The Power of Purpose

A few years ago two young entrepreneurs created a startup with a mission to save lives.

Working quietly, without fanfare, they developed a technical solution that does just that.

It’s an emergency response data platform that connects critical data from over 350 million devices to thousands of emergency communications centers. When seconds count, the more data available to the public safety personnel managing the emergency, the better the chances are that the right rescue team will arrive quickly enough and with the right situational awareness to save a life.

The company is RapidSOS, and I want to tell you about it for a couple of reasons.  First, because of what it’s doing to save people’s lives day in and day out. Also, because it shows the kind of success that an organization can achieve when grounded on a noble purpose.

Out of a scare, an idea

It all began in 2012 when Michael Martin, today the CEO of RapidSOS, noticed he was being followed as he was walking home late at night. That scare made him realize that in most emergencies there is no easy way to get out your phone, call 911, and have a verbal conversation about what is happening. Michael set out to Harvard to build a business to solve this challenge. There, he co-founded RapidSOS with Nicholas Horelik, a Ph.D. from MIT who is now the company’s CTO.

If Martin ever had a doubt about his purpose, another difficult event the following year assured him he was chasing a serious problem. His father had fallen from the roof of the family’s home and was unable to reach 911 from his smartphone. It wasn’t until Martin’s mother came home and called 911 from their landline that help was able to arrive.

The root of the problem is that 911 was built in the 1960s for a voice centric-world, making it unable to meet the needs of a data-centric world in which calls are most often initiated on wireless devices.

The following summer, while Horelik led a small team working on the technology at the Harvard Innovation Lab, Martin borrowed a car and took off for a 3,500-mile trip to meet with several hundred 911 centers across the country. What he learned by talking to nearly 5,000 first-responders became instrumental in the development of the technology.  Which is why humbly he says the technology was built in partnership with 911.

Seconds save lives

For a company whose mission is to build transformative technologies that saves lives, I’d say the numbers speak for themselves.

Today, the RapidSOS emergency response data platform provides life-saving data to 4,700 emergency communications centers, covering more than 90% of the U.S. population, and helping first responders manage over 250-million emergencies a year.

The company has raised more than $100 million in equity capital and has launched its platform in other countries.

Other challenges solved

And that’s not all.

While working on its platform, RapidSOS has been able to solve problems that puzzled emergency authorities for years.

Take the challenges with home security alarms, as an example.

According to a recent Harvard study, the legacy 911 infrastructure makes it difficult for operators to gather enough information from monitoring center operators to triage and prioritize alarm company calls. This leads to long processing times and a proliferation of false alarms. Up to 90 to 99% of all security alarms are false, according to the study.

Home security provider Cove became the first of its kind to appreciate the advantages of the RapidSOS platform and recently became certified as RapidSOS Ready.  I expect other alarm companies will be interested in a solution that allows them to provide a timelier and more accurate response time to their customer’s emergencies.

The power of purpose

Purpose alone is not a predictor of success. But having a noble purpose empowers a company by attracting and retaining talented individuals who can lead it to success.

It certainly attracted me.  When Martin first approached me about serving on the RapidSOS advisory board, I not only immediately accepted, I also became an investor. And like me, a group of top-notch professionals, including three former leaders of the FCC, are helping RapidSOS navigate today’s difficult business, technological, and regulatory environments so it can succeed.

People these days want to work for companies that have a noble purpose and are making a difference in society. By the way, if you are one of them and would like to be a part of RapidSOS, take a look at the current openings.

After many years in the corporate C-Suite and working with promising young startups on innovative projects, nowadays I really enjoy being on the other side of the table, working with and investing in startups. As I consider opportunities, one of the things I look for is the company’s purpose. To me that’s one of the key criteria.  RapidSOS is a perfect example. Its noble purpose attracted people from diverse backgrounds to its employee, advisor, and investor ranks. Driven by a common mission, they are making amazing progress in saving peoples lives.

I can’t think of a more noble purpose than that.

Latino Leaders March April 2020
Do You Know Why Your Customers Called You Yesterday?