In a way, Philly’s ROAR for Good — once the makers of a safety wearable device for the consumer market called Athena — was a victim of its own success.
Its sleek-looking safety device, gleaming in silver or rose gold, and marketed as a protection tool against sexual harassment, began shipping to users in 2017, after a wildly over-subscribed crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. Cofounder and CEO Yasmine Mustafa’s company celebrated the product’s leap to virality, watching in awe as celebrities and the media gave Athena ample exposure.
“It was everywhere,” Mustafa remembered over coffee last Friday.
But quickly, the company struggled to sustain the traction it got during the campaign. The growth of the wearables market stalled, and the novelty of a safety device like Athena began to wear off as similar devices hit the market. It was one of many indicators, the CEO said, that a pivot was necessary.
“It really came down to the fact that our customer acquisition costs tripled,” said Mustafa, a 37-year-old Kuwaiti immigrant who’s been vocal about women’s rights and her own story as an undocumented woman in the U.S.
Once a straight-up consumer company pledging to keep women safe, ROAR is now angling to sell its platform to decision makers inside the hospitality industry.
That summer, the company began taking on initial business-to-business (B2B) customers. First it was real estate tech company Houwzer that equipped its agents with the devices. Later Comcast became involved.
“The more focused you are, you can better address the demographic,” Mustafa said of the shift.
Though it considered fields like social work, education and hospitals’ psychiatric wards, it was the hospitality market which ultimately checked all the boxes, both financially and from a social impact stance, by offering housekeepers a tool that will make them feel protected against sexual harassment or assault, a rampant problem the industry faces.
“What had always bothered me was that you had to have $100 to have a device like this, a device that would make you feel empowered and safe,” Mustafa said of Athena. “We had donation and giveback programs but it really counted on sales versus doing the right thing and helping those who are most vulnerable.”
The pivot took its toll on the company.
In November, after the company halted consumer sales for Athena, it underwent strategy sessions and examined a pivot to the hospitality space. The company then downsized from a 10-person team in November to seven, then five. Mustafa cites chatting with RJMetrics founders Jake Stein and Bob Moore (and long-time HR exec Sam Glasberg) on how to best position the company and its staff, both current and departing, after the restructuring.
The tech, too, has changed because of the pivot. In the hospitality context, Athena’s address-based GPS location no longer sufficed. (The old products do still work, though.) Now, staffers in distress would need to send a signal that pinpoints the room and floor they’re in, often inside massive complexes. Over the past few months the company has been working on a beacon-based location tracking platform called AlwaysOn.
The platform, Mustafa said, will work across a range of settings, including basements and elevators.
“ROAR for Good is a woman-led and mission-driven technology company dedicated to creating safer workplaces,” the company’s revamped website now reads. “We believe that no one should be afraid while trying to earn a living wage, and that belief propelled our latest product, AlwaysOn™.”
While it is currently using the Athena devices it has left for AlwaysOn, eventually it plans to move away from manufacturing its own hardware and instead tap off-the-shelf hardware solutions.
Mustafa said she’s in talks with “a major Philly hotel” for an initial pilot of AlwaysOn.
To be sure, ROAR for Good will be tackling a complex sales pitch.
See, before it makes a sale, it must first convince decision makers in the hotel industry that sexual harassment is a problem that befalls them, and then get them to spend money on AlwaysOn to help fix it.
Two major developments are already helping to grease those wheels. The first is the explosion of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault, which after being started by Tarana Burke in 2006 went viral in 2017 in the wake of assault accusations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. One Seattle survey helps make that point across: In the survey, half of hotel housekeepers said they had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
“What the movement did is make workplaces realize that being negligent is very dangerous,” Mustafa said. “Data has shown that the number of sexual harassment claims that have been brought forth by employees since the #MeToo movement has increased by 50%. There are real repercussions, and more employees are demanding change in their organizations.”
The other key piece of momentum has to do with local legislation.
In a handful of cities across the U.S. (such as Seattle, Chicago and Miami), ordinances now call on hotels to provide housekeepers with panic buttons, in addition to a slew of other changes aimed at protecting their staffers, like codes of conduct or clear sexual harassment policies. A similar bill currently doing the rounds in the New Jersey State Legislature could be a big win both for worker’s rights advocates and for the company.
For Mustafa, who spent a decade undocumented, empathizing with housekeepers and the challenges they face comes second nature.
“If anything, I’m too close to the problem from their side,” Mustafa said. “To me, being able to relate to their experiences is something that can be a strength, but I get so close that it could hinder me from being effective if I don’t look at it from a business owner’s side as well.”
The cofounder, too, has had to pivot some in her approach — from the bold discourse around empowerment and safety that bolstered Athena, to also talking about the huge turnover problem in the hotel industry.
“How can you reduce that?” she asks a hypothetical hotelier. And an offered response: “Protect them at the workplace.”
“We’re fundraising,” she said. “And if they know any hotel owners they should tell us.”-30-