Envisioning a New Normal with Julie Johnson
Co-Founder and CEO of Armored Things
Armored Things is revolutionizing the world of security and operations with crowd intelligence.
For starters, their algorithms could change the way venues do business, permanently. By analyzing crowd behavior in real-time and combining it with historical data, Armored Things offers venues data that enables them to drive activity to underutilized spaces, optimize staffing and security operations, and anticipate flow patterns to enhance the overall guest experience. Early adopters of their game-changing technology range from premier sporting events like the US Open, to partnerships with team venues like LAFC and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
However, at a time when crowds are scarce, it’s becoming more clear that data science and a methodical understanding of people and flow, will drive our return to normalcy.
That’s why Armored Things is putting their fingerprint on a new definition of crowd control; one that could not only reimagine how venues do business, but also arm venues, corporate campuses, universities, and more with the data to reopen safely.
Julie Johnson Roberts joins us to talk the future of safety in numbers, how they are leveraging sports, and how startups are built to pivot.
Take us back to March 2020. You’re the CEO of a crowd intelligence company, and then all the crowds go home. What did you and the team do next?
Julie Johnson Roberts: “You mean, did we panic? No. I mean, going back to March, everyone had a moment right where the wind goes out of your lungs and you just say, what is this new world that we’re living in and how do we possibly survive and work with our customers to help them survive? And no one really knew what COVID was going to look like. So for us, that meant being super respectful.”
“The first thing was meeting your customers where they were, which at the time was just a mutual discovery process. We had conversations that had nothing to do with our product, team, or anything we’ve been talking to them about previously, and a hundred percent to do with understanding the challenges they were anticipating.”
“From there, we could start the conversation of how is Armored Things possibly in a position to help. For those who aren’t familiar with Armored Things, crowd intelligence is an understanding of people and flow in large venues and campuses. So traditionally we’re seeing 30,000 people over the course of an event or large environment, and we can see where they are in real-time along with historical patterns of behavior. It helps being predictive about some of their activities so that we can do things like help optimize food and beverage, drive activity to underutilized spaces, or help with ingress and egress flow patterns.”
“Knowing what we knew about our product and about our ability to adapt our product, it was then key to say, what is unique that we could accept that no one else can do? And that was things like threshold-based alerting to let our customers know if crowds are following their policies. So, it’s one thing to put these policies in place, but another thing to enforce them. And fortunately for us, we have the data and the capabilities to set rules based on every environment, unique parameters.”
Armored Things recently assigned partnerships with LAFC, Cleveland Cavaliers and the US Open. Can you share insight on the approach of building a footprint in the sports space?
Julie Johnson Roberts: “From the very beginning, we’ve tried to identify thought leaders in each of the leagues and I can say proudly now that we really do have thought leaders across the various leagues. And, in recent months, we’ve also found that the leagues are working closer than ever with individual teams and venues, to make sure that they are up to date on what are best practices going on at venues. They’re communicating that back to the rest of the teams and saying, have you also considered this?”
“It’s a really interesting dialogue to be a part of because we’re finding those thought leaders like LAFC getting out there and saying, look, guys, we as thought leaders are using Armored Things for crowd intelligence and we believe crowd intelligence is critical to safe reopening. Now, don’t you also want that safe posture? And that’s really fueling our pipeline. It’s a virtuous cycle across the leagues that we think is going to continue.”
“What’s been really interesting and unique is that there’s a lot of value that we’ve been able to add even without fans. So for example, a premier global sporting event, like the US Open this year that didn’t have fans, we tailored our work towards player safety. Our data was being used to power smart signage, where we could show the players if a locker room or common space was too crowded, and enable them to make smart and safe decisions.”
The existing applications of Armored Things software, are not only important for sports venues. Can you expand more on how Armored Things is playing a role in getting everyone back to the new normal?
Julie Johnson Roberts: “Security tends to be something that people take for granted and no one really wants to talk about it. But if it’s not there, I think it raises a lot of questions when you’re in a security or safety incident. Like COVID, there’s a heightened awareness of that piece.”
“In the physical world, people are suddenly saying, ‘How is this venue operating in a way that’s safe and secure? What are the practices people are putting into place? How are campuses using data like ours? In the digital security space, you also see a heightened awareness with more people working from home and more devices than ever in the enterprise. People are wondering how we make sure we’re not increasing our attack surface.”
“For us, it’s actually pertinent to have both because the devices we’re using to gather data, are part of that safe and secure posture. Our mission as a company is to keep people safe. So we’re really there helping our customers arm themselves with PR to talk to their fans and to say, this isn’t just lip service. We really are tracking this data to make sure you won’t have exposure by coming to our venue and this is how we are keeping our fans safe. That’s a really important part of the narrative.”
In March 2020, you shared three things that you had learned as a first-time CEO and founder. I’m sure this list of learnings has grown since, what stands out that you’d like to share with other founders?
Julie Johnson Roberts: “Oh gosh. Where to begin in 2020? I like to joke sometimes that I’ve been a CEO for a little over a year and that every quarter is going to be the quarter without a new challenge in it. And so far I’ve found, while you’re always growing as a business and a leader, it’s always different than what you anticipate.”
“I really do believe that in a challenging time, decisiveness is important. To clearly communicate how your business is going to manage through and the decisions you’re making. Additionally, empathy, as I mentioned, is important, especially for your customers and other people going through the same challenges. What I would add to that based on the last few months is the delicate balance of transparency, and how important it is.”
“My instinct initially as a leader was to share just enough to my team, for them to understand how we were managing through and that we are strong and well-positioned. People need more than that. We hire smart, highly motivated, empowered people, who love data. What I learned is that the more transparent I can be, the better that actually is for everyone. Additionally, transparency actually continues to build trust with our team, customers, partners, and investors. And it can’t be undervalued.”
“I think there’s this feeling of wanting to protect people. And maybe that’s some sort of a maternal instinct, but people value the information and understand that you might not have all the answers. But when you communicate as much as you can, it does build that trust. That has been an important learning for me as a leader.”
“It’s also important to listen when people are transparent with you back about their fears, what they didn’t understand, the things that they thought would go differently. Think about that, understand that, but remain firm and understand the most important decisions to move our business forward and protect the jobs and lives of the people who are invested in Armored Things.”
The need for a data intelligence platform like Armored Things has only been accelerated through this year. Now, what excites you the most about the impact that Armored Things can have?
Julie Johnson Roberts: “More than ever before, people are understanding the need for data, crowd intelligence, and understanding of where people are. So that’s exciting because it’s a doubling down on our original mission.”
“We were founded with a vision to keep people safe, where they work, live, and play. That really was the lifeblood of how we started building our team and product. It was with an understanding that by knowing where people are, you can really operate in a way that keeps them safe. And through the years, as we’ve developed a lot of great operational and revenue-generating use cases have also come out of our product.”
“COVID has double underlined that mission again, because it’s something that people care so much about. They’re recognizing why that mission needs to continue to be at the forefront. And making choices for the best of the people who are using our software, who are beneficiaries of our software, and the greater environment.”
“We all want to go back to venues. We all want to go back to campuses, but safety is so important and the fact that we have that mission, really helps in hard times that we’re all kind of aligned to the same goal. And then in good times, you remember why you’re doing it.”