Though many people feel outraged by current events taking place on American soil and abroad, the hurdle between anger and action often seems too broad to jump. Though many are armed with information (and more than enough articles to fuel their fire), figuring out how to actually make a difference isn’t only a tricky situation for individuals to figure out, but companies as well. And knowing which cause to focus on, when there are so many worthy reasons to give back? That’s a whole other ballpark.
For Dr. Ximena Hartsock, a Chilean-born entrepreneur, getting involved was never a question, but rather, a calling. And one that took her from her home country to the United States, where she began her education at George Washington, and later her career. She quickly found herself drawn to Washington working for the then-mayor Adrian Fenty. She explored many roles, starting as the administrator for DC Public Schools and then the Director of DC Parks and Recreation. The experience was inspiring and eye-opening, and it became the catalyst that got her truly thinking differently. “In 2010, when the mayor’s term ended, I helped form a national education advocacy group where I managed grassroots advocacy. Being in both of these roles - as a recipient of constituent communications and later in advocacy as a sender - helped me see the need for tools that bridge the gap,” she said.
Following the mayor's office’s, Hartsock became the Director of Grassroots for a national advocacy organization, where the idea for her now super-successful company, Phone2Action, was born. The platform helps companies and individuals raise funds and awareness for specific causes, and to date, 5 million people have used their services to connect with lawmakers, sending more than 10 million messages to officials and hundreds of thousands more via phone and social media.
While she’s now leading her company, she notes that really, it all starts from her passion: “I am an advocate at heart and started doing campaigns in middle school. Advocacy is the driving force of everything I do.”
Hartsock took time to chat with SWAAY about her inspiring tenure, what’s next for Phone2Action and what she’s learned as an entrepreneur:
What inspired you to start Phone2Action? How did you meet your cofounder?
Like I said, after leaving the DC Government, I became the Director of Grassroots for a national advocacy organization. In this role, I traveled the country encouraging parents and teachers to talk to their lawmakers about education issues and reform policies. I realized that most people didn’t even know who their lawmakers were or how to contact them. And more importantly, I recognized that there were no technologies available to help solve this problem.
So, I made it my mission to build a tool that would easily connect people with their lawmakers from their mobile devices. I knew that a tool like this could help people engage and participate in public policy so I decided to pursue the idea. As I searched for partners, I talked to many developers, and a friend suggested I reach out to Jeb Ory, who was building mobile apps at the time. He saw the business value of the idea and has been my partner and co-founder ever since. I would have not been able to build the company without him.
Phone2Action is the first company that created a multi-action, multi-channel mobile-responsive advocacy platform. This engagement platform sits at the intersection of mobile technology and social advocacy. We are venture-capital backed which helps fuel growth and innovation. We are redefining the market with a unique blend of software tools, revolutionizing how our clients can use software to create and run public policy campaigns. The country’s most innovative organizations use Phone2Action to power their campaigns.
What surprised you the most about becoming an entrepreneur?
I was surprised about the many myths that exist about entrepreneurship.
Some of those myths can be detrimental to women, because we sometimes tend to question our own skills, abilities and/or preparedness. Several people told me that my lack of technology or entrepreneurial background was going to be a problem, but I decided to follow my gut and not worry about what I didn’t know.
My advice for other women is to feel confident about the skills you have acquired as well as your knowledge. Leadership, critical thinking, and communication skills are all transferable and have been extremely helpful to me in entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is not a job, rather, it is a way of life.
What's been the most rewarding moment from starting Phone2Action?
Seeing Phone2Action users advance campaigns is deeply rewarding. The American Heart Association has used our tools to save people’s lives by fighting for CPR training in schools, the Christopher Reeves Foundation uses them to support people living with paralysis, and organizations like the Consumer Technology Association, or companies like DJI Drones use the tools to support disruptive innovation. It has become a dream come true for me to have a job where I get to build digital tools to give superpowers to so many advocacy heroes.
Photo: New York Times
What advice would you give to fellow female entrepreneurs?
Surrounding yourself by good people is critical, because no accomplishment in life is done alone. I lean on wonderful people, men and women, for wisdom, knowledge and friendship. Seek mentors but also mentees, because personal mastery requires constant learning which is only possible with give and take. Most importantly, do what you love
Alas, always hire great people. That is the key to success. My team is amazing, and I not only admire them, but I love them. And then there are our clients, who are top priority. Our first company principle is that our customers are the reason we exist. Phone2Action is customer-centric and customer-obsessed. We are nothing without our customers, and they are our number one investors.
What's next for Phone2Action? Your personal goals as a woman?
We in a unique moment in time where public policy has become mainstream. At the same time, smartphone adoption is at a record-high. People are fired up about policy issues today and are using technology to elevate their voices.
Our vision is to Power the Movements that Change the World and we come to work every day to build tools that enable advocates to facilitate that change. Now is the time for continued mobile innovation so that advocates and leaders on the ground are empowered to act and have the technology that can take their efforts to the next level. Our clients are at the forefront and they deserve the very best tools.
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.