On April 25, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, killing more than 8,000. Alison Thompson set off for the region immediately. She runs Third Wave Volunteers, an activist organization that assembles volunteers to provide aid, shelter, and medical care in disaster zones, and when she arrived in Nepal, she and her team leaders were armed with a mobile messaging app called Lua. Everyone she needed to reach was on a single platform. The app helped her get people and supplies where they needed to be quickly, and since the app was mobile, she could stay at the volunteer camp rather than hunt around for Wi-Fi.
Two days earlier, Thompson had met Michael DeFranco, founder and CEO of Lua Technologies, the New York City maker of the app. DeFranco's goal: to give Lua to Thompson, gratis. The timing was ideal. "Now I can concentrate on rescues," she says.
DeFranco developed Lua to address the chaotic communications he saw after Hurricane Katrina, designing it for critical, team-based messaging. When he learned of Thompson's work, he put her in touch with Lua's philanthropic arm, Mahalo, the word for "thank you" in DeFranco's native Hawaii. "Third Wave was a perfect place for our software," he says.
Thompson made her name when she helped rebuild a Sri Lankan village after the 2004 Christmas tsunami, and she worked with Sean Penn to help those displaced by Haiti's 2010 earthquake. "I used to have to deal with people on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, email," she says. "Lua has become our batphone."
Founded in 2011, Lua is on track to break even in 2016. Among its clients are organizations with events featuring large work groups (the 2014 Super Bowl, film shoots; DeFranco beta-tested Lua on the set of a Terrence Malick movie). Hyatt, United Airlines, the U.S. Army, and several health care organizations are customers too, giving Lua more than 10,000 paying users. The company has raised $12 million from investors including Abundance Partners and IA Ventures.
DeFranco named Lua after an ancient Hawaiian martial art. "Warriors trained at night so they could learn to move as a unit," he says. "They didn't have a big conversation about what to do next. They acted as one." The principle works as well in business as in disaster.