Training on workplace abuse is often characterized by mandatory annual seminars, stock photo-ridden curricula, and frequently obsolete scenarios. Harvard graduates Roxanne Petraeus and Anne Solmssen believe that doing better than that is a business. The duo co-founded Ethena, a software-as-a-service startup that sells more comprehensive and flexible anti-harassment training software than the status quo.
Throughout the year, Ethena sends “nudges” or customized short-form bits of training content to staff. One nudge might be about workplace dating and a couple of weeks later another nudge might be about mentoring.
Every month a user would get either an e-mail or a notification from Slack saying it’s time to train. The user would then go to a browser-based app and take a lesson, which depends on your managerial status, residence status, and other factors. Then, the sessions would be five to ten minutes.
This format also provides the company with an opportunity to adapt its content to the world in which the users live. Ethena’s content will follow a certain state law-based framework, but it can add its flavor. When COVID-19, for example, became a serious threat, Ethena was able to send user training regarding online harassment and cyberbullying. Old curricula may not account for what the harassment against Zoom might look like.
Petraeus said of the scenarios that users use in the app, Ethena also works during COVID-19 as a replacement for in-person anti-harassment workshops and resulting in shelter-in-place commands. As departments tend to be shut down, companies need to consider new ways to address problems that aren’t going anywhere.
The effectiveness of anti-harassment training with numbers is difficult to track. If an organization has managed to assess the efficacy of Ethena with details on the number of abuse complaints received before and after implementation of the app, instead it presumes the victims want to complain first. Victims also don’t complain out of fear of punishment or negligence, for several reasons.
A lack of hard data on whether their software works, for the co-founders, meant that they had to find another way to pitch clients. Instead, the co-founders believe that sweeping training regulations and legal obligations could be what compel firms to embark on more intensive software.
Long term, Ethena partners with a peer-reviewed study to see if successful anti-harassment programming can be correlated with better success levels in companies.
The firm allows for early adopters to be scaling small companies. It charges companies per seat, resulting in $4 per employee per month and $48 per employee per annum.
The software was piloted by Petraeus and Solmssen in November 2019 and launched in January. The startup today told TechCrunch they raised $2 million in GSV-led seed investment, with support from Homebrew, Village Global, and more. It has 50 clients.