Once second-in-command of Israel’s version of Delta Force, Doron Kempel built and sold two tech companies for a combined $850 million. Now he sees financial opportunity in public safety.
Hazel Carrasquillo was riding the bus home from work late one night in March when a distressed seeming man began shouting at her. When she got off her stop, in a Chicago suburb, the man also got off, making her feel unsafe.
Rather than call the police, she used an app on her phone to video-call a private security service that stayed on the line with her until she got home. If something did happen, the video was being recorded, and the agent could call the police to her location.
At a time when people are on high alert, yet possibly hesitant to call the police, a new app called Our Bond is aiming to provide a sense of security to those in situations that occur “below the 911 emergency line,” says founder Doron Kempel. Carrasquillo, who reached home safely, is one of about 150,000 people using the software, which launched nationally in November of 2019.
“The authorities, with our tax dollars, cannot afford to establish a platform that allows all of us to reach out to them when we feel uncomfortable,” says 57-year-old Kempel, a decorated Israeli special forces soldier-turned tech entrepreneur. “We call it the personal security gap.”
The New York-based company employs call center workers who communicate with users with text, video or audio. Someone in a domestic violence situation, for example, might not be able to safely call the police. Instead, they could discreetly text one of Bond’s representatives asking them to call the cops.
“The authorities, with our tax dollars, cannot afford to establish a platform that allows all of us to reach out to them when we feel uncomfortable.”
On first glance, Bond appears to be targeting a sliver of a niche market. After all, how many people find themselves in unsafe situations so frequently that they are willing to pay for an app for peace of mind? So far, only 10% of Bond’s users, or around 15,000 people, are paying about $10 a month for the service, generating estimated revenues of $1.5 million.
But there are a few reasons to take Bond seriously. First, “public safety” apps like Citizen, a voyeuristic crime tracking app, and NextDoor, a hyper-local neighborhood social media network have become enormously popular; Citizen has more than 6 million users and NextDoor now operates in 10 countries after raising almost half a billion dollars. Second, Bond’s founder is betting big on his own track record that he can build a successful company.
So far, Kempel has put $16.5 million million of his own money into Bond, which he began developing in 2017. He has raised another $55.5 million in equity and debt from other investors, including a firm owned by eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar and Jerusalem Venture Partners. Despite laying off 50 of the company’s 150 workers earlier this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Kempel says he has begun rehiring and still hopes to grow the platform to more than 500,000 active users by the end of the year. “This is a new paradigm,” Kempel says. “New paradigms take time for people to understand and adopt.”
Kempel’s backstory is worthy of a screenplay. Born and raised in Israel, Kempel spent 13 years with the Israeli Defence Forces, where he rose to second-in-command of the special forces unit Sayeret Matkal, the rough equivalent of America’s Delta Force unit. In 1992, he led Operation Bramble Bush, which had the intended goal of assassinating the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein; the operation was called off after five men in his unit were killed during the final rehearsal, he told Forbes in 2013.
The Rise of Neighborhood Security Apps
Such platforms are raising concerns. How Bond Compares:
In 1994, his focus shifted to the corporate world and he was admitted to Harvard Business School where he channeled paramilitary leadership to running businesses. He became a vice president at Dell EMC before going on to launch two software companies. One of those companies, Diligent Technologies, which makes software to help with corporate board meetings, was sold to IBM for about $200 million in 2008. Another firm, SimpliVity Corporation, which makes cost-saving software for data centers, was sold to Hewlett Packard Enterprises for $650 million in 2017. Immediately after selling SimpliVity, Kempel says he began working on Bond. “I don’t need vacations,” Kempel says.
Bond was in development for almost two years before it began beta testing the app in an undisclosed Connecticut town in 2019, before launching it nationwide in November. In addition to communications, one of the platform’s core features is a purported artificial intelligence tool called “track my walk” that can detect whether a user has gone from walking to running or into a moving vehicle; an unexpected change in movement will prompt a Bond representative to check-in on a customer or call police.
Another early concern is the role of Bond as a private security company operating in the tense environments typically reserved for 911 dispatchers and emergency workers. As a private company, Bond is not subject to transparency laws that govern the behavior of public officials and government agencies; calls between its users and representatives cannot be accessed publicly, says Kade Crockford, who leads the American Civil Liberties Union’s Technology for Liberty Program. “There’s a lot of red flags here.”
As if anticipating the concerns over privacy, Bond has established ties to law enforcement, and hired former high-ranking police officials to advise the company on complying with local laws. Ed Davis, who was Boston Police Department commissioner from 2006 to 2013 is among those advising Bond. Davis points out that Bond’s call center workers, who are called “security agents,” receive four weeks of training, including a course taken by 911 dispatchers. He also dismissed transparency concerns and says that privatization in the policing sector has been going on for decades. “[Bond] moves technology into the equation,” Davis says. “This is just the next step in that process.”
Beyond individuals, Bond says it’s pitching multinational corporations and organizations to provide bulk subscriptions to their employees (Kempel says he so far has contracts with “less than 10” enterprise clients but declined to disclose them.) And the company is expanding beyond offering its on-call security agents: The app now provides roadside assistance and can call an Uber or Lyft to a user’s location.
For customers like Carrasquillo, 30, who was provided by the company, using Bond has become a daily routine; she uses the platform so often that she has come to know some of the call center workers. As an anxious person, she says, the “track my walk” feature eases any concerns she might have for her late-night journey home from work. She adds: “I just kind of am super vigilant.”
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