Update on 80,000 Hours May 2015 – June 2016

80,000 Hours is a non-profit that gives you the information you need to find a fulfilling, high-impact career. Our advice is all free, tailored for talented graduates, and based on five years of research alongside academics at Oxford. Start with our career guide.

This is a quick update on our progress over the last year. Our next annual review, in which we’ll vet everything in more depth, will be around January 2017.

Some key takeaways:

  • Compared to the previous year, the rate of new newsletter subs increased about 16-fold, and rate of new impact-adjusted significant plan changes increased 3-fold. We now have over 50,000 on our list, and have recorded over 870 impact-adjusted significant plan changes in total.
  • We’ve continued to find impressive plan changes, and plan changers from previous years have continued to have an impact (see examples below).
  • Over the year, cost per plan change halved.
  • During the year, we (i) went through Y Combinator (ii) greatly improved the online career guide, which now has about 100,000 unique readers per month, (iii) released Doing Good Better and (iv) developed a new 4h career workshop.
  • We had some disruptive team changes at the start of the period, but settled down to a strong team in the middle of the year.
  • We’ve added three great hires: Rob Wiblin (formerly CEO of CEA), Peter McIntyre (co-founder of EA Australia), and Jesse Avshalomov (former Head of Growth and Product at Teespring).
  • Going forward, we’ll focus on an outreach campaign to students Sept-Nov 2016, then improving the online guide in early 2017. Our aim is for the guide to become the best source of career advice for talented, socially-motivated, young graduates.

Our impact across the year

Here’s our key metrics for the top of our funnel (ultimately we care more about significant plan changes, which we report below).

Unique visitors to site
New newsletter subscribers

Our newsletter now has a total of over 50,000 subscribers, which we think makes it the largest in the effective altruism community (most others have about 10,000). Our total traffic also just overtook GiveWell, which we think is the next largest by traffic (we had 880,000 users over the 12 months ending June, compared to 860,000 when calculated the same way.)

Plan changes
Impact-adjusted plan changes

Monthly impact-adjusted significant plan changes

We now focus on “impact-adjusted significant plan changes” as our key measure of impact. Each week, we confirm or disconfirm every new plan change in our CRM, and rate it 0.1, 1, or 10 on impact. More on the definition of a plan change.

See more detail on our plan change metrics as of the end of 2015 in this post.

Examples of plan changes

Here’s some examples we have permission to share publicly:

David Goldberg created Founder’s Pledge, an organisation that encourages startup founders to donate at least 2% of exit value, and has already raised over $70 million in legally-binding pledges. David met Will through 80,000 Hours, and now CEA advises the founders on the most effective places to donate when they exit. We anticipate at least an extra $10 million going to effective charities, and likely several times that much from future growth. Even after adding a counterfactual adjustment and time-discounting, this alone could plausibly justify our entire costs to date (under $1 million). More info.

We found four new people who we have influenced, and who we expect to earn over $1 million per year earning to give, and give at least 25% to highly effective charities. If they stick at it for 4 extra years and we made it 30% more likely, then that’s at least $1.2 million extra raised as a result of our efforts (undiscounted).

Tara Mac Aulay worked in the Red Cross as a pharmacist but didn’t think she was having much impact. Due to 80,000 Hours she became actively involved in effective altruism and now has one of the most important positions at CEA. Read more.

We found two people who are now heavily involved in running important effective altruism student groups, and say they were significantly influenced by us.

Plan changes from previous years have continued to make an impact. The most exciting news this year came from the Global Priorities Project (GPP), a think tank that likely wouldn’t exist without 80,000 Hours. They had been advocating for a shift in UK aid spending from direct treatments to high priority research, and this year £2.5 billion was reallocated. GPP estimates the value of this change was equivalent to $2 – $30 billion donated to Against Malaria Foundation. This is a highly uncertain estimate, and we don’t know the extent to which GPP was responsible, but clearly even a small contribution could easily justify our costs over one hundred times over. (And GPP has been heavily focused on existential risk policy, which might be even more important.) More information.

Costs and cost-effectiveness

 Year ending May 2015Year ending May 2016
Costs/£ (not finalised)113,117181,630
Approximate team size, full-time equivalents inc. our share of CEA operations4.74.8
Cost per impact-adjusted plan change/£730354

This year, our team size remained roughly constant, while our budget increased 60%. The primary cause of the increase was one-off costs resulting from moving to the Bay Area from June to September 2015 to participate in Y Combinator, followed by salary increases (though our costs remained under £40,000 per staff member, including all non-salary spending).

In the same period, the number of impact-adjusted plan changes tracked increased 230%. As a result, cost per plan change halved. Because people who changed plans in previous years have continued to have a larger and larger impact, we think the expected impact of a plan change has more likely increased than decreased. So that means our cost-effectiveness has at least doubled.

Given the studies of plan changes above, and past evaluations, we think it’s clear our impact has been greater than our costs, and plausibly hundreds of times greater.

Main progress during the year

In June to September 2015 we took part in Y Combinator, the world’s top startup accelerator, and learned a great deal about how to grow rapidly. During the program, we decided to shift our focus towards online content rather than coaching, because it’s more scalable. Since then, our key priority has been improving the online content. Most importantly:

  • In August we added a new career quiz, based on our in-depth career reviews (of which we added 17 this year). It has now received over 350,000 pageviews.
  • In September we added a career decision tool that now has almost 1,000 users per week and is responsible for many of our plan changes.
  • In May we added a greatly expanded career guide. It now has 8 core articles of around 3,000 words each, and 8 accompanying videos.
  • These improvements have greatly increased the conversion rate of page traffic to newsletter subscriptions and then to plan changes, which is why the cost per plan change has dropped so much.

In August, Will MacAskill’s book was released. Press coverage was better than expected, and while sales were worse than expected (under 20,000 so far), it has done well among influential people, landing Will meetings with Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn), Gordon Brown and several multibillion dollar foundations.

In December we developed a new 4-hour career workshop, which we found is much more effective at bringing about plan changes than one-on-one coaching. We’ve now given the workshop 13 times to over 250 people, and it helped form the basis for the new career guide. Just recently, we hired Peter (see below) to lead the scale up of our in-person advice.

Over the year, we made several new contributions to the effective altruism community on career choice strategy, listed here (in addition to more career reviews and our core guide content).

We also made some great hires:

  • Rob Wiblin left his position as CEO of CEA to become our Head of Research. He’s the perfect person for the role.
  • Jesse Avshalomov joined us as Head of Growth in July. He left his position as the Head of Growth and Product at Teespring, a $1bn startup in the Bay Area where he led a team of around 20 people.
  • Peter McIntyre just started full time after a two month trial as Head of Workshops and Coaching. Peter recently finished four years of a medical degree, during which he ran a mobile phone repair company and EAGx Australia. He also dumpster dived for over a year so he could donate more to charity. Before university he worked as a door-to-door salesman for a year, and ended up leading a team of 10.
  • We also hired 2 freelancers – an illustrator who studied fine art at NYU and web engineer, who’s lead engineer for Coursera’s online translation platform.

Main challenges

We had some changes to the team in Summer 2015:

  • Peter Hartree, our web engineer, unexpectedly decided to leave and we’ve struggled to hire a replacement. Fortunately, he made it very easy to transition by continuing to work for us as a freelancer, and we’ve recently hired a new freelance engineer (though we still need to find a full-time person).
  • In September, Will stopped working on 80,000 Hours to focus on university teaching and running the rest of CEA.
  • In 2015 we offered someone a high responsibility position on the team, but both sides quickly realised it was a poor fit.

Due to these disruptions, we didn’t hire from September 2015 to March 2016. Instead, we refocused the team around a new core of Ben, Rob and Roman. This has been working really well, and we’ve started to selectively add new hires, starting with Peter from April and Jesse from July.

Plans for the next year

We’re moving back to the Bay Area in August, because we think the talent pool and ecosystem will make it easier to grow quickly in the long-term. The Bay Area has become the most active hub for effective altruism, and we have many contacts in its tech startup world through Y Combinator.

In September to December we’ll be putting on a major outreach campaign targeted at top universities for the start of the academic year.

In 2017, our key focus will be improving our online content and growing its user-base. The online content will likely have two key elements: (i) the guide – a series of articles and videos introducing our key ideas, and (ii) the tool – an application that leads you through all the key steps in career planning, personalised for your situation.

As we grow our audience, we’ll also be putting more focus on creating pathways to take readers of the guide into the most high value types of plan changes, such as entering politics or starting a new non-profit (e.g. career reviews focused on these options, mentors, creating an “advanced” career guide).

In 18 months, our aim is to have our guide be widely recognised as the world’s highest-quality source of career advice for socially motivated graduates.

This would lead to thousands of plan changes each year, and a significant fraction of the most talented graduates taking high impact careers.

More information

Hopefully this update has helped to give a sense of our progress over the last year. If you have any questions, please email direct.ben@80000hours.org.

More information can be found by following the links below: