Michelle Crosby is a startup founder who didn’t just have a cool idea. She had a drive to alleviate the pain 800,000 American families endure each year — a drive that arose from experiences in her own life.
Her company, Wevorce, walks couples through the dissolution of their marriages. Its mission is to help families separate as smoothly as possible, without spending tens of thousands of dollars on attorneys or spending hours in court instead of with their children.
Crosby, now 40, was 9 years old when she was asked to choose between her divorcing parents. As an adult, she put divorce on her “never bucket list.” In her early 20s, she eloped in Las Vegas — a decision motivated in part by the scars of her parents’ divorce.
Crosby eventually opened a law firm dedicated to helping people amicably separate.
While she was developing her practice in Boise, refining what would become Wevorce, Crosby and her husband decided to end their marriage.
Despite her expertise, Crosby did not anticipate the toll her own divorce would take.
“I remember going to the doctor. I had these little bumps on my hand, and they were really painful,” she says. “The physical manifestations of stress [were that] the cellular structure was breaking down.”
That experience reinforced to her that divorce is “heartbreaking stuff. And it really anchored me,” she says.
Crosby took it easy for a year. She thought more deeply about her vision for amicable, as-DIY-as-possible, divorce. And she emerged “100 percent” certain that Wevorce was her calling.
Wevorce began in 2013.
“It was really clear that there was nothing else that was going to be a better way for me to spend my life,” she says. “To create something like this is so much harder than you could possibly imagine. But an amazing gift.”
Since then, Crosby has remarried — a contractual marriage, with the contract up for renegotiation each year — and had a son. Wevorce has gone through a storied Silicon Valley startup incubator, the Y Combinator, moved back to Boise, and raised $7 million of startup funding.
One major investor is Techstars, a startup accelerator for which Boise’s Mark Solon is a managing partner.
“If you spend time with her, you can’t help but walk away with the feeling that Michelle believes she was put on this Earth to solve this problem and make it better,” Solon says. “[Wevorce is] the combination of a passionate, remarkable founder and a very large market opportunity.”
Crosby, who is Wevorce’s largest shareholder, declined to disclose revenues, profits or losses. Asked if the company has an exit strategy — such as acquisition — Crosby said Wevorce is “focused on building a great company that helps millions of families.”
The company of 12 employees is based in a cozy brick building where Fairview Avenue and Main Street meet in West Downtown. Wevorce has amassed a network of 600 lawyers, counselors, real estate agents, insurance brokers and others who act as consultants when a family needs their services during the Wevorce process.
Divorce has “really always been about lawyers doing things a certain way to get documents through,” Crosby says. “We’re starting to look at it differently.”
Q: Do you expect Wevorce to replace divorce lawyers? The courts?
A: Families that have done the work to get through the transition, they just don’t need the lawyers. They are empowered to figure out what’s best for their family. And then for those who are somewhere in the middle, we do have that professional network, so the family can get started and then connect when they need help.
I needed to leave [other attorneys] to do what they did best, which is for those families in the worst-case scenario that need someone to decide. But what didn’t exist was an alternative for those families who aren’t in the worst-case scenario.
And I knew that so much of what lawyers do is really quite templated. I could take so many of those pieces and use software — not to remove human elements but to do the things that can be done a million times without people. You don’t need to pay someone $200 an hour to do these pieces.
Q: What’s ahead for you? What are you working on?
A: We continue to take on bigger and bigger projects. We went from doing tens, to hundreds, and on to thousands [of divorces at a time] by the end of the year. We’re slowly, slowly figuring out all the pieces so we can keep adding more and helping more families.
We’ve got the team really focused and built a pretty good foundation for the Wevorce concept. Now, that frees me up to start thinking about the whole arc of relationships.
We are one of the first people to have the data to peek behind how Americans are partnering. I think the next step we’ll take is fixing marriage and how we partner. Because that’s where it actually breaks. Divorce is just a symptom.
We’ll be starting Wejoin — helping people partner from the beginning in a healthier conversation. Not just the romantic version. You can do both; they just need to go together.
Q: What will Wejoin be used for?
A: Millennials are partnering and not getting married. Cohabitation agreements. Contractual marriages. Alternative ways of partnering. And prenuptials. What are the key questions you should be asking each other as you build that partnership?
Those three elements that we talked about on the divorce side: What are the emotional, behavioral pieces? What are the financial impacts of partnering? And what are the legal implications?
Then, we’ll be moving on to Weconcile for families. You have two years of romantic love, and then you’re into the endurance phase.
Q: When do you plan to launch Wejoin or Weconcile?
A: 2017. We’re starting to do some beta testing with it. When you’re dealing with families, we’re very cautious.
Q: You’ve seen behind the scenes of divorce. You have all this data. Has anything surprised you?
A: We just completed kind of an analysis, and I would say what surprised me is about 46 percent of the families say they just grow apart. It’s surprising how many people just wear out.
And as we looked at it, it makes sense. From the time I get up to the time I get home, where’s my energy going? In the morning, you get up, and whether you’re working out or going directly to work or getting the kids to school, it’s all outwards. And then generally, by the time you get home, you’re kid-focused, you’re exhausted. You have dinner, a glass of wine. “Good night, honey.”
And we fall for the assumption of how we partner with this romantic idea. But if you don’t put fuel in the car, it’s going to run out of gas. And so we’re living like this, assuming that marriages are an absolute, without putting as much energy and focus into them. Everyone else is getting the best of us, so to speak. And that’s what’s wearing us out to the point of, “Do I have the energy to have that fight or have that courageous conversation of something I really need to talk about?”
We’re so productive that we’re losing our connections. I think that’s where you see the 46 percent that are saying (shrug). Weconcile is about catching people in that phase. Starting conversations.
Q: What did you learn from being in the Y Combinator?
A: I was [at Y Combinator] the last year that tech entrepreneur and investor Paul Graham was in charge. He had this T-shirt that said, “Make something people want.” It’s a strange thing when you think about it: We have something people need but not necessarily want. So what I’ve learned from that is that the more you talk to people about what is helpful, the faster you can align ... developing a useful product and finding the market that will use it.
Up until this point, we were built on a series of my creative leaps and what I’ve seen in my own practice. Now, we’re starting to support those creative leaps with data and talking to people.
When we were in Y Combinator, we were growing 14 percent week-over-week. And we had all these metrics. We measured how many families we were helping, how many pros we were recruiting. How many hours we were working. We even measured how much toast we were consuming. We worked 2,000 hours in four months. We were obsessed.
One of the biggest things we did there ... we really anchored Wevorce with three pillars: the community, the methodology and the technology. We believe in this unique methodology that is built on bringing peace to families.
Y Combinator helps fortify you for the reality that you are creating something that has not existed.