Entrepreneurship and community are core values at WHU and students embody these values during their studies and beyond graduation. No one more so than WHU alumni Paul Nietzschmann, Jan Runo, and Arne Wolfewicz, who in response to the current corona crisis founded initiative Helping Hands. During a time when many people cannot or do not want to leave their homes, Helping Hands offers a matching service whereby volunteers can offer help to those in need. We caught up with Master in Management graduate Arne, to explain a little more about the idea and the incredible response they have received since.
How did the idea for Helping Hands come to life?
Paul came to us with the idea about a week ago, so it has been an intense and very compressed start-up style experience within that one week. I knew the moment when I received a text asking if I had the capacity to work on something, that it was going to be fast-paced as it was related to the coronavirus.
It was clear from the beginning that we would need to dedicate time to quickly putting workflows into place, so that we could get more people involved to help to support the initiative besides just us. The crazy thing is, we went from three friends hacking on a platform to merging with two other initiatives and being supported by more than 30 people.
What is your normal day-to-day job?
I have been working for four months with colabel, a machine learning start-up based in Berlin after working with Kühne + Nagel for three years. I’ve been leading their business development, building the website, dipping into online content and social media, all of which helps as we build Helping Hands.
What is different about Helping Hands to other initiatives?
From a business perspective, competition here is not a good thing from the standpoint of the user - the person who needs help. That person is more likely to find a match if they have access to all the contacts available.
We are in a number of discussions with platforms who are doing something similar and seeing how we can join forces in a short time frame. In this situation, time is of the essence. Some of the organizations we are joining forces with had a manual process in place using Google Forms and manually matching people, or we found that many people were already organizing themselves via Facebook groups. Which is where we step in with a more technological and agile approach.
What is for sure is that it is not a business, but an initiative that works on a voluntary basis. We can see that there is also the opportunity for this to continue beyond the current situation, to expand further internationally and connect other communities.
What has the response been like since its launch?
Phenomenal. Besides the actual signups on our platform, we received over 60 applications from people all over the world who wanted to support us as a team including China, India, and the US. The only problem we have is that we have 50 times as many people who want to be helpers than those who need help. It is hard to reach the people who are offline, normally the older generation, and we are mostly working on that now.
Another positive aspect is that once such an offer is available, people are willingly signing up and they’re more than happy to join. It’s completely different to launching a new e-commerce business into a new market where you are fighting for everyone’s attention.
How has the WHU network responded to Helping Hands?
I only realized the true power of the WHU network once I graduated. Whether it is building an initiative like this or any other start-up, you know you can reach out to the network and people generally respond within minutes or hours. The network is immediately ready to exchange ideas, offer messages of support, and I don’t know if it would have been the same if I had been tapping into a different network.
Building a start-up with co-founders from WHU also helps, as you roughly know the profile of the person you are getting. The case studies and problems you face during your studies at WHU are very similar to what we are doing with Helping Hands: you work within a short time-frame, you have to be efficient to succeed, and always stay on task. While I had never directly worked with Jan or Paul before, I knew that they had been through a similar experience at WHU and that no matter what, none of us would be alone or left behind throughout this project.