Interview: Sheri Kurdakul of Cherry Hill-Based Startup VictimsVoice
When talking to Sheri Kurdakul, founder and CEO of VictimsVoice, one gets an overwhelming sense of her desire to make the world a better place. She’s passionate, she’s understanding, and she has a great deal of empathy towards those who have been affected by acts of abuse, harassment or discrimination.
Although the startup, located in the 1776 coworking space in the Cherry Hill Mall, has been live for only a few months, it is already ramping up to be one of our area’s startups to watch in 2019. Here is the VictimsVoice story, which we learned from our interview with Kurdakul.
How did you start the company?
I started the company like most other entrepreneurs: I saw a problem and wanted to be part of the solution. Except this problem was a social issue that needed input from many stakeholders. I do not code, but I can design, so I began by building a prototype that had enough functionality to get the idea across. After that, for two years I got in front of as many stakeholders as I could: lawyers, social workers, nonprofit executive directors, victims, etc. My question was always the same, “Tell me what’s wrong, and what would you do differently?” It took that long to hone the concept and decide if this was really a business or a project. I’ve had a business before and worked with a few startups, so I know the sacrifice needed to start a company. After I took the TechLaunch Startup Bootcamp weekend at Rutgers and put it to a family vote, the decision was made to move ahead.
What funds did you have to start with?
I had a small investment from friends and family to get me started, but the company has been bootstrapped from there. I started as a sole founder until January of this year, when my CTO joined me as cofounder. This has been my full-time job since February.
How important has your daughter been to the creation of this business?
It was her science fair project that sparked the idea. She won the Mercer County Science and Engineering Fair’s Elementary division, along with the Earl S. Rommel Communications Award, for her Z.E.B.R.A. app (Zoe End Barriers in Reporting Adversity), an anti-bullying app. From that idea, coupled with the fact that I am a survivor of many years of domestic violence, I realized that we could potentially solve part of the problem with technology. It had to be simple enough to not be a barrier.
How does VictimsVoice work?
VictimsVoice is a digital diary that allows victims to record each incident of their abuse. It encrypts the information, stores it permanently on our servers (not on their device), and meets the strict standards — the Daubert standard — of court admissibility as evidence. Most victims never make it [to court] as cases because they are too traumatized to remember the details needed to withstand cross-examination. What did you have for lunch 10 days ago? What was the weather like? Can you remember without looking at your calendar? If you cannot recall this, then how is a victim supposed to remember something that happened when they are trying to stay safe, protect their kids and pets — months, even years in the past? That’s the problem we solve. We help them to “#Record2Remember,” and give them a legal voice.
How does tech help your business?
Because this information has to be stored safely, we ensure that it is done “off-device,” so in the event a victim’s device is confiscated or destroyed, their information is not. The technology has to be simple, with very little barrier to entry, and be able to be accessed from any public computer, as well as from the latest mobile phone or tablet.
Give us a case study on how your business helped someone:
We just launched on June 14, 2019, so we’ll need a bit of time to have that court case study, but already one of New Jersey’s top family law firms sees the value, and has joined our Partner Program. This tool helps them do their job by being able to have a more complete case in court.
How can the NJ Tech Weekly community help you?
According to a recent study, most people in the U.S. will experience sexual harassment or abuse in their lifetime. A huge percentage of your readers fit into this category, and you’ll never know because they do everything in their power to hide it, as we discuss here. The best thing your community can do is find us on social media @VictimsVoiceApp. Like and follow us and, if you feel it’s appropriate, share our content. You may never know who those people are who need our help, but they will know if they need us. If we can share our message with those who need us, then we can make a real difference in not just their lives, but in the lives of those around them, as well.