We to We features members who have built their companies on the WeWork platform.
Kathleen Brown hopped on a video call from a car in Los Angeles after meeting with a fellow WeWork member and potential partner for Buddhi, the community-powered wellness platform Brown is creating for cancer survivors and their loved ones. She was in L.A. on a business trip from Chicago to meet with prospective partners for her business, many of whom she met through her connections at WeWork. ‘Anything I don’t know how to do myself, I put out to the WeWork community and someone is able to help,’ she says.
When Brown was young, she was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer and within three months was given her last rites at a local hospital. During her 15 months of treatment at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, she was inundated with flowers and get-well cards from well-intentioned supporters. ‘People show their support in the way they know how to,’ she says. ‘But it made me feel sicker, pitied and also ashamed that I was not fully appreciating their support.’
Miraculously, Brown made a full recovery after finishing her treatment in December 1996. She started sharing her story at fundraising events, and later took on a variety of volunteer and professional roles at St. Jude.
She began working from a hot desk at WeWork 220 N Green St in Chicago in April 2017 while working at St Jude. Through St Jude and WeWork, she connected with many people who had been touched by cancer and who were looking for a support system. ‘A cancer diagnosis does not come with a get-well guidebook,’ she says. ‘And I kept thinking: How can we empower friends and families of those who are sick to invest in the kind of support that their loved ones actually need?’
That question became the genesis of her company Buddhi, a wellness platform for those whose lives have been touched by cancer: patients, survivors, family and friends. ‘The platform aims to reduce stress for patients and loved ones, so they can find support that is personal to their needs,’ she says. Brown wants to provide survivors with resources and a network of other survivors and patients, and to help friends and families understand the kind of support that is most helpful to patients.
‘I was not a born entrepreneur, and I never thought I would start a company,’ Brown says. But after dealing with long-term side effects that were related to her treatment, she spoke with the WeWork community team about her idea. They immediately wanted to help, encouraging Brown to start talking to other WeWork members. Through the help of the community team and the WeWork member network, she was able to find investors, business partners, financial advisers and a web company to design the brand and site. Even the photographer for her website is a fellow WeWork member.
Alex Ford-Carther, a WeWork member and the co-founder of Coder, a venture development platform that works with early-stage businesses, was introduced to Brown by the community manager at their building. ‘We could tell Brown was not only passionate and knowledgeable about the idea, but that she also had the business experience and fortitude to execute,’ Ford-Carther says. Since their introduction in March 2019, Ford-Carther and his team helped Brown define Buddhi’s brand, build out her pitch deck and financial model, and design the user interface. ‘Every interaction I’ve had with Brown is genuine and pure,’ he says. ‘There’s no doubt Buddhi will be successful as well.’
Brown left her job at St. Jude in April 2019 to pursue Buddhi full-time and got a hot desk in the same location to maintain her network. She plans to launch the platform by early 2020. On the site, cancer patients and survivors will be able to access resources for their mental and physical health, while their friends and family can learn what type of support would make the most difference. For example, rather than flowers, supporters will be able to send a subscription to a meditation app or superfood mixes.
Brown is planning a soft beta launch to work out the kinks and get feedback from early users. ‘We already have a wonderful community of supporters through my own network, through St. Jude and through WeWork,’ she says.
‘Kathleen Brown truly embodies the word community,’ says Lori Covey, a community lead at WeWork 515 N State St in Chicago who has grown close to Brown. Brown recently signed up for a three-person office at the newly opened WeWork 625 W Adams Street in Chicago, where she’ll debut the official headquarters for Buddhi in November. ‘I never would’ve had the courage to leave my job if I hadn’t had the security of the WeWork community,’ Brown says.
Jenna Wilson is a senior associate on the social media team at WeWork and a writer for Ideas by We. She writes about impact, sustainability and WeWork’s employees around the world.