Season: 2; Int: HerView 3- A SPHERe of trust!
Updated: May 6
Here's something cool, let's talk about an app that actually cares for you like how your friends and family would. It is increasingly becoming important for us to make places safe for women. Putting restrictions on women won't really solve the problem that continues to only increase manifolds. We have to have a strong voice to initiate change, get behind what actually causes hideous incidents of women rights and humanity violation, otherwise our voices would only get muffled by the patriarchy- as rightly said by the founder, Jitte of the Spher app community. He and his team are building a circle of trust for women so that they can step outside their safe zones at peace. Let's check out how so that we are inspired to do something to bring in real change. I mean, why should boys have all the fun, right? :p
Q: How did your journey start? Why did you start this app, what led to it?
A: Hi, we are Jitte and Assi.
Assi: I was in Engineering but the idea of startups and starting something on my own intrigued me. I wanted to help women via technology. After I read about a terrible rape incident in Sweden, I really wanted to do something about the situation.
I found Jitte and his app- Spher, online and it has been 8-9 months since the project started.
Jitte: Sweden is called a feminist country and there are differences in how we perceive the world. I was visiting my cousin's place in Germany where one of my closest friends was drugged and sexually abused in a bar. What angered me was the police saying, "She shouldn't have worn that." This is when I knew we need to get to the root cause of the problem. We have known the problem the whole time but not understood how to define it. In the summer of 2019, Marcus (co-founder) explained the situation and we needed to do something. We saw there is a lack of information in the society. There's a fear of going to the wrong places. Like, we have IMDB to review movies/series so that we don't spend time watching them and then realizing its bad. But, there's no way for women to know that if the cities they are living in or going to is safe or not- if it is safe from women's POV. Especially, the night clubs/ cabs/ public transports. Bars do pose a huge threat to women's safety. The information provided about clubs are limited and non-disclosable. They are not out in the open for women to know if they are actually safe to visit. When a woman gets spiked or raped, the clubs wouldn't ever take the blame, therefore gathering and democratizing information so that women can make informed decisions about visiting the club becomes important. Then only, it would be like women own the clubs and it would become a necessity to make them more safe. Like Uber is smart in a way that they make the passengers rate the drivers and not the company. This way it's easy to let go of drivers who are not good enough. Similarly, women would have the power to change the night life and make the stakeholders change for them.
"Yes, it is true that we don't know till what extent we can have the power over them but we can start."
Q: Why do you think this app is important today?
A: Sweden is said to be the best country for women. Different countries create different experiences for women- some incidents occur which are less traumatic than the others. Through our surveys from all over the world, we want to make it global. It hopes to be a billion dollar company to be able to hold a seat at the table, appeal to the local government and to reach influential people who can make us heard. If we identify a pattern regarding the root cause, we could reduce the likelihood of such problems arising because these are not isolated incidents. They happen all the time. That's why the app is important.
Q: Where do you think these problems stem from?
A: Men might feel a sense of power, maybe depends upon the upbringing, due to the cultural differences. It is a combination of a lot of things. I won't say loneliness because it just trivializes the matter. I would say its toxic masculinity that breeds inside the locker room culture which is a lot damaging to the new young players who look up to these kingpins who are the top athletes in ice hockey in Sweden. They are the cool, good-looking ones who boast about the number of girls they might have had swooned or fucked, talk about girls in a sexual way. The youth look up to these men and feel a sense of "I should have it too or done it too". They follow this toxic mentality and we get to see how these men talk about rape in general. I won't put it all on upbringing because I have seen "strong, well-spoken, feminist" women who have tried their best to raise their sons and have got assholes in return. There are countries where women don't feel the same authorities as in other countries. If it is seen that women are offered roles not something more than a small job position or doing their duty as a mother, the society can come to see women fitting only these roles and not including them into other opportunities. Also, earlier Disney movies, what's up with them? Sleeping beauty- the girl's in coma but a prince can come save her only via a kiss which is unconsensual. Rapunzel waiting to be saved by prince charming while she plays the damsel-in-distress. What image are these characters portraying the kids? These are damaging in ways that we aren't even aware of.
"WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE PROBLEM IS STRUCTURAL."
Q: Tell me about a specification/feature of the app.
A: We have been pondering over the features a lot. We have 2 features as of now which we consider the main ones-
Panic button- If one presses it, a notification will go to the person's family and friends and even to other app-users. This function needs to increase the networking through in-app invites for people to come join the app.
Rating and reviewing system- to bring in the real change by listening to each women's real-life experiences in the night clubs to increase awareness and unfortunately relatability to make informed decisions.
There will be a tracking and location sharing feature using heatmaps as well which will give out information on different areas and venues to know if they are conventionally safe or unsafe areas. The aim is for women to be listened to because safety is personal. I might not feel threatened for real about the war in Ukraine while sitting here in Sweden but I know the world is becoming increasingly unsafe. The fear is rational and can instill societal changes. We need to be able to quantify safety based on crime rates stats. If all come together then it will be easier for the stakeholders to get convinced to make changes and act accordingly to make it safe in the long run. If women protest against visiting night clubs, they would be forced to make themselves a safe place to regain trust again. It is easy to fool people into feeling safe, but are they actually safe? This is what we need to tackle while developing our app and can be done through an active review system. We also need clubs to sign up on this app.
Q: What were your learnings while working on this app?
A: I didn't quite expect it but clubs in Scandinavia are actually interested in this app idea and stakeholders want to improve and change. Not sure at a global scale.
"IT IS EASY TO FOOL PEOPLE INTO FEELING SAFE, BUT ARE THEY ACTUALLY SAFE?"
Q: Any other instances that sparked this idea in you?
A: Jitte: The incident didn't happen to me. I can just imagine a problem but until I face it I wont be able to know its many effects and nuances as the problem's still far away from me and I won't break my back for it. Sweden is a super white country and for me to be a black individual is sometimes tough and I tell my mom who is white, she gets it but only till a certain extent, she doesn't really get it. It is important coming up with these stories- not necessary bad ones- to cover diverse stories and opinions. After talking to a team which is super important, we immediately wanted to start working on the idea.
Assi: I found them online, heard stories of strangers. 2019 had the idea still in ambiguity and at the end of 2020 it solidified.
Q: Did you have any shift of work/priorities from when u started?
A: Startups are always evolving, you focus on one thing now and the next moment, another thing pops up. They cant be locked up into a 1 plan strategy- keeping the core aim same, our responsibilities kept shifting from time to time. I had made logical notes on the idea and at the start I wasn't aware of a lot of things I am right now, so we have evolved for the better on the way. The rating and reviewing thing came up when we heard that in UK in 65 different cities, clubs were forced to shut down in the weekends as the number of spiking cases increased and women protested. This demonstration actually accelerated our idea of rating and reviewing. Stakeholders are held accountable and every news and information about them are made public, Over 90% people said they needed such an app and that's what makes Spher stand out from other "safety" apps. We need to understand that the problem is structural.
Q: What were some of the challenges along the way?
A: We are trying to build an app that helps women because the core issue is to deal with the problems women face and help them out. The challenges don't really stem while making the app, it is about the money. Everything is about money and that's the biggest problem. There are these startups that deal with fast delivery services and e-commerce, I mean we don't absolutely need these facilities as much as we need safety for women. We can survive without them, its just stupid but what happens is these startups get huge funding for growth and the ones that want to bring in real change don't really grab much monetary support as here it's not about profits. There is this startup called Gorillas in Europe which within 6 months got valued to 1billion. They promote sustainability but the irony is that such services help (rich) people who can afford them at premium prices but not everyone gets benefitted via them. People rarely use safety apps but we still need safe neighborhoods for everyone, an information sharing avenue for awareness because we never ask women how safe they feel instead would have asked what she shopped from the stores. For us to be successful, we definitely need the money and support from organizations and individuals- our services aim to serve all, not just the privileged class.
Q: How are you planning to share the word about your app around?
A: In Sweden there are 380K local FB groups, women groups, feminist support groups for a country of 10 Million people. We can partner with the women organizations as we do share a common goal. Unity creates a difference. We have to take care of the financial grounds and maintain investor relations. Nowadays, media presence is really important so we hope to grow via Instagram & TikTok to have bigger grounds of impact. We hope to do collaborations and of course via the built-in "invite your friends" feature on the app, we plan to spread the word around.
"WE CREATE CITIES FOR WOMEN, MAKE SURE SUFFICIENT INFORMATION IS OUT THERE TO MAKE EDUCATED DECISIONS AND HOLD THE STAKEHOLDERS ACCOUNTABLE FOR ACTION AND LACK THEREOF."
Q: Other problems that you might want to address either via the app or in general?
A: Men's education definitely! To be able to teach young men about ethics, sexual behavior and feminism is really important. We can create an app for men that is impactful and somehow incentivize men via competitions, lotteries and prizes, by teaming up with big brands like Nike, football clubs- usual things young men would be inclined towards. Coming together, all can make a difference by working towards good causes. We can do surveys and questionnaires about toxic masculinity impact and assess the responses, look into matters like the locker room culture and motivate men to change their attitude towards girls for some goodies instead, from these brands- even though materialistic- but could work in initial inculcation of values, mindsets and ethics. There are companies that talk of self-love according to what they sell, but are they actually inducing a sense of self-love in the society? All in all, we don't want to lose our primary focus regarding our app and hope to make some real change in the future.