This is the first in a series of startup stories about founders who are building costumer solutions — and their dreams — on Microsoft stack technologies acquired through the Microsoft BizSpark program. This story comes from Joanne Lang, founder and CEO of AboutOne. You can follow her and AboutOne on Twitter @AboutOne.
AboutOne’s online family organizer enhances your existing calendar (coming soon) and contacts tools with online filing and reporting to automatically organize, store, and share family memories and household paperwork. This is the “go to” place to keep your family running smoothly.
Joanne Lang, Founder and CEO, AboutOne
On a beautiful summer day in 2009, I was in an ambulance, watching a paramedic working to save my son’s life as we sped to the hospital. My sense of helplessness became palpable when the paramedic asked me for the names of my son’s medications. I’d run out of the house with my phone and keys—but, of course, without my laptop and kitchen files, the two places where I kept that information. I remembered what I could but I couldn’t remember them all.
Thankfully, my son recovered. And that wasn’t the only good thing to come from that near-tragedy: It was also my “aha” moment as an entrepreneur. I should have easy access to our family medical records—and all our important data—wherever I am, without having to enter the information into all my devices. I’d tried almost every organizer there was. There had to be a better way. It turns out there wasn’t, so I went into business to create one.
I researched the idea for 18 months. I saved my money so I could survive until the business produced income. I built a minimally viable prototype and sought funding. And I had to get over my fear of failure, of leaving a job with great benefits and that I loved. But I didn’t want my biggest failure to be that I never tried to aim high.
Two years later, the result is AboutOne, which enhances a phone’s calendar and contact tools with online filing and reporting, giving busy people fast, easy access to the information they need to take care of their families, contacts, and possessions. Think of it as the service that turns your phone into a remote control for your life.
The cloud was integral to my initial concept for AboutOne. I didn’t want customers having to buy and manage CDs and annual updates—I wanted to make life less complicated, not more. With the cloud, we could push out weekly updates, and customers would never have to manage the software.
I’d built the AboutOne prototype to run on the Amazon EC2 cloud, but to scale on Amazon, we would have needed to hire one or two systems administrators, a huge expense for a startup. When we started to get security alerts, we looked elsewhere.
That’s when we found Windows Azure. If we hadn’t moved from Amazon to Windows Azure, we would have had to close down. Because Windows Azure is an automated platform, we spend our time and money maximizing value for our customers, not on load balancing and scaling, patching and managing servers, or database tuning.
These are benefits that most customers anticipate from Windows Azure. What I hadn’t anticipated was that we could use Windows Azure to go global immediately—using its assurance of compliance everywhere it operates. We’re still in beta—but in about 15 countries. For a startup, that’s incredible. I also didn’t anticipate the impact that Windows Azure would have on our ability to close deals. Some of our key partners and customers signed with us in part because we’re on this platform. And we’ve used Windows Azure and .NET to transform AboutOne into a platform itself, one with open APIs that others can use to extend the service.
Our participation in BizSpark magnified these benefits. We got the chance to work on Windows Azure without having to pay for it. We received free training. And we were introduced to many of the corporations that are now our partners and customers.
We still have far to go, but I’m proud of how far we’ve come. Perhaps my proudest moment comes when I use AboutOne, click on my son’s picture, see his medical records—and know that there’s one less nightmare that parents need to have.