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Female Founders: Neta Schreiber of SafeUP On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

When you think of founders, most people have in their mind a picture of glowing success and victory. This is a myth that needs to be shattered: Being a founder is a tough choice, one might say even radical, which inserts into life many challenges. Even in the awarding moments when you reach a milestone it is accompanied by responsibility, worry and sometimes anxiety.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Neta Schreiber Gamliel.

Neta Schreiber Gamliel, a mother of two, studied economics and psychology and was part of a cadet program for Israeli local government. Post graduation, she worked as Deputy Director of the education department in a new city while it was being built. Neta describes herself as an entrepreneur from within who loves to create things from scratch and make them thrive. The seeds of women empowerment were planted in her when she was young, in a life-changing experience that ignited the creation of SafeUP.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I founded SafeUP following a personal incident that happened ten years ago. I went to a house party with some and at some point I noticed that I could not find one of my friends. Together with another friend we started looking for her. While searching, I heard my friend’s screams from one of the rooms. I opened the door and saw my friend half naked, in a fight with two guys above her. As soon as the men noticed that my friend and I entered the room they ran away. My arrival, along with my group of friends, changed the whole situation showing me there really is strength in numbers.

Nine years later I entered the startup world, and realized that we can create a realsolution for this problem via technology instead of relying on luck.

In October 2020, I partnered with Tal Zohar and launched the SafeUP app together with the Tel Aviv Municipality. Within three months, we reached 11,000 users and today, one year later, there are more than 100K users all over the world.

SafeUP is a social network which enables women to use the SafeUP app when they feel unsafe, encounter any real or potential danger, and require support, guidance, or physical assistance. SafeUP strengthens the sense of security of women and girls in public spaces by ensuring that every woman feels safe by connecting them quickly and effectively with nearby trained women guardians. The community members of SafeUp know that there are always other women looking after them, and are immediately available if required.

A SafeUP guardian is a woman who has undergone the SafeUP training process: When a SafeUP community member feels insecure, she can open her app to see the countless number of guardians in her area available to assist where necessary via telephone, video, or by physical accompaniment. The app will connect the community member to 2–3 nearest available women guardians who will escort and support the community member in need.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Before we raised money, we were five people who were trying to change the world. After we raised our first round we transformed into a company of 25 people. Suddenly everyone needs to know their duties, job titles and what they are supposed to do (and what they don’t need to do). It was a very interesting shift from an entrepreneurial spirit in which everyone does everything — to being an organized company. We are still a startup which means we are lean and a lot of people do things out of their scope. I am always trying to make the structure better for everyone in the company.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we first started SafeUP we would talk to anyone who agreed to hear us (every investor as well). We would find ourselves talking to people who are completely removed from the problem we are trying to solve: we would get answers such as “what kind of women are afraid to walk alone at night? The city is safe!” or “why do you think women would want to help each other?”. I learned from this that when someone doesn’t understand the problem, there is no use in creating a discussion. I will always prefer to speak to women, or men who are fathers to girls and usually understand the problem as well.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have always been surrounded by strong women who opened doors for me my whole life. My first boss was a wonderful manager (her name is Shelly Keren) who believed in co-managing and gave me the opportunity to grow, despite a toxic working environment. Her belief in my ability to succeed, disregarded from my inexperience, made me understand that faith and motivation are key, and if you have the drive to do something — you will be able to achieve it.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

There is still a primitive belief that escorts women: I will either build a family or a company, but both are not feasible. I think that if that was the reality, I would have probably chosen the family option. But as the family structure changes over time and parenting becomes more equal, it allows women to do both. We need to emphasize that this is impossible and does not make you a bad mom.

Another element is education: boys are encouraged to be brave and take chances. Girls are educated to be cautious. This approach creates a difference in the risk averseness between men and women when they grow up. And founding a startup is a risky business.

I also believe that female networking is key to enhancing the number of entrepreneurs: the average male entrepreneur has three entrepreneur friends, two others that tried and failed and another one that became an investor. The average female entrepreneur has nothing.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

We as mothers need to educate our daughters to believe that they can take over the world, they do not have to be perfect and they have to take risks: learning how to fail is the way towards success. There are private and governmental programs that assist women and give them services, networking and funding. These programs are critical to the success of female founders and should be increased.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Throughout history the world was designed by men for men. It is noticeable in urban planning, the medical world and more. We see it in every aspect of our lives. If we do not become an equal part of the decision makers and reality shapers this reality will continue. For example, if only men build AI algorithms, the technology of the future will be from men’s perspective.

If we don’t build unique products that solve our problems, nobody will. The future lies in technological entrepreneurship and women must be part of it to shape our future as well.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

When you think of founders, most people have in their mind a picture of glowing success and victory. This is a myth that needs to be shattered: Being a founder is a tough choice, one might say even radical, which inserts into life many challenges. Even in the awarding moments when you reach a milestone it is accompanied by responsibility, worry and sometimes anxiety.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

A founder needs to love uncertainty (and even be excited by it). They need to love trying new things and challenging themselves. They need to be an interdisciplinary person and not an expert in one specific field. They need a lot of mental resilience and external support.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  • Do not compromise on data. At SafeUP we insisted on doing a survey to find out how we are impacting lives. We found that nearly 9 in 10 women feel uncomfortable walking alone after dark and avoid certain activities every day. When we polled our users, we found that 75% of members claim having the SafeUP community to support them has made them feel safer, 50% of them declared by using the app they are spending one hour more outdoors every day. 80% state they feel less alone.
  • When you are bootstrapped at the beginning, do not hurry to dish out percentages of the company to people who you do not envision by your side in 10 years from today.
  • Believe in yourself and follow your heart. Remember that you can do anything and your only barrier is the ones you put up for yourself.
  • Do not give up, no matter what. It will be a long and winding road, but you only need one that will say yes (regarding investors).
  • Most importantly, enjoy the ride! We only have one round on this earth and it needs to be worth it and fun.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

The only reason I am successful is because I am trying to make the world a better place. When I feel blue I open feedback forms from users: after every safe call made by a community member to a guardian we send a form and ask them to tell us what happened and if SafeUP helped them. The feedback on the form can turn my mood around on any given day: the stories that women tell there are amazing and heartwarming. It is also beautiful to see the reciprocity, a woman who used the app today as a user in need, might answer a call tomorrow as a guardian and help another woman. It is a never ending cycle of women helping women. Lee, A SafeUP Guardian shared: “One evening I heard the cell phone vibrate endlessly. It was midnight, I wondered who it could be? I realized it was a call coming from the app, I clicked and saw the SafeUp Community Member was really close to my house. She said she was walking and that there was someone following her and that she was really scared. She asked me If I could go and accompany her, and I said of course I could! I went out to her and when I arrived the man just walked away, turned his back and left. I calmed her down and offered to call someone who could take her home.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I am already living my dream: I formed a community of women who are working together to create a safer environment for themselves and others.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I am a huge fan of Bumble’s founder (Whitney Wolf). I truly believe in the values she promotes in her brand and the courage that is part of her entrepreneurial path. It is my dream to have a conversation with her over a glass of wine and pick her brain.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.