Creating a modern day emergency alert

In my last blog post, I mentioned I’d been working on a project after having wrapped up Liberio, my first startup. For anyone who follows me on social media, you know the project is called Iris and it’s been a pretty big secret, with the occasional social media tease (I love doing that), up until today. After 3 months of working on the initial product, flohei and I are super excited to have announced the start of our private beta.

The big reveal

Iris is your mobile modern day emergency alert. We notify your loved ones during critical moments when you can’t. Be it close to home or overseas, Iris takes notice if you’re at a hospital and incapable of reaching out to loved ones yourself. We provide them the info they need via text message, email or push-notification, so they can be by your side.

In a time where information and communication are at the tips of our fingers, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have immediate contact with those we care for and depend on most during time-sensitive and critcial situations. Iris’s goal is to be the helping hand there when you require it, hoping you never need it, but existing in the background and providing you comfort knowing its around if you do.

So I tried to figure out how to maximize on the technological advantages we have with software. I had always wanted to build a product that is essentially invisible, living in the background, if you will. I wanted to create something that acted like any good friend—there when you need it, not overbearing, and whose existence alone was comforting. I wanted to create a simple product that felt human, and I’m so excited to say that Iris is and will improve on being that.

The Background

The idea itself is one I’d thought about well over a year ago, when Benedikt Lehnert and I were driving back from his parents in Southwest Germany and I questioned what would happen if we got into a car accident. If we were unconscious, the cops would have to identify me and figure out who my points of contact are in the United States, only after they handle the scene. We’d be taken to some hospital, where the doctors would focus solely on us (not my family), etc. They’d contact his family first when the time came, since they’re right in Germany, banking that his family would then inform mine. I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out what protocol was and knew that whatever it was, it wasn’t universal. That alone gave me anxiety.

I knew there was nothing that existed for these kinds of incidents and it certainly wasn’t a problem I anticipated many folks would want to tackle. After all, it falls into the health/safety/medical category and for many, that can (understandably) seem daunting. Like I said in my last post, I’m a lover of those ambitious products in unsexy markets that need disrupting. I like the challenge, I like the fun that comes with it and the ability to truly change the perception individuals have of said markets. More than that, I’m a big advocate for products that are meaningful and make a difference.

With my focus being solely on Liberio though, it was just that — an idea. But because I loved and truly believe in it, I knew it was too important to half-ass. Given that, I said no temporarily until I had more time to dedicate to it, tucked the idea away and would pick it up when the time was right. In June, I reconnected with Florian who loved the idea. We discussed it back and forth for quite some time, shared thoughts, and collectively decided, it was time to bring Iris to life.

Why this product?

As an American living in Berlin, I’m granted with a lot of luxuries that many others are not. For starters, I have a working US Embassy here, competent policemen and of course, Ben and my friends. But realistically, not everyone has that. And in case of an emergency, depending on where you’re from and the country you’re in, it wouldn’t be rainbows and butterflies when it came informing loved ones overseas, if at all. As a traveler, one of my biggest fears is ending up in a hospital in a foreign country. Without the ability to speak the language, where a universal language is not often used, and medical practices are not one that necessarily jive well, a lot can go wrong. As a soon-to-be parent, the idea of something happening to my teenager and not being informed quicker than what was called for gives me nightmares. As someone with grandparent(s) who can’t necessarily look out for themselves anymore and are filled with too much pride to ask for help, it raises my blood pressure thinking about the call I could one day receive telling me grandma fell, had a heart attack, or something worse and it being all too late.

I don’t know about you, but none of those are risks that settle well—especially when they can be avoided.

According to the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2011 Emergency Department Summary Tables collected in 2011: In the United States alone, there were 136M emergency department related visits, with 45% (62M) of those being trauma-related. This does not include other countries.

Emergency Room visits by Age (Based on 136M visits in source)

Realistically, there are mild hospital cases that have you out of the hospital within a day or so, and then there are severe ones, and unfortunately the latter happens all too often. And the idea that a delay contacting the loved one(s) of an individual to me is a problem — especially when it comes to life or death situations that require a decision. I think everyone can agree, there’s too much at stake.

Going Forward

With the start of beta today, we’ll be focusing on validating, tackling and refining a few aspects of the app to ensure it is as efficient and accurate as possible before we fully showcase it to the world. Because it essentially runs in the background, it requires little to no work from you as a user, so there’s a lot of analysis and testing that needs to be done on our end to ensure you receive the best experience possible. Designing and engineering a product like this, while still providing that human-centric experience will continue to be one of our biggest and most exciting challenges going forward.

Accepting folks that come from a range of different worlds, lifestyles, age groups and cultures is something we’re aiming for. This is a product for the traveler, the student, the parent or grandparent, and anyone with someone they care for, so we want to do everything to ensure we cover that. Know someone who would truly benefit from this? Think your Mom would sleep better at night knowing this exists? Sign up for the beta!

Because this is a product for everyone, your feedback, thoughts and questions are more than welcomed. We’ll be sharing a lot more on social media, doing our best to build in a public — something we’re huge fans of, admire and see the benefits of from the folks doing so over at Product Hunt, Buffer, Ghost and more. Given that, we can’t wait. We know the amount we can receive and grow from that is beyond valuable.


Enjoyed this post and want to chat about Iris or just want to talk shop? Ping me on Twitter @imcatnoone and be sure to follow Iris’s journey (@irisapp). If you’re interested in getting my posts in your email, be sure to sign up for my newsletter. ❤