Borrowed Lessons from Haiti - 2015 Year in Review

January 21, 2016 by Kuang Chen

Here at Captricity, we’re really proud to help "organizations that serve everyone." This is our catch-all term for the insurance companies, government agencies, schools and nonprofits that make up the bulk of our customers. Because their work environments are highly-regulated and often under-resourced, these organizations are often slow to adopt new digital practices -- even when they can dramatically increase their efficiency. From the beginning, our endeavor to create data access solutions for these organizations has required in-depth customer focus, but only in 2015 did we really understand what that means.

Meet our customers where they are

One of the reasons we have been successful in serving technologically slow-moving organizations is embodied in a company value we hold dear: meet our customers where they are.

Our value was inspired by the notion of accompaniment: to go on a journey with a customer, to listen to and support them until a task is deemed done by them, not us. Years ago, I learned about how this notion similarly inspired physician and anthropologist Paul Farmer to pioneer a new treatment for diseases that were deemed untreatable outside of the developed world. Dr. Farmer took the time to understand the realities of human behavior, including, for example, that taking drugs when you don’t have enough food to eat can make you sick, so you won't continue to take them even if they are saving your life. Dr. Farmer's solution included understanding these sorts of barriers, and sending food along with medicine by accompagnateurs -- community health workers who go from door to door.

During grad school, I vividly remember my advisor Tapan Parikh telling me to forget everything that I thought was a good idea for the world’s poor, and just go and intimately understand an actual problem in-situ. His guidance led me to shadow community health workers in Tanzania and eventually to help set up a community health workers program in Uganda. It was only through those experiences that I realized for this community, “meeting them where they are” meant that we must stop trying to disrupt paper workflows that are working well, and embrace data access solutions on top of them. At the beginning of 2015, eight years later and still inspired by the notion of accompaniment, we decided that for Captricity to thrive financially, we must focus again on one industry vertical and completely dominate it.

[After you're finished reading the post, check out our 2015 Year in Review infographic below!]

Learning to focus

In 2015, we focused exclusively on expanding our services to life insurance companies in the U.S. We dove in and experienced both their and their customers’ pain. Together, we developed clever solutions to their most unsolvable problems.

Today, eight of the top 18 U.S. life insurers are our customers. We help companies like New York Life, AXA and Woodmen Life get access to the customer data they need to make a fundamental shift in how they serve their customers and enable analytics to improve the way they perform fraud detection and underwriting. For example, we helped New York Life digitize hundreds of thousands of death certificates to drive the next generation of data analytics.

A hard decision

Accompaniment takes a lot of time and resources. For us, focusing on insurance meant we had to put other important initiatives on hold. The hardest of all was limiting the resources we could allocate to grow the nonprofit and international development organizations that we serve through

Personally, getting up in front of the team -- most of whom joined because they believe in the mission of Captricity.Org -- to say, "It is important, but we can't afford to focus on that right now," took a pep talk in the mirror each time. I laid awake many nights wondering, "How long will the team believe me?"

A new

With our recent fundraising success, we can finally turn our attention to the larger question: how can we thrive financially and still make the biggest social impact possible? The answer, we realized was to directly tie our social impact to revenue growth, to invest in social good as a “vertical” and, most importantly, to empower everyone at Captricity to participate. This is the new model. We created an internal program of rotating and elected committees and chairs. While the committees generally map to departments within Captricity, team members often chose to branch out to work with and learn from people in areas they otherwise would not. These committees are empowered to make decisions, work with a real budget and must meet financial metrics that are tied to a percentage of last quarter revenue. More commercial success equals more non-profit reach.

Truthfully, the model will work best when we are weaned off venture funding and become a sustainable public company. However, we must walk the talk now to stay true to our mission. Unlike other tech startups, there's no pivot here: the service we provide is unique, and it must exist for the sake of organizations that serve everyone.

Numbers to be proud of

Our momentum from 2014 continued in 2015. Versus 2014, our monthly recurring revenue increased by a factor of four, and we helped our customers digitize four times more data, increasing to 200 million data fields in 2015.

Once again, our team doubled in size. We grew from 36 to 66 true believers. Next year, there’s likely to be over 100 Captricitzens. As we grow, what will always remain intact is our culture and our values.

We raised $35 million. Thanks to our newest investor White Mountains Insurance Group, a private equity fund and our existing investors who have been with us since the beginning, Accomplice Venture and Social Capital, we closed our Series C funding, bringing our total funding to $49 million.

The Captricitizen spirit

The best and the brightest in the world of technology continue to join our company for the right reasons: they believe in our mission and they truly want to make a difference in the world. Some people say 50 employees is a make-or-break point for culture. I’m happy to say ours is thriving in all the right ways, thanks at least in part to some of our special programs like volunteer days. This year we spent time giving back to our community at Glide, Northern California Family Dog Rescue and Alameda County Food Bank.

We also launched an internship program focused on providing local students from under-resourced backgrounds the professional experience to move confidently towards their future careers. Our interns, hailing from programs including LIFP and KIPP, learn and practice customer service, analysis, communication and office management skills while benefitting from the mentorship of our diverse staff.

And let’s not forget all the fun stuff we do, including: too many game nights and happy hours to count, lots of ping pong and cornhole, playing sports together and watching the Warriors championship parade from the roof at our office in our beloved Oakland, CA.

We’ve come a long way

Our momentum in 2015 has enabled us to continue on our mission to democratize data access. With our recent funding, we will continue expanding Captricity’s impact in both the largely regulated enterprise and across the organizations that serve everyone.

We have come a long way since the 200 square foot room in downtown Berkeley. Now, let's do something really special.

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