How A Teen Entrepreneur Created A Personal Safety App For Women

In 2020, Harish Kolli, a high school junior from Austin, Texas, was scrolling through TikTok when he came across a viral trend. The TikTok trend viral encourage women to save videos with fake conversations to use when feeling unsafe (for example: when feeling uncomfortable in an Uber). These videos would have a person talking to you as if they knew you and were expecting to see you soon in order to dissuade potential harassers.

Kolli later realized that what made the videos so popular and beneficial was their preventative and discreet nature. More than 80% of harassment crimes are committed by someone the recipient knows, so people often don’t feel comfortable calling the police or using deterrents such as pepper spray. Understanding just how important these underlying concepts are, Harish decided to create an improved, user-friendly solution that deters harassers before they escalate their behavior. Not long after, he met his teen co-founders, Mahi Ravi and Kaitlin Tan at a summer entrepreneur incubator program.

They created Guardial, a personal-safety app that allows users to trigger an incoming simulated phone call that acts as a deterrent, whenever they want. This call has a realistic caller-ID display screen, a familiar ringtone, and audio with dialogue that deters, such as “I have your location, see you soon.” Additionally, color-coded buttons within the simulated call allow users to contact help through services such as 911 and to record audio or video.

Despite the need for this app, the journey to bring it to consumers hasn’t been easy. “As high school students building a startup, we didn’t have access to many resources,” Kolli said. “We had to teach ourselves skills like app development and UI/UX design using tools like InVision and Figma.” Along with a steep learning curve, the early days required a lot of time and energy. Harish and his co-founders interviewed their target market, young women, to better understand pain points and get feedback from Guardial’s early adopters and testers, who said they found the technology straightforward and easy to use.

The pandemic gave Kolli more time to work on Guardial. No longer needing to attend in-person school, the Guardial team had more flexibility with their schedule. Kolli made it a priority to read articles, watch videos, and connect with other entrepreneurs to learn how to best operate and grow Guardial.

In January 2022, the team received great news. They were selected as one of five finalists at the SXSW EDU Student Startup Competition powered by my organization, WIT, which helped the finalist teams with three months of coaching. This gave them the opportunity to pitch their business from a stage at one of the most prestigious conferences in the world. It was a milestone moment for the Guardial Team as it was the first time they had pitched Guardial in person. The opportunity validated their hard work and provided them with a platform to showcase their company, and gave them opportunities to advance their journeys as entrepreneurs. The team not only benefited from the chance to pitch at SXSW EDU, but the conference provided them with networking opportunities, workshops, mentorship sessions, and more.

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