We asked the founder and CEO of FYI play it safe, Rachelle Best, about the inspiration behind her tech solution, how she’s survived the pandemic and the challenges of starting a business.
Please tell us a bit about your background – how did you get to this point?
From a young age, I was very interested in technology. At the age of 12 I bought my first computer, using pocket money, and started exploring with simple programs to solve problems. I studied part-time to become a Chartered Accountant and joined one of the Big Four accounting firms, as an undergraduate in their technology risk team. This sparked more interest into the wider technology field. When I finished my studies and qualified as CA(SA), I wanted to expand my horizons and completed a degree in Industrial and Organisational Psychology.
My journey led me to become a business consultant, solving complex problems for organisations. When I encountered a problem in my personal and parenting life that I didn’t have an immediate answer to, I had to develop the solution myself, which I’m very proud to say is now called FYI play it safe.
What inspired you to start your business?
To start with, I’m the mom of a teenage daughter. She’s 15 years old, which means that I understand the challenges of parenting in the digital world too well. She is mainly the reason I started developing FYI play it safe.
When I started thinking about giving her a mobile phone, I did extensive research on apps that could help protect her online but couldn’t find anything that was quite good enough. I also couldn’t find anything that would tell me what was really going on, and that would warn me if she was exposed to any harmful situations. At the same time, I wanted her to feel that I respect her privacy and that I trust her. Hence, apps that would give me full access to her messages were out of the question.
I realised that other parents may struggle with the same questions, and lack of answers, and embarked on a research study. My hypothesis was correct in that 99% of parents who participated in the study were worried about the dangers associated with social media platforms and the open world of the internet, but none knew how to deal with it in a way that would provide them with the right level of comfort.
That’s how FYI play it safe was born. I wanted to develop an app that would protect our children online, alert parents when there is something to worry about, but at the same time respect our children’s privacy.
What excites you most about working in the ICT sector?
Technology is highly dynamic and changes very quickly! What excites me the most is exactly this forever changing environment. We have not only taken this into account in our development of FYI play it safe, but have built our biggest strength around this.
We know that using technology is exciting and fast-paced, with information at our fingertips. But when our children use it, we become increasingly more aware of the risks.
To be in a position where we can give our children the opportunity to fully engage with technology and give parents the comfort that they will know when their children find themselves in potentially harmful situations online, is not only exciting, but also humbling.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work and how have you adapted?
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an increased need to fast-track our solution to get it to market. With firstly the lockdown, and secondly schools moving to a more online environment, children spent more time on their smartphones and tablets.
Although we didn’t have to change our day-to-day working model, we put a lot more effort in to bring the solution to market.
What are the challenges you’ve faced as an entrepreneur and how have you overcome them?
Firstly, starting a business from scratch is hard if you’re on your own. I quickly learned that, in order to succeed, you have to collaborate with like-minded individuals. I am very fortunate in that I have found a number of truly inspiring women who I work with in both formal and informal ways.
Secondly, finding adequate funding to grow the business once it is launched into the market is also still difficult. The costs for doing proper PR, marketing and setting up operations can be significant and if you don’t have adequate capital, this may be a showstopper. We are still in the process of finding the right partner, but I’m very fortunate to have had good mentors to guide me along the way.
What tech trends have you noticed in the world and on the continent – what is the future of technology?
The trend that is the most relevant for us is that smartphone and tablet usage is rising significantly, especially in Africa. Furthermore, the average age when children start using mobile devices, and even get devices of their own, is dropping each year. Unfortunately, with younger children using smart devices, not only have a lot of apps become a playground for online predators, but the rates of cyberbullying and children being exposed to inappropriate content at a young age have also increased drastically.
The one thing that is sure is that the future of technology will not see a slowdown. Not in the speed of physical technology or the number of apps being launched every day. Hopefully, with this will come better regulation and much better protection built into apps to protect our children online.
What are the things that drive you – who or what motivates you and why?
Doing work that has an impact on children’s lives is a very humbling experience. I’m driven by every discussion with a parent on how to protect their children better.
I am very fortunate in that I have found my purpose and passion in creating this app, which has the ability to help parents build a better relationship with their children, as well as to save children from potentially harmful situations.
What advice would you give to young women looking to get into the tech space?
Firstly, be brave. In the words of Brené Brown, even if someone else has done it before, it’s never been done by you.
Secondly, the tech space is not easy, there is a lot of competition and you will encounter hurdles along the way. Keep going and from the start find like-minded women to collaborate with. Making big things happen in tech goes quicker and much easier if you work with people with shared values and a shared purpose.
Thirdly, when you’re an innovator, don’t be scared to talk about your idea. If you’re going to make it happen, no-one else will steal it and talking about it stimulates more thoughts and ideas to help you build the solution.
What books would you recommend to our readers?
When it comes to creativity, innovation and building the courage to start your own business, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert did it for me. No, it’s not too girly, there is some really good stuff in there.
In terms of understanding the impact of screen time and our children being online, I really want to recommend parents read:
Breaking the Trance by George Lynn & Cynthia C Johnson
Glow Kids by Nicholas Kardaras
Amusing ourselves to death by Neil Postman
Reading the last one, it’s scary to think how a book which was written almost 20 years ago is so very relevant today. Do yourself a favour!
What are your plans for the future?
Most importantly, to educate as many parents as we can, to ensure through FYI play it safe, we help them protect their children online.
We would also like to make FYI play it safe available on other platforms so we can protect more children on different pieces of technology. We are planning to expand to Apple, Windows-based laptops and Chromebooks at this stage.
*Stay up to date with all the latest on Top Women in SA, by signing up to the Standard Bank Top Women newsletter – here.