Occupation: Founder at SafeMatch
Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States
The Sex in My Business: I developed SafeMatch to educate people on sexual health, to encourage STI testing, and to allow users to share their verified test results with their partners while maintaining everyone’s privacy. I did this because I believe that sexual health (especially the communication of STI results) is still a topic many find hard to talk about in-person, which is one of the causes for new STI diagnoses. I strongly believe that mobile apps like SafeMatch have the power to break such barriers, foster communication, and improve public health.
A Typical Day: I work at a university during the day, so SafeMatch is my focus in evenings and on weekends. As a founder, I do not have a set schedule or routine—there are days when I am designing or modifying the mobile app, there are days when I am designing the website or working on my digital marketing plan, and there are days when I am demonstrating the app to people and soliciting their feedback. When connecting with people to solicit feedback I may meet them in any way possible: on Twitter, in a bar or coffee shop, or at the university, etc. I also get help from people of different backgrounds and experiences (such as sex educators, people living with STIs, medical Doctors, public health clinics, marketing, business and legal experts) to ensure the app is not biased, uses the most acceptable language, and follows all appropriate guidelines.
The Best Part: As an engineer, designing apps comes naturally to me and I find it quite enjoyable. I love anything related to technology. However, technology itself cannot solve the problem unless people are willing to use it. SafeMatch has connected me to so many wonderful people that I would have not met otherwise. I love hearing their experiences and how they think the app could be useful in their community. It motivates me to keep working harder. If I can reduce the number of new STI diagnoses and support underserved communities, this will be the most amazing accomplishment of my life.
The Worst Part: For me, the least exciting part of this job is making creative images, videos and designs, whether it be for the app, digital marketing tools or the website. I do my best by taking university courses or by seeking consultations, but it feels like I can spend days working on these creative elements and still, they won’t wow my audience. Consequently, I rely on my team members and friends to support me in this area whenever possible, although learning new skills is part of my job as founder, and outsourcing is not always practical.
How I got Here: When I started dating back in 2010, I was highly uneducated about STIs and other sexual health topics. I approached dating by assuming that I would never contract an STI. My first STI test was more out of fear (following an incident) rather than as part of an annual screening. After that, however, I always wanted to see my partner’s verified STI results. I came up with the idea of using a secure app for this purpose, but was working a lucrative corporate job at that time and so was reluctant to quit in order to work on a startup. By early 2018, however, I had a less stressful life and enough business education to give me the confidence to pursue my dream of SafeMatch seriously. I particularly thank the entrepreneurship team at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Chicago for all their support when I needed it most.
What Society Thinks: I believe that the lack of knowledge surrounding STIs leads to stigma, less regular testing and difficulty in interpreting partner results when they are shared. However, I also believe that SafeMatch can reduce this stigma by lowering the barriers to the access of much-needed information surrounding STIs and by encouraging the normalization of test results exchange. Major STI prevention strategies today are focused on getting people tested and on prescription pills like PrEP. However, my girlfriend and colleagues working with me on this project are all very supportive and believe that SafeMatch can make a meaningful difference.
When I am not at Work: I love watching movies and traveling to new places with my girlfriend. MBA courses also take a good amount of my weekend time. I used to spend a lot of time figure skating, skiing and bike riding, but lately, work has made these hobbies more challenging.