Every day, there are around 650,000 emergency service callouts via 911 for medical, police and fire assistance in the US; and by their nature these are some of the most urgent communications that we will ever make.
But ironically in the age of smartphones, connected things and the internet, these 911 calls are also some of the most antiquated — with a typical emergency response centre still relying on the humans making the calls to tell them the most basic of information about their predicaments before anything can be actioned.
Now a new generation of startups has been emerging to tackle that gap to make emergency responses more accurate and faster; and one of them today is announcing a significant round of funding on the back of very strong growth. RapidSOS, a New York-based startup that helps increase the funnel of information that is transmitted to emergency services alongside a call for help, has raised another $ 30 million in funding — money that it’s going to use to continue enhancing its product, and also to start pushing into more international markets.
The opportunity internationally is greater than the US alone: while the US sees 240 million calls per year to 911, globally the figure is 2 billion.
The funding — which comes only about six months after its last round of $ 16 million — is being led by Playground Global, the VC firm and “startup studio” co-founded by Android co-creator Andy Rubin. Others in the round include a mix of previous and new investors (and a lot of illustrious names): Highland Capital Partners, M12 (Microsoft’s Venture Fund), Two Sigma Ventures, Forte Ventures, The Westly Group, CSAA IG, three former FCC Chairmen and Ralph de la Vega, the former AT&T Vice Chairman and CEO of AT&T Business Solutions and International. It brings the total raised by the startup to $ 65 million.
Michael Martin, CEO and co-founder of RapidSOS, said the startup is not disclosing its valuation, but he did point me to the company’s stunning growth over the last year:
“We went from 10,000 users to 250 million,” he said, pointing to the number of agencies and other partners the startup is integrating with to provide more detailed information across the emergency services ecosystem.
Partners on the two sides of RapidSOS’s marketplace include on one side Apple, Google, Uber, car companies and others making connected devices and apps — which integrate RapidSOS’s technology to provide 911 response centres with more data such as a user’s location and diagnostic details that can help determine what kind of response is needed, where to go, and so on. And on the other you have the emergency services that need that information to do their work and provide assistance.
RapidSOS offers a few different products to the market. Its most popular, the RapidSOS NG911 Clearinghouse, works either with a response centre’s existing software, or by way of a web application. This product now covers some 180 million people in the US, the company says.
The RapidSOS API, meanwhile, is used by a number of device makers and apps to be able to channel that information into the RapidSOS system, so that when a response centre is using RapidSOS and a caller is using a device or app with the API integrated with it, that information gets conveyed.
The startup also offers a rescue and recovery app called Haven, and found its profile getting a huge boost after Haven went viral in the wake of a succession of natural disasters in the US.
Martin — who co-founded the company with now-CTO Nicholas Horelik (respectively Harvard and MIT grads) after Martin said he was mugged in New York City — said that he sees a big opportunity for RapidSOS, and indeed emergency services in general, once we start to join up the dots better between the trove of data that we can now pick up with connected objects, and conveying what’s important in that trove in order to make emergency calls more effective.
“Most emergency communication today uses infrastructure established between the 1960s and the 1980s, and it means that if you need 911 but can’t have a conversation you are in trouble. 911 doesn’t even know your name when you call,” he said in an interview. “But there is all this rich information today, and so our job is to help make that available when you really need it.”
(I should note he spoke to me while driving on a freeway, but he noted that the car he was in was part of a RapidSOS pilot, and so if he did have an accident, at least the responders would be more aware of what happened… Not a huge comfort but interesting.)
When you consider the number of connected wearables, connected cars and other inanimate objects that are now becoming “smart” through internet-based, wireless controls, sensors and operating systems, you can see the strong potential of harnessing that for this particular use case.
RapidSOS is not the only company that’s addressing this gap in the market. Carbyne out of Israel raised a growth round earlier this year led by Founders Fund in its first investment in an Israeli startup, also to build systems to provide more data for emergency services responders.
(I should also point out that Carbyne was also borne out of the CEO getting mugged: necessity really does become the mother of invention.)
“We are completely different from Carbyne,” Martin said of the other startup. “They are trying to provide more modern software to the industry” — where companies like Motorola have long dominated — “and it’s great to see new innovation on that front. But when we looked at industry, we found the challenge was not software but the data that was being provided. There is a lot of information out there, but no data flow, which is limited by the typical emergency response system to 512 bytes of data.”
He says that RapidSOS, in that regard, works with multiple vendors, including Carbyne, to transmit that data.
And it’s that platform-agnostic approach that interestingly caught the eye of Playground.
“RapidSOS is on the forefront of emergency technology, working with companies like Apple, Google, Uber, and Microsoft to transform emergency communication,” said Bruce Leak, co-founder of Playground Global, in a statement. “We see endless opportunities for connected device data to enhance emergency response and are eager to work with RapidSOS to expand their life-saving platform.”