The Business of Celebrity Analytics and Being a Female Tech CEO

Written by: Iman Richards

Janet Comenos is the CEO and Co-founder of Spotted, the leader in celebrity analytics and insurance. At age 33, she’s held an illustrious career in the tech startup space most recently serving as the SVP of Sales at Promoboxx. Resume aside, she’s one of the most driven, passionate people I’ve ever met. We’ve known each other for years, but the past few she’s had a pretty full dance card. I was thrilled she had time to catch up and offer a peek at a day in the life of a tech CEO.

Iman Richards: Thanks for chatting today, Janet. Life is good with you?

Janet Comenos: Yes, it’s really good.

Iman Richards: That’s great to hear. So let’s dive right in. It seems like since its conception, Spotted has continued to evolve. Talk to me about how you’ve built a business analyzing the lives of celebrities.

Janet Comenos: We have spent the last three years building a blueprint of the lives of thousands of celebrities. We collect all sorts of photographic evidence of them, so think paparazzi and social photos. Where are they going? Who are they spending time with? What activities are they engaging in? We collect more than 150 biographical data points on the talent. Things like family upbringing, birth order, family composition, education level, political contributions, social causes they advocate for, work history, endorsement history.

Then also collect research on more than 124 different types of disgraceful behavior, from ageism to xenophobia and everything in between. We have two PhDs in behavioral psychology and statistics who run this team.

Iman Richards: That’s a pretty exciting business model. Will this remain your focus as you continue to evolve?

Janet Comenos: We actually stumbled across this exciting opportunity over the last six months, where there’s a type of insurance called disgrace insurance that entertainment companies and brand advertisers take out in order to protect themselves if a celebrity that they employ is involved in or displays scandalous behavior. We help them underwrite these policies backed by our data set. We’ve created an index that helps them to arbitrate claims.

Iman Richards: Very interesting — and completely different than the original concept for Spotted, yes?

I think more females who are in my position need to encourage their employees to go out and start their own companies.

Janet Comenos: Yes. It’s really crazy. We built predictive models that are pretty accurate in predicting the likelihood of a celebrity or an athlete being involved in a future risk event. For example, we delivered some analysis a week before Chris Brown’s recent arrest. Our model said that there was a 97% chance that he was going to be involved in a significant risk incident in the 60 days following. Then a week later, he was arrested.

Iman Richards: Wow, that’s impressive. The life of a CEO clearly isn’t always easy. Can you talk to me about the experience so far?

Janet Comenos: Honestly, it’s been the most rewarding and challenging experience of my life. I would definitely do it again if I had the opportunity. If I’m lucky enough to be able to start another company, I absolutely will. Just when you think it’s getting easier, it’s about to get harder.

Iman Richards: Yeah, that makes sense. Can you share some perspective on being a female entrepreneur in the startup community?

Janet Comenos: Yes, I’ve spoken pretty publicly about this. There’s definitely an issue. Only 2% of venture capital is allotted to female founded companies. But I was speaking at HubSpot last year on Women’s International Day and there were four or 500 females in the audience. I said, “Who in the audience thinks that they could raise at least $1 million if you were to go out and start your own company?” and only roughly 10 women in the audience raised their hands.

So, I actually think that one of the biggest issues is that females don’t think that they can raise capital, venture capital, so they don’t go out and start businesses on their own. That’s really what drives most of the gender disparity in terms of venture capital funding. A good friend of mine, Sarah Downey, is a venture capitalist at Accomplice in Boston. She said that the more female founders reached out to her than her male counterparts at her VC firm. But she said it’s still a very, very small percentage of founders who reach out are female.

I think you owe it to your employees, if you believe in them enough to hire them in the first place, you need to be kind to them on the way out.

I think that is the underlying problem. I think more females who are in my position need to encourage their employees to go out and start their own companies. A couple of my employees have gone out and started their own companies with much success. That makes me so happy and I think that’s what needs to happen to break the mold.

Iman Richards: Let’s dig into that more. Can we talk about your approach to company culture and employee development? I know at some point you had this pretty fascinating policy for employees looking to move on from the company.

Janet Comenos: Yeah, I wrote an article for Entrepreneur about this. Employees get two months full pay if they leave. Basically, I put this in place for a couple reasons. First of all, I have a lot of young employees, in their mid-20s. I’ve seen how this has happened at other companies I’ve worked for, where if you need to let the employee go, these kids, they don’t have money saved up. They often have student loans. I’ve seen this happen far too many times where they get let go, and they have one to two weeks of pay.

Then they’re put in a really uncomfortable position. It’s just bad for them. I think you owe it to your employees, if you believe in them enough to hire them in the first place, you need to be kind to them on the way out.

If we’re ever letting someone go, and we’ve had to let a lot of people go, we give them two months. They can spend 50% of their time looking for another job. They can spend 50% of their time still supporting the company. They’re still employed. They can use me as a positive reference.

Then, if we have employees who do decide that they want to go, and this has also happened to us a number of times, they are honest with me. They give me the two months. They look for another job. They get paid in full. Then it gives me the ability to backfill their position, so I’m not in an uncomfortable position scrambling to fill their role.

Our staff is very lean, and so if a number of our employees left and I had one week or two weeks to backfill their position, I would be in a bad place. It really is a policy that I think benefits both the employer and the employee.

The other thing is, because my employees know that I do this, I can see the difference that it has on our culture. They’re just a lot more honest with me. They’re open and willing to come to me when we have cultural issues because they know that I want to fix it. I’m not going to get mad and fire them, then they don’t have a job. It creates a lot more of a trusting environment and culture.

One of the most fascinating, rewarding parts of starting my own company has been the quality of the people who I’ve been able to interact with.

Iman Richards: So your people are well taken care of, but what about yourself? Do you have a lot of mentors that you turn to? Where do you go for inspiration, advice? I would assume at the CEO level the pool starts to shrink the higher you get in your career.

Janet Comenos: Yeah, I do. I actually rely a lot on mentors, advisors, and coaches. I have a number of coaches. I have an executive coach in New York. I have a public speaking and communications coach in Boston, because I do a lot of public speaking. I’ve had to really advance those skills. This might sound brutal to you, but I meet her every two weeks at seven o’clock in the morning on a Monday.

Iman Richards: The public speaking coach?

Janet Comenos: The most fun hour of the week. Yes. Her name is Elise Simard and I’d recommend her to anyone who is looking to sharped up their public speaking skills, even if you are an advanced public speaker.

Iman Richards: What a way to start the week.

Janet Comenos: Ha, I know! People are like, “you’re crazy.” But it actually is a great way to start the week. She’s incredible and we have so much fun together. It’s so energizing for me.

We have an advisory board who I’m very close with. I have made it a 2019 goal of mine to spend five hours a week talking to our advisors.

Iman Richards: Okay, that’s a lot of time, especially for someone with your schedule.

Janet Comenos: It is, but I schedule in advance. If it’s Wednesday, and I haven’t spent at least three hours already, then I make sure to schedule those last couple of hours, because I really get so much out of those conversations.

Even if I don’t have a particular agenda item, I need to discuss with them, I always get so much out of those conversations with our advisors.

Iman Richards: Sounds like a smart group of people you have in your corner.

Janet Comenos: The other thing that I do that I think really, really helps me, is I spend hours and hours every day talking to thought leaders. If you look at my schedule on any given day, I typically spend about a quarter to a third of my time talking to industry leaders, getting their feedback on our product and learning from them. And it’s because I know, as a first time CEO, I have so many blind spots. There’s so many things I don’t know.

First of all, I had no background in the entertainment space. We’re now creating an insurance product. I had no background in the insurance space. I’m spending hours every day talking to insurance executives and entertainment executives and sports teams and league executives, because we’re selling our data to them now too. And professors and academics who write about these topics.

I’m learning things from them that I’m then feeding back to my team so that we can improve our product every single day. The conversations with thought leaders are probably the most valuable things that I do throughout the week.

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Iman Richards: So, how do you stay sane through it all?

Janet Comenos: You know what? Here’s the honest truth. I think a lot of people think I’m really crazy and I don’t have any work/life balance. But for me, I’m so obsessed with my job, nothing is more fun to me than work. For me, I call it work/life integration.

Iman Richards: That’s the reality for a lot of people these days.

Janet Comenos: I love seeing my friends. I love going out. I love to sleep on the weekends. I try to get as much sleep as I can on the weekends, the weekends tend to be a little bit more of a restorative time for me, but my feeling is that I’m in it. My company is blossoming. If I’m not going to put the time in now, then when am I going to? I feel like now is the time.

Iman Richards: Absolutely. You heard it here first, folks! The secret to successful entrepreneurship is being obsessed with the company you’re starting. So curve-ball: who’s the most interesting person you’ve met since starting Spotted?

Janet Comenos: Okay, wait. This is a really good question. God, you know what? I’ve started keeping track of some of the smartest people who I’ve met.

Iman Richards: Love that.

Janet Comenos: Because I think that’s been one of the most fascinating, rewarding parts of starting my own company has been the quality of the people who I’ve been able to interact with. I mean I have met some incredibly bright people, who’ve taught me some unbelievable things.

A few people who come to mind; Jon Vein, who sold his company a couple years ago for about a half billion dollars, based in Los Angeles. It’s called MarketShare. He is so goddamned smart. He’s so humble. He’s soft spoken, and he operates with such integrity. It’s fascinating to see someone who’s so successful, but not cutthroat. He’s not harsh. He’s a genuine person who operates with real integrity, and an amazing role model for me.

That’s one person. Another person is Fran Hauser. She’s another advisor of mine. She launched People.com, so she has a lot of experience in the celebrity world. She then became the president of Time Inc., and the parent company. She wrote a book. She also wrote the most read article on Forbes.com last year. She’s not only just super successful, but one of the nicest people I know, and has an incredible amount of emotional intelligence. So many others, but there are some really fascinating people I’ve met in the insurance space.

I have a list of something like 30 super, super smart people who I’ve been able to interact with pretty extensively over the last couple of years.

Iman Richards: Amazing. If that’s a regular part of your week, no wonder you love it.

Janet Comenos: I didn’t know most of my advisors or mentors, or these thought leaders before I started Spotted, but these people have just gone out of their way to help me. I get emotional sometimes with these people at the end of these conversations. I’m like, “Thank you. If people like you didn’t go out of your way to help me, I would never, ever be in this position where I am today.” I think if you’re appreciative, really, really good things will come your way.

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Iman Richards is the Content Marketing Manager at Norbella. A lover of creativity, she’s spent her life on the east coast seeking live music, great food and beautiful stories.

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