Social tools for kids’ well-being

One  Seventeen Media

Our why is to help kids discover their value so they can revel in who they are.

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From busts in the plumbing lines to facilitating board meetings, I guess you could say I’ve done it all around the office! Sometimes with more finesse than at other times but all the while wanting to serve our team as a rock solid example of doing whatever it takes. As a social venture entrepreneur, my commitment is to building our company with a greater purpose that includes higher standards of accountability, transparency and performance.

In my previous company, Align Solutions, as a partner and National Marketing Director, I helped pioneer the first Internet consulting firm to fully converge two industries into a “technology-meets-design” company. After becoming Houston’s Fastest Growing Company, Align became the largest of eight companies to merge into Luminant Worldwide, the largest, mid-cap IPO in the tech sector (September 1999) with a $158 million valuation. It was a fun ride and we all learned a lot about managing culture, sustainable growth and how to have a good time while still holding firmly onto the roadmap to get us there.

My most rewarding experiences have been those “aha moments” when you know that the questions you have asked and the observations you have made have resulted in light bulbs going off for kids. We view kids as our top level stakeholders. What they think matters to us. So there is a lot of customer discovery going on here at OneSeventeen Media!

When we surveyed over 5,500 U.S. students in 2005 about their school experiences around bullying, we also learned that cyberbullying was becoming more prevalent – even before the media was talking about it. This “aha moment” was evidenced by the interviews we had on CNN, HLN and ABC, and in People Magazine, USA Today, Time and others. The self-helping insights students were sharing were so powerful we extended this teachable moment by selecting the best of the best essays. The top 95 bullying and cyberbullying stories with peer advice, selected out of the teen survey participants, were published in a book in 2006.

And, yes, I was on Twitter before my sons. It was July 2007 not long after Twitter made a big splash at SXSW in Austin.  I finally convinced them to take the plunge December 2009 and now they’re both awesome social media gurus.

“It tells you ideas to do. It like gives you a little light bulb in your head.” 8th grader

I cut my creative teeth in the fast-paced advertising world at one of the largest Southeastern ad agencies in Nashville, TN. After moving back to my home town, Houston, in 1982, I found myself with a stellar portfolio of agency experience but unable to get full-time work thanks to the 1980’s oil boom, bust and subsequent recession.  Being young enough to not know how afraid I probably should have been, I jumped in for an eat-or-die entrepreneurial venture, founding my first private company by breaking a continual sweat and delivering exceptional customer experiences.

In 1997, I parlayed the design and marketing firm I co-founded with Beth Carls into founding partner equity in Align Solutions, an internet consulting startup. I was part of the team of 10 co-founders that steered Align to a staggering 8,164% growth in less than three years. Align became Luminant Worldwide, the largest mid-cap IPO in the tech sector (September 1999) with a $158 million valuation. Yes, those were the heady days when you could get money for an idea sketched out on a napkin!

Creating OneSeventeen Media is the culmination of my social venture dream (Bucket List item #2) to be a part of a passionate team (Beth, Cliff, Eric, Mike, Carol, Randy, Shellie, Ted & and countless others) to help kids avoid and work-through the kinds of challenges I overcame during my growing up years. Yes, I was actually hung on the playground with a jump rope by a bully. Literally, my life was saved by the recess bell. Today, I use social technologies to engage kids in their own discovery process to survive anything life throws their way.

Lastly, the inspiration that fuels my passion comes from my Mom (for her love and more) who shared this advice with me about being a parent – “Find a way to say yes to your children as much as you can because you will have to say no so often to keep them safe.” My brother – who reminds me, “It is what it is.” And one of my greatest gifts – the opportunity to co-parent two beautiful boys. They’ve suffered through my parental experiments to be cool and in-touch by asking them way too many times, “So how does that make you feel?” I give them thanks for teaching me some of my greatest life lessons to pour into what I do for the kids I serve through my work with OneSeventeen Media!

I was lucky enough to dive into digital experiences right out of design school, getting a job at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in 1994. Designing for smartphones and tablets today brings on flashbacks to those interactive touchscreen exhibits back then. The journey from then to now has been a series of dream jobs – starting a “new media” company with three partners from the Museum, riding the dot com boom with Amy and Beth at Align Solutions and Luminant and being a Group Creative Director at Razorfish helping lead some of the largest accounts in the company such as AT&T, JCPenney, BlackBerry and Samsung Mobile North America. This was a great opportunity to work on big accounts and was lots of fun for a geek like me.

In January 2013 I left what I affectionately called my second family at Razorfish and joined the late stage Startup MapMyFitness as Vice President of Design. After six months I was asked to take on the Chief Product Officer role.  We grew the product to 15,000 users and all of our hard work culminated in an acquisition by Under Armour in late 2013.

I had quite a ride and left Under Amour in February 2015 for a long overdue sabbatical – my first real time away from work in 20 years. I’m jumping back into the mix now for the chance to join Amy and Beth again in their crusade to make a real difference in the lives of kids. Having two girls of my own, ages 20 and 12, and living the ups-and-downs of their own personal journeys, I can’t think of a better next chapter in my career.

My wife and I have drawn inspiration from raising our two children who are natively digital. And you know what that means – I can crush it on MineCraft!

Our story is simple – we’re passionate enough to want to make an audacious difference in kids’ lives.

Can you imagine kids using technology to self-help?

In late 1999, long before today’s red-hot EdTech industry came into being, we challenged conventional adult thinking that there was no need for kids to use technology in schools. The prevailing thought was, “Kids needed more face-to-face relationship time and less playing games on computers time.“

My partners, Beth, Cliff and I had just been part of the power-house team that took our technology consulting company public. Having created tech-based solutions for so many Fortune 500 companies, we wondered – how would young Jedi-like digital natives continue to push technology boundaries?

Note: we were having this conversation before Apple released its first “1,000 songs in your pocket” (iPod) in October 2001. And, before Facebook’s launch in February 2004 – we’re pondering if a new character education focused tech company would be useful for kids to use computers, mobile phones (feature phones and Blackberry’s back then) to help themselves solve problems and create community.

I don’t know if it was the “party like it’s 1999” affect, as Prince sings in his famous song of the same name, that set us on fire to change the world or not. But, I do know this, more than 15 years later we’re still as fired up to change the world. We care about kids. We care about how kids use technology for their well-being. We care about making an audacious impact for kids to have a better chance to be their best.

It’s true. I’m the techie parent who introduced my boys to Twitter.

  Beth Carls,

Co-Founder, CEO

He walked right up to me and put the noose around my neck.

  Amy Looper,

Co-Founder, COO

I’m the father of a 12-year old. Can you say MineCraft?

  Cliff Drane,

  Partner, CPO


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