People 05 November 2018
Imagine coming home from an epic birthday trip to find that your dog sitter had not followed your instructions. Then picture the dog sitter going to extreme lengths of faking her own death to avoid paying back your $150. For most, it seems like a one in a million chance that it would happen. Though, for Jenny Thompson the CEO and Founder of SafetyPIN Technologies, it was a reality she had to face a year ago.
Before the chaos, it was a time for celebration, as Thompson was celebrating her 50th birthday in Tahiti. Now 51, a year later, she was reminded that this vacation was after she left her job of 20 years in the dietary supplement industry, not sure what she’d do next. In her professional career, Thompson built a team of about 45 professionals, grown a business from $2 million to $70 million while she launched hundreds of health supplements and information projects. “It was incredibly exciting and incredibly scary at the same time,” she admitted. “It would have been very easy to stay there and just sail through and continue making money.” Instead, she took a leap of faith.
This is Jenny Thompson, CEO and Founder of SafetyPIN Technologies. (Photo courtesy of Jenny Thompson)By chance, what happened upon her return to the U.S. is what drove her to enter the tech industry. “I came home [to] find [that] my dog sitter had not stayed with my dogs,” she began. “She had left them alone in my house and then she had taken them somewhere else without my permission.” Thompson hired the dog sitter off of Craigslist. “When I told her that she couldn’t work with me anymore, I had pre-paid her for the next week and [told her] she [had] to pay me back,” she continued. “Instead of paying me back $150...or just blocking me from her phone she faked her own death through a series of elaborate lies and schemes.” At that point, Thompson decided to take action and develop a behavioral profile, because it would have flagged that dog sitter. Though her dogs were not hurt, she wanted to ensure this wouldn’t happen to anyone else.
What seemed like a nightmare drove her to build SafetyPIN Technologies. SafetyPIN is a virtual trust badge that’s ideal for sharing in gig economies. “Many of us are using WAG to hire dog walkers or Care and Sittercity to find babysitters and we really don’t know enough about the people that we’re inviting into our home and around our children, around our pets, around our parents,” she explained. “So we developed this virtual trust badge.” Hiring paid services like babysitters, dog walkers, dog sitters, caretakers or electricians, for example, require time and patience.The SafetyPIN is additional security for the hiring decisions you make. They run a proprietary behavioral review, comprehensive background check, ID verification, and financial history screening to ensure they are not someone likely to scam or defraud you. “All data is protected and encrypted,” she assured. “We don’t store your background check; we only use our scoring algorithm once it’s been run [and] we rerun people regularly.”
SafetyPIN is slowly but surely growing as a business. Thompson has always been confident in her ability to run and grow a business but shared that there are some differences from the way she used to run things. “It’s very different going from being part of a private company that’s completely self-funded to seeking funding and having to do the fundraising and starting over as a female tech CEO at 51,” she explained. “It is a lot different. I’ve always had this philosophy when people don’t have to hunt for their food; they waste a lot more of it.”There’s a realistic approach that Thompson takes when she’s considering how her company will profit in the months ahead. With SafetyPIN she’s mindful of managing spending, paying attention to the ROI whereas most companies may not consistently be doing the same. “I’ve always approached my company like that [and] it made it very easy for this transition,” she clarified. “The easiest part is that I’m not somebody that overspends and I’m not somebody who invests in things that don’t help build the company and build the team.” Thompson is a unique Founder in tech. “I always joke [around saying] I’m a 51-year-old female founder in tech, so I’m a unicorn no matter what our evaluation ever is,” she laughed. Age is only a number, but it does play a part in how she manages SafetyPIN and the company’s success with integral parts like funding. Thompson thinks starting at the age 50 has pros and cons. “There’s an energy that comes when you’re young… You can stay up until three in the morning and when you start young you’re not taking as many steps back,” she said. “I haven’t lived without an income since I was in college and the idea of investing my own money and not having a salary right now because I don’t want to take out any money out of the company...having to take the step back has been valuable for me and a little bit of a wake up call.”
Pictured above are Jenny's dogs, Lulu and Django. (Photo courtesy of Jenny Thompson)
One of many scarifies Thompson and members of her team made was giving up a salary or benefits for the growth and success of SafetyPIN. Though, what makes her different from a younger founder is her level of experience. In her pervious job, she led and worked with hundreds of people, but she also ended professional relationships.“I think that’s probably one of the harder things for younger founders, is not having experience firing or building a team, really knowing when it’s time to bring someone onboard [and] when it’s time to let somebody go,” she emphasized. “That’s been an incredibly valuable experience.”
“I’ve always had this philosophy when people don’t have to hunt for their food; they waste a lot more of it.”
Trying to find the right team to build a business with is harder than it looks and Thompson says she’s still learning as she moves along. “Just in the past year I’ve had two people in the COO role that both had to leave...and one was my co-founder, she related. “I’d say that we test drove each other but, we didn’t crash-test each other.” As a Founder and CEO, she has set rules and expectations for her COO, that makes the right leader. “In neither case did these people deceive me, but I think especially when you’re in a startup mode there’s a part of you that’s just grateful that somebody will come work for you especially if it’s at a discount or your not giving benefits or they’re working for no salary,” she explained. She encourages older and younger women that are looking to create their own business to set that mindset aside and realize what you’re building “is something amazing” and the team you build “get to be a part of it.”
Another failure that determined the success of SafetyPIN is not having an aggressive “go to market” strategy ready when the company was launched. Thompson had another wake-up call when she realized consumers weren’t waiting for their product. “My advice to anybody in this situation would be, be realistic when you launch,” she said. “Don’t let yourself get discouraged, but let yourself take the feedback and make the right decisions. Raise as much money as you can, raise early so you have the cash when you need it.”SafetyPIN is designed to help individuals and families from hiring contractors or paid services to dating apps. “SafetyPIN Technologies work with the former head of White House security…head of forensic psychology, [and a] federal investigator who does background checks for Homeland Security and the Department of Justice,” she shared. “[The federal investigator] has said [SafetyPIN] has the most comprehensive background check, other than a security clearance level check.” Thompson wants everyone to know behind every SafetyPIN are their stamps of approval.
Like a unicorn, Thompson is rare. She not only proved she could be a founder at 50 but also be able to work in a different field like tech and developed a successful virtual trust badge. In a generation where we use the Internet for everything – keep SafetyPIN in mind to make safe decisions on and offline.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.