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[00:55] 614Startups Nation, welcome to another episode of the 614Startups podcast. My name is Elio Harmon, and I am your host. And as usual, I have a great guest, Sheri Chaney Jones of SureImpact. Welcome to the show.
Sheri: [01:10] Thank you. I’m excited to be here.
Elio: [01:12] Kind of my natural temperament is around social, right? Entrepreneurship, in my opinion, oftentimes, is focused so much on, “How do I scale this business? How do we get to an exit? How do we raise money?” It’s refreshing to have somebody who’s thinking about the social side of business, “How do we make the world better? And how do we measure that impact?” And so Ryan Frederick and his team over at AWH were the ones who connected us, and he said, “You have to talk to her. She has some very, very important things to say about the social side.” So I want to dig into that on this podcast. But before we do that, for folks who don’t know you, kind of the two-minute history in fast forward, a little bit about your background so folks can get to know you.
Sheri: [01:56] Sure. Great. Well, thanks. Yes, I’m Sheri Chaney Jones. I am the President and CEO of SureImpact but I also have a long career in government and nonprofit sector. I pretty much call Columbus my home; moved here when I was two, grew up in Olentangy, went to Ohio State. Went away for a couple years and then stayed up North for graduate school, but promptly came back. And my whole career is based on using data to solve social problems. I’m an Industrial and Organizational Psychologist by training. [If] you would have told my 23-year-old self that someday I’d be a high-tech startup founder, I would have laughed in your face. It just was never anything on my radar. But my very first job was developing these assessments for case managers, caseworkers to help people with severe and persistent mental illness find jobs. So that’s when the light bulb clicked that I can use data for good, that I can use my passion for using data to predict things, using data to make business decisions to increase impact and increase success, not just to help a company increase their bottom line, but actually to change the world for good. So that resulted in a series of leadership positions at the Franklin county level as well as the state level. And then I launched my first venture in 2010, Measurement Resources Company, which was an organizational development and research company working with government and nonprofits, helping them measure and communicate their impact and value. And based on their feedback, my clients’ feedback in that business led us to start and develop SureImpact. So that’s the two minutes Sheri Chaney Jones’s life story.
Elio: [03:47] Yeah, well, I appreciate that. Like you said, born and raised, and then you went outside of the state, but you came back, which is awesome. Our ability to kind of retain talent as a state is very important in order for us to be competitive long term. So I’m always happy for people who go out and explore and come back. Because I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs, I’m always curious to get a peek inside government when I get somebody who worked inside government. Now, you stated what department you worked in, so when you start to say things about that department, hopefully, they are all going to be good. Now, I want you to really give an honest assessment of your time inside government because on the outside, there’s a perception. There’s a narrative that government can’t do anything right, government spends too much money, etc. So what was your experience like working in government?
Sheri: [04:42] Well, I was lucky and truly blessed because both of the directors that I worked under, my two different roles in government, were high performing, visionary leaders. So I can speak from my own experience, and it’s what inspired me to do what I do for them and different agencies came to the conclusion that we need someone on our leadership team who’s going to help us quantify and define and prove the impact that we’re making. And then we’re going to use those insights to be better. There are those leaders out there – those are who my audience is, that’s who my ideal client is. So in both of those particular departments, I had the privilege of working with leaders who wanted to prove their impact, they wanted to be more efficient and effective, and I had the opportunity to bring these what we call high performing measurement cultures, or impact centric cultures, to the departments. And so that was essentially the foundation of my entrepreneurial journey. And now what SureImpact automates was helping these organizations establish their ability to use data to measure success, to use data to know where to invest their resources to know what’s working, what’s not working, advocate for county level, it was for state and federal dollars, state level, it was for general legislative money and federal dollars. So my experience is probably a lot different than other people’s experiences because I had the opportunity to work with some really amazing leaders.
[06:10] However, what I will also say is that when I was looking to make the transition from the state of Ohio to found my own consulting firm, at the time, I wasn’t an entrepreneur, I wasn’t an author, I wasn’t a trainer, all the things that I define myself as today. So I did what I knew how to do and that was research. So I conducted an unfunded market research study that looked at the government and nonprofit sector because essentially, I see them as one and the same because essentially, the nonprofit sector is the arms and legs of the government sector. The government sector has the money, they give it to the nonprofits to actually deliver the services is typically how it works. So that’s why I lump both of those sectors in together. But anyway, I did this research study to look at how well government organizations were using data to strategically make their decisions. Because I knew for the departments that I work with, we transform how they made decisions, the money that they received; they were seeing amazing results. But what I found was that only 25% or less of the sector was strategically using data to make decisions. So although my personal experience was amazing, I knew there was a need to bring these cultures to so many different departments, and that’s what led me down an entrepreneurial journey.
Elio: [07:29] Well, it doesn’t hurt, regardless of where you’re working, to have visionary leaders.
Sheri: [07:35] Absolutely.
Elio: [07:35] Leaders who are thinking strategically. And I think all organizations benefit from that. And I think in your case, and the departments that you work in, clearly you guys benefited from that. So one more question about government, and then we’ll get into SureImpact, okay, because I think it’s relevant for what’s happening today. So by all measures across the board, over the last hundred years, things have improved dramatically in all areas, or in a lot of areas. So issues around poverty, the number of people living on less than $1 a day, all of those measures. But there’s the data [that] says things are getting better and then there’s the person on the street whose experience of life might be different than what the data says.
Sheri: [08:20] Yeah.
Elio: [08:20] So in terms of being very data-focused, the question now becomes, as you’re helping government organizations or nonprofit measure impact, are you finding that there’s a disconnect sometimes between what the data says and what people are experiencing or do you find a one to one correlation? Like if the data is saying things are getting better, should then the people being served also have an opinion of whether or not things are getting better or the impact of the organization is actually contributing to improve quality of life, which is the ultimate measure?
Sheri: [08:57] Yes, which you just hit the nail on the head. It depends on what we consider impact and managing. So our big thing is SureImpact allows leaders to manage outcomes instead of outputs. So it really depends on what is our criteria for success. When we say, “getting better”, what is that? And I would argue, especially here in Central Ohio, that things aren’t getting better. It sounds bad for me to say that, but we’ve worked with Mid-Ohio Foodbank and some other organizations and when we look at the data, yes, for a lot of people, things are getting better. For a large section of our community, we see this prosperity and we see all these businesses moving and growing and jobs, like we see all that and all that is all true, but there’s also another side to that puzzle. The percentage of people living in poverty in Franklin County, it’s been relatively stagnant. Then people that are making money less than a living wage in Franklin County is relatively stagnant. So those outcomes that I think define one’s quality of life has not changed any. And I think part of the reason why we aren’t seeing significant sweeping changes, even though there are millions upon millions of dollars invested every year into our community for the purpose to change these outcomes, it’s because we’re not managing to the right data. And that’s what SureImpact is trying to solve to make sure that we’re not just talking about what we’re doing for people, but that we’re actually doing the right things that matter and move the needle.
Elio: [10:36] We’re going to take a quick break and be right back after this message from our sponsor.
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[11:25] I had another guest on and we were talking about education, where letter grades don’t really measure comprehension, which is ultimately what you want to make sure that you want to measure, right? It’s not just that, let’s say there were eight chapters in a book, and you mastered six out of the eight. But on average, that gave you an A, but you don’t understand the other two, which might be the two most critical components of the class. But because you excelled in six out of eight, you still get a good grade but that doesn’t necessarily mean you got a quality education.
Sheri: [12:01] Yes.
Elio: [12:02] And I think in some cases, what you’re pointing to is that there are some measures in aggregate that are getting better, but when you’re looking at certain populations, that impact isn’t being felt there.
Sheri: [12:14] Yeah.
Elio: [12:15] You started to give the value proposition of SureImpact, but I want you to give your startup pitch version of that so we can have it in the concise, succinct language that we can use going forward.
Sheri: [12:26] Sure, absolutely. So SureImpact is a Software as a Service, SaaS model. It’s a cloud-based basically case management system that thinks like a collective impacts outcomes generator. So those are a lot of jargon words, I understand, but what it does is it allows the social sector to be able to track, manage, measure and communicate their unique social impact, and also seamlessly share that data with collaborators and funders. It provides the nonprofit leaders and their funders the insights they need to make data-driven decisions, but it also pushes those data-driven insights all the way down to line staff. So if I’m a caseworker, and I’m managing 20 cases, and my job is to help their clients increase self-sufficiency or employment skills or income, or whatever it is my mission is in my organization, I now log in to SureImpact, and I have my own personal dashboard. So I now know how well I am performing towards the things that matter most. And that’s really unheard of. Line staff may have to wait years before they even know how the organization is doing overall, let alone they know every single day how their work is moving.
[13:45] So we tried to solve for every– Connecting the entire ecosystem of the social sector, from policymakers to funders, all the way down to the individual on the ground who’s working with the clients. Back when you said, “What is that clients experience?”, SureImpact takes in that client experience as well. So it collects the three most important types of data – what did an organization do? How well did they do it? And when we define how well we’re actually talking about client satisfaction, client experience, cultural competency, how well do they do it? And how are people in communities better off because of these efforts?
Elio: [14:26] So I want to dig into this because this is so juicy for me, okay?
Sheri: [14:30] Sure.
Elio: [14:30] So let’s talk about data, and every nonprofit, maybe missions might overlap, but to the impact that they would like to have is unique. Is SureImpact, your assessment or your data gathering tool, is that customizable for whatever is critical for that organization to collect, and do you help them not collect noise? Because there’s a lot of is out there that may not be the critical component that they need to be collecting data on. So how does that process work with SureImpact?
Sheri: [15:06] So SureImpact is built on my 20 something years of working with multiple fields to really help them define their, we call them measurement frameworks. So define what are those key outcome measures that they should be managing to. So there is some structure. It is user-defined and customizable to our users. So it’s flexible enough to meet their mission but also there’s enough structure to it that it provides the best practices to our users to know if you’re trying to impact housing, “Hey, here are some best practices and indicators of housing that you should measure. Here are some indicators of self-sufficiency or youth functioning or education” or whatever it is. That’s kind of the secret sauce, that’s the IP that you can’t go find in some other platform. We give them some best practices and our platform is already set up for them to select those best practice measures if that’s what they desire. You know that every nonprofit is governed by different boards, different funding sources that may require some random measure that we’ve never thought of. So we have the ability to add, but we really do help and encourage them to align with best practices so it is more efficient and effective, and they are driving to success.
Elio: [16:28] All right, so you help them with their measurement framework. So let’s say we establish a framework that everybody agrees on, what are your data sources? So where are you pulling this data from? Is it integrated into your customers’ customer management systems? How are you gathering all this data that you need to do your analysis?
Sheri: [16:47] Sure. So that’s the beauty of SureImpact – it is also a client management system. So when we think about the data supply chain for the social sector, it always has to start with the person that’s being impacted from the services. So it allows you a very cloud-based, easy, flexible data inputting system. So you can key in what you do with your clients every single day – their demographics, what did you do with them, what their outcomes are. You are able to use it as an everyday case management system, data management system that fits within the workflow of a typical government or nonprofit social serving organization. Yet we also understood from working with thousands of nonprofits, that some funders or some government sources require you to use some other system. Maybe you do a skills test, and that skills test must be done online, and it must be housed in this other system. SureImpact is flexible enough to allow our clients to import those scores. So now it’s integrating pieces of information that they have to click elsewhere that before it was in this like very scattered, disjointed effort that took someone hours and hours to manipulate and analyze to ever get to the insights they need. It allows you to quickly do that and then it provides the insights to the leaders for what they need very quickly.
Elio: [18:15] Okay, so once you have all this data, typical collection periods in order for you to gather enough data to really do true analysis to get a sense of what’s happening, how long is that? Are you finding that it needs to be deployed before you can start saying, “Okay, we have enough data here to make some– We can analyze and get some insight from”?
Sheri: [18:37] It’s going to be based on that particular nonprofit’s intervention. So if their intervention is a six-week class, after that first six-week class, we’re going to start to have some at least short term outcome information. If it’s a year-long school-based program, then it might take a whole year to start to see the relationships between what an organization does and how well people are better off. But at the very beginning, they’re going to have the insights in terms of who they’re serving and what services they’re providing. They’ll be able to understand if even in the early stages, some early red flags. Like if we know that if you stop showing up after week three, it’s going to flag the clients that are stopping to show up after week three because we understand that there’s this relationship between client engagement and outcomes. And so often in the old model, organizations just waited a year to decide whether they were making a difference or not. But now you have the ability to constantly be monitoring those early warnings or those early indicators to kind of pivot. We’re trying to support these high-performing, flexible cultures and not just data for external reporting sake, but actually, a management tool to drive impact.
Elio: [19:58] So you’re in a space where it’s all human. So let’s take the case of case manager and working with somebody with mental health. Your software is somewhere there in the middle, along with the program, but you have the user on both ends that contribute greatly to impact. What factor in all of this is kind of the person who’s the case manager and then the person who’s the client? How much of that is being factored into actual outcome? Because it’s like the 80/20 rule. We know some case managers are just great. I don’t know if it’s their authenticity. I mean, obviously, there’s a lot of training that goes into getting good but how much of it is the science of using data to develop insight? And how much is it the art of helping people and influencing them to make positive change?
Sheri: [21:04] Sure. Well, what’s exciting is SureImpact will allow a leadership team to answer that question because it will give you some insights into are there differences by your caseworker? And is there something that one caseworker is doing different over another? So you will now have the insights to ask that question, and then you can dig deep like we’ve done this in other studies, where we’ve learned that wow, there are some significant differences happening between outcomes in caseworkers. What’s going on? Then that allows us to go, we like to call it interviewing the rising stars, those outstanding caseworkers that are getting outstanding results, and learn from them and say, “Hey, tell me about what you do and how you do it.” And then that becomes agency best practice. That becomes the standard of care, if you will, or how we do things around here. And I think like every profession, there’s going to be high performers, and they’re going to be some people that maybe aren’t cut out for that job and that’s okay. We all need to find what we’re good at.
Elio: [22:11] Right. Now, where is SureImpact in terms of the development cycle? Are you version one just kind of deployed in doing some beta testing? Are you fully deployed with paying customers? Where are you guys now?
Sheri: [22:28] Yeah, we’re fully deployed with paying customers. It is available on the market for any organization that is interested in measuring and communicating their impact and value. What we are, is already for the single nonprofit organization that wants our system. What we’re very excited about is we are now testing and finalizing our collaborative feature, which means that if I am a funder or collective impact initiative, every nonprofit in that collaborative or collective impact initiative, has a sponsor version of SureImpact, and it allows them to seamlessly share their data together. So it’s a concept called shared measurement, which then now we know as this collective group, how we’re moving the needle. And that’s really what’s going to drive those system-level changes that we talked about early on about why is poverty staying the same rate? Why are people living below a certain income level? Why is that staying stagnant? It’s that collaborative, collective impact shared measurement in those insights that are going to allow communities to just leapfrog like they never have before.
[23:40] Thank you for listening. We’re going to take a quick break and be right back after this message from our sponsor.
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Elio: [24:18] So if I’m hearing you correctly, when deployed, once the data is analyzed, you’re providing back to your customers, actionable insights.
Sheri: [24:29] Yeah, I mean, I would say not even once the data is analyzed, the SureImpact system gives it to you. So it’s not–
Elio: [24:37] In real time.
Sheri: [24:39] Yeah, in real-time.
Elio: [24:40] You could watch your impact, and I don’t know if it’s really like a dashboard where you can see like the stock market, but if you can—
Sheri: [24:45] Yeah, there is a dashboard. Yeah, you log in and you see how you’re changing, moving the needle. How the people you’re serving are going from unemployed to employed or making an average of $8 an hour to $16 an hour. You get to see that in real-time.
Elio: [25:01] Now, is that self-reported? Let’s say you were trying to help somebody get a job and the minute they self-report, then when that is keyed in by the case manager, and then they ask them, “How much do you make?”, and they key that in. So it’s based on feedback from the person being helped, and the person doing the helping, and that’s keyed into the—
Sheri: [25:19] Yeah.
Elio: [25:20] Okay, wonderful. And up until then, there hadn’t been a way to really, in real-time, be able to report that information or gather that.
Sheri: [25:28] Yeah, it typically required somebody else to like me, like my consulting firm, to manipulate the data, to analyze it and give it back to someone, but that’s a lag. It’s not real-time data; it takes some time to get it back. And as we get more users on SureImpact, where my big vision is, is in the future, when there are enough people on the platform, the ability to provide predictive analytics goes up, because then we can send alerts and say, “Hey, you know what? We know that if somebody receives case management services, a referral to a mental health organization, and quality early childhood learning, they’re three times more likely to maintain and retain this employment.” We’re driving policy, we’re driving best practices to better the community.
Elio: [26:22] That’s incredible because I think the piecemeal approach, kind of government funding three different agencies all trying to tackle poverty, when essentially, how you get data that supports that if all three of these agencies are working more collaboratively, they together can have the impact that’s intended, even though they have to go to three different agencies to get what they need, which is kind of crazy, but it is the system that we have. But just having that information can help those nonprofits deliver the outcome that we need to have for that person. Okay.
Sheri: [26:58] Yeah, absolutely.
Elio: [27:00] Yeah. So is this a company that has been bootstrapped? Have you guys been out there raising money? What is that process of your go-to-market? What has that been like?
Sheri: [27:10] Yeah, so we’re very blessed. We do have Rev1 funding. So they provided us early seed investment and letter our early seed round. We have some angel investors as well and are now looking to close that round from some other angel and small seed round VCs. So that’s an experience I never thought I’d ever do was fundraise. But what I realized is with a– I am a non-tech founder, right? I’m an industry expert. I’m a thought leader in this space and a researcher. So I had all the code and the IP, but in terms of how to translate that into development, that’s not a skill set that I personally have. So when you’re a non-tech founder, and you realize, “I have this vision. I know exactly how it should work. I can envision it, but I don’t have the skill to make it happen”, then you have to find the right development partners. And in AWH, as you mentioned at the beginning of this podcast is our development partner, all the way from concept to where we are today, they’ve been along in the journey. Fantastic, but that comes with a cost. They’re not doing it for free. I will say I did something very smart. And that was I got, early on, five of our other businesses’ clients to say yes on a PowerPoint alone. It said, “Hey, I want to build this. Do you want this?” They said, “Yes”. They were willing to pay for their first year’s license upfront. So basically, PowerPoint deck, I’m building this, “Will you pay for your first year’s license upfront?” So that kind of gave me the very, very early seed money plus my own investment to get it going. But then we realized, well, to get it really where we’re going, we need more. So that’s when we went into looking to raise external capital.
Elio: [28:58] Yeah, they saw your human consulting fee, then they saw the price of the SaaS platform, they were like, “We will pay for this upfront, please.”
Sheri: [29:08] Yes. Well, you know, it’s not even just about our fees. It’s about not having to be dependent on someone else to give you insights about your own business. Who wants to do that? I use the analogy about QuickBooks a lot, even though I don’t say that to confuse anyone. It’s just as a business owner, I love to log into QuickBooks and see immediately how my financials are doing. And that’s what SureImpact is for impact. You get to log in at any time and see how all your impact is doing [inaudible 29:40] the social sector instead of just financial.
Elio: [29:40] That is wonderful. Now, you’ve mentioned Rev1 so I have to ask, you’re a Rev1 funded company, and Rev1puts out this report every year and they talk about economic impact. Does SureImpact have anything to do with that economic Impact number? Are they deploying your software to measure how they’re impacting things now? Just out of curiosity because I see that in their report all the time.
Sheri: [30:07] I wish they were. I think they should. But I have asked them a lot of questions about “How are you tracking that? Hey, do you know how SureImpact can help you?”
Elio: [30:17] Okay, so you’re pitching that internally?
Sheri: [30:19] Yes.
Elio: [30:21] Good.
Sheri: [30:21] We’re working on it [but] no, they are not affiliated as a SureImpact user, only as SureImpact investor.
Elio: [30:36] Okay. What’s the future for SureImpact? Let’s look short term, maybe what would you like to see over the next 12 months, and then over the next five years?
Sheri: [30:35] Sure. Well, very exciting, we just entered into a formal partnership with a National Foundation, and that is going to bring SureImpact to 50 markets across the country, and nearly 150 nonprofit providers will be on the platform. Next 12 months roadmap, we’re looking to just deliver amazing customer support to these fantastic organizations in all of these markets. My big vision is that SureImpact is the platform that all government nonprofits use to do their work. Just like small businesses login, and they use QuickBooks, not all of them, but a lot of them do. We can be that technology for the 21st century for nonprofits.
Elio: [31:23] Well, Sheri, thank you so much for joining me on this episode. I really appreciate it. This is so fascinating to me – measuring impact. Every episode I do my one takeaway, and my one takeaway is this: bottom line is great, we all know that. We have to return value to our shareholders. We need to have a lot of green in the bank to continue investing in our companies and in our employees, but you cannot forego impact and measuring impact. And for 614Startups, we need to begin thinking about that. No, we’re not a not for profit, but are we having an impact? We would like to think so because we want to tell stories like this and inspire founders and investors to make the Midwest the best place to build a business. Thank you so much for joining us on another episode. Peace.
[32:20] That’s a wrap. You can find this and all our episodes on our website, 614startups.com, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, and all your favorite podcasting platforms. Don’t forget to subscribe and write a review. If you would like updates sent to your inbox, you can sign up for our weekly newsletter on the website. To engage in the 614Startups community, follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at 614Startups to join the conversation. For sponsorship opportunities and collaborations, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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