It’s true. I like the new name of this blog. It’s suits me. I jumped into this world with the idea of creating a product that could help caregivers, the family and friends of loved ones with Dementia, find the support they need to do a good job. The 12-minute medical appointment doesn’t have answers when I ask “What does that flaccid look on her face mean?” or “How do I get access to her bank account before she loses her house?” or “What should I do when she won’t cooperate and shower?” Hundreds of touches in the medical system and all I got were shrugs. It’s not right.
Here’s why you should care:
I feel so fortunate to live in the Bay Area of Northern California, with the hub of innovation and technology at my disposal. Could I have come this far if I lived in Poughkeepsie?
I’ve built the minimal product, recruited our first advisors and Experts, am building the community of caregivers and now have to find money to go to the next stage. I start to pitch investors.
With 25 years of sales and management experience, I’m comfortable speaking in front of a crowd, presenting or training. I know how to craft my words to engage my audience which I realize is a gift I take for granted. And my age is also a gift. I know myself. I recognize my skill set and know where I need help. Age also allows me to NOT GIVE A SHIT about what others think. It’s very freeing. I have a thick skin and know, like in sales, it’s a numbers game and if this investor doesn’t invest, another will. I have to find the right investors who care about doing a good job taking care of someone they love. I’m not selling a gadget or the next Uber. I’m trying to create a meaningful community and product to change world of Dementia caregiving.
Here’s a gem of a pitch story.
At my first pitch, very first, I am third in a line of four pitches to a crowd of 50 people. It’s a Fem Tech event, which means we all have products women will use. The first pitch is an anesthesiologist who has invented a medical device which detects fetal distress sooner, by oxygen, vs. traditional heartbeat, in utero, during labor. His pitch deck is full of slides with statistics and traction as he’s already testing it at Stanford.
The second pitch is an app that offers 35 different tests a parent can do at home to detect the early signs of autism. It can be uploaded to their doctor in advance, therefore making their pediatric visit more productive and get to an earlier diagnosis, increasing the chance for a better outcome for their child.
Whoa. I choke down the intimidation and I’m up.
A funny thing happens. My 5-minute presentation, turns into a 35-minute exchange with the four investors and the audience. One female investor says “I can’t believe we’re talking about this. I just had to put my Mom in assisted living for dementia yesterday.” Another young male investor says “I can’t believe we’re talking about this either. My family just named me executor of my grandmother’s estate because she has Alzheimer’s and because I’m a guy. I don’t’ know the first thing about being an executor.” The last female investor says “Wow. I’m only 26 and didn’t know this was a problem until you explained it. Holy shit!” The fourth male investor is quiet.
I answer more questions from the audience and it’s time for feedback from the investors. All three give me constructive feedback and the last, quiet male investor, I’ll call him Taylor, has his turn. He rips me a new one.
“This was a total waste of my time. It was so emotional, I stopped thinking about investing and bought into your problem. I can’t believe I’ve had to listen to this now, for like, almost 45 minutes and I wouldn’t invest in you if you put a gun to my head. You have no traction. No data. I’m fucking done.” he says, leaning back in his chair and throwing his hands up in exasperation.
I take it. Stunned. And in that split second where I’m about to respond, both female investors turn toward him and shout, “Are you fucking kidding me? Have you ever cared for anyone in your life? What are you doing here? Of course it’s emotional, she’s looking for early Angel investors. They invest in early stage and take risks on emotion. She doesn’t have data because she’s just about to launch her beta. Are you even married or do you have any kids? Do you even have siblings? Do you have parents? You’re fucking clueless. This is the exact reason we need Fem Tech events. There’s a world out there dude.”
I stand, holding my microphone, listen and watch, feeling vindicated as they fight the fight for me, so grateful they could say what I’m thinking. I can’t say it rolls off my back but these women help. Big time.
When we leave, one female investor tells me, “Jeesh. That felt like a TED talk. You certainly stand out in my experience of listening to pitches.”
Fast forward a few months and I’m invited to pitch again because I won a pitch at a different competition and they’ve invited all the winners back from their multiple events to pitch against each other. It’s flattering. I see on the invitation; Taylor is on the judging panel. To break the ice, I send him a Linkedin message and tell him I’m looking forward to seeing him again.
He replies, “So we meet again.”
Here we go.
This event has 6 Founders pitching and I’m number 5. I watch as some have great products but they’re lousy speakers, mumbling and saying “Um” a hundred times. Others have traction but they’re slides and presentations are so garbled, I barely know what they do. One woman has got it all though. A cool product, Optimity, and beautiful slide deck, traction, confidence and they’re making money. She’s raised $1.5mil and is looking for $5mil more. She can’t be more than 29 and she knows her stuff. The investors pepper her with detailed questions about customer acquisition costs and burn rates and she nails it. I’m in awe.
But in all of my pitch experiences since that first time, no one has ever had a reaction to me like Taylor. I’m not usually nervous but I am now with him in the investor panel seat. I text my husband and ask him to tell me a joke. It helps.
It’s my turn and I get up and do my thing. I’ve gotten better since that first time and a calm comes over me. It’s a feeling of grace and somehow I’m even more relaxed and comfortable. I’ve also gotten used to the audience reactions to my pitches, with tons of questions and total engagement. It’s fun and I enjoy the education Care Better brings to people 30 years younger than me.
When it’s time for feedback from the judges, I brace myself for Taylor. He passes on the opportunity, leaving me perplexed but I let it go. I listen to the other three compliment me on the idea, the problem I’m trying to solve, the presentation and one actually says, “OMG. I have nothing to say. I’m speechless.” They offer some constructive suggestions.
I don’t win the event. The young women whom I admire rightly does. I wish I could invest in her myself she was that awesome.
Then, as what happens every time I talk about Care Better in a crowd, I have folks lined up to talk to me, tell me their stories, offer their assistance, join my beta test and my soul is filled. Care Better is meaningful.
I feel a tap on my shoulder, turn around and find Taylor 2 inches from my face. I startle and flinch backward.
“Hey. What did I tell you the first time I saw you pitch Susan?” he asks, not angry, but intentional. He speaks quietly because we are so close.
“You told me a lot. Where to begin? That I was too emotional or that I didn’t have data?”
“Well. You weren’t too emotional this time. You could use more data. But mostly. You need to talk more about money. That’s why we’re here.” he continues softly.
“OK. Good advice” I relax, letting my shoulders drop after realizing I was also clenching my jaw and physically holding my body tight, preparing for the onslaught without female back up.
“That’s helpful and I appreciate it.” I add and start to sense we are in very tight quarters with the crowd around us and he had to be that close to me. I relax and realize my fear is all in my head.
He leans in and hugs me, hard, and says “Who doesn’t’ want to do something about Alzheimer’s? Keep at it. You’re on to something and your presentation is excellent. Come back and see me in six months. I believe in you.”
Miracles catch me off guard. Smiling, I watch him make his way through the crowd towards the door.
“Susan, you seem comfortable up there.
You’re authentic. I can tell you’ve spoken to
audiences before.” A judge comments after
“Well yeah”, I think. Like 25 years of presenting, selling, training and enticing. It is a skill I take for
“Thank you.” I respond, grateful for the compliment.
Care Better is now built, still a MVP (minimal viable product), but testing has begun in the real, online world. It’s time to get out there.
Pitch competitions have different types of audiences, investors and reputations. The Bay Area is
exploding with hundreds of organizations hosting events, attracting founders like me and giving
Care Better the opportunity for exposure. Some you pay to play, some are easier to get into, some
are invitation only and with different levels of credibility, designed for different stages of asking for
investment. Founders come from around the world to pitch in this mecca of innovation and money.
There are coaches and businesses whose sole job is to help us nail THE PITCH. I could see why.
Some Founders are so young, so technical and brilliant yet need help looking someone in the eye and
speaking. Pitch design matters as does content. Everything matters.
Each chance to pitch gives me practice and incredible feedback from real investors. We pitch from 3
to 5 minutes, sometimes just verbally and sometimes with our deck of slides.
“And what is your revenue model?” a kind, female investor asks at my first pitch when I totally whiff
on the most important detail in my 3 minute pitch. Thank god I started with this group. I know I could be eaten alive at others. No matter how I do, each night there are folks lined up to talk with me about
their loved one with Dementia. I find new users everywhere.
A week later, I am chosen to speak to a group of young, female founders about Care Better and being fearless. Fearless? Am I? Or do I just know myself at this age? The audience is so smart and wide
eyed and I realize I have just as much to learn from them as they do me. The wine is flowing and we
have a ball.
I get better at a number of other events and am pushed along to more follow up meetings and
prestigious, invitation only events where I’m back with mostly men and very cool, male founders with
amazing startups. I stand out as the only woman and the oldest, whitest, first time founder in this
universe but it’s working for me. Whatever gets me in the door.
This invitation only event has 100 people packed into the Google Launchpad office. It’s so beautifully
designed with kitchens, lounges, the fastest freakin’ wifi I’ve ever had in my life with spectacular
views of the SF skyline at sunset. It feels like a movie.
“Can everyone put your phones away, introduce yourself to the person next to you and ask a
question? Don’t talk about yourself.” The organizer begins. I watch so many young people struggle
with this simple task.
Tonight, I nail it. The feedback from the investor judges is excellent, constructive and I get critical
advice. At the end of the 7 pitches, for the first time that I’ve seen, the audience is asked to vote on
their favorite pitch through a show of hands for prizes of free coworking space and a weekend in
Yosemite. When Care Better is called I shoot up two hands and ask the organizer if I can vote for
myself twice. We all yuk it up in my corner of the room and I end up winning by a landslide! Again,
folks line up to tell me their stories as Care Better gets new users and I get more meetings. Authentic.
Inch by inch, Care Better is happening.
“Make me proud.” My mother used to say.
I conceived the Care Better app to form a community of caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s and Dementia so no one is alone. It’s not complicated. Provide a messaging app so caregivers can chat, anytime, to someone who understands and get expert advice when needed. My Mom would have been proud of it.
We built, you came, we grew and then we went down. For six weeks now. Turns out the messaging is very complicated.
“But that’s the number one thing on the app!” friends comment, eyes widening.
They’re right. The messaging/chat feature is the most critical piece of the app. Numero Uno. Pulls us together, to relate and give back through a little micro-volunteering of intimacy. I believe in using all this cool technology not to distract us, but to connect us through our phone in our hands.
The platform we used to build the app changed messaging vendors, or a third party for that “plug in”.
Turns out the company support team is in India which is very typical of global technology. But here’s what that looks like.
Midnight and 3 am conference calls.
Email alerts on my phone at 2, 3 and 4am to answer responses to move things faster.
Escalating to CEO’s, Head of Product, Head of Customer Service and CoFounders through Linkedin to get attention and service.
At least a dozen new “plug in” partners, accounts, passwords, testing, videos, screenshots, installing and reinstalling hundreds of times.
Picture using the Uber app and texting your driver without sharing any personal info like your phone numbers. That’s the technology behind this simple messaging. Not so simple and not cheap.
It HAS to do this one thing and will be a service I’m proud to share. We're so close to working it out and can’t wait to chat with you.
I started this weeks’ accelerator class excited. My idea for Care Better is becoming tangible. Research with caregivers through support groups, emails and calls are helping me define what I hear is needed. Connecting with caregivers is so rewarding and I even learn what my Mom’s diagnosis might have been, had she ever cooperated with an assessment. Revenue models, marketing plans, competitive analysis are moving me forward.
As predicted, my class is dwindling and we’re down to 15 from the original 40 students. The pace is brutal, and for some, work, families, cultural misfits and bad ideas have forced 25 to drop out. We’ve sacrificed holidays, weekends, exercise and families. This is intentional to prepare us for the life of a startup. Stamina rules.
Our group is connecting like freshmen in college or Moms with newborns under the steep learning curve of the experience. Mandatory meetings in smaller groups happen two to three times during the week at night, both online and in person before evening class time.
“Let’s meet at 11pm. I’ve got to put kids to bed,” a classmate requests.
“Sounds good,” a twenty something, without a job, replies during our video google hangout on a Sunday afternoon. I agree, hesitant to show my age and fear of judgement for lack of stamina.
“Where should we meet in person this weekend when we are so spread out around the Bay Area?” I ask. “How about the library in Pleasanton?”
“The library!!!!” they respond in a chorus. “Do they still exist?” I watch the shock across their faces on my laptop.
“Yes. And they have free rooms to reserve and great wifi.”
“Holy shit! Who knew?” they respond. “I don’t think I ever went to a library when I was in college.” another 25 year old adds. I schedule a recurring meeting there for us every Sunday morning for the next 6 weeks.
Back in the bar at midnight after class, the 15 of us circle this evenings mentors, trying to hear what’s being said as well as wait to ask our specific questions.
One big shot CEO mentor, founder of a software cloud platform making gazillions, barely looks at me when I step up for my turn. I had pitched that night and my finger ratings still stunk with mostly two fingers in the air, (not three fingers, too wimpy, take a stand), but I got a couple of four fingers, out of five, so I was improving. His critique of my pitch was “jesus. What is that? Power point? God. At least use Create Space or Keynote and make it look beautiful.” It's part of the litany of constructive criticism. Some delivered better than others. Now in the bar, he knew my idea and was giving me a passive aggressive diss like a four year old that won’t look at you.
“You have a woman as your cofounder for your company. Can you tell me about how you found each other?” He peers up at me through one eye while keeping his head down and replies, “My wife does what your idea is trying to do. It’s worthless.” He gets up and moves to another table to drink with the boys.
The punch to my gut is real. My stomach actually hurts. I watch four young girls blast shots together at the bar as my classmates follow him and move away, avoiding eye contact with me. I am left standing alone among the peanut shells.
Taking a deep breath, I notice the two, smart, interesting young women in my program grab a table and I pull up a stool.
“We heard that," they say in unison, waiting for me. “Don’t give up. You're on to something. You’re just in the wrong program. You should have found an accelerator that’s more socially conscious. What are you having? Get rid of that soda water. We’ll buy you a vodka.” I hold my drink and thank god they get it. This is hard! As my family and friends who’ve been watching me go through this say “Just take what you can from it. You have nothing to prove. Keep learning. Every day is a step forward.” The heat and redness gradually leaves my face, my stomach starts to recover and I’m grateful for the dark bar.
Our instructor calls us together after the mentors leave and asks “How’s your search for cofounders going?” Everyone takes turns and when it’s mine I reply, “Good. I’m working on it. I have two interviews, I’m on four networking sites, I have two follow ups, etc.”
“YOU’RE WORKING ON IT???? YOU’RE WORKING ON IT? ARE YOU F*@*#$%^& kidding me? YOU’RE WORKING ON IT???” He lays into me about my choice of words, leadership, ability to raise money, trust, confidence. He keeps going. “WORKING ON IT? WHAT ARE YOU? IN MIDDLE SCHOOL? WORKING ON IT?” He loses interest and moves on to someone else. I lean in and strain to hear my classmates progress over the din of the bar. They are definitive in their speech. They speak like seasoned grad students, moving in cohorts, leveraging relationships. Authoritative. Comfortable in technology with a wide breath of knowledge. It’s 1am again and I’ll fall asleep on my hour drive home if I don’t get out of here. I’ve got to go to work in the morning.
I grab my purse and head towards the door.
“HEY SUSAN.” My instructor screams from the back of the bar as I reach the front door. The entire bar goes silent and looks at me.
“THINK LIKE A FOUNDER AND SPEAK LIKE A FOUNDER.” He points and yells.
I throw my shoulder against the door and leave.
So I'm sitting in a bar....
In Palo Alto, CA. Silicon Valley. The Mecca of technology, innovation, money, risk and men. Mostly men. You’ve heard the statistics. Only 4% of Venture Capital money goes to women owned startups. Gender disparity is real and 80% of tech company employees are male with only 5% of CEO’s female. And it goes on…and on….
But I have this idea of wanting folks to find the support I couldn’t find when my Mom was alive and ill with Dementia. Technology can connect people like me to others in the same boat. I research Accelerators/Incubators (schools where they teach you how to create a startup product), find one that specializes in early stage ideas, go to a few evening meetings where I hear them plug their program and apply. I’m accepted after some crazy testing and essay. Working during the day, I drive two hours in traffic to attend my first night class and learn that all the good networking happens at the bar afterward with the mentors, teachers, classmates and former students. “It’s where the action is.”
Did I tell you I’m 57? A working, suburban Mom with three grown daughters and white as white can be. I have 25 years of sales and management experience including a cool start up but that was years ago. The world has changed. I’m surrounded by 3 women and 37 men whose average age is 28. Max! At least 20 different nationalities are represented. I steel myself, stand up and make my first pitch of my idea for a caregiving site and bomb. Four of us pitch each night and the tech CEO mentors, teachers and students all rate you, holding up five fingers for great, no fingers for horrible and three fingers are not allowed. Too wimpy. Take a stand. I get mostly twos which is generous. These people are smart, ruthless but honest.
Now 1 am and the bar is rocking. Young 20 somethings are lined up and doing shots. The floor is covered in peanut shells and the dance floor is empty. Fellow students, all with phones in their hands, stand in line to get 2 minutes with a mentor. WTF am I doing here? I get why the dropout rate is 93%.
Mohamed, another student about 25, sits down next to me. He heard my pitch and wants to tell me his story. He has a young family and his father was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. His parents live in Pakistan and they don’t’ have any resources for his Mom. He can’t get back because of Visa problems and the expense. His wife stays home here with his kids. He’s a wreck. We chat and I listen. I turn to leave and one of the tech CEO’s, maybe 35, is next to me. “My mother in law is in late stage Dementia and my wife has had to quit her job.” I listen longer.
I drive over the Dunbarton Bridge at 2am, blasting Drake on the radio with the windows cracked to stay awake and think “It’s not just me. Maybe this old bag is on to something.
Introducing Care Better - Created to connect family and friends caring for loved ones with Alzheimer's and Dementia. Through a simple app on our phones, we can text, one to one, when we need support, a laugh or a friend. Created to spread kindness through technology.
Care Better is here in memory of my Mom, Helen, whom I cared for long distance and then in CA for many years before she died from dementia. It was hard as all of you know. She never had a diagnosis because she would never cooperate with an assessment. Through my research, I believe she had Lewy Body Dementia. But I'll never know for sure. With so many touches in the medical world; doctors, social workers, occupational and physical therapists, geriatricians, rehab staff and administrators, none ever suggested the Alzheimer's Association for my family and me for their support and expertise. I would have also found daughters like me. Figuring it out as we went along. And their understanding would have made all difference.
This idea of a community began in 2013 and has been percolating, researched, startup-incubator-hashed-out and encouraged by many friends and colleagues who believe in our mission. Let's use these cell phones to meet someone, make a friend who understands and connect, one on one.
There are 15.9 million people who choose to care for a loved one in 2016. Daughters, sons, spouses, friends and millions of former caregivers who want to give back with a little micro-volunteering. We know these numbers will grow. We know there are over a million young adults under the age of 30 caring for parents with Early Onset Alzheimer's. Care Better is a community dedicated to us.
Let's get started. Tell us about yourself. Share this. Follow us. We want to create a beautiful and stunning community of support with your help.
Thanks for reading and come back! We can't wait to meet you.
Hi! We're so glad you found us. We are absolutely ECSTATIC to present to you the beta version of the Care Better app, coming soon. Together we can find friends who choose to care for loved ones with Alzheimer's and Dementia. To talk with immediately, 24/7, creating a community of KINDNESS and support. It's going to change the way we care for each other in a very deep, meaningful way. We know we need support groups and how exceptional the experience can be. Care Better allows us to find our own support when we can't make a meeting or when we need someone to make us laugh on a tough day. Send us an email to tell us about you and your loved one. Send us a picture too. We can't wait to meet you and we'll make sure you're kept up to date on our progress and find expert advice while we build.
Thanks for checking us out. Tell us your story and we'll work to help you Care Better. Because we need each other.