Lessons in Success—and Failure—from our CEO, Jenny Thompson
We are thrilled that our Founder, Jenny Thompson, was recently featured in June’s issue of WomELLE Magazine alongside other female powerhouses such as Sheryl Sandberg and Lauren Conrad.
Read the interview below for her take on leadership, plus what inspired her to start SafetyPIN Technologies:
I had the opportunity to connect with Jenny Thompson, Founder of SafetyPIN.
Jenny Thompson is a mission-driven business leader and natural-born marketer who builds to benefit shareholders, employees, and customers. Her skills include: strategic business development, customer acquisition and retention, win-win negotiations, marketing strategy, and benefit-driven product development.
She spent 20 years at The Agora Companies, most recently as the CEO of NewMarket Health. During that time, she grew the company from $2 million to $70 million, oversaw the migration of the company’s marketing from 100% direct mail to 100% online, and was responsible for 14 brands.
Jenny left NewMarket to start SafetyPIN Technologies, an innovative trust badge that lets people see at a glance if someone they met online is safe to meet offline.
She’s also the creator of the 3-Day Business Cleanse, a novel process that helps companies get “unstuck” using her review, remove, and rebuild philosophy.
Can you tell me about your road to becoming an entrepreneur?
I was entrepreneurial from a young age. In fact, I used to walk around the house and try to “sell” my parents things they had already bought. I would make up jingles and offer deals. But my family didn’t have the entrepreneur spirit. The mindset was more “find a good job and stay as long as they will let you.”
After exploring various paths after college, I found a job at a very entrepreneurial company that offered the best of both worlds—a paycheck, autonomy and a high tolerance for risk. I had a great career there, but from early on, I knew it wasn’t my last endeavor. I wanted more, and I wanted to prove I could succeed on my own without the safety net.
When I finally left the company almost 20 years later, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do. But I’ve always believed that Change Begets Change. When you make one change in your life, others come. While I was figuring things out, I took a break and headed to Tahiti for some R&R. And it was after that trip that I found my new opportunity and my why…
What inspired you to create SafetyPIN?
My dog sitter faked her own death when I found out she hadn’t actually stayed with my dogs. It was a crazy situation. I tried to get her to pay me back the $150 that I had pre-paid her for my next trip. But instead, she created an elaborate scheme and looped in friends to pretend she was in a horrible accident and died 4 or 5 days later. That’s when I decided I needed to be MUCH more careful about who I let in my home (and around my dogs). Once I started learning more about background checks—what they cover, and what they don’t, I was floored. That is what inspired me to launch SafetyPIN Technologies.
In your previous corporate life, what type of leader were you?
It took me years to learn what real leadership was — and I still learn something every day. So if I mess up and say or do something that embarrasses someone, they get an apology in front of the same group. I learned this the hard way. I had a boss who was fairly authoritarian and took credit for our ideas. I used to drive around the parking lot to see if she was at the office so I knew how my day was going to go. To be honest, early on, I was just like her. It took me a long time to learn how to lead and inspire effectively, while still focusing on quality and results.
What are some important lessons learned from leadership?
Having a title doesn’t make you a leader and being a leader doesn’t require a title. Leadership is about respect, being decisive, and focusing on the best outcome.
When I first got my promotion, I thought I needed the best office, parking spot, etc to be THE BOSS. I was focused on all the wrong things and never earned the respect of my team. So when someone started a rumor that I was going through their desks and reading their emails, the team believed them.
Once early on, I was eating lunch with some employees and explained to them that, in the state of Maryland, I could fire them for any reason I wanted OTHER than gender, religion, race, etc. I actually said “I can fire you because I don’t like your shoes.” In my mind it was a conversation about how it works. In theirs it was a threat and made them all scared and vulnerable.
I learned a lot about what the lines are and why there are subjects you can never joke about with employees.
That’s when I started to study and implement John Maxwell’s rules of leadership. I became much more transparent in our planning and sharing my thought/decision-making process
Generally I don’t believe people should be FRIENDS with employees. You can be friendly, you can care, you can respect each other. But when you are true friends, it impacts your ability to lead them and it impacts the rest of the team, who think that person has unfair advantages.
When negotiating, I figure out what I want/need from the deal and I’m willing to give almost anything to get that. I don’t care if the other person gets “MORE.” If I get what I need, the deal is fair to me. I don’t like to risk the working relationship with a difficult negotiation.
How did you adapt and change?
One day, I woke up and realized this is not who I wanted to be. I realized that it was important to be the type of boss that I wanted to work for.
One thing that I loved about our time together was your candor. You were so refreshing and make me leave thinking “CEOs are human.” What advice would you give to an aspiring leader?
I recommend never having more than 7 people report directly to you (if you can help it). And don’t get overly friendly or too personally involved with anyone on your team. Your job is to lead, inspire, and build. Blurring the lines of overly personal communications can make things tricky, both legally and professionally.
Let’s talk more about your current role as CEO of SafetyPIN. What are the facts why your business is so necessary?
Problems with how background checks are run:
- “National Criminal Database” includes
- 100% of criminal data from only 16 states (Alaska is one, NY is not)
- Spotty, county-by-county reporting from 12 states
- No data at all from 22 states (including NY and Mass)
- Statewide reporting often ignores data at the county level (see Mass lawsuit against care.com)
- County level reporting screens the county the person resides in and, possibly, counties of previously known addresses but doesn’t help if the person committed a crime in a neighboring or other county (just think how many people commute)
Problems with reporting…
- According to US Justice Dept, for every 1,000 rapes:
- 230 are reported
- There are 46 arrests
- 5 result in jail time
- 40% of ALL crimes go unreported
- 30% of crimes where there is an injury or a weapon used go unreported
- 62% of people that don’t report say it’s because they knew the person, making it harder to assume neighbors, etc. are “safe”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If a problem can be solved with money, it isn’t a problem.” I know how trite that sounds to people struggling financially, but when you compare it to terminal or mental illness, abusive relationships, etc. then it comes into perspective. My father taught me that lesson at a young age and it’s been a guiding force. I never let money force my decisions. I’m willing to lose money or overspend to get myself out of a negative situation or into a positive one.
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