This is a devastating time. I keep trying to come up with the right words, but the truth is, there are no words. People are dying, hospitals are overwhelmed, schools are shut down, and companies are laying off their employees in an effort to reduce their cash burn. Most of us are scared, for our loved ones, our jobs, small businesses, healthcare bills, how to pay rent, and even to just continue being able to buy groceries for our children if this goes on for too long.
There’s an international mental health crisis on top of this pandemic. Anxiety, sleepless nights, panic attacks, depression — it feels like everyone around me is suffering from one or another, including myself.
I am an immigrant. So I am currently stuck in a country far away from home without any family members except for my kids. These last two weeks have been some of the most challenging days of my life. Every day I am homesick, worried, scared, and left with many questions about the future. But experiencing this without knowing when I will be able to see my family again, to hold them, to see my kids in my parent’s arms again, is making it all that much worse. Throughout all of this, I do what I always do in moments of uncertainty, I hold onto my three kids, and I love them so damn hard that my heart explodes. Leila (5), Ezra (3) and findSisterhood (almost 2).
findSisterhood, the platform my team and I have built to create safe spaces online across socioeconomics. To celebrate the beautiful messiness of life. And messy, it is.
We spent the last two years analyzing data, testing various features, and talking to users in many different countries from many diverse backgrounds. At our peak we had users in 38 countries and over 1,500 cities. Earlier this year, we decided that we finally had enough of an understanding to start solving the problem of how to create empathy in social networks, to connect people through kindness regardless of their background. So we decided to turn off the old app at the end of 2019, to better focus on our learnings and be heads down working on our new product.
And that’s what we did. We developed a way to create empathy within our community, we built a groups feature to allow for semi-private conversations, and finally added the long-requested ability to upload photos. Things were going great. We attracted badass women investors including the CEO of Hello Sunshine, Sarah Harden, and support from Hollywood’s most coveted agencies, believing in our vision and supporting our mission. Together with them and our wonderful advisors, we prepared for the launch in spring 2020.
We had a fundraising dinner planned, hired designers, and had a few community events in our pipeline. The future started looking good after two years of fighting every day to survive as an early-stage startup. My mom was supposed to come to LA this week so she could be part of some of our events. My dad, who is from Mexico City, took time off work during spring break to spend those two weeks with my kids so I could focus entirely on fundraising and launching. And for the end of April, my almost 80-year-old grandpa was going to come and visit us in LA for the first time. Some much-needed family support so I could focus on findSisterhood without distractions. Leila and Ezra had spent the last few weeks creating crafts and drawings for all of their family members’ visits and counted the days until they would see their ‘Nani’ again.
And then COVID-19 happened. We saw it affect our families and friends around the world before the outbreak in the US. But it really hit home when borders between me and my home countries got shut down and travel bans were put in place that would make it so I don’t have any idea when I will see my family again. We received reports of war-like conditions back home with law enforcement walking up and down the streets. We were shocked by what the following weeks would bring.
Fast forward. We canceled all our events, including that fundraising dinner that was supposed to help us supercharge our growth. My mom and grandpa and many other family members are stuck in Austria, and who knows how much time will pass before we’ll be able to see them again. Circumstances in Mexico are, of course, even worse. My dad is locked inside the house with “tacos & beans” for the next two months, ready for the apocalypse because the government didn’t prepare to help its people, sound familiar? Tonight, my daughter cried herself to sleep because she misses everyone so much and she doesn’t understand why she can’t be with her family (“I just want to hold my Nani and see my friends.”).
But that was not the worst part. As a founder, many of my friends are founders or early-stage startup team members. Seeing how many of the people I love so dearly have lost their jobs, their businesses, their livelihood, the dreams they spent years working on, within only the first two weeks of states shutting down has broken my heart. There are no words of comfort to dry a mother’s tears who is scared of not being able to provide for her children. Believe me, as a mother I know exactly how that feels.
And my own small business? It feels like we are back to square one. We lost funding; we lost money for things we had already scheduled out for the launch, and we are left with uncertainty how to survive this economic crisis in times when we can’t even find toilet paper anymore. In short, it is messy. Like life. But then again, we want to be the company that celebrates the beautiful messiness of life (not in this way…)?
Stephan, my business partner, and I talked for many hours. We cried, laughed, cheered each other up, and took comfort in knowing we made it this far. If nothing else, we already helped so many people face difficult issues, and there will always be lots of pride inside of our hearts when we look back at this time. I thought of the stories so many women told me that seeked help for mental health issues after getting the support they needed from our community. Survivors of assault coming forward and reporting their predators. But also all these women having better sex thanks to the sisterhood that created a safe space to discuss how to ask to get their needs met.
After feeling sorry for ourselves for a few hours, ok maybe days, we put our big girl pants on and decided that we needed to do whatever we could right now to help people in need.
As a community leader for a platform that creates safe spaces, I see it as my social responsibility to do whatever we can, in a state of international emergency to create that safe space. Our part in this will be to allow people to communicate, share their photos, talk about work, kids, sex, relationships, or whatever they want to, without needing to see all the horror that is going on in the world right now. All our mental health needs a break from the news cycles.
findSisterhood will be the only social network that allows users to filter out COVID-19 related posts in an effort to take care of our mental health. The app is not perfect. Many features are still missing. We have much more testing to do. But we decided to go ahead anyway. If we can “only” save one life of a person that was able to connect with the outside world during social isolation without being triggered and pushed to give up, then this was worth the last two years.
So here we are — day 15 of our national shutdown during a pandemic and economic crisis. Ready to launch our new and improved findSisterhood app in just a few more days in an effort to help us all get through this collective grief and trauma together.
I am scared. Scared that it won’t be enough. That putting the safety and wellbeing of our community first, once again, will this time crash us? What if I made the wrong call? What if we publicly fail? How will we recover from this if I took the wrong turn? I am terrified no one will download the app. That people will hate it. My self-destructive thoughts are dancing salsa in my head.
It is my fundamental belief that, especially in times like these, we have to hold onto our core values. So we decided to continue offering findSisterhood free of charge. We want everyone in need of sisterhood to have access to our platform and community. We want to do our part to spread more kindness, education, resources, and friendships across the world, and no virus will stop us. Because we have never needed a safe platform for communities to come together more than right now.
So today, I choose to trust. Trust that everything will be ok. That one day I will look back and tell my other two babies, how we launched this product in the middle of an international crisis, and how we worked day and night, cried some, drank some, laughed, and screamed together. But we did it.
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