Meet the Maker: Jaqueline Ros of Revolar
How One Teacher's Vision Turned Into a Successful StartupBy Angela Rolls
Jacqueline Ros' little sister was attacked twice before her seventeenth birthday. Despite a Teach for America dedication and no electronics education, Jacqueline was inspired to create a device that would provide discreet personal safety and help others facing the same dangers as her sister.
The device, called Revolar, has a quarter sized button designed in such a way that an individual in a dangerous situation only needs to press it. It's also designed with depressed edges to avoid accidentally pushing the button and uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to communicate to the user's cell phone, informing it that the alert has occurred.
The Revolar app allows the user to pick who they want contacted in an emergency. The phone relays an alert message to the Revolar cloud services and sends along the user's GPS coordinate information. It provides contacts with a brief message and a URL that gives guidance on how to safely help the user. It also gives periodic GPS location updates and provides information on how to contact the police and other emergency personnel in the user's local jurisdiction. Its intent is to be able to very quickly route help to the right directions.
Jacqueline had originally envisioned a necklace on her sister that she could push inconspicuously to call for help. "I created this to prevent sexual assault however the applications are greater," Jacqueline acknowledged. "We've had parents buy this for their kids with extreme allergies, or who have diabetes or for their parents who are having chest pains... It's really for those people who want to live independently and who want to feel less vulnerable doing so."
RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) states that there are approximately 293,000 victims of sexual assault each year. Victims are three times more likely to suffer from depression and six times more likely to suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). They're 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol and 26 times more likely to abuse drugs. Victims are also 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.
Sexual assault is an issue that is common enough to have caught the eye of the U.S. federal government. A new federal law requires universities and colleges to offer programs to raise awareness and lower risk of on-campus sexual assault.
Jacqueline knew she had a great idea but she needed to find a way to get it off the ground. To do so, she spent her days fulfilling her teaching commitment and her evenings starting a company. She was faced with extreme levels of exhaustion but managed to save some money to apply for a patent search and file a patent for Revolar. She also attended events where she networked, meeting mentors and others willing to help along the way. What had started as a one woman show began to receive support from multiple angles.
"A lot of people stood up and said, 'let me help you, let me make an introduction'... People really connected with stories and were willing to help. It’s been a lot of persistence on my side but there's been a ton of support from others," Jaqueline reflected.
That support helped Jacqueline's team to grow naturally. She added a Chief Operating Officer, a Chief Marketing Officer and a Chief Financial Officer. After hiring a business developer and an app developer, Jaqueline had practically everyone she needed on board... well almost everyone. The team knew they needed an engineer, but they didn't know which type.
"We couldn't decide if [we needed] a software or electrical or mechanical [engineer], and it turns out we needed all of the above," Jacqueline said.
An advisor from Innosphere, a "nonprofit technology incubator" named Doug Bartlett saw an email announcement regarding Revolar's KickStarter campaign launch (which turned out to be highly successful). Discovering that the product utilized BLE, a technology that he had previously worked with, Doug reached out to Jacqueline. Their initial conversations started with probing questions but quickly evolved to much deeper conversations regarding the details of the technology. Jacqueline realized that Doug was exactly the engineer she'd been looking for and decided to "pull him out of retirement."
"The advantage I brought was recent and very deep experience with the precise technology [they needed to employ]," Doug said. In less than a month, Doug was able to take a single copy of "a very oversized, under featured product," and turn it into the small button that Jaqueline had in mind. They were then able to prototype a much more full-featured version of the product for very little cost.
Another advantage Doug brought was being a "systems architect;" looking at the whole desired solution, he figured how all of the pieces needed to fit together and interoperate with one another. He also understood the limitations that existed and developed workarounds to those limitations in order to make a viable product. They had a complete team working toward a successful product.
Jaqueline's first line to others regarding turning an idea into a viable product is that, "Your mission should be set and your vision should be flexible." She explained that their mission was to help, but to accomplish that, the team had to be flexible and open to other ideas, like taking the advice of friends and transforming the necklace she envisioned into a product that is much more adaptable. Besides being flexible, the team is sure to let supporters know that the company is listening to them. They openly encourage customers or those interested in the product to share their stories and how they would use it. The hashtag #Revolarmeans was started as a way to fully understand how potential customers would benefit from using Revolar.
"Your mission should be set and your vision should be flexible."Even with a flexible vision, fulfilling the Revolar mission proved to be an immense amount of work. One major personal challenge for Jacqueline was finding a work/life balance. "We would work until we crashed," she said. She had to learn that although starting a company takes a lot of work, in order for her to bring her best to the table, it is equally important to take time for herself. She noted that, "A startup is not a sprint, it's a running marathon."
"A startup is not a sprint, it's a running marathon."Doug, the most recent Revolar member, had to "sprint to catch up." Besides catching up with the team's list of potential partners and investors, Doug, as the lone technologist, has the task of explaining the technology and possible features to the team in ways in which are understood by all.
"I've got to take the time and the care to bring the rest of the team up to speed to understand what the limitations and tradeoffs might be... give them choices and tradeoffs we need to make and give them the background why it is we have to make those tradeoffs," Doug explained.
One thing is certain, those connections and tradeoffs have allowed Revolar to maintain their mission to help others. A lot of hard work has thus far paid off; when shipments begin in 2016, they'll be one of the first wearable devices to help save lives.
Have you taken an idea and turned it into a product? We want to hear your story. Write to us at [email protected] and share your experience. We might publish it in an upcoming newsletter.
Angela Rolls holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies from Grand Valley State University. Originally from Michigan, she currently resides in California's Silicon Valley. Her interests include animals, traveling, writing, science and photography.