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07/18/2018 |

“Authenticity. Respect. Impact. Empowerment.” These are the words that are fashioned in large mosaic style on every floor of the Hustle.Inc headquarters in downtown San Francisco. Ysiad Ferreiras, the current Chief Operating Officer, hones in on the word “respect”.

“To do anything [regarding the other three core values of ‘Hustle’] you have to respect other people and you have to respect yourself. Respect your time on this planet. Respect all the resources that went into all of us and all of our educations. . . to be where we’re at right now. If you have respect for that, that’s going to drive you to have maximum impact.”

Ysiad was not brought on as COO immediately. His story at ‘Hustle’, the peer-to-peer text messaging platform, begins in 2015 as a member of the sales team. But his journey; the life source that he draws from to advocate for diversity and inclusion in tech, starts long before the creation of ‘Hustle’ and the tech boom. Ysiad’s story, as many know, begins in the Bronx.

Still, before the Bronx, as with all immigrant stories, the story never truly starts with homebase. Nor does it necessarily begin with the protagonist. The story starts in the Dominican Republic, the former home of Ysiad’s single mother who left her home country and came to America as a teenager.

Unlike many leaders in tech, Ysiad rowed through the tumultuous currents of poverty and its accoutrements prior to ending up in the Bay Area. He was molded by the distinct flame placed underneath the underprivileged and the underdog. The insatiable heat that squeezes survival skills and internal will from one’s cranium with such ease that onlookers feel as though it is not acquired, but innate.

One does not have to search far to hear tales of preservation and grit finally meeting success. Often we hear it from the Jay-Z’s and Biggie Small’s of the world. Rarely do we hear it from the often “soft baked” leaders in the growing tech industry.

It is nothing short of poetic justice that Ferreiras ended up at a company entitled “Hustle”. A verb that does not merely describe what he had to do to survive prior to Silicon Valley, but rather the substance that runs through his veins.

From food stamp beginnings, to dodging gangs, to joining gangs, getting arrested, then finessing his way into an Ivy League University, Ysiad has been rowing upstream against a harsh wind for the better part of his life.

Some labor under the concept that “the past” does not “define” them. Ferreiras takes a stride in a different direction, bringing all of his experiences to work with him at ‘Hustle’.

“You’re always shaped by your experiences, you can never escape that. . .I still remember being scared while I was on probation and any random little thing could get me locked up.”

His past is the thread that ties him to disenfranchised people, not only in San Francisco, but globally. “The interesting thing about ‘Hustle’ is that our first markets were nonprofits, advocacy groups, getting in the political campaigns. Turning talk into action in regards to reaching out to people of color, and young people as well. [We’re focused on] doing things that directly get people of color particularly, people on the wrong side of the digital divide, more involved in politics. . . It’s core to what we do.”

Naturally, being from neighborhoods where outsiders were looked at with disdain, Ysiad –and ‘Hustle’ at large– understand the importance of collaborating with the movers and shakers on the ground level who have been rooted in the community. Especially here in San Francisco.

“And because this is what we do, we attract people who care about that. And when [a companies like ours] have the resources of being one the fastest growing companies in Silicon Valley history, well, you could do cool [things].”

One of those “cool things” has been teaming up with the Success Center San Francisco (SCSF)–led by the fearless executive director Liz Jackson-Simpson– particularly through one vital conduit plucked from the SCSF Youth/G.E.D. Prep program, Tristin Eng.

Tristin, a 21 year-old Asian American San Francisco native has had a similar 180 degree life turn-around, by way of SCSF, that very much so mirrors that of Ysiad. He has recently landed a full-time position at ‘Hustle’ and he is putting his head together with past SCSF mentors along with Ferreiras to open more doors from native San Franciscans in tech.

Tristin began coming to the start-up in October of 2017 after his Monday and Wednesday classes at City College. As an agreement between Ysiad, Liz Jackson-Simpson, and Rey LaChaux (business coordinator at the SCSF), he would do his homework at ‘Hustle’.

Feeling like a “fish out of water”, Eng described his first few interactions with the start-up as “kind of a culture shock”.

“Then I started to see people of color [at ‘Hustle]. And I thought ‘Oh that’s pretty sick!’ I didn’t expect a tech company to actually have that. I mean, you don’t expect it in the large percentages that are here [at ‘Hustle’ in particular].

He discovered that there were more San Francisco natives actually working in the startup than he would have thought. The broad stroke with which Eng previously painted Tech companies began to diminish.

“Not all tech companies are out to diminish, and appropriate, and gentrify neighborhoods. It’s just, sadly, some of the tech companies have done that. . . Tech companies with ties to the community are trying to alleviate those ill gains. That’s really the important part that I’ve learned here at ‘Hustle’; our biases really hold us in place so we don’t have room to grow.”

SCSF, Tristin, and Ferreiras are collaborating to create a “Desk program” for local young natives interested in tech. The goal is to alleviate the all too familiar unfamiliarity between the physical office spaces within the tech world and the lives of young coders and entrepreneurs.

Ferreiras elaborates, “What we want to do is have different startups have desks available for people from the community to go in and do homework, or spend a little bit of time. These aren’t going to be like formal internships or anything like that necessarily. It’s just like come in and do your coding bootcamp work or whatever it is that you’re doing. But do it in a startup environment. So that it’s not as big of a shock to come in for an interview later. So it’s not like a crazy code-switch for that person [because they will have become adjusted to the atmosphere].”

These collaborations will help abate the gap between having the skills and the preparation to do a job and not being a good “culture fit” for the work environment. Moreover, Ysiad hopes that it will be a mutually beneficial relationship between young SF natives and the tech companies. On one hand the young people will be able to visualize themselves in the tech world. On the other hand, their presences allows the start-up, should they be teetering towards more inclusivity, to start visualizing themselves as a more diverse and inclusive workplace in terms of gender, race, and class. Ysiad would love to have a couple more people from the Success Center.

“We’re here to help, that what we’re trying to do. . . There a few [tech companies] that are led by people who come from places like where the Success Center is located or where I came from.”

As with all power dynamics, with great power comes great responsibility. The tech world, unfortunately, has been unrestricted in their power and the local collateral damage has been tremendous. Not only has their image been tarnished amongst city natives by their lack of foresight for residential and overall economic inequities, their ability to extend a helping hand has also been compromised given that there is a general sentiment of distrust among the locals. It is therefore the responsibility of leaders such as Ysiad to step to bat and swing in the direction of inclusivity, diversity, and healing relationships. It is the responsibility of people on the ground level to unwaveringly advocate for their rights, hold local government and big tech accountable, and, when the opportunity presents itself, attempt to squeeze lemonade from the tech lemons they have been dealt. The latter is where symbiotic relationships, such as that between ‘Hustle’ and the Success Center San Francisco, are not only revolutionary but necessary.

It takes a special kind of individual who has the courage to change a system from within. It requires an extra level of cultural competence to form a partnership with one of the most highly-favored local non-profits and take in one of their star students. Ysiad Ferreiras may not be from the Bay, but he understands the overlaps between disenfranchisement and a growing frustration amongst the disenfranchised towards big money. He walks the tightrope as liaison between the two worlds with acute precision. His next moves, whether with SCSF or otherwise, are definitely to be watched.

by Michael Anderson

Tags: Hustle | success center sf | success story | tech.