uKnowKids Epilogue and Announcement

Ten years ago, in partnership with Tim Woda and a group of amazing investors, advisors, employees, and family, I set out to make the digital world a safer place for kids and their families by founding the digital family safety company, uKnow.com and its flagship product, uKnowKids.

The first company I founded after graduating from Wharton in 2001, buySAFE, focused on making e-commerce safer for consumers and more profitable for merchants. If you have ever seen the Norton Safe Shopping Guarantee on an ecommerce website, you have been protected by buySAFE.

Keeping e-commerce shoppers safe was interesting work, but in my view, helping parents protect their kids online and on mobile devices was far more important, and so I left buySAFE and started uKnow.com in 2009.

The uKnow / uKnowKids team was inspired by a personal tragedy that impacted a child in my extended family, and so we used our digital security, data intelligence, and tech startup expertise to help moms and dads struggling with the challenges of parenting kids in this digital age.

In 2009, the digital world still seemed relatively new, and compared to today’s technologies, it was pretty basic. Apple’s iPhone 3GS was the hot tech product that year and its big features were a 3 megapixel camera and a digital compass. Symbian, not iOS or Android, was the dominant mobile phone operating system in the world. MySpace was HUGE.

Things have changed quite a bit since then. MySpace is gone, and in its place, Instagram, Snapchat, Kik, WhatsApp, FaceTime, iMessenger, and TikTok have all become popular apps with kids. None of these things existed when uKnowKids was born.

Over the past decade, we created smart tools for parents to protect their kids from bad guys and bullies; we coached families and educators on digital citizenship; and we helped more than a quarter million families keep their kids safe online and on their mobile devices in more than ninety countries around the world.

Thousands of parents have written to us with personal stories describing how uKnowKids helped to save their kids from harm and improved many young lives.

I am proud of the products we built, the educational content we developed, and the positive impact we had. I am grateful for the parents that put their trust in us, and for the influencers, teachers, investors and policy makers that helped us create and tell the world about uKnowKids. I am thankful for my uKnowKids teammates who have worked tirelessly and sacrificed along with me. I am especially thankful for my wife and family who have supported me through thick and thin.

A fellow entrepreneur once described entrepreneurship as the following..

“It’s like a man riding a lion. People think, ‘This guy’s brave.’ And he’s thinking, ‘How the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?”
– Toby Thomas, CEO of EnSite Solutions

My uKnowKids journey ends here, and it was an exciting, scary, challenging ride for sure. In the end, I am a better dad, husband, coach, teacher and entrepreneur because of my uKnow / uKnowKids experience.

Last week, I was pleased to announce that Bark.us is taking over where we leave off. The uKnowKids mission to protect digital kids will live on with Bark.

While uKnowKids made a positive difference in the world, many digital family safety problems remain unresolved as the big tech companies make it harder and harder for parents to keep their kids safe in this new digital world.

I am confident that our users and our legacy are in great hands with Bark’s impressive team. While I am disappointed we could not complete this mission independently, I am also pleased to hand the uKnowKids baton to Bark. The world will be a better place as a result of the work that Bark does in the future.

As for me, I am on to my next adventure. I don’t yet know where that will take me, but as a serial entrepreneur, I expect it will be an exciting, challenging ride once again.

In the short run, I will spend time with family and do advisory work with Bark and other tech startups when interesting opportunities arise. 

I will also stay involved in the digital safety / security world by using my network and voice to advocate digital family safety with the big tech companies, policy makers, and the media on behalf of parents and their kids. We need to keep up the fight here.

As my next venture takes shape, I will be sure to share it with you here on my blog. In the meantime, I wish you and your family the best in 2020.

Good night uKnowKids!

Sincerely,
Steve Woda

Digital Parenting: Engage

Digital parenting is one of the hardest parts about being a modern day parent; the possible dangers that come with digital interaction, especially when unmonitored, are well known thanks to news articles and TV specials.

To help parents raise their children, companies have produced plenty of products meant to keep children safe, from filters to site blockers to parental intelligence systems. Parents often develop their own systems to keep children safe online; they may put a limit of the amount of time a child spends online or prohibit the use of a computer in a child’s bedroom.

I believe that it is important for digital parents to avoid creating restriction upon restriction. According to Connectsafely.org, based on surveys of 25,142 families of 9-to-16-year-olds in 25 countries, researchers came to the conclusion that parents' active engagement with their kids' Internet activities works better than restricting them.

"For parents, talking to their child about the internet, encouraging them to explore alone but being nearby in case they are needed and talking to them about what they do online are all ways in which they can reduce online risks without reducing their child's opportunities," said EU Kids Online research director Sonia Livingstone in a press release.

This is not to say the resources available online should be ignored. However, perhaps before jumping to block every single site on the Internet, a quick conversation is all that is really needed. Calmly explain to your children that there are dangerous people online, and that nothing online is truly private. Motivate your children to think: Is this something I want people outside of my house to see? In short, teach them to use the Internet safely and responsibly.

Remember: giving children guidelines is more effective than enforcing restrictions; as tempting as it is to create rule upon rule for your children, encouraging open dialogue between you and your children will lead to a more trusting relationship for both parties, and as a result will let parents talk to and monitor their children with less resistance.

Related resources:
uKnowKids Parenting Blog & Resource Center

 

Perspective… The ultimate weapon in the fight against “chase the shiny object” syndrome

Life, business, politics, competition, family… These things can all be challenging at times.  Stress in inevitable.  Over the years, I have determined that the most valuable tool you can acquire for managing these challenges is "perspective" or "context".

When you think about the big picture and put your daily stresses into a proper context or perspective, you often realize how minor the bumps are.  In the short run, challenges can seem huge and the desire for quick fixes is strong.  I like to call this the "chase the shiny object" syndrome.  For organizations, "chase the shiny object" syndrome leads to inevitable failure. 

In the long run, most challenges are manageable.  By staying focused on the big picture and by continuing to put one foot in front of the other, you can make amazing progress that compounds on itself to create success.  Intuitively, we all know this, but it is often hard to keep that state of mind when you are in the weeds and when the pressure is on for instant success.

As a leader in your organization, it is always important to keep folks focused on the big picture… to give your team perspective and context on what is going on around them.  Create a roadmap or plan.  Concentrate on execution.  Put one foot in front of the other over and over again.  One morning months later, the team will wake up and be pleasantly shocked to see how far they have traveled and how much they have accomplished.

If you want the ultimate perspective, watch this video.  It is awe inspiring to me, and it certainly puts our daily, personal challenges into a much bigger picture.  🙂

Hanging in my hood… Arlington, Virginia

I live and work in Arlington, Virginia, and as this hilarious video points out, it is the toughest town West of the Potomac and East of the Beltway.

The funniest part of the video for me was that I was sitting in a Starbucks wearing my brown flip flops when I first watched it.  Check out this video if you want to understand the inside humor here.  🙂

Hot Streaks! How do they happen?

I just arrived home from a terrific, extended, overdue vacation on the beach in Florida with my family.  I really had a great time as I am sure you can imagine.

While there, I was practicing my putting stroke on the beach-side putting green when I suddenly starting knocking in every putt I looked at.  Since I couldn’t seem to miss a putt, I grabbed my video camera to see if I could record a bit of my hot streak, and that is when the following video was taped…

Since we are on the subject of hot streaks, I want to recommend a book to you that I read while on vacation.  Rosabeth Moss Kantor’s “Confidence: How Winning Streaks & Losing Streaks Begin & End” is a fabulous read, and it is now one of my personal favorites.  The book digs into the subject of how teams, organizations and people get on winning streaks or losing streaks.  What separates the two?

My favorite observation from the book, because we all know it is true, is that “failure and success are not episodes, they are trajectories.”  Doing the little things well, every day, breeds success.  If you think success comes from a lucky lottery ticket, you will be a disappointed person in the long-run.  As my childhood basketball idol, Dr. J, once said, “Inch by inch, life’s a cinch.  Yard by yard, life is hard.”

“Confidence” is an awesome book, and for every current or aspiring leader, it is a must read.  Enjoy!

Thank you buySAFE!

Buysafelogo
Today, I am starting a new chapter in my entrepreneurial story. It is with both a bit of sadness and a lot of excitement that I share with you the news that I have left buySAFE to pursue other start-up and entrepreneurial interests. In addition, I have joined buySAFE’s Board of Advisors so that I can continue to assist the company in whatever fashion is necessary.  Click here to see buySAFE's announcement on the buySAFE blog.

After almost nine years of building buySAFE, I am leaving the Company in very capable hands, with fresh funding, and the brightest future that the Company has ever had. It has been a deeply satisfying experience to create something valuable, and I want to sincerely thank our customers, our partners, my colleagues and the many investors who made buySAFE possible. I am obviously looking forward to my next adventure, but I am also very much looking forward to buySAFE’s continued success over the coming months and years.

I founded buySAFE after getting burned in an online transaction on eBay. As a student, I didn’t have any extra money to lose to ecommerce fraudsters, and so I decided that there had to be a better way to buy and sell products online. buySAFE was born!

This adventure started for me while I was earning my MBA at Wharton in 2000, and as with all start-ups, there have been huge successes and great challenges. For me, both have proven to be invaluable learning experiences.

Developing buySAFE’s early business/technology plan, acquiring our major financial institution and strategic partners (including two major strategic partners to be announced in the coming months), and raising our $30 million in venture capital financing were all challenges that I ultimately found to be great learning experiences. Over time, I was able to lead almost every aspect of buySAFE’s business operations, and all of these experiences were amazing for me personally and professionally. I plan to share with you many of the lessons I learned at buySAFE over the coming months.

Perhaps the thing I am most proud of at buySAFE is our team. Early on, I recruited Jeff Grass, Tim Woda, and Hans Dreyer to buySAFE. Today, Jeff is buySAFE’s CEO, Tim is the VP – Sales, and Hans is the VP – Operations. They are the core of our team even to this day. The rest of our team is amazing as well, and it has been a pleasure working with each and every one of them.

I never intended to spend almost a decade working on my Wharton class project, but along the way, buySAFE provided me with an amazing opportunity to make great friends, to learn important new skills, and to see that anything is possible with persistence and creativity. It also taught me that you can’t build a company by yourself.

Although I could never hope to name all of the folks that deserve my thanks, I wish I could. A few folks in particular – my wife, my brother, and buySAFE’s employees, customers, investors, and advisors – have all obviously been invaluable to both me and buySAFE. To all of you, thank you! I sincerely appreciate your investments in time, capital, expertise, and support. There would be no buySAFE without you.

As far as the next chapter in my entrepreneurial story, I am not ready to share the details quite yet, but please stay tuned. I will share my adventures with you here on my blog, so if you are interested, please make sure to subscribe using the form below.

Thank you buySAFE!

Related posts:

"Steve Woda, Founder and Chairman of buySAFE, Pursues New Entrepreneurial Ventures" on the buySAFE blog

"Founder of buySAFE, Steve Woda, Steps Down" on AuctionBytes.com