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On October 5, 2012, in Westminster, Colorado, ten-year-old Jessica Ridgeway was abducted while walking six houses away to a friend’s home. The disappearance turned into a homicide, rocking the small, tightknit community. With three kids of his own, including two young girls, John Guydon was particularly affected by Ridgeway’s disappearance.
“It was easy for me to empathize and think about what if it had been my kids?” says Guydon. “And we looked into how things currently worked, and we knew that we needed to make a difference, so that’s why we started Lassy Project.”
Lassy Project is, at its core, a more robust version of the Amber Alert system, which is activated when a child is abducted. When a child goes missing, it alerts community members, sending out a text message that contains a link to a dynamic, specially created alert page that shows the child’s last known location.
We recently talked with Guydon about his background, Lassy Project, and how he and co-founder Temitope Sonuyi plan to grow his latest startup.
Can you give an in-depth description of how Lassy Project works?
Basically, there are two levels of alert. The first level of alert is sent out by parents and goes to friends, family, and close neighbors that can help search in their time of need. The more people parents invite to receive this first alert, the more help they have to search. When I invite my friends and family, they invite their friends and family, and so on and so forth. There’s an inherent viral nature in that people want as many people as possible to be on it.
The second level of alert is sent to a larger radius of people in the community, which is unique because you don’t have to build it yourself. For example, say I was in Houston, and I went to the park with my daughter and I discover sheis missing—the first thing I would do is hit the button and let my friends know. They get the alert, and they start looking for her, and then we all get together and say, ‘We can’t find her; she’s missing.’ Then, Lassy Project comes in and asks if you need additional coverage. I’d click yes for additional coverage, and that’s when we alert everyone living in that neighborhood and the surrounding five blocks or 5 mile radius, etc. who are registered Lassy Project users. Now, within just minutes, we have an entire community looking for my daughter.
How big is your user base?
Right now we’ve got villagers in over 2,000 zip codes in every U.S. state, and we’re growing. The bigger this community gets, the stronger it is.
What’s been your growth strategy?
So far it’s been normal word of mouth and organic virality. But we’re looking to partner with strategic businesses and even small businesses. I think they’ll help drive what’s going on. These are important people in their communities, so if all those small businesses in the country supported Lassy Project and built their own communities, it would make everything much, much stronger and a lot more connected. It gives them the ability to galvanize the community at their place of business and is a really big potential market for us, so we’ve got lots of different partnerships in the pipeline that will help us grow, as well.
Do you charge users?
Our service is free. Monetization will happen far, far down the line. We’re not signing our names to any monetization strategy yet. Investors are what’s driving it now—people support this. Our goal is pretty big: We want to end up being the go-to public safety app in the world. We want to be the leader.
Does Lassy Project have any other potential uses?
The village concept—the idea of bringing these communities together—goes well beyond missing children. It can be used to evacuate a community, aid neighbors who need help sandbagging before a flood, help somebody move something, or, if somebody has a heart attack, to point them to the nearest doctor—there are just so many different scenarios. We are on the frontline of creating a safer world.
Why is Lassy Project important?
Lassy Project gives parents the ability to notify an entire community about their missing child in seconds. We’re changing the standard of how missing children are reunited with their parents, and we’re cutting down the time it takes for a parent to be notified when a child is missing—and that’s about time.
Time is really what we’re doing, and what we’re helping out with, and we’re creating peace of mind that way. Whether you have a child or not, everyone should be a part of the community and join Lassy Project. The more people who join Lassy project, the more powerful the community becomes, and the safer the community becomes. At the end of the day, we’re best equipped to get the right information out to the right people at the right time. We’re encouraging folks to join regardless of whether they have a child or not. It’s not just for parents—it’s for people, period.