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For years, I’ve tried to work my way back into the middle class

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Early this winter, I took a long walk in the Salt Lake City park in which I had been arrested for bathing in a river when I was homeless.

About 30 minutes into that walk, I stood across from the park’s granite meditation temple, thinking: Three and a half years ago, I slept under that building’s awning.

I can still feel how hard that temple’s cold stone floor was; I remember how people strolled by my bed of cardboard and clothes and stared with what struck me as a combination of concern, contempt, and pity. Now I see that these are also the lenses through which I have often judged my own progress in my new, not-yet-middle-class life.

These days, I often wonder: Am I really doing as well as I should be after all this time? How did I ever allow myself to fall so far? Trying to get back the economic security I had before that collapse is so hard! Is it even possible?

I am the daughter of Vernon Yearwood-Drayton, a Black Panamanian immigrant who came to the US in the 1940s—the era of Jim Crow laws—to become a microbiologist at NASA’s Ames Research Center. My father made certain I graduated from college. He ate a lot of rice and beans to ensure that he left me with an inheritance he thought would keep me safe in a world without him.

Yet I am also a woman who, after a quick succession of traumas, plunged out of the protected realms of the middle class and into two years of homelessness. My experience is surprisingly common. From June to November 2020, nearly 8 million people in the US fell into poverty in the face of the pandemic and limited government relief, according to research from the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame.

Poverty is a complicated thing. It can be generational or situational and temporary—or anything in between. For me, climbing out of poverty has been as much about mindset as it has been about the dollars in my bank account. “I am going to do this,” I tell myself over and over again. “I have inherited the strength from my father to do this.”

In the spring of 2017, I finally left my last makeshift “home”—a slatted wood park bench in that same park. My first job during my recovery was as an $11-an-hour grocery clerk at a Whole Foods store where my 20-something bosses handed me pre-set timers whenever I took a bathroom break. As a former journalist who had risen through the ranks of the Miami Herald to write cover stories for the paper’s Sunday magazine, I stood at my register, struggling to hold back tears.

From June to November 2020, nearly 8 million people in the US fell into poverty.

Well-meaning people tried to encourage me by pointing out how far I had come. “You’re working!” they said, “You’re housed!” And the declaration I found most diminishing: “I’m so proud of you!”

I was 52 and I did not mark my progress by those measurements. Rather, I marked my progress by how far I had fallen. What did it mean that I was earning enough to rent a room in someone’s house when just a few years ago, I had owned a three-acre horse ranch in Oregon?

One of the most debilitating symptoms of post-traumatic stress is that people who suffer from it avoid the things that hurt them most. For me, that meant I avoided myself.

I was full of shame and self-hatred. Hatred that I—someone who had once had hundreds of thousands of dollars in the stock market—had collapsed. Hatred that I had become one of “them.”

Through tears, I told my trauma therapist how I was regularly stalked and beaten by a man who worked the front counter of the homeless outreach center where I had picked up my daily hygiene kits.

“If you don’t love that part of yourself that you have so successfully distanced yourself from, you will not be able to fully heal,” my therapist said.

Slowly, after many sessions, I came to feel great compassion for the desperate woman I once was. I envisioned myself sitting beside her in the streets, holding her and telling her: “I am so sorry. I will never separate myself from you again. I will take care of you.”

My incremental but steady steps forward did not come from the expected governmental or community resources. They came from a series of strangers who cared about my welfare. The systems that our society has in place to lift people out of poverty are fragile and full of holes, so I learned to look elsewhere.

My first home out of homelessness, for example, was offered by the executive director of a small Salt Lake City nonprofit. Housing lists had one- to two-year waiting lists at the time, so she offered me a room in a home of formerly incarcerated women in exchange for managing the other women in the house.

That house experienced funding issues and closed six months later. But another stranger, a woman I met quite by chance at a neighborhood gathering, offered me free shelter in her Airbnb for a month and then rented me a small bedroom in her home for $400 a month, about $100 less than market rate. My $11-an-hour cashiering job was just enough to pay my expenses and to cover the trauma therapy I knew I needed to keep moving forward.

If there is any single piece of advice I could give anyone else in the midst of collapse, it would be this: No matter what the world tries to project onto you, stop judging yourself. Learn about trauma and its impact on your psychology and physiology.

By many measures, my life today could once again be counted as successful. My jobs have become increasingly suited to what I now see as my purpose—to help people, including me, say the things that need to be heard. I’m now a full-time freelance journalist who specializes in integrating trauma awareness into my stories. I am under contract with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and have been published in major media outlets such as the Washington Post, Slate, and the Guardian. I love my one-bedroom apartment in Salt Lake City, where I live with my two cats, Iggy and Kanab.

But I began this piece by talking about a simple walk in a park for a reason. To an onlooker, it would have looked like a completely ordinary act. But for me to walk in that park without resenting myself for all that had occurred there was just as much of an accomplishment as any job I had landed. When I stood in front of that white stone meditation temple and thought of that past me lying on its floor, I accepted her.

That’s progress.

This story was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

Lori Teresa Yearwood is the Homelessness and Housing reporter for the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. Her work is regularly published in Slate, where she writes the series “How Did You Sleep Last Night?” Her work has also been recently featured in the Washington Post, the Guardian, the San Francisco Chronicle, the American Prospect, and many other publications.

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Snowflake latest enterprise company to feel Wall Street’s wrath after good quarter

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Snowflake reported earnings this week, and the results look strong with revenue more than doubling year-over-year.

However, while the company’s fourth quarter revenue rose 117% to $190.5 million, it apparently wasn’t good enough for investors, who have sent the company’s stock tumbling since it reported Wednesday after the bell.

It was similar to the reaction that Salesforce received from Wall Street last week after it announced a positive earnings report. Snowflake’s stock closed down around 4% today, a recovery compared to its midday lows when it was off nearly 12%.

Why the declines? Wall Street’s reaction to earnings can lean more on what a company will do next more than its most recent results. But Snowflake’s guidance for its current quarter appeared strong as well, with a predicted $195 million to $200 million in revenue, numbers in line with analysts’ expectations.

Sounds good, right? Apparently being in line with analyst expectations isn’t good enough for investors for certain companies. You see, it didn’t exceed the stated expectations, so the results must be bad. I am not sure how meeting expectations is as good as a miss, but there you are.

It’s worth noting of course that tech stocks have taken a beating so far in 2021. And as my colleague Alex Wilhelm reported this morning, that trend only got worse this week. Consider that the tech-heavy Nasdaq is down 11.4% from its 52-week high, so perhaps investors are flogging everyone and Snowflake is merely caught up in the punishment.

Snowflake CEO Frank Slootman pointed out in the earnings call this week that Snowflake is well positioned, something proven by the fact that his company has removed the data limitations of on-prem infrastructure. The beauty of the cloud is limitless resources, and that forces the company to help customers manage consumption instead of usage, an evolution that works in Snowflake’s favor.

“The big change in paradigm is that historically in on-premise data centers, people have to manage capacity. And now they don’t manage capacity anymore, but they need to manage consumption. And that’s a new thing for — not for everybody but for most people — and people that are in the public cloud. I have gotten used to the notion of consumption obviously because it applies equally to the infrastructure clouds,” Slootman said in the earnings call.

Snowflake has to manage expectations, something that translated into a dozen customers paying $5 million or more per month to Snowflake. That’s a nice chunk of change by any measure. It’s also clear that while there is a clear tilt toward the cloud, the amount of data that has been moved there is still a small percentage of overall enterprise workloads, meaning there is lots of growth opportunity for Snowflake.

What’s more, Snowflake executives pointed out that there is a significant ramp up time for customers as they shift data into the Snowflake data lake, but before they push the consumption button. That means that as long as customers continue to move data onto Snowflake’s platform, they will pay more over time, even if it will take time for new clients to get started.

So why is Snowflake’s quarterly percentage growth not expanding? Well, as a company gets to the size of Snowflake, it gets harder to maintain those gaudy percentage growth numbers as the law of large numbers begins to kick in.

I’m not here to tell Wall Street investors how to do their job, anymore than I would expect them to tell me how to do mine. But when you look at the company’s overall financial picture, the amount of untapped cloud potential and the nature of Snowflake’s approach to billing, it’s hard not to be positive about this company’s outlook, regardless of the reaction of investors in the short term.

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A first look at Coursera’s S-1 filing

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After TechCrunch broke the news yesterday that Coursera was planning to file its S-1 today, the edtech company officially dropped the document Friday evening.

Coursera was last valued at $2.4 billion by the private markets, when it most recently raised a Series F round in October 2020 that was worth $130 million.

Coursera’s S-1 filing offers a glimpse into the finances of how an edtech company, accelerated by the pandemic, performed over the past year. It paints a picture of growth, albeit one that came at steep expense.

Revenue

In 2020, Coursera saw $293.5 million in revenue. That’s a roughly 59% increase from the year prior when the company recorded $184.4 million in top line. During that same period, Coursera posted a net loss of nearly $67 million, up 46% from the previous year’s $46.7 million net deficit.

Notably the company had roughly the same noncash, share-based compensation expenses in both years. Even if we allow the company to judge its profitability on an adjusted EBITDA basis, Coursera’s losses still rose from 2019 to 2020, expanding from $26.9 million to $39.8 million.

To understand the difference between net losses and adjusted losses it’s worth unpacking the EBITDA acronym. Standing for “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization,” EBITDA strips out some nonoperating costs to give investors a possible better picture of the continuing health of a business, without getting caught up in accounting nuance. Adjusted EBITDA takes the concept one step further, also removing the noncash cost of share-based compensation, and in an even more cheeky move, in this case also deducts “payroll tax expense related to stock-based activities” as well.

For our purposes, even when we grade Coursera’s profitability on a very polite curve it still winds up generating stiff losses. Indeed, the company’s adjusted EBITDA as a percentage of revenue — a way of determining profitability in contrast to revenue — barely improved from a 2019 result of -15% to -14% in 2020.

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The owner of Anki’s assets plans to relaunch Cozmo and Vector this year

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Good robots don’t die — they just have their assets sold off to the highest bidder. Digital Dream Labs was there to sweep up IP in the wake of Anki’s premature implosion, back in 2019. The Pittsburgh-based edtech company had initially planned to relaunch Vector and Cozmo at some point in 2020, launching a Kickstarter campaign in March of last year.

The company eventually raised $1.8 million on the crowdfunding site, and today announced plans to deliver on the overdue relaunch, courtesy of a new distributor.

“There is a tremendous demand for these robots,” CEO Jacob Hanchar said in a release. “This partnership will complement the work our teams are already doing to relaunch these products and will ensure that Cozmo and Vector are on shelves for the holidays.”

I don’t doubt that a lot of folks are looking to get their hands on the robots. Cozmo, in particular, was well-received, and sold reasonably well — but ultimately (and in spite of a lot of funding), the company couldn’t avoid the fate that’s befallen many a robotics startup.

It will be fascinating to see how these machines look when they’re reintroduced. Anki invested tremendous resources into bringing them to life, including the hiring of ex-Pixar and DreamWorks staff to make the robots more lifelike. A lot of thought went into giving the robots a distinct personality, whereas, for instance, Vector’s new owners are making the robot open-source. Cozmo, meanwhile, will have programmable functionality through the company’s app.

It could certainly be an interesting play for the STEM market that companies like Sphero are approaching. It has become a fairly crowded space, but at least Anki’s new owners are building on top of a solid foundation, with the fascinating and emotionally complex toy robots their predecessors created.

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