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Transcript: The Entrepreneurial Boom

MS. CORATTI: Hi, good afternoon, everyone. My name is Kris Coratti. I’m chief communications officer at The Washington Post and general manager of Washington Post Live. Welcome. I’m so thrilled to have you all here. It’s afternoon; I feel like maybe I’m getting you coffee or something.

[Laughter]

MS. CORATTI: During the pandemic, millions of workers quit their jobs. This great resignation, as it's been called, has been a driving force behind a flurry of entrepreneurial activity. This surge in business creation represents a reversal after a 40-year decline in entrepreneurship in the United States.

This afternoon, we'll discuss what's behind this trend and how small businesses can drive the economy forward. In a few moments, my colleague Cat Zakrzewski will talk with the founders of QuickHire, sisters Deborah Gladney and Angela Muhwezi-Hall. They'll discuss what inspired them to start their company, what it was like raising funds for it, and the pandemic's impact on both.

David Ignatius will then sit down with chair and CEO of Revolution Steve Case to discuss how startups have spread out geographically and the evolving role of venture capital.

Later in the program, The Washington Post's Leigh Ann Caldwell will speak with a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers Heather Boushey. They'll discuss how today's economic conditions impact small business growth, and what the administration is doing to sustain the momentum driving new startups.

Before we get started, I want to thank our sponsor YouTube and its vice president of Americas, Tara Levy, who will join creative entrepreneurs Mimi G and Randy Lau later in the program to discuss how content creators use technology to turn their passions into successful businesses.

So, I want to thank you again for joining us. I hope you will stick around afterwards. We are having a cocktail reception, and I would love to see all of you there. And now I would like to welcome Cat Zakrzewski with our first guest right after this short video. Thank you.

[Video plays]

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: Well, good afternoon, and welcome to The Washington Post. Thank you for joining us today for this event on entrepreneurship. I'm Cat Zakrzewski, a tech policy reporter here. And I'm joined by two wonderful guests today. This is Deborah Gladney and Angela Muhwezi-Hall, and they are the founders of QuickHire, a career platform for the service economy workforce. And they're also sisters. Deborah and Angela, welcome to The Washington Post.

MS. GLADNEY: Thank you.

MS. MUHWEZI-HALL: Thank you. Great to be here. That video was epic.

MS. GLADNEY: Yeah.

MS. MUHWEZI-HALL: Thank you.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: Well, thank you so much for joining us. And you know, I'm so excited to hear a little bit of your story. As someone with two sisters, I can't imagine ever starting a company with them. I hope they won’t be offended to hear that. So, I am excited to hear how this came together. And so, I mean, just to kick things off, you know, Deborah, can you tell us a little bit about how the QuickHire service works and matches workers with jobs?

MS. GLADNEY: Absolutely. Again, thanks so much for having us here today. It's an honor to be here. A little bit of how it works. So, it is a service economy platform. So, what that means is we help job seekers in the service economy, primarily retail, hospitality. We help them connect to jobs and we go beyond that. So, we help them progress in their careers.

So, both Angela and I were children of immigrants. Our parents, they raised us with service economy jobs. I spent a lot of time in retail. And looking back at my experience in retail, had I known that there were pathways to mobility, such as opportunity for becoming a district manager or what have you, I perhaps would have taken a different route. But it's about creating the visibility and showing people that there is a lot of opportunity with the skills that you're acquiring today. So, that's really what our platform is aiming to do.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And, Angela, I hear that you had the idea first for QuickHire a few years ago. Can you tell me a little bit about where the idea first came from?

MS. MUHWEZI-HALL: Yeah. So, I have a background in education and career advisement, and I was working in inner city high schools in Los Angeles. So, at the time, I had a specific situation that happened where a student came into my office. She was looking for a local retail grocery store opportunity, and she didn't have a computer of her own. So, she came and gave me all of these paper applications asking can she help, or can I help her. And then also, she wanted to borrow my computer. The school was severely underfunded at the time.

And there was so many lengthy, tedious applications that they sent her to. And so, it struck me in that moment that while it's been quite some time since myself, Deborah, our parents have worked in the service economy, the way to get jobs are the same--and not just finding that job opportunity, but also finding opportunities for progression. So, in the schools, if you are college bound, there were so many resources that were given to those students. But if you were going straight into the workforce, it was like good luck to you. And so, I told this to Deborah, and I was like this service of the--this area of the economy is severely underserviced, and so we have to do something. And so, that was probably about 2017. And I kept telling her, hey, this would be great and hey, we should do this. And you know, but it was 2020. She actually gave me a call at 4:00 am.

MS. GLADNEY: I told her not to tell this story.

MS. MUHWEZI-HALL: Because she woke me up in the middle of the night at 4:00 a.m. saying that now's the time, that we had to help millions of people not just find opportunities, but also those that needed to reskill and pivot in their--in their career.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And so, you said that call came in 2020, which, of course, was when we saw the onset of the global pandemic, a time of immense economic uncertainty. I mean, how did you decide to take that risk and start a new business then?

MS. GLADNEY: So, when Angie first came up with the idea back in 2017, I always thought it was a really great idea. I knew that it was new. I knew that it was fresh. And just because, you know, we were the target market, I knew that it was going to be extremely helpful. However, we also knew that, you know, HR tech is a relatively noisy space, there are a lot of players, a lot of big players. And so, we knew that timing was going to be a big thing. And so, when the pandemic happened, we saw unprecedented shifts in the labor market, and so we knew that this was going to be the time to introduce a new way of looking at talent, literally, where we're looking at talent in the service industry as people and not bodies. And so, that's really what was the catalyst for it.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And what did that look like at that time when many people were working from home, but in the service industry, these essential workers were still going into their jobs in many instances? How did you think about that, and what did that process of setting the company look like in those early days of the pandemic?

MS. GLADNEY: Yeah, well, we found that during that time, a lot of people were reevaluating their careers and what was important to them. A lot of businesses, as we all felt, just had to stop. They had to close. And we spoke to so many of our early users who were like, I have worked as a line cook for 10 years, and I haven't gotten a raise--I’ve only gotten a quarter raise in that 10 years. So, a lot of people were like, you know, home/life balance, I decided to go home, and now I'm spending time with my children, something I haven't been able to do. And so, we noticed that we didn't just have to help them find work, but also help them have opportunities to upskill, to find new career, new segues, because a lot of people during that time were reevaluating what was important.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And I want to just take a moment to open up to our audience that we will be taking questions from you, too. So, if you want to tweet questions, please use the handle @PostLive, and we'll try to get them in the conversation.

And so, just going back to that shift, you know, then we saw what's been called the great resignation, as Kris just mentioned earlier. And so, can you tell us a little bit about how QuickHire has responded to that shift and what value you bring to companies during this moment?

MS. GLADNEY: You know, we always say that we've always known how important these jobs and workers were, but it took a global pandemic for everyone else to realize.

So, when we set out to build QuickHire, we had people first in mind. We had progression in mind. And so, when we saw the great resignation, it was just a perfect timing of opportunity for us because we had already started to build a platform where the job seeker was at the center of it. And so, it wasn't so much a response. I think it was just that's when we saw a lot of traction, because the rest of the world, employers were forced to change the way that they were looking at talent. Especially when they could not find people, it was about how can I find the right--the right talent, and also how can they keep them? So, we started to see unprecedented things like sign-on bonuses and health benefits--things that should have always been offered, but never really were. And so, we always say that some of these things, they were--they started to happen before the pandemic. So, service workers, they have faced decades of neglect and unfair pay and not having fair benefits, things like that. And so, you know, the pandemic was just kind of the final straw. And so QuickHire really saw an opportunity to really help put people at the center, where they should have always been.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And obviously from the company's name, QuickHire, you think about the hiring process. But, you know, you also are helping these companies with retaining employees at a time when turnover has been high. Can you tell me a little bit more about how you do that?

MS. MUHWEZI-HALL: Yeah. So, when someone comes to QuickHire, they tell us their goals. So, they say, today I'm a cashier, but tomorrow I want to be a manager. So, we really match them to employers that have opportunities for internal mobility. That's a huge thing that when you find talent, you want to keep them there. And so, we have those interactions to make sure that their employees are moving up. Hey, this person said that they have a desire to become a supervisor, I see you have an opening, send them that information, so that people are continuously moving up.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And you mentioned how this has been a problem that you've recognized for some time. I wanted to ask you a little bit about the fundraising process for the company. You know, obviously, QuickHire has raised more than 1.4 million. What was that process like from raising from venture capitalists? Did those, you know, in some cases billionaire or millionaire investors understand this industry and the problem?

MS. GLADNEY: I think that there were so many layers to our fundraising process. Obviously, there was the barrier of just preconceived notions when it comes to hiring platforms and thinking that it's just another hiring platform. So, we had that barrier in a way in really trying to show that we were different. But not only that, just fundraising in general, we had no knowledge, no connections whatsoever. And it was--but it's almost like we were treated as if we should know. And so, it was extremely challenging. You go on a lot of these VC websites. Some of them don't even have contact information. So, you can already tell that it was--some of it was insider, where you had to have existing connections. And so, for us, it was just like, you know what, we may not have these connections and we may not know, so what we're going to do is just keep building, and hopefully, you know, the doors will eventually open. And so, that's really what happened for us, is that we just--we're like, we're just going to build, and eventually there was a story about us. And that is how the first investor reached out to us. But it's really an area that is, I would say, inundated with a lot of barriers for entrepreneurs.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And you know, just to put this into context for our audience, Black female startup founders received just 0.34 percent of the total venture funding invested in the first half of 2021. Thinking about those barriers, what changes need to happen in the venture capital industry to improve diversity?

MS. GLADNEY: I think first of all, its visibility in a way. You know, even just how we're creating visibility for service workers for having opportunity, it's kind of the same thing where just making connecting to investors more accessible. You know, there's--when we first started, it was such a taboo of like the cold pitch email. It was like, you need to have a warm intro through somebody, but it's like, what if I don't have the existing connections? So, even just changing the way that we're thinking about, you know, introducing people to the venture capital world. So, I think that that's part of it.

Obviously, representation is a huge thing, which I think we're starting to see a good shift in as far as who the decision makers are. Who has a seat at the table when it comes to the investment decisions that firms are making is a huge, huge, huge difference. But yeah, I think even just you're starting to see things like office hours. And I think the more that we can do that, just having office hours where founders like myself who may not know the process can book time with investors and just ask questions in a judgment-free way is extremely important. But then at the end of the day, we got to write the checks.

MS. MUHWEZI-HALL: Yeah.

MS. GLADNEY: You can mentor all day--all day long, and I think, honestly, a lot of minorities are over-mentored but underfunded.

MS. MUHWEZI-HALL: Yeah.

MS. GLADNEY: At the end of the day, we have to write the checks. And even now, where you're--we're going into, you know, what people are worried about, a recession, you're starting to see a lot of the dollars peel back because we are deemed as risky investments. So again, I think it's one of those things where writing the check matters and seeing startups that are diverse and minority-led is actually a win. You know, don't you want to have a business that has--that's run by people that have diverse experiences, who can approach a business through different lenses and seeing that as a competitive advantage versus a risk?

MS. MUHWEZI-HALL: Yeah.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: That's a great point. I remember in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, there were entrepreneurs who said to me that they were seeing these VC firms coming out with big statements.

MS. GLADNEY: Yeah.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And they would say they've got to make the hire and send the wire and really follow through there.

MS. GLADNEY: Yes.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And it sounds, yeah, like you're making the same point.

MS. GLADNEY: Absolutely.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And I wanted to ask you, too, about just being located in Kansas. I mean, I know a lot of the VC funding is really concentrated on the coast, primarily in the Bay Area. How did that affect your process of getting off the ground and making these kinds of connections?

MS. GLADNEY: It made it even harder. So much harder, because even the investments that were happening in our area, a lot of people aren't used to doing tech investments. And so, there was a little bit of even teaching people about what we're doing and how they can invest in us and all of that. And for people to--you know, we're reaching out to people outside of Kansas to check us out. And they're like, oh, there's talent in Kansas, what's in Kansas? And I'm like, excuse me.

MS. MUHWEZI-HALL: Yeah, like, they can't build a team in Kansas.

MS. GLADNEY: Like, yes, we can. So yeah. So, I think there was extra hurdles and extra barriers. But there are a lot of great funds that are specifically investing in areas that are underfunded. And so, we were able to tap into them because they were having those efforts.

MS. MUHWEZI-HALL: Exactly, the Rise of the Rest. I know Steve Case is about to come up. But they're a great example of funds who are really leading the way and leading the charge, and also seeing the benefit and looking at overlooked geographic regions and seeing that there's a lot of opportunity.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And I've heard, you know, sometimes for founders there's that cliff after you raise the first seed round of VC funding. Are you thinking about raising a next round right now, and what does that process look like?

MS. GLADNEY: We're always raising. But yeah, it's obviously something that, you know, we're always thinking about. You know, we really just want QuickHire to continue to be around. And it's mainly because we just want to keep helping people. We receive so many stories every day from our job seekers about, you know, jobs that they've obtained that they've never had before, being able to have higher-wage pay, folks who have been out of the workforce for a long time. And for us, that's really our why, why we're doing what we're doing. And so, when we're thinking about fundraising and all these things, it's really because we want to continue to help people. We know we're helping people and we're connected to that, and that's really why the fundraising is important.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And I want to take a moment to take a question from our audience right now. We've got a Twitter question from Rahama Wright [phonetic]. And she asks, as a small business that struggles with finding talent, what advice do you have with not only hiring but retaining the right team members?

MS. GLADNEY: That is a really, really good question. And it's--and it's honestly something that we're continuing to work through.

I think connections is everything, like always networking, always looking for talent. Even if you're not hiring at the moment, just continuing to meet people as if you're going to be hiring, I think that's a huge thing, leveraging your network as much as possible. We've found that the folks who have stayed around the longest are people that we have met before, we have like some, you know, connections with or a shared passion with. And especially as a small business, you know, people--the people who stay around are the people who are really connected to your mission. And so, I think that that's the biggest thing, is to sell, like, why you're doing what you're doing. And you're seeing more of that people really appreciating the mission-based parts of companies. And so, I think that that is really just what you can lead with. But yeah, it's tough. It's really, really tough, trying to find and retain talent. But yeah, I think rallying people behind the mission helps a lot.

MS. MUHWEZI-HALL: Right, right. And also making sure that people are fulfilled. That was a huge thing during the pandemic, is that people had a moment to pause and really focus on what makes them happy, truly.

MS. GLADNEY: Yeah.

MS. MUHWEZI-HALL: And so, that's a big thing for us when it comes to QuickHire, is that people can be connected to their goals; they can connect to other people that have similar goals as them as well; so, making sure that your employees are continually being fulfilled and advancing and meeting those goals that they set for themselves.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And so unfortunately, I have time for just one last question. And I have to ask, I mean, how has your relationship evolved as sisters since starting this company?

MS. GLADNEY: I mean, I--we say all the time that this is our first company that we've built together, but we've been building all our lives. We built a singing group. We were in sorority together. Like, we've done all these things. We've always been extremely, extremely close. And honestly, we've been through way more than QuickHire, and so no business or anything could ever tear us apart.

But as far as like how things have evolved, it is the best thing to be on this fight, because it really is. The journey of an entrepreneur is a fight.

MS. MUHWEZI-HALL: Yeah.

MS. GLADNEY: And so, to be in the fight with somebody that I know truly cares about me is like, honestly, our superpower. And she can tell immediately if I'm in a meeting and I'm--if I'm struggling, she knows when I'm, like, down or off, and she could just pick--step in. It's something that I am super grateful for.

MS. MUHWEZI-HALL: Yeah. And it's also just an honor just to see someone grow in a way that you always knew was there. Like, there was a reason why I sat on this idea until I knew Deborah was in, because she is such a doer. And I--you know, people say, oh, we have the same hours in the day as Oprah and Obama and Beyonce, then like, I had the same hours of the day as this woman right here. I mean, even starting--initially, when we started QuickHire, she was--she just had a newborn baby, and she was going through our first PowerPoint, literally in the delivery room. And I'm like, it can wait. It can wait. I promise you. But being able to see her go into like the CEO, we didn't even know where to start when we first started. And she said, you know what, I'm just going to start reaching out to VCs. If they don't have an email, I'm going to find one. You know, having that tenacity. I've always seen that in her. So being able to see someone walk in that--walk in that passion, that purpose that you know they always had in them has just been an honor to witness. And so, it's been a fantastic opportunity for us.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: Well, that's so incredible. I'm so sorry that we're out of time. This has been a wonderful discussion. Thank you so much for joining us today here at Washington Post Live.

MS. MUHWEZI-HALL: Thank you. Thank you.

[Applause]

[Video plays]

MS. WALPERT LEVY: All right. Good afternoon. Thank you all for being here. I’m Tara Walpert Levy, and I lead the Americas business for YouTube, and I am thrilled that we can be here together in person to talk about this entrepreneurial boom, right? It’s been a while. So, it still feels very special.

And I’m excited to talk in particular about an explosive segment of this entrepreneurial boom which we know something about, which is this new creator entrepreneur. And some of you have probably heard the terms thrown around “creator ecosystem,” “creator entrepreneur.” They’re not just buzz words, and they’re not just the big household names that have made millions of dollars from the creative economy, but there are over 2 million creators on YouTube alone who make money doing what they love and that [audio drop] who are basically offering tips to audiences that don’t typically see themselves in media and in advertising. So the range is wide. And the common denominator is that these are people who are able to turn their passions into small businesses, building their brands, and again, making money doing what they love.

And so we’re incredibly lucky to have with us today two fantastic creator entrepreneurs who are willing to share their stories and build a little bit of this story for you to bring the phenomenon to life. So we have Mimi, who is a leader in the do-it-yourself fashion segment based in Atlanta, and we also have Randy, who is based in San Francisco, who has been able to launch one of the best modern day cooking shows while also preserving a lot of his family heritage. I think it’s going to be fascinating to hear a little bit about how each of you started with something you just had a passion for and transformed it into a successful career for you and your families--just like so many others. So please join me in welcoming Mimi and Randi.

[Applause]

MS. G: Thank you. Thank you so much.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: So, I always like to start at the beginning. Mimi, do you want to start with what prompted you to pick up the camera? And did you have any idea where this was all going to go?

MS. G: I definitely did not have any idea where this was going to go. I--when I started blogging many years ago--I'm not going to age myself--blogging was still relatively new. Like, nobody really knew what it was or where it was going. And so I spent a lot of time just sort of blogging and doing pictorials and things of that nature. And I remember I had posted a skirt that I had made for myself. And people went crazy. They were like, I want to buy the skirt. And I was like, yeah, I don't sew for hire. Like, not my thing, don’t want to do it. But we were nearing the holidays, and I was a single mom with four kids. And I said, you know what, maybe I'll just take a couple of orders for this skirt and just see how it goes. So, I put a PayPal button on my blog post, I went to bed, I priced really high, like 275. I said, who's going to pay me $275 for a skirt. I went to bed, woke up the next morning, had thousands of dollars in my PayPal account.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: Amazing.

MS. G: And I was like, well, who's going to sew the skirts? So, when I tell you everyone in my household was sewing, the kids were cutting, everybody was working. I got them done, I sent them off, and I said I never want to do that again.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: Understandable.

MS. G: Very. But in that conversation with myself, I thought, what if I could just teach them to do it?

MS. WALPERT LEVY: Yeah.

MS. G: And so that's where the idea to create my very first sewing tutorial started.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: I love that so much, especially because it's what--it was the heart of your idea and your creative and your business but also like has given so many other people--right?--their own, like either creative outlet or business on their own.

MS. G: Absolutely.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: Super cool.

Randy, what about you?

MR. LAU: So, we started during the pandemic. My--the impetus was my dad's an amazing chef. He has 50 years of experience cooking Chinese food. And I was just spoiled as a kid, like I have the most amazing memories eating his food. So, I've always wanted to document his recipes in some shape or form. And then, yeah, during the pandemic actually, it was a pretty scary time. You know, we--our business completely shut down. My wife was three months pregnant with our first kid. We were living off savings, unemployment. So, it was pretty terrifying. But I think in that uncertainty, it gave me a lot of space to think about what I wanted to do with my life and what kind of legacy I wanted to leave. So, the more and more I thought about it, the more excited I got about the idea of marrying the experience I had in digital marketing and video with something that I wanted to do for my whole life, which is celebrate my dad's legacy and preserve his recipes. So yeah, that's really how we got started.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: That’s amazing. And I'm going to stick with you and then go back to Mimi with really the same question, which is, as it's grown--I mean, you are rapidly approaching a million subscribers, like it's a real business now--has your mentality changed about it at all? Like, have the capabilities or people you need to surround yourself with changed?

MR. LAU: I think it--as we saw really rapid success, I think it just, I--from the beginning, I treated it like a full-time job. Like, I was 100 percent all in on this business, and I knew it was going to take like several years to monetize. But it just happened a lot quicker than I thought. So, it's like, well, we've reached that goal, like what's the next goal? So, I'm just, like, constantly running through the exercise.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: Do you have help? I mean, where--

MR. LAU: Yes. So, okay, in the beginning for like the first--so we're only like--we're not even two years old yet. So, we launched on September 1st, 2020. For, like, almost a year I was doing basically everything by myself. I was like 60-hour weeks, like, editing, filming, promoting the videos, like writing our blog posts, translating. My--actually my cousin helped me translate.

And then as soon as I could hire help, I did. So now we have a team of 10.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: Amazing.

MR. LAU: We have editors, we have writers, we have people who help us with brand partnerships, social media posting, like, all sorts of things. And I'm just really grateful now, like, I think that's--for me, that's a step in the right direction, because I have two kids. You know, I want to be present with them. I want to be--you know, have breakfast with them and not stress out, have weekends and not stress out. And I think--and also, it also allows me to scale the impact that we have, as well, with a team.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: Well, and it's interesting that you went so quickly to it. You know, one of the biggest pieces of advice that we offer entrepreneurs on YouTube is to hire people sooner--for all the reasons that you said--right?--to prevent burnout, to spread the impact, all of those things. That's awesome.

Mimi, what about you?

MS. G: I think it's been a very different road. Like, you guys will hear a couple more times how I've been in this for a while, going on 10 years. And I'm like the old lady at the club. So, things were very different for me, right? It wasn't sort of the way that it is now. I didn't have all the tools and the resources and the platforms that are so readily available to us now. So, for me, it was a little harder in just that I had to figure it all out. It was completely new to me. Filming was new to me. Editing was new to me. Uploading, sharing my life, all of that, you know, stuff was really different. And so I've just been able to grow and sort of change with the times. I'm always having to stay ahead. You know, to be able to be here still after 10 years and still growing I think is a testament to, you know, all the hard work that goes into it, but also all the possibilities that, you know, I now have.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: Absolutely. Well, because you've sort of multiplied your business in so many different ways. How do you think about the same question of people to support the business, the balance with control versus outsourcing? How do you think about the surrounding yourself with people who can help?

MS. G: You absolutely need to surround yourself with people. You know, I hit the jackpot. When my husband and I were dating, he wanted to learn to sew. And I was like, okay, that's cool, then he quickly started editing and photographing me, and then he became a sewing instructor. And I was like, this is great, and I don’t have to pay you.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: The Post, we’re talking about contributing to the economy, but okay.

MS. G: Right, exactly. I contribute in other ways, I suppose.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: You contributed in a lot of ways.

MS. G: And but it's hard, right? And so the faster that you can find people who are just as inspired as you are and just as excited about what it is that you're doing and want to help you take the help, like start figuring it out early. Now we have a really great team, people who support us, who are always coming up with really great ideas for the next thing, right? Because we're always thinking about what's the next thing. So, yeah, please start early. It's really important to have a good team behind you.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: Well, all right, so both of you, in your own ways, have had either rapid or not as rapid but frankly pretty rapid, you had the overnight success with the skirts.

MS. G: Exactly.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: But you've both had a lot of success. And it's interesting because we can see the explosion in the creator economy on YouTube alone, right? I mean, there's something like 400,000 people whose full-time job is being a creator, and that doesn't include the multiplier effect of all the people you just described who's help you’re entailing, either in a paid or not paid environment. But I know the rest of them are paid.

But what I'm curious about--and actually, here's a fun fact, fun party fact that I never thought I would quote from TurboTax as a fun party fact. But I did happen to see something that said in the last couple of years TurboTax reported that the number of people who report their primary income as being a creator or an influencer or the like has more than tripled in the past couple of years, which is just amazing--right?--given the growth that we've continued to see and that we're building off a pretty large base. Do you see that? Like, do you have friends who are in the business? Like, do you see the growth of other creators on YouTube? And what, if any, patterns do you see as you--as you look around and see those businesses growing?

MR. LAU: I think, for me, it's been like--one of the blessings I didn't anticipate of having a channel like this is just getting to meet other creators. Like, I hundred percent would not be as successful as I am now had I not met other creators, because you just--it can be kind of a lonely journey, you know? So just having that emotional support of someone who really understands what you're going through has been really helpful, and like, getting to share strategies and tips has propelled--you just grow so much faster. And I think for the channels that I've seen like really take off exponentially, I think--for me, I think it's like, I see two--maybe just one thing. So I think they really have a unique value proposition to their channel. So that can--it's very subjective, but there's some spin on how they're sharing their stories that's fresh in the ecosystem of, like, all the content that's already out there.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: Yeah.

MR. LAU: So for us, it's like I didn't see a--like my business, I was like I don't really see, like, an old Chinese dad sharing recipes in like an English-friendly way. So that was, like, the gap in the market that I saw. And like, for recipe instruction I saw like, a lot of videos are, like, really well done and educational, but I wanted to add a layer of, like, family wholesomeness to it.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: Yeah.

MR. LAU: So, I think for us, that was, like, part of our unique value proposition, and I think that's what helped propel our growth so fast. But yeah, I think channels that have that have some sort of, like, uniqueness to them.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: Yeah, that's cool. And it's interesting that you hone right in on sort of the unique creative value proposition, because some of the other things you mentioned in terms of support or loneliness, like you can see the explosion in the creative economy of service companies around people like you who want to help--right?--either in sort of infrastructure or payments or some of these other things. But the heart of the storytelling has to be there--right?--or none of the rest of that works.

What do you see, Mimi?

MS. G: You know, for me, I have a really interesting sort of view, because so many of the people who have followed me and follow my channel or members of Sew It! Academy have gone on to create their own businesses, right? And so for me to be able to mentor some of these students and then watch them go off and create their own businesses, their own channels, and really have a very specific point of view--and above everything else, I think there's a level of authenticity that is different now, where maybe a couple of years ago being an influencer just seemed like a cool thing to do. I don't think everybody really understood the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to produce that amount of content and that quality in that amount of time. And I think there were a lot of people who said, oh, you know, that's my favorite fashion influencer, I'm going to just mimic what she does. And the problem with that is that at a certain point, you're going to realize what it takes for that fashion influencer to be where she is. And unless you know and are willing to do those things, you're going to get to a point where you're like, oh, well, maybe this is not what I want. Whereas if you start something and do it because you truly love it and you would do it no matter what, then when things get hard--because they will get hard--just like any other business--right?--you need to be able to really like and love what you're doing, and to really be committed to continuing even when it's hard or when people aren't liking and commenting or following, you know? So I think I've been able to see that sort of shift.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: I love that. That's an incredible pay it forward message.

All right. If we're going to leave this audience with one quick thing--because they're going to hear a lot of content between now and the end of the day--when they're at home telling whomever about what they heard today, what's the--what's the one thing that you want them to remember?

Randy, we'll start with you.

MR. LAU: I think, you know, storytelling has been around for thousands of years, and it's going to continue being around for thousands and thousands of years. So, I think, in this, like, current time, it's never been easier for people--like ordinary people like me to turn, like, something they're passionate about into this, you know, exploding business. And I think this democratization of access and storytelling is really beautiful. And I think I would just love to see more support around that ecosystem and more support for creators like me.

MS. WALPERT LEVY: Love that.

MS. G: You know, I was a teen runaway. I was a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual abuse. I was a teen mom. I was homeless three times in Los Angeles. And now I'm the founder and CEO of a multimillion-dollar brand. And YouTube helped me create that, right? YouTube helped me not just grow my following, but it helped me build those businesses. But on my channels, what I do every day is I work to inspire and encourage other people that look like me, that sound like me, to be able to start their own sustainable businesses. And that's why I think it's so important for people to, you know, encourage us and support our channels.

[Applause]

MS. G: Thank you. Because at the end of the day, really, you know, we're just helping each other create, you know, revenues for our family. And that's really important. So please like, comment, and subscribe.

MR. LAU: Let’s go!

MS. WALPERT LEVY: And support. I couldn't add to that. These are amazing stories. Thank you so much for sharing them. Thank you for everything that you do. It is the passion that you have for your job that enables me to have passion for my job, and I'm just so grateful that everyone here got to see a little bit of that today.

MS. G: Thank you so much for having us.

MR. LAU: Thank you for having us.

[Applause]

[Video plays]

MR. IGNATIUS: Good afternoon, everybody. It's nice to see everyone live and in person. That's a wonderful change for us. I'm David Ignatius. I'm a columnist here at The Post. I'm delighted to be joined this afternoon by Steve Case, chairman and chief executive of Revolution, and of course, famous to all of us, especially in this area as the co-founder of AOL. Steve, welcome to The Washington Post.

MR. CASE: Thank you, David.

MR. IGNATIUS: So before we begin, I have a quick disclosure. Revolution, Steve's company, is an investor in QuickHire, which is the company founded by our first two panelists. Just want to note that.

So, Steve, I gather that you've been spending a lot of time recently traveling around the country by bus. And I want to--that’s not a very high-tech way to travel. I want to hear a little bit about what you're seeing, why you're doing this, what your takeaways are from your--from your travels.

MR. CASE: Well, it's great to be here at The Washington Post, particularly with David who--when AOL went public 30 years ago this year, David was the business editor of The Washington Post and Kara Swisher was the new reporter working for him covering us. And so we've had a long journey together, and it's great to be together for this discussion this afternoon.

So, to answer your question, we started these bus tours called The Rise of the Rest bus tours almost a decade ago, and it was built a little bit on the video you just saw--a belief that even though most of the venture capital was going to a few places--you know, 75 percent of venture capital going to three states, which is crazy, but true--that were--there are great entrepreneurs everywhere with great ideas everywhere. And so we should figure out some way to find them, some way to back them and champion them. And the process, we believe, creates some of the great American success stories of tomorrow some--that could be kind of the big, innovative, disruptive companies of tomorrow--but also in the process help lift up some cities and some regions that have been left behind and were starting to feel a little hopeless, a little angry about being left behind.

So, it was mostly an investment strategy to back great entrepreneurs everywhere, but also had this other kind of, we thought, impact in terms of how companies starting in these places could create jobs in these places that would offset, at least in part, the jobs that were going to get lost in those places. And that's happened. And we saw good momentum over the--over the ensuing years. We've now made over 200 investments in a hundred different cities alongside 400 regional venture capitalists. And when we first started, people thought it was a little bit of a crazy idea, much as when we first started AOL and were talking about the idea of the internet most people thought it was a crazy idea. People started, you know, kind of opening their eyes to it a few years ago. And then it really accelerated during the pandemic, that there definitely was this dynamic where some people suddenly said, well, maybe I should move someplace else, at least temporarily and for some cases permanently. And when they're in those places, they found interesting things going on in those places. And venture capitalists finally on the coast said, well, if I'm going to get a pitch from an entrepreneur by Zoom, what difference does it make if they're like next door or 2,000 miles away? So I think this pandemic, although obviously has been tragic and terrible in a number of respects, may be one of the positives silver linings is an acceleration of the Rise of the Rest, an acceleration of the dispersion of talent and the dispersion of capital that can really allow this next wave of innovation to be more inclusive of more people in more places than the last wave.

The last point I'll make, building on the QuickHire you just heard, this is two founders that have three strikes against them. They're in Wichita, Kansas, which is not viewed as a major tech hub--hard to raise capital in Wichita, Kansas. They're Black, and it's harder to raise capital if you're a Black entrepreneur. There's 14 percent of our population is Black; less than 1 percent of venture capital goes to Black founders. And they’re women. And similarly, even though 50 percent of our population is women, less than 10 percent of venture capital goes to female founders. So, three strikes against them. But they said, we're going to start this company anyway and we're going to scale this company anywhere--anyway. And that's just one of many examples that we're seeing all across the country that gives me great hope.

And a plug since you’re in the book business. I have a new book coming out in September, “Rise of the Rest: How Entrepreneurs in Surprising Places Are Building the New American Dream.” And the reason I wrote it--and it is available for pre-ordering--the reason--the reason I wrote it is because these stories had to be told. You know, they're these inspirational stories that give me, having traveled around, met a lot of the people in a lot of these--and seen a lot of these places, gives me hope for America that most people don't have. And so it's partly about these stories and these companies and these founders in these cities, but it’s hopefully also a vision of a more optimistic innovation economy, you know, 10-20 years from now, that maybe can, at least in a small way, help knit together a very divided country.

MR. IGNATIUS: Steve, well, what we authors usually say when we're talking about our books is it makes a great gift. So, I want to remind--

MR. CASE: Dave, I think, has written 11 or 12 books. So he’s a pro. I’m just going--had one. You know, I have a second coming. So I have much to learn from David on books.

MR. IGNATIUS: So, let's talk about this next wave of venture capital and the dispersion of tech centers around the country. As you've looked at tech centers in unusual places like Wichita--name your place--what are the ingredients that make for success? What does that business need to have in terms of community support, educational support, that will give it some momentum?

MR. CASE: Well, of course, David, that's all in the book.

MR. IGNATIUS: Well, so give us a little tease.

MR. CASE: In all seriousness, so first a little bit of history. The first wave of the internet, companies like America Online, but many others, actually was fairly geographically dispersed. We were in the Washington, D.C. area. Hayes, the big modem company, was in Atlanta, Georgia. IBM’s PC operations were in Boca Raton, Florida. CompuServe, one of the first online services, was in Columbus, Ohio. Sprint, the communications company, was in Kansas City. Microsoft actually started in Albuquerque before moving to Seattle. So, these are just some of examples--I could give you a dozen others--several dozen others--it was actually regionally dispersed when we were standing up the internet, building the onramps to connect people to the internet. That was companies from all around, you know, the country. It was just the second wave of the internet, when it shifted from building the internet to essentially building on top of the internet--software, apps on top of the internet, Google, Facebook, you name it. That's when Silicon Valley rose to prominence, arguably dominance, because it was about software and coding, and virality.

In the third wave, where it's sort of the internet meets the real world and it disrupts healthcare, education, food and agriculture--arguably the most important aspects of our lives and the biggest industries in the world--it's going to require a different mindset than just coding an app and dropping in the app store and hoping you strike gold and it spreads. It's going to require partnerships around those--because it's systems-level change in things like healthcare. It's going to require navigating some interesting policy aspects. And a lot of the expertise, the domain expertise in those sectors are in different parts of the country, many in the middle of the country.

Take healthcare, for example. MD Anderson in Texas, Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Johns Hopkins in Maryland, Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Those are some of the key partners you're going to need. So as a result, there's an opportunity for this to shift.

And what the communities need, boing back to your original question, is to be more fearless, recognize entrepreneurship is risky and to reward people taking kind of shots and not saying, well, that didn't work out so well and being sort of like, I don’t really--you know, I guess it's too bad for you, invest in those startups, particularly at the seed level, because, you know, people locally should be providing that that first capital. There’s a lot of money in a lot of cities that tends to invest in real estate or things and not invest in startups, figure out a way to tell their stories so more people can understand what's happening there, connect them to the universities, either in that city or nearby to get a pool of talent. There's a bunch of plays that the cities have--need to run. And we’ve seen more of that play out in the last, you know, decade. And a good example of this was the Amazon second headquarters process; 230 cities applied for it. It ended up being in this area, in Northern Virginia, not too far from where AOL was founded, that forced a lot of cities to tell their story about why they would be the best place to put that tech hub. And what they did is drive a collaborative effort around what the university is doing, what the mayor is doing, what the governor is doing, what the big companies are doing, what the small companies are doing, to really create a more kind of collaborative, you know, kind of a network, if you will, that made it, you know, possible to get the attention to Amazon, but also possible to start and scale, you know, startups there. So that's what we're seeing more and more of.

And the data--I got onto this journey over a decade ago when I was asked to--initially to co-chair something here in Washington called the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It is restarting, and the first meeting is next month. I've been asked to co-chair it again, which I'm, you know, proud to do. That got us identifying some of the challenges around, you know, startups and venture capital. And then I was asked to chair a White House initiative called Startup America, and that led to, you know, working on President Obama's Jobs Council, which led to the Jobs Act, some legislation. And in the process of doing that--and again, I should have known this; I did not know this--that most jobs in this country are created by new companies, startups, not by small business, not by big business, by new business. Small business in aggregate accounts for a lot of jobs. It's very important. Big business, Fortune 500, accounts for a lot of jobs. It's very important. But the real leverage is new companies, number one.

Number two, most of the most successful new companies raise venture capital. Some are able to bootstrap, and that's terrific. But most end up raising venture capital. So, then you go back to the data I said before. If most new jobs are created from new companies, and most of the most successful new companies need venture capital really as sort of the fuel to drive their success, yet venture capital is limited to certain places and certain people, no wonder we have a problem where there's a divide and a feeling that some people are part of the future and benefiting from all the things that we celebrate, and many, many other people are left behind.

And just from a pure investment standpoint, like wasn't that a great investment opportunity? If there's nobody investing in a place like Wichita, or very few, then the valuation of that company would be lower if that's same company was in Silicon Valley when they're new and starting up. When they're successful and go public, nobody looks at the, you know, IPO doc and says, oh, this one's in Ohio or Pennsylvania, not California, we're going to have a regional discount, but there is a regional discount at the early stage of investment. So, it makes sense as an investment strategy. It makes sense as a way to have impact in terms of driving sustainable change in these communities, and more broadly trying to do that at more of a national level. Plus, it's just fun to back great entrepreneurs with great ideas who are trying to change the world, just doing it from places that most people don't pay attention to.

MR. IGNATIUS: Steve, let me ask you about one of the interesting puzzles here. It's often said that one reason that these cosmopolitan areas, Silicon Valley, the Boston corridor, Washington, that they're successful in drawing these tech companies is that they can draw a diverse workforce, that people want to come to those places, that they can draw immigrants who want to come work for those companies and would be more comfortable going to San Jose, let's say, than Wichita, which they don't know much about. So how do you counsel the people you talk to on that issue about being friendly to the workforce that's going to make them a dynamic company?

MR. CASE: Well, first of all, you should visit Wichita. I actually used to live in Wichita, right?

MR. IGNATIUS: I don't mean Wichita per se. I just mean in general.

MR. CASE: I understand. But actually, some of the communities around the country that are most welcoming immigrants are in the middle of country, in the heartland. There are many, many examples that. And it does tie in with his broader policy imperative to make sure--which is the core of your question--to make sure the United States remains a magnet for talent, because if we lose that, we will lose our lead and lose our edge and cease to be the most innovative entrepreneurial nation in the world. The data around immigrant founders is pretty compelling that they’re job makers, not job takers, even though the politics of immigration is super tricky.

You are correct in saying communities, in order to be successful, need to figure out a way to slow the brain drain of their people leaving and create a magnet, a boomerang, if you will, people returning and have new people moving there either from different parts of the country or different parts of the world. And there's a bunch of things you need to do to make that--you know, kind of to be that magnet. Some of that is creating the opportunity. Some of it's creating the amenities, if you will, the lifestyle benefits and educational benefits that would make it attractive. Some of it is being a welcoming community to different people from different places. And there are some communities that we've talked to, that we’ve visited that are concerned that some of the issues--you know, social issues that are becoming really more challenging, do make it somewhat more difficult for some of those communities that are on the rise to continue to rise. So, it is something to watch. But I think you'd be surprised, if you wanted to join us on one of our bus tours, that how many--how diverse the populations are. In fact, the populations in some cities that we've invested in like Baltimore, Atlanta, New Orleans, are far more diverse than the population in San Francisco or other cities that are viewed as more tech hubs. And as a result, not surprisingly, our data is about 45 percent of the investments we've made through our Rise of the Rest seed fund have been in founders of color or female founders, even though the data, as I mentioned before, it's still not what it should be, but it's way better than most. That's because these communities tend to be more diverse and entrepreneurs are emerging in those communities that are building some of the most exciting companies in the country.

MR. IGNATIUS: Good answer to my question. So, I want to ask you, in this next wave that you're trying to support with venture capital in different places, what clusters are you seeing in terms of new technologies, new applications. People sometimes talk about the Web 3 being built around blockchain technology that's going to be more secure. I'm sure you're seeing other trends, and I’d just be curious what some of them are, what you think the next big things will be.

MR. CASE: Well, I think--some of them have been covered. I think the next big thing is taking the most important aspects of our lives and making them better. Healthcare is, you know, one-sixth of the economy. As we learned in the pandemic, as a system, it doesn't work that well. So how do you create better access, more affordability, better health outcomes? That's going to require a lot of innovation, including from a lot of entrepreneurs partnering with a lot of existing kind of incumbent companies and/or hospitals to make that possible. We back the company in Chicago called Tempus that’s doing some really interesting things around the diagnosis of disease, initially focused on cancer so that--and the founder Eric Lefkofsky, a very successful entrepreneur, his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer I think about six years ago, he talked to different people, everybody gave him different opinions about what to do. His wife's life was, you know, kind of hanging in balance, and he was getting all these disparate views. So, he said this is a data problem and built a very significant company that's now scaled nicely and partnering with I think it's 70 percent of the National Cancer Institute hospitals so that the data they're able to pull together really make something possible in terms of a diagnosis being more thoughtful, and therefore the intervention being much more, you know, targeted. That's an example in the healthcare space.

And in the food and agriculture space, we invest in a company called AppHarvest in Eastern Kentucky. Eastern Kentucky, essentially, is coal country in Appalachia, which for decades people have said there's no hope. And growing up there, you were kind of told by your parents you must leave; there's no opportunity for you--for you here. This company now has 600 employees. They built the largest indoor controlled agriculture system in the country. And it's important that it's in Eastern Kentucky, because that's within a 24-hour drive of 70 percent of the U.S. population. And so that's an example of something in a place that most people had given up on, they were able to start building something that's quite significant. We're also seeing that in many other sectors of the economy.

So I think this this third wave and the Rise of the Rest will kind of converge, that because of the growing number of cities that are backing entrepreneurs, the growing number of entrepreneurs that are starting companies in different parts of the country, coupled with the challenges, the opportunities as entrepreneurs is shifting from that second wave software app-centric thing which was mostly about coding to much more systems integration that does require collaboration and partnerships and so forth, that lends itself to these different kinds of...

Last point on your specific Web 3 question. Of course, as you know, because you followed it, I was--I was like, pre-Web. It's not even Web 1. It's like Web 0 something.

MR. IGNATIUS: You’ve got mail.

[Laughter]

MR. CASE: Because when we start--that was good. That was good. Welcome. So, when we started AOL in 1985 not too far from here, only 3 percent of people were online, and those 3 percent were online an average of one hour a week. So, we said we wanted to get America online. That was a big challenge. It was almost a decade from the time we started between the time world--the world wide web was popularized. So, in those early days, we had to kind of build our own things. Web 1 essentially took some of those technologies that we'd done in more kind of a private kind of way and offered them to everybody, so it's highly decentralized, which then led to Web 2, with companies like Facebook being more centralized. And then the hope for Web 3 is it will go back to being kind of more decentralized.

Now, I would note that some of these companies, including Facebook, including Twitter, many others, start by evangelizing decentralization and have open platforms, allow apps to run on it. But somehow when they get successful, they become a little less open, a little more, you know, central. So that will probably play out again and Web 3 will be kind of deja vu all over again, where a lot of innovative things will happen. Some will succeed, many will fail, and out of that will come this next generation, the next wave of the internet. My bet is while some of that for sure will be in Silicon Valley, much of it will be all across the country. And it ties in with what we've been talking about with Rise of the Rest.

MR. IGNATIUS: Great conversation, a powerful idea, the Rise of the Rest. I thank you for a wonderful explanation.

MR. CASE: I’m going to hold the book up right now.

MR. IGNATIUS: You are going to make it as an author.

[Applause]

MR. IGNATIUS: So, thank you. Thank you, Steve. Come back and see us. My colleague Leigh Ann Caldwell will be out here in a minute, just after a video we’re going to show you. Thank you, Steve, for joining us.

MR. CASE: Thank you all. Help the rest rise!

[Applause]

[Video plays]

MS. CALDWELL: Hello. Welcome, everyone. My name is Leigh Ann Caldwell. I am an anchor here at Washington Post Live, also co-author of the Early 202 Washington Post newsletter, and I'm here with Heather Boushey, a member of the Economic Council of Advisers to President Joe Biden. Thanks so much for being here.

MS. BOUSHEY: My pleasure. Thank you.

MS. CALDWELL: And a reminder to our audience that we do want to hear from you. If you're watching in the audience or online, tweet at us @PostLive.

So, Heather.

MS. BOUSHEY: Yes.

MS. CALDWELL: The economy is obviously the top news in most people's lives. You outlined some good things that are happening in the economy. So, what are those little nuggets that the White House and the administration thinks is good right now?

MS. BOUSHEY: Well, certainly. When the president took office, his number-one goal was to get the economy back on track. And you know, the first goal was to, you know, contain the pandemic, make it possible for people to get back to work, for businesses to get back to the job of doing their business. And we've been able to see significant job creation, and we've all seen the unemployment rate come down. The unemployment rate is still at 3.6 percent. Now forecasters, you know, earlier in 2021, in 2020, were predicting that it would take years for us to get below 4 percent unemployment. So that's a very significant and important accomplishment, because most of us get most of our income from having a job. And so making it possible for the unemployment rate to come back down, for people to go out there and get jobs, that is really core to family economic security and is a good important indicator of the strength of the economy.

At the same time, we've seen that because of the steps we took to make sure that families and businesses and communities had kind of the insurance that they need to get through the pandemic and other things, household balance sheets are strong. And that means that families have been able to weather numerous crises over the past year. We didn't know what the shape of the pandemic would be. But yet, we had delta, and then we had omicron, and then we have this unprovoked war that Putin has been waging in Ukraine, all of which have had shocks to the economy. And yet, we've been able to see growth continue. We've been able to see growth in jobs to continue. So those are some--those are some of the good, strong points of the economy.

MS. CALDWELL: Are some of those strong points, though, especially the low job numbers, is that also leading to one of the toughest parts of the economy, which is inflation?

MS. BOUSHEY: Well, inflation is certainly the hardest thing facing the economy right now. And the president has been very clear that it is his number-one priority to do what he can to deal with inflation. But we have to remember that we have inflation today because we had a global pandemic, and that meant that businesses not just in the United States but around the world had to shut down. And because we live in an economy characterized by global supply chains, when a factory closes halfway across the world, it means that parts can't get to another factory, which can then not get to another factory, which means that you can't make a car in Tennessee, or wherever, here in the United States, and then that can't get to the--to be sold.

So, we--and we know also that inflation isn't just a problem here in the U.S. It's a problem that our economic competitors are facing. So, I say all that to say that, yes, our strong employment numbers mean that people have income, and so they're out there buying things and, you know, they're shifting their demand a little bit now from goods, you know, over to services. But fundamentally, this is a supply side shock, and it's being exacerbated by the situation in Ukraine, which has, of course, upended oil markets globally.

MS. CALDWELL: Over the past week, we have heard that a recession is not inevitable. So why is it not inevitable?

MS. BOUSHEY: Well, because family balance sheets are strong, because we've been able to get the unemployment rate down, we're starting from a relatively strong position right now. So and we--because we've seen the economy able to weather some of these storms that have come over the past year, that gives us some confidence that should oil prices continue to be high, or maybe go up, which would be horrible, but, you know, we think that that there's enough wiggle room that businesses and families will be able to make it through because they have resources to fall back on. But certainly, I mean, I and the team that I work with get up each and every day worried about the economic numbers, worried about what they mean for American families and American businesses. And as an economist, it's--you know, it's part of the job description to worry about when the next recession will happen. But you know, right now, we remain optimistic that we will not have to see something that will lead to the kinds of scarring of American families that we really don't want to see.

MS. CALDWELL: You mentioned oil, cost of gas. The president is considering a federal gas tax holiday. This is something that Democrat’s House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is very conflicted on, thinks that the savings will not be passed on to the consumer. Are you confident? Well, is the president's going, first, to invoke this?

MS. BOUSHEY: So, the president, he has said that he is thinking about it and a decision will be made soon. I mean, let's be clear. He has taken a series of very significant steps to deal with the crisis at the pump around the country. And we've seen again--because of the crisis in Ukraine, we've seen that this has up-ended global oil markets. It's affected supply. It's also affected prices. And you know, the president has done a number of things. We’re releasing a million barrels of oil a day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. He has worked closely with allies around the world for them to also release barrels from their reserves. He's made it possible for gas stations around the country to sell gasoline that has a little bit more ethanol in it. So, it's a little bit more cheaper at some stations around the country. So that helps. And you know, of course, he sent this letter to oil refiners saying, hey, you all are making a lot of profits right now, and yet there's a--there's a gap, an historically large gap between the price that you are paying for that oil and the price that you are charging, you know, after you've refined it. And so he has asked Secretary Granholm at the Department of Energy to meet with the oil refiners and to have a conversation about what they can do to get prices down.

So, these are all the things that he has done. And the gas tax is one of the ideas. I mean, there's only so much you can do when you have to buy a commodity that is priced on a global market, and that therein is the fundamental challenge, is that because we all use gas in our cars or in all sorts of things, in oil, we have to--we are victims of these global prices. And that's also why the president has been so focused on moving away from fossil fuels towards clean energy, where if we do it the right way, we can have more control over the supply of those--of that energy over time.

MS. CALDWELL: Are you confident that if this federal gas tax is implemented--it's about 18 cents per gallon--that those savings will be transferred to consumers?

MS. BOUSHEY: Well, what we've seen is that in states that have done a gas tax holiday, by and large, those savings have been passed on to consumers. Now you're asking exactly the right question. It's one that certainly as an economist I'd be very concerned about. What's--you know, just because the tax goes down doesn't mean that the gas station needs to charge less. But one of the things about when you go and buy gas at the pump, it actually is the case that gas stations are--tend to be--they tend to price their gasoline competitively. So, if I'm a gas station and I don't have to pay that tax, and I lower my price, you're going to be under pressure to lower your prices as well. So, I think there is some hope that we will see that pass through. But that's certainly, you know, one of the issues.

The other issue, of course, is that because of the energy crisis, you know, we need to make sure that as we're thinking about these policies, we don't want them to further add to any of our challenges.

MS. CALDWELL: I cover Congress, and Republicans often say that the administration wants high gas prices, that they want this because they think it is an excuse to move to renewables, to a cleaner energy. What is your reaction to that? Do you think that the short-term pain will provide long-term gain?

MS. BOUSHEY: Well, I think if there's--the president has been so clear that rising gas prices is a priority for him, that that should dissuade anybody from thinking that he likes it or thinks that it is a good thing. But none of that changes the fact that for our national economic security, for our national security, we have to be thinking about all the different ways that we can transition to clean energy. And the president has been very committed to that. You know, one of the most exciting things--and there's many exciting things about the bipartisan infrastructure law, but one of them that I've been very excited about is, you know, creating a network of electric vehicle charging stations around the country so that people can not only buy EVs but that they can go out and get them charged, you know, where they need to on highways or in communities around the country. So, he's taking those steps to make it possible for us to make that transition. But he's certainly not happy that gas prices are going up. And he said that--my gosh, if he said at once, he's probably said it a hundred times.

MS. CALDWELL: I want to switch gears a little bit, but something that the administration is considering. Should the--will the president further reduce or eliminate tariffs on Chinese goods?

MS. BOUSHEY: Well, so here’s another one where, you know, the president has said that he is working on this issue. You know, we know that the prices that people pay in stores, if there's a tariff on that good, then the price might be a little bit higher. But here's another one where the exact same question that you just asked about gas also applies. Will the--if you eliminate the tariff, will that--the lack of that tax be passed on to consumers? And you know, I think with gas it's a--it's a little bit easier, because everybody go--buys gas at the gas station, and they have to compete with one another. Whereas with the tariffs, it may or may not be as easy for people to see, because I'm guessing most of us here in this audience don't know exactly what has a tariff on it and what doesn't, so how you know whether or not you're getting a good deal. But certainly, the president is considering anything that he can do to lower prices.

And since you mentioned Congress, I mean, he said time and time again, there are clear things that Congress could be doing that could lower prices for families in direct ways--lower the price of prescription drugs, lower the prices of things like childcare, lower the prices of buying electric vehicles, or heat pumps and these things to make that clean energy transition and help families especially in this time of need. So, the president is focused on all of the different options and where he can work with Congress to help families.

MS. CALDWELL: Given all of the things that we just laid out, we are here to talk about entrepreneurs and small businesses, the pandemic, there was a 40-year reversal in the creation of new businesses. So, does this economic environment enable that--the new businesses that are created--enable that to continue?

MS. BOUSHEY: Well, that is certainly the hope. I think one of the most exciting sets of statistics from 2021 is that the number of new business startups is higher than ever recorded, 20 percent higher than any other year. And you know, that is a signal that because the economy got, you know, back on track, because America got moving again, and because entrepreneurs saw opportunity, they filed to start new businesses and went out and, you know, took advantage of the moment to do that. And you know, interest rates were low. Maybe it made that, you know, easier for different businesses to borrow. But, you know, so much of this wasn't an accident, right? We worked really hard, the president worked very hard to make sure that we were putting the economy back on track to create that economic opportunity. And the president really did focus, was one of his first priorities when he got into office, was to support those small businesses struggling through the pandemic. You know, in the prior year, in 2020, Congress had allocated all of this money to small businesses through the Payroll Protection Program. And yet, so much of that money went to the biggest small businesses, didn't really reach the folks that needed it most. And you know, one of the first things he did, February 24th, for two weeks in 2021, the people that could apply for that program had to have fewer than 20 employees. They took another--a number of other steps to make it easier for the smallest businesses--businesses, you know, run by women, by people of color, in disadvantaged communities, rural communities, to make it easier for them to apply. So that provided, I think, a strong foundation for those small businesses now. I think that's part of what we saw in those statistics last year.

But moving forward--right?--so okay, maybe, you know, things are a little bit more challenging now, but--or maybe they will be in the future--but the president has taken a series of steps that are also going to continue to support small businesses. So, for example, the bipartisan infrastructure law, one of things we're doing right now is making sure that every American all across the country has access to broadband. This is an important service. If you run a small business, or if you have a small business where people are telecommuting, or you need to, you know, contact your suppliers, you need access to the internet, super important. There's a whole bunch of other aspects of the bipartisan infrastructure law that are going to support and provide a really welcoming climate for small businesses to be successful. So that gives me a lot of hope.

MS. CALDWELL: So, some small businesses, large and small, talk about red tape and the bureaucratic challenges of opening a business, expanding your business, doing business. So, you know, as part of this small business creation process that you'd like to get streamlined, is there anything that you can streamline, I should say, from a regulatory perspective?

MS. BOUSHEY: So, the president has laid out four goals, essentially, for small businesses. One is to increase their access to credit, which as interest rates rise will be increasingly important. Second, is a real whole of government effort to help small businesses navigate the bureaucracy to get what they need. And you saw a lot of success--I mean, I’m just going to keep pointing back to the Payroll Protection Program--primarily because we have research evidence that the steps that the administration took early in 2021 to expand access were effective. And there's been a GAO study and some academic studies that have shown that more small businesses, more businesses run by people of color were able to access it once the administration took these steps to make it more available, to make it more transparent. So that's the second prong, is to help people navigate. So, there's different programs that the Small Business Association is running, and Treasury, to help that navigation.

The--another core piece is to make sure that businesses--small businesses are--that we have a tax system that is fair for them, that rewards work and not wealth and that really does make sure that the tax burden is being borne by the businesses that can most afford it. And then finally--and the president is really focused on making sure that as we spend federal dollars--through procurement, through the bipartisan infrastructure and the like--that those benefits, where appropriate, go to small businesses. So, I actually ran into my colleague this morning in the stairs who's running this program. But, you know, thinking about how with procurement you can make sure that those small businesses know how they can supply the federal government, how they can get a contract, how they can sell to the federal government. And there's a series of steps that the administration is taking to ramp that up and to make sure that the smallest businesses, the most disadvantaged businesses do have that access. So, it's a--it's such the bread and butter of what government does.

MS. CALDWELL: The first thing you said, though, was making sure they have access to credit. As you mentioned, interest rates are rising. So how do you ensure they're still able to not only have access but also afford the credit that they do receive?

MS. BOUSHEY: Well, there's a series of programs that small businesses can apply for to get access to credit, to loans, to startup funds. And you know, there's things like the small business--the small--all of these acronyms--the Small Business Initiative Program that is making capital available to states and tribal entities and communities in around the country that's helping to create this--that economic opportunity through loans and other devices for small businesses around the country. So, there's a series of government programs that can help. You know, certainly the historically low interest rates that we've had for a while, you know, created that opportunity, and it will remain to be seen as interest rates rise up, you know, whether or not that does create problems for small businesses.

MS. CALDWELL: I want to ask about immigration. You know, unemployment is very low. But what role does immigration now, and also perhaps down the road, given the economic indicators that you see--how important is that going to play for these small businesses and these new businesses?

MS. BOUSHEY: You mean in terms of accessing workers?

MS. CALDWELL: Workers.

MS. BOUSHEY: Well, so one of the things that we've seen through the pandemic is that in the early part of the recovery from the pandemic, the return to work was somewhat slow. And so a lot of folks were sort of thinking about, well, you know, we have a lower rate of immigration, those workers are not here as they would have been in previous times, certainly that can provide that added labor supply. We've also seen in recent months especially the people coming back into the labor force, we've seen older folks who tend to cycle in and out of retirement coming back in more similar to traditional patterns. So, you do continue to see across the economy supply there--of course, there are some sectors where they are pinched. But, you know, immigration remains certainly an issue that the president is eager to work with Congress on. It was something that he talked about on day one. But, you know, it remains a challenging issue.

MS. CALDWELL: We don't have a lot of time left. But I do want to ask you, if you were someone who was going--had an idea for a small business, is now the time to do it?

MS. BOUSHEY: Oh, well, that's a great question. It all depends on what your business is, what your idea is. But certainly, it's an exciting time for a whole host of industries. You know, we've already talked a little bit about energy, clean energy. It's a very exciting time for innovation there. There's a lot of support and opportunity. It's also been a moment where we've seen a revitalization of small manufacturers as businesses are thinking about their supply chains. We've seen a lot of startups there. So that is certainly an area where there's opportunity. It's such a personal decision, what to do. But if folks have a good idea, then I think certainly this is a good--this is a good time to take advantage of it.

MS. CALDWELL: Great. Heather, thank you so much for your time today. Really appreciate it. Heather Boushey, with the president's Economic Council of Advisers.

[Applause]

MS. CALDWELL: And thank you all for joining us in the audience and online, and you can go to a Washington Post Live to get transcripts of this, watch this all again. And thank you.

[End recorded session]

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