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A Safety App that Works - Protecting Users through Scenarios, Automation and Their Own Safety Networks

ChaperHome is a simple mobile app, but it could save the life of someone you love – or your own. Based on research and user feedback, ChaperHome is a safety companion, connecting you to a network of ‘protectors’ – your friends and family. You can easily set up scenarios and the app will send a notification to your loved ones as soon as it registers something going wrong. The point is that it will happen without any input from you. In a situation where you might not have time for more than a single tap, ChaperHome has your back.

The app is perfect for parents worried about their children, as well as students and young professionals who move to a new city and could use a little help to feel completely safe. I had the pleasure of talking to Richard Kay, CTO at ChaperHome, about the app’s origins, how it helps its users stay safe, and what the company’s plans for the future are.

How did the idea for creating ChaperHome come to be?

The idea came to me during a conversation with my girlfriend. We both realised that there was a lack of really useful mobile safety apps. The kind of apps people can rely on when heading home after a party late at night – or heading home in general. We tried several of the available products, and found out that they were very focused on user input and only one scenario.

That wasn’t really helpful or safe. In the scenarios envisioned by the creators of those apps, the user needs to send out a call to action. Imagine being mugged. Even if you’re not separated from your phone, you might be unable to call for help yourself. This needs to happen automatically. I wanted to build something simple and modern –  an app that would really help people stay safe.

I talked to many people and found out they often felt nervous about living in the city. A little extra reassurance could really help them. ChaperHome is a tool to help people stay more aware of everything around them and enhance their personal security with little effort or cost.

You wanted to focus on the community around the user and their ability react to a dangerous situation.

Exactly. ChaperHome realises something is wrong when it registers a lack of input and does the work for you by sending alerts to your protectors. We focused on 3 key features during product design and development: the Companion, pre-setups with destinations, and groups.

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The Companion is based on live information. It springs into action instantly, depending on your input. The tapping feature is an example – you can be at a bar, and you keep tapping your phone’s screen if you’re fine, say, every 5 minutes. When you stop, the dead man’s switch sends an alert to your friends and family, and they can react immediately, by calling you and heading to your location.

Another way to use the Companion is when you have a specific plan in mind. You can set messaging alerts as reminders for your protectors to check up on you at particular times or intervals. This way, they will know that something isn’t right without you having to do anything in real time other than react to their calls or messages.

The pre-setups work like this: you have a plan that involves going from one location to another. If something goes wrong, like if you don’t make it to your destination, alerts are sent to your protectors. If all goes according to plan, however, your protectors get the expected messages confirming your location.

Does that mean ChaperHome tracks the user’s location?

We’re not like Google Maps, tracking the user’s location at all times. We know people who highly value their privacy might be against such a functionality and wouldn’t want to discourage them from using the app. Aside from that, GPS tracking is a great strain on a phone’s battery.

Right, and it’s important for the battery to last as long as possible in a dangerous situation.

That’s right. Your phone can be your lifeline. ChaperHome limits the location tracking while everything is fine, but if something goes wrong, the protectors get informed about it and receive your device’s location. They can call you, since they have your number stored, and then they will receive live snapshots of your location every 10 seconds.

Finally, the groups feature is useful when you go out with a bunch of people. You can select particular protectors and customise messages, which you can then send with just a tap.

Yeah, it’s quicker and less noticeable than typing a message on the spot. I can see it come in handy. We’ve been talking about what the app does, but what does ChaperHome offer to its users and who is it for?

We anticipated a specific set of user groups, but, of course, we hope that everyone might benefit from using ChaperHome. The key markets are people living on their own in cities, young professionals, possibly recently moved from the countryside. They are new to the dangers of a big city and away from their closest friends. They might feel unsafe especially in situations like heading home at night in winter, when it gets dark quickly. ChaperHome has all the tools necessary to make these people feel safer.

Another group are parents of teenagers. Parents get worried when their children start driving and going out late at night. It’s easy to get nervous. We want to help ease their minds. Another – and somewhat related – market we’re exploring are schoolchildren. School buses already use a tracking system for the parents – but it tracks the bus, not the kid. So the parents get to know that the bus made it to its destination and can only hope that their child was on it. ChaperHome offers more certainty.

A final market we’re currently looking at are students. Young people away from home for the first time, only beginning to make friends in a new environment. They could definitely use the sense of security that ChaperHome provides.

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So you want to help people who don’t have a support network of friends and family physically close to them?

Yes and no. Mostly, we are thinking of people who don’t have a wide support network, but on the other hand, people who use ChaperHome do rely on a support network of protectors.

It feels like you have to sell the idea of using ChaperHome on the sad premise that today’s society is unsafe. How do you deal with that, particularly when planning your marketing and PR strategies?

Unfortunately, with the world as it is, very few of us can feel truly safe. Look all this unrest, Paris, Belgium, London – and these are only the terrorist attacks. I’m a country boy who grew up in the city. I never felt perfectly safe after moving here. I talked to a few people and realised I wasn’t the only one. Many people feel nervous and would like that extra reassurance. ChaperHome is a tool to help people stay more aware of everything around them and enhance their personal security with little effort or cost.

Don’t you think many people don’t consider their personal safety an issue? Many of us feel safe in a society which, realistically, isn’t safe at all.

Some people do say ChaperHome isn’t really for them. One thing we’ve stumbled upon through research is that many people don’t want to admit that they’re conscious of their safety. And everybody worries about their loved ones. ChaperHome will always update you on the status of the people you care about.

It’s much easier to be worried about someone else than yourself.

Yes. That’s one argument that might convince people to use the app, and keep themselves safe in the process.

What kind of change are you bringing into your users’ lives?

Of all the great feedback we’ve had, the most satisfying are all the different applications of the features we’ve built. We envisioned the Companion as a tool for walking home safely, tapping your phone every 30 seconds. After talking with care professionals, we found out that tapping every 30 minutes would be great for house calls. Real estate agents tend to be away from family and colleagues for large chunks of time. They might become involved in an accident or get locked in a closet. ChaperHome would be a wonderful solution for them, too.

I’m very curious about how ChaperHome could affect different industries. I’m sure there are many uses for this technology.

We certainly plan to do more research and focus on particular industries in the future. People working unusual hours are one group we need to look into. There’s a lot of untapped potential here.

What other changes are you planning to bring to your users’ lives in the future?

Our main focus was getting the Companion, destinations and groups operational. Over the next few months, we will be mostly marketing, promoting, testing, and introducing fixes. Plenty of people are asking for new features or customisations of the existing ones, but we can’t do everything at once. We intend to be agile but stick to our core values. Adapt to user needs without losing our original vision.

Here’s a great example: the destination feature allows for one start and one end location. What about 4 different locations? Another one: large groups features. Start point, end point, multiple people, all tracked by the app.

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So you could keep track of a whole group of friends, for example after a night at a bar, and make sure everyone gets home safe?

Exactly. And it’s important that users be able to tailor ChaperHome to their unique situation. The app already has 4 preset messages, but they are easy for users to customise.

That’s a really useful feature to develop. Speaking of development, what challenges have you faced until now? What are the most important lessons you have learned from them?

The biggest challenge at the moment are the many requests from users. We receive a lot of great ideas through feedback and develop them as fast as we can, but we also have to prioritise and stick to our core values. Listening to feedback is important, but so is staying true to the original aim of ChaperHome and keeping the app functional.

What challenges do you see ahead of you?

One of the biggest ones is promoting the app. There will be people who’ll want to use it immediately. Our best channels of communication are probably social media, personal networks and work done by PR companies. We’d also like to do talks at high schools, to reach out to teenagers and their parents.

I imagine new users are going to pull their friends and family into the community, as protectors.

Yes, it’s a community driven thing – people are going to share ChaperHome with friends and hopefully we will benefit from organic word-of-mouth marketing.

What is your growth strategy?

Our main focus at the moment is growing the user base and making the app more stable. Then we’ll need to work with the feedback we’ve received. It’ll be a combination of finding out how and why the users use ChaperHome and adapting the app to their expectations. We are looking at at least two possible paths to take, and it’s important that we go down the right avenue for our users.

How do you define and measure success for ChaperHome?

The number of users, but the number of users in relation to active sessions is the most important metric. We don’t want people to install the app and forget all about it, but to use it every day and promote it. Active users. Are they using all of the features? Why? Why not? How? All of this is crucial information.

So, changing the topic slightly, how did you find Netguru and what made you chose us as your partners?

I found you through a Google search – I must have typed something along the lines of “react native development agency”. You came up at the top of the list. I sent requests to the three top search results, and Netguru were the only ones who kept coming back, checking in, asking me whether everything was all right, how they could help. It felt like you cared about me as a user, and not just another source of cash. That’s why I chose to come back after one app failed – I liked Netguru’s Agile way of working, the team, and the atmosphere they created.

I’m honestly touched and glad that’s the impression you have of us. Why are we a good fit for ChaperHome and what are the strong points in our cooperation?

The main good thing was that I really liked our relationship. You had the flexibility to adapt to various situations. At one point, I had some semi-developed code and a small internal development team that needed assistance. Netguru took over the code without an issue and worked well with the internal team. Your adaptability enabled you to deal with the scenario brilliantly.

Thank you. What are the next steps for ChaperHome? Just a few bullet points.

All right. Something like this:

  • growing the user base;
  • getting to phase 2 of the development (there are key things in the pipeline);
  • growing the team and growing as a company;
  • after all that, seeing where it goes and making sure we can move into more countries in Europe and the US, and then going worldwide.

The US is our next destination, then Europe, since it’s geographically close, and it’s easier for us to understand the markets here.

The US does seem like a great market for you, since its cities do not appear to be very safe.

Not to mention the millions of potential users there.

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