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

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

Dancing with First Round Capital

Firstroundcapital
First Round Capital's 2008 Holiday Card (video) proves once again why every early-stage entrepreneur wants to find a way to meet with this terrific investor group.  Check it out! 

These guys are creative; they have been in the trenches themselves (multiple times!); they have been successful (multiple times!); and most of all, they like working with entrepreneurs because they are entrepreneurs.

I have had the pleasure of working with and knowing lots of technology investors, and along the way, I have learned a thing or two about who you want to try and work with (and what you want to avoid).  These guys are good.  Period.  In addition, their holiday video is brilliant,
low-cost, and fun, and it highlights their strengths in an intangible,
yet powerful manner.

Let me share one quick story that illustrates why I like these guys so much.  Although they won't likely remember it, both Howard Morgan and Josh Kopelman provided me with a helping hand while I was trying to get buySAFE launched back in 2001.  I was introduced to Howard via a mutual friend, John Tedesco, and Howard offered to meet with me in NYC and provide me with feedback on my business plan.  At the time, the venture was called BondMyAuction.  I was not ready for primetime, and yet, Howard spent two hours listening to me and coaching me on how I could improve my plan.  Howard also introduced me to Josh Kopelman.  At the time, Josh was an executive at eBay because he had recently sold his business, Half.com, to the ecommerce giant.  For no reason other than to be helpful to me, Josh also spent almost two hours on the phone giving me feedback and advice on how to proceed. 

I will be forever grateful for their assistance since I was no more than an aspiring entrepreneur with a paper napkin business plan.  Their help was both gracious and inspiring.  In many ways, they (along with a few others like them) gave me the extra motivation and confidence that I needed to stick it out through the inevitable challenges of getting a business launched.  Since then, I have tried to return the favor with other aspiring entrepreneurs because of their good example (although I am quite sure that I could never be as helpful as they were for me).

Again, check out First Round Capital's holiday video, and I think you will agree with me.  These guys are authentic, and entrepreneurs clearly have good reason to want to work with them.

Nice job Howard and Josh!  For everyone else, enjoy!  http://holiday.firstround.com/

How Do You Win a Business Plan Competition?

The short answer is that you need to be very, very good.  There are a lot of terrific, aspiring entrepreneurs out there, and so a bit of luck is useful too.  Having said that, winning isn't everything. 

buySAFE is actually a product of the 2002 Wharton Business Plan Competition, but the plan was not the winning plan.  PayMyBills.com has a similar story.  The founders and my good friends, Jeff Grass and John Tedesco, were finalists, but not winners, in the 1999 Wharton Business Plan Competition.  However, they went on to raise tens of millions in venture capital and they built a really nice business in the process. 

Simply going through the business planning and critique process is the real benefit of these competitions in my opinion.  Business plans are funny things.  Business planning is a fairly simple exercise, but if you haven't previously developed a plan, the effort can seem very daunting.  Business plan competitions typically provide basic advice to the entrepreneurs on how to get started.  The competitions also have multiple stages with each stage presenting an opportunity to receive valuable feedback from the experienced entrepreneurs and investors that are judging and/or mentoring in the competition.

The following Business Week video does a nice job of covering the basics regarding what you need to know before submitting your business plan.

Winning a Business Plan Competition | The Businessweek Video Library

In the video, the University of Oregon's Randy Swangard talks about how to win that business plan competition — what to keep in mind before you apply, and why it's sometimes better to come in second.

The Wharton Club of New York is running a business plan competition now, and here is all the information you need to enter as a participant.  I highly encourage you to participate if you can.

Also, you might find the following NY Times article interesting.  "Beyond Grades: Business Students Put Their Start-up Ideas to the Test" does a nice job of covering the ins and outs of business school business plan competitions.

Have fun, and good luck!

Obama is More Famous, But Paris Has a Better Energy Policy

Okay.  I couldn't resist digressing a bit today.

Paris might not be as famous as Obama, but she seems to have a better energy policy than he does.  She makes fun of the "white haired dude" as well.  This spoof is a classic. 

Nicely done Paris.  You're "so hot!"  🙂

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

Also, while I have you here, please check out buySAFE's new safe shopping tool, Shopping Advisor.  This revolutionary application is something that my team has been working on for more than a year, and the industry reviews have been tremendous thus far.  Of course, I would love to get your comments and feedback as well.

Here is the scoop… The buySAFE Shopping Advisor is a free browser plug-in that enables consumers to shop online safely and securely. The Shopping Advisor provides objective ratings on eCommerce websites (almost 400,000 as of this morning) so consumers have the information they need to make safe and informed online shopping decisions.  More importantly, Shopping Advisor provides exclusive access to a unique safe shopping channel where every purchase is guaranteed with a bond up to $25,000 and identity theft protected – at no cost.

Have fun, and buy safe!

Install your buySAFE Shopping Advisor

buySAFE on YouTube in Football video

I just came across this video on YouTube about buySAFE, and I wanted to share with you.  I believe it was produced by a new employee on our team, and to be honest, I am pretty impressed with his creativity.  Clearly, it is an amateur video, but again, you have to love it when young folks take the initiative to use their skills in a creative manner.  Nice work.

Your commentary on the video are welcomed so feel free to provide comments!