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

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!

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!