Paula Jagemann, founder of Someone With, LLC., learned, as… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
Paula Jagemann had thought of herself as a retired entrepreneur. Then an idea for a startup grabbed her and wouldn't let go.
While on the board of Frederick Memorial Hospital, she learned that breast cancer patients have a hard time tracking down all the specialized home-health items they need. Jagemann, an e-commerce veteran, thought it was a problem crying out for an online business solution.
This month, the Frederick woman launched Someone With, which aims to collect and sell the best products for patients — from deodorant that won't interfere with chemotherapy to moisture-wicking bedsheets for the hot flashes that come with treatment.
Jagemann, 44, hit it big as one of the early employees at UUNET Technologies, the Internet service provider from Northern Virginia whose wildly successful initial public offering in 1995 helped fuel the dot-com boom. She plowed some of her stock-option money into founding an online office supply business and followed that with a company that provides e-commerce software to other businesses, eCommerce Industries.
Born in Britain, she has lived most of her life in the United States and became an American citizen three years ago. She and husband Joseph have a 6-year-old daughter, Anika. Jagemann chatted recently with The Baltimore Sun about her new company, plans for expansion into offerings for other diseases such as prostate cancer and suggestions for would-be entrepreneurs.
What do breast cancer patients face when they go looking for home-care products?
They're all manufactured by one-off [companies]. … When I did the initial search for products, it took me five hours to find those products online. If I had had a diagnosis of breast cancer, I can tell you, I don't want to be sitting in front of a keyboard at this difficult time.
My initial goal was transforming a five-hour search to 27 minutes.
What gave you the idea?
It was being on the board of our hospital. One of the solutions they thought of to get these products into the hands of their patients was put in a boutique, a cancer-care boutique. To that I said, "In Class-A office space? Are you crazy?"
We're a nonprofit community hospital. There's a cost in building out a boutique space, a retail space. You've got to stock it, you've got to staff it and you've got to somehow advertise it.
I told them — famous last words — "If I can't find you a great website, I'll just build you one." Sure enough, 15 months later and scads of focus groups and research, here we are.
What will you be selling?
The products that are complementary to your course of treatment for cancer.
When you're under chemotherapy treatment, you're not advised to use any over-the-counter anything. … No deodorant, skin care, cleansers, shampoos. It's a litany of products. Because they're borderline medicinal and they're specialized, you can't get them at CVS. And they're a brand you're not familiar with. There is no Oil of Olay skin care [for cancer patients].
Do you think of your company as a sort of niche Amazon.com?
I don't want to be Amazon in that I don't want the largest catalog in the world. I actually just want the most relevant catalog for you on your first day of chemotherapy, on your last day of chemotherapy, … after your mouth runs dry and you need a specialty saliva-producing mouthwash. We want to be everywhere you are on that course.
Why did you decide to take the startup plunge?
To see this problem and know I had the skills to fix it, there was no other alternative than to take on the challenge. I love a good challenge.
I had to go to dozens and dozens of one-off manufacturers who don't have the scale or mass to have a distribution network. … We had to reshoot every single product image because the quality was from iPhone [snapshot] to professional models, and everything in between.
[Another challenge] was the cost. Night wicking sheets can be as much as $599. … So this is an expensive, unwanted journey. My goal was to figure out a way not only to help [a patient] get the products she needs … but to help her pay for it.
Everybody understands the concept of "want" registries. … We've come up with a "need" registry.
Now the woman can go to Someone With, she clicks the need registry, … we pop up a social media tool we've created, … and we have a template message that says, "Friends and family, you have all asked how to help."
Why did you name the company Someone With?
I'm an insomniac. Three o'clock in the morning, I was like, "What am I going to call this company?" I said, "Gosh, I know someone with breast cancer."
Then it dawned on me: Someone with Alzheimer's, someone with lupus. … We built a system that's replicable.
That's where Someone With goes in the future. One in eight women get breast cancer. One in six men get prostate cancer. We'll launch [Someone With for] prostate cancer in the summer.
What did UUNET's IPO do for your net worth?