80k supporter update - end of Q1 2020 & COVID-19 update

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Benjamin Todd

Apr 24, 2020, 6:43:11 PM4/24/20
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Hi everyone,

I hope you’ve been keeping as well as possible given the events of the last few months.


How we’re coping with COVID-19


We’ve been lucky to be in a fortunate position with respect to COVID-19. We’re mostly young and healthy, were sufficiently concerned about it early on to take action, and we’ve kept our jobs. 


Still, many of us found following the news or worrying about family members both distracting and stressful. It’s also taken our staff a week or so to make preparations, figure out their new work and accommodation setups, and to settle into them. 


Fortunately, we already had systems in place for remote work, so the move to working from home has been relatively painless and we’ve been at close-to-normal levels of productivity since the end of March.


Our efforts to fight COVID-19


We decided to spend two weeks where we made helping to fight COVID-19 our main focus. In total, we've perhaps allocated about 2% of team time over 2020 directly to this work.


This led to a package of eleven articles which are summarised here, and listed here. The bulk of these, except the podcasts, were written in this two week period.


We’ve received an unusual amount of positive feedback for this content, perhaps especially for Rob’s Twitter which gave early warnings, and his two podcasts with Howie. For instance, Max Roser (CEO of Our World in Data) tweeted “Robert Wiblin is someone I learn a lot from”.


In terms of views, Rob’s tweets also received millions of views per week for several weeks. Our most crowd-pleasing article - ‘Good news about COVID-19’ went viral on FB receiving over 150,000 views. Our article on how to use your time to contribute has received over 20,000 views. 80k’s content on COVID-19 was linked to on the Guardian, Marginal Revolution, Slate Star Codex, Vox, and by Steven Pinker, among others.


We hope this content helped people to be better informed, and maybe enabled some to respond more effectively to the crisis, though we’re not yet aware of any plan changes.


We also headhunted for some key positions in the policy response. We haven’t yet had any major placements, though did place a researcher into a volunteer position in the human challenge trials.


Our greater contribution most likely comes from past plan changes who switched into biosecurity in earlier years, and we were excited to see some of them making significant contributions. For example, Dr. Cassidy Nelson (whose plan change we discuss here) is working on this study of the community prevalence of COVID-19. We also recently interviewed her about policies to prevent this and future pandemics


To build on the increased interest we expect to see in the area, we now plan to focus more on articles and efforts aimed at preventing the next pandemic. We have already released a new problem profile on catastrophic biological risks, a podcast with the author, and over 80 jobs on our job board – this is the first time we’ve featured a substantial number of biorisk jobs on the board.

Summary metrics


All figures are approximate.

Cash reserves (end March 2020)


Average monthly costs over last 6 months (end March 2020)


Cash reserves divided by costs last month


Months’ runway (rough estimate based on expansion budget, including commitments to donate, as of end March 2020)



# of salaried employees (FTE, excluding freelancers)



1.4 FTE 

Morale (on a scale of 1-10, full-time staff average)


Growth metrics

Our main outcome metric is ‘top plan changes’, but it is hard to measure and very laggy (it roughly takes 3 years from someone to find out about us to making a top plan change). So, we have decided to track it annually.

Here is the update in the count from our last annual review:

We now prefer to present our top plan changes by our best guess at the year they were caused, though the lag makes it hard to infer a rate of growth from the graph. You can see more information on our historical impact in the annual review.

On a quarterly basis, each team will set their own ‘lead metrics’, which aim to give a faster-moving measure of progress. We report the most important of these below.

-----------------------Full update -----------------------

Key lead metric targets from bout 5 & 6 2019 (10th Sept - 24th Dec)

Bout 5 2019



Difference from


Number of people advised




Number of plan change relevant content releases.




Tech team milestones completed




Bout 6 2019



Difference from


Number of plan change relevant content releases




Tech team milestones completed




Key progress over bout 5 & 6 2019

Over bout 5 and 6 at the end of 2019, our main focus was the annual review.

We also continued to deliver our programmes, as covered in the metrics above, releasing 13.5 pieces of content, completing several tech projects (such as filters for the job board), advising 37 people, and doing some headhunting.

Within headhunting, we started to experiment with a ‘person first’ approach, in which we aim to identify new promising people in the community, then see if they’re good fit for any of the roles we know about, rather than starting with roles and finding people for them.

We also ran a hiring round to find an office manager (unsuccessfully) and attended EAG London.

Bout 1 2020 key lead metric targets (7th Jan - 17th March)



Difference from


Number of plan change relevant content releases




Tech team milestones completed






Key progress over bout 1 (excluding COVID-19 work mentioned above)


  • Research: The team published 15 pieces, exceeding their target of 12. That included well-received interviews with Cassidy Nelson on preventing pandemics, Will MacAskill on moral philosophy, and Toby Ord on his new book The Precipice. We also put out a podcast version of all our key ideas and a list of criticisms of us from anonymous writers we admire. Finally, we soft-launched some coverage of 'Potentially pressing issues we haven’t yet investigated', and other 'Career paths that may turn out to be promising'.

  • Web & Tech: The job board sent 20K clicks through to hiring org vacancy pages. Welcomed Maria Gutierrez to the team as a full-time staff member rather than a contractor, as product manager of the job board. Helped with promotion for Toby Ord's new book. Completed major internal systems work to support the headhunting team.

  • Advising: We replied to everyone on the waitlist and had 37 calls, exceeding the target of 34. Capacity was low because Jenna focused on hiring an office manager/team assistant and Michelle was on maternity leave for the first half. 

  • Headhunting: Tracked 50 calls, 26 submissions, and 3 placements. Their focus has been continuing to experiment with a ‘person first’ approach, centralising disparate data, and taking the very best few role-driven headhunting opportunities.

  • Internal systems: Oversaw office fitout (now paused due to COVID-19) and tried unsuccessfully to hire an office manager/team assistant (also now paused due to COVID-19). 



All content released 10th Sept to 17th March


Plans for bout 2 2020 (11 weeks)

During bout 2, I’m going to focus on research and writing, and will do a reduced frequency of meetings and internal comms. In this time, I’ll be aiming to resolve some of the key uncertainties in our advice (such as determining the significance of ‘broad’ longtermism for career choice), and to continue to develop the key ideas series, which explains our most important advice.

We’ve debated how much I should spend on research/writing compared to management, and it’s a tough tradeoff. In 2017, I did much more of this work, but the amount declined significantly into 2019 due to the greater overhead of managing a larger team.

There are certain aspects of research/writing – especially those that relate to what the core advice should be – that are still difficult to delegate, but seem very high-value, and I think it makes sense for me to continue some work on those at least until they’re more systematised (and so easier to delegate). I also think that because our fundamental value-add is our ideas, it’s important for me to maintain a cutting-edge understanding of effective altruism (and this work tends to feed into our org strategy pretty directly). Finally, I find this work very motivating. Overall, I’d like to aim to reserve about 25% of my time over the year for research and writing, which will be especially focused into the next bout (e.g. to reserve Q4 for the annual review). I’ll return to a normal level of meetings in bout 3.

The rest of the team will push ahead with:

  • Research: Release at least 12 pieces of content, likely with a special focus on GCBRs (as well as supporting me in my research). 

  • Web & Tech: Besides supporting other teams, the main focus will be improving the job board. Some features under consideration include: adding an FAQ, an email alerts feature and a login option.

  • Advising: Prioritising work on strategy and product design - including reviewing which aspects of the product have been most crucial for past plan changes, and experimenting with ways to scale some parts of the process more efficiently (e.g. adding better prep documents). We’ll welcome Habiba Islam onto the team midway through the bout. 

  • Headhunting: Focused on centralising data, as well as continuing to test person-first headhunting.

  • Internal systems: Starting the next iteration of impact evaluation, and working on office manager hiring.

Till the next update,


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