Why I Joined Citizen
In February of this year I suddenly found myself unemployed. Turning to Twitter (the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems), I threw up a post announcing that I was looking for a new opportunity.
One viral explosion later (thanks Nikita Bier), I found myself inundated with hundreds of inbounds from founders and recruiters in my inbox.
I whittled these hundreds of inbounds into dozens of companies I was interested in talking to, and over the next few weeks I found myself with a full-time job of back-to-back calls and zooms with passionate and talented people doing interesting things around the world.
With all these opportunities before me, I chose to go work at Citizen, and 6 months+ later I have no doubt I made the right decision (and not simply because so many web3 opportunities imploded like a souffle).
Citizen is the rare opportunity that is both plausible and interesting.
Caption: Nobody will kill LinkedIn. It is the cockroach of online services. 80 years from now, GenZ funeral invites saying “I’m dead. But actually” will be going out on LinkedIn.
As I was talking to all these companies I noticed a pattern in which they could all be placed along 2 distinct axes: interestingness (is this something I find exciting and in a large enough market to matter?) and plausibility (is this something that seems possible to do?)
With the caveat that I am no VC and could very well have guessed wrong (and even the best VCs don’t always get these calls right), I felt that precious few companies wound up in the sweet spot quadrant of being both plausible and interesting. Citizen was one of them.
I was attracted to the bold vision of Citizen–this is not a vision of tinkering around the edges of public safety, but a deep rethink of how communities use mobile technology to keep themselves safe. If we can succeed in building out what we’re working on (including some spicy as-yet unannounced products), we will be the most transformational change to public safety in decades. That is exciting. That is powerful. That matters.
But at the same time, I was attracted to their reality-based plans for getting there: building a freemium subscription service, iterating it towards PMF and then investing to make the revenue charts go up and to the right (and without disclosing more than I can say, they are definitely doing that). Citizen is not an idea for a business, Citizen is a business.
A Product and service that is helping people you might not expect
When people think about Citizen (and its paid subscription, Citizen Premium), they often think it’s a Karen product: some sort of tool to help affluent white people get faster access to help to project a bubble of suburban-like safety wherever they go. But that’s not the case!
Amongst our consumer base (and subscriber base), we find that it is the marginalized communities who are overrepresented. When our User Research team asks them why they use and even pay for Citizen, they tell us it is because Citizen helps them stay safe in a way that the existing patchwork of public safety services alone does not. Citizen helps people at the most risk know what is going on around them. Citizen serves as the eyes and ears for the single woman walking her dog at night. Citizen reassures families living in high-risk areas knowing their loved ones are safe. Citizen enables a high-risk community’s own Violence Interrupters to intervene in an emerging situation before it escalates to the police needing to get involved. Citizen gets first responders to show up.
Dedicated and passionate employees taking their responsibilities seriously
Remember Bodega? That was a fun week of getting mad on the Internet. If you don’t, the tl;dr was that some privileged tech bros entered a space they didn’t understand well with intent to disrupt an existing ecosystem of bodegas (NYC-speak for corner stores), the disruption of which may disproportionately impact the marginalized communities who depend on them for food and employment. The Internet wouldn’t have it, and arose in such righteous fury that Bodega had to backtrack.
Citizen’s employee profile is not like Bodega’s, or most other tech companies’. The Product and Engineering teams are only a part of Citizen. Most of our headcount is for a (unionized ✊✊) operations team, distributed in communities across the country. Some of our longest-serving high-impact employees are members of the marginalized communities we serve. They drive our company culture and are integral to our product thinking in ways that are new and exciting for me (but that I bet will be standard in tech companies nationwide in a decade’s time).
A company that goes heavy on picking the right people, so they can go light on process
Facebook’s response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal was to lasso all of Facebook’s product workstreams into a protective web of procedures and processes to ensure that no more Bad Things Happened by having you review every proposed new product (or addition of a feature to a product. Or removal of a feature. Or changing of a feature…) with an ever-growing checklist of privacy, policy, legal, technical, and other bureaucrats, like our own internal DMV (ask anyone who worked at FB/Meta in the last couple years what they think of “PXFN” and they will either run away, burst into tears or attack you).
It slowed Facebook’s ability to ship to a crawl, crushed morale (and that was when we could drown our sorrows in RSUs that were flying high), and stifled creativity. How did they get to this point?
Facebook had to do this because they essentially had to overcorrect through bureaucracy that which had not been baked into the culture. Citizen is avoiding that trap because we are very mindfully selecting for the sort of person who naturally cares deeply about the social impact of the products they ship, and reinforcing that in our internal culture.
Again, Citizen is not a place where you come to go rogue. You’ll still measure twice and cut once. You’ll still sanity-check what you’re doing with legal and with the broader team. But instead of having to go through heaps of soul-crushing, productivity-melting, morale-destroying bureaucratic process, you are expected to be the sort of person who is doing the work to make sure you are building responsibly, because you are the sort of person who cares too much to do anything less.
6 months+ in: was joining Citizen the right call?
Now that I’ve been here for half a year+, it’s a great opportunity to look back and take stock of how things have gone, and how much they may have deviated from what I expected.
It’s not a perfect company, no company is. But when I think of the companies I talked to–the companies I could have joined–there is no place I’d rather be than Citizen. The people I work with are passionate and phenomenal, the space we are in is huge and important, and the product(s) we are building to rise to the immense challenge (and opportunity) in front of us.
I also would like to vouch for the company’s supportive culture. Right as I was accepting my offer, I came down with COVID, and unfortunately I turned out to be one of the unlucky few whose COVID infection comes with a complimentary subscription to Long COVID. My health spiraled downwards in my first 2 months at Citizen, and ultimately reached a nadir where I couldn’t really work. I hadn’t been at Citizen nearly long enough to qualify for any sorts of medical leave benefits or protections. Citizen could have let me go, or even put me on some form of unpaid leave. Instead, they let me take a month and a half off work, and kept me on the payroll so I could focus on rest and recovery. When I came back, they let me ramp up slowly so as to not over-exert myself and trigger a relapse of Long COVID symptoms. I’m still not 100% better, but I’ve made tremendous strides in my recovery thanks to the space Citizen has given me for it.
Any startup can say they care about their employees (and every startup does say that), but I can point to real proof at Citizen.
Also, we’re hiring!