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.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.