I am the co-founder of ROAR for Good, a wearable safety tech company with a mission to reduce assaults, cultivate male allyship, and empower women. AMA.

ROAR for Good
Apr 27, 2018

This was the moment I first realized my unfair privilege: I had been recently promoted into an executive management position for a very large public company, and I put in a request to promote my best manager into a Director role. My request was initially rejected because the person was a woman. I was flabbergasted as to why that had any bearing as to promotion-worthiness. In my mind, all that should matter was the person’s capabilities as a leader, manager, and engineer (it was a tech company). I fought this decision and eventually “won” - and the woman went on to have an amazing impact on the company. But it was the first time my eyes were opened as to how easy I had it as a white male in the particular business world in which I was living.

My co-founder of ROAR for Good, Yasmine Mustafa, has a quote that I really love - and it is this: “You don’t realize your privilege until you’ve lost it … or gained it.”

Since that sexist, discriminatory moment, I’ve tried to keep my eyes open as to what male allyship is and the benefits I have purely based on my gender and race. Unfortunately I’ve failed in many instances - only seeing in hindsight how I could have done a better job handling particular situations.

I vividly recall a time that Yasmine and I were walking down a street in Philadelphia. We passed a man and a woman off to the side of the road, engaged in a conversation. As Yasmine and I continued walking, I realized she was no longer walking next to me. When I turned around, I saw that she was back speaking with the couple. In particular, she was talking with the woman. And not just idle talk - Yasmine was speaking with her as if this woman was her best friend. I knew most of Yasmine’s friends, and I was fairly certain this stranger was not one of them. Making matters even more confusing for me, Yasmine pointed at me and said to the woman, “And you remember Anthony … the three of us used to hang out together all the time.”

And that’s when it hit me. Yasmine didn’t know this woman. She felt that the woman was in a situation she didn’t want to be in, and Yasmine was intervening to help extract her. And sure enough, the woman walked away with us, thanking us profusely for helping her.

And while there was no yelling going on, and the man wasn’t overtly restraining the woman, clearly she wasn’t comfortable. And I totally missed the signals that she was in trouble. In fact, had Yasmine not intervened, who knows what might have happened.

Ever since that moment, I’ve tried to do a better job reading situations like that and being more sensitive to what others around me might be experiencing.

When Yasmine approached me a few years ago about building a company (which we later named ROAR for Good) to help reduce assaults and empower women, it was a no-brainer: we have to build this company. We set it up as a B-corporation, ensuring that proceeds from all of our sales go to organizations that are teaching kids about empathy, respect, and healthy relationships - the kinds of programs shown to reduce violence in adulthood.

I’ve had the great fortune of building a few companies in the past - and learning the most from my failures. One of those failures was buying into the belief that investment dollars were fungible - meaning that a dollar from one investor is as good as a dollar from another. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The character of the investor matters just as much, if not even more so, than their investment dollars.

When we were pitching ROAR to investors, was had one meeting with a small angel group (all men). In the middle of the meeting, Yasmine left to use the restroom. And during her absence, one of the investors said, “We’d seriously consider investing in this company if you were the CEO.” I was shocked and disappointed and had to shake my head at the sad state of affairs when it comes to angel / venture investing. There was not a chance we were going to take their money.

As we spoke to additional investors, we made it very clear that our goal was to eventually work ourselves out of business. We envision a future where companies like ROAR and products like our Athena safety device are no longer necessary because we’ve thoroughly addressed the issues. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go.

We’re now a couple years in with ROAR and have been shipping our Athena safety product to people all over the world. Being at the forefront of helping reduce assaults and cultivating male allyship has been very rewarding for me.

I was honored to speak at the Philadelphia Men Can Rally a few months ago to help reinforce the message that it’s on us, all men, to stop assaults. It’s on us to recognize the position we’re in, and how often we’re blind to what women deal with on a daily basis.

Sexual harassment, discrimination, and inequity in all its forms will never end until we address the root causes. #MeToo reflects a tragedy that’s been going on for a very long time. Just like racism. Men - white men like me – showing up is a start. But we can do a lot more. We can challenge ourselves, and people just like us, to engage, listen, create new opportunities, open doors, and attempt to right wrongs.

As Melinda Gates powerfully notes, “We can’t keep building from the same old blueprint that created the Old Boys’ Club.” We don’t need a tweak to the blueprint, we need a new architecture … a new archetype for societal interaction."Equal stature of men and women is as fundamental as the basic human rights.” ~Ruth Bader GinsburgEach one of us is either perpetuating the status quo, or we’re lending our voices and minds toward creating a more just framework.

I look forward to hosting this AMA.

-Anthony


Group Yasmine and Anthony.jpgThe Men of ROAR.jpg

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What are the risks you had faces when starting your business, having in mind that launching something different is always tricky?
May 3, 4:42PM EDT0

Building a company is hard … and scary. The first hurdle to overcome is the belief that you can do it. But right along with belief is the ability to build a team that can execute on that belief. I remember how naive I was when I started my first company many years ago. I was pitching to potential investors with the “certainty” that my idea would be the next big thing. It was a pretty good idea, but I didn’t have a solid enough execution plan to make it successful. I learned quickly that ideas are worth very little. It’s the team and execution that make all the difference. The reason is that no matter how good the idea, as soon as it hits the market, there will be challenges. And without a great team with the ability to quickly zig and zag to work through the market challenges, a company has little chance at success. So, bringing that around to the question asked, the biggest risk to starting my (or any) business is building a great team and execution engine that can quickly maneuver around the many obstacles that will inevitably arise.

May 13, 6:35PM EDT0
What was the toughest obstacle to overcome in the proces of launching ROAR for Good?
May 3, 4:09PM EDT0

Specific to ROAR, the toughest obstacle (initially) was finding investors who believed in the mission and were interested in a long-term play. Many startup investors are looking for a very clear ROI (return on investment) within a very specific time window (often 3-5 years). But for a social mission company like ours - particularly with our desire to take part of all our proceeds and invest them into organizations that are teaching people about empathy and healthy relationships - we needed to find investors focused on that long-term horizon. I believe in the old adage that says “when the student is ready, the teacher appears”. I felt confident that if we stayed true to our vision and lived our core ideals that we’d get connected to the right people. And that’s exactly what happened.

May 13, 6:35PM EDT0
Did you have the support of your surroundings, or did they think that your project was not a good idea, and why?
May 3, 3:36PM EDT0

We were very fortunate to start our company in Philadelphia. The city has a terrific ecosystem for startups that includes many great universities, amazing “infrastructure” organizations (law firms, accounting firms, marketing / PR agencies, software development firms), startup-friendly city initiatives, lots of co-working spaces, many angel networks and venture capital firms, and arguably some of the best coffee shops. On top of all that, nearly everyone in our network or that we came across in the course of building our business loved our mission and had a desire to support us.

May 13, 6:35PM EDT0
What was your biggest “breakthrough”, in a sense of bringing you big associates and strongest links to what you are doing?
May 3, 10:09AM EDT0

Hard to pick one “biggest” breakthrough, but a few of the most rewarding highlights for us so far include our highly successful crowdfunding campaign, completing production manufacturing of Athena and shipping it to people all over the world, and getting feedback from users telling us how much the product means to them. I was so touched by one comment from a person who said that she had been afraid to go out running because of an incident from her past, but now Athena has opened up her life.

May 13, 6:35PM EDT0

While I am male ally and a feminist myself, I would like to know what argument would you give to a guy who firmly believes that women are not equal to men?

May 2, 4:37AM EDT0

Equality and equity aren’t the same thing. Let’s look at each of them contextually.

In many ways, men and women aren’t equal. In fact, no two humans are equal. We all have our differences. Physically. Psychologically. Emotionally. And so forth.

But when we talk about equality in the context of transforming society, we are looking at something more fundamental. Those aspects of humanity that transcend the differences - and that’s where equity comes into play.

Are two people who look different, perhaps come from different races, have differing genders but have the same intellectual and physical capability to succeed in a particular job entitled to the same compensation for succeeding in that role? Of course they are.

So, when we have gross salary and job promotion differences between male and female, and between caucasian and non-caucasian - that’s not a problem of equality, that’s a problem of equity.

When we can shift the conversation toward creating just, equitable environments where everyone feels safe, empowered, given equal opportunity, and fairly compensated then we’ll make dramatic progress.

May 13, 6:36PM EDT0
Did you name your product Athena in reference to the greek goddess?
Apr 28, 3:27PM EDT0

Yes, great observation! Athena is the Greek goddess of wisdom and courage and strength. The name perfectly aligned with who we are and what we stand for.

Apr 30, 10:14AM EDT0
How did you end up finding investors after your meeting with the angel group?
Apr 28, 1:40PM EDT0

One of the big mistakes I made (which I wrote about in the AMA intro) was believing that money from one investor was as good as money from another. Not true!

The people behind the money matter as much - if not more - than the money itself. At the end of the day, you want investors who believe in the mission and the vision as much as they are looking for a return on their investment. There’s something of a “karmic law” that if you go searching for money, you won’t end up happy. But if you seek to genuinely make a difference, the resources needed will follow. It’s the old adage: when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

For us, it was important to identify investors who “got it”. But let me contrast that with an unfortunate contrarian example: we met with one investor who sat stone cold during our pitch. No facial expressions of “this is great” or “I totally get what you’re doing” while we were presenting our value proposition. At one point in the meeting, Yasmine asked the investor, “Do you have a daughter?”. The investor replied with, “Yes, I do. She’s in college.” We asked him if he wanted her to have an Athena device to help her on campus. His reply: “Nope. I bought her a gun.”

Needless to say, there wasn’t an alignment with that investor and our core values.

But we stayed true to what mattered most to us: developing a product that could make a difference and aligning with organizations that were making a difference with regards to reducing assaults.

And with that alignment, we “attracted” investors who believed in our focus and vision.

Last edited @ Apr 30, 10:14AM EDT.
Apr 30, 10:13AM EDT0
Do you have plans to release more products like Athena with more developed features?
Apr 27, 8:30PM EDT0

Yes. We will continue to roll out more products and solutions until our mission is achieved. We’re committed to reducing assaults and empowering women, and we’ve got lots to do still. Athena is a great start, but we know that there are so many more solutions needed to address this critically important issue.

Apr 30, 10:12AM EDT0
How long does it usually take to develop a product like Athena? How many people have you had working on it?
Apr 27, 5:32PM EDT0

Anytime you are developing a hardware product, it takes a fair bit of time and capital investment. I remember the first computer I designed - which required the development of both hardware and software - thinking it shouldn’t be too hard. I knew exactly what the system needed to do, I had it all crystal clear in my head, and it was simply a matter of implementation.

And I was very naive.

It took far longer than I imagined, and cost a lot more than I had hoped. I learned a valuable lesson that has served me well over the years: whatever schedule I think it will be to make a complex product, and whatever cost I think it will be - double it.

It will likely take twice as long and cost twice as much as what you originally plan.

In the case of Athena, which also required the development of both hardware and software, we used that 2x rule.

In general, designing a new hardware product can take a year or longer to get into mass production because there are so many steps along the way to ensure the product is ready to advance to the next stage of the “pipeline”. And when you involve a manufacturing facility (we use one of the world’s top manufacturers - Flextronics), a lot of the process is out of your hands.

We have an amazing team of hardware, software, firmware, manufacturing, and product managers who made it all possible for Athena. Over a dozen people on our team were instrumental in building Athena - each one of them passionate about helping reduce assaults and making a difference.

May 1, 11:36AM EDT0
Do you have any way to make Athena more affordable to people in under developed countries?
Apr 27, 1:58PM EDT0

Our ROARBack program is designed to help low-income individuals access Athena. We donated 250 devices in Philadelphia last year for women in need. The hope is to extend the full scope of the ROARBack program internationally.

However, we aren’t currently shipping outside of the U.S. because of customs regulations, and the inability to guarantee that all countries have the infrastructure to support the Athena. However, we regularly evaluate these policies and are hoping to be able to provide Athena more broadly over the coming months.

Apr 30, 10:12AM EDT0
Upon activation, will the Athena continue to be tracked if on the move or will it only give the original location?
Apr 25, 5:57AM EDT0

That’s a really insightful question. The answer is that once you set your Athena status into an emergency or “watch over me” state, your location is shared with your selected contacts for the duration of the status. Therefore, if you are moving, your contacts will be able to track you on a map. Once you turn off either the emergency or “watch over me” mode, your location is no longer shared.

Also, we put a lot of thought into the security aspect of Athena including continually randomizing the address that Athena uses to communicate with the user’s phone in order to prevent hacking. You can read more about Athena security here in this independent security audit. duo.com/blog/bluetooth-and-personal-protection-device-security-analysis

Apr 27, 12:41PM EDT0
Are there plans for the Athena to be enabled to contact emergency services directly?
Apr 24, 8:27PM EDT0

Yes. Our engineering team is working on connecting Athena directly to emergency services. Once that feature is ready for release, it will be available for all existing Athena users - no new hardware will be required.

Apr 27, 12:41PM EDT0
Did you always envision yourself becoming an entrepreneur?
Apr 24, 7:44PM EDT0

No. In fact, when I started in my career, I somehow assumed I would work for one company for many years - perhaps even my entire professional life. My first job after college (I graduated with an electrical engineering degree) was designing mainframes for a very large computer company. I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of designing computer chips and writing software, but I really loved the business side. I was curious as to why companies paid millions of dollars for the computers we were designing - particularly what problems they were trying to solve that required such enormous horsepower.

As I started getting more and more involved in both the business side and engineering side of the company, I was developing lots of ways the company could (a) make better computers that solved more real-world problems and (b) make more money for the company.

Then an amazing industry trend opened up that changed everything. Open Source.

I learned about work that Linus Torvalds was doing building the Linux operating system using this model of mass collaboration. Basically, anyone around the world could contribute code to Linux - it didn’t matter if you had an engineering degree, it didn’t matter how old you were, it didn’t matter if you even had a job. All that mattered was the quality of your code - as judged by the self-organizing community. And people from all over the world contributed code snippets to Linux. The good stuff rose to the top (and got accepted into the code base) and the crap got filtered out by the community.

This model of mass collaboration not only led to the development of one of the world’s most popular and powerful operating systems, but projects like Wikipedia and tons of great software applications. I co-founded a non-profit called the Open Solutions Alliance to help open source companies thrive and build great software.

And this gave me an idea for a new business. Could I use open source software to help the companies that were paying tons of money every year for very expensive proprietary software and dramatically reduce their costs.

Long story short, this business hit the market at the perfect time and did very well. And from there, I was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug.

With one twist.

While building solutions that help businesses is pretty cool, even more rewarding and powerful is building solutions that directly help people and society. So, each company I built after the open source one was focused strictly on making a difference.

Apr 27, 12:42PM EDT0
On your website you refer to the Athena as a piece of tech “jewellery”, have you ever thought about introducing additional designs and styles for the Athena?
Apr 24, 4:52PM EDT0

You bring up a really interesting topic. I’m not a fan of the term “jewelry” for Athena because it is such a subjective term. Some people may want to wear Athena as a fashion accessory. But others - like me - wear it purely for its functionality. I think of Athena more of a “safety wearable” than jewelry. But, back to your question of additional designs, the answer is absolutely yes. Athena was the first product, but we have many more designs underway in order to appeal to various users around the world.

Apr 27, 12:43PM EDT0
What else do you think can be done to help prevent sexual assault?
Apr 24, 3:34PM EDT0

A lot. Especially initiatives geared toward getting more men to step up and recognize that it’s on us to make a difference. I don’t know the exact stats, but I suspect 99.9% of assaults are by men. Unfortunately we call things like assault, harassment, etc. “women’s issues”. These aren’t women’s issues. They’re societal issues perpetuated mostly by men. And we know that perpetrators are most likely to be repeat offenders, so when victims aren’t believed or their voices are ignored, it makes the world more dangerous for others.

We need more programs cultivating male allies. We need more men in leadership positions to set higher standards and lead by example. We need more businesses to recognize that the predominant culture of “white male privilege” needs to change. We need more programs teaching young men about what it means to “be a man” - and what true empathy and healthy masculinity, and genuine relationships look like.

We need more social-mission-focused startup ideas from smart people all over the world for solutions that can help reduce discrimination and empower all people. And we need more investment dollars going into companies that are led by women and minorities.

We need more university presidents to step up and say, “We have an issue with assault on campus - and we’re actually going to do something serious about it.”

As I said, a lot. But I’m optimistic that more people are at least thinking of these things. We have a long way to go, but we must make it happen. Human dignity and the future of our species demand this.

Apr 27, 12:57PM EDT0
In your opinion, what are the key qualities that future leaders will need to possess in order to reduce assaults, cultivate male allyship, and empower women?
Apr 24, 2:49PM EDT0

Excellent question!

#1 - emotional intelligence and empathy. Both of which are highly teachable and learnable - if a person is truly committed to self-awareness and growth.

#2 - a recognition that hidden biases (and the immense inertia of the status-quo) hold us back. We won’t get more women into leadership positions making commensurate salaries as men until we (men in leadership roles) recognize that (1) we have those issues today, (2) they are quite pervasive, and (3) we need to be part of the solution, not just the accidental recipients of privilege. If we don’t use our position and authority to push for equality, it won’t happen.

#3 - a strong desire for and commitment to “gender-aware” mentoring, coaching, and cultivation of talent.

#4 - an inner passion for doing the right thing.  

Apr 27, 12:46PM EDT0
What advice do you have for those who want to be male advocates and aren’t sure how to start? e.g. what should they do, what is an important first step?
Apr 24, 12:10PM EDT0

What an awesome question!

An important first step is to learn the needs of communities, and build your own confidence with the issues. Some ways to do this are to go into spaces where conversations are happening, and listen with the intent to learn. You can (and in many cases should) do so without much participation at first, just to absorb the experience. For example, walking in a Take Back the Night March will provide a chance to hear the keynote and the audience response, hear directly from survivors, and share in the experience of the other marchers. I offer this because sometimes just getting over the discomfort to begin can be hard, so spending time where you can listen and learn at your own pace is helpful. Reading articles, following social media pages and platforms, and other educational resources are low risk exercises in getting started too.

Once some confidence and educational foundations have been developed, you can begin to try on your work and voice. Remain open to feedback, and know that no one gets it right all the time. Doing this well means:

  • Recognizing the systemic issues that exist
  • Understanding intent versus impact. You may intend for a comment or action to be received well, yet it hurts the community you’re trying to assist. Avoid defensiveness, try to see their perspective, and most importantly, apologize.
  • Looking at the conversations you have with your male friends - is it empowering for all? We loved this video from SoulPancake.
  • Listen to the women in your life. Believe them and validate them. Practice hearing about the challenges they face from a harassment, discrimination, unwanted attention, unfair treatment perspective, and practice trying not to offer solutions unless they ask for it
  • Help amplify women’s voices
  • Mentor women in your field, and remember that mentor-mentee relationships are mutually agreed upon, so you won’t have female mentees without their consent
  • Speak up when you see injustice
  • Volunteer and remain active. The stories will continue to inform your views and shape your work.
Apr 30, 12:17AM EDT0
Can you share your personal icons of empowered women and what sets them apart?
Apr 24, 9:33AM EDT0

I feel incredibly fortunate to have been inspired by so many empowered women over my life. Some of them I know personally - like my 10th grade English teacher who taught me feminism before I had even heard of the word. My cousin who excels in the male-dominated field of literary agency as an attorney for many bestselling authors. My former corporate HR business partner who taught me the immense value of emotional intelligence. My ROAR co-founder, Yasmine, whose unwavering determination to make a difference and champion the underserved has inspired me for years. All the women at ROAR who everyday are leading and guiding our company on its mission to help transform society. My life partner, who overcame so many obstacles and as a single mom raised two amazing children - all the while promoting gender equity and building her own company.

Others I’ve never met - but their actions and words have moved me for years. People like Chimamanda Adichie, Margaret Thatcher, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Maya Angelou - people I quote so often in my essays - who have overcome incredible odds and transcended traditional societal boundaries in their respective fields. I was tempted to include several of their quotes here, but I’ll go with just this one from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” These women made me feel so encouraged and empowered.

What sets all these women apart is their inner drive to follow their passion, not worry too much about what “others” think, inspire everyone around them, and see people truly as humans, not as their skin color, age, gender, or any other unchosen trait.

Apr 27, 12:48PM EDT0
With April being Sexual Assault Awareness month, what do you think individuals can do to help educate and raise awareness?
Apr 24, 5:37AM EDT0

As with all awareness months, action in April is about generating meaningful conversations. We know that everyone has a different level of confidence and competence around difficult issues like sexual assault, so comfort levels may present varying degrees of willingness to participate. For folks new to the conversation and movement, opportunities to observe and engage without risk or vulnerability may feel best. Efforts can range from wearing teal on Tuesdays (a month-long movement), to raising voices on social media through the #metoo channel and other relevant spaces. One of my colleagues says the best way to learn about a group or a movement is to go to public spaces and respectfully, quietly, willingly observe. There’s so much to learn!

For those ready to do more, there are lots of opportunities to engage in local or national activism. Participation in staple events like Take Back the Night, Clothesline Projects, or Walk a Mile in Her Shoes can both raise awareness and help develop comfort in the dialogue. If such events are absent in your communities, gathering folks to plan and organize is a great way to make a difference.

Apr 27, 12:49PM EDT0
What are some things that ROAR does in the community?
Apr 24, 3:06AM EDT0

We are really present in the Philadelphia community, especially. At a baseline, we participate in tech events, and speak on topics close us any chance we get. For me, it’s about male allyship, and for my co-founder, Yasmine, it’s about championing the underserved and the randomness of the “birth lottery”.

Our ROARBack program allows us to be really community focused. We’ve donated 250 devices to Women Against Abuse, and partnered with organizations like One Love Foundation and Women Organized Against Rape for education and monetary support. For #SAAM, we are partnered with Hollaback!, and proceeds from all purchases made on our website throughout April will help them continue their work around bystander intervention, empathy, and stopping harassment. We’re also partnering with my alma mater, Drexel University, to identify ways to help their Title IX officers continue the amazing work they’re doing. In fact, we donated 10 devices to their office just yesterday to get that partnership off the ground.

Apr 27, 12:50PM EDT0
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