A Q&A with Guardly co-founder and CEO Josh Sookman. The Toronto, Ontario, Canada-based startup, which has designed a corporate security platform that interacts with mobile apps via cloud, indoor positioning, and real-time tech, announced in late January the completion of a $1.45 million Seed funding round. Investors include Freestyle Capital, Golden Venture Partners and MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund. It was founded in 2010.
Sookman: Guardly provides real-time mobile safety and security solutions for enterprise organizations, campuses, and cities. Our employee safety platform enhances traditional emergency notification, communication and management systems using an end-to-end mobile safety platform featuring the latest in cloud, mobile, indoor positioning, and real-time technologies.
Our primary innovation is the Guardly Command, our end-to-end mobile safety platform. Guardly Command marked the first time a company combined the use of mobile safety apps with an integrated incident monitoring and response platform that can interact with each other in real-time. Guardly Command also boasts a powerful and flexible API that can easily tie into other systems to streamline workflows and data reporting.
Our other notable innovations include the industry’s first indoor positioning system, which can transmit the building, floor, and room location of an emergency caller to security operators, as well as a mass mobile notification system that can send 500,000 geo-targeted notifications instantly.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Sookman: Our core customers are comprised of Fortune 2000 organizations, campuses and cities. Within the Fortune 2000, our target customers span a wide range of industries, including financial services, information technology, retail, oil and gas, mining, real estate and property management, healthcare, and more.
Within the enterprise environment, we’re usually working with Chief Security Officers, VPs of security, and directors of security, but other members of the c-suite, primarily HR leaders and Chief Operating Officers love our solutions because once deployed, they greatly reduce costs and improve the company’s bottom line.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition, and what differentiates Guardly from the competition?
Sookman: Mobile safety is a nascent market, and while the marketplace is becoming more crowded, it still remains a fragmented one. There are several companies that provide simple personal safety apps, but without an integrated incident management console and without a robust back-end infrastructure. Then there are a few companies that have built out their mobile safety solution for a specific niche, such as higher education, but can’t support a true enterprise deployment with necessary integrations required to support their needs.
Lastly, for the few companies that have built out a mobile safety platform that includes two-way communication between personal safety apps and an incident management console, Guardly differentiates itself on the technology front—namely through our industry-first indoor positioning system and mobile mass notification system. As we move forward, we’ll be looking to continue differentiating ourselves on the technology side by putting the needs of the security/safety administrator first and foremost, and creating the tools they need to do their job most efficiently.
SUB: You just announced that you’ve raised $1.45 million in Seed funding. Why was this a particularly good time to raise funding?
Sookman: This was the perfect time to raise funding because we’ve had great success recently bringing on new customers across several verticals, and the new funds will help us scale to meet the growing demand for our solutions.
In addition, the security market itself is in a state of major transformation, as every day we’re seeing more companies integrating cloud and mobile technologies into their existing security systems. We’re excited to be right at the forefront of this new wave, and the new funds will allow us to continue innovating and building out the most robust mobile safety solution on the market.
SUB: How do you plan to use the funds?
Sookman: We’ll be using the new funds to continue building out our platform and integrating features that are needed by our existing customer base, as well as put in place the resources we need to meet the growing demand. One way we’ll do this is by expanding our rapidly growing team—primarily development, sales, and marketing.
We’re completely committed to not only building out the best enterprise mobile safety solution, but also to providing the highest level of customer care and success, and these new funds will allow us to continue to lead the way in those areas.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Guardly? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Sookman: The initial inspiration for Guardly came from a partners meeting back when I was working at the BlackBerry Partners Fund—now Relay Ventures. We were talking about what characteristics of mobile applications and services differentiated them from typical web apps—or desktop apps. The notion of saving time—do something from your smartphone vs. your computer when you arrive back at home—and real-time location were core principles to our investment theses at the time. Smartphones can also serve as a proxy for identity, which is a very powerful concept when it comes to personal safety in corporate settings.
So, I got to thinking about how those concepts could apply to emergency situations; ultimately, reducing response time and knowing the most accurate location of an affected person was critical to success, and it dawned on me that smartphones offered the perfect solution to this age-old problem in the safety and security industry. It was a bonus to see that nobody was doing this and that there seemed to be a ripe opportunity to completely disrupt a traditional market.
SUB: What were the first steps you took in establishing the company?
Sookman: To get the company off the ground, it took a lot of hard work. I determined that in order for this to work, I needed to convince a lot of people that what I conceived was technically possible. So, I rolled-up my sleeves and designed and programmed the initial system prototype from end-to-end, including the database architecture, back-end application logic, simple API, web front end and a really basic iPhone app. Using this prototype, I was able to attract Seed financing and our first employees, who were able to transform my prototype into a secure, scalable, enterprise platform we see operating today.
We used this momentum to launch the company on a global stage, at DEMO Conference 2011 in California. Since then, we’ve worked closely with many customers, potential customers, and end users to ensure that each successive evolution of our technology is more in-line with their needs and expectations for how things should work. For example, during an emergency, people’s reactions become more primal or instinctual rather than analytical and calculated, so our user experience design paradigms have needed to become aligned with those principles.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?
Sookman: Naming a company is an art. It’s also a lot of fun. Once the fun is over you need to snap back to reality. Has someone already registered that company name? Registered that trademark? Today, the Internet hasn’t made things any easier. Before you can name a company, now you need to make sure the domain name is available, sometimes in multiple countries. Next, can you get the company name as a username on Twitter, as a vanity URL on Facebook, as a channel name on YouTube? And the list goes on.
There are lots of methodologies to name companies. For Guardly, this was my process. I wanted the company name to be associative enough that someone in the industry could expect that we’re part of it, but not limit what we do in scope. So since Guardly has the root ‘guard,’ it implies that we want to offer some form of protection or safety services. And we do. But companies grow and shift focuses over time, and I wanted to ensure the name would stand strong no matter where we ventured in the safety and security industry.
Initially, Guardly set out to be the ‘OnStar of personal safety’ for individuals powered by a personal safety app on a smartphone. Our mission was to improve safety for people. Not provide security for their homes or cars, but for them. After all, people are what’s most important. In Hebrew, the ‘ly’ stands for ‘me’—so an English-Hebrew literal translation means, ‘guard me.’ Even though we shifted from a consumer market to an enterprise market, we still put people first. And most enterprises will tell you that people are their biggest asset. So the name still works.
SUB: Do you have plans to seek additional outside funding in the near future?
Sookman: We have pulled together a great investor syndicate, with leading investors in the U.S. and Canada. We look at this most recent Seed round as a major step forward towards a Series A financing that we expect to come later in 2014.
Sookman: In the early days, securing our first round of financing was a difficult hurdle to overcome, but with perseverance, dedication, and drive, a lot is possible. In contrast, our second round was much easier to pull together. In the early days, it was also challenging to recruit our first few employees—essentially they were taking a giant leap of faith. Since then, it has gotten much easier, as we are now getting tons of unsolicited requests from people to join us in all sorts of functions.
Of course, the needs of our customers is always in a state of dynamic transformation, so it remains challenging to say on top of their needs and be the vendor of choice when they aim to solve their new and emerging problems. We aim to solve that by staying close to them and communicating regularly.
SUB: How do you generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Sookman: We’re already generating revenue, and have a rapidly growing list of enterprise customers across several verticals that are signed to multi-year contracts.
Our revenue model is based on a well-established Software-as-a-Service [SaaS] model. It is a tiered model largely based on the population size of each deployment, and selected optional add-on services such as indoor positioning and mobile mass notification.
SUB: What are your goals for Guardly over the next year or so?
Sookman: Our goals are simple. We aim to keep our existing customers super-happy and to keep renewing their services. We aim to spark referrals, and add new customers to a growing list of markets that we serve—and keep them happy too. We aim to continue building our own fun, friendly and hard-working team.
Finally, we aim to continue pushing the boundaries of what is possible technologically, to take advantage of more sensors to gain more information from the Internet of Things, and to continue leading the market in terms of technological capabilities.