring everyone back full time. No announcement yet but it can’t be far away. No masks if you’re vaccinated. Verify health status every day with an app.”

– PayPal

“Continuing with remote work until at least September. Expecting more details on the return to office plan in the next few weeks. Likely it will be a hybrid model depending on the team/business unit.”

– StitchFix

“Fully remote CX based in Austin (90 mile radius).”

– T3

“Going back to the office September 13 with a hybrid wfh/in-office blend we are currently working on team by team. With this (and the most exciting part) we’re also figuring out meetings days or times vs no fly zones so we can all focus on working time more. Not sure about masks – I think you’d only come in office if you’ve been vaccinated. We’ve also hired a lot of people not in Austin recently, so T3 is very open to remote workers.”

– Trammell Ventures

“Remote Work still; no dates yet for coming back to the office, but there’s talk of a company picnic and/or get together soon for vaccinated employees!”

– Verb

“Currently, the office is open for those who want to use it, but not required. We’re told we’ll be hybrid but we’re still waiting to hear what the stipulations of that are.”

– VMWare

“Office not likely to re-open until September. No firm date yet. Flexibility to be in office or at home depending on type of role. Most will have a choice.”

– Whole Foods

“Starting July 1, required to be in office 2x a week, starting September 1 required to be in office 3x a week. No mask or social distance requirement but we are required to prove vaccination.”


Click here to add your company to the list or to update the information listed above.


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Business News

Go with the Floww: A company matching startups, venture capitalists on merit

(BUSINESS NEWS) Floww has created an effective, modern way to raise millions of dollars for many startups and venture capitalists virtually.

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A tablet open to stocks and investments numbers venture capitalists use

As data-driven decision-making continues to become the standard across multiple industries, one company is bringing the philosophy to venture capitalists.

Floww, a marketplace designed to allow founders to pitch to investors based on merit, announced that it has raised a staggering $6.7 million to date in seed funding from angel investors and family offices. Current investors include Google’s head of FinTech in the United Kingdom Pip Baker, Angus Davidson, Ramon Mendes De Leon, and more. According to Floww, the money will be used to build out the platform and give startups access to over 500 VCs, accelerators, and angel networks.

“In an age of virtual meetings and connections, the need for coffee meetings on Sand Hill Road or Mayfair is gone,” said founder and CEO of Floww Marijn De Wever. “What we need now are global connections, allowing VCs to engage in merit-based investing using data and metrics.”

Floww charges a monthly fee to venture capitalists, accelerators, and other private equity firms to use their platform. Startups, on the other hand, have the option of using Floww’s services for free or enrolling in a premium model that allows their deal to be sent to multiple VCs. Floww then provides the startups with a suite of tools and materials to create a digital profile, with dynamic charts and tables that highlight a business’s potential to VCs. Floww also claims to handle deal-sourcing, CRM, and reporting for investors.

Floww’s claim is a bold one, especially considering that many VCs handle deal-sourcing and CRM in-house. The company also doesn’t explicitly say what constitutes “merit” in matching VCs with startups. Other than it clearly being a data-driven pairing, there aren’t any specifics as to what thresholds a startup will need to meet in order to match with a VC. The closest existing competitor to Floww is AngeList, a website also aimed at matching investors with various startups.

Whether or not Floww’s merit-based matching system will take off is still under review, but VCs willing to pay the monthly fee for Floww’s service will expect, at a minimum, that founders will have thought through these obstacles before looking for an investment.

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