Janine has built a $5M a year bootstrapped business in the realm of legal training for employment and workplace issues. A core part of her expertise is in sexual harassment and related concerns that are currently hot topics in the industry. This is a must-read interview for those following the discussion in the media.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Janine Yancey: I’m from Los Angeles, but then I was educated in Berkeley and then at Hastings College of Law, which is in San Francisco. I became a lawyer. I fell into the speciality of workplace law and had the good fortune to be able to fall into a particular niche in San Francisco working with a lot of tech companies and helping them in terms of advising, training, and litigating.
The start of my journey was when I was Google’s first outside lawyer. This was early days for them when they were still less than a thousand employees. I was able to create a creative retainer arrangement with Stacey Sullivan who’s still there today. Because of that creative arrangement, it allowed me to be a problem solver rather than a corporate lawyer. We had this arrangement where anyone in the organization can come to me.
Because I was outside of the organization, people felt more comfortable. I was not HR. I got a lot of people coming to me asking questions and seeking advice that you don’t typically find in terms of people going to HR. I helped triage issues in real-time to solve problems. That’s where I got the idea to start Emtrain where I said, “If we had something like this on the web, that would really be helpful.”
Sramana Mitra: What does that mean? What is Emtrain? What were you going to make available online?
Janine Yancey: It has evolved. Emtrain had been a thought of mine for much longer before I was able to turn it into reality. I turned it into reality in 2006 when I stopped practicing law actively. Up until 2006, I had a full litigation load and a lot of clients. In 2006, I was able to transfer from that and become an employee of Emtrain. That was the first year we had employees. We’ve been doing this for a while now.
Initially, it was working with the parameters of what corporate America felt comfortable with meaning they were comfortable with online training and education. Most of the companies wanted something that was kind of check-the-box. They’re like, “Here are the regulations that we need to comply with. We really don’t want to spend a whole lot of time and energy trying to educate our people.”
That was the landscape we had to navigate. We were always trying to bring more relevant video scenes where people could actually get educated. It also brings a modern web experience, so people actually have a decent user experience when they’re taking courseware. Later on, we’re able to bring on chat panes where people can ask questions about the content. From there, we made it anonymous where people could be anonymous and ask questions.
Certainly in 2015, it took us six months of going on a road show and talking to all of our clients to get them to feel comfortable enough and trust us enough that they allowed us to make these questions anonymous so their own employers didn’t see who was asking what. Through the years, we’ve been evolving this. It’s serendipity because in 2014, we got on a path of starting to design out a brand new product and platform that would push it even further. We’ve been sketching this out and we’re able to bring on the right team members in the last 12 to 18 months to start making it a reality. That’s what we’ve been building.