The CIA’s plan to woo Big Tech’s employees

September 23, 2020

PLUS: What you need to know about Gen Z.
September 23, 2020
The Hustle

Today’s email includes a very insightful look at all things Gen Z, including cultural trends, media habits, and consumer preferences. In related news, our head of content (Brad Wolverton) is very confused by today’s email.

The Big Idea

The CIA has a plan to poach Big Tech employees

The CIA has toppled governments and negotiated hostage crises. But when it comes to attracting tech-minded college grads, it just can’t beat Silicon Valley.

The government agency doesn’t have the funds to compete with Facebook’s mammoth starting salaries. So instead, it’s trying to recruit candidates with patents.

Under a new initiative, CIA Labs, any employee who patents an invention for the agency gets a cut of the proceeds.

There’s a limit to the generosity

Say you invent an 8G network during your shift. The agency will let you take home 15% of the income it generates — up until you hit a $150k cap.

But that’s still ~2x the average CIA salary, according to the MIT Technology Review.

The CIA isn’t a stranger to the tech biz

The agency has its own venture capital firm, In-Q-Tel, that commands $120m+ a year in cash. 

In-Q-Tel claims to be independent, but it doesn’t toss a penny anywhere without asking the CIA first. It has recently invested in quantum computing startups and data-mining companies

CIA Labs is an attempt to bring more innovation in-house.

Is defecting to the feds ethical?

You might invent some stuff with morally gray uses. The agency’s patent history ranges from lithium ion batteries to controversial warfare tools, like drones.

But given the surveillance power of some tech companies, inventing for Big Tech isn’t always so idyllic, either — and the CIA is hoping that some workers won’t blink.

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  • Jeff Bezos announced the launch of a Bezos Academy — the first of his new free preschools for underserved children.
  • Can’t afford to buy in bulk? This cleaning-supply vending machine is helping low-income people get those discounts anyway.
  • Unicode just approved new emojis for 2021 — including “face with spiral eyes,” which perfectly captures all of our existential crises.
  • Researchers are trying to create a new kind of low-cal sugar, but so far the taste has left a lot to be desired.
  • Miss your nightly commute? Microsoft Teams is offering a “virtual commute” feature that eases you out of the workday.
  • Bonus: Microsoft scored an exclusive license to use OpenAI’s GPT-3 language model across its products.
State of Gen Z

Everything you ever wanted to know about Gen Z

Tiffany Zhong is the founder and CEO of ZebraIQ, a platform that allows creators to make exclusive fan communities.

She has 2 other noteworthy titles: “The Gen Z Whisperer” and “The Mary Meeker of Gen Z.” 

Why? For years, she has been surveying the demographic born between 1995 and 2010, and providing valuable insights on a group with $143B in spending power.

Zhong just released a 116-slide presentation — the 2020 State of Gen Z Report (download here).

She gave The Hustle an early look, and here are our fave findings:

A video-first generation 

  • 65% of Gen Z prefers FaceTime as the way to keep in touch with friends
  • Mobile video is how Gen Z prefers to learn and stay up to date on news

They created their own emoji language

Seemingly harmless emojis have different meanings to the Gen Z crowd.

Gen Z’s ‘3rd places’ are in the digital realm

Starbucks has long popularized the notion of a “3rd place” — a spot for people to gather outside of home (“1st place”) and work (“2nd place”).

For Gen Z, the new “3rd place” gathering spots are online gaming (Fortnite, Twitch) and social chat apps (Discord, Houseparty).

How to communicate with Gen Z 

Think mobile-first with an understanding of trending emojis and memes. Impressively, the Twitter account for the State of New Jersey (@NJGov) has mastered this (look at these PSAs for mask wearing!):

Up-and-coming companies catering to Gen Z 

Here are a few startups (much more in the report):

  • Genies is an avatar company that builds digital identities, including for notable celebrities (JLo, Justin Bieber).
  • Bunch is a mobile video chat layer on top of games.
  • Unfold is a mobile app to make stunning social media stories.
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Lawn-mowing Legends

Totally normal jobs are huge on TikTok

Want to go viral on TikTok? You have to dance well, look conventionally attractive, or… be a landscaper.

People with unremarkable jobs — power-washers, hat-makers, beekeepers, and loggers — have amassed hundreds of thousands of followers just by streaming their day-to-day work.

Since when did TikTok become all about normies?

YouTube certainly has its niches (marble racing, anyone?), but its algorithm usually shies away from serving videos of people, say, cutting grass.

But on TikTok, an unsexy job can carry the same cachet as a dance:

  • Pool installer Danny Wang’s before/after clips often attract 1m+ views, and have gained him 692k+ followers.
  • R&A Tree Service (539.5k followers) racks up millions of views on its videos of workers sawing down large trees.
  • Texas Beeworks has amassed 1.7m followers mostly by showing close-ups of bees.

The TikTok algorithm is mostly a black box

We don’t know why the app seems so friendly to landscapers, et al. But R&A Tree Service offers up a hypothesis.

As the company told The Verge, the tree in the video has to be big. If it’s tiny, or even average-sized, TikTok seems to yawn it off.

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Apropos of Nothing

Copyrighting clown makeup involves a lot of eggs

As one recent tweet taught us, clowns have a unique way to make sure their makeup doesn’t match a competitor’s.

Since 1946, they’ve laid claim to their designs by painting them on eggs.

To make a clown, you’ve got to paint a few eggs

When you sign up to be a member of the major clown trade group, Clowns International, your first step is to document your makeup.

When you send in the design, it goes to Debbie Smith, the official artist at Clowns International. Smith — who is herself a clown on the side — might spend up to 3 days painting a single egg.

In exchange, she’s paid just ~$20 a pop.

This clown IP isn’t government-sanctioned

The egg system is only recognized among clowns, not federal copyright law.

Once painted, the eggs travel to a special vault called the Clown Egg Registry, tucked away in a museum in London. There are currently ~240 eggs locked there.

Seem a bit low? That might be because the system isn’t foolproof: Hundreds of previous clown eggs were accidentally lost or destroyed sometime in the 1960s.

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The Hustle Says

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Today’s email was brought to you by Michael Waters, Caroline Dohack, and Trung Phan.
Editing by: Zachary “Special officer” Crockett, Aretha Holley (Holiday Decoration Specialist).

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