Okay, I think it would be helpful to clarify some definitions.
I read your use of "separate organization" to mean a fully independent organization not operating under the legal entity of Nonlinear at all. That's because you talk about Alice using Nonlinear's bank account, ops support, etc. as evidence that she does not have a separate org, while these things would all be perfectly normal for an incubated or fiscally sponsored org. Ben never claims, and never claims that Alice claimed, that she had a fully independent entity of this type. When he says she "gave Nonlinear ownership" of the organization, I did not read that as him saying that she transferred legal control of an indendent entity, but ceded practical control of the project she was incubating inside Nonlinear. I think this is more consistent with the other quotes from Ben's document, where he says that the organization was indeed using Nonlinear's bank account and being incubated by Nonlinear.
I was using fiscally sponsorsed and incubated interchangeably, and apologize for any confusion that may have caused. In my parlance, these would be equivalent – an incubated org is understood to be under the control of the incubatee while being fiscally sponsored by the incubator, but it seems that you (and maybe the rest of Nonlinear?) are working with a different definition of one or both terms. Certainly I would naturally assume that project with the intent to spin out is an incubated organization, since the whole point of incubating an org is that it would one day spin out and become independent!
I don't find the fact that Alice is described as a "Project Manager" very compelling either way, since I can't tell how you're using that term, and elsewhere you seem to use it to refer to the heads of incubated organizations.
I have read all the evidence you've provided, and as I explain in my earlier post, I don't think any of it clearly establishes that Alice was not the head of a project under Nonlinear as opposed to an incubated org. Everything you describe would be perfectly normal for the head of an incubated org.
I don't have a strong opinion about what was actually going on, because the situation seems incredibly confusing. I mostly object to your characterization that Alice must have been delusional to think she was running her own incubated org. I am reasonably familiar with nonprofit law and the spin-out process, and I'm confused about whether Alice was running an incubated org. Your statements here have not made it easier to understand whether or not Alice was running an incubated org, or indeed what Nonlinear management understands an incubated org to be.
In any case, if Alice was not running an incubated org, that means that she was brought on with the expectation that she would be incubating her own project, and instead ended up responsible for a different project over which she had significantly less control and leadership, and (it sounds like) never had this change in responsibility fully clarified. After looking over the evidence that exists in writing, I'm pretty convinced that at the very least there was a very significant failure of communication and expectation-setting here.
One of the big disputes here is over whether Alice was running her own incubated organization (which she could reasonably expect to spin out) or just another project under Nonlinear. Since Kat cites this as significant evidence for Alice's unreliability, I wanted to do a spot-check.
(Because many of the claims in this response are loosely paraphrased from Ben's original post, I've included a lot of quotes and screenshots to be clear about exactly who said what. Sorry for the length in advance.)
Let's start with claims in Ben's original post:
Alice joined as the sole person in their incubation program. She moved in with them after meeting Nonlinear at EAG and having a ~4 hour conversation there with Emerson, plus a second Zoom call with Kat. Initially while traveling with them she continued her previous job remotely, but was encouraged to quit and work on an incubated org, and after 2 months she quit her job and started working on projects with Nonlinear.
One of the central reasons Alice says that she stayed on this long was because she was expecting financial independence with the launch of her incubated project that had $100k allocated to it (fundraised from FTX). In her final month there Kat informed her that while she would work quite independently, they would keep the money in the Nonlinear bank account and she would ask for it, meaning she wouldn’t have the financial independence from them that she had been expecting, and learning this was what caused Alice to quit.
These are the only mentions I can find of Alice running an incubated project. An important point: Ben never says that Alice thought she was running a separate organization. He represents Alice as claiming that her organization was fiscally sponsored by Nonlinear and shared a bank account and operational resources, but operated independently and planned to spin out in the future.
Now let's look at Kat's counterclaims, starting from page 91 of the appendix:
False claim example: “as she quit she gave Nonlinear (on their request) full ownership of the organization that she had otherwise finished incubating.” She’s clearly still telling Ben that the Productivity Fund was a separate organization. “Her” incubated organization. Which is so strange because we told her again and again and again that it was a project under Nonlinear. That it wasn’t her own organization. And she’d say “Yes, I get it.” Then she’d come back a few days later thinking it was hers.
This is supported by a screenshot which shows minutes from a meeting on April 14, 2022, listing Kat as "Supreme Commander" and a redacted name (presumably Alice) as "PM."
Kat also includes a screenshot of a Whatsapp conversation with Alice about her organization/project, the Productivity Fund. The texts show that 1) money for the Productivity Fund was raised from FTX, and 2) Alice could spend money "as [she] saw fit" as long as it's within scope for the original application. If she wanted to do something out of scope for the Productivity Fund, she wouldn't be able to use their allocated budget.
Finally, Kat says Alice wasn't running her own organization, because she was still "Attending Nonlinear weekly meetings, Getting expenses reimbursed by Nonlinear, Using a Nonlinear email address, Having Chloe, our operations manager, handle her operations"
In summary: Kat says that Alice's project was not an incubated organization at all, but only a project under Nonlinear. But the evidence she cites isn't conclusive either way.
I think this is due to some confusion about how incubation/fiscal sponsorship works. As an example, I run an organization (Asterisk Magazine) which is fiscally sponsored by another organization (Effective Ventures Foundation U.S.). This means that I report to the CEO of EVF, my organization's allocated funding is housed in EVF's bank account, and many of my ops tasks, like accounting and finance, are handled by EVF's staff. However, I have full control over the project I run, and I'm currently in the process of spinning out into a separate organization – at which point the funds I've raised would follow me. In this case, EVF is acting as an incubator to help me get Asterisk off the ground while I build up operational capacity.
Everything Kat shows here is consistent with Alice running her own incubated organization. It's normal for the head of an incubated organization to report to the CEO of their fiscal sponsor, use their fiscal sponsor's operational resources, and be reimbursed by their fiscal sponsor for expenses. I think that the Whatsapp messages support this interpretation – Kat is telling Alice that she can use the money raised from an outside funder for her organization however she wants, but can't use those funds for other projects (just like I can't use funds allocated for another EVF project to support Asterisk).
Kat keeps talking about Alice being confused and thinking she was running a "separate org" – e.g. "This is where Alice, again, thinks that it’s a separate organization and that I’ve given her $240,000. Her only evidence for this strange idea is her memory of the conversation" and "Alice misunderstood this as it being a separate org again. Maybe it’s because she kept getting confused about the possibility of spinning out in the future?" But it's really unclear to me if Alice ever believed this, or if she thought she was running a fiscally sponsored organization which would one day be independent and whose budget she controlled. This is what Ben's original post says, and nothing here disproves that interpretation.
On the other hand, there is a fair amount of evidence suggesting that at the time, Nonlinear and Alice both understood Alice to be incubating her own organization.
Here's Alice's job description from Nonlinear's website at the time she worked there:
(Note: This screenshot comes from an archived version of Nonlinear's about page. I'm not providing a link because this would reveal Alice's identity, and I strongly urge everyone reading this not to use this information to dox her. I realize posting this at all caries some doxxing risk, and if mods want me to take it down of course I'll do so.)
Here, Alice is clearly referred to as a incubatee building up her own project, though the project listed here (Idea Market) is different from the project Kat discusses (Productivity Fund). This listing also seems to use incubatee and project manager interchangeably, which could contribute to the confusion over how much independence Alice was supposed to have.
There's also an EA forum comment from Kat talking about incubating a "promising woman" to run an unspecified charity. Based on the dates, I think this has to be referring to Alice.
[EDIT: a friend points out that Kat refers to Alice as an independent founder in the appendix, too. "Some of Alice’s stories suddenly make no sense when you know she only worked for us for 4 months, and the plan was she’d soon leave to start her own charity - the opposite of controlling" (page 22), "Even though she was there as a friend, Emerson was not charging her rent and was covering groceries while she, a founder, figured out what x-risk charity to start next" (page 22), "We thought [Alice] might spin [the Productivity Fund] out, depending on how it goes, in like, 6 months to 1.5 years maybe" (page 96). All of this seems to suggest an environment where it was generally assumed that Alice was running her own project that she was planning to spin out! I can see why the situation might seem unclear to her.]
At this point, I'm pretty confused. Alice's bio refers to the "Idea Market" and clearly lists this as her incubated organization. Ben's post also refers to Alice's incubated organization, and says that it had a budget of $100k. But Kat's post refers to the "Productivity Fund," which has a budget of $240k. It's unclear to me if these are separate projects with their own budgets, or if the scope and nature of Alice's project changed while she worked at nonlinear.
In either case, it seems disingenuous of Kat to express total befuddlement at Alice's belief that she was running her own incubated org. It might be that Kat is using a nonstandard definition of "incubate" that includes projects that remain within Nonlinear and never become independent, but this seems inconsistent with Nonlinear's description of their incubation program on their current home page, which does explicitly talk about launching new charities:
Our goal is to 10x the number of talented people working on x-risk by launching dozens of high impact charities. This helps solve the bottlenecks because entrepreneurs “unlock” latent EA talent - if one person starts an organization that employs 100 people who weren’t previously working on AI safety, that doubles the number of people working on the problem.
It seems very likely to me that both Alice and Kat were confused about what being an incubated organization entailed, and had trouble communicating their expectations with each other.
On the other hand, looking at the public descriptions of Alice's project and Alice's role, I'm troubled by how Nonlinear characterizes it in this rebuttal. The rebuttal makes it sound like Alice would have to be delusional or dishonest to understand the project as "her incubated project", and also claims that the only record of this is Alice's (presumed suspect) memory, when there's in fact documentation that Alice was supposed to be incubating a project. I find this especially concerning because it's part of a larger pattern of Nonlinear mischaracterizing statements by Ben, Alice, or Chloe, which has been pointed out in other spot-checks and leaves me with very serious doubts about their integrity.
This seems to be an issue on mailchimp's end, not ours – their servers have been having outages all morning. I recommend trying again in a bit.
We're working on it! The logistics of setting up print subscriptions in a way that syncs with our printer turned out to be pretty complicated and we didn't want to delay the launch further, but the store should be live in a couple of days.
The web store should be live in a couple of days.
Thanks for bringing this to my attention! I'll talk to my web developer right away.
I have a PDF of the print version I'm happy to send to you – if there's a lot of demand, I'll put it up on the website.
Asterisk is a new quarterly magazine/journal of ideas from in and around the EA community. For more about who we are and what we do, check out our forum post. We're hiring for the following roles – you can apply for any of them except Managing Editor here.
We're still working on the design/identity development process, but watch this space.
Perhaps I should have been clearer in my initial post – Asterisk is a popular magazine, not a scientific journal. I'll be selecting pieces, with consultation from coworkers and subject matter experts in situations where that's appropriate.