WalkSafe: Where are they now?

“We exist to make the world a safer place,” Emma Kay, Founder of WalkSafe tells Startups Magazine.

WalkSafe is a free personal safety app, designed to keep you and your friends safer whilst out and about. The startup was founded back in 2020 with a mission of giving users as much information about the safety of their whereabouts as possible.

Startups Magazine originally interviewed Emma Kay back in 2022, only two years after the launch of WalkSafe. With plenty of success since the initial interview, we thought it was time to have a catch-up with the founder to learn more about her successes, the journey since, and discover what’s new with WalkSafe.

A new route

WalkSafe began as an app that plotted the crime data it pulled from the police’s database, and presented a subset of that information onto the WalkSafe map. This helped people see the areas that had the most crime instances, meaning people could plan their journey according to the safest route.

“We soon realised that we could put more of an empowering and personal spin on personal safety. Rather than plotting previous crime data, because perhaps some of that data wasn’t fully accessible, like the time of the crime, so how accurate was that data really?” Kay says when discussing the company’s change of direction.

“We decided to plot where safe spaces were. We worked with multiple different stakeholders, so Councils, independent businesses, police forces, and business improvement districts, to plot where, if any, has had safety training. So, whether that’s Ask for Angela, or if they’ve been accredited by Best Bar None or Licensing SAVI, and really helped to give people within the neighbourhood a better understanding of where to head if they’re in trouble.”

Since Startups Magazine last spoke to WalkSafe, it has launched WalkSafe Pro, “which enables businesses to ensure their staff get home safely.” WalkSafe Pro is WalkSafe’s B2B offering for companies that are looking for ways to keep their employees safe, especially during dark and anti-social hours. For industries like hospitality, late-night walks home are unavoidable, and for those working long office hours, the commute home is often done late in the evening. WalkSafe Pro is an affordable solution for employee safety, which makes employees feel valued and empowered, and gives managers peace of mind that their team has arrived home safely. WalkSafe Pro allows employees to share their journeys or time of arrival, gives automatic alerts if employees don’t arrive home on time, and as a bonus, employees can use WalkSafe+ free in their personal lives.

There has been a lot of change within the business. How has this been for the founder?

As the company has grown and developed, so has Kay’s role within the business.

“My role is definitely elevated and less operational, I think when we first chatted, I was a lot more of the Chief Marketing Officer and doing a lot more of that day-to-day stuff. But right now, my job has been a lot more networking, and more higher level. So, trying to lobby and get that buy-in and change from people who have got the power, people who have got the budget, people who can be helping me on my journey,”

Kay commented. “I’m trying to influence those people to come on my journey with me.”

The hurdles in the journey

As any founder can attest to, building and growing a business is hard. While every founder faces challenges and hardship, it’s their perseverance that makes a strong and successful founder.

When discussing the challenges that Kay has faced on the journey, there was one in particular that she continues to find difficult.

“What I find the hardest is being a working mum and having to make decisions to leave the kids overnight. That is always going to be hard for me and is my biggest challenge, and I don’t feel like I would be the same for my male counterparts.

“My heart is with my kids, and there’s always that juggle. And when I’m at home, I try to be present with them and not have my eye on my phone. When I’m at work, I’m at work, and when I’m at home, I’m at home, and that will always be a challenge for me.”

Kay is not alone in feeling this way. Working mothers across all careers often feel this same struggle. And now it seems there is an epidemic is sweeping over the workforce, known as ‘The Motherhood Penalty’, where working mothers are forced to feel guilt over returning to work, as well as often be viewed as not committed enough to their job if they prioritise family life. So, for working mothers, it’s a catch-22. It is here where change needs to be made to ensure more supportive environments for working mothers. Kay’s experience in feeling this way is not an isolated experience, but facing these feelings can make working mothers feel alone, and that will always be a challenge.

The highlights

Having had such a busy couple of years, Kay has had her fair share of highlights, especially when the startup has partnered with so many huge brands along the way.

“One of my biggest highlights has been when we worked with Budweiser and the Lionesses to get every Bud home safely. That was so cool, I actually cried. I felt so proud.

“All of a sudden I think it aligned with us as a brand and we found a niche. A lot of women and marginalised groups are not accessing sporting events. They’re not doing these things because they fear getting home. So it’s how we can ensure people can go and have fun and have a safe time and watch football like we all deserve to.”

This partnership was not the only one. Back at the end of 2023, WalkSafe partnered with Airbnb.

“I think what they saw in us is that utilisation of innovative technology that can genuinely help to inform and empower people, which is what we're about. We're about not stopping your daily life, it’s about continuing to do the things you love, but ultimately, connecting with technology so you can do so safely,” Kay explained.

Lessons learned

Whether navigating the highs or lows of being a startup founder, one thing is certain: you will learn your fair share of lessons.

“My number one is listening to your gut instinct, that has never led me astray. The times I didn’t, I regretted it. When I didn’t listen to it, I made a promise not to ever do that again,” Kay admitted.

Another lesson is “to be authentically me. I think I've learned that no one wants me to be something I'm not, and the only way this is going to work is for me to be authentically me and show up as that person who has that lived experience, to tell my story, to share my truth, to stand in who I am.

“At the beginning, I'd had impostor syndrome. I was always trying to be something for someone else or trying to fit something. Now, I’ve realised that my success has come from when I'm authentic Emma. And every week I do that, the universe shows me all the reasons why it is good that I still do that.”

The final lesson learned has been “to learn how to pivot, and not to let your ego block you. If you fail, you fail. It’s a great learning curve. Or, if something doesn’t go right, you need to hold your hands up and own up to it. Own up and move on. I can do better, let me be better, and not let it overcome you.”

Kay’s dedication to show up as herself, and learn from mistakes, has made her the powerhouse that she is today.

What does the future hold?

The future remains bright for WalkSafe, and Kay has her sights on people walking safely in a lot more places in the coming years.

“I think for us, we want to continue to have national coverage as a baseline layer of safe spaces across the UK, and I’d love to see Scotland and Ireland in on that as well.

“I would also like to take my app internationally. If all goes to plan, I would like to be in another part of the world by next year. So, watch this space.”

This article originally appeared in the March/April issue of Startups Magazine. Click here to subscribe