When a loved one becomes seriously ill, loses a family member, picks up the pieces after a fire or faces military deployment, they need help. They need friends. But sometimes, their friends’ best intentions go awry. Efforts get duplicated, confusion reigns and soon, nerves are frayed.
Sounds like a job for WhatFriendsDo.
Launched in June 2015, the Indianapolis-based venture – whose lead investor is the Innovate Indiana Fund — offers an online approach to organizing and supporting people when they need it most. After starting a “team” on the WhatFriendsDo website, users can employ an array of tools to coordinate support efforts.
A calendar helps organize tasks such as meals, errands, or child care. A help registry ensures that needed items or services are offered without getting too much of one or the other, while a donations section allows monetary aid. A blog section allows organizers to share how their friend is doing with other team members. Photos and videos can be posted and team members can leave encouragement notes as well.
When a novel approach is needed, members of WhatFriendsDo’s executive team offer their experience for tips and ideas, CEO Aimee Kandrac said. Indeed, it was the loss of family friend Laura Crawley to brain cancer in 2006 that inspired the idea behind the company.
“We formed a group called ‘Laura’s Team’ whose mission was to do everything possible to remove many of her family’s day-to-day burdens, share information about what was going on, spread some cheer and provide Laura as much encouragement as possible,” Kandrac said.
“Through it all, we came to realize two things. First, if you give individual people a specific task, they usually do it, become more engaged with the group and stay engaged through the entire journey. Second, there was no online app that provided this kind of service.”
Along with its unique business strategy – revenues are generated through merchandise sales and selling its platform to healthcare, pharmaceutical, faith-based and non-profit organizations – WhatFriendsDo offers another distinction. As one of the few female-founded companies to pitch a business idea before the Innovate Indiana Fund, it is also one of the first female-run companies in Indiana to close a half-million dollars in funding.
Managed by the Indiana University Research and Technology Corp., which is part of IU’s Innovate Indiana initiative, the Innovate Indiana Fund provides early-stage capital to companies with an IU connection – regardless of campus or discipline. It also advises in such areas as technology assessment, market analysis and planning, management recruitment, product development, sales strategy, customer acquisition, and next-stage capital.
Although women are the majority owners of slightly more than one-third of all U.S. businesses, companies with women serving as CEO received just 3 percent of the $50.8 billion in venture capital invested between 2011 and 2013, according to a report by Babson College’s Blank Center for Entrepreneurship.
“It’s encouraging to see entrepreneurs such as Aimee pitch to our fund, given the sizeable gap in venture funding between male- and female-run companies. That is certainly something we would like to see more frequently,” said Ken Green, managing director of the Innovate Indiana Fund.
“WhatFriendsDo offers a novel and insightful approach to a need that just about any family, friend or loved one is bound to encounter at some point in their lifetime. It has great potential for revenue and profit generation when it comes to the clients it has targeted and its management team is very much in tune with their customers’ needs.”
In fact, the company’s entire executive team is female, with each bringing varied career perspectives to the table.
Kandrac’s background lies in fundraising and development in the non-profit and higher education sector. Chief Operating Officer and IU alum Mela Miroff is a registered nurse and healthcare administrator. As vice president of product development, Jill Turcic specializes in market research, analysis and forecasting within the technology industry. As director of customer experience, IU alum Jen DeMotte also is a caregiver for a special-needs child and knows first-hand the challenges posed by a life-changing event.
“Of the nine angel investors we have so far, six are female as well – and I think most have IU degrees,” Kandrac said. “As a company, we’re really passionate about having women in the workforce and encouraging females to run and start businesses – especially in technology.”
So far, IU Health and the Susan G. Komen breast cancer organization have adopted the WhatFriendsDo platform under their own branding, with talks under way with several other potential clients, Kandrac said.
To date, more than 60,000 people from all 50 states and several nations have used WhatFriendsDo. Its largest teams have more than 400 people registered, with one in Santa Clara, Calif., and the other at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
As WhatFriendsDo continues to grow out of its modest Broad Ripple office, Kandrac said one of its main objectives is to maximize its accessibility as well as ease of use.
“Whether it’s through a health- or care-oriented organization or teams established for private individuals, we want WhatFriendsDo to be there for whoever needs it – whether through a desktop computer, tablet or mobile application” she said. “This also means making the technology as easy to use as possible, so we’re constantly working in both areas.”
To learn more about WhatFriendsDo, its mission, its management team and how it works, visit its website.