Safety Should Be Simple: Marcel Johnson ’15 Explores Accessibility in New Start-Up

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Resources for support exist in many forms. Throughout the United States, there are numerous organizations aimed at providing help and safety to those who need it. But where does one start with their search? And, in the face of frustration in finding the right service, could help come too late? Recognizing a need for accessibility for all and simplifying the search was a founding principle of a new start-up led by the creative team of Diall app

Diall app offers a simple 3-touch system so users can easily access resources.

 

The start of an idea

The idea first came to Marcel Johnson, New Hampton School Class of 2015, in a call to vent his frustrations to a friend, Jonah Salita. As one might expect in our age of technology, a wish to create an app that made access to safety resources easy entered the conversation. That wish had an answer, and Diall became the solution.

Salita and Johnson soon set their plan in motion along with a fellow Hobart and William Smith Colleges classmate, Carolin Martinez Diaz. With Salita’s experience setting up his own creative agency, his expertise enabled a practical approach to establishing the LLC. One of the hardest parts was just getting started. Johnson notes, “I think the first logistical challenge was getting myself to actually do it. There was so much hesitation, and Jonah really pushed me to take the next step.”

Building accessibility

Currently, the team is comprised of three members, including Johnson at the helm as CEO, Salita as Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, and Meg Quint as Diall App’s Researcher. The Diall web version is currently available online, and the iOS application will be available in the app store in early 2021. Johnson explains that the app, at its core, has four main components:

  • Diall: This is the app’s homepage where users select the button that best fits their needs, and we transfer their call to the corresponding hotline. There are nine buttons/Hotlines to choose from: Mental Health, Suicide Prevention, Substance Abuse, Minority Focused Aid, Home Loss & Shelter, Eating Disorder, Domestic Dispute, Medical Inquiries, Sexual Misconduct.
  • Resources: Users can get educated on all things safety with curated articles, help guides, and videos.
  • Community: Users can anonymously connect, share, and engage with others on safety topics and helpful resources.
  • Map: Users can use the map feature to find the best support resources closest to their location without leaving the app.

The team is hoping to expand features in the future as well. To get a better idea of the drive behind their important mission, “Safety should be simple”, and their founding, we’re happy to include this question and answer with Founder Marcel Johnson.

Marcel Johnson hopes to help people find the safety resources they need with new start-up Diall app.
Marcel Johnson (left) and Jonah Salita (right) co-founded Diall app in 2020.

Question & Answer with Marcel Johnson, CEO and Founder

What inspired you to start this organization? 

2020 was a very trying year. The social, racial, and political environment had challenged the preconceived notions about the help we receive when we feel unsafe. At the height of civil unrest, I slowly came to the realization that I myself was not safe. Though I was not in any immediate physical danger, my mental health affected my emotional and physical health and stability. 

Recognizing that my mental, emotional, and physical health are all connected, I knew that I needed to take control of the things that define my safety. But, there were moments where it felt impossible to do so. As I tried to escape the reality of what was going on in the world, I resorted to social media. On social media, I noticed a huge movement around sharing information about alternatives to 9-1-1 and getting access to the right mental health resources. Though all of this information was valuable, there were no centralized locations to easily access this information for people who feel unsafe and need help or someone to talk to. 

The real challenge I found was that it was never a question about whether these alternative resources existed, but it was really about how difficult they were to find.

What excites you about your team?

We are a diverse team that is passionate about putting people first and building technology to be used as a tool for the betterment of society. We are different in gender, race and ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Diversity guarantees that we bring an ethical and cultural awareness that other start-ups and technology companies in the market lack, and as we continue to grow, this will be critical to our success. Additionally, it excites me that I know that I will not always have the answer to a problem. It is great to work with smart people who bring a very different perspective than I do.  

What do you feel gives Diall value over traditional resources?

This is a great question. At Diall, we want people to spend time getting the help they need rather than spending time focusing on where to get it. Over the last five years, the market focused on mental health has seen an abundance of digital tools emerge. Diall is entering a unique space where a passion for accessibility, community, and technology intersect to serve everyone in a faster and more curated way. Our easy three-touch solution empowers people to seek help tailored to their needs, educates them on the best resources available, and helps eliminate the stigma of asking for help.

What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of your work so far?

For me, it has been the response from others, the potential to be creating something that people want and will have such a huge impact on how people care for themselves. It is knowing that this is just not a new business but something that can shift and shape how we think about accessibility, mental health, and safety. On the flip side, it is absolutely terrifying. 

In five years, where do you hope to see Diall?

In five years, I hope that Diall is the go-to application/platform for all things related to health and safety—no matter what you are or how you identify. For too long, emergency services and resources have been thought of as a one size fits all approach—giving little autonomy or options that are readily available to individuals seeking help. With the advancement of technology over the last 20 years, there also needs to be an advancement in how we receive help, and I hope that Diall can be the starting point for a lot of people. 

Ready to learn more about Diall app or have any questions? Please feel free to reach out to Marcel at marcel@diallapp.com.

Marcel Johnson ’15 (far right) spoke on an alumni panel in February 2020. Also pictured (L-R): Chelsea Graham ’04, Tracy Wright ’04, and Alicia Hammond ’04.

About Marcel Johnson

Marcel Johnson is a 2015 graduate of New Hampton School, where he was a proctor and senior class president. He holds a BA from Hobart and William Smith Colleges (Political Science and Government, Spanish, with a minor in Entrepreneurial Studies). Marcel is active in the alumni community, is a Reunion volunteer for his class, and continues to engage on campus in speaking with current students, most recently during an Alumni in Residence program in February 2020 on Intersectionality. 

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