Why tackling cyberbullying is a priority for this AI-powered start-up

Richard Pursey believes that technology can be the answer to cyberbullying. He founded SafeToNet, which uses the power of artificial intelligence to curb the impact of trolls and haters targeting children online.

There are no official statistics on the number of children who are bullied online, but from research studies and from what children tell the NSPCC, bullying is an issue that affects almost all children in some way.

In a survey by Ditch the Label, nearly half of all young people in the UK will receive nasty profile comments on social media, and two in three will receive cruel private messages via smartphone apps. Experts say that cyberbullying is on the rise, and if remained unchecked could even push vulnerable youth to suicide.

But is social media to blame?

Richard Pursey believes that technology can be the answer to cyberbullying. His start-up, SafeToNet, uses the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to curb the impact of trolls and haters targeting children online. Pursey founded SafeToNet in 2013, and launched the product in July this year, spending close to four years perfecting the tech solution. The company expects to grow its revenues by 150 per cent per annum over the next three years.

What does your business do?

SafeToNet is an e-safety company that safeguards children from cyberbullying, abuse, aggression, sex-tortion and other predatory risks online. It uses artificial intelligence to contextualise messages sent, shared and received by children online and then blocks anything harmful before it seen and before the damage is done. No other company does this.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I was a private investor and was asked to invest in a social network. I did four months of detailed due diligence and saw so much abuse and aggression that I decided to do something about it. The drive to solve this problem was increased as I have children and could see the risks that they were under.

How did you know there was a market for it?

Barely a day goes by when you don’t read something in the press about online bullying, hate crime, grooming and worse. We are solving a global social problem for more than 500 million children around the world using mobile phones and tablets to access social networks.

How did you raise funding, and why?

My wife and I funded it initially to produce a proof of concept and to test that the concept would work. Our work was noticed by BT and EE who awarded SafeToNet as winners of their Future Mobile competition. We immediately knew we had something special and decided to push ahead to produce a solution that was scalable on a global level. We needed money to do that and have now raised over £3 million from private investors. We have had such fantastic support and it has made a huge difference.

Describe your business model in brief.

Our mission is to safeguard millions of children around the world and as quickly as possible. To do that we decided to sell to the world’s largest mobile network operators such as BT, EE, Telefonica etc. In turn, they will sell or even give our software away for free to their clients. This not only gives us a global volume of customers but it also underpins the value of our brand, as it is associated with some of the biggest and most powerful companies in the world.

Your lowest point was…

When our lawyers told us that our initial version could break a number of laws associated with the analysis of data on social networks. It initially placed a huge question mark over the viability of the whole project. However, with a lot of hard work and a change in the way our software works we have now navigated the legal issues in a way that is unique in our industry. We are very proud of that.

Your highest point was…

Winning the best British Mobile Award at this year’s Mobile World Congress (this is the ‘oil barons ball’ for the mobile network industry and every network provider was there). It put us on the world stage and gave us certainty that our mission to safeguard millions of children around the world was well on its way. It validated everything we are doing and was a testament to the amazing work our team has been and is still doing.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?

You won’t survive if you are not persistent. Persistence and perseverance is everything. Dogged determination, hard work and drive. Never give up and keep pushing.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

I want SafeToNet to become an everyday word in the English language, and for our software to become the global default standard in e-safety.

If you weren’t an entrepreneur, you would be…

Probably a barrister. I love solving complex issues and following decent, reasoned logic to solve any challenge no matter how hard (in fact the harder the better). There is a solution to everything.

If you could go back in time, would you do anything differently?

I would have studied languages at school. We are now operating in numerous countries which makes negotiating more difficult when you can’t speak the native tongue.

What is your philosophy on business or life, in a nutshell?

Do unto others as you would unto them. Respect others and you won’t go far wrong.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.