What started as volunteer work has since made RapidDeploy a leader in the emergency response systems industry.
After a ten-year stint as chief technology officer of a gaming business in London, Brett Meyerowitz made his way back to South Africa and started working for a banking company. With more time on his hands, he decided to volunteer as an ambulance assistant, which exposed him to the deep inefficiencies of the emergency response systems used in SA.
“The systems were dated, expensive to maintain, unfriendly and extremely inefficient, resulting, among others, in emergency response teams being reliant on map books when they were in unfamiliar territory. This in situations where timing often meant the difference between life and death,” Meyerowitz says.
In response, he started developing a mobile platform to help him and fellow volunteers overcome this challenge. Features were expanded as more companies became aware of the system and requested additional features, such as global positioning and real-time navigation.
Meyerowitz only registered the company in 2014, after TomTom asked him for his business banking details to pay over commission for referring clients to them, who were looking for navigational technology to link with his system.
“At that stage I still referred to the system as Dispatcher, but settled on the name RapidDeploy as it was more descriptive of what I wanted to achieve,” he says.
The solution became more business-driven in2016, after Meyerowitz met Steven Raucher at a dinner party hosted by a mutual friend. Raucher had just returned after spending 20 years in investment banking, running a multinational investment company in London and New York. The two primarily connected because of their passion for volunteer work.
“Steven started working as an NSRI volunteer after his brother drowned, whereas I became involved because my dad fell while I was in London,” Meyerowitz says.
Raucher was completely in awe when he saw a demo of the solution and felt it deserved their full-time attention. Since then hard work, combined with several fortunate breaks, has turned the business into an industry leader.
Raucher attended a conference on the use of tech in the emergency response industry in Europe in 2017, where Microsoft’s head of public safety, Kirk Arthur, was doing a presentation on future trends in the industry. When Arthur talked about solutions going cloud-based, Raucher was able to demonstrate that RapidDeploy had already developed the technology.
“People generally did not take to the idea of response systems going cloud-based at the time, either because they did not know what the cloud was or, when they did, felt it should not be used for public applications due to potential security breaches,” Meyerowitz says.
Having a cloud-based system, however, has several advantages over premised-based technologies, which has helped to accelerate the acceptance of the technology during the Covid-19 outbreak.
Among others, it allows telecommunicators to work from anywhere instead of having to be physically present at emergency dispatch centres to access dispatch, analytics and location systems. In addition, RapidDeploy maintains and continuously upgrades the system to the benefit of all users.
Being a generalised solution, companies are charged per vehicle and the number of responders, which also makes it more affordable for small players than traditional solutions.
The conference also allowed Raucher and Meyerowitz to gauge the system against other developments. "We only realised how revolutionary the system was after we saw that almost all the other systems were still stuck in the 1990s, being built on DOS or Windows."
A testament to its technological edge, RapidDeploy last year won the Texas Innovator of the Year award and was also named Microsoft US Partner of the Year for government industry.
After the European conference, Raucher was invited to the annual NENA conference in Texas, which opened up new networks of early adopters and innovators, and paved the way for a $13m investment in a Series A round from US venture capital fund Great Point Ventures, innovation fund Samsung Next and TAO Capital Partners in 2019.
The funding gave RapidDeploy the means to add significant scale to the business and branch out to the US, where its headquartered in Austin, Texas, as well as to Namibia and Botswana.
“My initial idea was to develop a solution for volunteers that would help to save lives. It never occurred to me that we would develop the Rolls-Royce of first responder systems, with over a hundred employees and more than a hundred clients in the US.”
For Meyerowitz, one of the biggest challenges on their journey to success was to take off his “techie” hat and learn to lead the company.
“My first reaction to any problem has always been to get my hands dirty and work on solutions, but I had to learn to listen, let go and motivate others to buy into our dream and do the job. Trusting others was actually not that difficult, as we invested in the best experts we could afford from the start, people who in general are even better skilled than we are,” he says.
Another challenge was to get the staff composition right. “Initially, we only hired programmers and computer engineers, but later realised that we needed support staff for more balanced outcomes.”
Meyerowitz’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to not get brainwashed into the idea that starting your own business means that you are “your own boss”, as there are so many people who become dependent on the success of a business. With RapidDeploy even more so, as the company has over 1m people depending on the system for efficient emergency response delivery.
He adds that if you want to make it, you need to “network, network, network” and find people with similar interests to help you move forward, as he had found with Raucher.