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Sean Herman: “Try to always find the best in people”

First, be empathetic. It sounds so easy, yet there seems to be so little visible empathy on many of the leading places where we congregate online. Consider the power of your words, even if you will probably never meet a lot of the people you may interact with on those platforms. I think empathy and […]

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First, be empathetic. It sounds so easy, yet there seems to be so little visible empathy on many of the leading places where we congregate online. Consider the power of your words, even if you will probably never meet a lot of the people you may interact with on those platforms. I think empathy and critical thinking are two of the most important things we need to consider as we spend more and more time online.


As a part of my interview series about the things we can each do to make social media and the internet a kinder and more tolerant place, I had the pleasure to interview Sean Herman, Author of SCREEN CAPTURED: Helping Families Explore the Digital World in the Age of Manipulation (Lioncrest Publishing; September 24, 2019.) In 2017, Sean was inspired to form Kinzoo after observing his daughter’s early experiences with technology. As Founder and CEO, Sean is passionate about his vision to make Kinzoo the most trusted brand for incorporating technology into our children’s lives. In early-2020, Kinzoo is releasing a kid-safe messenger that turns screen time into family time by focusing on connection, creativity, and learning. Sean is a CFA Charterholder with a diverse background in corporate finance, business consulting, project management and marketing. He lives in Vancouver, BC with his wife and two children aged 9 and 2.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I’ve had a really interesting career. As much as I would love to say that I was always on a journey that culminated with where I am now, my path I have been much more divergent than linear. I graduated with a degree in Management and Marketing and set off on my career. I worked extremely hard trying to get ahead and things moved quickly for a little while. I held various roles in Sales and Marketing over the first decade of my career. I then started getting involved in project work, supporting IT and business process improvement projects for a large Finance organization within a large enterprise. I took a liking to Finance and decided to pursue a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, which I achieved in 2016. I then worked in the Corporate Treasury group of that same organization, supporting business operations and merger and acquisition activities.

In 2010, I became a father. In 2017, I was inspired to change my path and become an entrepreneur as I closely watched my daughter’s early interactions with technology. Technology was becoming a much more prevalent force in our household, and I saw so much potential in it. However, I was dissatisfied with the vast majority of games and apps that she interacted with daily. So I set out on a path to change that and decided to start Kinzoo. This was not an easy decision for me and my family. It entailed moving our family to Vancouver to start the company. If starting a company and moving our family wasn’t enough of a challenge, my son was born in June 2017 as well. That period of time was certainly the most challenging of my life, but also the most rewarding.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I’ve had so many interesting experiences over the years, probably because my journey has been so non-linear. I’d say the most interesting thing that has happened in my career is a massive realization that true passion can come from anywhere. Early in my career, I was solely focused on ‘paying my dues’, getting recognized for good and hard work, which I thought would propel me onwards and upwards. While I was somewhat successful in upward mobility, I was told by senior people in the organization to focus on being less broad and getting deeper experience in something. That is, be a specialist and not a generalist. I had an interest in finance and worked hard to attain the designation of CFA Charterholder. At that point, I really thought my career was about to take off to that next level. But it didn’t. In something probably very related, I was beginning to understand that I didn’t have a huge passion for the work I was doing. I felt like a cog in the wheel.

The passion I was seeking didn’t come from my professional life, it came from my family and wanting to be part of a better future for my children. I wrote a business plan and started talking to a lot of people about it. It’s been incredible to find as many people as I have that belief in the vision I have for Kinzoo and have decided to be a part of it. It’s cliché, but I feel like I’ve learned more in the past two years of being an entrepreneur than I did in the previous decade. I still feel like the most interesting part of my story is still to come!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I think it is only natural to fall into what I call founder fallacy. That everyone instinctively will see your vision and will want to use your product. The product we are working on now is actually our second kick at the can. We briefly put a version of Kinzoo on the app store in late-2018 and decided to pull it down and to do better. It was a good product, but I came to realize that we needed a great product. The mistake I made was falling into a ‘if you build it, they will come’ mentality, and in thinking that users would be willing to work through some friction points in the product because they’d be as excited to use our product as we have. I’ve learned so much about building products over the past year and am incredibly excited to re-launch very soon!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I have two major projects underway. I’ve touched on Kinzoo already. Kinzoo is a kid-safe messenger for families. I’ve talked about the gap I saw around technology use by children. Kinzoo aims to unlock the true potential of technology by enabling parents to lean into technology alongside their children with connection, creativity, and learning as our pillars of engagement. I think most parents are very familiar with watching our children consume a lot of content on technology. We are really excited to offer parents and families a solution that will help bring better balance to the time that our kids spend on screens by prioritizing more constructive things.

Second, I published a book in September 2019 called ‘Screen Captured’. The book brings a new perspective to the subject of screen time and aims to help simplify the subject for parents, as well as to arm them to have better conversations with their kids about technology. I’m busy with various speaking events and engagements to promote the book and get the word out. It’s been so wonderful having the chance to meet so many parents and educators to discuss screen time and to engage in the ongoing debate around technology use by children.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Have you ever been publicly shamed or embarrassed on social media? Can you share with our readers what that experience felt like?

I have never been publicly shamed or embarrassed on social media personally. I am not, nor ever really have been, a heavy user. My first few years on Facebook were great as I re-connected with old friends and family, but it quickly lost its luster for me as it started feeling like a competition over who could get the most ‘friends’ or followers, and as a result, I felt as though the quality of interactions diminished very quickly. So I became a very passive user of Facebook, and later Instagram, Snapchat, and the others.

What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?

I just really greatly reduced my usage of the platforms once I found that interactions were becoming increasingly disingenuous.

Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?

No, I haven’t been overly harsh or mean on social media over the years. Knowing what I know now, there are many posts that I wouldn’t have made for various reasons (such as sharing certain pictures of my children, for instance), but nothing that I really regret.

Can you describe the evolution of your decisions? Why did you initially write the comment, and why did you eventually regret it?

I’ve generally been careful of the comments I leave anywhere online. Whether I’m in a place where there is anonymity or not, I don’t think there’s much to be gained by leaving mean comments or provoking people.

When one reads the comments on Youtube or Instagram, or the trending topics on Twitter, a great percentage of them are critical, harsh, and hurtful. The people writing the comments may feel like they are simply tapping buttons on a keyboard, but to the one on the receiving end of the comment, it is very different. This may be intuitive, but I feel that it will be instructive to spell it out. Can you help illustrate to our readers what the recipient of a public online critique might be feeling?

Like a lot of people, I think I’m my own worst critic. While I haven’t been targeted in that way on social media, I can say that it can even be hard to digest things like a negative review of Kinzoo or my book. I have seen the comment boards on YouTube and other platforms, and they can be extremely toxic places. An unfortunate reality today is that we can hide behind our keyboard and don’t always have to stand behind what we say online. I agree that the person making comments might not feel they are being particularly damaging, but there are unfortunately too many stories of having negative effects on the people that receive those comments. The absolute worst part is that we sometimes have to read about the extreme and tragic consequences of those types of activities.

Do you think a verbal online attack feels worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?

I think attacks online tend to be worse because of the impact of anonymity, and people tend to lose their filter. The other big difference I see between online and real-life is that real-life conflicts are often resolved, where resolution rarely occurs online.

What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?

I always fear the worst — cases like Amanda Todd. I don’t think we really know how often that situation happens but even once is one too many.

Many people who troll others online, or who leave harsh comments, can likely be kind and sweet people in “real life”. These people would likely never publicly shout at someone in a room filled with 100 people. Yet, on social media, when you embarrass someone, you are doing it in front of thousands of even millions of people, and it is out there forever. Can you give 3 or 4 reasons why social media tends to bring out the worst in people; why people are meaner online than they are in person?

I’ve touched on this earlier, but I think first and foremost we can hide behind a username on many online platforms and very rarely have to stand behind our words. I feel that a type of dehumanization results and in addition to being more likely to troll or leave harsh comments, it also leads to being less empathetic and considering that there’s a person behind the username that they are attacking too. I think there’s another big factor at play which is that on social media, extreme content (whether positive or negative) tends to get more of a reaction from people so some people go out of their way to be extra mean or harsh as a way to get feedback. In my experience, the best thing to do with trolls is to ignore them — they are really looking to provoke and get a reaction.

If you had the power to influence thousands of people about how to best comment and interact online, what would you suggest to them? What are your “5 things we should each do to help make social media and the internet, a kinder and more tolerant place”? Can you give a story or an example for each?

First, be empathetic. It sounds so easy, yet there seems to be so little visible empathy on many of the leading places where we congregate online. Consider the power of your words, even if you will probably never meet a lot of the people you may interact with on those platforms. I think empathy and critical thinking are two of the most important things we need to consider as we spend more and more time online.

Next, avoid chasing social validation in the form of ‘likes’ and followers. This is a significant worry to me for my own children as there is a lot of evidence of this happening online. Self-worth should not be measured in terms of these vanity metrics, yet lots of us (old and young) get caught up in it.

Tighten up your circles online. Carrying on from the points above, if we stop seeking validation from those we don’t know online then the online world can become less of a competition and pressurized environment. If we focus on technology as a means to enhance real relationships that we have through stronger connection and communication, there will be much less pressure on the content we share and it is much easier to be empathetic with those we care about.

Turn off auto-play and recommended videos on YouTube. It’s been shown that the longer we follow recommended videos, the more likely it is that we will run into content that is more extreme in nature. Extreme content (whether positive or negative) tends to get the most reaction, meaning it is more likely to find its way into recommended videos. Remember, YouTube wants you to stay on their platform as long as possible. If I don’t see this type of content, I don’t feel obliged to enter conversations about it that tend to be low value and have a higher chance of being confrontational.

Finally, never react to trolls. In all of my experiences, trolls simply want a reaction from us. When I see people respond to trolls in comment boards online, things only ever seem to get worse.

Freedom of speech prohibits censorship in the public square. Do you think that applies to social media? Do American citizens have a right to say whatever they want within the confines of a social media platform owned by a private enterprise?

This is a very difficult question to answer. Technically, freedom of speech says yes. That said, we should all be accountable for what we say and do online.

If you had full control over Facebook or Twitter, which specific changes would you make to limit harmful or hurtful attacks?

This is also a challenging question. We have to remember that those in charge of those platforms have a responsibility to their shareholders, so I understand that making large-scale changes isn’t so simple. To me, the thing that has to change the most is that current legislation (mainly Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act) says that any platform isn’t responsible for the content that is posted on it. What isn’t covered in the legislation is the fact that through algorithms, these platforms amplify a lot of content into our feed or recommendations to keep us engaged. To me, there is a massive distinction between hosting content and amplifying content (some of which is going to be more extreme and potentially harmful), and this distinction isn’t currently addressed in Section 230.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Try to always find the best in people”. This is as relevant today as ever.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I am inspired by so many people and their stories. I am going to say Barack and Michelle Obama.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

The best place to follow me is on Twitter @seanherms and @kinzoomessenger. We are also at www.kinzoo.com and www.screencapturedbook.com.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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