startup

Promise Founder Phaedra Lamkins is Tackling the Prison System Head On

As incarceration rates continue to climb, one startup is working to re-assimilate former prisoners back into society. Founded in San Francisco, Promise uses apps, text messages and a data platform to help prevent overcrowding in jails. The company works with cities and governments to release non-violent offenders from their bail obligations and provides a way for individuals to keep up with their court dates.

Promise Co-Founder Phaedra Lamkins’ inspiration for Promise came after her friend needed help keeping a family member out of jail. The relative missed a court hearing and wanted to avoid jail time. Within a few calls, the problem was solved and the idea for Promise was born.

AfroTech talked to Lamkins about challenges she’s faced launching her startup and advice she has for other people looking to start their own companies.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge as a founder?

My biggest challenge has been not moving quickly enough. There is always a tension between moving quickly and waiting for perfection. I always regret when I pause for perfection. It really is self-doubt winning. We need to remember to trust ourselves. We will make mistakes and that is ok, but we need to continue to push forward. That is how we learn and grow.

Q: What is one habit that you want to start/stop? Why?

A morning routine is really important for me. Meditation and exercise set the tone for the day. I am committed to growing my meditation practice and exercising in the morning. I am trying to stop reading email in the middle of the night. I often wake up with an idea that I want to write down, but then I slip into email and slack. This bad habit impacts my sleep and then my day.

Q: Who has been your biggest inspiration in the startup space?

My biggest inspiration has been the people we are working on behalf of. I believe in government. I want it to have the best technology and innovation. I also believe that too many people are behind bars. Working with counties to figure out how to get people out of jail who don’t belong there is an incredible gift. A client who is working to reduce their youth jail population told  how our technology can help them move faster and validate their work. This is what motivates me and why we created Promise. The interactions with formerly incarcerated individuals, their families and county workers make me want to be better, be faster and deliver products that accelerate change.

Q: How did you build your network and support system?

A: I am a small network person. I believe in deep and true relationships. I find people who are smarter than me, individuals who I want to learn from. Once I find them, I commit myself to the relationship. Together we are building a community in which we all get better and collectively win.

Q: Why are you attending AfroTech? What are you looking to gain from the experience?

I am attending AfroTech because my spirit needs to be surrounded by people of color. I want to look around and see a group of people I am rooting for. I believe that their success is my own and that the roadblocks they face are my responsibility to help move. This time and space is about finding and being with my people.

For more information on Promise and Phaedra, check out her website here.

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