Social Impact Heroes: How Nicole Krinick and Evan Golub of Wana are helping people with chronic and invisible conditions to find what will help them get well
So many people with chronic and invisible conditions spend years or decades looking for what will help them get well. We want to shorten that time as much as possible by bringing people together and connecting them in ways that foster their health and happiness -that’s the heart of Wana. The movement I hope we inspire is the knowledge that, whether you’ve been diagnosed, are looking for a diagnosis, or your health is currently in a good place, there is someone you can help and who can help you on Wana. It’s incredible…and you have to see it to believe it.
I had the pleasure to interview Nicole Krinick and Evan Golub. Nicole is the Co-Founder/Head Visionary at Wana (We Are Not Alone). Nicole has been entrepreneurial with a creative flair from a young age. These skills, along with her drive to make a difference, paved the way to co-creating the digital application designed to connect individuals with chronic and invisible conditions. Wana is an accessible community that provides hope, direction and healing so individuals alike can navigate their health journeys together in a positive way. Nicole understands firsthand the discouraging feeling of uncertainty and loneliness stemming from mysterious symptoms. Her invisible illness was the inspiration behind Wana and together with fellow co-founder, Evan Golub, developed the community-driven platform where people can share their experiences with one another and have a resource for clarity, guidance and support — something she didn’t have. She is passionate about giving people the resources and community that weren’t available to her, Nicole has pivoted from a career in real estate to function as the Head Visionary at Wana. Since launching the app, Nicole’s primary goal is to make a positive impact on others and through Wana, ensure that no one with a chronic or invisible condition is left feeling alone or helpless.
Evan Golub, along with Nicole Krinick, saw a need to create an accessible and informative resource where people could come together, interact and share their experiences. For years, Evan experienced vertigo and disequilibrium and sought an answer from more than 30 practitioners, including ENTs, neurologists, otolaryngologists, allergists, optometrists and ophthalmologists. After a seemingly endless string of misdiagnoses including ear infections, vestibular migraines and more, he learned that he had been dealing with Lyme Disease all along. Understanding that his story was not unique and that there were many others with similar experiences, Evan’s journey led him to create the platform of Wana so that others may not have to endure similar hardships alone. Since launching Wana, Evan has pivoted his career from the hedge fund industry to dedicate his life to being educated on chronic and invisible conditions. As a passionate advocate, he has been involved in community events, featured in national media and interviewed by likeminded podcasts.
Thank you so much for joining us Nicole and Evan. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
EG: Before launching Wana, I spent 13 years working in the hedge fund industry. My decision to pivot direction stemmed from my own experience with chronic illness, which included seeing 30 practitioners for more than four years before being diagnosed with Lyme disease. After my diagnosis, I dedicated myself to becoming educated on my condition and helping others do the same. Creating a community of “Lyme buddies” brought me incredible satisfaction and purpose, and ultimately led to Wana, which I co-founded with Nicole in 2018. Wana stands for “We Are Not Alone” because we are committed to the idea that no one should ever have to feel alone on their health journey.
NK: Before Wana, I had a successful career in real estate and loved the lifestyle it afforded me (including the ability to travel often!). However, a part of me always yearned to do something more fulfilling and purpose-driven. When I was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2017, my life changed overnight. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this life-altering health challenge would soon become an opportunity for me to make a difference in the lives of others. I feel so lucky that Evan and I made a chance connection a few months before I got sick, because that friendship laid the groundwork for Wana. As we committed to navigating the convoluting and scary journey of chronic illness together, we realized the idea of “getting better together” was bigger than just the two of us. And Wana was born!
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
EG: The hardest part of leaving an established career to start your own venture is the risk, especially when the industry you’re departing is rather stable and cushy. That said, I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work on something that I’m not only personally passionate about but also serves people in need.
NK: I feel very similarly — the risk is a big part of the story with any start-up! I had to learn to become okay with uncertainty, including financial uncertainty. Knowing that what we are building will make a massive difference for so many people balances the anxiety of the unknown. At the end of the day, the trust that I am walking my most authentic career path and creating something invaluable is what keeps me going.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
EG: Start-up life is a roller coaster — and I mean one of those new roller coasters that goes in every direction, backwards, and forwards all at the same time. There are moments where everything seems to be working against you and you question the decision of taking the leap from the corporate world. Then you have days where everything is firing on all cylinders and people in your community send you testimonials saying that they could not be more grateful for Wana. That makes it all worthwhile.
NK: When you are building a company that is in complete alignment with your heart’s true desire to help others, you just keep going — there is no other option. For me personally, when there is the combination of will and heart, you can accomplish anything.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
EG: We’re rocking. It took us two years to get here, but we finally launched and are getting our product out to people who are telling us it’s helping them. Our community is growing fast and the engagement has been really impressive given our stage.
NK: I pinch myself every day, because after two years of building this phenomenal app, it’s finally out in the world. Our resilience has helped us shift and improve when faced with challenges, and I’m very proud that we were able to take our creative vision and make it a reality. With Wana now in the App Store, we’re seeing our audience grow…and with each person who joins, it’s a reminder of why we’re doing this.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
EG: The funniest mistake I made was assuming I knew exactly who our audience would be because I had created a community of 100 Lyme buddies. Building that group had come naturally and I knew everyone pretty well, so I figured I had a good idea of our target users. Little did I know that to really understand your audience, you have to perform market research, create personas, conduct interviews, understand consumer behaviors and build lookalike audiences. Point being…there’s a lot that goes into each aspect of building a start-up, and at the beginning, you don’t even know what you don’t know!
NK: As Head Visionary at Wana, I envision how the user experience looks and then hand it over to our team to make it into a reality. Being a dreamer is one of my strengths, but I’ve also had to learn to manage my own expectations. I thought we could whip up the app pretty quickly — and not only would it be amazing, it would be glitch-free! Needless to say, I had a thing or two to learn about technology and what it actually takes on the backend to create even the smallest new feature. Still, I’m so passionate about this product, so even though I’m now more aware of realistic timeframes, I still get excited. Our team is always smiling when I have my next great idea, and it’s usually followed by them saying, “That’s awesome, but it probably will happen in a year from now.” And I get it! As much as we all want to see our ideas come to life, it requires patience as we put the pieces together.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
EG: We’re mission driven and founded by the very community that we’re serving. For Nicole and myself, as well as almost everyone else on the Wana team, living with chronic conditions is part of our daily lives. We’re entrenched in the chronic and invisible illness community, and there’s nothing we want more than to see people feel supported and find healing. We want that for our community members, our coworkers, and ourselves. So, with that in mind, our mission isn’t something we slap on the website and forget about — in fact, it’s the opposite. All of our decisions, big and small, are mission-driven, and we always strive to come from a place of authenticity, integrity and inclusivity.
NK: It’s not every day that companies are founded by two people who understand exactly what their audience is going through. We know what it’s like to feel lonely as you manage your health, and we also know how important hope, direction, and healing are. When we created Wana, we thought long and hard about what we wished had existed when we were diagnosed. We naturally approached every single aspect of the app with that mindset, and the result is a one-stop shop for people with chronic and invisible conditions. Not only is it the place you can go to lean on others walking the same (or similar) paths, it also provides an entire library of information to support your healing. We are all too familiar with the pitfalls and hurdles that exist for people with chronic and invisible conditions, and every single app feature we create aims to solve those problems.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
EG: Wear blue-light blocking glasses, take walks outside, stretch and be sure to not stay still for too long. Sweat often, whether in a workout class or an infrared sauna — circulation is key! Practice yoga. Find a studio that has a challenging flow if you find it to be ‘too slow or restorative.’ To employers, swap your fluorescent lighting for incandescent. That’s something many employers don’t think about, and employees may be reluctant to bring it up…but ditching the fluorescents can make a huge difference.
NK: Balance, balance, balance. I try to start and end my day with some self-care rituals that ground me and relax my mind, like meditation, deep breathing and infrared sauna. I personally do not have my phone on during these times as it is “me time.” It is very easy to think you need to be on call 24/7, but you don’t! The people around you will thank you for taking the time to care for yourself. After all, you care for your company and those who work there, so you should extend that care and thoughtfulness to yourself, too.
On a deeper level, it’s important to make sure what you are creating is aligned with your life’s mission. When you feel that unwavering sense of purpose, it’s much easier to stand in the trenches and uncomfortable moments of start-up life.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
EG: I’m grateful for my business partner, Nicole. It was back in 2017 that we were building this community of Lyme buddies where she turned to me and said, “This is so cute… you’re playing matchmaker for people to connect and create friendships. There should be an app for this.” That was the pivotal moment when we decided to take action and start building the platform.
NK: I swear we didn’t coordinate this! I’m grateful for Evan, through and through. He reminds me when it’s time to step up and when it’s time to retreat and give myself a break. Just yesterday, I spent hours in front of the camera shooting an ad for Wana. Because my health is still not perfect, it was quite taxing and I found myself a bit overwhelmed later that night. I called Evan and within seconds, I felt better. Whether in silence or words, he is always there for me. I don’t think you can ask for anything more in a business partner!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
EG: The success from my previous career put me in a position to take the leap and focus on building a product that could help people at scale. I leveraged my network and bootstrapped the business on my own dollar in the beginning, which allowed us to hire a digital agency to ideate a brand and build us a minimum viable product. We beta tested the MVP with 40 of our Lyme buddies and found that people were matching, messaging, and enjoying the community. Shortly after meeting on Wana, two of our users formed such a genuine friendship through supporting each other’s health that they took a week-long trip to Miami together. This experience proved our product and market were a good fit and gave me the confidence to take the leap. I’m proud to say we’re now helping people on a daily basis and receiving testimonials that give me goosebumps.
NK: The entire mission of our app is to bring healing to the world, literally and figuratively. While we are a new company that launched only weeks ago, we take great pride in our work and the many, little victories we’ve had along the way. It’s very gratifying to be in a position to fulfill our mission of helping people, which is something I value at my core. It is my dream to leave this world having changed the way people experience chronic illness, and to bring humanity closer together along the way. With small yet powerful steps, we have started that humbling journey, and I know it is only the start.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Hire people smarter than you. Surrounding yourself with smart people sets you up for the best chance of success. Give them autonomy and let them have ownership over their verticals. If you look around the room and realize that everyone is smarter than you…well, congratulations — you’ve done a great job building a team.
- Know your own weaknesses. Trying to be an expert at everything will set you up for failure. Understand there are various skill sets and personality types suited for different roles and responsibilities. When you lean into your employees’ superpowers, it benefits everyone — your company, your team, and you.
- Seek advice, but take ownership of decisions. In the beginning, I leaned on others for advice and vision a lot. I still value the insight of others tremendously, but I’ve learned that, at the end of the day, founders need to be responsible for bringing their vision to fruition — that means taking ownership of decisions, including tough ones.
- It’s hard to work with friends and family. In the early days of Wana, I hired a lot of close friends who are high performers in their field. I have the utmost respect and admiration for these friends, but it can get tricky trying to manage personal and professional relationships at the same time. Keep in mind that it’s challenging for the friends you hire, too, because no one ever wants to jeopardize a personal relationship.
- Nothing is easy — if it was everyone would be doing it! Building an app sounds so easy and feels like it should be built overnight. However, in reality you have to manage so much: tech sprints, product roadmaps, bugs, marketing strategies, customer service, consumer mapping, legal structures, tax, recruiting, and HR, to name a few. You will probably work around the clock for months at a time, and there will be moments when everything is difficult, and you question yourself. At least, that’s how it was for me. On those occasions, I reminded myself that moving the needle is never easy — and I hadn’t expected it to be. Once I recognized that, I was able to stay focused and put my mind to whatever I needed to.
- Remember your WHY and remind yourself of it constantly. The start-up world is exciting, but it won’t always be comfortable. The “why” infuses you with the ability to take the next step. Reminding myself that we are creating something to help people who truly need it is what pushes me forward. I know firsthand what it’s like to feel anxious, fearful, and alone in your health, and Wana exists so no one has to feel that way again. That’s my “why,” and it’s loud, resounding, and fills me with purpose every single day.
- Laugh as much as you can (even when you don’t feel like laughing). Things can get tough, and you won’t always see eye to eye with your business partner. I’m blessed to have a partner I get along with very well, but we had our first real disagreement recently. What broke the tension? Laughter! I’m even laughing as I remember it. Laughter is so essential to health and happiness, and it helps if you can have a good sense of humor when faced with a challenge.
- Don’t fight challenges, grow with them. Co-founding and serving as Head Visionary at Wana while living with and treating an invisible, chronic illness has pushed me to rise to my highest, best self. It’s challenging, yes, but it is also the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. With lots of deep exhales, I’ve created a life built on integrity (and lots of time management) in a way I could not have imagined a few years ago.
- Take risks and invite trust in. Start-up life brings moments of uncertainty, and I’ve had to build a deep trust within myself that everything will turn out better than I can even imagine. The risks we have taken have paid off, and I’ve learned to have confidence that we will always find our way through. It certainly helps when you have the utmost faith in the abilities of your team and know the importance of your mission!
- Know your superpowers and when to delegate. I’ve never been much of a delegator but being the co-founder of a fast-growing start-up has forced me to know my superpowers and delegate the rest. While I would love to be a part of every conversation, I know that Wana needs me to focus on what I do best: creating the vision and then going out into the world and spreading, sharing and celebrating it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
EG: I’d work to increase awareness around functional medicine and how the rise of modern illness is very much due to environmental factors. Wana intersects with this concept by providing information about integrative and natural treatments, but we’re not involved directly with advocacy about this topic. Maybe that will change in the future, but for now, what’s important is that, through Wana, more and more people are discovering the world of functional medicine and what it can do for them. Over time, with advocates working in tandem with companies like ours, I think we’ll see a big shift in awareness.
NK: It would be exactly what we are doing with Wana. So many people with chronic and invisible conditions spend years or decades looking for what will help them get well. We want to shorten that time as much as possible by bringing people together and connecting them in ways that foster their health and happiness -that’s the heart of Wana. The movement I hope we inspire is the knowledge that, whether you’ve been diagnosed, are looking for a diagnosis, or your health is currently in a good place, there is someone you can help and who can help you on Wana. It’s incredible…and you have to see it to believe it.