I never saw myself here…
Founding a tech startup, living in the world of data, MailChimp, audience personas and ROI’s. Nor did I ever see myself navigating a startup through a global pandemic. But the time has arrived for me to reflect upon when the unimaginable happened. A planet-wide occurrence that must have touched almost every person, causing each of us to consider at least some aspect of human connection. Through this, our reliance upon digital communication has escalated, helping us feel less alone, and providing an indispensable way to navigate this crisis.
Almost every CEO, entrepreneur and founder can attest that life lived in the start-up world means you spend practically all of your time under pressure, constantly feeling like there’s never enough time. Add in a pandemic and it’s no surprise there's a whole added dimension of overwhelmed and overwrought.
Juggling a relentlessly unshrinkable to-do list is a constant. There are no office hours, boundaries bleed out and days blur together in a way that's almost reminiscent of early motherhood. On rare days I force myself to let my thoughts slow down. I understand that letting in ‘fresh air’ and headspace are essential for fresh thinking ... But then panic punches: if my hands aren’t impossibly full, then I must be doing something wrong. If this sounds as if I’m tortured or complaining, absolutely not! I couldn’t be farther from it.
Plain and simple I love what I do.
At some point during every jam-packed day, a thought stands out clear as a bell: “I can’t believe I get to do this.” In spite of everything we've all been living through, I am as thrilled as I am grateful for this life that I fell into. No matter how utterly wiped I may feel at the end of a day - bogged down and brain-fried - the next morning miraculously finds me bouncing out of bed, full of energy and eager for the next go-round. It’s addicting, engrossing, awesome. A welcome surprise, each day.
As many founders, creatives, and business owners can attest: bringing your ‘product’ or technology to life is one thing...sharing it with the world in hopes that they too see the need for it is another thing altogether. From there, the data, the metrics, choosing the right forks in the road are all appropriately confounding, even more so for someone who was never trained for this work. There’s nothing in my personal or pre-startup life that prepared me for this...simply the visceral belief that this product, this technology, needed to exist.
It's not all about dreams, feel-good moments, and customer success stories.
For every “This product changed the way I look at my text messages” there's a stalled campaign, a staggering bounce rate, or bottom line. There is no shortage of hurdles and disappointments, shifting goalposts, and conundrums galore. Still, I grit my teeth and give it my all and figuratively jump for joy when the good moments happen.
Joy happens when a milestone is reached, or when projects on our roadmap are successfully completed. Done - box checked - sigh of relief and satisfaction. Sometimes joy is sparked by a glowing Customer Story, or when a new feature that we’ve labored over finally launches. It’s a well-performing digital campaign, or a resonant blog that gets published.
Sometimes it's something as simple as an absurd gif in our internal Slack chat (yes, I’m the sucker who - no matter how my day’s going - will always crack up) My team has been so incredible through it all…diligent, solidly committed and prideful in moving us forward. We all work remotely, and yet, I always get a kick out of our pre-meeting check-ins. We’re scattered all over the world, I've only met a few in person a handful of times and yet we’re oddly linked and connected. Forged by fire, I suppose. A family. Is that a cliche to say? Hey, I’m reflecting here, let’s allow it. At the very least, there’s always something happening to one of us somewhere that’s of shared interest, or worthy at least of a good laugh or rant. Typical frustrations aside, at the end of each day, at the start of each task, and all the way through, I’m grateful for everyone in my team, for every person who has risked their safety to continue production - including each mail carrier who delivers our packages. I never lose sight of the fact that Keepster could not exist if it wasn't for them.
While the way we operate may not be uncommon, I'd say what makes us unique - is that we understand our business is about human connection.
I am also always so glad to interact directly with customers - no matter if it’s following up on a (rare) cranky complaint or a grateful acknowledgment of a wonderful review. I have also come to realize that the anxious questions about “when’s my book arriving” are further proof of how much their messaging conversations actually matter.
The bottom line:
This is the realization that I have come to: On the other side of all our blood, sweat, tears, and coding there is at least one person - a living, breathing human being whose life history has brought them to the point of needing to preserve some of their meaningful messaging conversations.
Each and every customer comes with their singular circumstances, their story, and a relationship or series of events that have shaped their lives. I’ve even realized that a cranky complaint is often the outcome of someone bearing a much bigger load than I could have imagined - and sometimes just a little more understanding can help. As we are growing rapidly I don’t get involved with each situation, but when I do I take these communications to heart, and land up feeling both responsible and humbled by our small part in meeting yet another person’s particular need.
Like most, we've been shaken by the stories of these very worst of times.
The pandemic has been a time of so many heartbreaking stories. It's been an unprecedented nightmare with hundreds of thousands of people dying alone, their loved ones being forced to keep at a distance.
What reached inside my chest and tore at my heart were the stories about final conversations and goodbyes happening via text message, FaceTime, video conferences...rather than in person. The story about the last texts of a daughter with her mom, a hospital worker, that appeared in the New York Times broke my heart. Also wrenching was the story about the texts Nick Cordero’s wife, Amanda Kloots discovered on her husband’s phone while he was in a coma, before passing away from the virus. “The last thing he ever texted me was to look out for his wife and one-year-old son, Elvis,” shared his close friend Zach Braff. Whoever imagined a dying man’s wishes to be conveyed like this?
Though just a handful of these stories make it into the public domain, there are countless more, and several that get to be shared just with us. It’s both an honor and a burden that I’d rather never happened. Some customers are kind enough to share their stories and reviews on our website. Sometimes I’ve landed up having extraordinary one-on-one conversations - the kind of interactions that never in my wildest dreams, did I ever expect to have with strangers. Here’s one:
“I lost my brother suddenly a year ago this April 16 and I had a year and a half of text messages from him.. we were constantly texting joking around with each other and I wanted to be able to keep those conversations. I had tried screen shooting all the texts which took me 4/5 hours only to find out that I couldn’t find a photo book big enough to accommodate all these pages. I was so sad and frustrated ..... I haven’t gotten my book yet but I’m sure it will be wonderful ...thank you, it’s like talking to my brother all over again when I read his words.”
“I just received my book “talkin' to -----” today ..again thank you!
I just read it and cried ...happy and sad. The quality is so nice beyond my expectations!! Just wanted you to know.”
Here’s another recent conversation:
“This order is for my brother ------, who has days and not weeks to live. He is rapidly dying of cancer. If there is any way you folks could expedite the process (books), that would bring some joy to a dying man’s last few days. Thanks.”
“The books did arrive. They look great…..
Thanks again. Thank everyone on your team for your understanding and compassion. In a world that often seems heartless, you folks have shown true generosity of spirit to a stranger.”
Keepster’s mission at its very core …
Is wrapped up in recognizing, sharing and telling about moments, exactly as they happened - the highs, the lows, and even the ‘meh’ ones in between. The app started out as a way to enable people to capture and save some or all of that - in their texts, chats and photos. Oddly though, the journey to making that even remotely possible has led me to something far greater than I'd ever imagined. I only see that now, with the past year in my rearview.
My Keepster journey has taught me to open my arms much, much wider to all sorts of circumstances, to dig deeper, and to care about people whom I will never get to meet or know. In plain speak, I can say Keepster has expanded my humanity - and I’m humbly grateful for it.
In a moment of such reflection, I found myself putting on another hat just recently: one I don’t get to wear too often these days. Customer. I needed to find a gift for one of my dearest friend’s birthdays...but given her circumstances, and frankly, the state of our world, nothing felt quite right. This friend is closing one door to a major chapter of her life, packing up and heading towards a new and unknown one. Logically, more ‘stuff’ would have been a burden rather than a gift. Beyond that, there wasn’t anything in a store that could quite encapsulate just what I wanted to express: that I love her dearly; that our times together, our memories, even our very own sometimes wicked, sometimes peculiar language, have defined our friendship and made our lives so rich. What gift could ever come close? Then, it hit me. Of course. A Keepster book.
Part of my job requires constantly casting a critical eye, testing every new feature, and improvement. So undoubtedly I am up fully to speed with every aspect of how our product has evolved. But this time, there I was, just another customer, seeking to gift a beloved friend with something special.
So, I made my best friend a Keepster Book of our messages.
Going through three years of our messages exchanged was an extraordinary journey of its own: from all corners of the globe, through thick and thin, unimagined challenges, kids’ stuff, stupid stuff, idiotic jokes that only the two of us would find funny, the excitement of making travel plans, memories that lingered, heartaches, advice, admonishments, plus layers upon layers of mutual interests and concerns, from all things Japanese, to recipes, gardens, politics, books and beyond.
Making this book felt as if I’d embarked on some sort of speeded-up technicolor archeological dig through time and our friendship. I finished with a sense of accomplishment and pride I’d truly never experienced. Not only had I created a pretty spectacular, one-of-a-kind present for a dear friend...but I’d created a company that made it possible for almost everyone with an iPhone to do the same. That felt pretty profound. (Note: pleased to report that my best friend and her discerning millennial daughter) went nuts upon receiving the book, so much so that her daughter decided to video her thoughts! Check it out:
Glancing over the title of my book, “If this doesn’t explain our friendship, then I dunno” I realize that in seeking to create something truly meaningful for my friend, I also succeeded in creating a chronicle of a relationship that has defined two lives. More than that, I dare say I can quietly allow myself a moment of humble pride as there now exists the possibility for anyone to do the same, and make a book just as I did. More than that, I also realize that it’s exactly that possibility that makes me jump out of bed each morning, feeling eager to start the new day.
Founder / CEO