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.
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!