Two years ago (almost to the day), then-Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz announced his departure from the company.
On Twitter, in a haiku.
Today, Schwartz, a serial entrepreneur of sorts, is unwrapping his newest venture, CareZone, which has nothing to do with IT and everything to do with normal, everyday people.
The new startup addresses some basic insecurities many of us face: How to I care for my parents as they age, for my children when they’re young, and for my siblings or others in my family with special needs?
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“The number one emotion that people experience when you start talking about caregiving is anxiety,” said Schwartz in an interview today with VentureBeat. “What happens when I’m in charge? There’s no school for that; it’s just life. It’s totally scary.”
Schwartz’s product lets you store important documents, keep detailed (or simple) notes, send updates to “helpers” (who might be family members or other caregivers such as nurses or babysitters), track prescriptions, and more, all from a site that’s as easy to use as Facebook.
Best of all, Schwartz is charging users a low monthly subscription fee for the service.
Wait, wait, why is charging users a good thing?, you ask with furrowed brow. Isn’t the Internet supposed to be free, man?
The reason the fee is good news is that it means CareZone can provide its service with a high degree of privacy and security. Since you’re paying for the service (at a rate of $5 or $10 per month, give or take), Schwartz and his colleagues don’t have to sell your data to advertisers. For once, dear reader, you are the customer, not the product.
And since the service revolves around sensitive stuff like information about your kids and healthcare for your aging relatives, the extra measure of privacy is well worth the $5 per month.
In building the service, Schwartz and Walter Smith, Schwartz’s longtime friend, thought about the questions fundamental to most people in their age group: “Where are we spending a lot of our time? When family calls, you drop everything, and it becomes 150 percent of your life,” said Schwartz. “In a perfect world, it’s when you choose — you decide to have a child. But in most of the world, it doesn’t happen that gracefully.”
So, when family calls, we each experience pretty similar needs. We need a safe place to store important facts and documents, whether that’s a desk drawer or a server in a far-off data center. Schwartz said we also need a simple way to get our hands on that information and modify it as needed.
And finally, we need an easy way to connect with other family members who are also involved in caregiving. “Very rarely are people doing this in isolation,” Schwartz noted. CareZone accomplishes this by allowing account creators to pull in other family members and send the group email notifications when documents are uploaded, conversations updated, or notes entered into the profile.
“The AARP is a big part of our demographic,” he continued, referring to the often-overlooked baby boomer age group, which often cares for parents, children, and grandchildren simultaneously.
“When you’re taking care of a child, there’s no question who’s in charge. When you’re taking care of your parents… you have to negotiate who is making decisions. You have to work together.”
No matter who we’re caring for, we inevitably end up using online tools, even if it’s just emailing the sitter or a sibling. But these web-based services leave something to be desired, Schwartz said.
For example, in trying to communicate with a cross-country sibling about an aging parent’s power of attorney or bank passwords or social security number, he said, “I could do it through Gmail, but when I do, ads come up on the side that just piss me off… I know there’s a profile that Google is building about me.”
And for those kinds of web services, “Privacy is toxic,” he said.
He said CareZone will never collect user data and will never sell data of any kind to any company. Data can be downloaded by the user or deleted completely if the user doesn’t want to keep it around.
Schwartz is careful to note this app isn’t about healthcare. While it will help you to manage medications and communicate with health professionals, it’s more about “the mundane things that take place between doctors’ visits. Health is what doctors help with. Care is what families help with. But we can connect into [hospitals’ technology] systems as they’re built.”
Over the next three months, the startup will add Spanish-language service as well as mobile apps. Currently, the service includes a mobile web app that Schwartz said looks great on smartphones and the iPad. As the service matures, he said, the service will continue to add features that maximize CareZone’s usefulness without detracting from its ease of use.
From now until March 15, people can get accounts free for one year. On March 15, new accounts will cost $5 per month if you’re managing care for one person; $8 if you’re caring for two people; $10 for three people, etc.
The startup’s development team is based in Seattle, and its business team is in San Francisco. To date, the seven-person company has been bootstrapped, but Schwartz expects to be raising institutional money sometime in the future. Whether or not that investment happens in 2012, he said he anticipates the company’s growth to triple by the end of the year.
VB’s research team is studying mobile user acquisition: Chime in here, and we’ll share the results.