An interview with CEO, Laura Cancel Part 1
These are exciting times here at NEDDIE!
The digital platform built for nonprofits is about to launch. As hectic as things are, Laura Cancel, NEDDIE’s CEO & Founder, took some time to talk about her vision for the company, the road she’s taken to get here, and what’s in store. We hope this gives you some insight into NEDDIE’s mission and inspires you to join us in creating social impact!
Tune in next week for Part 2 of our interview.
As a tech company located in Washington State, people are likely to make associations between NEDDIE and companies like Amazon and Microsoft, not least because Laura used to work at Amazon. However, when comparing the CEOs of these and other tech companies, Laura Cancel is decidedly a breed apart. There is the obvious – that she is a woman of color leading a tech company built for nonprofits. But when you talk to her, you realize that her vision is bigger than herself or her company – much, much bigger.
It was while she was working at Amazon that she found “her passion,” as she calls it. But it wasn’t to serve the big tech giant. Rather, it was inspired by her hometown of Puerto Rico, which in September 2017 was devastated by Hurricane Maria. In response, she co-founded the nonprofit Puerto Rico We Care, and assembled a team to design a digital tool that expedited over 20,000 donated items in two months. It was through the success of this initiative that nonprofits started coming to her and asking how? How did she achieve those results in such a short amount of time?
Laura bringing donations to the heavily affected community in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico.
For two years she would turn the question of “how” back on nonprofits. “How can I help nonprofits?” She left Amazon to dedicate herself full-time to the research that would eventually lead to NEDDIE. The digital platform was built to help nonprofits “operate efficiently and lower their costs while exposing them to the world.”
Laura’s personal vision goes further:
“My mission is to empower everyone to make a social impact. To involve everyone to do social good.”
Her story is one that speaks of America at this exact moment in history. In a nation seeking progress towards racial justice, female empowerment, gender equality, corporate responsibility, and all forms of inequity. Laura doesn’t speak to these terms so much as embody them. Hers is a story of exemplifying and living your deepest faith, especially when you’re down and have been told to stay down.
“It hasn’t been easy. It has been extremely difficult and to this day it continues to be very difficult.” But, she insists, the people who are beside her make all the difference. She calls them her “engines” – her husband, Casey King, her Project Managers, Elanny Torres and Stephanie Cancel, and her Tech Lead Abram Thau. “They believe in NEDDIE as strongly as I do and do not let me fall without pushing me back up again.”
There have also been many people along the way providing lessons and inspiration. One of them was Alissa Leinonen, CEO of Gourmondo Catering. “I told Alissa: ‘I’m doing this bootstrapped, with no money and I’m a little scared.’ She said to me, ‘that’s exactly how I started, with $35.’ And her company is now about to hit $20 million. It doesn’t matter. If you have the drive, the support, you just continue moving forward.” Amy Balliett, CEO of Killer Visual Strategies was another guiding light. It was due to Amy’s advice about reaching out to one’s community that NEDDIE got its first two employees through Facebook groups. That was the final impetus Laura needed to formally establish the company on October 10, 2019. Since then, NEDDIE has also launched an internship program that provides support for their full-time staff as well as a learning experience for students looking for a crash course in establishing a business, building a digital platform, and inspiring a movement.
“What I love about the company is that we are like a family,” Laura says. And if you talk to any of its employees or interns, the excitement is palpable. In company-wide meetings where everything is discussed openly, new board members marvel at the positivity, and the desire to be better and to do better, for everyone.
Nonprofits are just as inspired by NEDDIE’s vision. “What makes me really happy is showing the product and the design and for them to say, ‘this is was what we needed.’ This fulfills my heart. We are delivering the best tool that is out there to promote nonprofits and to help them operate.”
She now sees with certainty the positive social impacts NEDDIE will bring. She envisions a future where NEDDIE is on everyone’s mobile phones and desktops, and where people, nonprofits, and businesses are using the app at least once a day, building a network for social change.
Laura presenting at the Women In Tech Conference at Amazon in 2018.
Inspiration is never far away for Laura Cancel. Speaking at Amazon’s Women in Tech Conference in 2018, her parting words to the audience were: “Just remember it only takes one person to make a difference and that person can be you.” Some would interpret this as a prophecy fulfilled. For her, it is a reminder that there is still much more work to do.
Next week in Part 2 of our interview, hear about the incredible story behind NEDDIE’s name.
In the meantime, learn more about Laura’s initiative to help the Puerto Rican community after Hurricane Maria: