Dear Sophie: What I’m thankful for

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Reader,

Thank you so much for being a part of the genesis of “Dear Sophie” over the course of this year. As I reflect on the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I’m appreciative of how much all of us around the world have come to know in 2020. We are all interconnected, regardless of where we were born or wherever we currently reside. This year has included major, transformative events. These changes serve us to better know what we want and what we don’t. As a result, I am positive that our future experiences will be enhanced.

Looking back over the last year, I’m appreciative of President Trump’s digitization effort to improve the H-1B lottery process.

Looking forward, it’s exhilarating that increasing access to immigration opportunities is a major priority for President-elect Biden. I’m confident the Biden-Harris administration will support the U.S. embracing our roots as a land of opportunity. Moving into 2021 we will recognize our immigrant heritage, welcome newcomers and recognize the important contributions of immigrants for a better world.

There’s so much to be thankful for:

I’m appreciative of you, my readers, and the messages and feedback I receive from you about this column, questions you have and topics you would like to see covered. I appreciate TechCrunch and Extra Crunch for this platform to share my thoughts, experiences and knowledge.

I’m appreciative of all of our clients from around the world who we’ve been able to successfully support. Many moments this year seemed bleak, but we were able to come through. I appreciate their many contributions to the U.S. and creating health solutions and jobs as they have gone on to launch and scale innovative startups in Silicon Valley and beyond.

I’m appreciative of my amazing team at Alcorn Immigration Law and for our successes in supporting folks to come to live and work in the U.S. and achieve their dreams. And I’m appreciative of our team to compile a “64 Questions to Ask Your Immigration Attorney,” a checklist of questions you should ask when interviewing immigration attorneys before starting the immigration process. I’m appreciative for having the opportunity to share my knowledge on my podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups — this week’s podcast is all about appreciation!

And finally, I’m appreciative of my amazing job. I have the privilege of supporting people from all around the world to create their dreams. It’s humbling and inspiring to listen to my clients’ stories, hopes and dreams. It’s the most magnificent chess game to identify and tailor immigration strategies that best fit their unique situation, priorities and timing.

Part of why being an immigration attorney inspires me is because our amazing clients entrust us to support them in navigating the U.S. immigration system to make their dream a reality. We had many major legal victories this year:

I appreciate the client who was on an E-2 Visa for Treaty Investors as an employee. He was desperate to join an early-stage startup and was in a difficult bind of needing to get expedited approval in the pandemic and be able to provide his contractual notice to his current employer. We all knew it was risky, so I’m proud of our team for successfully petitioning for the startup to sponsor him in O-1A Visa for Extraordinary Ability status.

I also appreciate the aspiring startup founder we helped to gain independence from a corporate employer by assisting him with self-petitioning his green card. We succeeded in getting him approved for an EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) exceptional ability green card.

I am also appreciating that we successfully supported a prospective startup co-founder to remain in the U.S. while maintaining his position in line for a green card. A prominent VC required that he immediately leave his current employer and begin working full time for the very early-stage startup prior to investing $6 million. This founder had been bound at a prior company in L-1A Visa for Intracompany Transferee Managers and Executives, and he didn’t want to lose his midstream green card process. We successfully transitioned him to the new company quickly and secured him green card portability. He can now focus on the startup and spending time with his family.

While most U.S. consulates remained closed, I appreciate that we were able to support our client to get an E-3 Visa interview, have her visa approved and be able to move to the U.S., even in the middle of the pandemic.

Notably, we helped a client avoid having to return to her home country for two years after her J-1 Educational and Cultural Exchange Visa was set to expire, and her employer was about to do a round of layoffs. We guided her through the green card process, including helping her prepare for an interview at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), as well as accompanying her to the interview. Instead of being banished from the U.S., now she is celebrating that it is her permanent home.

And there are so many more stories like these.

I’m also appreciative that we launched our first online immigration course, Extraordinary Ability Bootcamp. Many of our client successes stem from options such as the O-1A nonimmigrant visa, as well as the EB-1A extraordinary ability green card and the EB-2 NIW green card. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to record a series of classes that can help anybody meet the criteria for U.S. immigration.

This Thanksgiving, I hope you caught a glimpse of this feeling of appreciation for people and experiences in your life. I feel exhilarated and eager about the future and to see what’s ahead. 2020 has taught me that we are empowered at this moment because we have the freedom to choose how we feel. We can always choose to love and appreciate unconditionally. New opportunities are ahead that will support us all.

Thank you for being a part of “Dear Sophie.”

Joyfully,

Sophie


Have a question? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer here. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major podcast platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

C3.ai’s initial IPO pricing guidance spotlights the public market’s tech appetite

On the heels of news that DoorDash is targeting an initial IPO valuation up to $27 billion, C3.ai also dropped a new S-1 filing detailing a first-draft guess of what the richly valued company might be worth after its debut.

C3.ai posted an initial IPO price range of $31 to $34 per share, with the company anticipating a sale of 15.5 million shares at that price. The enterprise-focused artificial intelligence company is also selling $100 million of stock at its IPO price to Spring Creek Capital, and another $50 million to Microsoft at the same terms. And there are 2.325 million shares reserved for its underwriters as well.

The total tally of shares that C3.ai will have outstanding after its IPO bloc is sold, Spring Creek and Microsoft buy in, and its underwriters take up their option, is 99,216,958. At the extremes of its initial IPO price range, the company would be worth between $3.08 billion and $3.37 billion using that share count.

Those numbers decline by around $70 and $80 million, respectively, if the underwriters do not purchase their option.

So is the IPO a win for the company at those prices? And is it a win for all C3.ai investors? Amazingly enough, it feels like the answers are yes and no. Let’s explore why.

Slowing growth, rising valuation

If we just look at C3.ai’s revenue history in chunks, you can argue a growth story for the company; that it grew from $73.8 million in the the two quarters of 2019 ending July 31, to $81.8 million in revenue during the same portion of 2020. That’s growth of just under 11% on a year-over-year basis. Not great, but positive.

Twitter’s Audio Spaces test includes transcriptions, speaker controls, and reporting features

Earlier this month, Twitter announced it would soon begin testing its own Clubhouse rival, called Audio Spaces. The new product will allow Twitter users to gather in dedicated spaces for live conversations with another person or with groups of people. While the company showed off a handful of screenshots of the product at the time of the announcement, there were few specifics about how Audio Spaces would work. Now, we know a bit more about Audio Spaces’ feature set, thanks to some digging by reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong. 

Wong enabled the private beta in the Twitter app and took screenshots that show how Audio Spaces and its features would look in action. Of course, these features could change before the feature later rolls out to the public, but it gives an idea about how Twitter is currently thinking about the product.

The images show that users will be able to apply the same sort of conversation controls that are today available for tweets to Audio Spaces, as well. This will allow users to configure their Audio Space to be open to anyone who wants to join, only to people they follow, or only to people they specifically invite to join.

Users can invite others to their Space in a number of ways, too, including via DM (direct message), by posting a tweet, or copying a link that can be shared elsewhere.

When joining a space, people will enter the space with their microphone disabled to limit noise. As the conversation progresses, they can react to what’s being said with a variety of emoji, like the “100,” raised hand, fist, peace sign, and waving hand.

In addition, the Audio Space’s creator will be able to adjust who can speak at any time after the dedicated room has been created. From an in-app menu, they’ll be able to manage the speakers, adjust other settings, view the rules, as well as share feedback or report the space, among other things.

One interesting finding is that Audio Spaces will include transcriptions of the chat, according to this menu. That’s a differentiating feature, compared with some other audio chat room services. While ostensibly a feature designed for accessibility, it could also prove useful in keeping the conversations appropriate and respectful, since users would know their words were being written down.

This could help address one issue with the private chat room model, where live conversations have proven to be hard to moderate. Despite being in an invite-only beta, Clubhouse, for example, already experienced a handful of incidents of moderation failure, including the harassment of a New York Times reporter and another conversation that delved into anti-Semitism.

Twitter, which has struggled for years to combat abuse on its platform, was a questionable place to be testing this unproven new format for online socializing.

It wasn’t clear how Twitter would be approach moderation for these audio chat rooms, but it appears the transcription feature could a deterrent to toxic speech while the in-app reporting feature allows for a more direct solution to problems that crop up. When users choose the “Report this Space” option, they can then choose to report across a variety of categories, including self-harm, violence, sexual content, child safety, private information or abusive behavior.

Because Audio Spaces is in private beta, testers will also have access to a “Share Feedback” option that allows them to DM the account @TwitterSpaces.

Wong also noted Audio Spaces is using Periscope for its backend, according to her digging in the app’s code.

Twitter earlier said Audio Spaces would be launching to a small group of users. During tests, those users would include a group of people who are “disproportionately impacted by abuse and harm on the platform: women and those from marginalized backgrounds,” Twitter Staff Product Designer Maya Gold Patterson had noted, when introducing the feature in a briefing for reporters this month.

Twitter hasn’t yet commented on Wong’s findings.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will step down to make way for the Biden administration

The Chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, has announced he will leave his position on January 20 as President-elect Biden is sworn in. Pai’s tenure has been a controversial one, and while he would almost certainly like to be remembered for his efforts to “bridge the digital divide,” as he was fond of saying, it is the dismantling of net neutrality that will be his legacy.

It is traditional at the FCC for the Chairman to leave when the administration changes parties. Pai took over when Tom Wheeler, who chaired the Commission at the end of the Obama years, resigned upon Trump’s election. The Biden administration has not announced its pick for the new leader of the communications agency.

In an official FCC memo, Pai thanked his colleagues and summarized the accomplishments of his four years at the helm (as, it must also be said, the first Commissioner of Asian descent):

Together, we’ve delivered for the American people over the past four years: closing the digital divide; promoting innovation and competition, from 5G on the ground to broadband from space; protecting consumers; and advancing public safety.

I am proud of how productive this Commission has been, from commencing five spectrum auctions and two rural broadband reverse auctions in four years, to opening 1,245 megahertz of mid-band spectrum for unlicensed use, to adopting more than 25 orders through our Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative, to aggressively protecting our communications networks from national security threats at home and abroad, to designating 988 as the three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and much, much more.

Notably absent from that list is Pai’s unfortunate magnum opus and arguably the effort that got him the job: the elimination of 2015’s net neutrality rules. The tremendously dishonest and partisan campaign to overturn these popular and important curbs on broadband companies put a stink on Pai’s tenure at the outset that no amount of good work could wash out.

For as always, the bulk of the FCC’s duties fly under the public’s radar, and a great deal of work was done under Pai, as under any other administration, invisibly and thanklessly. (Though in some cases less invisibly than before — Pai’s FCC did make improvements to transparency, in some ways anyhow.)

Surely Pai’s greatest priority was, as indeed he often stated, ameliorating the “digital divide” that prevents millions of Americans from enjoying affordable, fast internet. Numerous new programs and funds were created to improve this situation, but Pai was hampered by bad information — essentially provided on the honor system by ISPs themselves — and the seemingly endless rollout of 5G, which we’re all still waiting on.

His final effort, alas, will not much improve the opinion of him at large. As Trump raged impotently about Section 230, a law that shields internet companies from liability for the actions of their users, Pai took up that flag and announced his intention to revisit and perhaps change the interpretation of it — a month before the election. The simpering, plainly political nature of the effort, almost certain now to be aborted entirely, attracted considerable criticism, makes for a poor final chapter in an already troubling story.

The next step for the FCC is the nomination and confirmation of a new Chairman and replacement Commissioners, and though several names have been floated by political insiders, no one has emerged yet as the heir apparent.

Facebook confirms it has acquired Kustomer, sources say for $1B

Today Facebook made one of its biggest plays yet to build services for the businesses on its platform: it has announced that it is acquiring Kustomer, a startup founded with the aim of disrupting the customer services industry with a new approach to providing agents with better data and a more unified pictures of users by bringing together the many social media and other channels and longer history between them and the company in question.

Terms are not being disclosed but sources are saying it’s in the region of $1 billion. Reports of the deal were published earlier today by WSJ.

Kustomer — co-founded by CEO Brad Birnbaum and Jeremy Suriel (the two worked together across a range of other places, including Airtime and AOL and had sold a previous startup to Salesforce) — had raised around $174 million in private funding from investors that included Coatue, Tiger Global Management, Battery Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, Cisco Investments, Canaan Partners, Boldstart Ventures and Social Leverage. It was last valued at $710 million, according to estimates from PitchBook.

Facebook’s interest in Kustomer is very straightforward: the company has been slowly building up a big business providing customer services to businesses on its platform.

There are some 175 million people using Facebook this way today, covering both those who use Facebook to engage with businesses that use Facebook as their primary online “identity” — in place of a website or mobile app of their own, companies today often simply have a Page on Facebook — and those businesses that provide conversation channels on Facebook-owned messaging apps like Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp as a complement to other ways (and sometimes the sole way) to contact them.

Considering that Facebook has upwards of 2 billion users, 175 million doesn’t sound like a lot.

But as the company starts to see more keen competition from the likes of Snapchat, TikTok and likely others over time, having a better product to sell businesses alongside their other services will give Facebook a better way of locking them into the Facebook ecosystem. It will also give the company a stronger shot at a newer revenue stream to complement advertising, which remains its biggest cash cow by a big margin.

Indeed, customer service is an interesting play for Facebook to be making. The company has been investing in and building a number of additional features for businesses on its messaging apps — most recently on WhatsApp, for example, it started to make it easier for businesses let people shop and do more on the app. Within that customer service is a huge industry that stretches well beyond the Facebook walled garden.

Indeed, the specific term Kustomer and other CRM companies use to describe what it does is “omni-channel” customer relations. That is to say, it gives the Kustomer business users a complete picture of the many disparate places where “conversations” might be happening with customers — be it on apps, on social media, in websites, via chatbots, or email, etc. The logic is that this makes the agent more efficient and gives him/her a better picture of both how the business is faring across those channels, and more context about a specific user contacting the company from one of those channels, as well as a more complete picture of the customers themselves.

For Facebook, it’s “customer relations” profile up to now has been about users within its app walls. This gives it a much bigger opportunity to essentially control that bigger picture and bigger relationship, regardless of the platform being used.

Coincidentally, it was only earlier this month that I reported that Snap acquired Voca.ai, which makes customer support voice bots.

While we have no idea how Snap will use that tech — some have speculated it could be to build more voice commands and audio-based tech for its Spectacles — I wrote at the time that it would make a lot of sense to bring this into a bigger product portfolio providing more tools to businesses already using Snapchat to market themselves. This Kustomer acquisition feels very timely in that regard.

Best Cyber Monday deals on Apple's MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini, iMac

Cyber Monday is well underway, and time is running out to grab the best deals on Mac computers with aggressive holiday discounts and price wars going on today.

Cyber Monday is a prime time to save on a new Mac, whether it’s a brand-new model with Apple’s M1 chip or even bigger savings on an Intel model. AppleInsider breaks down the very best Mac deals for Cyber Monday 2020.

New Apple Silicon M1 Mac deals

Intel Mac offers

Cyber Monday MacBook and iMac deals by store

Stores have deals on various Macs, including the new Apple Silicon MacBooks

If you’re looking for cash savings, Apple’s retail partners have steep discounts on various Mac models, including the new Apple Silicon MacBooks. You can snag even bigger savings on Intel models, which are still better for shoppers needing to run Windows or output to multiple displays. Here’s a rundown of offers going on right now at leading Apple retailers:

Amazon Cyber Monday Deals

  • Mac mini (M1, 8GB, 256GB): $669.99 ($30 off)
  • Mac mini (M1, 8GB, 256GB): $895 ($5 off)
  • Intel MacBook
    • 16-inch MacBook Pro (512GB, 16GB, 2.6GHz Intel i7): $2,099 ($300 off)
    • 16-inch MacBook Pro (1TB, 16GB, 2.3GHz Intel i9): $2,399 ($400 off)
    • 13-inch MacBook Pro (512GB, 8GB, 1.4GHz Intel i5): $1,279 ($220 off)
    • 13-inch MacBook Pro (1TB, 16GB, 2GHz Intel i5): $1,749.99 ($250 off)

B&H Cyber Monday Deals

B&H NYC Super Store

$100 to $150 off M1 MacBook Airs

  • MacBook Air 7C GPU (M1, 8GB, 256GB): $899 ($100 off)
  • MacBook Air 7C GPU (M1, 16GB, 512GB) Gray: $1,269 ($130 off)
  • MacBook Air 8C GPU (M1, 8GB, 512GB): $1,139 ($110 off)
  • MacBook Air 8C GPU (M1, 16GB, 1TB): $1,499 ($150 off)
  • Compare Cyber Monday deals in our M1 MacBook Air Price Guide

$100 to $150 off M1 MacBook Pros

  • MacBook Pro (M1, 8GB, 256GB): $1,199 ($100 off)
  • MacBook Pro (M1, 8GB, 512GB): $1,399 ($100 off)
  • MacBook Pro (M1, 16GB, 512GB): $1,549 ($150 off)
  • MacBook Pro (M1, 16GB, 1TB): $1,749 ($150 off)
  • Compare Cyber Monday deals in our M1 MacBook Pro Price Guide

$50 to $100 off M1 Mac mini

  • Mac mini (M1, 8GB, 256GB): $639 ($60 off)
  • Mac mini (M1, 8GB, 512GB): $829 ($70 off)
  • Mac mini (M1, 8GB, 1TB): $1,029 ($70 off)
  • Mac mini (M1, 8GB, 2TB): $1,399 ($100 off)
  • Mac mini (M1, 16GB, 256GB): $849 ($50 off)
  • Mac mini (M1, 16GB, 512GB): $1,049 ($50 off)
  • Mac mini (M1, 16GB, 1TB): $1,249 ($50 off)
  • Mac mini (M1, 16GB, 2TB): $1,599 ($100 off)
  • Compare Cyber Monday deals in our M1 Mac mini Price Guide

16-inch MacBook Pros

  • 16-Inch MacBook Pro (2019, Intel, 2.6GHz, 16GB, 512GB): $2,099 ($300 off)
  • 16-Inch MacBook Pro (2019, Intel, 2.3GHz, 16GB, 1TB): $2,399 ($400 off)

Cyber Monday Flash Deal Zones

  • 2020 Intel 13″ MacBook Pro (1.4GHz, 8GB, 512GB): $1,279 ($220 off)
  • 2020 Intel 13″ MacBook Pro (1.4GHz, 16GB, 256GB): $1,329 ($170 off)
  • 2019 Intel 13″ MacBook Pro (2.4GHz, 16GB, 512GB): $1,799 ($400 off)

Adorama Cyber Monday Deals

Adorama Apple store in New York City

$100 off M1 MacBook Airs

  • MacBook Air 7C GPU (M1, 8GB, 256GB) Space Gray: $899 ($100 off)
  • MacBook Air 7C GPU (M1, 8GB, 256GB) Silver: $899 ($100 off)
  • MacBook Air 7C GPU (M1, 8GB, 256GB) Gold: $899 ($100 off)
  • MacBook Air 8C GPU (M1, 8GB, 512GB) Space Gray: $1,149 ($100 off)
  • MacBook Air 8C GPU (M1, 8GB, 512GB) Silver: $1,149 ($100 off)
  • MacBook Air 8C GPU (M1, 8GB, 512GB) Gold: $1,149 ($100 off)

$100 off M1 MacBook Pros

  • MacBook Pro (M1, 8GB, 256GB) Gray: $1,199 ($100 off)
  • MacBook Pro (M1, 8GB, 256GB) Silver: $1,199 ($100 off)
  • MacBook Pro (M1, 8GB, 256GB) Gray: $1,399 ($100 off)
  • MacBook Pro (M1, 8GB, 256GB) Silver: $1,399 ($100 off)

M1 Mac mini deals

  • Mac mini (M1, 8GB, 256GB): $639 ($60 off)
  • Mac mini (M1, 8GB, 512GB): $839 ($60 off)

Offers are link activated and you must shop through these pricing links above in order to activate the discounts.

Expercom Cyber Monday Deals

  • MacBook Air (M1 8GB, 256GB): $949 ($50 off)
  • MacBook Air (M1, 8GB, 512GB): $1,199 ($50 off)
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 8GB, 256GB): $1,232 ($70 off)
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 8GB, 512GB): $1,422 ($70 off)
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro (512GB, 16GB, 2.0GHz Intel i5): $1,699 ($100 off)
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro (1TB, 16GB, 2.0GHz Intel i5): $1,899 ($100 off)
  • 16-inch MacBook Pro (256GB, 16GB, 2.6GHz Intel i7): $2,199 ($200 off)
  • 16-inch MacBook Pro (1TB, 16GB, 2.3GHz Intel i9): $2,599 ($200 off)
  • 27-inch iMac (256GB, 8GB, 3.1GHz Intel i5): $1,699 ($100 off)
  • 27-inch iMac (512GB, 8GB, 3.3GHz Intel i5): $1,899 ($100 off)
  • 21.5-inch iMac (1TB, 8GB, 2.3GHz Intel i5): $999 ($100 off)

Best Buy Cyber Monday Deals

Additional Apple deals

Best Apple Prices

FCC chairman Ajit Pai resigning on January 20

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai has confirmed he will be stepping down on January 20, leaving the spot vacant for President-elect Joe Biden to fill following his inauguration.

In a statement released on Monday, FCC chairman Pai claimed it has been “the honor of a lifetime” to hold the position for the last four years. Expressing thanks to President Obama for appointing him as a Commissioner in 2012, followed by President Donald Trump’s decision to give him the top job in 2017, Pai calls being the first Asian-American to chair the FCC a “particular privilege.”

The statement goes on to claim the FCC “delivered for the American people” a closing of the “digital divide,” as well as “promoting innovation and competition” in areas ranging from 5G to broadband from space. “As a result, our nation’s communications networks are now faster, stronger, and more widely deployed than ever before.”

Pai also highlights “how productive” the FCC has been, including starting five spectrum auctions and two rural broadband reverse auctions, opening the 1,245MHz mid-band spectrum for unlicensed use, adopting more than 25 orders through the Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative, and the designation of 98 as the three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The stepdown by Pai isn’t entirely unexpected, as it is typical for the chairman to vacate the position at the time of a change of president. The move has historically enabled the FCC to have a 3-2 majority of commissioners leaning the same way as the White House.