People 21 April 2017
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.
6 Min Read
I live the pain and stress of being black in America every day: I am a black woman, the mother of a black son, sister to black men, and aunt to my black nephews. I remember what it was like as a young girl to be afraid to go to Howard Beach for fear of being chased out. I know what it's like to walk on Liberty Avenue and be called "nigger" and being so young that I didn't understand what the word meant, I had to ask my mother. I know too well that feeling in the pit of your stomach when a police car pulls up behind you and even though you know you haven't done anything wrong you fear that your life may be in danger from what should be a simple encounter. Like all African Americans, I am tired of this burden.
African Americans have a long history of having to fight for our humanity in America. We have had to fight for freedom, we have had to fight for equality, and we have had to fight for our lives. The fight continues to go on. I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight." When I say this to my white counterparts it can sometimes be uncomfortable because it's clear that they just don't get it. They view it as melodramatic. But it's not. It's part of the black experience, and it is the part of the black experience that black people don't want.
I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight."
While I was out yesterday, passing out PPE and talking to people, a woman asked me, "What is it going to take for this to change?" I told her that I think peaceful protesting is a good start. But it's just the start. We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.
This injustice, inequality, and inequity will not spontaneously disappear. It will take bold, outspoken, and fearless leadership to eradicate the systemic racism in our country. We must address the violence at the hands of a police force paid to serve and protect us. We must address the recurring experience of black people being passed over for a promotion and then being asked to train the white person who was hired. We must address the inequities in contract opportunities available to black businesses who are repeatedly deemed to lack the capacity. We must address the disparity in the quality of education provided to black students. We must address the right to a living wage, health care, and sick pay.
While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system. One that works for all of us. I am running to become the mayor of New York City because I can't assume there's another person who has the courage to do the work that needs to be done to create a fair and just city.
We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.
There are some things we may not be able to change in people, but at this moment I think that whether you are black, white, purple, or yellow we all should be looking internally to see what is one thing that you can do to change this dynamic. Here's where we can start:
If we want change, we need a total reform of police departments throughout this country. That is going to require taking a hard look at our requirements to become a police officer, our disciplinary procedures when civilian complaints are filed, and a review of what and how we police. No one deserves to lose their life based upon the accusation of carrying counterfeit cash. We also need to hold police officers accountable for their actions. While it is their duty to protect and serve they should not be above the law. Even at this very moment, police officers are overstepping their boundaries.
If we want change, we have to build a sense of camaraderie between the police and community. A sense of working together and creating positive experiences. We have to be honest about the fact that we haven't allowed that to happen because we have utilized our police department as a revenue-generating entity. We are more concerned with cops writing tickets than protecting and serving. Even during these moments of protest we are witness to the differences made when the police supported the protesters and stood hand in hand with them or took a knee. It resulted in less violence and more peaceful protest. People felt heard; people felt respected; people felt like they mattered.
While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system.
If we want change, we have to be willing to clean house. And that means that some of you are going to have to step up to the plate and take roles of leadership. In my city alone, there are 35 city council seats that are term-limited in 2021. There are some that aren't termed but maybe their term should be up. Step up to the plate and run. If nothing else it will let our elected officials see that they need to stop being comfortable and do more. We don't need you out in the street taking selfies or reporting the problems to us. We need solutions. We need you in a room implementing policies that will ensure that these things don't continue to happen.
If we want change, we need to support grassroots candidates that are not in corporate pockets, who are not taking PAC money, and who really want to make a difference to their community. We need candidates that know first-hand and can relate to the experiences that many of us are going through.
We are at a pivotal moment. It is inspiring to see people from all races and backgrounds in the streets protesting, standing up for justice, and wanting to see change. We must seize this moment, but we must also be mindful that change requires more.
People often ask me why I decided to run for office? I am running for me. I am running for the little girl that was called nigger on Liberty Avenue. For the woman who has been pulled over for no reason. For my nephew who was consistently stopped during the era of stop and frisk. I am running for your son, your brother, and your nephew. I am running so that the next generation will never have to say, "All my life I had to fight." Because although we won't stop until we see justice and changes that address inequality and inequity effectively, this fight is exhausting.