I was brought up to value independence above almost anything else. According to my family’s lore, standing on your own two feet is something all adults should be able to do.
It’s certainly a trait that gets you a long way as a sole operator. But the flip side is that I struggle to ask for help when I need it. In my mind, asking for help is a sign of weakness or failure, or an inability to cope.
Which is strange, because I love helping my nearest and dearest. If a friend or family member needs someone to help move house or look after their kid, I’m the first to put up my hand. From a work perspective, if a colleague needs a reference or wants me to look over some writing, I’m always happy to. It gives me great satisfaction knowing I’ve been able to lend a hand.
Alexandra Stewart knows only too well how hard it is to ask for help. But she’s turned this very human response into an app.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, Stewart struggled to know how to ask for assistance at such a stressful time. Her husband made the point that people wanted to help but they didn’t know how. He suggested she tell people what she needed.
“I thought, ‘But why don’t they just know what to do?’ and I also didn’t know how to tell them what to do,” she explains.
This was the genesis of her app icare4u, which was launched in early April. The app allows people who need help to create a group to assist them. Once the group has been started, tasks such as shopping, looking after kids or household chores can be divided among members.
It’s a fantastic idea for anyone suffering a serious illness who needs help, but I can also see it would have broader applications, for instance for people who have just had a baby, or perhaps experienced the sudden death of a family member.
Stewart found developers to build the app through online freelancing site Elance. “I contacted Australian app developers but I couldn’t afford them, so I used someone overseas,” she says.
She chose app developers Peerbits because they had done work for other Australian businesses, offered a good price and had relevant experience.
According to Stewart, developing the app was a learning curve. “When I started dealing with the developers I thought I’d clearly mapped out what I wanted, but I realised I needed to be much more in-depth with my instructions; you have to be very specific for someone to see your vision.”
It took just three weeks for Stewart to see the first version of the app. “These guys work fast; they were available on Skype at night and I could see exactly what they were working on and give feedback. My advice for other people building apps is to make sure you’re available to give feedback when the developers need it and to do testing thoroughly.”
She raised $875 of the $5800 it cost to build the app through a crowdfunding site Smart Crowdfunding US. The site charged her a $300 fee, for which they made recommendations about how to structure her fundraising campaign.
“They also advised me that I needed to get $150 in the first week to kick off the campaign. I started off on page 76 of the site’s community category. But doing two updates a day to keep the campaign fresh helped me to get to page three in my category. You really have to be in the first six pages for the campaign to take effect,” Stewart explains. She says friends but also complete strangers pledged money to the campaign.
At the moment, Stewart is marketing the app and raising awareness of it by creating connections with health organisations such as Breast Cancer Network Australia and she’s happy with the response she’s had to the app so far, although it’s early days.
“There’s a girl in Texas using it on her second bout of cancer. It’s like people draw a line in the sand when [the disease] comes back. People who helped initially aren’t necessarily there and you need to find new supporters,” she says.
More importantly, Stewart hopes her app will help re-create a culture of caring.
“I was listening to Peter Cosgrove on Anzac Day and he was talking about how the Australian spirit is about always sticking together. We’re certainly great at providing support in natural disasters but when it comes to helping people face-to-face, or helping our next door neighbour, we’ve forgotten what to do,” she says.
“I hope this takes the fear and uncertainty out of that so that we can get the true Anzac spirit back.”