Joanne Lang of AboutOne
Joanne Lang had a 3-month old baby and another three children under 7 years old and was into her second decade working a job she loved for technology giant SAP when her career trajectory turned on a dime.
It occurred when one of her sons had a medical emergency and Lang was unable to provide the paramedics with basic health information the hospital needed.
“I want to be a good mom. Why isn’t my information readily available when I need it?” recalled Lang.
Having been a part of companies leveraging technology to make better decisions, Lang knew there was a better way.
After initially considering a gamification approach to the problem, Lang built what she terms a “minimally viable” product using Ruby on Rails. The April, 2011 beta launch was a basic filing cabinet setup with reports, and people were starting to pay for it.
And so Lang left SAP and AboutOne
was born as an organizer app that aims to streamline all household management tasks like medical data, bills receipts, videos, important family dates and deadlines and virtually anything that someone can imagine.
By Christmas, 2011, AboutOne had earned nearly $2 million in funding
, including a $1.6 million Series A round led by majority women-owned national investment network Golden Seeds and $100,000 from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern PA. Lang has also received plenty of attention. She was featured in a Microsoft-produced documentary about entrepreneurs called Control+Alt+Compete
and in The Alchemist Entrepreneur web series.
Now Lang, a native of England who came to the U.S. 15 years ago, is seeing the types of uses and users for her product continue to grow in ways she didn’t initially foresee.
Leaving SAP after 13 years must have been hard. You could have stayed and got an MBA. How did you make the decision?
The incident with my son was about eight months prior (to starting AboutOne). It was bothering me a lot. I knew I wanted to move forward and I had this idea. There were two factors. First, nobody else was doing what I wanted to do. Then I sat down and made a list. In order to do this, what do I have to do and what are the pros and cons? The cons outweighed the pros and I gave up on that list. So then I wrote down what are all the things I have to do and what are the risks. I didn’t have enough money to pay a nanny. I had no family here. I never raised venture capital.
I broke it down into chunks. Then I talked to my husband, who is German. He said in German, “Absolutely not, that’s ridiculous.” I pretended I didn’t understand what he said. He needed to buy into this. He would do anything for me, would run off a cliff and catch me falling. So we talked about minimizing risk. So he changed his job where he could be closer to home to give me that buffer so someone could be home during stressful times.
The other thing was I pitched to a few different people. One person sat down and wrote me a check for $5,000. That didn’t buy everything I needed, but the fact that someone would write that check for me and believe in me gave me the strength to think I could make a go of it.
Talk more about how you were feeling when you were inspired to start AboutOne:
When you have children you have to learn so many things, about pediatricians, what you need to have – things you didn’t care about before, like life insurance. There’s this whole package of things to prepare and protect your family. It wasn’t clear to me how to understand what can be in those packages and I didn’t have time to take all the necessary steps. I just wanted to prepare my family and none of the tools I was using helped me do that.
How has AboutOne grown?
We now are in six-digit customer territory, have a solid Cloud app with API development. What that did for me was give me multiple channels to sell to. We can sell to big corporations or schools, and even caregiver organizations to expedite paperwork. It’s like a private Facebook and they own it. They can store their paperwork or delete it.
We now have a project with the Department of Human Services where we can give this to every foster-care child in Philadelphia. Children in foster care don’t have a system with all their records in it. There are all these different stakeholders with bits and pieces. What happens is they don’t have a history. No memories or milestones. So this project will go live in some of the agencies to see how we can help children in foster care.
Did you purposefully steer clear of the electronic health records space?
There are so many more uses for this. I didn’t go into this expecting to be a personal health record system. I felt that market was saturated. My goal was to help people get organized so they wouldn’t have the same experience as me with my son. But now I am in that space because it’s so easy to put in your health records.
So now that you’re in that space, how do you differentiate yourself?
We have the technology to bring in all your healthcare records from any provider. One year at SAP we had medical coverage through Aetna. Then we had CIGNA. Then it was back to Aetna. If you’re a mom you don’t have access to (the insurers’) records after the switch. Now we have the ability to access any records. You can bring it in your iPad, iPhone, laptop, wherever and enhance it with additional data. It doesn’t matter if you moved to California. You can press a button and see your info.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced with AboutOne?
My challenge is I want to stay in this region. The companies are here, but finding the person who can make an introduction can be difficult. I didn’t grow up here and I’m not from this country so I don’t have the network that others do. I have to work really hard on that. It can take a long time to get meetings. It’s about how do you get to the right people in pharmaceutical companies to know that I can differentiate them and help them grow their business.
What’s a valued resource in Greater Philadelphia that you’ve taken advantage of?
Joining Philly Startup Leaders
is probably the best decision I ever made. With that group, you ask a question and get an answer five minutes later. I was one of 30 entrepreneurs accepted into the Dell Founders Club because I got the introduction through PSL. Some of my biggest introductions to corporations, the school system AboutOne is going live with, all came through PSL’s forum.
We know there are myriad potential uses, but how do you personally use AboutOne?
I manage my children’s health and school records. I also use it to privately share pictures and videos with our family in England and elsewhere. When I take my children to the doctors, I have all their immunization records. It’s such a time saver. Same thing for school report cards. If the kids have cool art work I keep it and share it. I wouldn’t put this stuff on Facebook, so my family loves it.
-- by Joe Petrucci