OK, you’ve been on your date from one of the dating apps we suggested. It went swimmingly, but now it’s late at night and you need to walk home. Here’s another app you should download: SafeTrek. We talked to founder and CEO Zach Winkler to get the inside scoop.
Q: What was the inspiration behind SafeTrek?
A: We started back at the University of Missouri. There are these blue lights on campus [that students can press to alert campus police], and our university was paying tons of money [to operate them]. We thought it was ridiculous because [realistically] no one could use them [if they were in danger]. At the same time, there was so much crime on campus. We figured, what if you could just have a button where you could hold it when you were feeling unsafe and then police would be notified? After talking to a couple friends, we realized there was something there, so we started building it and it just grew from there.
Q: How did you go about making the app?
A: My background is in computer science. We started it with a business and [business development] person. We did all the development and initial concept and launched it on the App Store. I’ve developed many apps for the App Store before, so I had experience doing that. Once it launched, it turned into a business. For the past two years, it’s become our full-time jobs.
Q: How does it work?
A: Let’s say you’re walking home late at night and you’re feeling unsafe, maybe someone’s following you or you’re just paranoid. You open up the application and press and hold on the big blue button in the middle of the screen. Keep holding it as long as you’d like until you get back to your car, your dorm, your apartment, whatever, until everything is fine. Release the button and you have 10 seconds to type in your four-digit PIN. If you don’t type in your PIN, we’ll notify your local police department of your exact location and emergency, and we even give them the capability to track you. Then our call center will be there to make sure that you actually get help, even if you can’t talk or you don’t know where you are. Let’s say everything is fine: You enter your four-digit code, it’ll cancel everything, no one’s notified.
Q: How do you coordinate with local law enforcement?
A: In the United States, there’s about 6,000 911 call centers that cover all the [emergency services]. One of the biggest challenges to actually getting SafeTrek working was [figuring out how to] integrate with those people. So we built technology behind the scenes that allows them to get our information very quickly, but if you think about home security systems work, we’re very similar—we have several 24/7 certified emergency call centers with 70 dispatchers that are there 24/7 who take the information that we get from our users so that it gets to the correct local police department.
Q: How do you hope to grow SafeTrek in the future?
A: Right now, we have just over 400,000 users, and it’s been growing pretty organically because of the nature of the safety application, so we’ve been really excited about that. Moving forward, [we’re] looking at new ways to trigger SafeTrek. Right now, it’s “hold until safe.” You can walk home without having to worry about what might happen if something bad happens to you. But it doesn’t solve [other cases] like domestic violence or realtors showing a house, so we’re trying to come up with new products that leverage our ability to connect with police departments but with new triggering mechanisms, like maybe a hardware button or something like that.
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