Will we fund "Business Skills Coaching for EA Orgs"?
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resolved Oct 7
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YES

Will the project "Business Skills Coaching for EA Orgs" receive receive any funding from the Clearer Thinking Regranting program run by ClearerThinking.org?

Remember, betting in this market is not the only way you can have a shot at winning part of the $13,000 in cash prizes! As explained here, you can also win money by sharing information or arguments that change our mind about which projects to fund or how much to fund them. If you have an argument or public information for or against this project, share it as a comment below. If you have private information or information that has the potential to harm anyone, please send it to clearerthinkingregrants@gmail.com instead.


Below, you can find some selected quotes from the public copy of the application. The text beneath each heading was written by the applicant. Alternatively, you can click here to see the entire public portion of their application.

Why the applicant thinks we should fund this project

Many EA organizations would be substantially more likely to succeed if they had access to high-quality coaching on practical business skills in areas such as leadership, management and recruitment. I aim to test a scalable solution to that problem. This project has a relatively good chance of success and little risk of causing harm.

Here's the mechanism by which the applicant expects their project will achieve positive outcomes.

  • Dedicated attention from an expert coach is the most effective way of developing practical business skills

  • Problems that stop EA orgs growing successfully will be avoided because leadership teams are better equipped and can troubleshoot problems as they arise with an experienced coach

  • Group coaching workshops with 10 attendees each, a set agenda, a centralized client management person and an online client portal that automates much of the admin would allow this to be offered at scale to many EA organizations quickly

  • To ensure the best coaching outcomes we would: use coaches with backgrounds either in senior leadership positions or who have grown successful businesses themselves; a focus on accountability and implementation; and coaching on fears, identity and mindset shifts as well as direct skills education.

How much funding are they requesting?

$44,000

Here you can review the entire public portion of the application (which contains a lot more information about the applicant and their project):

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1NI1ij4KN8y3uztvBFvxJudbhnuHbW57E1ut8AAMqQ90/edit#

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I think that the value of training organization leaders to be more competent is higher if their competency is almost there to begin with, and if budget group coaching is going to have a big impact, then maybe they were not the right person to do the job in the first place.

@RuthGraceWong It really is cheap though, and might be worth funding just to see if the spaghetti sticks

predicted YES

$44,000 seems like an awfully good deal, for something that could potentially double the maturation of the entire EA movement. Even if the program itself only targets management, I can definitely see the skills trickling down e.g. via Lesswrong and rationality meetups. Maybe people will even write manuals for general-competence such as the CFAR handbook.

I think that if this project was really competitive it would not need to be grant-funded as others have said. If it can't generate revenue in exchange for the services it is offering then this does not really inspire confidence in the quality of the business coaching!

predicted NO

@felixeno1 Also surely they should be applying for a start-up loan rather than a grant format?

predicted NO

@felixeno1 Organizations like 80,000 hours make more sense as charitable causes because they are providing advice to individual students, not B2B services.

predicted NO

@felixeno1 I notice from Linkedin that the creator has also been affiliated with Clearer Thinking at least in the past.

predicted YES

@felixeno1 ?!?! Business loan?!? Are you a time traveler from the 1970s?!?

predicted NO

@BTE Loan, SAFE, whatever. I'm not sure what funding structure they are offering

predicted YES

@felixeno1 Well, HUGE differences between all the options. In this case, since these are regrants from FTXFF they are probably SAFE, and as a startup that is the only good option. A loan needs to be paid back and also requires a personal guarantee if you are a startup, and even sometimes if you aren't a startup. If they are a non-profit they can only take grants as startup money. It is hard to imagine generating enough revenue out of the gate for this group to do anything other than a SAFE or grant, though based on the hyper-capitalist theme of this proposal I bet they are a for-profit corporation.

predicted NO

@BTE looking into it you're right, Clearer Thinking offer a YC SAFE. But only non-profit projects were allowed to apply for the grant option, for-profit projects HAD to apply for an investment. So I'm not sure this complies with the competition rules, since they are saying below that they will be selling the training to orgs once it has gone through development. Anyway it's hard to imagine how a non-profit business training organisation fits into this type of regrant.

predicted NO

@felixeno1 It seems this is actually a for-profit startup, but has applied for grant funding anyway:

"[Please only answer this if this project is a for-profit investment, such as a startup company.] What is the structure of this investment? (We strongly prefer a standard YC SAFE. In such cases, the money would be an investment rather than a grant.)"

@BTE

“based on the hyper-capitalist theme of this proposal I bet they are a for-profit corporation.”

It’s just me responsible for launching this. I read Will MacAskill’s book, made friends with a load of amazing EA folks and wanted to spend my career doing the most good I can. Business coaching is the industry I’ve worked in for the past decade so this project is where I think I can add the most value.

But happy to take bets on whether I’m secretly a hyper-capitalist for-profit corporation :)

predicted YES

@BrynHopewell Love it!! Please allow me to relabel you a 'way chill capitalist' living the post-profit life to the fullest!!

I was already betting YES on this, now I am doubling down...

Who are the business coaches? Feels like if we don't have those then this is a much worse project. Presumably some business coaches are great and some are charlatans. How are you gonna tell them apart?

@NathanpmYoung

Hi, Bryn here, project leader on this grant application. 

Agreed, the business coaching industry is a mess and there are indeed many charlatans!

For the trial that this grant would cover, the majority of the coaching would be done by a coach called Parag Prasad. He’s worked with hundreds of CEOs over the past 15 years plus Senior Directors at EA organisations like GFI and EA Cambridge. There are more details on him in the Google Doc linked above.

The format in the trial – fortnightly boardroom-style group coaching sessions with 10 participants – means one coach could run a lot of these groups and fulfil demand by themselves for a while.

Once Parag is at capacity (assuming EA clients like him and we continue using him) how do I recruit more coaches and tell the great ones from the charlatans?

I’ve done it before and I guess the answer is you just put in the necessary legwork: blocking off lots of time in the diary for recruitment, asking everyone in your network for recommendations, if you think you’ve got a good potential be really tenacious about reaching out and selling them on the job offer. Set very high standards: Probably they graduated from a top university; definitely their CV says they’ve done impressive and difficult things since (as an entrepreneur/executive/leader not just as a coach). Judge them on legible signals of expertise,  a very thorough referencing process and recommendations from people you trust more than how well they interview. Do a mock coaching session. If they’re going to be facilitating workshops get them to plan and run one for you in front of a small audience. And then of course be willing to admit you were wrong asap and try again until you get it right.

That’s my current model but it’s open to change.

@BrynHopewell Why would this need to be subsidized, as opposed to orgs paying you for your services?>

@NuñoSempere

Hi Nuno

Good question. We do currently have pro bono and paying EA clients.

Some reasons why funding could make sense for this project…

  1. Upfront costs

Developing the curriculum, creating the systems, recruiting the participants, setting up data collection, finding and consulting advisors… there are one-off upfront costs to create the programme and no guarantee it’s going to be a success. Afterwards it’s much cheaper to duplicate and scale. So the funder would be taking on the risk of the first one in order to incentivise the creation and testing of programmes designed specifically for the EA community which wouldn’t get made otherwise.

  1. Feedback

I want to gather a lot of feedback. Being able to tell participants “we’re offering this for free / heavily discounted if you fill out these surveys and agree to give detailed feedback” should mean we get a lot more data. Funders probably care a lot about us gathering effectiveness data.

  1. Speed

Some EAs have said things like: they have a fixed $500/year training budget (not enough to cover our costs) but after back and forth with their colleagues and negotiating on price they were able to afford much more. Another said they could apply for funding themselves to cover coaching fees but it could take a while. If getting participants enrolled involves a different unpredictable time delay each time that slows everything down. I’ve also got a list of pre-vetted EA Directors who have applied for pro bono coaching ready to go. I think the strategy should be build something and gather user feedback as quickly as possible. If it’s free or charged at a nominal cost we can also justify it being a bit more experimental feeling and less polished where that’s the right trade off in terms of moving fast.

What others are doing…

I know at least 1 freelance EA coach who got funding and then moved to orgs paying them directly once they were more established. 

I believe CFAR (who are closer to us in terms of multiple salaries, overheads, etc.) are funded by grants and offer programmes in development to participants at zero cost, then when they’re officially released charge for them but with the option to waive up to 100% of the fees if the participant can’t afford it. That might be the model we end up going for.

@BrynHopewell CFAR is a for-profit org though. The Clearer Thinking Regrants rules did say that for-profit startups must apply for funding through an investment structure. Could you clarify if this project will be fully non-profit?

@felixeno1

Hey Felix

I think you’re wrong about CFAR. From their website footer: “The Center for Applied Rationality is a non-profit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization”. 

As a non-profit you can charge for services, although obviously not to the level where you generate a profit.

From CFAR’s FAQ page: “The price covers the cost of the workshop itself, plus approximately half of CFAR’s operating expenses—the other half is covered by donations and grants… There is a pool of scholarship money for every workshop for promising participants who can’t otherwise afford to attend.“

That’s the kind of thing I had in mind when I mentioned CFAR’s model. In that model, if we do end up charging coaching fees they would all go back into the non-profit rather than being used to turn a profit.