Categorized | Shoestring Startup

WeSearch- A Collective Research Effort

Name of your company and URL?

WeSearch Foundation. www.we-search.org

Date started?

Fall of 2011.

Who are you?

WeSearch- A Collective Research Effort

Chris Rovin

WeSearch was founded by Chris Rovin and Guillaume Curaudeau. Both Chris and Guillaume hold degrees from the University of Michigan and both have spent time in brain tumor research labs. Chris did this interview.

What is your product or service?

WeSearch Foundation is a crowd-funding charity that connects donors and patients with medical research labs. Labs post their information on our site, including what projects they’re doing and the possible significance of the projects. Donors and patients can then search our site for research being done on a given ailment. If a donor can appreciate how a project or lab will make a difference in the life of a patient, they donate. 95% of the donation goes straight to the lab. We only take enough to cover the PayPal transaction fee and our checking fee. It is completely free for labs to join.

The only things we ask for in return from the labs are occasional updates about their progress. These updates serve two purposes. For one, they show the donors that their money is being used to fund research. We believe transparency is key for charities, and it’s something that a lot of major charities are lacking. The second thing these updates provide is hope. Seeing that research is constantly being done and answers are being found can provide tremendous hope for a patient and their loved ones. It can add an increased feeling of control and an otherwise helpless situation.

Why did you start your company?

WeSearch- A Collective Research EffortMy dad has long been involved with brain tumor patients and brain tumor research. In high school I split time between his office and his research lab. In his office, I saw brain tumor patients. In his lab, I saw brain tumor researchers. I could see how helpless both parties felt, and how deeply they wanted to find answers. Patients felt helpless because there was little they could do to improve their condition. Labs felt helpless because if they didn’t secure major grants, they couldn’t do research. Funding opportunities for small labs are limited.

Jump forward a few years. I’d been helping my dad’s lab build up its web presence. We set up a website, Facebook and Twitter pages, etc. The last thing I’d wanted to do was get them an ecommerce page to sell products and accept donations. Unfortunately, the lab only sold two things: hats and wristbands. I saw that selling a few wristbands for a buck each wouldn’t even cover the monthly Shopify subscription. The only thing they had of any significant value was the research they were doing. I started asking myself if there was some way to raise money by letting donors “invest” in research, so to speak.

Around this time, stories started coming out about major non-profits spending donations irresponsibly. Hearing stories about pointless lawsuits and excessive administrative costs really upset me. I knew that this money came partially from donations. And I knew this money was raised under the assumption that it would be used to fund research or raise awareness.

I realized I could solve two problems at once. I could give donors a more efficient way of donating money while letting labs promote their most valuable asset—their research. The only problem remaining was how to repay donors for their “investment.” Since patients and donors give money to find answers, we decided to give them answers. By having labs keep their donors informed, we can provide hope and transparency.

What free online or offline tools do you use?

Our biggest online tool was WordPress. It let us get a functional website together for next to nothing. We bought a premium theme for ~$30 and that was it. You can add additional functionality with plugins, and every one we use is free. It saved us at least $20,000. When 100% of our business is online, a great website was crucial.

We also use Google Analytics and Google Webmaster to keep up with our web presence. Both are free, easy to use, and provide valuable data about our site on the web. Mailchimp manages our mailing lists, and with our current level of activity, we pay nothing.

Do you use Social Media tools like Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn or ? Provide exact URL of each

http://www.facebook.com/pages/WeSearch/199184623454021

https://twitter.com/#!/WeSearchOrg

https://plus.google.com/b/103608045382202773969/

How many people are currently working, including employees?

8

What is the best advice you never got?

In full disclosure, I think my lawyer gave me this advice. But it bears repeating!

Surround yourself with a great team. And I don’t mean people who will always agree with you. I mean people with different experiences and different backgrounds. If your team thinks exactly like you, then what’s the point of bringing them on board? They won’t offer anything novel unless they think differently than you.

What almost killed your business in the start?

We knew nothing about making websites. We were under the impression that without extensive programming experience, making a website would be impossible. We contacted a few web design firms and they all estimated that our site would cost ~$20,000. We couldn’t justify spending that much on an untested concept, no matter how much we believed in it.

Long story short, we used WordPress and Google searches to get a pretty good site together. My co-founder Guillaume was extremely valuable in getting the site together.

What is the one thing that you did right?

The first people we met with weren’t lawyers or accountants or businessmen. We met with labs and patients first. Not only did this reinforce the strength of the idea, but also it gave us something powerful to focus on throughout the startup process.

What was the biggest transition you had to make?

WeSearch- A Collective Research EffortAs entrepreneurship, you have to be an expert in all aspects of your business. A good idea is nothing if you can’t execute it properly. It definitely took me a while to really understand just how much work a startup is. We had to learn non-profit law, accounting, basic web design– everything. Our lawyers and accountants really helped clarify their respective areas.

What type of marketing or advertising do you do?

Right now, all of our advertising is through word of mouth. Soon, we plan on using Adwords to get our message out. Because we take such a small amount of each donation, we really can’t afford a major marketing campaign.

What would make your business more “Successful”?

We would like more labs and researchers to sign up for our service. Right now, relatively few diseases are represented on our site. We want every patient who visits our site to see labs trying to help them.

And as with any startup, exposure is huge, so spread the word!

What came about that made you help in social change?

I can’t point to one specific thing that pushed me toward social entrepreneurship. I think being around patients and labs from a young age set me on that path. Even as a teenager, it was apparent what patients and labs needed. The solution to these problems took a little longer to come to me!

What can you tell other potential social entrepreneurs who are deciding to make a difference?

If you have a socially conscious idea, the first thing you should do is talk to the people your idea would help. Make sure your idea will provide them with what they really need. Once you know your idea will make a positive difference, then go for it. Always remember why you started and whom you’re trying to help.

What books have you read that others should read?

I really liked Brewing Up a Business by Sam Calagione. For those who don’t know, Sam is the founder of Dogfish Head Brewery. Sam is as passionate about the industry as anyone, and that passion is obvious in his book. Reading it reminded me to focus on why I’m doing what I’m doing, and in social entrepreneurship, the why is much greater than money or fame.

 

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