I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Jeffrey, award-winning co-founder and CEO of Guardian Circle, a service tackling an extremely critical industry most of us take for granted… emergency response. He’s also a serial entrepreneur with five exits, a published author, and named one of ’50 to Watch’ by Variety.
Gene: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. Please give us a brief overview of your background and how you got started in this industry.
I’m a serial entrepreneur. I’ve previously been venture-backed by Softbank and Intel and was CTO at a company backed by Elon Musk and Sequoia. My first company, The Palace, was sold in 1999 with 10 million users. My third company, a social network called ZeroDegrees, was sold to IAC in 2004. I’m also a HarperCollins published author. I was one of the first people ever to serially podcast a novel in 2005. In 2013, I published BITCOIN EXPLAINED SIMPLY. In 2015, I published THE CASE FOR BITCOIN, which was a direct response to Bitcoin crashing from $1,200 to $160 when few still believed. My early interest in Bitcoin led me to become active in the space. I participated in the Ethereum ICO and started hanging out with the early crypto crowd in Los Angeles. We had always planned for Guardian Circle to offer some type of paid professional services and with all the crypto ideas knocking around in my head, it was obvious the Guardian Circle ecosystem would be vastly better served by a token.
Gene: Can you please tell us more about what your company does? I love learning about advancements in the crypto space, so please feel free to geek out with me on this.
Guardian Circle is global decentralized 9–1–1. When you’re in trouble, you push a button and we generate a flash-mob of qualified help from the people and resources already near you. Imagine 10 people you can trust to help, arriving in three minutes, anywhere on earth. That’s the vision. Six billion people have no 9–1–1. One billion do, but it’s terrible with 1960’s tech and getting worse. When you call 9–1–1 from a mobile phone, they have no idea where you are. Uber can find you more easily than 9–1–1! We fix all of this. We open the emergency alert grid to vetted citizens, any alert device (via API) and private response services for the very first time. I came up with the idea after my girlfriend Heather had a stroke and was all alone in her garage. I found her and took her the hospital in time. However, I realized later seven people had been within a thousand yards of her during this event — she simply had no way to alert them. She was literally drowning in help — but couldn’t access it. She needed a way to push a button or call Alexa for help, and for all the people who could help her to immediately be sharing their location on a map, and to have a chat room where they could all coordinate their efforts to assist her — without requiring these helpers to all know each other in advance. We needed an ‘Alert Room’ to instantly be formed, a ‘war room’ for solving Heather’s problem. That’s what we built, that became Guardian Circle. Later, we realized a new class of vetted citizen responders should ALSO be added to this response team, like doctors, nurses and EMTs, and they should be paid. This is how the Guardium Token was born. With Guardium, we will provide a marketplace of vetted and approved paid responders. Some examples of these:
- Nearby EMT’s
- Licensed and bonded armed private security
- Concierge alert operators (think 9–1–1 but without busy signals / holds, and the operator immediately knows your location (even if you don’t))
- Emergency transport — In a remote village, this could simply be ‘the guy with the truck’
Gene: Who are your competitors in this space? What makes your company stand out?
When the incident with Heather happened, I searched for a ‘panic button app’ to install on her phone. I found a huge number of ‘safety apps’, but NONE of them worked the way I was envisioning. All of them had forgotten ‘the second half of the problem’ — organizing the response. The ACTUAL result of all these apps in a real emergency is the Alerter has a ton of inbound phone calls, which does them absolutely no good! You’re in trouble, and your phone is blowing up. All five callers don’t know about the other four. All five don’t know which one of them is closest, and all five cannot communicate with each other at all. For example: Your Mom and your neighbor have never met but when you’re found unconscious, if your Mom can tell your neighbor you’re allergic to bee stings — that’s HUGE. When a medical professional shows up, neighbors can relay this information. Now an EMT knows what to zero in on. They’re not starting from scratch and that could be the difference between you living or dying. Seconds count. We are the only company with a cloud emergency grid that incorporates a Token. And we are the only one that provides an API for any alert device to plug into. We are also the only one that allows any qualified third party private response service to plug into our grid as a vendor.
Gene: What sort of traction have you guys gotten so far? Are you a well known brand? Still in the startup stage? Or somewhere in the middle?
Guardian Circle is available for free worldwide on iOS, Android and Alexa. We are a Partner on the Women’s Safety XPRIZE, working to solve the problem of sexual assault in India. The contest is a hardware panic button device competition. We have provided our API to XPRIZE contestants so they can plug their devices into our emergency grid. When you press the panic button, Guardian Circle organizes your response. We were the pitch contest winners at CoinAgenda (Jan 2018), d10e: Gibraltar (Nov 2017), LAUNCH Festival (2016). We were also featured on Apple’s PLANET OF THE APPS (2017), and we’ll be in Alex Winter’s upcoming Crypto Documentary (Spring 2018). We’ve made some healthy progress to date but 2018 and 2019 will be our biggest growth years.
Gene: What is the most innovative project that you have ever worked on?
The Palace — my first company. It was an avatar chat company founded in 1996. It was wildly innovative for its day but because of that, it required its own palace:// protocol, its own directory of Palace servers, an in-app programming language called IPTSCRAE that allowed for rich multi-user games to be created by end-users … and although it was a success with 10 million users, it was WAY too complicated. We were TOO innovative and TOO ahead of the curve. Companies that created much simpler and streamlined offerings did far better than us. You can indeed be too innovative: lesson learned.
Gene: What are some up and coming coins that we should keep on our radar?
I am a big fan of EOS and NEO. I like the NEO token QLINK, which is a mesh network blockchain and protocol. I like it because, unlike most coin projects but very much like us, they had strong working apps released in advance of their token sale. That proves they’re serious about product. And of course I think you should keep Guardium on your radar!
Gene: What is your opinion on bitcoin? Is it still a good investment?
In my book, THE CASE FOR BITCOIN, I argued in 2015 that, conservatively, the price of Bitcoin would soar to $500K per coin within 10 years. It’s 2018, and we’ve seen almost $20K so far. I also ‘show all work’ for how I arrived at that number, which depends on the adoption curve for regular people owning crypto to spike dramatically, and for Bitcoin to swell to the volume of the Swiss Franc as a reserve currency, which seems very reasonable to me. I still believe in everything I wrote then, but I did not anticipate the tech squabbles that have erupted. That is probably the biggest threat to Bitcoin dominance. I may have been ‘right’ but it might actually NOT be Bitcoin that goes the distance. It might be NEO, or EOS. I think Ethereum’s scaling issues will continue to dog them as NEO and EOS, who started from scratch to solve for scalability, surpasses it. That all said: I’m still personally a Yes on Bitcoin and HODL.
Gene: What sort of regulations do you think we can expect to see in 2018? How will it impact the industry?
This is always really hard to predict. The SEC will either continue to be reasonable, which they have been, very much so, or they will suddenly bring out the hammer. If the hammer comes, then crypto and blockchain innovation will simply leave the US. The next generation of great brands — the next Amazon, the next Google — those companies will develop abroad. That’s the great danger — the exportation of innovation. The SEC knows this and that’s why they’ve been stepping carefully. There will likely be some sort of new regulation in 2018. My guess is if Congress does something, they’ll get it very wrong, as Bitlicense in New York did. I hope I’m wrong about this. The rest of the world seems to have largely embraced crypto. The development is happening much faster outside of the United States, and even Silicon Valley has been caught mostly flat footed on this wave. This is very different from anything that came before it.
Gene: Who is your hero (In your business or personal life)? How have they inspired you to become the person you are today.
I do have a hero list and it’s kind of a mishmash of inventors and authors. Nikola Tesla, Stephen R. Donaldson, Ian Anderson. They inspire me personally, none of them were great business people (especially Tesla). For business, I tend to study Andy Grove, Reid Hoffman, Steve Jobs. These are people you need to watch to see how they did things.
Gene: If you could jump into a time machine, go back in time, and change one aspect of your past, what would it be, and why?
I first learned of Bitcoin in 2011. I dismissed it initially, thinking it was a clone of Flooz, a 90’s centralized virtual currency promoted by Whoopi Goldberg that flopped. I wish I had dug in deeper then. By the time I did, it was 2013. Still early but not as early as it could have been, and given the multiples that was a very costly error. I would change when I ‘grokked’ Bitcoin. I would even choose that over investing in Uber’s seed round. Uber investors are still largely not liquid, even after all this time.
Gene: How will the work your team is doing impact humanity in the future? For example, bringing people closer together, creating more jobs, create killer robots that will destroy all of humanity (joking), etc.
We will save lives. We will make people safer. Lawlessness is the number one problem in the world. All other problems flow from this problem in one way or another. In a safe society, education is possible. Girls who can’t walk to school for fear of assault stop going to school. We need to fix that. If we solve just this one thing, the side-benefits that flow from it are extreme.
Gene: Throughout our careers, we have all run into a few roadblocks. Can you please tell us about a time that you failed? How did you motivate yourself to keep going?
I lost my second company in the dotcom crash. I lost all my money and was basically homeless. I lived on a very small boat owned by my friend. Eventually, a friend offered me a job working for him. He couldn’t pay much, but I would eat. I worked for him for a year and half — just him, me and two others in a room. That friend was Travis Kalanick, who would later go on to found Uber. During this time, I also starting writing a novel, which was something completely different from tech. I needed that break. That novel was eventually published by HarperCollins.
Gene: What are a your 5 tips that you would give to an inexperienced investor? Why?
- Jump in. Start with small amounts, but get in, get dirty. Fail. Learn.
- Don’t play with more money than you are prepared to lose. Expect to lose 100%.
- At some point, you do have to bet heavy and hard. Everyone I know who has succeeded did so because of a brash move where they put all chips on the table.
- You only have to be right once.
- You are not a magical super genius. No one is. Don’t over-believe your own hype, even if you are wildly successful. Keep an even keel.
Gene: If you could spend one day with any person (alive or not), who would it be any why?
I would spend it with Tim Cook. Apple devices — the WATCH in particular — natively Guardian Circle-enabled would be a huge boost for us and world safety. We would skip years of adoption curve. It would be great for Apple, for us, and especially great for the world.
Originally published at medium.com