Safety + Trust + Tech Spotlight: Omar Cameron, Stripe

Omar Cameron

Omar might not be who you expect as a seasoned Silicon Valley operator. After completing his joint law and business degrees, he knew his background would be relevant to the growing startup ecosystem, so he and his now-wife packed up their lives in Louisiana and drove across the country for a new adventure in the Bay

Omar soon landed a job in user ops at Stripe, a team at Stripe known for taking generalists. After a few weeks in the role, he started to get thrown a lot of side work from the legal team (at the time consisting of Stripe’s GC and one other attorney). And in a short time, Omar was brought on to found the legal operations team at Stripe!

Omar below shared with me his insights on the importance of safety-oriented minds and building frameworks for bad usage from the ground up.

Early on you need at least someone giving things a second look and de-risking potential scenarios

Early on at startups, you want a healthy sense of paranoia. It certainly doesn’t need to be everyone, but you do need to be willing to give things a second look and de-risking potential scenarios that could happen to the company. For me, my lens as a black man in America made me suited for that role: I’d say I’m inherently optimistic but know that the world isn’t equitably distributed for everyone. To that end, I was comfortable being the voice in the room making sure we gave things a second look. I think having team members with this mindset, geared specifically towards safety, is what separates companies that do things well from companies that do things very well AND scale healthily.

There are very few rules for creating a framework for bad usage, it’s all about figuring out what’s right for your company

The User Ops team at Stripe was known to do more of the traditional support work. They were the first point of contact for most of Stripe’s users. Early on in Stripe’s company arc, trust and safety operational work was handled by a distinct risk operations team. One of the roles of legal operations was to work cross-functionality with the risk and user operations teams, to instill mindfulness of how Stripe was used by different parties, particularly as it relates to Stripe’s terms of service. We couldn’t have Stripe being used to power payments on the dark web, or for nefarious, inappropriate, and or illegal exchanges — such as child abuse material. As the founder of the team, I had to figure out frameworks for escalating investigations of such occurrences to the appropriate authorities.

A guiding principle of Stripe’s early legal team was to operate as a partner to the rest of the organization, not a blocker. This meant finding ways to help other teams unlock their entrepreneurial potential in a safe, calculated manner. With regards to helping other teams navigate trust and safety issues, this often meant artfully working with teams to understand and get the most out of our contractual agreements. Oftentimes frameworks for inappropriate usage are based on the company’s Terms of Service. Stripe had very clear agreements and legal responsibilities on who could use the company for payments and who couldn’t. We also had partnerships with other companies, like Visa, which further placed limits on the type of activity we could allow. So the first step of putting together our framework was knowing what Stripe signed on paper.

The second part of our framework was based on a playbook we developed from real-time instances. When bad instances happened, we as a team decided on responses and slowly developed our internal playbook.

And finally, the third part of our framework came from our company’s values. Who did we want to be as a company? What values around bad content reflected that? Leadership would weigh in here: “we view freedom of speech as X”, “Y is what we want our ecosystem to feel like.” That directly shaped where we drew the line.

The reality is there are very few rules when creating a framework for bad usage. It’s all about figuring out what’s right for your company given all of the above. If there was a clear blueprint all these orgs would look the same and have the same policies! The policies you start with early on will also not stay that way — they’ll continue to develop and become more or less strict depending on how all of the above change and the future partnerships your org enters into.

Think about the different stresses leadership is balancing

Leadership has various stresses on them: they often feel as though they can’t sacrifice any type of growth. If, as a trust and safety operator, you can understand what their stresses are, you’ll be able to shape a stronger argument for where they should make growth-related sacrifices for safety. Identify leadership’s high item goals early on, and attempt to create synergy between their goals and your own. Tying your Trust and Safety goals to their higher-level ones will make it much easier to get buy-in.

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Melda Gurakar

Melda Gurakar

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Privacy and safety dedicated technologist. Formerly: @Harvard, @GoogleJigsaw