Next holiday season, I hope to give my brother with autism the gift of friendshipBy Juliana Fetherman | December 19, 2018
This guest post is written by Juliana Fetherman, Founder and CEO of Making Authentic Friendships LLC, a mobile application that will enable children (ages 13+) and adults with special needs make friends. It will match them based on their geographic location, diagnosis, and interests. She is currently getting her MBA at Sacred Heart University. Her brother Michael inspired this initiative. He is 21 years old and has autism and ADHD.
All my brother wants this holiday season is friends. About a year ago, my brother was almost in tears over how “lonely and bored” he is due to his lack of friends. That is when the idea came to me. A mobile application that will enable children (ages 13+) and adults with special needs make friends. It will match them based on their geographic location, diagnosis, age and interests. I was shocked that there was almost nothing in this space, and it was then when I knew I had to pursue this, for my brother and the millions out there like him. Ever since then, I have worked tirelessly to make this happen.
My brother and I never had a “typical” brother-sister relationship growing up. One of my favorite memories is when we started going to the same school. It was elementary school and we started taking the bus together for the first time. It was “us” time that we had every day. At that time, I was able to be his best friend, sit with him and protect him. Now, I can’t always be there to do that. It is my hope that the company I build, will always be there for him, even when I can’t.
I have been working hard to grow my business over the past year. Over the past 6 months, I have achieved things I only dreamed of. Starting a business is very difficult because it goes from just a thought, to an idea, to something you actually have to execute. The difficult part about it, isn’t so much doing it, as it is getting other people to believe in you and your idea.
When I went “public” with the idea, I didn’t know if anyone would believe in it. I am extremely fortunate to say that almost every person I have come across since, has believed in it. Many entrepreneurs can’t say the same, therefore I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I then started to do what every good business women would, network. I started building my social media presence (which in my opinion is huge), attending events and resource fairs, networking with foundations and applying to be in every newspaper, magazine and news channel.
Although, I can say, like many people in my position, there are plenty of entities that didn’t answer, a few did. I was invited to speak on a panel at Bloomberg HQ in New York City, about my experience with crowdfunding. To be candid, a year ago I didn’t even know what crowdfunding was. I was thrown out of my comfort zone onto a panel with people double my age, who raised 100 times what I did crowdfunding. I told the story, and was able to impress a room filled with executives and investors. I was also able to get the respect and attention of my fellow panelists. This event allowed me to network with brilliant people in the industry and was one of my favorite experiences on this journey thus far.
After this “win”, I contacted Cheddar, an up and coming news platform that reports live from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. I was able to get on a segment and speak about my application. This opportunity has definitely helped me reach a different, larger consumer base.
People often commend me for my “camera presence”. Contrary to what people think, I am not an expert public speaker by any means. I tell the story so well because it is my real life. It is extremely easy to talk about something that I live every day, and have been living for the past 22 years. Growing up with a brother with autism has made me who I am today.
At the age of 22, still in graduate school, I am in awe of the amazing opportunities I have been given. I count my blessings every day that when I took the leap of faith to tell my story and introduce people to my idea, they believed in me. They believe that my product will help with a big problem many people in the autism community face, and they believe that I am able to execute it. I can’t imagine what opportunities lie ahead, but I look forward to those future to anything and everything that’s to come.
My hope is by next holiday season, I will be bringing friends to everyone that needs them, especially my brother.