Joanne Lang, About One, Woman Entrepreneur
How can you not be blown away when you speak to a woman who has four boys under seven years old who has set out to create a company around cloud technology for families and moms? Having four kids under seven years old is an enormous task in itself but creating a start-up among the chaos is not only impressive it is inspiring. I literally did a little diligence to make sure that Joanne was the real deal but rest assured…she is. But lets go back to the start.
Joanne grew up in Manchester, north of London England. She studied at New Castle University and after graduating got a job as a computer programmer at a start-up company. If you have the right DNA, there is something about a start-up that gets in your blood and never leaves. She ended up moving to SAP to be one of the early employees in their London office. At SAP she found herself moving all the time for different jobs that she was sent to. It got to the point that she was always calling her Mom for information that she forgot. At one point she actually had to get someone to break into her house to get her information she needed because it wasn't on her laptop. Although she didn't start her company right then, the idea of having access to all the data was certainly churning around in her head.
While at SAP, she was in a group that was supposed to launch new businesses and then they moved Joanne into a clandestine group that spent four years working on cloud technology. They spent millions of dollars on training for cloud technology and then a bunch of things happened to her. Joanne sold a house in the US where she had done a variety of home improvements. The tax gain is less when you take home improvement loans and she couldn't find any of the paperwork and she forgot her anniversary. It was an accident to her child that really made her decide to follow her idea for About One.
A doctor called her and said you have to come now. She got in her car and started frantically driving up the hill where she spotted an ambulance in the distance. The entire time she was praying that the ambulance was not for her one of her children but it was. The paramedics needed a bunch of information that she couldn't get to because she was so frazzled. It wasn't that she isn't organized but everything is all over the place. The good news is her son ended up being fine but that event changed her career direction and she became an entrepreneur.
From all of Joanne's understanding of cloud technology she knew she could build a system where she could access everything she needed from anywhere. She created an alpha product first to see if anyone would be interested in her idea and low and behold, for $20 a year, 62 people signed up. About One was born.
About One is geared towards the Mom demographics, 95% of the people who use her service are women. About One lets you take everything you have and put it in the cloud. For instance, you bought a crib and and you can scan in your receipt for your records so if there is ever a recall, you have the information. If there is a doctors appointment for the kids, if there are photos you want to keep, Xmas card info, school events info, you name it. Joanne built a platform that is fun. Once you enter one thing, the system asks you questions for more information to create worthwhile files. It is simple to use. No surprises that most people use it for medical information. It is the family cloud system and running a family can be an organizational nightmare.
It was a big leap to start her own company but Joanne is seriously scrappy. She went to Venture Beat who was involved with a movie company that was filming a movie on what it was like to be an entrepreneur and they picked her. She got Microsoft to sponsor her as they were paying for the movie. When they saw the final movie product they asked Joanne if if she would be interested in their incubator fund. That helped her roll out her company to more customers because she took a marketing agreement with Microsoft and they paid for her tech for a year and gave her money towards development of the company, assigned her to work with Atomic PR and gave her a security person. Microsoft doesn't own a piece of her company but they do this so that companies use their products, in essence betting on Joanne becoming a big company that will use Microsoft forever. Microsoft's goal is to ramp About One up to a million users quickly commissioning this as a case study to talk about at tech events around the world. Microsoft chose 5 companies in the group Joanne is in.
Although Joanne lives in Pennsylvania, she put her main development office in Utah and the sales are in Philadelphia. She works really hard at hiring what she calls come-back Moms. Moms that got off the train to raise their kids and are now looking to return to work. She gives them an opportunity to hone their work skills again. It is that gap in their resume that makes it hard to return to work ( which is utterly ridiculous but that is another conversation ). She allows these women to have flexibility around their new jobs and children. Joanne was also awarded a small loan from the Benjamin Franklin Group to make sure she hired women in the region.
Their customers are giving feedback constantly. That gives Joanne daily validation that she is on to something. They had a growth of over 350% in June. The 2.0 version launched in October. Mom bloggers, no surprises there, have been a key to their customer acquisition. Seeing other Moms use the product, for Joanne, is the most thrilling. She is also working to provide a non-profit angle so people can give back to social causes too.
I was seriously blown away by Joanne. She is a power house. I seriously wonder if she ever sleeps but then again that is what makes a great entrepreneur who has that singular laser focus to build something from the ground up. About One is impressive.