In the startup world, hustle is everything. It is more than simply a characteristic used to describe one’s work ethic. Instead, it’s an ethos all founders are encouraged to embrace with utmost zeal. The significance of hustle in the startup world is unquantifiable. It’s what separates successful entrepreneurs from the rest of us.
Amir Cohen and Hagar Romach — founders of Guard My Angel — personify hustle in every sense of the word. Guard My Angel is a mobile application that allows users to quickly and seamlessly notify their trusted contacts in case of emergency. Just a few shorts weeks ago, Cohen and Romach made the decision to leave their families for three months, travel nearly 6,000 miles from Israel to Syracuse and pursue an opportunity to accelerate their startup in Syracuse’s StartFast Venture Accelerator.
Despite an exceedingly busy schedule, Cohen was kind enough to visit me at the Syracuse Student Sandbox last week to chat. The following captures a high-level overview of the questions Cohen addressed concerning Guard My Angel, and Cohen’s experience with StartFast so far:
How did you come up with the idea for Guard My Angel?
As is the case with many auspicious ideas, Cohen stumbled upon the idea for Guard My Angel as a result of a problem someone close to him faced in everyday life. When using public transportation, his 22-year-old niece had a routine. She would queue up her father’s phone number, and have it ready to be called in case of an emergency. Cohen came to find that his niece chose to do this instead of using a location sharing service as a result of privacy concerns.
Cohen quickly came to realize, their are many instances in life in which individuals — like his niece — are not comfortable, and seek to feel safe. Soon thereafter, Cohen and co-founder Romach, began building Guard My Angel — ultimately to incorporate a degree of comfort and safety into people’s everyday lives.
What mistakes have you made with Guard My Angel that you would say you’ve learned the most from?
Like all entrepreneurs, Cohen quickly acknowledged the value of making mistakes, and was open to sharing those which have proven valuable to he and Romach. In particular, Cohen discussed 1) the challenges associated with keeping the application narrowly focused despite often receiving excellent ideas from others, and 2) building for the Android platform first, instead of the iPhone, which more individuals in their target demographic possess (i.e. teenagers and young adults ages 16 – 24). Concerning such mistakes, Cohen acknowledged that his mentors at StartFast have proven extremely valuable in helping them identify concerns, and offering guidance associated with how to address them.
What are your most critical priorities before demo day?
With the StartFast demo day quickly approaching (August 16th), Cohen noted, in the next two months gaining “traction” (i.e. users) is their most critical objective. They’re doing everything they can to spread the word, and gain traction organically. To date, Cohen and Romach have paid less than thirty dollars to market Guard My Angel. In other words, hustle has led to over 7,000 downloads of their application.
Looking through your crystal ball, where will Guard My Angel be — as a company — 12 months from now?
In a year from now, Cohen and Romach are confident, Guard My Angel will be a popular tool helping many young people feel safe in their everyday lives. It is apparent that both co-founders are driven by alturism. To Cohen and Romach, generating revenue is only a necessity to ensure that the Guard My Angel application is in a position to help individuals and their families feel safe, everyday, in their respective communities.
Has it been a challenge to travel nearly 6000 miles to pursue this?
Upon being asked this question, Cohen immediately acknowledged that being away from his family has been challenging. Back home in Israel, Cohen’s wife and their three children (ages 14, 12 and 5) are all routing for him. Despite not physically being in their presence, Cohen touched on how fortunate he is today to have so many different digital mediums to stay in touch with his family (e.g. Skype, Facebook, email, etc) — though, “nothing substitutes being in the presence of your family”.
In spite of those challenges, Cohen touched on how much he enjoys the people of Syracuse, and noted a few cultural similarities among those living in the northeast and Israel. He also joked that he feels as though he is living like a student once again. That is to say, residing in modest housing and drinking more beer (at the social gatherings the StartFast teams have from time-to-time to break up the typical 14-18 hour work days) — hustle supplemented by hops and barley.
How did you find your way into StartFast? Did you know folks there beforehand?
Cohen came to know of StartFast as a result of a serendipitous meeting with a Facebook employee at a technology roadshow in Tel Aviv. At the time, Cohen and Romach were demoing an early stage prototype of the Guard My Angel mobile application. The Facebook employee showed interest, offered feedback and went on his way. Soon thereafter, Cohen looked up the Facebook employee’s resume on LinkedIn and came to notice he was an entrepreneurial mentor. Cohen reached out to him, at which point he was told about the StartFast program and encouraged to apply. Next thing you know, a few months later, Cohen and Romach are in Syracuse, NY pursuing their dream.
Upon telling me their “story”, Cohen paused, looked out the window then looked back at me, and said, “People should meet people. Everyone should do everything they can to meet other people, and talk.”
It’s funny how advice like that — so simple — can be so overwhelming profound.
What have you enjoyed most from your StartFast experience so far?
Regarding his StartFast experience, Cohen discussed what a privilege it has been for he and Romach to work alongside other entrepreneurs driven by passion, taking risks and solving challenging problems. “You’re not alone. You’re in it together”, he said.
Along with the other entrepreneurs, Cohen articulated how incredibly valuable the mentors are. He discussed how they have been there before, and they get it. They understand the challenges associated with building a product and starting a company, and ultimately want to do everything they can to help teams succeed.
Lastly, Cohen discussed the value of having your own working space. He and Romach had become accustomed to working in coffee shops in Israel, which was a bit challenging. Now, with their own space, they always have a place to go to collaborate, grind and hustle.
What are the most common things you see among founders of StartFast startups?
In response to this question, Cohen didn’t explicitly use the word hustle — but that’s exactly what he described. Cohen explained that the founders of companies working out of the StartFast office are willing to put the time and effort in. To them, it’s not a job but rather a mission. He also used the word “execution”. Entrepreneurs working out of StartFast (as well as the Syracuse Student Sandbox), aren’t simply people with ideas that talk. They’re individuals that take action, and execute upon their ideas in hopes of solving challenging problems.
“They’re willing to pay the price to make their dreams come true.”
It was a privilege to speak with Amir Cohen, and I am grateful he took the time to come chat with me. The next two months will be critical for both he and Romach as they continue to pursue acquiring more users. Proving they have traction with the potential for significant growth by demo day will tacitly convey a great deal to potential investors. As such, I’d encourage those interested to download the Guard My Angel application, and let Amir Cohen and Hagar Romach know what you think. They are continuing to iterate rapidly, and Cohen welcomes all feedback. Feel free to email him at email@example.com.
With your feedback, and their hustle, there’s no stopping them 😉