Interview: Zoe Farrington of Realsafe Technologies Ltd, Newcastle

Zoe Farrington is not one for standing still in life, on the road or in business. Not content with a successful career in marketing including establishing her own public sector marketing agency, she then co-founded a company that launched the first phone app that tells the emergency services if a motorcyclist has had a crash. Her business, Realsafe Technologies, has won multiple awards. The app, REALRIDER®, is the only app to be accredited by the emergency services.

Zoe, it seems that we have a few things in common! We’re both diminutive middle-aged mums from Yorkshire, making their way in motorcycle safety and business. So what drew you away from sunny Selby to the bright lights of Newcastle?

Jill, you clearly do your homework! I don’t often admit to being from Selby, preferring to say I’m from Leeds as it’s my place of birth and therefore my ‘hometown’. And Newcastle isn’t that dissimilar from Leeds. Both went through big regeneration programmes at similar times – when I was a student – so I feel very at home here. In fact, I’ve now officially spent more time in the North East than I did in North Yorkshire – though my Geordie accent is still rubbish. I originally came to Newcastle to study. I met my now husband and never left (other than to spend a short stint working at the Discovery Channel London. But I was quickly skint so moved back up North.)

And what inspired REALRIDER®?

Years of working around road safety bods. A big part of my former business was devising education, training and publicity programmes targeted at vulnerable road user groups; motorcyclists being (statistically) a big problem.

We identified paramedics had issues trying to locate injured riders in the event of a crash. And that’s even if they knew there had been a crash. It didn’t mean we set about dreaming-up REALRIDER® there and then (Smartphones didn’t even exist at that point, it being 2005). But as technology moved on, so did we. My co-founder (Andrew) and I surrounded ourselves with some seriously geeky people and at the height of a double-dip recession, we took the plunge, pitched for investment and set up Realsafe Technologies.

Motorcycle safety is obviously important to you. How would you advise your fellow motorcyclists to stay alive? Do you have ONE pearl of wisdom to pass on?

Go and do an advanced rider training course (cue unscrupulous plug for the IAM!). It’s the best thing I ever did. Who knew you can use so much of the road in the name of safety!

You can plug the IAM as much as you like Zoe as I did the advanced motorcycle course a few years back and it’s brilliant. But tell me about your job. You’re a bit of a star, winning all these awards! What do you love about your job and what drives you?

I’m not the star. My team are all stars, every last one of them. We didn’t have staff for three years while we were getting established. There’s now 10 of us and growing. They’re the ones that make me want to get out of bed in a morning. It’s not just about Andrew and I having an idea anymore. It’s about sharing a vision with a talented bunch of people who work their asses off because they believe in you and what you’re trying to do. Don’t get me wrong, there have been many days when I’d have liked nothing better than to pull the duvet over my head go back to sleep. But there comes a point when you’re so far in, that backing out just isn’t an option anymore. Having a team just crystallises that. As for the awards, they are a nice recognition of effort and application. But happy and safe customers are so much more rewarding.

A lot of that resonates with me, too. What are you working on at the moment?

Trying to get 911 integrated. We’re hoping to go live in Canada early next year with plans for the US later in the year. Watch this space.

So is that the North American version of REALRIDER®? And, for the initiated, explain how REALRIDER® works please.

Yes, we’re a UK-based company taking our technology to the States starting with North America. The really unique thing about the REALRIDER® App is the crash detection and that fact it sends details of the rider and location directly to the Emergency Services if they’ve had an off. You can find out how the technology works by taking a look at our website (shameless plug): We’ve managed to achieve this in the UK and we’re the only 999 integrated App on the market. We’re looking to replicate this service to provide full coverage in the US next year, starting with Canada.

But REALRIDER® also has a lot more going for it. It’s free to download (crash detection is a subscription-based service at £2.99 per month or £30 per year) and offers route recording and access to over 4,500 points of interest such as meeting places, cafes and petrol stations. We’ve all jumped on our bikes and headed out into the unknown to ride some great roads; but when we’ve got back we’ve no idea where we’ve just been – or what we’ve just missed. REALRIDER® is a great way to be able to record those rides and share them with other like-minded riders who are looking for new, interesting and challenging routes to ride and places to visit. We’ve over 3000 routes already recorded worldwide. But this is just the start. We’ve a lot more planned for the App in 2017 and we encourage anyone on two-wheels to download it and keep watching for new features and functionality to arrive in the coming months.

What’s your view of the future of motorcycling and of road safety in general?

For me the two go hand-in-hand. There is no future if we don’t embrace safety. And safe doesn’t mean slow. Have you seen a Police rider go?!? I would love to see accident rates improve, see a shift in mind-set and more young people taking to riding. I’ll be flying the flag when my kids are old enough, and Andrew’s kids both ride. Key for us is that we know if there is a problem, and one of them is in trouble, REALRIDER® will let the Emergency Services know there’s a problem. This is especially important when they’re riding alone and we have no idea where they are. Having spoken to many parents and couples (where perhaps one doesn’t ride), they feel reassured if their loved-one has REALsafe® turned on, just in case…

OK, so back to nuts and bolts … what bike(s) do you ride and why?

Wish it was bikes in the plural. I am the very proud owner of a Honda CBR650. Having previously ridden a BMW F700GS, it really is a fun bike to throw around. And being 5ft2 I don’t say that easily. I never thought I’d go for a full faring bike, preferring the look of the tourers. But as soon as I assumed the position, I was hooked. And I suppose it’s a bit of a compromise really as I can have a more upright riding position if I want. It’s not all about hunkering down. Plus I love the fact the back wheel is so fat it looks like it’s a much bigger bike to the untrained eye. It certainly impresses my non-biking friends and is fast enough for me right now.

And do you have any unfulfilled ambitions, either personally or professionally?

They’re becoming less and less. I would like to travel more (more the better if it’s on a bike) but it looks like I might get to broaden my horizons a bit in 2017. I’d like to do more snow sports (snowboarding in particular). As my sister emigrated to Vancouver earlier this year I’m hoping I might be able to spend some quality time with her at Whistler improving my technique and perhaps testing the App out… only other big thing left to do is build a house Kevin McCloud style. But that’s going to have to wait.

Well good luck with that Zoe! It was great to find out more about you and REALRIDER®. Ride safe!