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The Vaccine Leftover Market – Apps for Scheduling a COVID Vaccine

In the U.S., about 10 percent of adults have received full vaccinations against the coronavirus. While this is great news, this also means we have a long way to go before herd immunity is achieved. Throughout the country, states have created different procedures for vaccine administration. Priority is given to specific groups based on risk, but in many cases, these systems have been lacking. Many find it difficult to get vaccine appointments using public and private websites. Likewise, few states have effective ways with dealing with appointment no-shows. As a result, COVID vaccines in some instances are going to waste.

Appreciating the challenges associated with scheduling a COVID vaccine, a number of entrepreneurial individuals are developing solutions. (Read more about the challenges that lie ahead with a vaccine roll out in this Bold Business story.) Some scour online sites to find when and where available vaccine appointments might be. Others are attempting to connect extra vaccination vials with those able and willing to come on the fly. In both cases, private business is trying to enhance the efficiency and quality of scheduling a COVID vaccine. And in the process, they’re helping all of us inch ever closer to the end of this pandemic.

“The state just had a list of all possible locations with no insight into availability, and it seemed like each location had their own website and unique process for booking an appointment. No wonder people were having trouble!” – Olivia Adams, Software Developer, Arlington, MA

Crowdsourcing to the Rescue

As is often stated, necessity is the mother of invention. This has certainly been the case when it comes to developing solutions for scheduling a COVID vaccine. Some apps and platforms designed to assist others with finding vaccine appointments resulted from existing frustrations. Such was the case for Ben Warlick, an attorney in Georgia who was trying to find vaccines for his parents. After seeing the shortcomings of the state’s websites, he created Georgia Vax App to help others. The app scans government websites to find open appointments. Users then receive text alerts based on openings and their qualifications. He has over 40,000 people currently using his app currently.

Warlick isn’t the only person leveraging crowdsourcing to help others find vaccine appointments. Olivia Adams took advantage of her maternity leave to develop a website that helped with scheduling a COVID vaccine. By logging onto MAcovidvaccine.com, users can quickly see open availabilities through Massachusetts. Adams, a software developer by trade, developed an automated system to scrape appointment information from other sites. These sites included government, grocery chains, and other sites where vaccinations were being administered. She too has gained a significantly following in the process.

These are just two examples of how crowdsourcing is being used to address issues related to scheduling a COVID vaccine. Similar apps using disruptive technologies have been developed in other states including California, Michigan, New Jersey, and Texas. Of course, these systems require Internet connectivity and the use of a computer or smartphone. Likewise, they do little to address the problem related to wasted leftover vaccines. While these are valuable efforts to help people get the vaccine appointments they need, they are not the complete solution.

“Ultimately, patients need this vaccine, and there’s providers who need help getting it to the people of priority…Right now, we just want to get the vaccines allocated in the best possible way.” – Cyrus Massoumi, Founder of Mr. B

A COVID Vaccine Matchmaker

Other efforts in resolving the dilemmas surrounding vaccine appointments have been more enterprising. A New York startup launched a platform last month that matches vaccine providers with leftover doses to patients. The company goes by the name of Dr. B, and it was created by founder Cyrus Massoumi. Massoumi previously founded ZocDoc, which matched patients with providers with open medical appointments. He also founded Shadow, a service that helps owners find lost pets. In essence, he specializes in platforms designed to connect people.

Dr. B is a free platform for both providers and patients, and it collects information from both sources. Those seeking vaccine appointments provide date of birth, health status, address, and occupation to the site. Then, when a provider in the system has leftover vaccine, texts are sent to qualified individuals. They have 15 minutes to respond, and they must be at the site within two hours. In total, Dr. B already has 500,000 people interested in scheduling a COVID vaccine as well as hundreds of providers. Likewise, Dr. B is operational in 30 states currently.

Someone proudly holding up their proof of vaccine on their phone
Scheduling a COVID vaccine is tough, but there are now apps to help people get vaccine appointments.

Like the crowdsourcing solutions, scheduling a COVID vaccine on these systems require Internet connectivity and devices. Efforts are being made, however, to make access to vaccine appointments more equitable. For Dr. B, the platform allows community volunteers to sign up others for vaccine appointments and notifications. Massoumi also chose to initially launch information campaigns using Zoom calls with minority churches and organizations. The site is also available in both English and Spanish. At least in part, these attempt to address some of the disparities associated with vaccine appointments currently.

“It seems [Massoumi is] trying to solve a problem and do some good, but I’m sad that governments — counties, cities, national organizations — didn’t prepare for this and then didn’t react more quickly to give advice and guidance.”- Arthur Caplan, Medical Ethicist, Grossman School of Medicine, New York

A Lesson for Public Institutions to Follow

The apps and platforms being developed to assist with COVID vaccine appointments highlight business innovation. In many ways, the pandemic has served as a catalyst for such innovation, especially in related to healthcare and technology. (Read more about some of the positive changes and innovations the pandemic has brought about in this Bold Business story.) At present, public and government systems have been chaotic and confusing when it comes to scheduling a COVID vaccine. As a result, many who are most vulnerable are having difficulty getting access to proper care. Fortunately, private business has stepped up and is helping address these problems. To tackle the issues surrounding this pandemic, it takes a village. And bold businesses play a major role in this regard.

 

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The Real Issue with Diversity in Tech – It’s a Culture Problem

When it comes to technology, the term innovation often comes to mind. Especially in recent decades, Silicon Valley has introduced major technology developments that continue to change the world. One might therefore suspect that tech giants welcome diversity and inclusion since both have been linked to greater creativity. But annual diversity reports continue to highlight the exact opposite. The bottom line is that diversity in tech is significantly lacking, especially when it comes to women and racial minorities. And instead of boasting about an inclusive company culture, the majority can only claim one of bias and discrimination.

The lack of diversity in tech is not new. In fact, major technology companies have been publishing diversity figures since 2014. Companies like Alphabet, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft consistently have very poor grades in this regard. Most, if not all, have also attempted to change to a more inclusive company culture. But repeatedly efforts fail year after year, and a variety of obstacles are cited. But in actuality, there’s only one main issue preventing needed change for these companies…the failure to change underlying workplace behaviors.

“Every year they put out the same diversity report, check the box, then send out the same report the next year. We’re at a crucial crossroads — I don’t think what tech companies have done to date is anywhere near enough.” – Freada Kapor Klein, PhD, Founding Team Member at Project Include and Founder of Level Playing Field Institute

Diversity in Tech by the Numbers

Roughly six years ago, most major tech firms embraced diversity and inclusion initiatives designed to create a better company culture. At the time, the vast majority of employees working in technology were male in gender and either Asian or White race. Goals were set by Facebook, Apple, Amazon and others, and metrics were monitored. Likewise, many have striven to change hiring procedures as well as advancement criteria. But despite these efforts, the statistics have changed little. Diversity in tech remains pitifully low, and incentives for change markedly absent.

(For additional insight, check out this article: “The Empowering Guide for Women in Tech in 2023“.)

Consider some of the following figures. In 2014, the number of African Americans working for Facebook was 3 percent. Six years later, that figure remains below 4 percent. While some of the other tech companies are slightly better, they too still report single digit percentages of African Americans. Improvements in a more inclusive company culture for women are not much better either. In 2014, Facebook noted that 15 percent of its workforce were female. In 2019, this increased to 23 percent. But that doesn’t mean these women are being moved into leadership positions. In fact, there remains little diversity in tech among upper-level managers and executives. Women as well as many racial minorities significantly underrepresented.

“Credentialing is a form of gatekeeping and protecting who has access to power and who doesn’t. There’s this term that I think was coined a few years ago about how Silicon Valley tech companies are not meritocracies, but ‘mirrortocracies,’ so you’re hiring people who have similar credentials to you, had the same sort of schooling, etcetera.” – Dr. Joy Lisi Rankin, Lead Researcher at the AI Now Institute

The STEM Pipeline Myth

For many years, in fact decades, many have claimed the lack of diversity in tech is because of a lack of qualified talent. In other words, the skewed numbers at major tech firms represent limited numbers of women and minorities graduating college. These claims have resulted in tremendous investments in STEM programs for female and minority students. Likewise, a variety of organizations have formed to support these endeavors. The truth of the matter is the number of female and minority college graduates are comparable to White male ones. Diversity in tech graduates is quite healthy today, but inclusive company cultures are not.

Excuses regarding an insufficient pipeline of technology talent among women and minorities are supported by data. Top universities today graduate African American and Hispanic science and computing engineers at twice the rate they’re being hired. At those like Stanford and Berkeley, half of those in introductory computer science classes are female. Thus, the hiring pool has ample diversity in tech talent, but they’re not being hired for other reasons. Unfortunately, the reason involves longstanding biases that consistent prevent an inclusive company culture from evolving.

“Moving the needle by 10% is a lot, that means a lot of employees have to be hired or a lot have to leave, and it still doesn’t change the culture. Companies have a much harder task and it requires an absolute fundamental commitment to change.” – Dr. Freada Kapor Klein

Structural and Non-Structural Barriers to Change

Companies like Facebook, Alphabet and others are now tracking metrics, monitoring diversity in tech progress. But measurements without accountability do very little. If targets for a more inclusive company culture are not met, there seems to be no repercussions. As a result, flowery language and diversity initiatives sound wonderful but mean very little. Hiring algorithms and promotion determinations continue to exhibit the same biases and discrimination that perpetuate the status quo. (Read more about how artificial intelligence and hiring algorithms are taking over recruiting in this Bold Business story.) Small success may occur, but the larger change needed never gains traction.

A woman in a hijab giving her employee instructions
A more inclusive company culture has its advantages – not the least of which is broadening the talent and leadership pool.

If tech companies truly want to realize a more inclusive company culture, senior leadership has to commit to needed change. Unconscious bias training needs to be implemented company-wide to elucidate hidden discrimination. Outside consultants may be required in these situations when insights are poor. And well-defined career advancements need to be in place that support diversity in tech. These efforts along with incentives and accountability measures are absolute requirements for a more inclusive company culture.

Radical Change Can Lead to Radical Success

Often, those in positions of power fear greater diversity in tech because are less comfortable with the unfamiliar. But dynamic organizations willing to invest in a more inclusive company culture will be those with the greatest future success. (Read more about the business success diversity, equity and inclusion can bring in this Bold Business story.) Diversity consistently leads to innovative thoughts and creative ideas. And inclusion invites participation and collaboration where companies get the absolute best out of their talent. Especially in highly competitive technology sectors, diversity and inclusion provide opportunities for competitive advantage. For bold companies that recognize this and pursue radical shifts in hiring and advancement, success will follow. It’s well past the time that such initiatives among today’s tech giants take place.

 

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Antiquing Goes Digital: Virtual Shopping for Collectibles

Collecting memorabilia and antiques has always been a widely popular activity for many. While some use this as a way to make some income, the majority simply pursue it as a hobby. By collecting their favorite items or buying a nostalgic antique, they reap some specific benefits. For some, shopping for collectibles is pure entertainment. Others like collecting because it reminds them of good times and lost family members. Regardless of the motivation, shopping for collectibles will always be a thing. So, it’s no wonder that we’re now seeing virtual online marketplaces appear unique to this activity.

With the pandemic, the number of people embracing online shopping has skyrocketed. With consumers stuck at home, online purchases were not only safer but also increasingly convenient. Out of this has emerged a new trend: livestream shopping. This new sales strategy combined real-time video and social media interaction to create a more profound shopping experience. Numerous companies are beginning to appreciate the advantages of this intriguing sales approach. And one of the latest specifically tailors to those who love shopping for collectibles. By understanding the psych behind these collectors, it’s pretty clear why such a platform is likely to be incredibly successful.

“We built Whatnot not just to enable transactions, but to capture the fun of the in-person experience, so our communities can connect in real-time and geek out with their favorite sellers.” – Logan Head, Co-founder and CTO, Whatnot

Livestream Shopping and Collectibles

Over the last year, livestream shopping platforms have received increasing amounts of attention. In China, this now represents nearly a tenth of all retail purchases and 37 percent of all online sales. In essence, when thinking of livestream shopping, think QVC or HSN in real-time social media. But instead of having celebrities showcase products on TV, you have social media influencers involved. Likewise, these platforms allow greater interaction with consumers, not only with sellers but with other buyers as well. All of these features explain the increased popularity of this sales approach.

Understanding this, it’s not surprising that collectors might find livestream shopping attractive. In essence, these online marketplaces provide community and connect people of similar mindsets. Those shopping for collectables can interact with others who share their passions over the Internet. They can also engage sellers as if they were attending a live antique show or enthusiast convention. (Read more about the increasing prominence of virtual conventions in this Bold Business story.) Not only can they have their questions answered instantly, but they receive strong entertainment value as well. For companies that can create a livestream shopping platform that optimizes these features, success is likely inevitable.

“…we found it painful to use some of the existing big players, like eBay. We saw that they had not been innovated on, and there was an opportunity to build an amazing social commerce experience focused on collectibles and sports cards.” – Grant LaFontaine, Co-founder, Whatnot

Livestream Shopping Platforms

Outside of platforms designed for those shopping for collectibles, several livestream shopping apps exist. The most popular one in China is currently ShopShop, which has a bulk of current online, live shopping experiences. Talkshop Live is another platform that now has roughly 3,000 small businesses using its app to facilitate sales through video. Others include Klarna based out of Sweden as well as emerging platforms from Facebook and Amazon. Even Walmart recently partnered with TikTok to create its own livestream shopping experience for its customers. Reportedly, Walmart received 7 times more views than expected and increased its TikTok followership by 25 percent.

Interestingly, however, such a platform had previously not been developed for those shopping for collectibles. But now, Whatnot looks to cash in on its livestream shopping apps geared specifically toward such consumers. The Los Angeles start-up launched in 2019 and has received nearly $25 million in venture capital funding. It currently has 10 categories of collectibles like Pokémon cards and sports memorabilia. But it soon plans to have hundreds. What makes Whatnot unique is the way it engages those who love shopping for collectibles. Live shows, community forums, and much-anticipated purchase reveals all add to the site’s entertainment value. These features are a big reason many see the company as being highly successful in this niche market.

“Many companies are trying to duplicate the success of livestream shopping in the U.S., but while compelling platforms have been built, many have fallen short when it comes to fostering the community that keeps users engaged and coming back again and again.” – Connie Chan, General Partner, Andreessen

The Motivations Behind Shopping for Collectibles

In essence, there is a psychology behind antique and memorabilia collecting. Naturally, some items hold sentimental value and foster a sense of nostalgia. These nostalgic feelings provide us with a sense of belonging to something more than ourselves. This something might be family, a generation, or even a specific community. But in each case, those shopping for collectibles enjoy the connections that items provide to others, past or present. Livestream shopping apps like Whatnot appreciate this, and they have designed their platform accordingly.

A typical antique store, cluttered to heck
Shopping for collectibles used to mean perusing endless stores – now it means livestream shopping.

At the same time, individuals shopping for collectibles naturally purchase items because they believe they have value. Today, we’re even seeing this in unusual areas that include digital cryptocurrencies and even non-fungible tokens. (What are non-fungible tokens? A new kind of asset class that you can read about in this Bold Business story.) With this in mind, livestream shopping platforms that let collectors investigate value in greater detail will certainly be appealing. The increase in real-time interactions between sellers and other buyers align well with this need. Thus, this is another reason those shopping for collectibles are finding apps like Whatnot attractive.

A Rapid Evolution in Marketplaces

In decades past, door-to-door salespeople gained an advantage in making sales by better engaging consumers. This was followed by radio advertising, television programs like QVC, and sales conventions. In recent times, online marketplaces like eBay and others have emerged, with COVID serving as a catalyst for adoption. But now, it appears livestream shopping leveraging the features of social media engagement is the latest development. Businesses selling all types of products are pursuing these platforms because they see this as the way of the future. It’s therefore not surprising at all that those selling collectibles will soon be doing the same.

 

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