In his first year of business, Jared Pope has grown his company, Work Shield, to over 13,000 current employees currently covered and 40,000 in the on-boarding process. It has accumulated over $1 million in annualized revenue by “commoditizing the legal industry,” according to Pope.
It has done this by disrupting the system currently in place to manage workplace harassment and discrimination. In its place, the company has created a health care-like model where employees are provided with an external resource for reporting workplace harassment. The employer is entirely removed from the investigation process and are protected from legal recourse. Employee reports go directly to Work Shield, where they are then investigated by an external team of lawyers. In turn, the employers are given the information needed to act and protect the culture they have created.
Pope grew up in Texas and met his wife in law school. He describes himself as a father and a husband first. Prior to starting Work Shield, Pope found himself working as a lawyer for a firm, as to be expected of someone with a law degree. He bounced around between a few firms before going in-house with a smaller insurance brokerage business. It was at this company that he began to learn the insurance business inside and out. Specifically, property and casualty, health and welfare and benefits on the administration side of things and how employers approached those sectors. However, the company was eventually sold and Pope found himself working for a company that he did not agree with:
“I said, 'I don’t really want to do that' and I decided to hang my own shingle. That was about eight years ago. I started my own law firm and really got into the entrepreneurial spirit. I kinda realized from selling books in previous history that I’m probably the best boss for me.”
The firm became a quick success. It saw quick growth, which provided Pope the opportunity to explore being an entrepreneur. He began to learn as much as he could, pushing into new fields of business. “I often tell people I failed successfully from those ventures," he said. "I have also been successful as well from those ventures, from both a growth and knowledge, and even a financial standpoint.”Â
The initial idea for Work Shield came from a client of Pope’s law firm while he was working on another business. One day he received an email from a client of the law firm about an article they had seen in the paper. He wanted to know if they should consider being involved. Pope set out to research and found that it was a “glorified health reimbursement arrangement.” From here, the thought arose that workplace harassment and discrimination was a problem that needed a solution, and he questioned why employers were not addressing it.
The systems and plans in place operated so that an employee could reach out to an anonymous hotline from human resources or artificial intelligence chatbot that would then intake their complaint. That complaint would then be passed on to their employer, generally the person who the complaint was about in the first place. This led to a lack of reporting that further perpetuates the issue and the employee is placed in a position of fear of retaliation.
As previously mentioned, Work Shield eliminates the contact between the employer and the complaint filed by an employee. This provides a unique opportunity for Work Shield to approach the problem differently than any other platform on the market. Pope describes the approach as having a “conversational tone” instead of being accusatory. People are approached and encouraged to tell their side of the story of what has happened. This creates a dialogue around the issue rather than finger-pointing between employees.
The company also offers employees the option to reach out via an online platform and a call center as well. It will even go so far as to type out the complaint for the employee if they do not feel comfortable doing so. Employees can submit fully anonymous complaints if they so choose. However, in the last year, only two total submissions have been anonymous.
With this reporting mechanism in place, employees are placed in a safe position to report any harassment and discrimination they may enounter without fear of repercusions. At the same time, the employer is provided with the reports so that they have the opportunity to address the issues that are affecting their workplace culture.
When these reports are acted upon, it creates what Pope calls a “chilling” effect on the workplace. Employees see that action will be taken against transgressions and incident rates decrease significantly. "We are already showing a 60 to 70% reduction in incident rates within a company,” Pope said. According to the data that Work Shield has compiled, there is approximately a 4% to 5% incident rate in businesses of around 1,000 employees. With the reduction from Work Shield, this would see almost an entire elimination of all reports. In short, the Work Shield solution has proven that it works.
For the employers themselves, the choice to switch is relatively simple. Work Shield bills its clients on a per-employee, per-month basis. Employers are given a static upfront charge for each employee each month with no hidden fees. There is no guesswork for the chief financial officer or human resources when calculating the cost. On top of this, thanks to its partnership with another law firm, all lawyer fees are included within the fixed cost. There are no additional charges for lawyer involvement in the investigation process. This greatly simplifies expenses planning for human resources.
According to Pope, Work Shield creates legal protection for its clients as well. “So to put it kind of bluntly, if an employer has Work Shield on their platform, because of some legal rules they can actually never be held liable for workplace harassment issues,” he said. This in turn allows the employer to work internally to solve the problems at hand.
For Pope, the success of Work Shield came early on. In January 2018, he had two separate dinners with clients. He pitched both of them the idea of Work Shield to test the waters and see if they were interested. He found that both clients were unhappy with the current management systems they were using and that they were highly interested in the model. Pope went home, told his wife the plan and worked for six months to create the platform. He then returned to the two clients with a proposal. These two would become some of the earliest clients of Work Shield.
While the client list has continually grown over the last year, Pope recalls a breakthrough moment that came as a surprise. One day, without any outreach whatsoever, two separate companies requested a proposal from Work Shield. “We got a request from a company in D.C. and another one from Seattle, or not Seattle, but over in Oregon and Washington asking for a proposal," he said. "I had no idea where they came from. They came to our website, and saw what we were doing, and asked for a proposal. It's been interesting to gain clients in that manner.”
Looking toward the future, Pope is excited for the company. It is expecting to have an additional three to four employees join its force by the end of the first quarter in 2020. He described a great deal of momentum moving into the future. One key aspect of this momentum is the data that Work Shield has been collecting in the last year.
This data provides insight into workplace harassment and management that has never been seen by the industry before. Pope described the current state of this data as scattered, with little to no organization. Work Shield confines this information to a single database, where all reports and solutions are found together. This provides the basis for Pope’s vision moving down the road.
His goal is to make Work Shield into a certification in the industry. One “where you can walk into a building and see Work Shield on the wall,” Pope said, much like current LEED building certification. He believes the industry will come to require its data to actually write policy for companies. In turn, insurance companies would require Work Shield data to underwrite company policies and provide premium breaks. This would provide a higher standard for workplace harassment and discrimination management. One where Pope believes people can walk into a company and know they are protected the minute they step through the door.
There is currently no other company providing the services that Work Shield does. Pope described this as a “first mover advantage,” in which he expects the company to become the standard across all companies. However, its main competitor comes from the lawyers that have been the main player in the field up until this point. Pope remains confident that his company can overcome their presence as the Work Shield solution is not focused on suing employers, and its services are far less costly.
At the same time, Pope is acutely aware that new competitors will arise as Work Shield becomes increasingly popular. Unlike most, Pope is excited for these competitors to enter the industry. He believes the more companies that try to replicate what Work Shield is doing, the more they will be able to differentiate themselves. Additionally, he said more competition brings greater credibility to their work as a whole:
“Look we are going to get competitors and that is great. I think it brings more credibility to what we are doing. A lot of people get scared when someone enters the marketplace. We think of it as an opportunity, a great opportunity, because we can show what we do different. It also shows how we are different and we can learn from that...No one really does what we do.”Â
Question and Answer
GuruFocus: Would you consider selling the business?
Pope: Yes, I would. Is this a legacy company for my kids down the road? I can’t answer that question. I don’t think it’s going to be. It could be. We are going to have a lot of data. We are going to have a lot of lives that we are managing. We look at this like an investor would look at their portfolio. What are your assets under management? We look at it as lives under management because the more lives we get, the more data we are able to see. The more lives we are able to impact. So would we ever sell? Yeah, absolutely. I think any founder or CEO that says “no, I never want to sell” is not telling you the whole truth. It is always an option and I think people often say “there’s always a number.” I think it comes back to greed and being fair. With our case, and I told everyone that is involved with the company, if we ever get an offer, when we do, we are going to do what is fair for the company and what is fair for everybody.
GuruFocus: Is there anything you do not like about the business or wish you could change?
Pope: Well the buck stops with you. Sometimes you grapple with what decisions you want to make or what direction to go to. Some people can approach that as it's not fun, from that standpoint, because everyone is looking at you saying how do you want to approach this? Or how do you want to take this on? How do you want to expand? Do you want to grow over here or over here? They’re looking for your advice and you’re the leader, the CEO, the founder, the vision and some people can let that take them down and get them into a dump… Look, if you have to fire somebody, someone else isn't doing it. You’re doing it. If you are hiring somebody, you have to sign off on it and are you hiring the right person or the wrong person.
GuruFocus: Where do you look for inspiration?
Pope: I have a few very close friends of mine. Look, I am a people person and I have a lot of friends, but I have a few very, very close friends. I also have a twin brother. I can call my twin brother at any time and he is going to pick up the phone and talk. Whether it is good or bad, he is going to tell me what I need to know. He is very straightforward like that. My wife is my best friend. It is hard and interesting because she is in the company and sometimes I just need to talk to someone else. I really fall back on that notion that I learned when I was 19 years old. Control what you can control. Oftentimes when you face those hard moments and feel like I am down in the dumps, like, what is going on and why is this happening? You take an objective look in the mirror and ask yourself, how did I get here? Was I trying to control things that I couldn’t control? Often times that answer is yes when you end up there.
Pope’s advice for entrepreneurs
Things start with brand awareness:
While Pope may have found some early success in the network of businesses he was already familiar with, he had to make a tough decision and hire on a public relations firm to help spread his brand name. It was not a cheap thing to do. To really grow a business, people need to be aware of what the business is and what their motives are. Getting your name out there is key to gaining a following and eventually clients.
Don’t waste a good idea:
When you have an idea for a business or product that could be a success, do not let it fall to the wayside. Test it with friends and family and get it into the hands of potential customers. Here Pope says to go with your gut instinct. If you know you have a good idea, jump on it. If you wait too long, someone else will start the business or bring your product to market. Make your idea a reality and don’t look back. Grow from the mistakes you make and continue to progress your ideas.
Always be a startup:
Pope knows that being an established business allows for credibility in your work. He welcomes the notion of Work Shield being a household name. However, he believes that acting as a startup is the best way to make your business better. Always try to better your product and learn more about the industry you operate in. Take advice from your customers and try to grow your business. Staying in this mentality is the key to making your idea bigger and better. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that you cannot learn more and be better.
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