“If you don’t worry about it… you’re not doing something about it.”
Anthony Gold, Co-founder of ROAR for Good
Anthony Gold is the Co-founder of ROAR for Good, a tech company dedicated to engaging communities using technology and education to foster peace of mind and empathy. Although ROAR is far from Anthony’s first foray into the startup world, he relishes the small moments of triumph and empowerment that the company has created in women's lives to get him through the darker times.
What was your initial vision for ROAR for Good?
We started out on day one with the vision to be a B corporation because that’s what was core for us, was making a difference. Our initial vision was reducing assaults, empowering women, but truly transforming society. If we really want to get to the root causes of the violence, we’ve got to find a way to make a difference at the core.
When I moved into Philly, I got to see much more closely a lot of the catcalling and harassment that happens on city streets. And I’m not picking on Philly — I love Philadelphia — but nearly every city is this way, and I got to observe it firsthand. Just walking down the street and watching the way that many men harass and ogle and the inappropriate things that they say — it really led me to think quite a bit about how I don’t have to worry when I walk down the street.
That’s the struggle, is that people like me don’t have to worry about that, and if you don’t worry about it, you’re not thinking about it. If you’re not thinking about it, you’re not doing something about it. For us, we see it all the time and it’s painful. You don’t just wipe it off. It stays with you.
What has been your greatest struggle in founding ROAR?
We have a female-led company. It’s getting slightly better — I’ll say marginally better — for women-run companies, but it’s still terrible for many reasons, one of which is that the angel- and venture-investing worlds are primarily dominated by white males.
We had one investor meeting where the meeting was going really well. They were getting it. It was two other guys. They were loving it — a lot of heads nodding. And then [ROAR Co-founder] Yasmine excused herself to use the restroom, and so then it was just the three of us in the room. The two guys turned to me and said, “We would invest in this if you were the CEO.”
It’s just so sad and unfortunate — and this was only a couple of years ago! I wouldn’t say that’s been an obvious challenge, but it’s a subtle challenge that’s always there, to have a female CEO. It’s unfortunate that that’s the nature of where we are.
What has been your greatest triumph in your founder’s journey thus far?
One of the things that we did maybe a year into our journey was we launched a crowd-funding campaign. The idea was that if we could get $50,000 in pre-order sales, people actually pulling out their credit card and making a purchase for something that they couldn’t even get for many months later, that would give us an indicator that we were on the right track.
There were maybe five of us at the time and we’re all working tirelessly getting ready for this crowd-funding campaign. Long days, long nights. It was right around 1 or 2 in the morning, and we were about to hit the launch button for the campaign when Yasmine and I looked at each other and thought, “Is 50,000 too high? Should we lower it?” We got scared and we dropped it to $40,000 at the last minute.
We hit the launch button and then like 15 minutes later, all of the sudden, an order came in! We were just so ecstatic. It wasn’t a friend, it wasn’t a family member — it was a total stranger: a woman in Florida purchased an Athena device. I can’t even describe how amazing a feeling it was that someone far away from where we were heard about it somehow and bought it. Our first sale on the way to making a difference.
Then within 48 hours of that moment, we crossed the $40,000 mark. By the tenth day, we had over $100,000. By the end of the campaign, we raised over $300,000. It was so incredibly rewarding and fulfilling that people were interested in our vision and wanted to get a product to support our company — a product that we also thought could help.
At the same goosebump-inducing level is when we would get testimonials from people telling us how the device had empowered them, how they had been fearful before. That is just as rewarding as the initial crowd-funding launch.
I hate to use the word triumph, because the sad truth is that there’s not going to be triumph until there’s no longer a need for devices like Athena. There is no triumph in the world of assault. There’s small progress.
What has been your biggest sacrifice?
Any endeavor can be emotionally draining when you spend a lot time on it, and when you see and hear the things that we do, and you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, it’s also draining. If we didn’t have that vision of what we’re doing, it would be so easy to just say, “Forget it. This is disgusting. It’s so awful.” There’s a lot of ugliness that goes on just in that world — let alone the normal crap you that deal with in any startup — and you put all that together, and it’s just draining. You need a vision that keeps everyone together.
“What I do with what you call work is so enmeshed with my life. It’s who I am because I work on things that really matter to me.”
Did anyone in your life try to dissuade you from becoming an entrepreneur?
All the time. You’re always going to have naysayers in your life and naysayers are going to tell you that it can’t be done or why it can’t be done or why you shouldn’t be doing that. Oftentimes, it’s when it conflicts with how they view the world, and how they think things should be. In every startup I’ve been a part of — and I’ve been a part of many startups now — there have been plenty of people who have said, “Here’s why it can’t be done. You’re wasting your time. No one’s going to buy these sorts of things.”
But there’s a little bit of irony in the naysayers in that sometimes that can help inspire you. For me, and for many entrepreneurs, there’s sort of a sense of, “Yeah? Watch me.” Anytime you’re trying to change the status quo, there’s going to be plenty of naysayers that come forward. You need to welcome that, this sense of: I’m going to use that as momentum, as fuel to do something different. You can’t be dissuaded by it.
Has anyone in your personal life been a constant source of support?
One of the things that helped me quite a bit in my career was having really good mentors. I have this one mentor, John Ryan. He’s an amazing human. But he has this philosophy that I love, which is to create a vacuum above people and allow them to rise as fast as they want, versus trying to control them or tell them, “This is what you need to do.” Almost like, you know how if you go to a bowling alley with kids, they have those bumpers so that you can’t bowl a gutter ball? It’ll just bounce off. That’s what a great mentor does. They create an alley to let you bowl as fast and hard as you want but they’re kind of the bumper guards that aren’t going to let you go too far off. If they do, they gently kind of bounce you back on the right path.
Tell me about your work-life balance.
I don’t recognize that term. I’m not saying that everyone who’s an entrepreneur needs to be a workaholic or ought to be. What I mean is that, I think for me, what I do with what you call work is so enmeshed with my life. It’s who I am because I work on things that really matter to me. I don’t have this sense of a job, and then the job is over and I do this other thing. The things that I do that are called work are who I am. They’re part of my character in a sense.
I’m not saying that there’s not a time to put the devices down and relax and recharge. That’s an absolute requirement. I think when your nose is to the grindstone for too long, you lose sight of the big picture and you need to recharge and step back. But to me, that recharging and stepping back is still part of work and life being enmeshed into one for me. So the concept of balance — balance what? It’s just one thing.
Did you ever come close to giving up?
There have definitely been moments where, because you deal with so much of the crap that we deal with, you definitely have this: “Is this worth it?” And, “Do we want to do something else?” In the space that we’re in, we’re never going to get validation or it’s going to be so slow because we’re trying to change society and that’s very, very difficult. You can’t hang your hat on, “Let’s wait and check out the next national publication’s assault numbers and see if they went down. Yay, we’re succeeding.” That’s not how it works. But every time we get a testimonial or some feedback that [Athena] has helped, it feels good.
What would make you feel as though you accomplished what you set out to do with ROAR for Good?
I would definitely say that when we can put ourselves out of business. I said this in the very early days that we don’t measure success by the number of devices that we sell. We measure success by the number of lives that we touch. Look at everything that’s going on now with Time’s Up and Me Too, just this momentum we’re starting to build with women. Finally, as a society, we’re listening and embracing this more.
So when are we successful? We’re successful when women on average make the same amount as men every year. We’re successful when equity for all genders and races is the norm. We’re successful when there’s no such thing as harassment in the workplace or on the streets. We’re successful when the concept of assault is so foreign to everyone.
I would get asked often in the early days of ROAR, “Aren’t you worried about the competition?” My answer was that I think we need even more competition, even more smart people doing innovative things in this space. I believe that there’s plenty of opportunity for innovation and for companies to succeed in this space, and I think we need more because it’s just awful how bad things are.
I think having a fixed mindset is very limiting in many ways. If you go in with a fixed mindset, you’re always going to be worried about what your competitors are doing. You’re going to be so worried that you’re not going to innovate and do what needs to be done. I think you need to have the bigger view of “We’re changing the world and we’re going to find ways to innovate both to compete and cooperate with everyone that’s out there to make that happen.”
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a social impact entrepreneur?
Don’t worry what other people think. I think it’s too easy to look for validation — is this the right thing to do? In this world of wanting to make a difference and do something for good, if you have that inner passion in you, then align yourself in a way where you’re channeling that passion. The circumstances and people that you need if you’re true to yourself in that way will come if you don’t fight it. I think that alignment of your true nature and your burning passion — bring those together and trust that.
This interview has been lightly edited from an in-person conversation for clarity.