Melbourne startup She’s a Crowd has taken home the International Prize at the Melbourne Knowledge Week Open Innovation Competition, and will be taking its women’s safety data platform to Indonesia.
The competition saw six startups presenting solutions for a safer city, with parking sign startup Can-i-park taking the top prize and winning $20,000.
She’s a Crowd is a platform allowing harassment victims and survivors of sexual assault to share their stories and experiences, building up a bank of statistical data to help map public spaces and combat crime targeting women.
For the Open Innovation Competition, founder and chief Zoe Condliffe, who recently featured in SmartCompany’s Smart 30 Under 30 list, worked with Tess Guthrie, founder of data analytics and consulting business WhyHive, to apply the She’s a Crowd model to Melbourne’s cycle lanes.
The pair took home the coveted International Prize, winning a trip to Bandung in Indonesia for a week-long program working with the Bandung Institute of Technology and the City of Bandung, to explore how the initiative could be implemented there.
Condliffe and Guthrie also won one of two available spots in the MAP Velocity program, and finished in third place overall, winning prize money of $3,000.
Speaking to StartupSmart, Condliffe says she was “so surprised” to win the International Prize.
“Sometimes you think that, because it’s gender-focused, it won’t speak to everyone,” she explains.
“It’s just really, really delightful that other markets, other countries, are seeing this as something they want as well.”
Validating the proposition
The competition comes almost a year after Condliffe completed the BlueChilli SheStarts program.
Since then, the startup has been working on securing its first customers, and embarking on various strategic partnerships, the founder says.
She’s a Crowd has gathered about 10,000 stories, Condliffe says, and is building the second phase of the platform now, which will focus more on the users.
So far, “we’ve been focusing on our customers”, she explains.
“Because we’ve got a double-sided marketplace … we’re trying to figure out what to prioritise.”
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While Condliffe herself is passionate about making sure the women using the platform are spoken to, “in the first 12 months it was really key for us to validate our value proposition”, she says.
While the founder says she is “obsessed” with the users, and understands them, it was important for her to focus on the customer, even though that didn’t necessarily feel intuitive to her.
“We had to make sure we know we are solving for the right problem … and we know the data we are gathering is the right sort of data,” she explains.
“Otherwise, it’s just a storytelling platform.”
The idea is that women know why their stories are being used, where they’re going, and how they will help solve the wider problem, Condliffe says.
“I want to know that we can answer them.”
A global vision
The win is a potential first step for She’s a Crowd to realise Condliffe’s “global vision” for the business, the founder says.
Sexual harassment and assault is a problem faced by women in literally every city in the world, she adds.
Condliffe lived in Cambodia as a child, where she later started her first NGO. She has also worked in international development in Southeast Asia. So, expanding in this direction seems like a natural next move for the startup.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about Southeast Asia as a region and how She’s a Crowd will work there,” she says.
“I have already got global ambassadors putting their hands up to champion She’s a Crowd in their own countries.”
In five years’ time, Condliffe wants the startup to be “the biggest spatial data set for the prevention of gender-based violence, globally”, she says.
That said, the founder hasn’t given much thought to whether it is going to make her rich.
“I realised a couple of months ago that potentially it was going to be really big, and that would put me in a place of being able to exit at some stage, but I just don’t think like that at the moment,” she adds.
“I need to get the business model and the social impact model right before I can even think about the long-term money-making side of things.”
Make your own rules
When it comes to founding and running a startup, Condliffe’s advice is to do things on your own terms.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that a startup founder has to be unhealthy and living on ramen … and just dying of sleep deprivation or whatever,” she says.
“It’s not true.”
There’s a long game to be played, she says. If a founder can’t take a day off, or keep their weekends free, and if they don’t see family and friends, they will burn out.
“It’s just not worth it and you’re not going to be helpful to anyone,” Condliffe says.
“I was told so many times this is what a startup founder looks like, this is what startup life is,” she adds.
“I rejected it from the start.”
This is about looking after founder mental health, but it’s also about making startups more accessible, she says.
Women, for example, are often expected to provide emotional support, and time, to their families, while “potentially men have been able to neglect their families and work long hours”, she adds.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable, and I think we really need to expand our definition to make sure we’re inclusive of everybody and that everybody gets a go,” Condliffe says.
“You’ve got to make the rules for yourself.”