It’s the end of a long work day, you’re walking alone to a dark parking garage and you feel slightly uncomfortable. So what do you do?
Zach Beattie, a 22-year-old senior at the University of Missouri, has a suggestion. Beattie helped create SafeTrek, an app designed to help people feel better about that nighttime walk back to their cars by providing a passive connection to law enforcement.
Here’s how the app works: When activated, SafeTrek connects a user to the nearest police department, tracking the user’s route by GPS in case he or she encounters any trouble while walking from one location to another. All the user has to do is keep a finger on the phone’s screen until arriving at a safe destination. If the user lifts that finger from the screen, he or she has 10 seconds to enter a personalized four-digit PIN to cancel a call to the police. If the user doesn’t enter a PIN, police will be dispatched to the user’s location.
Beattie recently made an appearance on Good Morning America to promote the app, but for the most part, he seems relatively unfazed by the success of SafeTrek. The app has been downloaded more than 35,000 times so far and has at least 17,000 people using it at least once per month. Although the app is available for free through the iTunes App Store, Beattie says SafeTrek intends to sell data collected from its thousands of users as its main way of making money.
Zach works on a team with four other MU students, some still in school and some graduated, including Zach Winkler, Nick Droege, Aaron Kunnemann and Derek Provance.
“Right now I’m excited to graduate,” Beattie said. “My classes have always kind of taken a (backseat) because of all this other stuff I’m working on, but I am going to graduate, and I’m excited about that.” Beattie says that, in spite of his additional workload, he still has a 3.85 grade point average.
Beattie is majoring in business administration with an emphasis in management and is minoring in entrepreneurship. Putting his classes on the back burner has definitely worked out well for him — he was recently named the 2014 Student Entrepreneur of the Year by the University of Missouri System. In addition to SafeTrek, Beattie is also the co-founder of Quirks Consignment Store, which sells student-made goods on campus.
In June Beattie will be moving to Phoenix to start working for an e-commerce startup.
Missouri Business Alert caught up with Beattie to discuss SafeTrek’s creation, success and future.
Missouri Business Alert: How did you come up with the idea for SafeTrek?
Zach Beattie: The idea actually came from a student government conference that I went to. I’ve been doing student government for a couple years, but I don’t do it anymore. This was a conference call for SEC schools, and campus safety came up. I think there were some other schools talking about an app they were working on for campus safety, and I thought, “Hey, this is something that we can bring to Mizzou.”
MBA: How did you go about making that a reality?
ZB: We entered a contest through (the Reynolds Journalism Institute), and we ended up winning the contest. That’s when I though that SafeTrek could be a real business. That was about a year ago. We started making prototypes, and we tested it and talked to police officers and went to the dispatch center and did all kinds of things in the middle to get the product that we have today.
MBA: From my understanding, this is on a national level. How did you get the police to cooperate with you?
ZB: Originally we were going to have to talk to every police department and kind of go city by city, but what we did instead was we took our dispatch center and made it centralized. So now we don’t have to talk to any police departments. You know how ADT security works — if an alarm goes off, it goes to their national call center and then they relay the information to local police — that’s how we work now. That’s how we were able to go national.
MBA: How did you decide on pricing for the app?
ZB: The app has been available in the App Store since October. We tested a few different prices within the first month of launching it to see what people would be willing to pay for it. The price is actually about to change to being free within the next week or two, and it will be free permanently for everyone all the time. That was always kind of our end goal. We’re collecting data all the time from people that use our app, so if you’re holding down the button, we’re getting those coordinates. We map that information, and the goal is to sell that information to cities, police departments and private companies.
MBA: What would you say was the most frustrating part of creating this app?
ZB: Just trying to figure out what is the best way to keep people safe. Working with police departments or government agencies isn’t always the quickest or easiest thing to do. There’s a lot of red tape, a lot of legal stuff that we have to worry about, so that’s always frustrating.
MBA: Can you give me an example of some of the red tape or legal issues you’ve had to deal with?
ZB: When we were trying to go to individual police departments to sell it city by city, it took a lot of time. They have committees that have to approve everything and they have to make sure they have the budget for it, which takes a lot of time and effort, and it just wasn’t worth it for us to go through every single city. So that’s why we kind of pivoted. On the other hand, my favorite part of creating this app would have to be just knowing that we have a social mission. We are a company that is actually protecting people — if someone is in an emergency, we’re there to help them out. It’s kind of a cool feeling.
MBA: You were recently on Good Morning America. What was that experience like?
ZB: It was pretty surreal. We originally approached them to pitch the idea, and there were a couple of alumni that worked there, so that helped. But they liked the idea and decided to bring us up.
MBA: Did your appearance on GMA increase traffic for your app purchases?
ZB: It definitely has. It gives us credibility, and that allows us to say, “Hey, we were on a national news outlet, and we’re the real deal.” Nothing crazy, but it’s definitely helped us out.
MBA: What other kind of marketing and promotional work have you done to get the word out about SafeTrek?
ZB: We’ve partnered with college campuses, and they promote us through their free campus resources. We’ve done a little social advertising, but honestly most of our growth has been completely organic and by word of mouth. People want to talk about the app and tweet about it, and that’s great for us. I mean, I think we’ve had about eight to 10 thousand downloads in the past month. We’ve had around 17,000 use cases, where people have used our app all over the United States. The numbers are going up every day.
MBA: Speaking of use cases, how many users have actually had to contact the police?
ZB: We don’t actually ever know the end result when someone holds their finger down on the app, but we have had to dispatch police more than once to a location.
MBA: Are you concerned at all about people accidentally contacting police with SafeTrek?
ZB: Yeah, we get false alarms all the time — at least every day. But we have a system in place to handle it. If someone contacts the police through our app they get an automated text message that asks if everything is all right. Usually they text back saying it was a false alarm. So basically we first confirm it with the person and then make sure the police aren’t dispatched.
MBA: What do you see the future of the app looking like? Are there any changes you would like to make to it?
ZB: We’re always making small tweaks, but we’d like to keep it really simple. Our goal is to make SafeTrek a household name that people use when they feel unsafe, and when someone says SafeTrek you know exactly what they’re talking about.