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Remote but Inclusive for Years, and Now Showing Other Companies How

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From her home in Beaverton, Ore., Jamie Davila leads a team of eight engineers in seven states for the technology start-up Ultranauts. Like millions of other people during these work-from-home times, she relies on popular communication tools like Zoom and Slack.

But Ms. Davila and Ultranauts also work remotely in ways that make them different from most companies. They follow a distinctive set of policies and practices to promote diversity and inclusion among employees.

All video meetings have closed captioning, for workers who prefer to absorb information in text. Meeting agendas are distributed in advance so people who are uncomfortable speaking up can contribute in writing beforehand. Employees are asked daily for feedback, like whether they believe their strengths are valued and if they feel lonely at work.

“The whole idea is to create a safe space that allows everyone to be heard,” Ms. Davila, 36, said.

Ultranauts has been working for years on the challenges confronting so many companies during the pandemic, and probably beyond: how to effectively work remotely, make progress toward diversity and inclusion goals, and build a strong organizational culture.

The company, founded in 2013 by two former roommates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has had a remote work force from Day 1. It was also founded to use the untapped talent of autistic people, who often think and process information differently from the rest of the population. Seventy-five percent of Ultranauts employees are on the autism spectrum.

So the small start-up may offer lessons for corporate America in how to hire, manage and motivate far-flung employees, whose work and careers can suffer without the face time and hallway conversations of office life.

“Ultranauts’ purposeful construction of a workplace that really supports people is extraordinary,” said Susanne Bruyere, academic director of the Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability at Cornell University. “Its techniques and tools could absolutely be applied more broadly.”

The start-up’s customers include big companies like AIG, BNY Mellon and Cigna. It began with manual quality testing of websites and apps but has steadily moved to more advanced work like data-quality engineering, data analytics and automated software testing.

When the pandemic hit, Ultranauts, which is based in New York, lost business as a couple of large customers made cuts to conserve cash. But it quickly picked up new work from companies that are accelerating digital projects despite the downturn. The business now has 90 employees, up from 60 a year ago. Its goal is to expand to 200 in two years.

Ultranauts is backed by social-impact investors — which seek financial returns, but not windfalls — including The Disability Opportunity Fund, SustainVC, Wasabi Ventures and Moai Capital. They have invested $5.7 million so far.

The company insists its work force is a competitive advantage. The edge, it says, is not so much that autistic brains are wired for computing tasks but that people on the autism spectrum are a diverse group.

One person may recognize patterns quickly, while another has a more measured cognitive style but arrives at different patterns and ways to fix code. The key lies in harnessing the varied talents of teams.

Meetings are recorded, transcribed and archived not only to accommodate workers who prefer reading to listening but also to foster a more open organization. That extends to the weekly meetings of the six-person leadership team at Ultranauts. The notes of those sessions, including the decisions made and reasons behind them, are published on the companywide Slack channel.

“It is a lot more transparency than most people in business are comfortable with,” said Art Shectman, a co-founder and the company’s president.

Ultranauts’ leaders believe their style of wide-open, explicit communication — no unwritten rules — could benefit any company. Ultranauts is giving away a valued homegrown software product, Biodex, as part of a test to see how widely its tools and practices might take root in the corporate mainstream.

Each employee at Ultranauts has a Biodex profile that states the person’s work, communication and feedback preferences. What is your typical response time to messages — a few minutes, a few hours, same day? If a colleague has constructive criticism, how do you want to receive the feedback — orally or in writing?

Each morning, Biodex sends out a bot message with two questions: How “interactive” — ready to communicate with others — are you feeling today? What’s your energy level today? Workers answer on a 1-to-10 scale.

Rajesh Anandan, a co-founder and the chief executive of Ultranauts, describes Biodex as “a quick-start guide for how to work with a person.”

Ultranauts is letting teams at about a dozen organizations, from big corporations to start-ups, try out a test version of Biodex. If trial runs with outsiders go well, Ultranauts plans to make Biodex a free download on the Slack app store by the end of the year. Other Ultranauts apps, like its program for polling worker sentiment and well-being, would follow.

“We’ve built an engine that unlocks opportunity for people who haven’t had a fair shot before,” Mr. Anandan said. “But if we only do that for ourselves, it won’t have much of an impact.”

Mr. Anandan is a former Bain consultant who switched gears and careers. In 2003, he went to work for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and later started an incubator for social ventures at UNICEF. Both he and Mr. Shectman, a software engineering consultant, had known since their M.I.T. days autistic people who struggled to find work.

Many autistic people do well with the structured coursework of school, earning undergraduate and graduate university degrees. But they often stumble at the first hurdle into the job market — the traditional job interview. They tend to struggle with social interaction, speaking informally and reading the nonverbal cues of communication.

That was the case for Leslie Reis. She holds a master’s degree in software engineering, but had not had a full-time job until Ultranauts hired her last year.

Writing, Ms. Reis explained, is how she communicates best. “For a lot of organizations, that was perceived as something that would be a drawback,” she said in an email, “rather than a way for me to participate more fully.”

Ultranauts does not use work experience to filter job candidates. The company does conduct structured interviews, but hiring is largely based on skills assessments that it has developed to measure traits like the ability to work through new problems and take guidance and apply it. Work simulations are another test.

Tulco, an investment firm in Pittsburgh, hired Ultranauts this year to do data-quality work. Tulco invests in traditional businesses that it thinks can become more efficient and profitable by applying data science and artificial intelligence, but creating those A.I. algorithms requires sifting through troves of messy data.

Ultranauts’ work has impressed Matthew Marolda, executive vice president for data science at Tulco. On one project, its team cleaned up and loaded a vast amount of information into an A.I. model with remarkable speed, days instead of weeks, he said.

“This is a work force with inherent strengths,” Mr. Marolda said. “They’re really good at pattern recognition and really good at detail work.”

Seeking new pools of skilled workers, and prodded by advocacy groups, several companies in recent years have begun programs to recruit and employ autistic workers, including SAP, Microsoft, Ernst & Young and JPMorgan Chase.

Ultranauts is one of a handful of small companies and nonprofits in Europe and the United States that employ mainly autistic workers for jobs in technology. Others include Specialisterne, Auticon, Daivergent and Aspiritech. Ultranauts stands out, experts say, for working entirely remotely from the outset and for developing its carefully crafted combination of digital tools and workplace practices.

Its culture has certainly resonated with Ms. Davila, who is autistic and was hired four years ago, with no formal training in computing. Since then, she has mastered not only programming languages but also skills as a manager.

Ultranauts has also been her ladder to the middle class. “Before I got the job at Ultranauts, I was on food stamps,” Ms. Davila recalled. “Now, I own my own house. And it’s a nice house in a nice neighborhood.”

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Pakistan Rescinds TikTok Ban

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Just 10 days after introducing a ban on TikTok, the Pakistani authorities said on Monday that they were reversing the decision after receiving assurance from the Chinese-owned social media platform that it would moderate content according to local laws.

“TikTok is being unlocked after assurance from management that they will block all accounts repeatedly involved in spreading obscenity and immorality,” the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, the national regulator, said in a statement.

Pakistan banned the app on Oct. 9 after officials said they had received a slew of complaints about indecent content. The app was functioning again on Monday.

TikTok, with its lip-syncing teenagers and meme-heavy videos, has faced problems in several countries for varying reasons. The Trump administration has attempted to block the app over privacy fears, India has prohibited the service as part of rising tensions between New Delhi and Beijing, and public decency concerns have led to occasional bans in places like Bangladesh and Indonesia.

TikTok has 20 million users in Pakistan, but conservatives in the country say that the app has been overtaken by vulgar song-and-dance numbers and memes. Officials said that a big reason behind the ban was the sexualization of underage girls and that TikTok was given several warnings to regulate its content before the ban was imposed.

But others said the Pakistani authorities’ move to lock the app was also intended to limit criticism of the government, which is struggling with a sagging economy and facing growing opposition. In recent months, the app has had a substantial increase in content that caricatured or mocked the policies of the governing party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Officials have denied any political undertones to the ban.

ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, said in a statement on Monday that it welcomed the decision: “At TikTok, we’re committed to enforcing our community guidelines and complying with local laws in all markets in which we operate, as these are pillars of our work to promote a safe and positive community online.”

The decision to allow TikTok to resume operations in Pakistan was widely welcomed by the app’s users, too, and finance analysts said it would increase investor confidence.

“The expedited reversal of the ban also goes to show that ByteDance is very much invested in the Pakistan market,” said Saif Ali, a marketing executive.

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Meet the Pro-Wrestling Pair That’s Building a Small-Business Empire

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October 19, 2020 11 min read

Investors, take note: Current and former pro wrestlers are making moves across media and commerce. No, not just The Rock (though he’s certainly doing fine for himself). Whether it’s Stone Cold Steve Austin’s successful segue into craft brewing and reality TV, Cody Rhodes and Frankie Kazarian’s boutique line of cigars or Brie and Nikki Bella’s femme-centric clothing line, there is money to be made buoying the branding efforts of sports entertainers. 

That’s what veteran grapplers Karl Anderson (real name: Chad Allegra) and Doc Gallows (real name: Drew Hankinson) are banking on. After they were released by industry powerhouse WWE amid Covid-related cuts earlier this year, they made two immediate calculations: Sign with a competing company that has their backs, and create a small empire of media and merchandising leveraging their personalities (think blue-collar prankster) and decades-long rapport with fans across the world. 

Image credit: Impact Wrestling

In the five months since parting ways with WWE, the duo made waves by joining the ranks of rival Impact Wrestling (which airs its namesake, flagship show on AXS TV every Tuesday at 8 p.m.), in addition to re-launching their popular Talk ‘N’Shop podcast with co-host (and fellow wrestler) Rocky Romero. They aired a successful, satirical PPV event called Talk ‘N Shop A Mania (a sequel is already confirned for November 13). They collaborated on Talk ‘N Shop beer with Kentucky-based craft brewer Jarfly and a Talk ‘N Shop bourbon with Tennessee-based Leatherwood Distillery and a line of red and white wines with Wine Savage. And finally, they’re cooking up an animated series and a variety special titled Talk ‘N Shop: Full Keg that’s airing on AXS this Tuesday at 10 p.m. 

Related: All Elite Wrestling’s Brandi Rhodes Flexes Her Entrepreneurial Muscle

So, how did this duo of career combatants make the quick switch to becoming serial entrepreneurs? We caught up with them over a recent Zoom chat  — Anderson (we’ll stick with their onscreen surnames for the duration) from his home studio in Tampa and Gallows from his residence outside Atlanta — to get answers, along with a bit of insight into what any aspiring self-made maven can learn from their refusal to say, “I quit.” 

If there’s one thing wrestlers understand, it’s reinvention. Was this more broadly applicable to branching out in business?

Anderson: I don’t know how much of it was reinvention or how much of it was becoming more true to our personal selves.

Gallows: The day of that [WWE] release, I was sitting in my sauna, and I hung up the phone and I went, “Well, being bitter is what everybody expects, and I don’t feel bitterness in my heart.” You have to find the humor, and you have to express it through entertainment and through art. And that’s where Talk ‘N Shop A Mania came from, because we lost this amazing multimillion-dollar deal, so why not turn it into something that’s positive for our brand? Why not make it brand-building and generate some revenue for ourselves and our company? And I’m damn proud that we were able to do that.

Anderson: That call was probably the greatest call I ever got in my life, because [we were] able to reinvent and create Talk ‘N Shop A Mania and and go to Impact. And we’ve got Talk ‘N Shop: Full Keg about to come out, and that’s something that we’d been pitching to the WWE network since we started there, and they just would go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Now the businessman stuff is really coming out because we got Talk ‘N Shop LLC, and we’re getting big checks coming in for this and that, and we’ve got to figure out the taxes from this stuff. That’s all some real shit that we’ve got to learn, but the business side of these last six months has been a lot of fun.

There’s something to be said for not resting on one’s laurels, but do you worry about pacing yourself given the learning curve?

Gallows: I don’t believe you pace yourself. I believe you run at it head-on. I’ve watched my dad. When I was born, he was a hot-tar roofer making $8 an hour, and he’s the most self-made man I’ve ever seen. Now he owns five businesses. And that’s what they always say: “I don’t know how we got here, but we’ll figure out how to get out of it” when something shows up that you don’t understand. We like to have a drink, but now we’re in the alcohol business, and we’re figuring all this out. We’re figuring out liquor laws and, you know, can we ship this stuff here? And how does this work? We knew nothing about any of this. We just went, “Well, we want to have a whiskey, and we have a cool brand, and we know we’re great.” So there’s a lot of flying by the seat of your pants. It’s not always gonna be perfect, but you can’t take no for an answer. No’s just another question.

What made Impact the obvious choice for your “day job,” as it were?

Gallows: They put together a beautiful deal for us. To sit there as performers on a show with no script when we go to the ring, and then watch a commercial for a pay-per-view that we thought up out of the blue and shot in my backyard, and they’re running television commercials for us for that — that’s a team I’ll hitch my wagon to all day.

To your point, they’ve given you wide latitude to work on outside projects. How do you know when you have that kind of negotiating leverage?

Gallows: I don’t think it was a leverage play. It was pretty open-ended on both sides because I think they saw that we’re go-getters. We want to be Impact stars Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson doing all this stuff. Let’s co-brand, let’s see how big and badass we can get Impact. It’s an exciting time for us wrestling-wise, but it’s such an exciting time business-wise as well.

Anderson: We always were confident in our abilities over in WWE, and that was with the rug constantly being fucking pulled out. We knew that we could do what we’re doing now, and Impact put trust in us. We like when people put trust in us, cause we know that we can deliver.

Wrestling also takes a hell of a cumulative toll on your body. Is a lot of this brand-building with an eye toward retiring from the ring?

Gallows: We are not counting down the days until then. We want to be out there when we’re 50 if we can be. There’s a chance our bodies don’t hold up, so we want this brand that we’re creating now to be the thing that carries us into the next thing. I have a ton of respect for guys who had to leave the business before there was social media. With all the platforms we have today, if you can really get out there and express yourself, you can build a brand. Without any internet or anything like that, a guy would get let go or he’d get hurt and drift out of the business, and there was no way to see who he was or what he was doing or for them to build a brand. These poor guys, there was no more wrestling money coming in. So you go work in a car lot or do whatever you have to do to get by, to feed your family. But I think we have a real opportunity in this generation, and for all the guys younger than us, to build your brand while you’re hot, and we’re going to keep pushing, keep grinding. 

Anderson: We’re more than wrestlers. If you walk into the Impact locker room, you’d think that we just were there to hang out with the boys and try to make them laugh. We like to entertain. We want to have a radio show, like Howard Stern-esque. That’s the ultimate goal. You can do that until you’re 80, right? Fuck it.

People point to The Rock or John Cena as a model for crossing over from wrestling, but in your case I think of Steve Austin, who specifically legitimized himself in the beverage space and has a robust podcast presence.

Gallows: We had a great time when we did his podcast when we were in WWE, but it would be a much different conversation now. I bet he went through what we’re going through. We’re on the road less than we’ve ever been on the road in our 18 years, but my day is full of Zoom calls and meetings with everybody from the government to liquor distributors to cartoon creators to merchandise creators, to movie producers — whatever we can come up with to push this brand further. We went from bumping and feeding four days a week to being businessmen. I just get to do it from my own house and I don’t have to wear a tie, but I feel like I’ve got the schedule of my dad now. [Laughs.]  

Anderson: I’m like a stay-at-home dad that makes pretty fucking good money.

Related: How a Mid-Size Wrestling Company Made Major Adjustments in the Empty-Arena Era

Is there nuance to the business side of wrestling that the layperson may not appreciate?
Anderson: When we recorded Talk ‘N Shop A Mania 2, you’ve gotta book all these flights, you’ve gotta produce every single segment. Gallows knows about all this.

Gallows: Well, it’s negotiation. [We’re] on the other side of the negotiation, because now you play the role of the promoter. It’s how do we market this? It’s OK, this budget is growing, so how do we offset that with a [PPV] buy rate? Part of my Impact deal was I have an independent promotion here in Georgia, and we put shows on [digital-subscription service] Impact Plus. And we’ve been running these socially distance shows around here through the pandemic. We follow CDC guidelines, and there’s temperature checks and the questionnaire, so you have to manage all that, but then you have a full talent budget. There a lot of things that are different on the level of pretty much every other company in wrestling other than WWE, because WWE’s not a live-event company anymore. They’re a media company. But anybody who’s not reached that level, the live-event portion is a lot of it. If I don’t have a gate here, then I’m probably not gonna run the show. I love our sponsors and they help out, but that’s the other end of it. So it’s managing a budget more than anything and figuring out how to market that with what you have to yield the biggest return. It’s not like you can go to wrestling-promoter college, so it’s been a lot of fun figuring that stuff out.

You mentioned before that nothing’s perfect. Are you prepared for the fact that one or more of your ideas may not sustain?

Gallows: It’s inevitable that’s going to happen. All you do is you adapt and move on and find the next thing. I think the good thing about us is we have so many irons in the fire. If something falls off, the rest of it’s gonna pick it right back up. 

Anderson: I’m not gonna lie: I was kind of ready to rest on my laurels and just collect that massive check from WWE. And so when we finally did leave it gave me a nice slap in the face and got me ready to jump back into this business world. 

Gallows: There’s a lot to what we’ve got going on, and hopefully those of you who aren’t wrestling fans will know of us sooner rather than later.

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Effectively Market Your Product or Service With These 11 Digital Copywriting Courses

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How to sell more online.

Free Book Preview Ultimate Guide to Social Media Marketing

This book takes readers through a 360-degree perspective of social media marketing in businesses.

October 19, 2020 2 min read

Disclosure: Our goal is to feature products and services that we think you’ll find interesting and useful. If you purchase them, Entrepreneur may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners.

There are literally billions of potential customers for your business on the Internet. But connecting with as many of them as possible is exceedingly difficult. There’s a lot of competition from other businesses, which is why it’s so crucial to write compelling copy. Whether you’re sending emails, social ads, newsletters, or anything else, great copy can help turn potential customers into buyers. In The 2020 Complete Digital Copywriting Master Class Bundle, you’ll learn how to do just that.

This 11-course bundle will teach you how to effectively scale your brand through engaging, sellable content. The bundle is led by veteran copywriter Alan Sharpe and digital product creator Danny Liu. Sharpe has 30 years of copywriting experience and has helped thousands of copywriters on four continents master the craft of copywriting. Liu is an Agile Release Manager and a CSPO/CSM and Digital Product Creator with 15 years of experience in technology infrastructure engineering design.

Between the two of them, they’ll show you how to use one of today’s top web hosting platforms, WordPress, and how to reach new audiences with your content. Not only that, but Sharpe will break down copywriting into a few vital steps.

You’ll learn how to ask seven important questions every time you write, how to craft awesome headlines and openers, and how to persuade audiences. Whether you’re writing sales pitches to businesses, product pages, landing pages, or anything else, Sharpe will show you what you need to do to get as many conversions as possible.

Become an effective digital copywriter and make more sales online. Right now, The 2020 Complete Digital Copywriting Master Class Bundle is on sale for just $38.99.

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