"Building businesses is very difficult. Most founders struggle to navigate the grind of building something from scratch. Working with 25madison I found partners, mentors, and resources that made the journey not just easier, but faster and more impactful. I believe we accomplished much more a lot faster with 25madison as a cofounder." Dan Kessler - Former CEO, harbor; Chief Business Officer, Citizen
It was 2018, and we were looking at interesting problem areas to address with our next incubation. Doomsday prepper companies were increasingly advertising on the radio, mostly to heartland markets, and caught the ear of 25madison Strategic Advisor Mike Josephs. He suspected their respective audiences were niche but wondered if there was something to preparedness that could serve the general population. He brought it to our Business Development Directors, and they assessed what they deemed 'The Readiness Economy'.
Our initial research revealed that most Americans recognize safety and preparation as key components to their everyday lives. The rising frequency of disruptions (both natural and man-made), including floods, hurricanes, wildfires, power outages, etc., coupled with increasing coverage of climate change, meant that awareness of (and concern for) life's disruptions was at an all-time high. While this sentiment was reflected in passive 'readiness' participation, 60+ % of people surveyed felt nervous about potential disruptions, and while 95% of homeowners have insurance (NAIC), only 17% of Americans claimed to be prepared for an emergency situation (Ready.gov). How could this be?
Our team found there were plenty of gear companies selling physical readiness products. Existing players sold freeze-dried and dehydrated foods, seeds, water storage, and filtration devices, tools & equipment (fire starters, knives, power supply, lights, radio, satellite phones), transportation (folding bikes, inflatable boats), and bunkers. If these products exist, why aren't more people buying them? We wanted to uncover the underlying consumer psychology behind why people don't prepare despite recognizing its importance. Were they scared? The existing gear companies were using militarized branding and fear as their primary marketing tactic, so maybe. Or, were consumers just lazy? Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs indicates that Physiological and Safety Needs are two of the initial needs that humans are motivated to fulfill. But this wasn’t happening. We suspected this was because natural disasters were supposed to be an anomaly. And since the order of needs is not rigid, it can be influenced by circumstance. Sure enough, search behavior indicated that readiness research spiked 10x during disasters and then returned to baseline. In addition, consumers complained that the process of getting prepared, while important, was boring and repetitive.
Over the next few months, we dove deep on the market, attending expos such as the 2018 Self Reliance Expo in Mesquite, Texas, conducting a series of quantitative research on needs, product features, pricing, and developing a test brand “Safeable” to conduct market acquisition tests. We concluded that there was no readiness brand for the everyday American. With 95% of Americans being affected by natural disasters in the previous five years, we knew there was a need. Before harbor, if the average American wanted to easily learn the three things that they should do in case Hurricane Sandy was to strike again, or a tornado was coming, really any natural or man-made disaster, the only place to turn was the FEMA website. Sure, they could find information there, but it’s intimidating and dry. Understandably so, as UX is not at the forefront of FEMA’s priorities.
Preparedness is a high-need activity, but there was no brand connecting the physical to the digital – how information works together with practical, basic human needs. Leaders in the readiness gear market agreed there was a need for us -- nobody was building a tech product for readiness. This gave us conviction, and we were ready to step in.
We saw a compelling market opportunity to create the trusted, mainstream resource for ordinary folks who want to stay safe and thrive in the event of a disruption. People were worrying about preparedness and wanted more peace of mind, particularly those with children, pets, or dependent relatives. How could they better organize themselves and their families for readiness? We created personas and identified target markets: Concerned Carly (our key demographic), Ambivalent Allie (secondary demographic), and Prepper Pete (not a target - but we wanted his validation and enthusiasm). Readiness is a "need to have" market perceived by many as "nice to have" or "I'll get to it later." We were going to change that. We were not going after the doomsday preppers. harbor would appeal to responsible adults who want to feel smart in taking logical steps to protect their families – "just in case." We wanted to be more than commerce. We were going to educate and create a supporting media brand too. We envisioned a preparedness ‘journey’ analogous to the approach others took with learning meditation or languages...reimagine the long, boring, rote process, and make it modular and accessible, even gamified, allowing people to attack chapter by chapter and gauge their progress. We were not sure what piece was going to come first. That's when we started to look for a CEO.
We reviewed 100s of candidates, met with a dozen, and were greatly impressed with Dan Kessler’s experience and existing passion for the space.
"Dan had the perfect background. He had success as a former executive at Headspace, taking meditation, something that can be difficult to get started with for many people and breaking it into bite-sized pieces, almost eliminating the barrier to entry. We were confident he could do the same with harbor. Couple that with great product experience -- Dan was a no brainer." - Steven Price, 25madison CEO
Dan jumped right in and propelled us forward. He recruited A+ founding and operational teams, raised capital, and further developed the vision. We helped Dan find industry advisors and corporate partners, such as ADT. Together, they launched HarborHELP, which allowed harbor users to quickly reach ADT’s professional monitoring team in the event of an emergency. Dan refined the product roadmap to build the digital product first, concurrently with the storefront. Physical products and enterprise options would follow (and have since been launched). Alerts and community elements are under development.
25madison team members served as the Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Product Officer for the first year of the company's development. We evolved the brand, product, and go-to-market and provided corporate and business strategy. The new proposed harbor strategy was to focus on scaling technology -- the preparedness plan first, and optimize towards user engagement through digital features, and then use that engagement to scale into products and services that can be monetized via subscription.
25madison’s Creative Director Chris Kline and Vice President of Brand and Marketing Margaret Strickland were stand in Creative Directors for Product and Marketing. Margaret led a brand development effort to evolve the Safeable name into the more consumer-friendly harbor brand, look and feel. Chris also took on product development and packaging for the storefront. Together with Union, a creative agency (shoutout to designer Lisa Neal), we created the harbor brand standards, design strategy, UX/UI development for the app and website, social media content, icon and illustration libraries, and photo direction. The design work was extensive. harbor later brought on killer Marketing Director, Christina Clark. She had a stacked asset library to work with and was in position to make harbor a household name.
There we had it - the harbor vision: create the recognized, accessible, end-to-end solution where consumers can learn and act to prepare themselves and their families for future disruptions. We set out to create the world's first universally loved "readiness & resilience" company by establishing a friendly and optimistic brand, engaging technology platform, and helpful products/services. This company is an integrated online and offline system of preparedness. Preparedness for what? All of life's disruptions: Earthquakes, Floods, car accidents, everyday mishaps; we are building a platform that prepares and alerts, giving everyone much-needed peace of mind. Local, daily readiness & resilience. Everything you need for just in case. harbor is reimagining readiness for life's uncertain moments.
Imagine replacing or consolidating your home and hazard insurance, home services activities, and other spending with a single membership. You're not paying State Farm; you're joining harbor. This membership tactically (and psychologically) makes you and your family safe. It bundles all things "readiness", providing access to everything from personalized emergency alerts, annually delivered gear and shelf-stable food, CPR training, as well as integrated online-and-offline preparedness plans shared with family members.
Simply put, harbor is home safety made easy. We’re not the only ones that think so. The harbor app has received lots of validation. In 2021 alone Apple highlighted harbor as the app of the day, Fast Company named harbor one of 2021’s World-Changing Ideas, and WIRED recognized harbor as an essential emergency preparedness app.
And, after only a short time in market, harbor caught the attention of the number one mobile safety app, Citizen. The two businesses are complimentary: Citizen alerts users in the event of danger, and harbor educates them on what to do to stay safe. harbor was acquired by Citizen in Q1 of 2022 for an undisclosed amount. 25madison is now a supportive investor in Citizen.