It was more than a year back when I met Shubham Saraff at the VIT University. A boy from Mumbai, he had just joined engineering and was all of 17 years of age. He came to us and told us that he wanted to build an app that would make it possible for people, especially girls, to know if a place that they were going to was safe or not.
The only way to do this is through crowdsourcing. Make people mark the spots as incidents happen. But why would anybody have the diligence to do that? Most safety apps that I know of get reduced to being panic buttons. The app sits around for a while when you trigger it just to make sure that it works; before getting completely deleted.
I asked him how might it work in the absence of base data. It was going to be near impossible to keep people on the app and adding crowdsourced data. So the question was where do we get some base data from?
They have reports from across the country about the various incidents that take place. If we could get the data and plot it on the map, we would have a base set that would be sufficiently interesting for people to want to stay on the app and it would have some usefulness for the user.
Let us meet the cops
Police departments are notoriously difficult to navigate and getting work done is a task. Subham rose up to the challenge. He went repeatedly over the weekend from Vellore to Bangalore to try and setup a meeting with the Additional Police Commissioner in Bangalore. After a few weeks of running around, he was able to finally get a meeting. The meeting did not go very far and the department did not know protocol to share such data.
He also took the time to meet with the Police Commissioner in Pune.
Finally, the Pune Police Commissioner said that they would be willing to provide data. But the kind of data that was needed for the app did not materialise.
So instead of painstakingly going after each the police in each city, he decided to go to the source. He went to Home Ministry in Delhi and met with the officials in order to make sure that the data for the entire country could be accessed.
After several meetings and much patience, he was able to get the source data for the entire country.
Flag A Spot
He had been parallely working on the platform all the time with a team of students that he was studying with. The team had been building an app to crowdsource the data from users. He had put the app on alpha testing and started collecting some data through friends.
He was not daunted by the fact that he did not have the data or was not sure if he would be able to access it or not. He went ahead with the belief that even if the base data did not materialise he would be able to bring users on board and make them use the app.
This perseverance was so addictive. The belief and the determination to make this happen was so heartening that my partner Salma and I offered to invest in the app. He refused to take any investment. His reasoning was that he wanted to make that something out of the app before he brought investors on board.
Today, Flag A Spot launched in beta and we are proud to see the product that it is.
We were driving down the highway this morning towards Vellore, as I hit a long stretch of straight road. The app sent a notification informing us that the stretch was ‘accident prone’. I slowed a little. Since the base data is available to the app as you move across different parts of the city, provides you alerts of various kinds.
I can say without any doubt that this is the best app that I have seen from the perspective of providing security to an individual and I would like to see where things will go from here.