Somebody to Watch Over Me
By Gabey Goh March 22, 2013
- Mainstream attention skyrockets Watch Over Me users to over 120,000
- Now seeking US$1 million in funding to fuel expansion plans
GLOBALLY, at least one in three women and girls is beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime.
That is the chilling statistic from a UN Commission on the Status of Women conducted in 2000.
With that in mind, the role of innovative technology deployed via smartphones as a safety measure and tool for aiding those in an emergency is hardly a new development; with many options already out in the market.
So what makes Watch Over Me, a mobile security app targeted at women, developed by Malaysian start-up SECQME Sdn Bhd, different from the rest?
In an interview with Digital News Asia (DNA), SECQME co-founder Chin Xin-Ci (pic) admitted that there were already quite a number of apps in the personal safety and tracking space.
“They're great, but almost all of them require you to pick up your smartphone, unlock it, launch the app, and hit a panic button … all while you're trying to escape, or fighting off an attacker. With Watch Over Me, it's more pre-emptive,” she said.
According to Chin, a user can tell the app she is walking to her car, and to ‘watch over me’ for the next five minutes.
“From the moment you hit ‘Watch Over Me’, our app tracks your location every minute. If you don't check in safely five minutes later, it automatically assumes that something is not right and sends out an emergency alert with your GPS location and turns on your camera to record snippets of what's going on -- without you having to lift a finger,” she explained.
And if you want to trigger an emergency immediately and your phone happens to be in your hand, just shake it extra vigorously, and the alert will be triggered.
Watch Over Me depends on access to a data network for users to register an event. However the app does allow for people to shake their phone to trigger an emergency even when the phone is offline, which will activate a loud alarm and auto-capture eight seconds of video.
In an area with zero reception, the video will be stored on the user’s phone instead of being transmitted to the company’s servers.
“Our goal is for minimal user intervention, and as technology improves and more opportunities open up, we hope to minimize it even more,” she added.
Watch Over Me operates on a freemium business model, with the full suite of features, including shake-to-trigger and SMS alerts, unlocked via a monthly subscription of US$3.99.
This time, it's personal
Serial entrepreneurs and start-up mentors have often said that when competing in a space that’s already populated by similar offerings, the start-up with the most passion for its own product will eventually come out on top.
Watch Over Me initially began life as SecQ.me, developed by James Khoo (pic) who was spurred into quitting his day job and forming his own start-up in 2011 due to a personal experience.
In 2009, he and his family lost contact with his sister for a couple of days. Khoo later found out she was in a car accident and was unable to reach her phone; she was thankfully found and brought to a hospital.
He started thinking: "Why isn't there an app out there that can help with a situation like this?"
The company was initially fully self-funded with personal savings and an angel investment from Khoo’s father amounting to RM300,000. Most of the money went towards operations, research and development along with patenting the solution both in Malaysia and overseas.
Before the rebrand, the SecQ.me app had close to 45,000 users globally.
“Half of our users were from the United States and mostly via the Android platform as I didn't paid much attention to iOS phones back then -- our iOS version was ugly and complicated to use,” Khoo added.
Khoo and Chin first met at a conference in Kuala Lumpur in 2012, she had heard about the app but hadn’t seen it. Three days later, she was a victim of robbery and attempted assault at The Curve in Petaling Jaya. (To read Chin's first person account of the incident, click here).
“I was pretty shaken about the whole incident. I was re-introduced to James (Khoo) and we got to talking and I realized something crucial: I had the police panic button app installed on my phone, but I could not have used it. I did not have the time to pick up my phone and use it -- I was too busy thinking of how to get out of that car before something even worse happened,” said Chin.
“We decided to pool our expertise -- his technical background, team, and developed technology, and my marketing, design and very unique experience of being a victim of crime. I joined SECQME as a co-founder last October and we've been working hard on the app ever since,” she added.
When asked what keeps her and Khoo motivated, Chin pointed to the frequency of crime-related news and admitted despite the incident occurring months back, the memory of her assault remains fresh, making it easy for her to push forward with the reminder that the app could help someone.
“As for James, he's dedicated his entire life to working on this product. Like myself, he works on it full-time, he's put in all of the funds -- we're in this for the long haul,” she added.
Spike in users, surge in funding needs
Watch Over Me and the stories that sparked its birth have already hit a nerve and captured the interest of Malaysians.
After being featured in Malaysia’s largest English daily The Star, and with several other publications online and offline picking up the story, the app saw a spike in interest and has been downloaded over 50,000 times.
The exposure propelled the app to a No 1 position in the Lifestyle category of the Malaysian iOS App Store, second in the overall Malaysian iOS App Store, and the No 2 Lifestyle App in the Singaporean iOS App Store.
“We currently have close to 120,000 users, with 60% of that number using our app via the iOS platform. About 15% of total users are active users,” said Khoo.
According to him, the Personal Safety App space is a hot market now and the team is currently in the midst of a fundraising round to fuel the next stage of its plans.
“As a point of reference, Life360 -- our biggest competitor in the United States with close to 22 million users -- has raised US$10million in funding from Facebook, Google, and venture investors. bSafe, another well- known Personal Safety App, has raised US$ 4.21million,” he said.
The team is seeking to secure US$1 million, which will be directed toward more research and development, along with marketing initiatives to promote the app and general safety campaigns to raise public awareness.
Khoo shared that he already has a confirmed angel investment from a local entrepreneur.
“The thing is till today, there still no clear market leader in Asia, so we plan to use this new injection of funds to become the top player for Personal Safety App in two to three years,” said Khoo.
With the recent spate of mainstream publicity skyrocketing its user base, Watch Over Me now enjoys something all start-ups fight for – attention from both the masses and corporate entities.
Chin shared that negotiations are ongoing with a larger corporation for distribution but declined to share further details at time of writing.
In addition, the team is also working on a family version of the app to help busy urban parents track their children, particularly teenagers. This version is slated to launch sometime in April.
For now, the team remains hard at work ensuring a consistent user experience and catering for its growing userbase. As Chin cheerfully remarked: “I’ve barely had any sleep!”