I’m currently the Director of Talent and managing US People Operations. I met our co-founders Ken-san and Kaisei-san back in March of 2014, so it’s been seven and a half years now. There were only four of us at the time in the US for both San Francisco and New York City. We were really just a typical tech startup. It was such an exciting, innovative time!
I was born in New York City, and my father actually worked at the New York Times as a typesetter. He was also a union organizer and very politically-minded. He really believed in civil liberties and human rights. That was the family environment for me growing up. We moved to California when I was a boy, and my parents opened a printing company, so I grew up working there with them from an early age.
I studied liberal arts in college—philosophy, psychology, history, religion—including Zen Buddhism. Asian/Japanese history fascinated me. Also, back in high school, I started making ceramics/pottery as a result of my mother’s influence as an artist, and I’ve continued doing it ever since. As a teen, I studied the craft of Shoji Hamada. One of the greatest Japanese potters, he became a National Treasure in Japan and has been an inspiration throughout my life.
After graduating college, I ended up working at Ziff Davis Media Company with my good friend and our future investor, Bill Lohse, during the beginning of the tech revolution. The promise of the tech revolution was providing access to information for everybody, everywhere along with richer forms of collaboration for all people. If we fast-forward to today, the irony is that the internet has become a forum for some people to yell at one another and spread hatred online. To me, this is absolutely abhorrent and a huge disappointment. This behavior is fueled by misinformation and has created an opportunity for us at SmartNews to provide information from all sides of the political spectrum. I really do believe that we can contribute to the growth of empathy and tolerance.
I became an executive recruiter twenty-seven years ago, working with entrepreneurs and founders. I love recruiting—getting to know people and figuring out what motivates them, helping to find the best match for them during their careers. Every day I feel like I’m making a difference not only in people’s lives but in the growth of great companies like SmartNews.
I speak with senior executives every day, and what I enjoy the most is telling them the SmartNews story. It’s easy for me to tell our story because I’m so passionate about our company. I talk about our mission, our founding, our growth, and the fact that we have a healthy revenue stream—we’re a double-unicorn now! I advise and remind people that their careers will be very long—there is plenty of time to accomplish all you want to do—but I stress that now is the time to join SmartNews. This is our giant burst of expansion in the US. We need you right now to help us grow in the US and eventually internationally. It’s a very exciting time, so if you want to go on a worthy adventure, then SmartNews is the place to be.
I must admit that the political climate and election in 2020 really shook me. I’m older than most of the employees here, and I’ve lived through so much political turmoil and so many different cycles in America over the past fifty years. But 2020 was scary. I think that it proved to all of us that democracy is sacred.
Certainly, it showed us at SmartNews that our mission of promoting democracy and empathy is vital. Our co-founders have invested so much time traveling around America to better understand the varied American perspectives. During the 2020 election, our CEO, Ken-san, visited cities along the campaign trail and interviewed many of our users, trying to understand how to create new features to improve their experience.
I can’t imagine working with any other company that could enable me to make this kind of important social contribution. Every day, I can’t wait to see who I’m going to meet, who I might be able to bring into the company, who might add value to our culture and help us achieve our goals.
You know, we’ve had some people leave the company over the years. Sure, there are certain family and lifestyle situations where it makes sense for that person to move on, but finding another company with an important mission like SmartNews is rare. Very few companies have this caliber of talent who truly believe in our mission of working together “for the common good.” This is one of our core values, as is “having appreciation” for one another and especially for our users as we work to give them the best experience possible.
We recently held our ninth anniversary party. This was one of the first times that we’d gotten together since COVID. Standing there were all of the new people we had hired over the past one and a half years, and there was this moment when I had this amazing feeling of pride. As everyone on the recruitment team knows, we have to deal with a lot of failure. You’re either not getting enough resumes fast enough or not able to hire the great talent you find. But looking at that group of new hires, seeing that we had doubled our headcount in 2020, and finally being able to meet some of these people for the first time in person gave me a tremendous feeling of pride—especially knowing that every person can make such a difference to an organization and that we now have close to one hundred people in the US. It gives everybody tremendous pride throughout our company to see how much we have grown.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari is the book I keep going back to. I have spent my life studying Humans. I’m fascinated by our evolution and our personal search for “the meaning of life.” As I mentioned earlier, one of the reasons I love recruiting is that I get to know new people every day—seeing their uniqueness and little idiosyncrasies. When talking with people, I’m interested in where they grew up, what countries they’ve lived in, which cultures they’ve been exposed to or immersed in. This book Sapiens explains our evolutionary journey; I’m interested in each of our own individual journeys. I am inspired by most people’s stories, and when I hear what others have accomplished, I can truly see that we are all capable of having an amazing personal/career/life journey!
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Author: Yuval Noah Harari
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Year published: 2018
Overcoming differences in language, culture, and time with empathy for the mission
Data-driven decision making at the center of SmartNews
From English teacher to engineering manager