Perils of having being associated with startups

I worked at a lot of San Francisco Bay Area startups (aka Silicon Valley startups) There is a really serious elitist attitude here that you have to be l33t and hack the everything in order to hack a startup.

What that generally means, at least in one respect, is that you have to be smart enough and quick enough to take opportunistic advantage of your surroundings: the competitors(aka incumbent disruptees), some compound economic conditions, but also your customers and investors as needed.

I mean sure, I love all these people trying to do something truly better for their customers and break the old and decadent to create the new and efficient. I get that. And I’m all for that.

But, take this example of what happened to me when I tried to transfer some stock out of the Robinhood platform. I initiated a partial account transfer out of Robinhood to E*TRADE because Robinhood could not provide some service regarding those shares. A few days later, half way through setting up a bracket, Robinhood deactivates my account. It canceled every single outstanding trade I had in flight. And it also nicely sent an email for each of those actions, piling up a screen full in my mail client.

Some thoughts race through my mind… shoot! Did I trigger some kind of secretive financial services rule for brokerage firms that warranted Robinhood deactivating my account and reporting me to an anti-illegal-activity agency?? Did they think I was laundering money by transferring these shares in and out? Did they think I was trying to evade tax and report me to the IRS??? Wait! No no, those are clandestine snitching and invisible to me. This type of deactivation with no explanation usually has to be for something that immediately impacts the company’s business.

And then it dawned on me, yes it does affect Robinhood business! This startup lives off DAU’s and subscription fees (and for god’s sake I even bought gold membership just to patronize fellow startup) making it prohibitively difficult to leave its services. It is to its business advantage to do this. And customer is the wiser until he tries to get his money or stock out of the system, and by then, as it is for me, all is too late.

I’m not picking on Robinhood, it’s a great free service. And because it is so great it really shouldn’t have snuck in that hack into it. For goodness sake! I did a partial transfer and left a lot of money and shares in Robinhood so I can continue to trade!

Wait, are they picking on me because of my race? I know it’s really easy to detect that nowadays with their app reporting my location and the spelling of my name… are they picking on me because my account is too small compared to other users?

The support email responded after almost 24 hours. It claims that they do this to everyone: https://support.robinhood.com/hc/en-us/articles/115001535326-Stock-Transfer.

What happens to my stocks during the transfer?

While stocks are being transferred, you’ll be restricted from trading them until the transfer is complete. You still own the stocks during this process, and they’ll update to reflect the current market value.

Their public documentation indicates that only shares being transferred cannot be traded not all shares! And while it took two days for me to receive this information, i hade the time to call E*TRADE twice to confirm that the transfer was indeed a partial account transfer (of just one stock among maybe two dozen that I own at Robinhood)

This reminds me of my own work at other companies… sometimes technological choices render the upkeep of documentation and sprawling knowledge base impossible. But wait… no the support sent me the link so it must be current as of now?

And certainly there are cases where an unnoticed bug prevented some metric driving feature from being disabled by customers in many situations… sure everyone hacks here.

But it doesn’t need to do that! It’s such a great service, free !! I mean how do I even ask for remediation of my trading losses from a brokerage firm that doesn’t charge money to trade? Is the truism “you get what you paid for” really true? And yet I feel outraged. Like I’ve been lied to, like I was cheated out of proper service, I feel like I lost money not being able to execute on my trading plan.

In the mean time, my transfer has not progressed. The share sits in Robinhood inaccessible to me. AND all my other shares at Robinhood are also inaccessible.

When I hack it… if I ever try to hack a startup,… I would never be sneaky in this way. I mean, com’on at least leave the customer and investor out of the con!

I hope by the time this blog publishes the company has either changed its ways or else gone out of business. Deploying this kind of unnecessary tactics to retain customers is just bad.

PostScript

Haha, just saw Square unapologetically settle a lawsuite for taking gratuities from caviar customers but not passing the gratuities to the couriers(those who deliver the food) or to the chefs(those who cook them) The company insists that it did not confuse anyone that the gratuity was for Square, the S&P 500 public company and not its small sellers or its individually contributing couriers. (Techcrunch article circa 6/11/2018) There was one time when I made an order, there was a mandatory 18% gratuity. I, as a customer of Square’s customers cursed the courier for requiring such an exorbitant tip… Sorry courior.

This drastically lower my already very low esteem for having provided service to this startup. I’ve increased my trust in Square’s leadership and management in the time that I worked for it. I grew to believe that it wanted o empower the economically disadvantaged(this word keeps on becoming misspelled in my blog, I don’t know why, but it says disadvantaged)  and help the excluded minorities(economically speaking regarding both the aid and nature of the exclusion). But it is definitely a company that appreciates hackers and engages in this generalized hacking. Specifically, I am not excluding a suggestion that it may take significant advantage of its merchants who are economically disabled or those who are members of an excluded minority. Clearly this law suite is one such case. I feel it has taken advantage of participants of this transaction. What it charged should not be called gratuity from customer and then it did not give it to couriers or restaurants who are the recipient of tip in almost all normal circumstances.

But, as a shareholder, I applaud, as I did at their bi-monthly townsquare all-hands, the dilligence of their legal team for wordsmithing the legal documents to make this “not Square’s fault”… We gladly applaud it even though it is like applauding a democratic politician’s claim “I did not have sexual relations with that women” (…according to dictionary definition of that word)—and in the mean time enjoying an mind’s eye voyourism of purported acts upon, in or near relevant sex-organs of parties involved—I guess…, I mean…, I guess we kind of just accepted that and voted red anyways, right? So, yay, let me buy some more when NYSE:SQ drops at this news.

But seriously though! You all startup hackers should be ashamed of yourselves for taking advantage of those like Square Caviar’s poor drivers! Sheesh!!! I’m going to go out and eat at a restaurant and give the server, to his hands, a proper tip! This is a big karmic dent that needs to be patched with certainty.

Postpostscript

These recollections bring to my mind my humiliating experiences as a software engineer. As a person of reasonably intellect, if I were an engineer coding that “mandatory gratuity” do I think and feel something is wrong? If I am an engineer coding up “freeze entire account on partial transfer” do I question the impact this little bit of code will have on the customer? If I am an engineer for an unamed crypto trading platform (so, it could be Robinhood, or Square, or another site where I experienced this bufeature) and I wrote a piece of code that produces a cryptic error when user request a “sell $x of bitcoin with limit price of $y/bitcoin” using the UI my own system provide, do I think about it? Do I think about why that should error out? Do I think about the impact it will have on a trader who just made a million dollars just if he could just sell those darn coins?

Or … I wonder, do Software engineers suffer brain damage due to excessive caffeine intake, lack of sleep, lack of sun light, lack of proper power to influence business and product decisions?

Or I wonder if the engineers who did this are recent immigrant who don’t eat at American restaurants or who don’t really know the culture of tipping? I do not wonder if the engineer come from a country where they are so bad at logic that they could not harmonize the problem with that limit order—that’s not possible outside of the US.

I wonder if they need that American residency so they don’t have to return to a place where they have no freedom or safety? I wonder if they are really spies from these evil regimes trying to corrupt the fabric of our wonderful American Startup culture?

What’s fake? Who is bad? Who is unintelligent? Who cares?

This is really so sad… and I was part of this… so sad… wait… am i…. a secret foreign agent… all these years, have my upbringing by my parents, have they conditioned me to cast doubt on this worlds sanity?? When all these things are really all good and righteous? To what end? Why do I feel everything is so fucked up? I mean, trump is the racist right? The hypocrit and the worst America could dish up to the world right? Why am I writing about these minutiae of some stinking startup’s software feature which is probably just beta software? Why don’t I complain about the wall, or immigrantion or clean energy and climate… all those really important but fucked up things? Like, who is the enemy here?

I don’t know why.

Maybe, really, deep down, I feel that software can be done right–And that doing it wrong is not right. Maybe in my subconscious, I had a dream that working at startup, one man, can make a difference(with the help of women engineer/mechanic, bullet-proof muscle car and advanced AI). Maybe I drank from the Kookaid fountain of America and always thought things were just going to work out, that doing the right things will make all the difference in the world. Maybe, I am additionally blinded by the thinking that racism, climate, immigration, the wall, clean energy, are things that just can’t be done right, and thence one wrong is just as wrong as another wrong…

Maybe!

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