This is the first of a series where I will spotlight women startup and small business founders who are making a difference for all. I will not make reference to “female founders” just as I would not say “male founders.” In this case, the product’s initial target market also happens to be female.
While the safety of women in public spaces may only intermittently come into the news, it’s never out of mind for women leaving their home to step out into the world. Recently I had the chance to speak with Laura Bilal and Meghan Quon, the cofounders of Klip Tech, about their mission to improve safety for female runners as well as their experience as founders working towards addressing a problem that too many women have firsthand experience with.
Mary Juetten: What’s the name of your company and where are you based?
Laura Bilal: We’re Klip Tech, and we are based in Boston because it is where we go to school and because we are passionate about keeping our community safe. With Boston being our home and an active city, we knew it would be an ideal location where we could leverage the resources around us to get Klip Tech off the ground.
Juetten: When did you start?
Meghan Quon: Klip Tech started in the fall of 2020 after we entered Northeastern’s venture incubator and startup pitch competition, the Husky Startup Challenge.
Juetten: What problem are you solving?
Bilal: Klip Tech is creating a personal safety device along with a connected app. Klip is a discrete, rechargeable, safety device worn on your clothes that will enable you to contact your friends/family or the authorities in potentially unsafe situations. Klip will allow you to get the help you might need quickly in circumstances where you might not have immediate access to a phone. Our app not only allows you to customize your Klip device, but it also provides a safe space for people to anonymously share their stories of street harassment.
First and foremost, Klip Tech began with a problem we faced in our everyday lives. As we looked further into the problem at large we began to understand just how big it really was. More often than not, personal safety is on people’s mind. It has been reported that more than 80% of women runners have experienced some kind of harassment that has left them feeling unsafe. When an accident happens or you are a victim of an attack, it is often that you do not have immediate access to your phone, leaving you vulnerable. Klip Tech is here to provide empowerment and peace of mind.
Juetten: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Quon: Currently, our target market is female runners, specifically college-aged females living in urban areas. There are several potential use cases for our product, including females who run late at night and struggle to balance staying active with staying safe or a worried mother with a college aged female living in a city. While the Klip provides the daughter safety and empowerment, it will provide the mother with peace of mind that her daughter will be able to contact her or the authorities in a time of need.
However, we envision our product expanding far beyond this initial target market. We plan to find our customers through our direct network and social circles to initially get the word out about our product. From there we hope to find new customers through our social media platforms and online marketing.
Juetten: How did past projects or experience help with this new project?
Bilal: As Northeastern students, we both have participated in the cooperative education program (co-op). Co-op consists of a six-month working rotation where students can gain practical applied skills in an area of study. Working in industry has provided us with the professional experience and skill sets that have helped us pursue Klip Tech from ideation to execution. The Husky Startup Challenge, Northeastern’s venture incubator and startup pitch competition, provided us with invaluable knowledge, resources and mentorship.
Juetten: Did being a female have any impact on your decision to launch your startup?
Quon: Being female is a huge part of the reason we decided to pursue this project. The idea behind Klip Tech comes from our personal experiences feeling unsafe living in the city. Klip was founded with the intent of supporting women and the fact that we were female only motivated us more. Not only have our own stories motivated us, but also those we have heard in our community. This has been prevalent for years, but more recently has been brought to light with a greater sense of urgency after Sarah Everard’s story. Every day we are reminded through the news, through our friends, or through our own personal stories that this is an idea and a product worth pursuing. Not only for the device that we are building, but also for the community of strong empowered women we are creating.
Juetten: Any startup challenges that you found are particular to being female?
Bilal: The greatest challenge we have had to face as women was taking the steps to initially launch this project. Like many others, we found it intimidating to enter the male dominated space that is ‘tech startups.’ Not only are we women, but we are advocating for a product centered around street harassment, a topic that is not often spoken about publicly.
Another challenge we encountered was our internal fear of failure. Rationally we know that failure is a part of growing and success, but when you are dealing with a problem of such gravity, you find yourself waiting for perfection rather than making progress and learning. Through the support of other women and the prevalence of this call to action, we found the courage to overcome these challenges.
Juetten: Did you raise money?
Quon: We have not raised any formal rounds of funding. However, we placed in the Husky Startup Challenge which awarded us $1,000. We were also granted the Prototype Fund given to “enable creators to design, build, and test new products and services as they establish the creative concept behind the prototype, the specifications and cost to build it, and the plans for testing it.” This is awarded by the Northeastern club called Origin and gave us $1,500. We have plans to start a bigger fundraising round once we have a functional prototype.
Juetten: Startups are an adventure — what’s your favorite startup story?
Bilal: Our favorite startup story is that of Spanx. Sara Blakely started Spanx in 1998 at the age of 27 and became a billionaire in 2013. What is unique about Spanx is that Sara continues to hold 100% of the company and she has completely self-funded the company from the beginning, starting with the $5,000 which she had in her savings account. Now Sara donates a lot of her money, most notably to The Giving Pledge, the Malala Fund, Rainbow Village, and The Belly Art Project. Recently she donated $5 million dollars to support female-run small businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sara Blakely and Spanx is our favorite success story because she was fully self-made. She did not need to give away her company to big name investors; she started small and grew the business herself. Her story also stood out to us because of how she carries herself in the face of all the money she has earned. To us, success is not correlated to how much money one makes but rather the impact made with their money.
Juetten: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?
Quon: We measure success by the ability to help others with our product. Even if it is one woman who is made safer by wearing our Klip, that will be success in our eyes. Often success is measured by traditional metrics like net worth, and investors, but to us success is measured by the social impact and awareness we hope to create.
Our favorite success story is that of Girls Who Code, which is “on a mission to close the gender gap in tech,” — something that resonates strongly with us as young women in STEM pursuing a startup in tech. Not only is the mission impactful, but their statistics are nothing short of incredible. To date, they have reached 500 million people and have served 300,000 girls with their programming. Of these girls, 50% of them were HUGS which stands for historically underrepresented groups. These groups include Black, Latinx, and low-income backgrounds. Their core values are bravery, sisterhood, and activism which are all core beliefs we have. This organization is doing its part to make the world a more equitable place for all and that is something we find admirable.
Juetten: Any tips for early-stage founders?
- Do not let fear stop you from pursuing your dreams and aspirations. Rather than shying away from fear lean into it and grow from it.
- There are endless resources and opportunities out there. Commit to your idea and seek them out.
- Ask for help when you need it, there is no shame in not knowing how to do something on your own. Lean on your female peers, they’re rooting for you.
- Be bold. Your idea may seem like a stretch and your goals may seem lofty, but that is the way you make an impact.
Juetten: What’s your next milestone and any long-term vision for your company?
Quon: Our most immediate milestones include user testing and preliminary manufacturing for our hardware. We hope to use the coming months to get the word out about our product and validate the viability of our company through social media creation and further brand development. In the long term we hope that this product will keep women safe everywhere. Beyond just keeping women safe, we hope to target other demographics for example children, or elders who live alone. We hope to become a global brand and community that works towards a better, safer world.
Thank you both! Personally, as a frequent urban hiker, I have had many scary walks in cities around the world. Klip Tech’s product is important and unfortunately necessary in today’s world. #onwards.