Everything about long-term illness is stressful, including wanting to help a friend or family member when you’re not geographically close enough to lend an actual helping hand. But there is help. By providing on-demand meal delivery and transportation services, Like Neighbors is seeking national third-party partners that are similarly motivated by a selfless drive to help people in need, whether they’re welcoming a new baby, or dealing with an illness or the loss of a loved one.
In a world where many things are one click away, there aren’t enough options for helping loved ones from afar. CaringBridge is great if you want to monitor updates and offer words of support and GoFundMe helps bridge financial gaps, an unquestionably dystopian indictment of American healthcare, but what else? There are countless things people facing tough times could use, and Like Neighbors hopes the Ubers, DoorDashes and Postmates of the world are willing to partner up to bring meals, transportation and others services to the people who need it the most.
Judy O’Connor, founder and CEO of Like Neighbors, first began building a business plan five years ago when a friend’s young son was diagnosed with cancer. Living in Maryland, O’Connor found it was more difficult than expected when she explored sending meals to their California household to help—even in this on-demand, hyper-connected era. As her friends shuttled between home and hospital, just finding out where they were to send meals wasn’t easy.
Because Like Neighbors operates in a gray space, not quite a CaringBridge and definitely not an actual delivery provider, O’Connor has struggled to get the word about her services out to prospective customers, as well as restaurants and delivery brands that she hopes could integrate her service at a profit.
“I’m not going to walk into a waiting room and say, ‘Hey, everybody!’” O’Connor said of marketing to customers. In the two years since Like Neighbors began, leaving flyers in waiting rooms was another grim, necessary step,” adding that “there are unique challenges to this business.”
Having grown up in Los Angeles with a background in television production and marketing, O’Connor always had a particular passion for helping companies going through rapid periods of change. Through that lens, her experience with friends nagged at her for two years before actively trying to make a business based on helping people.
Beyond meals, the service can connect people to regular rides, like a wheelchair-accessible Lyft for recurring appointments all the way up to a non-emergency ambulance. As the service seeks to expand beyond the Mid-Atlantic region, it’s looking for regional and national partners to unlock the full potential of O’Connor’s ambitions.
Like Neighbors receives a referral fee on orders placed through the platform, which is completely free for users. If a meal is fulfilled by Grubhub, for instance, Grubhub will get its usual percentage, meaning that restaurants or ride services would pay Like Neighbors for the connection, not the patient or friends and family.
Senior care is another part of the Like Neighbors profile, with far-away or in-town family members sending meals to residents of assisted living or memory-care facilities, where a hot meal from a different kitchen could be a godsend.
The brand’s prime meal provider was Galley Foods, a meal-kit provider that was just acquired by Sweetgreen, a California-based fast-casual restaurant brand with a reputation for innovation. As a result, Galley’s gift-card program was discontinued, which has Like Neighbors looking for a new provider. O’Connor is specifically looking for one that has national reach, offers gift cards, has access to third-party delivery service (but no subscriptions or meal kids requiring prep) and would be willing to give Like Neighbors a small referral fee to keep the lights on as it scales.
Galley’s healthy and kid-friendly options made it a viable partner, but O’Connor is focused on building scale that can drive nationwide awareness, along the lines of CaringBridge or GoFundMe. Looking further down the line, she’s investigating adding house cleaning, dog walking, lawn mowing, grocery delivery and even a full gift registry to the company’s offerings.
The reality of forming such national partnerships hasn’t been easy, but Like Neighbors has had no trouble attracting media attention, and the concept was the winner of the 2018 BOOM Pitch Competition, which steeled O’Connor’s resolve to keep pushing the brand forward.
“The plan is to grow national and to do that quickly,” she said. “These families are everywhere and … it really holds a lot of potential value, not just for the families in need.”