Many people have posted something they regret on social media — a curse word during a frustrating sports game, a political rant in response to the news, drunken debauchery as a college student. These cringe-worthy posts are often harmless, but they sometimes cost people a job when employers snoop on their social media.
Enter T.J. Colaiezzi, a Delaware County native and former fitness industry executive. In 2018, he launched LifeBrand, a tech start-up that cleans up customers’ social media accounts. The company also provides social media screenings for employers that are “above board” by obtaining job candidates’ consent.
LifeBrand’s technology went to market just more than a year ago, but the West Chester-based firm has already added professional sports teams as clients and won a pitch competition run by Kevin O’Leary, the business reality TV show personality. LifeBrand has raised $16.2 million from investors and expects to grow from 50 to 70 workers this year, said Colaiezzi, the founder and CEO.
The company has become a presence at Eagles games with signs at Lincoln Financial Field and radio commercials featuring Heisman Trophy winner and Philadelphia wide receiver DeVonta Smith.
“What we’ve built here at LifeBrand is a way to help protect individuals’ own personal brand, protect them during the hiring process, but also help protect companies,” Colaiezzi said. “I wanted to help employers find a way to vet out bad people, but protect good people from things being seen that shouldn’t.”
The company’s technology deploys artificial intelligence (AI) to crawl through a user’s social media feed, flag potentially problematic posts, and let users delete them. During employer background checks, candidates have the chance to delete troublesome posts and can choose whether to send a report about them back to the company.
The screenings are super sensitive, noting not only offensive language but even innocuous words that could be incriminating in other contexts. For example, LifeBrand flagged the word “bud” from this reporter’s Twitter account. That was a short way of saying “buddy,” not a reference to Budweiser or marijuana.
The posts that LifeBrand flags are often not horrible but could still cause trouble, Colaiezzi said. The company’s AI found a Twitter post from a C-suite executive who playfully called a reporter a “nitwit.” Colaiezzi himself used colorful language online to praise a piece of avocado toast. In both cases, the executives decided to delete the posts.
“We’d rather flag everything and give you the chance to delete it, then some things slipping through the cracks,” Colaiezzi said. “Most people might not care if they use the word ‘hell’ on their social media. Some people do.”
More than 70% of employers check on job candidates’ social media accounts, according to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey of more than 1,000 hiring and human resource managers. Of those firms, more than half found content that caused them not to hire someone.
Such screenings are mostly done casually by hiring managers, said Jason Thatcher, a Temple University professor who studied how political social media posts influence hiring decisions. Managers often claim they’re looking for work-related information, such as confirming something a candidate said.
“The problem is that people sometimes post things they don’t realize other people will find offensive or problematic, particularly when they’re on the job market,” Thatcher said. “If you post about politics, particularly your partisan affiliation, it negatively biases people with opposing party affiliations toward hiring you.”
Thatcher said there are at least a hundred other companies doing social media management and background checks, but he’s unaware of any others that give job seekers a chance to delete posts before an employer can see them, as LifeBrand does.
Colaiezzi, 40, a former sales director at New York-based Crunch Fitness, said he was bothered that employers scrolled through candidates’ social media without consent or letting candidates dispute the information gathered. When he didn’t find a solution he was comfortable with, he decided to make one himself. He partnered with Oak’s Lab, a Prague-based tech firm that helped design, engineer, and launch the LifeBrand product.
Lifebrand has about 35 enterprise clients, including the Eagles, Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Braves, and New England Patriots. The firm is primarily focused on enterprise customers, but has 4,400 individual users, too. The company aims to reach $10 million in annual recurring revenue by mid next year, Colaiezzi said.
Consumers can pay a onetime fee of about $10 to screen their accounts or pay an extra $4 a month for unlimited scans. The pricing for enterprise accounts depends on the size of the company. LifeBrand recently charged a firm with 19,000 employees about $11,000 a month, or about 58 cents a worker a month, Colaiezzi said. In addition to doing background checks, LifeBrand clients can offer the scans as a benefit for their clients’ current employees.
For two years, Colaiezzi said, he put everything into the LifeBrand idea, maxing out credit cards and selling belongings to spend more on the company and support his family. LifeBrand’s big break came when O’Leary, a judge on ABC’s Shark Tank, picked LifeBrand as a winner of a different start-up pitch competition. The prize was a $10,000 grant, but O’Leary’s endorsement proved to be more valuable, Colaiezzi said.
“It’s early-stage credibility that we would have needed three or four years’ worth of sales and big-name clients to get the credibility that he brought us almost overnight,” he said.
The start-up plans to expand into education next year by selling accredited online courses about social media. The online courses, which could be sold to parents or schools, would train kids or young professionals on best and worst practices on social media, including how to build a strategic brand, Colaiezzi said.
The goal is to build LifeBrand into the world leader in social media education, detection, and prevention — then be bought by another company. That could require another round of fund-raising within the next two years, Colaiezzi said.
“There’s bigger tech companies out there with bigger reach, with bigger distribution, that can really help us get this to the masses even faster than we could,” Colaiezzi said. “So we are eyeing, at some point in the next three to five years, to be acquired.”