Safe and the City
Yes, if you hadn’t guessed, the app ‘Safe and the City’ was inspired by the ever-popular HBO American TV show Sex and the City.
Sex and the City followed the stories of four young, free, empowered females being who they are in a safe and feminine way and rocking the city. That was not the only reasoning behind the name. Founder, and all-round female entrepreneur Jillian Kowalchuk explained that it came from a mixture of different factors.
Safe and the City is an app that is designed like a map around London that points out places that might not be as safe, or has higher crime rates for example. The app is designed not to take you on the quickest route - but the safest route.
HOW DID IT ALL START?
It all began when Canadian originator Kowalchuk came to London to study her master’s degree, but was very reliant on cyber navigation as she didn’t know the city that well. "Sometimes I feel people implicitly trust the route, even though you are probably just going the shortest way.”
One particular night really stood out for Kowalchuk. She was off to meet friends for dinner and whilst wondering the streets of Soho with the app on her phone, it took her down a really dark alley way. "It was cold, it was dark, and I was in heels so I did kind of want to walk the fastest way, but it did look dodgy and I didn’t really want to – but I did anyway.”
Then there was that moment when she didn’t trust her intuition: "About half way through some kitchen staff, who were taking a smoke break, were getting really aggressive. Maybe they thought it was funny, but because it was an alley way, it was dark and I wasn’t familiar with the area – it was really scary.”
Her options were fighting them off or running, neither of which seemed realistic in heels, so she put on a brave face and asked them to leave her alone. "It just felt that it happened so fast they had probably done it before.”
Kowalchuk made it to the restaurant and regaled her friends with her scary tale, only to discover that most of them had experienced a similar encounter. She continued: "It just didn't leave my mind that probably another girl or a younger or more vulnerable person could have walked into that situation, and maybe something would have escalated differently.”
With this thought constantly at the back of her mind Kowalchuk started to talk to a lot more people about it, especially with women, and she found these things happen a lot. "People said often when they are alone and dressed up, and it’s late, we just trust where we are told to go.”
From there Kowalchuk started looking into developing an app which uses Google Maps and information from the police to provide information at your fingertips. "It’s not about being scared, but having something there to make better decisions. And also to leave an accountability marker outside businesses, so they know there is this sort of behaviour being shown by their staff which is unacceptable.”
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Launched in March, it focuses on areas that have seen a high number of sexual assaults or harassment, to places where a number of ASBO’s have been assigned. Essentially where there is a heightened level of crime, and then additionally users can rate their walks and routes to again show people which ways are the best to go.
The app is on the UK app store, and uses information from the metropolitan police. Kowalchuk said: "We are more focused now on the community and getting our different stake holders and businesses engaged.”
She added: "Safe and the City is one of those things, with any crowdsourcing, if people don’t understand what it is, it doesn’t make sense. We want people to see that information will really be turned into something tangible to keep more people safe.”
What is different about Safe and the City is users can rate their journey afterwards. Kowalchuk explained: "This is us being able to feedback information over time, and people being safer, then we take information from the police to show where there might be an area with a heightened risk of crime. But it doesn’t have to be a crime, it could be ASBOs or sexual assault.”
Within the app there is also a safety feature. Kowalchuk explained: "I guess we are a bit of a hybrid. We are trying to look at prevention, but if you do need to call emergency services, you do have that at your fingertips.”
TELL US YOUR JOURNEY AS A FEMALE FOUNDER
Kowalchuk is a solo female founder, but is still looking at getting more people on board. At the moment there are five core team members. "I started this as a solo founder, and it has carried on that way. Sometimes it can be quite difficult, when you are much further down the line, a lot of people don’t believe you can do it alone.”
Kowalchuk expressed that sometimes having a co-founder can be one of the riskiest things: "Especially for a startup, you don’t want to be taking one on just for the sake of it. I think through the different networks and awards I have become involved with, being able to become more of a standalone and an influencer has proved a really positive thing, and a way to keep pushing the company.” She added, "It’s very challenging but never lonely – there are always people around and people are always putting in time and effort into helping.
"We’re looking at some features in the near future that allow people to track their walk, which will send a notification when you arrive at the destination safely,” Kowalchuk explained and added that Safe and the City isn’t something you should just use when scared, it is intended for everyday practice so you know where are the hotspots to stay away from, and to just making people a bit more aware.
Being a woman in tech allows Kowalchuk to help with the problems that are out there for women. "I want to pave the way for women. I think it can be hard to tell if females are treated differently in this industry - as I have never been a man.” Kowalchuk joked she wished she could go under cover as a male, but she said that there are definitely indications that women are treated differently.
Sometimes going into meetings or investment pitches can be difficult. Kowalchuk explained: "One of our advisors who has been involved from the get-go is a retired police officer, and quite often people would just talk to him and leave me out. But he was great at saying, "that is more a decision for our founder” and point me out.”
Kowalchuk believes it is about recognition for women, and it being out there in the open, but also having the team that can help. "Throughout my journey as a female I think it’s about flipping negative situations into positive ones.”
THE ROUTE TO FUNDING
As a startup it can be so difficult to try and raise money and finance your idea, but Safe and the City has been successful in bootstrapping, and now are at a point where it is getting its product, market fit and has revenue coming in. Kowalchuk expressed: "It doesn’t matter what challenges you face as long as you don’t lose control of the end vision. For me it’s just knowing where we are at. We’re a social enterprise for a purpose business – actually doing what we say and not just chasing the money.”
Winning quite a few financial awards and grants for the idea, Kowalchuk said: "We have been lucky with that and again I think that is another advantage of having a social mission - there are lot of funding opportunities.”
It is really important to Kowalchuk that this is a generation of businesses that can tackle huge problems, but can be very profitable and successful to pave the route for men and women to make a new mark in the economy.
To add to all the challenges startups have to face, Kowalchuk had to fight to get her VISA, but in fact was awarded the exceptional talent VISA. "A huge push was to get our product ready, to get out there and get our voices heard in this crowded market.” This also led to Kowalchuk and her team getting into the Department for International Trades Global Entrepreneurial programme.
THE NEXT STEP
Safe and the City has actually just undergone a re-brand which has soft-launched, so there will be some exciting times ahead for the team. Kowalchuk added: "We’re in the process of changing the designs of the app so the information is more digestible and useful for people – not an information overload.”
The next big step for the app will be a crowdfunding campaign which Kowalchuk is hoping to be next year, which will engage with more influencers, and grow the team and community along the way.