Ryan Frankel isn’t new to Philly’s tech scene.
The Wharton School graduate’s previous venture, translation startup VerbalizeIt, had roots in Philadelphia, and was developed in New York City. He and cofounder Kunal Sarda were on ABC’s “Shark Tank” season finale in 2013, and took home $250,000 in investments, but eventually sold the company to another firm.
Since then, Frankel has spent time in New York City and in Miami, but he was seeking a cohesive entrepreneurial community that he said he wasn’t finding outside the Northeast.
After six years outside of Pennsylvania, Frankel and his family are back. And he’s bringing his new distracted driving-fighting startup, This App Saves Lives (TASL), with him.
When the app drops next month, it’ll track when a user is driving without using their phone for anything other than music, directions or hands-free calls, and reward those who do with points for discounted or free food deals at local restaurants and chains.
Frankel is prepping for the launch of TASL with Chief Operating Officer Nate Wagner, who has a background in education. The team started working on the app in March, and its aim is to reduce collisions and the 3,600 deaths that happen each year from distracted driving, Frankel said.
In addition to partnering with businesses that will give drivers discounts or deals on their products — and that pay TASL to be featured — the app also plans to partner with local schools and employers who want to incentivize students or employees to drive safely.
We chatted with Frankel about the inspiration and strategy behind the app, as well as how Philly compares to other startup hubs he’s lived in.
How did Miami compare to Philly’s tech scene?
Everything in Miami is really spread out, and that can be isolating for an entrepreneur who thrives in an environment surrounded by other entrepreneurs. And beyond that, as far as access to capital and access to talent, it paled in comparison to what I’d experienced here in Philly as a grad student and what I’d experienced in New York as a startup CEO.
There always was a good ecosystem, at least within the Penn ecosystem in which I was based, and having been gone and coming back and see what local businesses have sprung up, seeing additional access to capital, seeing what Comcast has done for the area … I think that all signifies for me that Philly’s become an entrepreneurial hub.
Where did the idea for This App Saves Lives come from?
One morning when I was back living in New York, I went for a [bike] ride very early in the morning, and a driver was barreling down 8th Avenue while I was at a cross-section. I could tell the driver was going to run the red light, so at the last minute I swerved and avoided the direct collision, but I flipped over the handlebars and ended up fracturing several bones in my body, although I was pretty thrilled just to be alive.
Over the years as I was walking around, either with my dog, or my newborn, or when I was driving, I’d see people looking down on their phones. So this has been a concept that’s been on my radar for a handful of years. The entrepreneur in me sees a massive problem that’s only getting worse, and wants to do something about it. So this business ties together the concept of rewarding people for doing the right thing with businesses who are trying reach new customers.
How does it work?
You as a brand get to champion your commitment to public safety, and you get to bring new foot traffic to your door by offering up rewards to those safe drivers. To me, that’s a natural yes. When you put those ideas together, you get This App Saves Lives.
You, as a driver, you get in the car, and the app automatically knows when you’re in a moving vehicle, you earn rewards points for time spent driving undistracted. Every time you’ve spent time driving in the car you can go into the rewards portal to see all of our brands that are offering rewards, whether it’s a free meal at Shake Shack or a discount at your local pizzeria — the opportunities kind of run the gamut.
We’re in beta right now, working out some final bugs before we hit the market with the launch of the app, as well as the Indiegogo campaign, to raise awareness and support for this vision.
This App Saves Lives, and its Indiegogo campaign, is now live.