Danish Ideas: Be My Eyes – a visionary startup

The Danish startup Be My Eyes has a lot of traction in Silicon Valley. We had a chance to talk with Christian Erfurt, CEO, about the story of Be My Eyes and what lies ahead.   

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In January this year, a team of talented Danish entrepreneurs launched the app “Be My Eyes” for iOS devices. The app connects blind and visually impaired users with sighted people, who want to make a real difference in their everyday lives. At any moment, a blind or visually impaired person can request help through the app and is then connected to a helper in the same time zone, who can provide assistance via live video chat on an internet enabled device.

When asked how it all started, Christian Erfurt, CEO of Be My Eyes, puts it this way:

“The beginning of our story is actually quite straightforward. Hans Jörgen Wiberg, our inventor, participated in Startup Weekend Aarhus in late 2011, where I met him. After that weekend, development took off. It took twice as long and costed twice as much as planned, but timing-wise we were actually quite lucky since 3G and 4G networks, along with improved live video quality, gained momentum while we were in the development phase.”

Since launch, Be My Eyes has rocketed forward, and the company participated in Innovation Center Denmark’s 10th SCALEit program in March this year. First week after launch, the app was already featured on the world’s five biggest television stations. The interest has just kept growing since then and the company hasn’t had to spend anything on marketing with the app going viral.

Be My Eyes is now a network of eyes with more than 305,000 helpers and 23,000 blind or visually impaired, who have participated in over 107,000 sessions. This scale and impact has exceeded Christian Erfurt’s wildest imaginations:

“To get a grasp of the scale, I sometimes try to visualize how many people are on board by imagining soccer fields with our users on them. I am just really proud and grateful for the positive reactions to Be My Eyes. It has gone so fast and it’s crazy that we’re already in 140 countries.”

Lend Your Eyes to the Blind

Often blind people find themselves in situations, where they could really use a pair of helping eyes. Smart phones and their existing features sort part of this problem and have helped a lot of people with visual impairments, but the problem with the existing video peer to peer systems is that you have to call somebody. Be My Eyes solves this problem by bringing together a community of those who need help with those who are more than willing to provide it.

With Be My Eyes it doesn’t cost anything to help someone distinguish between a can of tomatoes and a can of coconut milk; something that can make a huge difference, if spaghetti Bolognese is on the menu.

Be My Eyes has also proven that the limits of the app are constantly being pushed by its users.

In one example, a blind woman went to her son’s first soccer match and if it hadn’t been for Be My Eyes and its eager community of helpers, she wouldn’t have experienced much of it. But the app put her in contact with a helper, who could see and comment the match.

Another example illustrates the value of Be My Eyes in helping visually impaired people orientate in complex situations. A blind man and his wife were driving in their car, when suddenly the car stops, and the wife exclaims “Accident!”. While she runs out of their car to lend assistance, her husband is left disoriented. Fortunately he was able to get a live overview of the situation by filming the events through the car’s sunroof with his smart phone and receiving updates through Be My Eyes.

These examples illustrate how a platform and its users can solve important problems in seemingly simple ways.

What’s Next?

Be My Eyes already has a lot of traction with it being the largest community of blind in the world. To leverage this position, the company has relocated to Silicon Valley and it speaks to the potential of Be My Eyes that the dedicated and skilled team behind it have been chosen for the prestigious Singularity University Accelerator.

“We have had our first weeks at the Singularity University Accelerator. It’s a great opportunity and we’re being pushed to go forward with full speed. The Accelerator had 400 applicants, but only seven were chosen, so we consider ourselves really privileged. It’s such an amazing program and the six other projects are great – we can learn a lot from them.” says Christian Erfurt.

The next step for Be My Eyes is scaling and doing some analysis:
“Our focus right now is to reach more users and make a difference for more people globally. We also have to try to understand the users we have and how they use the technology before we press the marketing button and start hitting the PR-drums.”

Word of advice

Christian Erfurt and his team have experienced a lot along the way and are full of great advice to Danish entrepreneurs considering taking the leap to Silicon Valley:

“The best piece of advice I can give to other startups is that they should pack their suitcases and participate in ICDK’s SCALEit program, which is a great way to network and get vouched into the system. SCALEit has been invaluable for us and made it a lot easier to get into places and establish contacts that would otherwise be out of reach. It is also highly recommendable to stay for a month afterwards to discern whether Silicon Valley is really the right thing for you and your business. But be warned, Silicon Valley is a really exciting place, and once you’ve been here, it’s quite probable that you’ll want to come back!”

Obviously, a lot has still to come for Be My Eyes and ICDK looks forward to following them on their exciting journey.

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