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.
We're here. We're queer. Now that it's pride month, it feels like every store and corporation is flooding us with their best rainbow merchandise, capitalizing on a $917 billion dollar consumer market.
The rainbow flags are out. The mannequins are sporting pride tees. And corporate newsletters are full of interviews showcasing all their queer employees ("Look, we have a gay person here! We GET you!").
To me, this is blatant evidence that the future is queer.
These corporations follow the money, and with 20% of millennials and 31% of Gen Z openly identifying as queer, these businesses have to capitalize on the growing purchasing power of LGBTQIA+ consumers. With a recorded market size of $917 billion dollars in 2016, and a growing interest in socially conscious brands among young consumers, this is clearly a market opportunity that corporations cannot afford to ignore.
However, I'm always surprised by how little attention investors and the entrepreneurial community devotes to this undeniable trend, despite being constantly inundated with overwhelming statistics proving the importance of diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship. Only 2.2% of venture capital funding went to women in 2018, less than .1% of funding has been allocated to black women since 2009, and only about 1% of venture-backed companies have a black founder or Latinx founder. These statistics are over-quoted but underacted upon.
This gender and diversity inequality significantly hinders economic growth, since 85% of all consumer purchases are controlled by women, and startups with higher ethnic diversity tend to produce financial returns above their industry norm.
The data is clearly leading to one direction: investing in women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, veterans, immigrants, and other minority groups in entrepreneurship leads to higher revenue and better business results.
As data-driven and forward-thinking as this industry claims to be, we haven't caught up to the queer founders, particularly queer women, who are rethinking the future. These founders understand and speak to a generation of increasing numbers of LGBTQIA+ people whose market share will only continue to grow exponentially. VCs and investors are already behind the curve.
SoGal Foundation, a non-profit on a mission to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship, is helping bridge this divide between queer women founders and investors with the launch of applications for the second annual Global Pitch Competition for diverse entrepreneurs. Hosted in 25+ cities across five continents, and culminating in a final global pitch competition and 3-day immersive educational bootcamp in Silicon Valley, this is the first and only globally-focused pitch opportunity for diverse entrepreneurs.
Startups that are pre-Series A (raised less than $3M) with at least one woman or diverse founder, apply here to pitch! The top teams selected from each regional round will join SoGal's final global pitch competition and bootcamp in Silicon Valley for guaranteed face time with dozens of top Silicon Valley investors, curated educational programming, unparalleled 1:1 mentorship, press exposure, and a chance to win investment capital.
Women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ founders: what's the best way to kick off pride? Apply to pitch!
Regional pitch rounds will be held August-November 2019; final pitch competition in Silicon Valley in February 2020. Details and additional cities to be announced.
SoGal Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and the largest global platform for diverse founders and funders in 40+ chapters across 5 continents; our mission is to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship. SoGal Foundation's global startup competition represents the first and largest opportunity for women and diverse entrepreneurs and investors to connect worldwide. Join the SoGal community & follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.