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.
Being stared at by strangers is something I have become very accustomed to. Not because I am a beautiful, ethereal being that catches everyone's attention (but I will take it if that's what you're thinking), but in the way that I am a Black woman, a Black person, and people tend to notice my presence. I don't think there is a Black person out there that can deny knowing what it's like to be stared at by a random person.