RapidSOS learned that the best product design is sometimes not a product design – TechCrunch


Sometimes the best missions are the most difficult to finance.

For the founders of RapidSOS, improving the quality of emergency response by adding useful data, such as location, to 911 calls was an inspiring and widely supported goal. There was only one problem: how would they create a viable business?

The roughly 5,700 public safety response points (PSAPs) in the United States weren’t great contenders. Cash-strapped and highly decentralized, 911 centers already spent their meager budgets staffing and maintaining decades-old equipment, and had few resources to upgrade their systems. Additionally, appropriations bills in Congress to modernize the centers have languished for more than a decade, a topic that we will explore further in part four of this EC-1.

Who would pay? Who was annoyed enough with America’s outdated 911 system to be willing to shell out dollars to fix it?

People obviously want better emergency services; after all, they are the ones who will dial 911 and ask for help one day. However, they never think about emergencies until they actually happen, as RapidSOS learned from the poor adoption of its Haven app. we discussed in the first part. People were not willing to pay a monthly subscription for these services up front.

So who would pay? Who was annoyed enough with America’s outdated 911 system to be willing to shell out dollars to fix it?

Ultimately, the company essentially morphed into an API layer between thousands of PSAPs on the one hand and consumer device and application developers on the other. These developers wanted to include security features in their products, but they didn’t want to design hundreds of software integrations across thousands of disparate agencies. RapidSOS’s business model shifted to offering free software to 911 call centers while charging technology companies to connect through its platform.

It was a difficult road and a classic chicken and egg problem. Without the call center integrations, technology companies would not use the API; in that case, it was essentially useless. Call centers, for their part, did not want to use software that offered no immediate value, even if it was given away for free.

This is the story of how RapidSOS simply moved against those headwinds from 2017 onward, eventually netting hundreds of millions in hedge funds, thousands of call agency clients, dozens of revenue deals with companies like Apple, Google, and Uber, and partnerships with more software integrators than any startup has the right to protect. Smart product decisions, a carefully calibrated business model, and tenacity would eventually give the company the escape velocity to not only expand throughout the United States, but increasingly throughout the world as well.

In this second part of EC-1, I will review RapidSOS’s current product offerings and business strategy, explore the company’s turn from consumer application to embedded technology, and take a look at its nascent but growing expansion efforts. international. It offers key lessons on the importance of iteration, how to ensure correct customer feedback, and determine the best product strategy.

The 411 in a 911 API

From the early stages of the RapidSOS journey it was clear that data entry at the 911 center would be its first key challenge. The entire 911 system, even today in most states, is designed for voice and not data.

Karin Márquez, RapidSOS Senior Director of Public Safety, whom we met in the introduction, worked for decades at a PSAP near Denver, going from being a call taker to a senior supervisor. “When I started, it was a one-man dispatch center. So I was working alone, answering 911 calls, non-emergency calls, dispatching police, fire and emergency medical services, ”she said.

Karin Márquez, RapidSOS Senior Director of Public Safety. Image credits: RapidSOS

As a 911 call center, your first requirement for every call was to find out where an emergency was occurring, before even characterizing what was happening. “It all starts with location,” he said. “If I don’t know where you are, I can’t send you help. Everything else we can start to build our house on. Each additional data [point] It will help us better understand what that emergency is, who may be involved, what type of vehicle they are involved in, but if I don’t have an address, I can’t send you help. “


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