Last Call with Quinn Fitzgerald and Sara de Zarraga, co-founders of Flare

As far as Uncommon Missions go, Flare probably has the rarest of them all. The company openly states on its website that its mission is simple: get out of business and create a world where Flare is unnecessary. Flare makes a personal safety device that looks like jewelry and works with an app that allows an individual to discreetly ask for help, without attracting unwanted attention. Founder Quinn Fitzgerald, a Holy Cross graduate, and her co-founder, Sara de Zarraga, sat down with Last Call to discuss how it all went down.

Where does the name Flare come from?

Q: Flare is a double meaning: you send a flare for help and flair is about having style. We chose this name because we believe that safety shouldn’t be about fear and vulnerability, but rather about tapping into your own confidence and agency to live out loud and be fully invested in every situation.

How did you get the idea?

Q: Sara and I are both survivors and our story is frankly not unique and that is a huge problem. We were tired of a male-dominated industry creating devices for stereotypical situations – emergencies like someone approaching you in a dark alley. But most assaults are committed by someone you know. We knew technology could play a role in giving people better tools to deal with these everyday situations, because they don’t always feel like emergencies. What do you do when someone touches you in a strange way and you don’t know what their intention is, or you feel a strange sensation? Or if your Uber driver takes a wrong turn. We want to empower people to feel safe both in these situations and in clear emergencies. So we created Flare.

Could you tell me a bit more about what it’s like to enter an industry with a completely new product philosophy (no escalation)?

Q: We strongly believe that you don’t have to already be an expert in a specific industry to disrupt it. Our expertise comes from our personal experiences. We overcame a lot of naysayers, people who didn’t appreciate our views and people who didn’t see the impact Flare could have. But we always kept our customers in mind and that made the biggest difference.

Tell me how you came up with the idea of ​​a bracelet.

S: When we looked at other personal security devices on the market, we found that they only made the situation worse, like weapons or alarms. It was clear that people needed more options – with pepper spray, he can only do one thing. It’s hard to anticipate what you’ll need, so we created Flare and the core of our product is our mobile app. It allows you to contact people if you need reinforcement. Instead of reaching for your phone, dialing a number, which is incredibly obvious, we’ve created a wristband that can trigger it for you. The app may allow us to contact 911 and share your location – or a live location if you move – and share that you need help.

The other thing you can do is have us send your location and a request to your friends and family, letting them know you need someone to check you in. The third feature is that you can request a “fake phone call” – a recorded conversation – which can be an interruption and an excuse to leave a situation that does not suit you. Sometimes you don’t need anyone to know, but you need a way out.

How did you start working together?

Q: Sarah and I met at Harvard Business School and started working on Flare while we were there. We’ve spent four years doing extensive research, developing products, iterating them, creating pilots, and talking to literally thousands of other people about their security needs. One of the reasons the industry was stuck was the notion that safety equals urgency, but it’s not always that kind of situation. We designed what we would have used or needed so that no one else had the experiences we had. We are so grateful to all of the survivors who shared their stories with us – I hope it empowers them to know that their story was used to create a product that would help other people. And now this product has been on the market for about two years.

Was it difficult to get survivors to share their stories for the focus group?

Q: To be honest, it wasn’t difficult because we always start by sharing our own stories first. As soon as people understand that it’s personal for us too, there’s a shared understanding and connection.

What have you learned since the launch?

S: We found we were getting a lot of interest from customers of all ages and genders, so we started thinking about the product much more broadly. Initially we were targeting students – Boston was a nice little proving ground during development. But as Quinn said, COVID happened at the same time we launched it, so it wasn’t a good time to bring a product to market. So we started selling it to different types of people. A really powerful thing happens when you have a multi-generational clientele – an elderly person who wants to age in place, a woman in her 40s who wants it for herself at work or for her children, women face this problem in many different ways. We’ve created a community of these customers through the website and app, so they can share information, safety tips and support.

Q: Flare is just a tool on your tool belt. What we’re finding is that your ability to use these tools really depends on the individual – who you’ve been exposed to in your life and how have they talked to you about safety? Did you learn self defense or not? We think it’s really important that our users not only have access to the tools, but know how to use them, for example, how to deal with a stalker? How can we bring them together to learn how to use Flare better and give them more tools? We offer free trainings and workshops that our community can attend, as well as a safe space for them to share with each other.

Do you think it’s difficult for people to talk about security issues? Perhaps because the idea of ​​being dangerous implies a fault on our part?

Q: Perhaps because we see security as a reflection of ourselves and our own strength and vulnerability and not of the world or the people who commit these acts. This very idea, that it’s your fault, is what prevents people from taking action. There is a greater culture of victim blaming in the country and around the world.

Where do you see it moving forward?

S: We definitely see the product growing and developing because there are so many people who need security devices in different ways. Right now we are focusing on the United States, but obviously this is a worldwide problem. We want to expand on the responses as well as the different ways to trigger the response. Currently we have three types of wristbands – leather is more gender specific since security knows no gender. But today’s technology can go into a lot of different things.

Tell me about your biggest challenges.

Q: Last year we sold out three times and at the same time there was a global supply chain shortage. Managing demand with supply was very difficult. We are a very small team. We have tried to be proactive in resolving this issue so that we don’t oversell.

I read that your stated objective was to shut down which means a world where devices like Flare aren’t needed. What do you think needs to change for this to happen?

Q: Security is a problem that everyone encounters in their life and it is affected not only by our environment but also by our culture, our institutions, our judicial and educational systems. Real change must affect all of these institutions – and we are fortunate to partner with nonprofits working there.

S: The problem is the actions of perpetrators and how we protect ourselves, but we as a society haven’t done a good job of holding perpetrators accountable. Standing up for ourselves is what we need to do today, so Quinn and I thought, what can we do now to enact immediate change so that people feel safe, because the larger systemic change that is needed is not happening. will not happen right away.

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