For what feels like a minute, life is perfect. Your kids are good, everyone is healthy, and you’re feeling satisfied with your life. And then, just like that, Murphy’s Law shows up and shakes your life upside down. It’s in those instances when you’ll need the help of friends and family to help get you through a tough time. But organizing an emergency relief effort isn’t as simple as it might seem, which is why Aimee Kandrac created What Friends Do, an organization that allows you to streamline your volunteering efforts to create maximum impact. We spoke with Aimee about helping others, why it’s so damn hard to ask for (and accept) help and learning to embrace the next phase of your life.
I have to say that the timing of this interview is amazing. We recently had a loss at my children’s school and the way that the community has rallied around the staff member’s family has been amazing to see. And it reminded me of What Friends Do and its core mission.
We started What Friends Do almost 15 years ago for a family loved one who had terminal brain cancer when she was in her 20’s. What we found is that two things happen: people want the family to know they’re thinking about them and let me know if there’s anything they can do to help. From those responses we realized that we needed a centralized location to organize that and to harness this love and support. I had no coding skills; I took coding in 7th grade. I found the problems people were having and put it as solutions in one spot. It’s a place to share ideas on what’s happening, a calendar that’s interactive so that a family or friend can see what the family needs, (and it’s more than just meals), and then loved ones can look at their gifts and talents and see what they can do. Like, I don’t like to walk the dog, but I can go get groceries for them. They can match up what they want to do with what the family needs.
It’s so hard for people to reach out and ask for help. Especially as moms we’re more apt to say, “I got it” when, you know, you don’t got it.
I have so much to say on this topic. It’s one of my life missions. I want to have a TED talk about destigmatizing asking for help and accepting help.
I went to the grocery store one night and got hit by a car in the parking lot. I ended up with a broken foot and a broken wrist. My husband was working in a different state 4 days a week, this was before my kids could drive, our kitchen was being renovated so I had no kitchen. I said, “I don’t need a What Friends Do page; I’m completely fine.” But I couldn’t even get my own coffee by myself. My mom and sister said that they set it up for me because I couldn’t drive my kids to school make dinner or do anything.
Had you already started What Friends Do at that point?
I had already started What Friends Do at that point. [laughs] We don’t want to think that we can’t do it all. But what I don’t think we’ve internalized as a culture is asking for help is a sign of strength, and it builds community and your friends really do want this opportunity to do something nice for you. It feels really good, and it feels good when someone makes that connection to help you.
There’s this new trend of showing that things are not Pinterest perfect and showing what parenting is really like. Hopefully this leads to people accepting help and seeing it as a sign of love.
It is a sign of love. Life happens. You should not be embarrassed when a life event happens to you. We need to normalize that we’re all going to come in and help each other when these things are going on.
So 15 years later. How has What Friends Do grown and changed over time?
So we started out strictly as B2C and we’ve moved more into a B2B play for a while, selling our software as a white label offering into health care, pharmaceutical companies, that sort of thing. My passion really lies in the end user, the direct consumer. I’ve been focusing a lot of my effort, especially in the past 6-8 months, on those end users.
You know, running a business is hard. It can be really lonely. We went virtual before the pandemic, so i was used to that, but it was still lonely running a company virtually and not being able to be connected to other female entrepreneurs to not feel like I’m the only one. One of the reasons we’re moving away from the B2B market is that we weren’t able to get into the hospitals during the pandemic on a regular basis to remind the nurses and the social workers to share the information with the patients. We were losing a lot of traffic and it was very discouraging.
So I started this podcast and it’s been so exciting and invigorating. I’m getting more spark back which is kind of ridiculous, on one hand, but it makes me really happy. One of my goals with the podcast is to destigmatize asking for help. Let’s start having these conversations more broadly. It’s called Kitchen Chats because when something happens, you call your friends; you sit around the kitchen table, and you figure out what’s next. Helping people to moving those conversations and having them, talking about basics but the not so basic things, and give people other ideas ways to reach and help.
Did you create the podcast in response to how you felt during the pandemic?
I created the podcast because — I’m trying to decide if I should say this in an interview but I’m going to anyway — I have a workbook journal that I really want to write and I’ve struggled to get it out of my head in more than an outline. I was having brunch with a girlfriend, and she said, “Why don’t you have a podcast and then you can talk to everyone about all of these things?” The podcast is in response to that: a crisis has happened; this is what you do next.
The first season of the podcast was really looking at who do you call, what do you need to do with the logistics, let’s talk about food because that’s always one of the first things, how do we help manage kids, what do we do with the pets? The first season was focusing on the nitty gritty that they’re kind of the basics of what to do.
It sounds like crisis management but in a caring way.
It’s crisis management that you do from your kitchen table with your friend.
So what was it like creating the podcast? Earlier in the interview you mentioned you were not so much with the techie.
Let me tell you how much I knew about podcasts. I knew how to click to open one up, and how to listen. That was about the extent of my podcast knowledge. It excited me so much that I just thought that I’d figure it out. I had a couple of friends who had podcasts and I called them and said, “Okay, what do you do?” A friend let me borrow equipment for the very first episode. I learned that I could ask someone who knows how to do it, to do it.
And again, that goes back to asking for help. That can be hard as a business owner when we’re designed to want to do everything ourselves.
I found that I love talking to people about all this stuff. And we’ve got it down now; we record them in my kitchen. I can get it all set up and ready to go in less than 5 minutes. But the delegation is hard, both as a business owner and as a parent, because there’s only so many things we can delegate, right?
I would think that even if there were some things you can delegate, you might not want to, especially depending on the ages and stages of the kids.
I have a 19- and 17-year-old. She’s a sophomore in college and my son is a second semester senior and is full-fledged right now. My mom and I started this together and i remember it was 8:0 0at night but it felt like 2:00 in the morning. I had a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, my husband was in medical school and i was working full time to support the family. Oh yeah, I can start a business right now.
What are the plans for the future?
I’m really starting to struggle with this empty nest thing. I’m thrilled that my kids are going to be moving onto the next phase of their life, and that’s what they’re supposed to do, and they will do things to remind me of why they should leave. But this very second, I’m thinking, what am I going to do, because for the past 20 years, I’ve had people to do stuff for.
So last night I was playing pickleball with some friends because that’s what we do now. I decided to plan a mom’s grad trip in September for all the moms who had someone graduate. We are going to do something that I can look forward to. But I’m looking forward to growing the podcast, looking forward to the workbook journal idea that I want to really start to tackle and figure out how to get that out there, and then, I don’t know, this new phase of parenting. I’m a little nervous about it. I’m excited for my kids and we’re doing what my goal had been for them, which is to go on to the next thing. But I will take it day by day and figure it out. And if I need help, I’ll ask.