Inspirational Black Men In Tech: Daniel Smith of Keepingly On The Five Things You Need To Know In Order To Create A Very Successful Tech Company

An Interview With Jamie Hemmings

Jamie Hemmings
Authority Magazine


Team is the second biggest component after vision and having the right team members tremendously impacts building a successful technology company forward. Passionate and committed team members are mandatory to build a tech company, the evolution of the solution means that there will be several iterations causing sleepless nights, stress and desire to quit, a committed team helps to navigate through those moments.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Black Men In Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel Smith.

As the founder of Keepingly, Daniel Smith is driven by his own experiences as a homeowner focused on empowering homeowners to maintain, manage, and grow their property. He is customer focused, seeking to create better solutions for stakeholders in the Housing Industry. He is a keen data-driven founder who knows that creating better housing policies benefit the housing industry driving more equitable solutions especially around appraisals. Daniel is a passionate DEI advocate, who believes that more equitable solutions uplift us all.

Daniel has 18 years’ experience in the digital landscape as an entrepreneur, product manager; consultant and Sr. Manager Digital & Strategic Marketing. He has worked with and advised multiple organizations in the Caribbean and US on positioning products and services industries in the digital space.

Daniel has worked in telecommunications where he led strategic and digital Marketing positioning efforts towards a better customer experience. Successfully led online payment to over 21 million USD and 8X user growth, while 3X increasing engagement on the company’s Social Media platforms.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

A combination of my experiences over the years in IOT product management, digital strategy, customer experience and homeownership led me to this moment. Twenty years in the digital landscape in different roles my focus was always on creating better experiences for customers using technology. When I looked at my own home ownership experience and how detached from technology some of the aspects were, I decided that this was potentially an opportunity to help homeowners to have a better end to end journey using technology.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

The story that has been most interesting since Keepingly started, is when I was speaking with a Department of Housing Official, who said that Keepingly is a gamechanger for the housing industry. What continues to propel us is how many people can relate to the product we are building, within their own homeownership journey and the potential of the product to enhance and make the home ownership experience more relevant. Engaging with homeowners about their needs and taking to so many of within the Industry encourages us.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

A coincidence I encountered was in initial talks with one of our investors their lawyer advised us that it would be easier if we had a lawyer to negotiate the terms. It was funny because after we had spoken to multiple lawyers over some weeks we had settled on one the Friday before and had just concluded negotiations and onboarding. Monday rolls around and we’re already getting to work. It taught us to always be prepared and it shows how quickly the decisions you make can impact your business.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I think building a startup is rough from finding talent, funding and all the other items of compliance etc. In building a tech company, you are usually told that you need a technical cofounder if you are non technical. I have a tech industry background so I can navigate some of the technical requirements, however, I realized that finding a technical cofounder was difficult as the market was red hot and technical talent was in high demand. As I went along I started to question the reality of the market but in searching we found a way around and we’ve successfully built version one of the product. The hardest part of the journey is the mental doubts that you have as an entrepreneur, you get many “no’s’’ (especially around funding) which can cause you to question yourself. Being able to build a team and find advisors, mentors and advocates who are always willing has helped me to power through in those difficult moments.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My parents Peter and Judith Smith have been my consummate support system and have encouraged me to always aim for excellence in whatever I pursued. When I have wanted to give up or think that this journey may be too hard I am encouraged by the sacrifices that my parents have made to allow me to achieve my dreams.

Joe Ventrone has been one of our biggest cheerleaders in helping us at Keepingly as an advisor and a mentor who I met on Linkedin via a random connection request. His 45 year plus experience in the industry has been invaluable in what we have built thus far.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I never lose, I either win or I learn. In entrepreneurship it can be daunting sometimes when you get rejected, if you take things to heart it can negatively impact you. The orientation to learning helps me to know what not to do the next time in some circumstances and optimizing for growth and winning.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

As a society we have failed to create equal opportunities for all and sadly in some organizations and industries it has been overrepresented for the majority population. Over generations, these institutional biases have become the status quo and some sadly believe this is their God given right. The George Floyd murder upped the ante because we all watched where one human used his knee on the neck of another for 8:46 seconds; watching it on video changed what many previously failed to see. The moment caused organizations to evaluate and we saw many statements some of which I dubbed “performative posturing.”

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

There are a host of reasons why a diverse executive team is important within an organization. Firstly, different voices bring unique perspectives to the table that can help to inform and make the organization and its products/services better. Secondly, the customers an organization sells to contain different customer types, diversity ensures that multiple groups are represented in the conversation and solutions developed encapsulate diverse audiences.

Third, as part of their recruitment strategy an organization that has a diverse executive team will be able to hire and retain more diverse workers. Finally organizations that have a diverse leadership perform better and generate more profits than organizations that are not diverse.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. It’s hard to be satisfied with the status quo regarding Black Men in Tech leadership. What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

As a Black man in tech this is an important conversation that we must have to ensure that we have more Black male leaders in tech. STEM education and starting Black boys and girls into technical fields are required especially around math and engineering. Within organizations, a better framework must be developed to encourage and champion more black male and female leaders in tech. Mentorship and advocacy within the technology industry is a key component as well as leaders holding themselves and their managers accountable to ensure that we have better representations of Black men and women in these positions in tech. The numbers bear out the cases with only 3.7 Black professionals in technical roles at large tech companies and just of executive leaders. Firms must be proactive in ensuring that these numbers go up if we are to have any meaningful progress.

We’d now love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

Keepingly is built to help homeowners manage, maintain and grow the value of their home. The need for Keepingly started with my own needs as a homeowner being about to track documents, information and all the things that happen around my home. We all live busy lives and I realized that a solution around having a solution which helps homeowners to manage their largest asset is critical to the homeownership experience.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Keepingly is focused on the end to end experience for the homeowner and providing a toolkit for these homeowners to effectively be able to understand their home and track all the items in the homeownership journey from Day One. We are partnering with real estate agents to ensure that their clients have access to all documents via the platform. Homeowner education is a critical element to help guide homeowners about property management and is a part of the Keepingly experience.

A recent study shows that 72 % of homeowners buying a house in the last 2 years have buyers remorse. When we look at the homeownership journey we ask how many homeowners can exactly find their closing documents or if they have a record of all their spending and receipts for home maintenance items? Keepingly solves for all of these use cases.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have recently completed version one of our platform and are currently in pilot. We are seeing some of the metrics of this and this will inform some of our future features and functionality. We are working on our education series which we will be dropping soon. Homeowners will be able to have their questions answered around the post closing experience and how to maintain their home.

Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high-performing teams?

Building a high performing team starts with the vision established by the founding/management team and the values they espouse. Companies that are mission focused have an opportunity through their values to create a culture of high performance. Organizations that build high performance teams require all stakeholders being committed to a culture of excellence. Having hard conversations, evaluating performance, empathy, representation, freedom to pursue new ideas all are necessary for a culture of high performance.

In your specific industry, what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

Our product is in the pilot phase and we have users who are using our product and providing feedback on their experience. We are currently focused on the relationship between Realtors and home buyers in the current phase of our platform. Realtors have a relationship with their buyers and we wish to create a bonded relationship between the realtors and their buyers.

A salient statistic in the real estate industry is that 90% of homeowners are happy with their agent experience and only 20% return to that agent when they are ready to sell in seven years. The number one reason given is that homeowners forget who their agent is and their details. At Keepingly we are building to reduce this and create that bonded relationship between the parties, while providing homeowners the tools to effectively manage the details about their home.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

With customers it’s critical to focus on creating an experience that solves the customer’s needs.

1. Communicate with customers, sometimes firms forget they have a commitment to the customer, yet without customers the firm would not exist. Customers are willing to accommodate a company’s failings within reason if firms communicate in a timely manner.

2. Educate Customers — Helping customers help themselves by providing information that they need to make informed decisions. This strategy is quite useful in creating dialogue with customers.

3. Empower staff and agents to make decisions within limits to ensure that the customer feels appreciated and welcomed. Establishing guidelines for frontline staff to be able to treat the customers they serve is an empowering experience that helps boost worker engagement and productivity and customer retention efforts.

As you likely know,this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?

Customer engagement is an involved process and actively engaging helps to reduce churn. One of my previous management roles, I was actively engaged in ensuring we retained our customers. We grew payments from 1 million — 20 million in 18 months and customer engagement was a large part of the strategy. This was a huge undertaking with growth pains.

Monitoring customer feedback — understanding what customers are saying about the product/experience, using social media channels etc to monitor keywords etc, I would review comments both positive and negative to understand trends. On many occasions I would personally call customers and seek to resolve their issues. While not my direct responsibility, I took the customer experience as a critical part of my duties to understand the pain points and help us address and create a better experience.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

With 20 years in the technology industry I have come to realize that creating a successful tech company is composed of vision, execution, team and customers.

1) What is your vision? Have a vision around your product and constantly focus on delivering the best product. Improve product based on customer feedback. Technology without a vision fails and this can be seen in Blackberry and Nokia who once dominated the market for mobile phones and no longer exist in those categories.

2) Who is my team? Are we on the same page? Are they committed, engaged, willing to deliver? Team is the second biggest component after vision and having the right team members tremendously impacts building a successful technology company forward. Passionate and committed team members are mandatory to build a tech company, the evolution of the solution means that there will be several iterations causing sleepless nights, stress and desire to quit, a committed team helps to navigate through those moments.

3) Who is my audience? Knowing your customer and understanding their pain points and how to engage with them. A critical component of building a successful tech company is knowing your audience, customers drive what is built and understanding your audience helps to define product roadmaps. Myspace was an example of a company who did not evolve with the needs of customers and audience, its design interface and user experience failed to meet the needs of its evolving audience.

4) Do we have a roadmap for the product? — Having an overarching vision for what you want the product to do is key. Secondly, use cases and user engagement with the product is key to defining the roadmap. When I first conceptualized Keepingly, the product looked different, however as we dove deeper into understanding the customer the product evolved to being an end to end platform.

5) Are we actively listening to stakeholders? Actively listening to the stakeholders (Employees, customers, investors, advisors) of the company helps to define company culture. Stakeholders should be encouraged to bring their passion and commitment based on their experiences. Customers and employees are the largest advocates for the firm in good and turbulent times and are far more willing to engage if the firm has historically known to seek the best interest of its stakeholders.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Thank you for the compliment. I try my best to be the best person I can be and bring as much value to those around me. Outside business it would be focused on creating a more equal world, reforming systems so that the biases that are built into current systems that overrepresent one race over others is dismantled. With Keepingly, I am doing my part to create systems that can accomplish this, with a focus on Housing sustainability and transparency while transforming the homeownership education and journey.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

Robert F Smith — CEO Vista Equity Partners — The work and advocacy of Mr. Smith from his position of influence to create equity and inclusion for minority communities continues to inspire. His passion on the issue of Broadband penetration, recently he said “What we need to do is enable those HBCUs more effectively through bringing more resources, most important of which today is broadband. Still where 82 percent of HBCUs live are in broadband deserts. That cannot stand. That is something that we need to make sure that our HBCUs and our community demand of not only the federal government but other companies that can enable all of our students to have access to broadband immediately, not five years from now.”

This is the leadership we need to continue to champion progress for all.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!