Grace Garey is the co-founder of Watsi, a nonprofit startup connecting medical patients who can't afford procedures to donors online. I first heard about Grace and Watsi through this article on the incredibly successful email campaign the team ran for their Universal Fund initiative. Through reading more interviews with Grace, I learned that Watsi was the first nonprofit startup to be accepted into Y Combinator and was curious to learn more. With no prior marketing experience, Grace approaches their unique challenges with ease and confidence. She applies this straightforward, problem-solving mentality to new challenges, rather than let them be a source of intimidation. It was an inspiring conversation with a lot of great takeaways.
I know that working in a nonprofit and a startup that your role must be constantly changing. Can you tell me what your role is at the moment and what that looks like?
Yes, it is always changing! As a co-founder, your role and you as a person, from the beginning to now hopefully scales, along with your organization. So I’m one of the co-founders of Watsi, and broadly I’m in charge of marketing. I spend my time thinking about how to compel people to support a stranger that they will probably never meet, online.
I’m currently exploring company partnerships, and whether there's an opportunity for us to help everyone from small startups to larger public companies give back and engage their customers and employees in a meaningful, and personal way with Watsi. How we might be able to turn some of their energy and financial support into awesome impact. That’s a new area I’m exploring at the moment.
Did you have experience in marketing before? How did you end up on the marketing side of things?
I didn’t really have experience in anything before [laughs]. We started working on Watsi on nights and weekends on top of our day jobs, right when I graduated from college.
I spent a lot of my time in school taking time off to go live in other countries and work with nonprofits. I ended up taking another quarter off of school to go work at a big international humanitarian advocacy organization in DC. So I had some experience but nothing too impressive to speak of.
I think I ended up focusing on marketing because the piece of Watsi I’m always most excited about is the opportunity to connect people in a really different way. I spent a lot of time studying foreign policy, international development, and politics. Also, a lot of time inserting myself into the existing infrastructure that is out there today. There are all these traditional mechanisms set up for how we can help people across the world that I always thought I would just insert myself into and hopefully make some kind of a positive impact.
What I realized is there is much more potential. There’s technology just coming about now for example, where we see people connecting in their social lives and summoning a driver of a car with a click of a button. The internet is connecting us directly in all these kinds of ways. That’s what drew me to see if there is a way to apply that kind of connection to some of the world’s biggest problems. The professional term might be marketing but I really think of it as just how to use the internet to share these stories in a way that compels people to get involved and act.