Talk to your customers. They are your first and last investors.
Ximena Hartsock is the Founder of Phone2Action, leading software for public affairs and grassroots advocacy.
Prior to founding Phone2Action she was a member of the executive cabinet of former Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, serving as Assistant Superintendent of DC Public Schools under Michelle Rhee and DC Director of Parks and Recreation.
In schools she led key reforms, including the expansion of online learning, STEM education, high school programs, graduation reform and many others. Ximena came to that position after leading the turn around of two schools in DC as school principal.
As Parks Director, she managed more than 1,000 employees. During her tenure, she oversaw the construction of numerous athletic fields and parks, and the implementation of wellness programs for seniors, youth and families.
In 2013 she founded Phone2ActionOrganizations and companies including the American Heart Association, Patagonia, Lyft, Airbnb, Ben & Jerry’s, Lush Cosmetics, and many others use Phone2Action to run public policy campaigns.
Phone2Action and Ximena have received numerous recognition for technology leadership and public service.
Just a couple of weeks ago she was featured in Forbes as “one of 50 women in tech in the US who are crushing it”. In November 2018 Forbes also featured her among 5 Women mobilizing people to vote in the Midterms. In 2019 she was listed as one Washington’s “New Guard” of business leaders by the Washington Business Journal. In December of 2018 the Washingtonian Magazine listed Phone2Action as one of most charitable companies in the area. In 2016 and 2017 she made the Power 100 list by the Washington Business Journal. In 2017 she was named a Washington, D.C. Tech Titan by Washingtonian Magazine. Phone2Action has been featured in the Washington Post, the New York Times and others.
She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Washington Economic Club, the Board of Industry Leaders of the Consumer Technology Association, DC language Immersion, and DC Vote.
A native of Chile, she holds a Doctorate in Administration and Policy from The George Washington University. Ximena is an education advocate at heart and is proud to have formed a company that builds technology that empowers people to effect change.
Where did the idea for Phone2Action come from?
I was running outreach and mobilization for a national education advocacy group and would travel every week from state to state. During these trips I would organize parents and teachers to contact lawmakers to share their opinions on ways to improve their schools. I realized these parents and stakeholders wanted to reach out to those in power but didn’t know who their lawmakers were or how to contact them. This was 2012 and the popularity of smartphones was growing so I thought about the need for a mobile application that would match and connect constituents with lawmakers. That is where the idea for Phone2Action was born.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I have a four-month old baby so my day starts around 5:00am because I have to pump and get my baby ready for daycare before I go to work. The first thing I do at work is check email and Slack. My brain is fresher in the morning so I try to do more critical work during this part of the day – things like legal reviews. At least twice a month I take a staff member to lunch to check in. In the afternoon I attend meetings, talk to my direct reports and make calls to customers. At the end of the day I do an operations check-in with my team to review the calendar and make decisions on priorities. I try to get home before 8:30pm so I can give my baby his last meal before he goes to bed. I stay productive focusing on what matters most first and by delegating.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I always think in terms of execution. Anytime I have an exciting idea, I immediately think about how to operationalize it. I assemble a team, assign roles, set goals and sketch out a timeline. My support team is composed of incredible women who are operators at heart who thrive on execution. It is exciting to have an idea and see it in action quickly and very demoralizing when great ideas die in bureaucracy and overplanning.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I am very excited about artificial intelligence. The brain is the most powerful but untapped human organ. Artificial Intelligence will unlock the mysteries of the brain and potentially answer our biggest challenges from transportation safety to curing cancer.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am very good at compartmentalizing. I believe the brain is set up to compartmentalize and wired to take advantage of that. Doing things in order of operations is important but also important is to “juggle” different initiatives and take action on more than one thing at the time. Entrepreneurs have to deliver on multiple priorities in parallel on aggressive timelines and being able to compartmentalize is a differentiator.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Michael J Fox has said ” Don’t spend a lot of time imagining the worst-case scenario. It rarely goes down as you imagine it will, and if by some fluke it does, you will have lived it twice.” I wish I knew this when I was younger because I spent too much time worrying for no reasons. There is no need to waste time and energy worrying when we can just let things play out and deal with issues when they arrive.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Neither the sky nor the ocean are always blue.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Talk to your customers. They are your first and last investors.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Listening to customer feedback. As a SaaS business one of our key metrics is gross retention which means retaining the customer and the value of the customer’s contract. Happy customers stay and bring referrals so focusing on the customer has been our number one strategy to accelerate growth.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The first time I pitched my company to investors I chose a women led investment group. I did very poorly because I was not effective at showing our traction and describing our go to market strategy. I learned that men and women investors are equally hard to pitch and preparation is key. It is much easier to lose the audience if you have an accent like me so being extremely well prepared is the only way to move to the next stage. I also learned that the goal of the first meeting is to get a second meeting.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
An AI personalized health tool for the family that helps track threats and sends alerts about how to monitor the family’s health. Studies have shown that about 72% of women who inherit a Brca2 mutation will develop breast cancer and it is passed down to each generation. We need a radical change in the way we look at prevention going from the individual perspective to a more comprehensive analysis of the family patterns. Artificial Intelligence will help save lives.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
A facial! Our facial skin is delicate and exposed to radicals, we owe to give it the attention it needs because when damage is done it is very hard to reverse.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Jira is key to keep track of customer reported issues in the technology as well as innovation through product development.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Building a company that scales is very hard. Gary Shapiro’s Ninja Future is a book that describes what it takes for companies to thrive in today’s competitive climate. It is easy to read and full of real stories.
What is your favorite quote?
Innovate or Die by Gary Shapiro
- Plan fast and execute faster
- Your customers are your first and last investors. Pay attention to them.
- Artificial Intelligence will change everything
@ximenahartsock (Twitter and Instagram)
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.