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“Why it isn’t fair to be silently dissatisfied with someone” With Whystle CEO Lauren Bell

Give Detailed Feedback — People are more satisfied if they feel like they are doing a good job. One of the hardest parts about leading is giving negative feedback. But it isn’t fair to be silently dissatisfied with someone. Team members want — and deserve — the chance to learn and do better. Especially when that’s balanced with positive feedback for […]



Give Detailed Feedback — People are more satisfied if they feel like they are doing a good job. One of the hardest parts about leading is giving negative feedback. But it isn’t fair to be silently dissatisfied with someone. Team members want — and deserve — the chance to learn and do better. Especially when that’s balanced with positive feedback for all of the good things they are doing.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Bell. Lauren is the founder and CEO of Whystle, a unique smartphone app that alerts users to new government recalls and safety alerts. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Lauren has devoted her entire career to consumer safety — first in the Consumer Protection Branch of the Department of Justice prosecuting companies that were in violation of safety standards, then in private practice working alongside corporations helping them keep up with updated regulations. Lauren created Whystle to empower consumers, providing them with recall and safety alert information.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was really involved with community service in college. I tutored children, ran the community blood drive, and was President of the Community Service Council. I also learned first-hand at that time what it is like to lose a close family member as a result of a dangerous product. So, my goal was to continue to help others by getting valuable public safety information out to consumers in ways that weren’t available at that time.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

When I first had the idea for Whystle I thought the average user would be like me: a working woman with children. But it turns out that Whystle’s appeal is even broader because it is customizable. It has been so great to hear from single pet owners who have used the app to find out about recalls in pet food, toys, and other items like leashes.

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?

My initial efforts to validate my idea that people needed a customizable, easy-to-use source of safety information were very low-tech. I literally drew-out what Whystle screens would look like on a piece of paper and interviewed 30 people to test my assumptions. I was thrilled when the response was universally positive. But I was incredibly naive when I told them that it would not take long to release Whystle. I underestimated my perfectionist nature, as well as the timeline for developing an app. The delay did not feel funny at the time, but it was well worth the wait.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Whystle stands out as the only app that provides this type of safety data specific to each and every user. Also, we go a step beyond the general recall information with our “What To Do” section beneath each alert that contains actionable advice. For example, we include instructions on how to seek a refund and if there is a tip line available, we include that as well.

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

We are constantly incorporating feedback from our users to improve Whystle. We are currently working on several ways to make our recalls and safety alerts even more personalized for our users. Information overload is a major problem that Whystle is working to solve, and the more personalized we can make information the more it helps people.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

My most important piece of advice is to find that team that can help you best realize your vision. When I set out to create Whystle I began working with an app developer who was enthusiastic about the project. Now, he’s my co-founder. I don’t know much about the nuts and bolts of app development and he doesn’t know the ins and outs of consumer recalls so it’s a perfect fit!

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Don’t expect your team members to be Inspector Gadgets — no one is an expert in everything, nor should they be! As a founder you wear so many hats that it can be difficult to remember that you are the only one who needs to be on top of everything. Founders have to be able to talk about content, technology, fundraising, and the customer experience, while other members of the team just have to focus on one or two areas.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My dad. He was a successful businessman, but he always put being a good person first. At every step of the way he told me — and truly believed that — I could be whatever I wanted. But he also emphasized that helping others is the most important thing. Every Thanksgiving my dad gave each of us kids a shopping cart and we competed to see who could fill it with the most food for a set amount of money to donate to a local food bank. He taught us not only the importance of budgeting and finances, but at the same time, also the importance of helping others.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Whystle gives users a sense of empowerment and feeling that someone is looking out for them. My mom used to cut out articles about every possible danger or public health concern. I would find them in my lunch-box, on my pillow, and in letters at camp. I even continued to get them in college when she was battling lung cancer. Sometimes it felt like a bit much, but I always knew that she was looking out for me. In this crazy world where we are increasingly disconnected and worried about fake news, each recall or safety alert I pass along is just a modern-day version of my mom trimming the article out of the paper and passing it along to you wherever you are.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Be Clear with Expectations — Early on, I envisioned how the Whystle logo should look, but my team initially came back with designs that were nothing like it. I realized that I failed to communicate my expectations clearly. So now I strive to be as precise and detailed as possible to set others up for success.

Trust Yourself — Leading is so different from being a member of a team. You have to trust yourself if you want others to trust you. When I first started Whystle, it was very different from my former job as a prosecutor and law firm attorney. I doubted myself often. As I have grown into the role, I have learned to trust myself and in turn people trust me.

Give Detailed Feedback — People are more satisfied if they feel like they are doing a good job. One of the hardest parts about leading is giving negative feedback. But it isn’t fair to be silently dissatisfied with someone. Team members want — and deserve — the chance to learn and do better. Especially when that’s balanced with positive feedback for all of the good things they are doing.

Keep Your Fears to Yourself — Starting your own business is full of ups and downs. One time I heard a person refer to the lowest moments as “the trough of sorrow.” I try to share the positives with my team and keep the “trough of sorrow” moments to myself. When we have a great week in terms of an uptick in number of users, or a great mention in the press, I share it with my team, but I work through the low moments on my own.

Follow Your Passion — If you are doing what you truly feel passionate about it is easy to lead. I love what I do — so it doesn’t feel like work. Others see that passion and are motivated by it. Work should be hard, but it should also be fun. Working at Whystle is often hard, but it is also fun!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would work on furthering 3-D printing of medical devices and medical supplies for areas that lack adequate access. There is a tremendous amount of potential that could help so many people, but it is just beginning to be developed.

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

Do Well By Doing Good. I have always been motivated by helping others. I chose my career because I wanted to help protect people from dangerous products and I truly believe that doing well should be defined in part by how much good we do for others.

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 🙂

Dawn Whaley, President of Sharecare. Sharecare’s mission is to utilize digital tools to help people manage all of their health in one place. Whystle also uses technology to empower and protect people and I am so inspired by all of the digital tools Sharecare has developed. Dawn is also a fellow Southern woman. It would be amazing to have the opportunity to talk to her and learn from someone who has been so successful in this area.

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