Rave Mobile CEO On The Price Of Safety In The “Me Too” Era

Todd Piett, CEO of Rave Mobile Safety

There isn’t a big difference between leadership in the civilian world and leadership in the military, says Todd Piett, CEO of Rave Mobile Safety.

“People expect when somebody comes out of a military leadership role that they’re very much [into a] ‘my way or the highway’ kind of approach. But that’s actually pretty far from the reality,” says Piett, who graduated with honors from the United States Military Academy at West Point and served seven years in the U.S. Army as an aviation officer. Piett says in both environments you are identifying and working with bright people, motivating and empowering those people, and making sure the right controls are in place to allow them to succeed.

This mentality has served him well at Rave, where he spent several years as chief product officer before taking over as chief executive last year. The Framingham, Mass.-based Rave makes software and phone applications for safety and critical communications, many of its clients coming in education, healthcare, and other large-scale enterprises that rely on fast and accurate safety communication to the masses.

Piett spoke with Chief Executive about how the company’s safety applications are more pertinent today than ever before, the ways in which CEOs can justify enterprise tech investments and more. Below are excerpts from that conversation.

Talk a little bit about the company itself. What are some of the big industries that you guys work in and what are the big opportunities in those industries?

We’re all about safety. It’s really about connecting organizations with those they protect. It might be in the public safety space. It might be making sure law enforcement or emergency management agencies can interact with their citizens in a way that’s productive. It might be at an education institution, whether that’s higher education or K-12 protecting their students.

To provide a little bit more color around that, for example, in higher education we’ve got about half the universities in the country that use our system, to get either get messages out really quickly if there’s anything from an active shooter incident to just a weather incident. They also allow students to post up and provide information about anything from vandalism to [if their] roommates have brought weapons or drugs into the dormitories. So, it’s really about enabling those campus safety organizations to provide information, and solicit information that’s contextual and relevant to help in improving the safety of the campus.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of our really, really unique products is in the 911 space. If you’ve ever called a 911 center before and you were in trouble, what happens is essentially a phone number and some vague level of location information pops up. Then they’ve got to try and elicit and drag out of you everything that they need to make sure that they’re able to respond to the right location with the right resources.

As you can imagine, it’s really not your best day when you call 911. So it’s something that if you and I were sitting here talking that you would know off the tip your tongue and be able to provide, but it might not come as quickly when you or a loved one is hurt and dying in front of you or you’re in a stressful situation or have been assaulted or whatever the case might be. Smart911 allows you pre-provide a bunch of information. We deliver that automatically to 911. So, it might be photos of children if you had a missing child that you’re calling in about and panicked.

Down in Arkansas, you know, a mom called in freaking out that her child was missing from the bus stop. The officers immediately had the photo of that child displaying at 911 and in the vehicles for the local sheriffs. They were able to dispatch people immediately to search…and start the search versus having to go over to her house, get a picture, bring it back to the office and distribute it. And they found her. Two people have had heart attacks and the information pops up. They’re not able to communicate what’s going on, but the information pops up to 911 center that they called, shows the medical history. Not only does it speed the response and that the responders can know information about where they are, but also have full medical history so they won’t administer improper medicine.

Everything we do is really circling around somehow empowering and improving the safety of individuals that are somehow associated with our client organizations. As you can imagine, the current environment with everything from the weather to K-12 shootings, for us are drivers of our business. Even the “Me Too” Movement is another one that more and more organizations are looking for ways to collect information anonymously from employees related to their safety.

 What are some of the big challenges you face?  

Everybody has different policies, procedures, and different philosophies about how they’re going to handle things. Something as simple as under what conditions are you going to send a message out to the student body about an incident. Is it only once you’ve got a full picture of it or are you going to be more aggressive and notify them when you’re still kind of trying to discern what’s going on? This is even though you know that a million people are going to call asking questions and you risk getting a little mud on your face in the press. So, there’s that spectrum.

Frankly there’s also a thread running through a lot of our clients. If you think about most safety organizations, fundamentally, they’re about reducing risk, right? About improving the process but reducing the risk that anything goes wrong before it happens and reducing the risk of something going wrong during the response. So, sometimes kind of innovative technologies can be maybe a little empathetic to that approach.

So thankfully, we’ve got a good approach where we work with anchor client first and really vet things out and help develop model policies and procedures that we can then go to the next and broader spectrum of prospects and clients and say, “Hey, here’s how, you know, Nassau County in New York does panic buttons in all of their 1,500 or whatever it is schools. Here’s the policies that they’ve worked out and this worked for them. Here’s how the state of Arkansas who did the same thing rolled it out. And some nuances there but these are things you can consider.”

So we tend to spend maybe a little more time on the workflow and policy and procedure side than just a typical technology company. If a Salesforce comes in and gives you your CRM system and you go in and start punching in data and you build processes around it, that’s a little different than us coming in and saying, “Hey, here’s a bunch of model processes because we know that that part’s a big hindrance to you and there’s a lot of legal liability. So here’s how other folks have addressed these issues.”

Your services and solutions are technology-driven, whether it’s an app or a notification system or something like that. So how do CEOs in the industries you deal with, how should they be weighing a big investment like something like you would be offering or something else related to technology. I mean obviously these are investments to protect certain levels of their constituents, but they’re investments nonetheless. So, how do they weigh those investments?

In many of our solutions, it’s hard to give an ROI, right? It’s hard to say that if you put in a panic button system, you’re going to save $5,000 a year in paper procurement cost or something. It just doesn’t work that way. But yet there is an immense reputational and people-risk to something failing and you having an incident. And unfortunately more and more of these type of things are becoming a reality and we’re actually seeing even flowing down… into the way insurers provide insurance and what are you doing mitigate risks of these types of instance. The cost of failure is so astronomically high, there has to be some safeguards in place around it.

So, I guess on one side, altruistically I’d ask folks to think about ultimately your responsibility to your employees and those you serve and then to your investors. You have a responsibility for their safety, especially if you’re looking at the education side of the house. I mean, these children are entrusted in your care. Or if you’re in public safety agencies where you’re paid to make sure the people in your communities are safe.

Even in enterprises where increasingly the argument of saying, “We didn’t know.” or, “That’s outside of our realm of responsibility” doesn’t really hold water anymore. You are responsible for your employee’s safety. And frankly, the dollar investments in many of these solutions are pretty small in compared to a lot of big capital purchases. I mean everything we do is fast-paced and it’s pretty cost-effective for those people to implement something that ultimately makes happier, safer employees.

What advice do you have for fellow CEOs?

Everyone’s situation is a little different in terms of the industry dynamics and markets. But from my perspective, it’s always about the people and just making sure your people are treated well. And if you do that and you kind of set the example for how you treat your people internally, they’re gone in return treat your customers with that same level of respect and you’ll retain customers and grow. So, it’s really just about making sure your people are properly motivated and empowered.

Read more: Empowerment To Say ‘No’ Is A Culture (A Really Bad One)

Gabriel Perna :Gabriel Perna is the digital editor at Chief Executive Group, overseeing content on chiefexecutive.net and boardmember.com. Previously, he was at Physicians Practice and Healthcare Informatics. You can reach him via email or on Twitter at @GabrielSPerna