A lot of people can relate to that uncomfortable feeling of walking the streets by yourself late at night. It was the same for Katharina Hochmuth when she moved to a big city for her university studies in 2013. When she was out after dark she often used to call her roommate so she would feel safer. “Eventually I wondered if there was a better solution. In those days though there wasn’t any way of broadcasting your location or any kind of emergency function on smartphones. This is how I came up with the idea for the KommGutHeim app together with my co-founders Tim Hautkappe and Mario Pfaller”, explains Hochmuth.
The KommGutHeim app was launched in 2014, and makes it possible for users to be digitally accompanied by selected friends or family members when out and about through a live location tracking function. In an emergency, one click on a panic button will notify a contact person, who can then call for help. The target groups include in particular women, outdoor sports enthusiasts, schoolchildren and senior citizens.
Finding a balance between a startup and studies
Hochmuth and Hautkappe are still working on the startup to this day. Hautkappe, who studied Mechanical Engineering, now works full-time as an app developer, while Hochmuth is still studying for her master’s degree. She has been studying Technology Management at the University of Stuttgart since 2017, with a focus on product development. She is now in her last semester and is currently writing her master's thesis.
She explains how difficult it is to combine her studies with her startup: “I do most of my studying in the evenings and at weekends. I basically work full-time on my startup. It’s definitely very stressful”, she says. Even so, the subject matter and the methodical approach she has learned during her studies is very helpful when it comes to developing the app. For example, as part of her master's thesis Hochmuth is developing a method of integrating customers into the process of developing digital products, with a focus on mobile apps. She is using KommGutHeim as a way of testing her method. “It’s knowledge transfer. I get the knowledge through writing my master's thesis, which I then apply to the company. And then later on I document my findings in my master's thesis”, explains the 27-year-old.
She is also in regular contact with Eric Heintze from the Institute of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Science at the University of Stuttgart, who coaches and supervises new startups. For example, he supports Hochmuth and Hautkappe by putting them in touch with other startups at the University.
New features for KommGutHeim
The app is now used by more than 80,000 people around the world. In the last few months, Hochmuth and Hautkappe have updated KommGutHeim with new technology to improve its functionality, speed and energy consumption. “We have also developed new emergency features”, says the student. In a survey carried out among young women, she found out that many respondees wanted a loud alarm to scare off potential attackers. “The new effect sounds a lot like a screech alarm”, explains Hochmuth. “If you click on the emergency button then the alarm goes off and a designated telephone number is alerted.”
For Hochmuth, the most important thing is that people feel safe when out at night. She explains that users can switch on the app on their way from parties or visiting friends. Since the beginning of the corona pandemic however, many have used it as a digital companion when doing sport, for example when out jogging. Therefore, Hochmuth and Hautkappe have come up with a few safety tips. By working together with experts such as the police, the pair have developed tips on how to make a bicycle safer as well as tips on how to defend yourself against sexual assault or where to go to get help, for example. The article can be read in the app or on the app website. “We want to fill the app with content which is more relevant from a safety perspective”, says Hochmuth.
The two founders are also working on being able to integrate the app into hardware in future. They want to incorporate a button which is connected to the app via Bluetooth. People could for example carry the button in their jacket pocket, and in an emergency situation all they would have to do is press the button instead of having to open the app again.
The challenges of developing an app
Hochmuth is in charge of product development and design. She also coordinates areas such as marketing and organizational matters. Her co-founder Hautkappe deals with the technical side of things. As well as the technical challenges, Hochmuth says the biggest challenge is how to monetize the app. “We want to make most of the app available free of charge”, she explains. “It’s difficult to find the right monetization model and still offer as much security as possible free of charge.” Hochmuth and Hautkappe therefore are looking for regional advertising partners across Germany to support the further development of KommGutHeim.