Creating a Lifeline in Communities | Disrupt SF (Day 2)
2:47AM Sep 7, 2018
criminal justice system
mental health crises
We're not going to hear from Phaedra Ellis Lamkins from promise from rose a three sorry Rose Afriyie from mrelief Frederick Hutson from pigeonly and Neal Shaw from concern about how tech can help empower inmates and create pathways to success in communities. And they're going to be in conversation with Henry Pickavet. Who's the editorial director. No less of TechCrunch round of applause. Please, everybody.
Good morning, everybody. Thank you for sticking around for this panel. It's an important one, because the people up on stage right now are doing very important work. And they're trying really hard to get the support of venture capital in Silicon Valley. And they're also working with government. So before we get started, though, I want to start with Frederick. And go down the line and just tell us the connections, the personal connections you have to your company's
cool. My name is Frederick Hutson. I'm the CEO and founder of pigeonly and basically what we built is a platform that makes it possible for people to search find and connect with their loved ones in prison. And the idea started with my personal experience serve close to five years in federal prison for distribution of marijuana. And while I was there saw there's this huge population of people that no one's paying attention to. And it's very difficult and expensive to stay connected. And you know, when I was released out, my co founder said you know Technology is more than no place to solve this and here we are today.
Neal, my name is Neal Shaw, the CEO of concern. We are compassionate alternative to 911 for people experiencing mental health crises, homelessness and substance abuse issues here in San Francisco and my personal connections. By the time I was 28, I was arrested seven times and spent time in jail. I wish I knew about you four years ago and I've experienced my own mental health issues. And also when I was a very young boy we 5150 my father on a psychiatric call to get a mental health breakdown. So it's it's personal for me and I think I just can't see what goes on in this city. If you walk around this city people languishing on the streets anymore.
My name is Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins and the co founder of a company called promise and we're alternative to incarceration. So we work with governments to get people out of jail who are bail eligible, but can't afford to get out. I co founded the company after losing someone I love dearly to addiction and spend some time trying to understand why we hadn't built a system that was care based and treated people instead of punishing them.
Good morning everyone. My name is Rose Afriyie. A huge thank you to TechCrunch for inviting us. I am the co founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization mrelief and we are addressing the problem of billions of dollars and unclaimed food stamp benefits in America each year. This is also a very personal issue for me. I am the product of public assistance programs born and raised in New York in the public housing projects and also a food program made it possible for my mother to spend less money on Food and more resources towards her nursing degree.
And she's been a nurse now for more than 25 years. And in that way it helped unlock not just food for my family, but economic opportunity. And so for us, we've now unlocked more than $44 million in food stamp benefits through an easy to use platform on web text messaging and voice that helps people enroll end to end in food stamps with dignity.
Thank you Okay in a round of applause for them. Just for we're going
Rose I want to start with you you talked about the billions of dollars of food stamps left on the table. Um, I remember being a kid eight years old in 1980 taking the food stamp booklet to the grocery store and having people kind of watch me but I didn't understand it. So you've talked about stigma being a barrier to people even trying to access those benefits. Can you talk a little about about the connection stigma in the role it plays in in mrelief
Absolutely. So a lot of what our platform is about is making it super easy for you to discover whether or not you're even likely eligible. A lot of people think because of the stigma that you have to be absolutely destitute. And indeed, when the food stamp program was first started in the US, you actually were, it really was for very very poor people.
And so we really go to where people are in the age of the digital era. So we're integrated. I know Neal mentioned being right here in San Francisco. We're integrated in every public library desktop right here in the county of San Francisco. We're also in Facebook feeds were searchable on Google and Bing. And so a lot of what that does is it allows people to have a private way for them to find out whether or not they're eligible and then we hold their hand through every step of the way we follow up with the office. We also make sure that low income families have a free ride to the office to go and get their benefit in hand and under 48 hours.
Yes. Um, so the, the mrelief has the technology and you're dealing with, with probably legacy systems to and Phaedra you work with counties in, in California so far, and how and how many states
we have three states we work with, in addition to California.
Okay. And so the problem with working with government, there's probably many problems working with the government, but their legacy technology systems, right. Um, and then and then the government should be taken care of all of these problems. So what has been your your has there been a barrier to entry working with the counties or do they really are they excited to work with you?
Um, I think people are excited because we we haven't entered any place where people didn't realize the current system isn't working, what it tends to be as sometimes we find players who are invested in the current system who don't want change.
I might run a jail. And I don't want to get everyone out, because that's kind of my fiefdom. And so I don't want it to actually decrease the number of folks. And so I'm like, Who are you releasing? You know, like, we've had a couple of pretty fascinating meetings.
But I think what's interesting is that in a lot of places, government has figured out how to make things work, because we see people on everything from file maker pro to Microsoft Access. And so I think the real opportunity for all of us is to be able to integrate those technologies and to be able to be do things like data and analytics and to be able to provide feedback, but it's definitely I think a part of all of our companies is understanding kind of forward deployment,
right. What how, when you come to them as a technology company with trying really to affect change with bail reform. Mm hmm. Are they skeptical or they want to they want that problem change or they want to try to change it themselves.
I think in did people Come to us for different reasons, right? So one state that we're working with, they're really focused on the opioid crisis. And because the opioid crisis, their jails are now filled. And so they're in a place where almost 90% of the people in their jail are pre trial. And so they haven't been convicted of a crime they were arrested for, and it's largely addiction and mental health issues. So I think what they're trying to figure out is, whatever we're doing isn't working.
Can you help us figure out what is it works? I think it's it's one piece bail reform, but really, ultimately, how do you what are the strategies that actually work to stop someone from coming back to jail, and we think it's employment and support and addiction support. And so I think being able to learn things like does anger management work for domestic violence, we think it may not work does do you measure risk by how many interactions with police? Probably not because we know you're most likely to have interaction with a cop. If you're poor and brown, black or brown right so
So, so figuring out both what are the biases and what are the things that actually work and stopping someone from going back to jail? I think so we get we get some folks around bail reform, but we get many more people who are just like, how do I build a smarter system that's less biased or more effective, and or,
well, that segues in with Neil and the work that concern does, right, because people can walk down the street and instead of calling 911, which 70% of the calls of 911 is mental health
In San Francisco, 80% of calls to 911 are related to mental health. And what we allow people to do essentially is activate their empathy. So you're walking down Market Street, or I'm sure some of these people at this conference from out of town turn on the corner from Howard on the Sixth Street and they go like wide eyed emoji like because if you walk down 6th Street, you know what I'm talking about. We allow people to pull out their phones submit a mobile crisis report just like you would order a lyft.
Except you'd order compassionate Crisis Response Team people that are trained from the community to de escalate the situation and we train them in our model of compassionate response. And then instead of police getting out there or or worse, doing nothing for our folks, your as a citizen or as a non citizen, anybody can use the app you're allowing yourself to activate your community to help people get the help they need and linkages to care rather than jails and hospitals.
And and the thing from the public sector people don't understand all the time is I think the conversation is around a lot a lot around not having police show up because we know that the negative repercussions of showing up with a gun and a badge to somebody in a mental health crisis. The other side of that is a lot of the times police are taking people to SF general it's like emergency which has 20 beds and we've got people going there on 5150 holds getting released after 24 hours and they're right back on the street. And if you get released on patrol and I can tell you from personal
experience you are going to try and get your next fix. You have no linkage to care when you get booted out of the emergency dislike emergency room, and it's the same three to 5% of people on our streets that are accounting for 80% of those costs. So we definitely have a public health and a public safety crisis
and and to speak to what you were saying is right now we're in the process of piloting collaboration with the Chiefs bill Scott was SF PD, and hopefully in early 2019 will have a collaboration where the tenderloin police department which is where half of the homeless population exists in San Francisco will be using the concern app to and instead of going through the process they go through arrest or taking people to jail. We already have cops using the app we have.
We've had over over 100 reports from cops themselves it's just not part of their official protocol and what we're going to also try and triangulate with the medical director and It's like emergency at general so that we don't have people cycling through those three systems and we can catch them at intercept zero right that's the actual official term is intercept zero when the person is in crisis before they go through the criminal justice system or the public health system
well let's turn to funding too because you when we talked you were talking about the fact that the police are using it and maybe the chief of police wasn't excited about using it that some of his cops were using it um. Are you getting any funding to help promote promote the widespread use of this of this app from not only on private citizens like myself but but cops medical etcetera
so interesting thing is I think concerns unique at least on the panel that we're a tech nonprofit so we're not a for profit company we we are getting funding from a couple arms the tech companies google.org twilio.org we use Twilio to power all our SMS dispatch and our new app that we're testing right now that we're releasing Soon we'll have a Twilio studio chatbot to automate dispatch, that's just the tech side. We do have a small grant from Kaiser Permanente.
Now we are doing our first training this Saturday, actually, we're going to be training homeless peers to do behavioral health outreach and crisis intervention. So right now the city of San Francisco department of supportive home on homelessness, Department of Public Health, their responses usually if it's a peer response, which all our responders are, it's somebody with previous lived experience.
My definition of a peer being a person in recovery myself is that we need to include if we're going to talk about tech and design thinking and all that stuff. We need to include people on the street experiencing homelessness as part of the solution to the problem so we're going to be training people that are currently experiencing homelessness and their own behavioral health issues to go out on the streets and do escorts and navigation for other people. crisis to answer your question about funding. Fuck
Oh my God. We're struggling, I mean, we are bootstrapped tech nonprofit. And yes, we're building a public profile. But the funding rarely ever matches the the, the growth of the operations and the need right. And the major gap and what we're doing so looking at you folks
Speaking of in funding Frederick. So over the course of six years you've raised 5 million.
Yeah, five years. So we raised over 5 million so far.
What was that process? Like? Did you get a lot of no's before you got to? Yes, of course, of course you always, you know, talk to us about your nos.
Um, so you gotta remember when I first when we raised our first seed round, I had only been out of prison for 12 months, right? So not only did I not fit the typical profile that a VC is looking at or invest technology investors looking at but they also had to deal with the fact that what is the guy just got out of prison and you know, he's asking for a million bucks, right thing
that I don't even understand. Nobody I know has been to prison before. I didn't even know this was a problem. I don't even know people. was paying $15 to talk on the phone for 15 minutes, $15 for 15 minute phone call, right. So because it was so different and they know they people that we spoke to, didn't have anything to benchmark goes to as far as the problem that we're solving and why need to resolve it was just it was a struggle. I mean, we, we we talked to probably 60 people and out of the 60 people we had maybe five or six people invest which is norm I think that's probably typical but it was really just what I learned is that I had to quickly
identify people who didn't get it and get them out the way sooner than later rush you spend so much time spinning your wheels on investors that are not interested just don't get it right so what I learned very early on is to identify the people who got it and understood it and invest my time there versus trying to convince people across that line
and and that's how we're so and then after that first seed round at that point you know we had a lot more credibility we start to deliver on stuff that we said that we would and then from there was really just always about over delivering everything that we said that they would and then we was always able to successfully raise more money.
And, you know, now to the point we are now we're profitable and we're looking to the next big stage of what we want to reach. So, you know, that was our fundraising experience.
So you're still you're still raising right now for more growth. Right, right.
What does that growth look like to you? What does that what that what does that growth look like to you?
So for us is I think the big thing that I see now is, you know, we spent the first few years you know, building out the product, we spent a lot of time designing it to work with every single federal, county and state prison us so our database has over 17,000 facilities in it. And each one has its own unique rules. Each one has this unique setup,
so it's it's very time intensive, is basically you know, echoing what we're Phaedra were just talking about is that every place works a little bit different. They're not all exactly the same, right, and they all use different technologies and there's there's no there's no cookie cutter approach. So that's we spent a lot of time there but once we did that in resolve the communication platform now you know, we connect people over 80 different countries all
Communicate with someone here in states we do, you know, a little over 2,000,000 phone minutes a month, we ship three 4000 prints a day all over the US. So we got we nailed that product for the communication side. But then we realize there's a big disconnect with criminal justice data side as an in general. So what we found was that in order for our product to work, we had to know who was in prison, where they imprison, we needed to know what's the rules at the facility for what can come in the mail, what can come in the mail, we need to know what phone providers All right, that facility, we need to know what are the rates that for those phone providers, so there was just a lot of data that goes into even just making our products work.
And then we realize that there's a lot of people that could innovate in a criminal justice system, but they can't because they don't have access to that data. So what we started focused attention to now is basically organizing all cream justice data. So we can see simple things of who's in Joe winning Joe, what's the bail amounts, what was the crimes, what are the demographics of like, what's their race, age, sex, etc. And so that other companies can build other interesting products and services that can address all sorts of problems within a criminal justice system beyond just
Communication for example a big opportunity is background checks no background checks is a mess right so over two thirds of companies do background checks run the problem of background checks is that only shows that he was arrested it doesn't show that maybe he was arrested in the charges were dropped it doesn't show that users rested and maybe that has happened 15 years ago so when I apply for a job it just says I was arrested problem is over 13 million people arrested every year right so
it's very it's very large group of people that that experienced this and because background checks This is so efficient with the data that shows it doesn't give any provided employer any context right so that's just one small area that's a huge industry that can't be no innovation can happen in that and so someone fixes or criminal justice data problem so that we're reporting the right thing the right way with the proper with the proper context around it
sounds like you to a partnership with them. Promise some point?
Yeah. Yeah. We talked Yeah.
Phaedra I'm kind of going off of the the accelerator you did an accelerator right for Yes, I'm Phaedra, you went through Y Combinator.
I did I was, um, we'll talk to us about the difference between the accelerator process and the one on one meeting process. What was that like for you? And the one on one on one meeting process when you meet a venture capital, just like in person versus the accelerator?
Yeah. So my problem is, I raised all my money before Demo Day. Okay. So, um, which now if I were doing it over, I might do it a little differently. So what Y Combinator Y Combinator was funny to me, because we, when we went to us to do the first interview, which was just in January of this year, um, it was like,
we were clearly like, the only women people of color and it was kind of hysterical, because like, I drove up in my minivan. My co founders, a lawyer, criminal defense lawyer, and she came and like, flower jeans and Birkenstocks. And we walk in and all these like, Young Dudes are like, Where's your product? How many users do you have? And we're like, so. We have this idea
so Y Combinator was somewhat entertaining for us but also very helpful. So Y Combinator was great Michael and Gustaf for our partners were were really helpful and I think because we had kids and we really cared we felt passionate so like I said I'm going to raise it this valuation Michael's like, No way and I was like, I'm gonna do this and he's like, okay, go bring me three investors so I was like, okay and I came back and I was like, I got three investors at that valuation and he was like, okay, so keep going.
And so and we raised probably within a week. Um, and so it was relatively Why didn't have kind of a difficult experience in terms of raising. I had a couple of people who are just jerks. Uh huh. And
was it because Was it because of the topic was because of you? Is it because of the way the meetings went? Um, we don't know why they were jerks. But
you know, I think it was probably Um, I one is, I think there was an arrogance of like, you pitch me and a couple people asked for a meeting. And at the beginning, I was like, I didn't have a deck. I was like, sounds like, you know, and I was like, Okay, here's what we're doing. And then as we got a deck, and then I just think there is a, I think, for a lot of people who don't come out of tech and and come out of talk. I've been running revenue for a couple of years and another tech company
but I think we don't speak the same language. And I think sometimes venture capital is very focused at pattern recognition. And so you come in and you look like a different pattern. And, you know, like, we didn't have a technical co founder, we didn't want to be in San Francisco.
I wasn't 15 and I wanted to make a living wage and we wanted to hire people who weren't 12 it was we wanted government to be our clients. We thought that we could build a product that wasn't we didn't want to charge people
We thought electronic monitoring was bad. You don't like we had all these perspectives that I think from a business sense also people didn't understand. And I think we were grown up enough that when someone said something, we're just like, you're probably not our people. And I think that people aren't used to and so and people were just arrogant and rude and dismissive. And and and then if it was, I just said, I don't think we're probably a good fit. Should we should stop meeting I'm sure. And I had that about four or five times and then we raised and then
you have momentum now probably because of the raise a few months ago, right. You have some momentum going right now.
Yeah, we raised 4 million relatively quickly and and so so I and I think I was concerned like as a black woman I said this is going to be really hard to raise money I prep myself I was like mentally in it and then I think I had run revenue before and I think that gives you and all the investors and a lot of the investors and promise were investors and the last company I ran revenue at So I think if people think, oh, you can make money, they're a little less likely to kind of have other issues. And so,
so that was really good. And then I the one thing I would say, wish I had known is I wish I had known that having investors who believe in you and your vision and values are more important than brand names. Because I think in the beginning, I was like, I need to go get brand name. So I am validated that we are this kind of person. And now I'm like, I can raise from whoever their name is, whoever is going to create the space for the vision I have for my company.
Good. We have just a minute and a half left, but I want to rose you one of the things that strikes strikes me as people in Phaedra, you just kind of alluded to it is kind of not understanding the need so I don't think people think about the fact that people who need food stamps don't have 16 minutes on their phones to sit on hold and so what is the the the conversation like? You're trying to explain this to an investor.
So I would say that a lot of the issues circle around the idea that there is still a huge number of people in the US who do not have access to the internet. So if you make underneath $30,000 a year, about a third of people don't have regular access to a smartphone. And that doesn't even count people who run out of data each month. And so that has been a huge challenge for us. But I think we have this product differentiation. We also built on Twilio.
And for every $51, you donate to mrelief, we can unlock 2280 for a family. And if it's a senior, that's more than $6,000 over three years, and so it's worth it to donate into us because we really make that capital work for families and unlock food for them. And we've had a really great start. We've raised so far 1.1 million towards our current round of 2.6 million. And so we really encourage people to visit us at www.mrelief.com
Thank you. Um any last thoughts you we have investors probably in the audience you have anything you want to say
give us some money
now we're looking for philanthropic capital right? So we haven't earned revenue model we're releasing a new product that will hopefully be a SAS product and data analytics but for us it's important not just we went through a tech accelerator as well fast forward but it was tech nonprofit right so and and and Spock talking to demo day the day before demo day I found out my father got admitted the hospital for addiction issues and and so that was it was tough for me to go in front of like a group of people like this and ask for money when I my mind somewhere else and then he passed away three months later in December so I didn't really get to host accelerated get to go with that push.
So this year has been a really big year for concern because we've got a new board that's just amazing. I mean real ballers real big players in the public health and public space, safety space and criminal justice as well. We are looking for people to invest in us. grow this because this problem homelessness, mental health, substance abuse is now endemic to San Francisco. It's already happening in Oakland it's already happening in other parts of the Bay Area and and we've got this as a national problem and so we want to take it on and and we're up for the challenge. We just want people to join us in that mission.
Thanks again thank everybody who give them money.