Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Wharton Magazine blog.
By Matthew Brodsky, Editor, Wharton Magazine
The entrepreneurial lightbulb went off for Kim Gorsuch WG’96, unfortunately, during a moment of fear and panic. About three years ago, her father—“one of those people who is never ill”—fell ill. It was a case of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart brought on by viral infection that can cause your internal organs to fail overnight.
“One day, he is this big, strapping guy, and the next day, he’s down for the count,” Gorsuch recalls. “We were completely unprepared.”
He’s since made a miraculous recovery, but that feeling of being completely blindsided lingered with Gorsuch. In particular, the sense that she could have lost her father without really knowing him. Shouldn’t she get to know her father through the memories of other family members and friends, while he was still around?
“Most times, you don’t get to know all those stories until the wake,” she says.
And what about her father sharing in all of this? Shouldn’t he know just how much she—and everyone else important in his life—thinks about him?
It’s profound stuff. Most people brush such thoughts of death deep under the rug and go about their business.
Gorsuch came up with a business plan: an easy-to-use, digital platform that allows loved ones to share their memories of a person, followed by a production process to create a high-end, hard-copy book that can be gifted to the special individual. The startup is called Weeva. Its product is essentially a love letter celebrating a person’s life while they are still living it.
“People sees themselves anew,” is the typical reaction that Gorsuch has gotten from recipients when they receive their books. “What they consistently do is they hold it to their heart.”
Weeva delivers such reactions by first tapping into people’s social networks. Creators start a Weeva project by inviting their friends and family to contribute their stories, memories and photos at their convenience through Weeva’s online platform. Then comes hands-on customization. Once a creator gives Weeva the green light, the firm’s designers and writers edit and shape those memories and images into a bespoke book.
“We’re developing tools to make it increasingly efficient,” Gorsuch says.
The progression from her father’s scary illness to running Weeva did not occur in a weekend. Gorsuch had a full-time job at the time—senior vice president with global payment processes firm Rev, after decades with finance services and Internet-based companies, including running business strategy and working with 60 online brands at IAC—and it took her about a year to develop her idea to bring “connection and meaning” into people’s lives. By 2013, she had her first employee and was developing and testing prototypes. She bootstrapped the startup for the most part, tapping investments as well from friends and family. By March 2014, they launched into production.
Since, Gorsuch reports, they’ve grown—in large part through word-of-mouth and referrals. They have fulfilled projects in 10 countries, including New Zealand, Ireland, Mexico and the Netherlands. Gorsuch “100 percent” believes Weeva could scale to a $100 million business in the next five to seven years. The overall market is much bigger than that, she adds; it’s filled with DIY services like Shutterfly. Weeva’s niche are people who would never do DIY memory books, or people who have tried and realize how hard it is to achieve quality. Next steps for Gorsuch include seeking a seed round of capital, primarily to help fund a marketing and awareness campaign.
One thing she must do soon as well—create a Weeva book for her father.