Friday, July 19, 2019

“The Israeli startup that for $300 million will make McDonald’s fast food even faster - Haaretz” plus 1 more

“The Israeli startup that for $300 million will make McDonald’s fast food even faster - Haaretz” plus 1 more


The Israeli startup that for $300 million will make McDonald’s fast food even faster - Haaretz

Posted: 19 Jul 2019 12:53 AM PDT

In April 2018, Liad Agmon, the CEO and co-founder of the startup Dynamic Yield, received an email asking for a meeting at  McDonald's headquarters in Chicago. The message was unexpected because six months had passed since the last meeting between the two sides and the startup wasn't expecting much.

"We launched a process with McDonald's for a pilot project in Miami, and 30 companies were reduced to eight and then four, not including us, and we didn't hear anything. And suddenly an email arrived Thursday, and they told us they wanted a meeting Monday," Agmon says.

"I was in Israel, I told myself that I wouldn't fly to such a meeting; they weren't treating me seriously enough to give me time to prepare, they probably wanted to have the discussion so they could check it off their list. I stayed at the office in a T-shirt, went upstairs to join a video conference – and realized that there were 30 people in the room."

That discussion ended three months ago with the most surprising exit in Israeli high-tech this year: The world's most famous fast-food company acquired a tech startup for more than $300 million – the fast food chain's biggest acquisition in 20 years.

Agmon, 42, and his partner Omri Mendellevich, 39, began thinking about the idea behind Dynamic Yield at the end of 2011. The theory was simple: All people are different, but they receive the internet the same way.

"If today I go on TheMarker website I'll get the same home page as you – it's crazy, it's an incorrect use of such expensive real estate, certainly on a phone," Agmon says. "If I've never read a certain section, I would expect that after seven years consistently using the website without reading that section, it would be dropped from my home page. It's so logical to do that."

Agmon and Mendellevich developed a system that helps news sites, and later e-commerce sites, adapt for the reader. Their customers today include Urban Outfitters, the Sephora cosmetics chain, Barnes and Noble and even the Liverpool soccer club.

Staying independent

McDonald's has kept Dynamic Yield as an independent firm. It plans to use the company's technology at its drive-thru restaurants to adapt the menu screens based on customers' preferences, and later also on the app and at the sit-down restaurants.

The connection to McDonald's began almost by chance when in 2017 Agmon flew to Seattle for meetings and was looking for a way to spend the morning. He decided to send an email to a partner at the McKinsey management consulting firm with whom he had a superficial online acquaintance.

Co-founder & CEO of Dynamic Yield Liad Agmon at a conference in Tel Aviv, June 19, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

The two met for breakfast, and at the end the partner mentioned that McKinsey was competing for a project at one of the largest retailers in the United States, and maybe Dynamic Yield would like to join the effort. That project succeeded, and eventually it was McKinsey that introduced Agmon to Bob Rupczynski, vice president  for global media and digital merchandising at McDonald's.

"In the startup business there are so many coincidences, and our goal as entrepreneurs is to increase the possibility that these coincidences will be to our benefit," Agmon says. "If you throw a die and you need a six, throw it once and your chances are one in six, but if you throw it 100 times, the chances that you'll get a 6 at least once are excellent. Your objective as an entrepreneur is to throw the die as many times as possible.

"We prepared for the meeting with McDonald's like crazy. Other firms came with a presentation, I came with an app that we wrote for an iPad that simulated a sale at a McDonald's kiosk, and I showed them how I had personalized it for all the sales channels I thought they had.

"When McDonald's said 'Maybe we'll buy you,' even I thought it was bizarre. I said to them – 'Why do you have to buy? Be customers.' But sometimes you need luck – the CEO was excited about buying a tech company. He wanted to come out with an announcement: McDonald's is buying a tech company as part of its investment in its digital vision.

Liad Agmon and Omri Mendellevich pose for a photo at Dynamic Yield offices in Tel Aviv, June 23, 2019.
Eyal Toueg

Paying $300 million is a lot for PR?

"It's not for PR, they bought a winning company. I believe in something called knowledge arbitrage – in other words, they realized that they had knowledge gaps that we could fill, that we know about optimizing the customer service experience. And it's not about a product, it's about creating an entire solution that includes technology, people and ongoing work processes. 

"We've been working for the past six months with McDonald's; they've never plumbed the depths of our product – they called 20 of our customers to ask if they were satisfied, made sure that we were telling them a reliable story and that the solution worked for them, and that's what's important. Companies don't buy companies; people create partnerships with people."

Agmon says McDonald's didn't want to publicize the size of the acquisition, but he insisted that they mention the sum.

"This is an acquisition that is so far from trivial, I didn't want anyone to think they bought us because we're weak," Agmon says. "We have over 300 customers, and I wanted them to know that McDonald's paid a handsome sum for the company and that it's a high-quality asset."

Agmon launched his first startup when he was 27, after completing a bachelor's at Tel Aviv University with an unconventional combination – computer science and cinema. At the same time he worked as Avi Nesher's assistant director in the Hebrew-language film "Turn Left at the End of the World."

"I worked for the terrifying salary of 5,000 shekels [$1,410] a month, and I started writing jokes for famous comedians, who paid me by the joke," Agmon laughs. "My roommate was a friend from the army, Ishay Green [who eventually started and sold the startup Soluto], and we sat on a balcony in Tel Aviv and thought about how to make a million dollars in two years.

Army background

"We served in the technology unit of Military Intelligence, and we thought maybe we'd do a project for a large defense organization. In the end we decided to start Onigma with a third partner, Amir Sadeh. Onigma developed a product that prevents information leaks at organizations. Today, when you say 'I was in a technology unit and I do cybersecurity,' you easily get $10 million, but back then, in 2004, it wasn't popular and it was very hard to raise money."

Onigma raised $3 million from angel investors and, at the end of 2006, was sold for $20 million to the anti-computer-virus company McAfee. Agmon is believed to have taken in between $2 million and $3 million from the sale, and McAfee set up a development center in Israel that is still active and employs about 200 people.

In 2007, Agmon started his second company, Delver, which developed a search engine that takes into account the preferences of users and their social networks, and sold it within two years to Sears.

Employees stand in McDonald's Chicago flagship restaurant, August 8, 2018.
Nam Y. Huh/AP

"I brought McAfee to Israel, as well as Sears and now McDonald's, and I'm proud of those acquisitions, which are all strong brands. It's not Microsoft buying yet another  company, it's acquisitions that open the eyes of companies worldwide that never considered buying a company in Israel," Agmon says. "The acquisition of a company brings in more venture capital to the Israeli high-tech industry, which fuels new startups."

About $83 million has been invested in Dynamic Yield since its establishment. The capital has flowed from investors including Bessemer, Vertex, Union Tech, Viola and DTCP. Today the company is believed to be generating revenues of about $25 million annually, though it's not yet profitable.

When the company started out, it received a tempting offer, Agmon says. They were three workers 10 months after starting out, and through connections they got to Neal Mohan, then a video ads leader at Google, today YouTube's chief product officer.

"This is a man who became famous for being about to move to Twitter – and Google gave him a $100 million bonus in shares to stay. I met him to ask him to invest in us, but I didn't have much – I sketched my vision on a whiteboard, and he told me it was interesting, but he was working on tangential fields at Google and preferred not to have conflicts.

"The next day I got a phone call from Google. 'Neal was very impressed by you and said he wants you to develop this product at Google.' I asked how exactly, and they said: 'You're only three workers, we're willing to give you $8 million to $10 million.' I said, 'Wait a minute.' I was with my wife in a secondhand store in Soho in New York, and I told her 'Google is trying to buy us.' She replied, 'Hell, no.'

"So I said, 'Let me think about it,' and an hour later I called and said no. Years later I said to myself – what an idiot, after 10 months I would have gotten $5 million without any effort. I would have had to be a Google employee for four years, probably at a nice salary – but I didn't even think about that at the time."

What did you think about?

"There were two reasons for saying no. First, the acquisition of Onigma had already changed my life, and that fast money, even though it was very significant, was no longer a life-changing event. The second reason was that I already had a term sheet on a funding round  from Adam Fisher, the partner at Bessemer, and I was supposed to sign it the next day. I told myself that I would probably disappoint Adam, and he would think that I gave up too soon.

And what was the everyday situation like at the startup in the next six years?

"Seven years of constant pressure and fears that didn't let up. There's no free time emotionally. I would sit at the Friday night meal with the family, but my mind was busy with analyses, thoughts, plans, crises, employees and customers who had left, and raising money from investors. Everyone's eyes are on the CEO, and he's expected to convey constant optimism, even when you have a lot of doubts inside.

Jeff Bezos speaks during the JFK Space Summit, Boston, Massachusetts, June 19, 2019.
Katherine Taylor/Reuters

"And my family paid a high price. Shaily was forced to leave her television show because I had to move to New York to promote the company. To ask your wife to stop her career for you and your company – that's no trivial thing. That's why I see this as a family success.

"Now they're writing about the fact that Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, was forced to part with half his wealth because of the divorce. Come on, they were a couple even before he started Amazon; maybe the success is actually thanks to her?

Media management

After more than 10 years and three startups, Agmon has a lot of experience with the media, and plenty of criticism. Asked why he agreed to be interviewed he says frankly: "Because I have to maintain contact with journalists to recruit workers; that's part of the give-and-take."

What bothers you about high-tech journalism?

"They're preoccupied with how much money people have made, with lists and selections of 'promising' startups, which creates unnecessary hype that isn't necessarily based on facts – and often makes the coverage superficial. For example, I read that the Israeli startup Houseparty [a social video app] was sold to Epic Games. According to TheMarker it was sold for tens of millions of dollars, and less than the sum invested in it – $70 million.

"But instead of writing that it's a failure, that the investors lost a lot of money and the entrepreneurs didn't fulfill their dream, the article creates the impression that it's a good conclusion – because they sold the startup to a great company that developed Fortnite."

A startup that invented itself four times, failed, rose again and raised millions in a battle against giants like Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter, and in the end was sold to the most desirable game maker in the world – what's better, to frame it negatively or give credit for what it experienced?

"If you bought an apartment for 10 million shekels and six years later sold it for 4 million, do you care about the experience you had during those six years?"

An apartment is an asset that can't disappear completely as a company can. So you're saying that an ending of this kind has no element of success?

"No, none. Not even for the entrepreneur who invested six years of his life on an initiative that failed. As a CEO you have a commitment to give back as much of the money as you can to the investors, to preserve the employees' jobs. Yes, it's not a total failure, but it's still a failure.

Liad Agmon poses for a photo at Dynamic Yield offices in Tel Aviv, June 23, 2019.
Eyal Toueg

"The true story in many transactions like this is an entrepreneur who had a week left before closing shop and laying off all the workers, and over the weekend managed to impress someone at the acquiring company to sew up a deal and return a little money to the investors; that's the story I want to read in the newspaper."

Do you prefer us to write about failures so some people won't try to become entrepreneurs?

"Of course. All these lies create a type of FOMO [fear of missing out]. There's too much culture of successful people here, but after all, most startups fail, and if there's a company that for years manages to create PR and be seen as a huge promise, like Houseparty, then there's room to talk and explain its failure too.

"What's much more interesting and important is an honest in-depth discussion with the entrepreneurs about what they learned along the way, where they made decisions that in hindsight turned out to be wrong. I admit that these are discussions that they don't always want to conduct with the media."

What about Delver, your second startup, which raised about $4 million and was sold for a million – is it a failure?

"Delver was also a financial failure, which was caused by the fall of a fundraising round that resulted from the collapse of Lehman Brothers. But in January 2009, when the entire financial and high-tech world almost ground to a halt, and employees who were laid off didn't find work for a long time, I'm proud that I was able within two weeks to sew up a deal that brought Sears to Israel, and we started a development center here that at its height employed 200 people. So I look at it as a minor success in the context of one of the greatest financial crises in history."

Is the sale of Dynamic Yield a kind of correction?

"I don't walk around on a daily basis feeling proud and successful; in my experience it's a mediocre transaction. On Shabbat I was at dinner with[Mellanox founder] Eyal Waldman, who sold a company for $7 billion. Gil Shwed, my second cousin, built a company [Checkpoint] that's trading at $20 billion – they're my reference points for success. The personal experience is a story you tell yourself. I don't get up in the morning and say to myself, 'Wow, I did something amazing here.' I get the children ready for preschool and go to work like everybody else."

‘I Came From the Internet’: Inside Andrew Yang’s Wild Ride - Rolling Stone

Posted: 19 Jul 2019 04:00 AM PDT

Ah, the smell of democracy. The sour tang of fish and human sweat fills the air on a heat-stroke-hot Friday night in June. The 2020 presidential circus has pulled into Columbia, South Carolina, for Congressman Jim Clyburn's "World Famous Fish Fry." Up onstage, the candidates appear one by one like pageant contestants, donning royal blue Clyburn T-shirts, no exceptions (except Bernie Sanders, apparently). Each is allotted a "generous minute" to kiss Clyburn's ring and abase themselves before several thousand fish-eating voters in this crucial primary state.

Clyburn, the third-highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives and party boss of South Carolina politics, introduces the candidates. When Andrew Yang, the anti-politician of the 2020 race with a cult online following known as the Yang Gang, bounds onstage well after 10 o'clock, the crowd erupts before Clyburn says a word.

AN-DREW YANG! AN-DREW YANG!

Many of the 20-plus other candidates have come and gone with barely a cheer. The sum total of applause for the representatives and governors on hand pales in comparison to Yang's welcome. Even stone-faced Jim Clyburn can't resist a smile.

Yang pumps a fist into the air and takes the microphone.

"HELLO, SOUTH CAROLINAAAAAAA!" he yells.

Yang is here, he tells the crowd, "to solve the biggest challenge of our time."

When Yang announced his candidacy in early 2018, he was a total unknown in American politics. He'd never run for office, never worked on a campaign, and didn't even vote in the last Democratic primary. (If he had, he would've voted for Bernie, he says.) His official motto is "Humanity First," but his earliest campaign lit bore a more functional message: "Google Andrew Yang."

A year and a half later, Yang, 44, is still introducing himself. But many of the people who have heard of him, who took in his interview with Fear Factor-host-turned-podcasting-king Joe Rogan or browsed his website's absurdly long and eclectic list of policy positions, have come away intrigued and, in some cases, enamored. Over a span of months, Yang has ascended from sideshow to a Top 10 candidate in several recent polls. Morning Consult's latest survey of Democratic primary voters ranked him seventh, tied with Senator Cory Booker; the candidates who trail Yang in that poll have more than 150 years of combined experience in elected office. Yang qualified for the first two Democratic National Committee debates in June and July well before the deadline; he has more Twitter followers than half of the Democratic field; and despite a disappointing performance at the Miami debate (he spoke the least of all 20 candidates), he's blown past the threshold of 130,000 unique donors for the third and fourth debates this fall.

Yang's pitch goes like this: Donald Trump got elected because we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in the Midwest, leading to economic insecurity, a declining quality of life, and a sense of desperation felt by millions of Americans who gave voice to that desperation by voting for the political equivalent of a human wrecking ball. And what automation did to manufacturing, he argues, it will soon do to trucking, call centers, fast food, and retail. "We're in the third inning of the greatest economic and technological transformation in the history of our country," he likes to say.

Yang's flagship plan to deal with this transformation, his Big Idea, is a universal basic income. He calls it the Freedom Dividend. (He picked the name because it tested better with conservatives than UBI did.) It's $1,000 a month, no strings attached, for every American over the age of 18. What this new, multitrillion-dollar program would mean for the existing social safety net — well, Yang hasn't entirely worked that out yet. But he's quick to note that the concept of a guaranteed income has been around for centuries, with many famous proponents. (Thomas Paine! MLK! Richard Nixon!) And the appeal of a simple, catchy solution to problems as complex as the rise of robots and AI is obvious. "If you've heard anything about me, you've heard this: There's an Asian man running for president that wants to give everyone a thousand dollars a month!" he says at the fish fry. "All three of those things are dead true, South Carolina!"

I recently embedded for three weeks with Yang's freewheeling campaign, traveling with him in New Hampshire, Washington, D.C., and South Carolina. He invited me to ride around with him and his lean (but growing) team, sit in on private meetings, and hang out with him in the green room at the Late Show With Stephen Colbert. (Reader, the snack spread was incredible.) I sought out Yang for the same reason so many others have, namely, to answer the question: Who is this guy?

But my curiosity was threaded with a sense of guilt: The last time a fringe candidate came along and started to gain traction, I dismissed him as a fluke and a fraud. That candidate was Donald Trump. This time, I figured I might learn something if I looked to the margins. Is Andrew Yang right about the robot apocalypse? Is he a teller of big truths that other candidates won't touch or just the latest in a long line of TED-talking, techno-futurists scaring people about the End of Work? What does his popularity, however fleeting, tell us about American voters?

By the time Yang nails his go-to punchline at the Clyburn fish-fry — "We have to advance our society and economy as fast as possible, and I am the man for that job, because the opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math!" — the crowd is roaring with applause. Even Joe Biden is into it, tapping a friend on the shoulder and nodding approvingly. On the ride back to the hotel, Yang sits shotgun in a tank-size Chevy Suburban, still buzzing from his speech. Zach Graumann, Yang's campaign manager-slash-driver, pokes fun at him for walking onstage and striking a "Jesus pose," arms spread wide, sending the crowd into a frenzy.

"I wasn't emulating Jesus," Yang says. "It was the lead singer of Creed." Everyone in the car but Yang bursts out laughing.

"No, Jesus was better," Graumann says. "Just stick with him."

"With aaaarms wide open," Yang sings, launching into one of Creed's best-known songs. "Everythiiiing has chaaaanged…"

Sitting in the back seat next to the Yang campaign's documentary filmmaker, I thought of what Graumann, a former Wall Street investor with no previous political experience, had told Yang earlier that night. "I've always said this: You can't just be good, you've got to be different. Goddamn it, you are different."

YANG HAD DECIDED to run for president within months of Trump taking office. One of the first people he told was a friend and filmmaker named Cheryl Houser. Houser had made a documentary, Generation Startup, that followed six entrepreneurs as they launched their careers with the help of a nonprofit that Yang had founded called Venture for America (VFA).

Sacha Lecca for Rolling Stone

Before VFA, Yang ran a successful test-prep company. He'd watched as America's brightest graduates funneled into a few elite industries — finance, consulting, law, and medicine — concentrated in three or four major cities. He hoped to create a pipeline of entrepreneurs into cities left behind in the winner-take-all economy.

Founded in 2011, Venture for America expanded to 17 cities within five years. President Obama named Yang an ambassador for global entrepreneurship. Yang divided his time between big cities such as San Francisco and New York City, where he lived, and visiting VFA fellows scattered across the country. A flight from the Bay Area to Detroit or Providence felt like a trip not just across time zones but decades and dimensions.

"If you wanted to persuade someone of climate change, you might bring them to the glaciers in Alaska and see what the heck is going on," Yang tells me. "If you wanted to persuade someone of the impact of technology and automation on the economy and workers, you might bring them to Youngstown or Detroit or Cleveland or St. Louis."

He spent much of 2017 finishing his book The War on Normal People, a chart-filled treatise that laid out his argument about the looming threat of automation and why a universal basic income and a "human-centered" form of capitalism was the answer. In late 2017, more than 1,000 days before the 2020 election, Yang filed paperwork to run for president. He officially launched his campaign a few months later. A New York Times tech columnist wrote that Yang, a "longer-than-long shot," was the only 2020er "focused on the robot apocalypse."

Mostly, the mainstream media ignored him. He needed an alternative path to get the word out and found it in podcasts. One of his earliest appearances was a June 2018 interview with Sam Harris, the prominent atheist, philosopher, and author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Reason. An episode of Harris' podcast can reportedly draw a million or more listeners. As it turned out, Yang's wonky message was well suited to the long-form, conversational style of podcasts. He had all the time he wanted to dispense one alarming factoid after another about the labor-force participation rate, artificial intelligence, and truckers.

The Harris interview brought in new social media followers and donations, and so Yang agreed to appear on any podcast that invited him. And with each appearance, Yang began to amass an online following that his upstart campaign christened the Yang Gang.

I lost track of the number of Yang supporters who told me they first encountered him through podcasts. They said they appreciated that Yang didn't boil down his ideas into message-tested talking points or TV-ready sound bites. They admired him for saying that he wasn't in the race because he looked in the mirror and saw a future president; he ran to get his ideas into the bloodstream of the body politic.

There was also a rawness about him — a candidate as actual human being, no spokesperson whispering in his ear, no pollster telling him what to say. "He's not a politician at all," Gene Bishop, a Yang volunteer and Trump voter in New Hampshire, told me. "When people ask him questions, he just answers the question. He's a breath of fresh air."

Not unlike Trump as a candidate, Yang cast himself as an outsider who could shake up the system and break through the partisan deadlock. "Yang is pulling the same strings, but in a more reflective and serious way," says Harvard professor and political activist Lawrence Lessig. "People are still desperate to have someone come in and shake this system up." Yang says people often come up to him and say, 'You're what I hoped for when I voted for Donald Trump.'"

In February, Yang appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience. Rogan has a massive platform with the second-most-downloaded show on Apple Podcasts in 2017 and 2018. Now in its ninth year, Rogan draws millions of viewers an episode on YouTube. Some of his most popular interviews — Elon Musk, conspiracy theorist and nutritional supplement peddler Alex Jones, bestselling author and alt-right icon Jordan Peterson, Steve-O from Jackass, boxer-turned-cannabis-entrepreneur Mike Tyson — give you a flavor of Rogan's bro-ish brand of libertarian politics.

Episode No. 1245 featuring Yang has 3.3 million views (and counting) on YouTube, a modest success by Rogan's standards. For Yang's campaign, it was a turning point. His Twitter following skyrocketed. Donations flooded in, including one from Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey. (Actor Nicolas Cage had given $1,000 in early February.) Within weeks of the Rogan podcast, Yang hit the 65,000-donor threshold needed to qualify for the first debate.

But in the process, Yang has also developed a following in the more rank corners of the internet, like 4chan, an uncensored version of Reddit where misogyny and anti-Semitism flourish, and Discord, a chat app used by the alt-right and white supremacists to organize online. White nationalist Richard Spencer tweeted favorably about Yang; the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer took an interest in his campaign.

Which raises a tricky question: How much of this was Yang's doing, and how much of it was beyond his and his campaign's control?

Yang has disavowed any support from racists or anti-Semites, and his campaign urged supporters and volunteers to down-vote problematic Reddit posts and share the campaign's core values which include "integrity and transparency" and "grace and forgiveness." Graumann tells me, "Instead of saying, 'You're a racist' or 'That's racist' or 'That's offensive,' we say, 'This is what we stand for.'"

He willingly appeared on some of the biggest podcasts aligned with the so-called Intellectual Dark Web — Rogan chief among them — but Yang's position was that he said yes to any interview. He was critical of identity politics but did so as the son of Taiwanese immigrants who faced ethnic slurs and bullying as a kid. Was Yang dog-whistling his alt-right supporters when he tweeted about the declining life expectancy of white people — or was he speaking out about a real public health crisis?

The alt-righters and other racists aspiring to join the Yang Gang are a byproduct of the way his campaign was built: He wanted to reach disaffected voters, and he was willing to go wherever they were to find them. That includes online, where almost everybody is looking to connect but nobody is taking tickets at the door. And so when Yang put out a flare for the disillusioned, he found people worried that neither party had a plan for economic security in an automated age. And despite all the rejections, rebukes, and Reddit downvotes, he attracted folks angry that being a white guy with WiFi didn't afford them the supremacy they'd never deserved but long come to expect.

Yang says he doesn't want these people and has worked to remove them from the Gang, but he isn't shy about the fact that his success so far is due to the online communities that rallied behind him. As he tells me, "I came from the internet."

THE OBVIOUS NEXT question was whether Yang could translate his online support, all those "Yangstas," as they call themselves, into something tangible. If he held rallies, would anyone come? If he asked for volunteers, would anyone sign up?

A series of big-city speeches in April and May, dubbed the Humanity First tour, settled those questions. Two thousand people showed up to see him at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, followed by 3,000 in Los Angeles, and 4,000 in Seattle. For the tour's final stop, 2,500 people turned out in the pouring rain at New York City's Washington Square Park. These crowd sizes exceeded those of some of the senators and governors in the race. The mainstream media tuned in as well: Yang got requests to appear on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN.

I saw Yang for the first time in June on a swing through New Hampshire, home to the first-in-the-nation primary. It was the middle of the afternoon on a rainy Thursday, but 60 or 70 people filled Crackskull's cafe in the town of Newmarket to hear Yang speak. I overheard a barista say that former Obama cabinet secretary Julián Castro drew half as many people a few weeks earlier.

On the stump, Yang oozes a kind of anti-charisma. Dressed in dark pants, a light-blue oxford shirt, no tie, and a navy blazer — call it venture-capital casual — he doesn't try to charm or inspire or flatter. He peppers his speeches with bleak statistics and dire warnings. Like Trump, he talks about how Middle America is "disintegrating." He refers to "my friends in Silicon Valley" a lot and to the technologies they're devising that will put regular people out of work.

Tech visionaries who stoke fears about the robot apocalypse are nothing new. But in the context of a presidential race, Yang is the only one making this argument, and he's found an audience for it, judging by the crowds that followed him across New Hampshire. High school kids wore blue MATH hats — short for Make America Think Harder, another one of Yang's Trump-trolling slogans. At Crackskull's, Yang's supporters had memorized Yang's lines and knew what to say in the call-and-response sections of his stump speech.

He asked if anyone knew the last time America's life expectancy had declined for three years in a row. "The Spanish flu of 1918!" someone yelled out.

He said that one state already gave its citizens a guaranteed $1,000 to $2,000 each year. "And what state is that?"

Alaska!

"And how do they fund it?"

Oil!

"And what is the oil of the 21st century?"

Technology!

The debate inside the Democratic Party about capitalism versus socialism, he went on, was beside the point. "We're seeing unprecedented changes in the economy, and returning to 20th-century frameworks and solutions will not serve us."

The Freedom Dividend would help displaced workers transition from the old economy to the new one while at the same time stimulate local economies. What's more, Yang says he would replace GDP as the key measurement of the economy with an "American Scorecard" that takes into account life expectancy, average income, health outcomes, clean air, and clean water. He said he'd present the results every year during the State of the Union using PowerPoint.

"This is the vision we have to present to the rest of the country as fast as possible," he says in closing. "As time goes on, people will realize that there's one candidate who's drawing thousands of Trump voters, independents, conservatives, and libertarians, as well as Democrats and progressives, and you're looking at him."

I hang around after Yang's appearance to talk with people in the crowd. Keaton Rook, a paraprofessional at a nearby high school who describes himself as "on the outskirts of politics," tells me this is the second Yang event he's attended. "Now it's in-your-face how technology can take away your job," he says. "It's one of those things that stays with you weeks later. No other candidate is talking about it the way Yang does."

People felt drawn to his anti-establishment streak and bluntness about the challenges ahead. They agreed with his message about the disconnect between a soaring stock market, a growing GDP, and the continued economic struggles of millions of Americans. "We know what's coming," Jennifer Bailey, a Yang supporter I met at the Clyburn fish fry, tells me. "Let's not keep putting Band-Aids on. He's looked ahead. He's talking about solving the problems of the future."

But the people who turned out for Yang's rallies had questions about the Freedom Dividend and the future of work. Given that $12,000 a year isn't enough to live on, one woman asked him in New Hampshire, what would happen to all those truckers and call-center workers after automation wiped out their jobs?

"There are a couple of things we can do that are going to help a lot," he responded. "Now, unfortunately, they're not great fixes." He talked about the need to "expand the notion of work" and to direct more high school students into apprenticeships and the trades. He also touted the Freedom Dividend's multiplier effect that would create new jobs in local communities where the money was spent. "The future of work," he concluded, "is going to be determined over an extended period of time."

His answer isn't terribly convincing when I revisit this line of questioning during one of our interviews. He started be saying that there "will not be a job future for many of those truckers" he talks about on the campaign trail. "I read something like nine limo and taxi drivers killed themselves in New York last year, one in front of City Hall," he says. "It's just the economics of their existence didn't work out anymore, and they just killed themselves. We're in a society where that makes barely a ripple. It's not like there are legislators right now soul-searching over the lives of those nine drivers. If it becomes 90 or 900 or 9,000, does that cause changes? Unfortunately, in my opinion, we're likely to find out."

Yang's book The War on Normal People — copies of which were given out for free at nearly every campaign event I attended — lays out his views in greater detail but raises as many questions as it answers. He writes that the Freedom Dividend "would replace the vast majority of existing welfare programs." When I ask him about this, he denies that the Freedom Dividend is a Trojan horse for shredding the social safety net. But he acknowledges that programs like food stamps, temporary assistance for needy families, and housing subsidies could shrink if recipients took the $1,000-a-month instead. "There's no reason to think that you would end up eliminating them entirely," he tells me. "It is the case that if enrollment were to go down by 30 percent, then over time the bureaucracy hopefully would adjust accordingly."

Yang's book also places him firmly in the camp of those who believe economic anxiety played a decisive role in Trump's election and the rise of white nationalism. In one passage he writes, "The Charlottesville violence in 2017 over the removal of Confederate symbols can also be seen as engendered in part by economic dislocation. The driver of the car that plowed into the crowd, killing a young woman, was from an economically depressed part of Ohio and had washed out of the military." That's all true, but for the record James Fields Jr., who murdered Heather Heyer in a fit of rage, was an avowed neo-Nazi who once visited the Dachau concentration camp and remarked, "This is where the magic happened."

I spoke with half a dozen economists about Yang's theories on automation, AI, and universal basic income. All of them said he offered an incomplete, if not misguided, picture of what was going on and what to expect. Dean Baker, a co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research who predicted the 2007-08 financial crisis, tells me that Yang's warnings are "180 degrees at odds with reality." If full-on automation were eliminating jobs, he says, there would be a rapid spike in productivity; instead, we're living through a period of low productivity growth. Paul Krugman, the economist and New York Times columnist, tweeted that Yang's arguments about automation have "zero support from the data." Not helping Yang's case is the fact that other countries with high levels of automation — Germany, for example — have yet to see widespread unemployment.

Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, tells me that automation is a "serious concern," but nowhere near as important as the transition away from fossil fuels or tackling America's crippling income inequality. He adds that there's no reason to think it's a foregone conclusion that technology will replace humans when government has the ability to create policies that shape the path of innovation to help, not hurt, workers.

Daron Acemoglu, an MIT economist who studies automation, says Yang is right to connect the impact of automation to Trump's victories in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, where the most industrial jobs disappeared. But Yang strays, Acemoglu tells me, when he solely blames automation for the disappearance of those 4 or 5 million manufacturing jobs. Yes, automation plays a part, Acemoglu says, but so does the long-term decline of heavy manufacturing industries and trade with China. "My take is we need more people with ideas and more people who try to find ways of making prosperity more shared," Acemoglu says. "Even if I don't agree with him, I have time for him."

Yang tells me he's open to criticism of his candidacy and that he is trying to spark a discussion about the future. But he can also come off a touch defensive, chalking up some of the criticism he's facing to political insiders and academics that don't appreciate an outsider like him edging onto their turf. "One of the big themes of this whole thing is, like, Who the fuck am I?" he says. "Some of these ex-economists or some of these media types have spent years and years cultivating their Washington political hackery. So then if I appear out of the interweb, the reaction is like, 'Who the fuck is this guy?'"

STEP OUT OF the hustle on West 39th Street in midtown Manhattan and into a darkened lobby, pass two guys in suits squabbling about baseball, climb several flights of stairs, then go down a hallway, and you've arrived at the offices of Yang for President. They say political campaigns are like startups, and Yang HQ pushes the cliché to its limit. There's a mini basketball hoop, interns huddled over laptops, résumés strewn across a table, and a pair of black rimless sunglasses taped to the wall, a reference to Morpheus from The Matrix. There are 31 people working for the campaign when I visit, and many of them fill multiple roles. (Sanders' campaign has more people on the ground in New Hampshire alone.) "The vaguer the title, the more accurate it is," Carly Reilly, Yang's deputy chief of staff and online organizing guru, tells me.

It's a few days before Yang will appear on the second night of the first Democratic debate. The debate is set to be Yang's coming-out party to the tens of millions of viewers expected to tune in. Reilly tells me that debate week is another inflection point for the campaign. "We're now turning it into a more traditional campaign structure," she says. "There's a need now to mobilize that base around very specific actions." In short, it's time to harness the Yang Gang.

Yang and I talk for half an hour before he has to tape an appearance on Stephen Colbert's show. I read back to him something he told Joe Rogan four months earlier: "I've been very upfront the whole time that if my ideas and policies become front and center and we get this done, then if I'm not president of the United States, I'm perfectly happy with that." Did he stand by what he told Rogan, that it was more about ideas than winning?

"I'm becoming increasingly persuaded that the most realistic way to get these across the finish line is for me to become president of the United States," he says. "I had a greater degree of belief that other people would just take all my ideas at some point. Now, I think that's less likely. And so it seems more likely that I'm going to have to do it."

Yang's debate performance doesn't help his cause. He later says he had trouble hearing the moderators, which would explain why one of the first things to come out of his mouth was "I'm sorry?" He'd said he was banking on millions of Americans googling "the Asian man standing next to Joe Biden." But of the outsider candidates it was self-help guru Marianne Williamson who snagged the highest search traffic.

Yang said afterward that his microphone was cut off, which prevented him from forcing his way into the conversation, and his online followers amplified the claim with the hashtag #LetYangSpeak. (NBC denied that it had muted him.) Even then, Yang looked a bit like a deer in headlights on the debate stage. His inexperience showed.

Yang spent the days after the debate on Twitter explaining away his poor performance and subtweeting his fellow Democratic candidates. I get him on the phone a few days later. He says he was struck by the "high performative aspect" of the debate, but mentioned that Biden had come up to him during a commercial break and said he wanted to talk with Yang about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the future of the middle class.

Given that he'll likely appear in several more Democratic debates, I ask him what happens when the podcasting candidate has to talk in sound bites, opening and closing statements, and 30-second campaign commercials?

"One of the themes of the campaign — and this is a hard thing to balance — is that the only reason why we're here where we are is because of my being a human being, and that being relatively evident," he says. "In order to adapt to that format, I have to become like a creature of cable news at least for two hours, which is not what got me to the dance. But, you know, I'm fighting for the future of humanity."

Yang's candidacy is a lesson, a warning if only we dare to heed it: The conditions in this country that sent Trump to the White House remain; the racism and the toxic trolls, of course, but also the widespread disgust with politics, the disconnect with elected leaders who act like money-raising automatons, and the hunger for an outsider who will go in and blow up the existing order. Trump hasn't done it; maybe Andrew Yang could. At the least, Yang is proof that voters will reward a candidate who peers into the uncertain future and urges us to prepare before it's too late.

The Freedom Dividend isn't the answer, and Andrew Yang probably isn't either. But like the last outsider candidate to come along and catch fire, Yang's candidacy reveals truths about America and its people that we can't afford to ignore.

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