Three years after she founded ROAR for Good, Yasmine Mustafa’s mission could hardly be more relevant. Along with the ROAR team, the Kuwait-born, Philly-based entrepreneur — who landed on one of our first Who’s Next lists and whom we again featured in January 2016 — developed a device called the Athena.
Its purpose? Helping people deal with the threat of harassment, assault and violence.
The Athena, a wearable that can unobtrusively send a distress signal to designated contacts when discretely pressed, was launched via a crowdfunding campaign that was a blowout success. Almost too much of a success — the huge volume forced ROAR to make changes in nearly every part of the rollout plan.
But now that things are up and running smoothly (or as smoothly as things go with a startup), we caught up with Mustafa to get insights on lessons learned and find out what’s next for the company, which sees itself as a champion of women’s empowerment.
What’s the accomplishment you’re most proud of since we spoke with you last year?
Shipping! We’ve shipped almost 10,000 Athenas now. Shipping started in March with a small amount, then a little more late April, and subsequent batches progressively higher and higher. You do it that way so you can incorporate user feedback — if you hear the same feedback from multiple people, you stop and regroup. We were almost a year late in shipping partly because of that user testing.
You were also late because of a manufacturer switch?
When we were planning, I kept hearing that a lot of manufacturers would only do high volume. So I thought, ‘Oh, let me mitigate that risk and find a low-volume provider.” Well, we had 5,000 pre-orders [via our crowdfunding campaign], which was five times our internal projections. Our original manufacturer told us, “We just can’t do it.”
So we had to find a new company, do the whole RFP process again. We found Flex — they’re the No. 1 manufacturer for wearables, they make Fitbits — but they rarely work with startups. It took us three and a half months to close [that deal].
What’s the customer response been like so far?
We send a survey one day after you receive it, and the overwhelming response has been awesome. We’ve gotten a bunch of testimonials from women who say they get harassed in New York City constantly and Athena is giving them peace of mind. One user wrote us because her device got water damage, saying, “I rely on this for my job, what can I do to get it replaced right away?”
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in the past year and a half?
Shipping, again! I wish we hadn’t offered international shipping. We had orders from 53 countries, and each one has different tariffs and taxes and customs laws and regulatory requirements. One country it was going to cost us something like $20,000 [to get approved to ship], so we had to refund the 10 orders from there.
Another challenge was packaging. We had worked with one vendor, but had to drop them right before Thanksgiving last year. I ended up flying to China and working with a different vendor to design everything within one week. It was a last-ditch effort, but ended up going really well. Maybe I should do everything that way, ha.
Next step for ROAR for Good?
For us the next couple months will be huge — for most consumer electronic companies, 50 percent of revenue comes in Q4. So we’re gearing up for all those promotions: Black Friday, Cyber Monday and, most of all, Giving Tuesday.
Also, Nov. 20 will be our three-year anniversary, and we’re hosting a party where we’re giving 250 devices to survivors of abuse. After abuse, it’s 1) help women find shelter, 2) rebuild their confidence and 3) help them get financial means. Our goal with giving the devices is for the second step — help them reclaim their power. For the Athena to be an empowerment device.
Looking further ahead?
We’re building our next product — we’re very excited about it. Also there are some partnerships we’re very stoked about. I can’t share details, but it could mean a lot in terms of expanding the reach of the Athena community.
And we’re working on some things to enhance the device, mostly software. We plan to build out “safety as a service” — a different take on SAAS.
Five years from now, what will you be doing?
What I would love to have happened is that ROAR has made enough of an impact in raising awareness of violence against women that not only have we been able to spark conversation to change mindsets, but we’ve also been able to maybe even change laws. Getting more women as judges and in political roles. The laws right now benefit the abusers more than the abusees. I’d love to be part of creating legislation that moving forward drives change.