Guest Column: findSisterhood Founder Finds Inspiration in COVID-19 Crisis

After years of work and continuous learning, 2020 was our year to launch our namesake findSisterhood, an online platform that creates safe spaces and connects people across socioeconomics.

The idea for this new app was inspired by one product we launched a year ago that allowed women to talk anonymously to each other. We created a safe space where thousands of women got their questions answered around sex, relationships and also abuse and mental health issues. Women left abusive relationships and reported sexual assault. But the sensitive conversations triggered difficult emotions for others. My co-founder Stephan Hagemann and I knew we needed to find the balance between creating a safe space for those conversations without hurting others. So we built a social network that could filter out unwanted discussions and be uplifting.

We spent the last two years analyzing data, testing various features, and talking to users in many different countries from diverse backgrounds to start solving the problem of how to create empathy online and to connect people through kindness and allow for safe conversations. At our peak, our beta app had users in 38 countries and over 1,500 cities.

Things were looking great. We started by hiring a fantastic UX/UI team, new look, logo, color. We had plans for a new website with blogs, integrated podcasts, a store for our merchandise, events, and so on.

The kick-off event, a dinner party, hosted by our investor Sarah Harden, CEO of Hello Sunshine, at the Beverly Hills Club All Bright, was scheduled for the end of March. Getting everyone in Hollywood excited about our upcoming launch, raise funds, but also recruit ambassadors that would support our launch. We created partnerships with the most prestigious talent agencies in L.A. and had a pipeline of exciting announcements and events around our big reveal planned.

And then COVID-19 happened.

We had to cancel all our events, including our fundraising dinner. Our timeline got turned upside down, and there was a decision to be made. Do we keep going as planned? Or, do we make sure to do whatever possible to use whatever technology we already have, to help people despite the cost and pivot in the midst of a crisis?

I saw the deep mental health and economic crisis on top of this pandemic unfolding and realized we were sitting on technology that could save lives right now.

The trigger warning that we had built for findSisterhood does precisely what we need right now, filter out content that affects our mental health, and allows for safe conversations during social distancing.

After working 20 hours a day, seven days a week as an entire team, we were able to build a COVID-19 trigger warning and filter system.

I had to make some tough calls after long conversations with my co-founder. We decided to forgo the big splash and release whatever we were able to build within the next three weeks. It was a big move for a two-year old startup that saw this project as the face and core of our company. There was money that was lost. Stephan and I took over the remaining UX, and UI design works ourselves to reduce cash burn. We did everything humanly possible to get this app out the door as fast as we could. I built our new website myself at 3 AM on the morning of our launch and emailed back and forth with Apple all week to get this app released in the App Store. And let's not get me started on doing this while homeschooling two small kids at home, I have never been more exhausted in my entire life.

It is not at all what I had envisioned. It's not perfect. I spent the last two years of my life researching kindness and empathy, behavioral patterns, talking to experts, interviewing users, testing all over the world. And what it has come down to was our app that still has many of the features missing, and after all of this work, we launched yet another of what is known in the startup world as minimum viable product.

But this is the job we signed up for as founders. And as I told our investors, if we can even save one life by creating a space that allows people to cancel out the noise and anxiety and help endure the collective grief we are all feeling, it was worth the last two years of my life.

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On this week's episode of LA Venture, hear from Marcos Gonzalez, the managing partner at Vamos Ventures, a seed-stage venture fund which invests in Latino and diverse founders. Over half of L.A. County is Latino. A relatively new fund, investments are in the range of $100,000 to $500,000. Seems like a great time to be investing in this community! And, Vamos is hiring...

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El Segundo-based telemedicine technology provider Cloudbreak Health and Florida-based UpHealth Holdings, a digital healthcare provider, announced they will combine and go public via a SPAC in a deal that values the combined companies at $1.35 billion.

Named UpHealth, Inc., the new company aims to streamline online health care by becoming a single provider of four different services: telehealth, teletherapy, a health care appointment and management system and an online pharmacy.

UpHealth runs healthcare platform Thrasys Inc. and MedQuest Pharmacy, along with two other behavioral health companies. The merger with Cloudbreak, which under the pandemic expanded their interpretation services to remote medicine, will give the new company a foothold in almost 2,000 hospitals.

"What we wanted to do was form a business that could really be a digital infrastructure for health care across the continuum of care, right from home to hospital," said Jamey Edwards, the co-founder and CEO of Cloudbreak. Under the agreement, he will become the company's chief operating officer.

GigCapital2 expects the merger transaction to close at the start of Q1 2021. UpHealth will be publicly traded under the ticker "UPH" on the New York Stock Exchange. UpHealth's integrated care management platform serves over 5 million people, and is expected to reach 40 million over the next three years, according to the company.

Jamey Edwards, Cloudbreak

Jamey Edwards, co-founder and executive director of Cloudbreak

COVID-19 caused a meteoric growth in the use of telehealth services. In February, 0.1% of Medicare primary visits were provided through telehealth. In April, that number was nearly 44%, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"Key stakeholders have seen and responded well to the benefits that telemedicine can bring, but they need a more comprehensive, integrated solution," said Al Gatmaitan, who has been named the co-chief executive officer of UpHealth. "This is what UpHealth focuses on, the adoption of digital health solutions well beyond the pandemic crisis."

The deal with the blank check company GigCapital2 gives the two digital health companies access to a wider network. UpHealth and its family of companies operate in 10 countries and their pharmacy has 13,000 e-prescribers in the U.S.

UpHealth will use the Cloudbreak platform as part of their global telehealth services to provide patients with round-the-clock care under a variety of specialties, including telepsychiatry and tele-urology. UpHealth also has contracts internationally, to provide country-wide care in India, Southeast Asia and Africa.

Edwards joined Cloudbreak in 2008 when it went from public to private. It has raised $35 million in venture funds, most recently in the first quarter of this year scoring $10 million from Columbia Partners Private Capital.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story identified Jamey Edwards as executive director of Cloudbreak, he is its CEO.

Ryan Edwards, the co-founder of Happier Camper, said he's asked all the time if his company leans on influencer marketing to promote their vintage-style trailers beloved by millennials.

With a waitlist six months out and demand growing from hotel-weary travelers, he said it isn't a priority yet.

"We almost don't need to," said Edwards.

That's because the $25,000 to $50,000 custom trailers have been a hit with a loyal fan base, and rising demand during the pandemic has only helped. Orders for compact trailers at the lower price end, including Happier Camper's 75-square-foot camper, are growing as newbie road trippers look for COVID-safe travels.

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