Project Galileo Spotlight: Conquer COVID-19
Cloudflare's Trey Guinn will discuss the story of Conquercovid19.ca with Natalie Muir and Gregg Tilston. We will explore how a virtual PPE drive came to life and was then supercharged with volunteers and a savvy grassroots organization.
Hello, my name is Trey Guinn. I'm a Solution Engineer here at Cloudflare and we are doing a profile of an awesome Project Galileo website, Conquer COVID-19, and I know we've got one more person about to to pop into the meeting, but with us today we've got Greg and we're going to talk a little bit about about what you guys have done with Conquer COVID-19 and obviously this is part of Cloudflare's Project Galileo.
Project Galileo is a service where we provide Cloudflare services to websites of sort of public benefit and you guys are clearly in that scheme and maybe Greg you can introduce yourself and I know Natalie's going to join in a second.
We can let her jump in once she's here. Yeah sure for sure and thanks for having us on to talk about the story of what we've been doing up here in Canada with Conquer COVID-19.
So my name is Greg Tilston. For Conquer COVID, I run technology so I'm CTO for the initiative.
We are officially a not-for-profit company but a good way to put it is initiative.
I am basically running point on the technology and the e-com side of it, which I don't know how much you want to get into that, and then during my day job I am VP of digital for a company called Iron Gate .Wine and we sell high-end wine in the U .S.
market. Awesome. Thank you so much for the introduction.
Hey Natalie, can you hear us all right? Sorry my audio is still not working.
One second. No worries. We'll hopefully hear you in a second. So I guess maybe to kick us off, Greg, you can just tell us a little story of, you know, tell us a little bit about Conquer COVID-19.
Yeah, absolutely. So Conquer COVID-19 started out, I guess it was back end of March.
A bunch of us hopped on a Zoom call, like we're here now, and in the Zoom call we were really like, we were looking at, it was, you know, physicians, business people, marketers, you know, a whole group of people just getting together.
I'm going to say a whole group of people. There was like, you know, maybe a dozen of us at the time and it was all about, you know, how do we find PPE?
Because we knew that this is about to come based on what the physicians and the surgeons were telling us that were part of our group.
But we didn't know, you know, we didn't know how we could help.
And we knew, I mean, we all knew back in March that the governments were not prepared for this.
So we looked at, you know, how do we look at procuring PPE or finding solutions for PPE in sort of unconventional ways, if you will.
And that was really the main point of it. PPE obviously being personal protective equipment.
So masks, shields, gowns. One of the first examples, and it was really what kicked it off, and there was, this is where we sort of, we went from the Zoom call into a WhatsApp chat with about six of us, which has now morphed into over 120 volunteers in the past, you know, eight to ten weeks.
But one of the first ones was a physician said, you know, it'd be really great is if we could use two-way baby monitors.
We could have one monitor in the pressurized room with the patient and then one monitor outside.
So those that were in with the patient, you know, weren't necessarily, could communicate with the physicians and the surgeons and the specialists on the outside.
And so we started collecting used baby monitors.
That's what we did. Yeah. And, you know, we started distributing those to the hospitals.
Toys R Us up here in Canada, you know, got wind of it, connected with us.
And VTech as well. And VTech as well. And they ended up donating a whole bunch of baby monitors, two-way baby monitors, that we were able to distribute.
So that's really, that was almost like the genesis of it, of, you know, used baby monitors.
That's awesome. Oh, and Natalie, do you want to introduce yourself?
Apologies. Thanks for jumping in. Yeah, sorry for the technical difficulties.
I was using a very old laptop, which is obviously struggling. So I'm Natalie at Conquer COVID.
I was kind of web design, web master, taken over from Greg.
And I'm a marketing manager at an online e-commerce company in Kitchener. And I also do freelance web and graphic design.
Cool. Thanks for the intro. You know, it's interesting, you're talking about, you know, jumping on the Zoom call, talking about, you know, baby amometers and then going to PV.
And my first question is, like, how did, like, did you start the Zoom call or did someone else?
Like, how did they know to get in touch with you guys?
Or, you know, like, where did that connection come from?
Yeah, it was really, I mean, Suleiman, who's our, if I'm CTO, he's our acting CEO.
We're not acting, but he's our CEO. Suleiman put the word out to just a group of friends, I mean, and colleagues.
A number of people, the core people, a number of us worked together to support, and I will say to support, the No-Fly List kids, which was an initiative Suleiman did for the kids that are on the, we have up in Canada, we have an antiquated system for flight manifests.
And Suleiman's son, Adam, who was four years old, couldn't get on a plane to go with his dad to the All-Star, NHL All-Star game in Boston, because he's on the No-Fly List kids, or No-Fly List.
So it was a group of friends that came out of that, and we also banded together to help a bunch of Syrian refugees when they were coming to Canada to help them out.
And so Suleiman put the word out to the same group of people and said, we don't know what we're going to do, but what can we do?
And that's when we, you know, got the physicians to join us as well and, you know, give us the input of what they thought they could need, or what they needed, not what they could need, what they did need.
This is awesome. So it's like, I have this, like, this vision of, like, superheroes with capes in a cave, like, what are we taking on next?
So you've already, and have already done this a couple of times, and now it's like, PPE is the next thing.
Well, it's funny, it's funny, because as we, as we get to the point now, like, we were only meant to be a stopgap.
We didn't, we didn't ever intend to be more than that. It went way bigger than we expected it to, but we were only ever meant to be a stopgap until the government could procure their own.
Because we, as business people, like, we have Bombardier on our team, we have some of the top medical procurement companies working with us on our team, so we could get product in faster than a lot of the governments could.
So that's all we were ever meant to be. And as we look to really ramp it down now, you know, we, I don't, I don't, it's funny to use the superhero, you know, analogy.
We do not because we're superheroes, but from the perspective of, you know, we can ramp this down, and if we're needed again, we now have a lot of learnings from this that we can ramp it up real quick for whatever the next, whatever the next thing is, if we can help out, if we can help it.
That's awesome. Yeah, I guess, you know, that's kind of jumping right into that.
I'm curious, as, as you've gone through this, you would have learned a ton.
I mean, probably from sort of previous superhero antics, but also in this project.
I'm just trying to get curious, like, what's, what's really worked in this, and what have been challenging challenges that you've had to overcome?
I know one of the things that, that worked really well for us is the diverse group of people.
And that's diverse group in terms of, you know, physician, physicians, you know, business people, engineers, that kind of thing, but also faith and ethnicity, because we were able to go out and reach different groups because of that diverse group within our core team and the 120.
I mean, we had not, how many, how many medical students would you say, from U of T and Western?
Oh, probably like 15 or something like that, 15, 20.
Yeah. So, so even, even to start out, like, you know, we brought in the medical, not the medical, we brought in the medical, the medical students wanted to help out.
So they were great on triaging. So as we set up the site for intake for, you know, I need help, or I can provide help.
Again, I was back when we were sort of doing that grassroots trying to figure out other ways to do it.
You know, the medical students were able to triage that and say, okay, here's, you know, let's put, start to put together the priority list and where can we really make the biggest impact?
That's awesome. How did you, do you know, Natalie, how'd you guys get ahold of the, like the medical students or, or, you know, when you think about all these sort of different groups of folks with diverse backgrounds, like how are they, what is this common thread that connected them?
Um, I think Greg, you would actually know how the medical students got brought on board.
Um, but a lot of other people, it was just like personal connections, like, oh, I know someone in that I can bring them on and I'll just add them to the slack and they can help out.
So it was a lot of organic growth that way, just through like personal connections.
And it was kind of like watching LinkedIn work in real time.
That's a great way to put it.
I mean, for me, I was, I was becoming so overwhelmed, um, you know, perfect example that is Nat.
I mean, you know, Nat said, how can I help out?
And I was like, take over the website, please. I mean, you're way more skilled at it than I am.
You can support the team way better than I can knock yourself out.
Yeah. And so do you guys have like experience with grassroots movements?
I think about if anyone's watching this, that has an idea of what, you know, to do some public good and how to organize, organize folks, like, you know, sort of tips that you have or stories you have that worked, uh, with Contra COVID, um, or, or things that didn't.
Um, you know, go ahead, go ahead.
No, I was going to say, you know, um, for, for us, it was a lot about focusing on word of mouth, you know, staying grassroots, focusing on word of mouth, um, leveraging our contacts.
I mean, some of our people have government relations contacts because of no fly list kids and stuff we've done in the past.
Um, you know, it, it, you know, I don't know if, I don't know if it's lightning in a bottle.
Like we, we, you know, we, we grew real fast, not just, not just from, you know, six to 120 people.
But, you know, I remember, I remember putting up the website and later that weekend, the minister of family services tweeted about us.
And then by that Wednesday, um, the, the prime minister was doing his daily updates.
Like he does his daily updates in front of the cottage.
And he, he, you know, he mentioned us in that. And then next thing, you know, Haley Wickenheiser, which for you, for the American audience who might not know Haley, I mean, she's essentially the, the Wayne Gretzky, um, Tiger woods, you know, Michael Jordan of women's hockey globally, globally, and like, like that kind of thing.
And then, and then hockey is kind of big in Canada here. I kind of it.
Yeah, absolutely. And then, and then she brought in Ryan Reynolds. So it's like, it was really just like working the networks and just bringing in who we could.
And that's, that's one of the big things that I would suggest to anybody looking to do this in the future.
Not, I don't know. Um, so I don't think anyone could have anticipated how fast conquer COVID-19 grew.
Um, but some things, uh, are, you know, set up your tech early, like have the infrastructure in place to grow in case it does, you know, be optimistic about it.
Um, and if you are seeing that you're bringing in a lot of people, organize people into, uh, you know, groups quickly, like have a leader of the group.
Um, so that everyone is on the same page.
Everyone knows what they're doing. They know everyone knows what areas people can help in.
Um, so you're utilizing your team, uh, most effectively because especially with causes like this, um, you're doing a great thing, right?
Like you want to help.
And a lot of people want to help. Uh, but it's very easy to get overwhelmed and burnout really quickly.
So, you know, delegate when you can.
Yeah. And, and if I could dovetail off that too, from a technical perspective, no, no, your skillset.
I mean, you know, even for me to take on the technology side of it, I quickly became overwhelmed on the management of the website.
So it's like, you know, well, I have people come to me and say, well, so -and-so set up a Shopify page.
Um, they want to learn WordPress. Well, we didn't have time to learn WordPress, which is why again, that was a godsend for me, um, to have not come on board and take over that was, you know, again, that's knowing your skillset, particularly on the technical side of, of stuff.
Nice. And, and when you talk about organizing in teams now, like which, uh, like what were the, what were the teams that worked for, uh, conquer COVID?
Um, so the, we had our senior leadership team, um, and then we kind of further, uh, divided into like government relations, um, procurement, uh, triage, um, kind of the technical side, like website, um, all the other tech things that we had to end up doing.
Um, and I'm sure I'm, oh, delivery because delivery is obviously a very important part, getting it to the people that need it.
Um, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some other teams, but that was basically the, uh, the layout of conquer COVID.
I love that answer because in my head, I thought you were going to say, well, there's the front end team and there's a backend team.
Oh, no, no, no, no. We've got, we've gotten, you know, millions of mass to deal with.
And then also there's the, like the whole interaction with, um, you know, government relations and, uh, and, and driving, uh, sort of like a PR, uh, yeah.
And I mean, a lot of people, like there was a lot of overlap, like a lot of people in the senior leadership team are doing deliveries.
Um, I think pretty much people from every single department were doing deliveries.
Um, so yeah, there was a lot of overlap. I guess I didn't do this to start with, but like the, for folks that haven't been to conquer COVID-19, uh, .ca yet, which you should go visit.
Um, you know, what, you know, what was the sort of call to action?
I mean, you guys collected a bunch of money, you know, and, and what other things kind of curious, like what the flow was.
Um, so the website's a little bit different now, just because we've, uh, stopped taking donations and we're not collecting PV anymore because now our, our mission is focused on distribution.
Um, but in the beginning, I would say the website, when you first went to it, it was, I need help.
How can I help? Um, so the, I need help would be an intake form, which the triage team would eventually go through.
And it was, I belong to this organization.
We really need this, uh, equipment. And then the, I can help, um, would either go to, I have a monetary donation.
Um, and we only started collecting monetary donations after a lot of like public interest.
We w we didn't initially plan on doing that.
Um, and then the other button would go to, I have PP to donate.
Um, so that could be an individual, you know, I have a box of masks I'd like to donate, or it could be a company that wants to donate like thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer.
Um, and then below that we have all of our partners, all the companies that have really stepped up to, to make CC19 what it is.
And I think, I think too, to dovetail off Nat's point, you know, our mandate to your question of our mandate, it really did change.
Like we started out just as Nat says, sort of grassroots looking for people to donate PPE.
Um, when it really kicked up was when Haley, Ryan, and then Fiona and Toby, Toby from Shopify, CEO of top Shopify or founder of Shopify.
Um, they trust us with a million dollars and that's when, and I don't know, this is when your delay kicks in, but when got real, right?
Like that's, that's really when we're like, okay, okay. And that's, you know, structure that you really need at that point, cause you're not spending a million dollars.
And then that grew over time into 2.3 million by the end of it. And so by the, by the end of our intake.
So, um, you mentioned earlier about having to, you know, procure and distribute a lot of PPE.
Yeah. It, it, it grew bigger. That's why I said earlier, it grew way bigger than any of us ever imagined it would.
Nice. Yeah. So you've got your logistics department, I guess, as well. Like that's something that is just so, uh, so unusual for, I think a lot of, uh, website owners, um, that's awesome.
Yeah. So you guys ended up raising, uh, $2.3 million and, uh, and then what, like, what are your other sort of measures of success?
Lots of cash and then millions of masks or liters of, uh, hand sanitizer.
It, it, well, it's funny because now that the governments have their masks procured, hand sanitizer, that's a great example.
Cause that's really what, you know, gowns and hand sanitizer that we're moving into in terms of procuring.
Um, yeah, it's, it's as much as it was the money that's going out, when the numbers start to get released, it'll be about the, the, the number of facilities, um, the number of provinces that we've been able to support.
Um, 17 skids yesterday went out to the indigenous communities.
So, you know, I think it's, I think it's the amount of communities that we're going to be able to help that will really, you know, we, we know because we're seeing it on Slack every day, but I think when we put those numbers out, that's going to be sort of our big success metrics is, is the amount of PPE we've got out to various groups.
That's awesome. Wow. Congratulations. It's really, really inspiring to hear this.
Um, I guess if we, uh, being the geek that I am, I'm curious about what the, uh, what the tech stack looked like.
You know, you talked, I heard about WordPress, obviously CEO of Shopify is involved.
Um, and then you've got sort of logistics to manage.
And obviously there's some Twitter involved. I mean, just kind of curious, how does, uh, how does all these sort of pieces work together?
Um, I guess, I guess from a, from the website perspective, I mean, we started, I started this out on my own personal hosting that hostgregtilson.com that gets maybe a hit a day, maybe, I don't know what it gets, but whatever it gets.
Um, and so very quickly when I knew Ryan was about to tweet that he was going to be involved, um, that's when I jumped on with Kinsta, which is the hosting company that I use for all my professional, like my, my commercial e -comm sites.
Um, they got on board, uh, which was fantastic to help me out. And then when I knew we were about to drop the t-shirts, we hadn't done the hats yet, but we're matched with the t-shirt.
Um, yep, there you go. All right. When we knew we were about to drop the t-shirts and we knew Ryan had put together a video that he was about to release on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, everything.
Um, that's, that's Ryan Reynolds.
Sorry. But no, that's, that's when, you know, I reached out to, to you at Cloudflare, your team at Cloudflare and, and just, or I guess Jamie Stein reached out to, um, one of your senior people that he went to school with and said, we need help.
Like we know we're about to get slammed and you jumped on board, you jumped in and helped me, which is fantastic.
Thank you. And so that night when Ryan dropped it, I think we, you know, we were in the 10,000 hits for the evening.
Um, that saved us huge. Um, Nat, do you want to talk about the collaborative in terms of the team and what we're using?
Yeah, sure. Um, so as we mentioned, we've been using Slack for all of our, uh, internal team communications, which I use Slack in my, uh, my company anyway.
So, um, I'm used to, and even people who hadn't used it before found it really easy to use.
Um, then we had Google Canada, of course, um, our e-commerce partners, like, uh, our first one was Silver Crystal.
And then for the second partner, we used Entropy. Um, and are those, do we say e-commerce partner, what are you using them for?
Is that the hats and shirts or just to collect, to take money from donations?
Yeah. So that was, um, uh, Silver Crystal was, uh, just the t -shirts.
Um, and then for Entropy, we actually, uh, partnered with MLSC, um, and they let us use the MLSC logos, which are Raptors, Argos, uh, Toronto football club.
And, uh, what's the last one, Greg? Blue Jack or, uh, Leafs.
Yeah. The flagship brand, but yeah, that's okay. Yeah. Um, and they let us use their logos on hats and shirts.
Um, so yeah, that's what we were using the e-commerce partners for is selling merchandise.
Um, and a hundred percent of the proceeds went to procuring PPE.
So when we include, or when we say, uh, amounts of money that we use to procure, it's also merchandise sales included in that.
Um, and for taking monetary donations, our partner is IDRF. So we didn't actually touch any of the, uh, donations on our end.
It's all handled through IDRF and they do a ton of charitable stuff and they've been a great partner.
So. And I think, I think that's important too, for people to note that want to do this, like don't, don't, if you can don't do it yourself, like partner with people that can take the money for you and take that liability.
I mean, IDRF were fantastic on that side.
And they were able to issue tax receipts for every single donation, which if we had to do that ourselves would have been a lot of manwork.
So yeah. And then we worked with them to guide them on how we distribute the funds to procure the PPE thereafter.
And it just, it worked so well for us. We didn't have to take on that liability.
Yeah. And what does IDRF stand for? I'm not sure.
I'm not familiar with them. Um, I believe it's international development relief fund.
Okay. So is it a sort of government group? I think. International Development and Relief Foundation.
Uh, nice. And, and, but then you're still, you're still able to direct the funds and make sure that they sort of go towards the, the, uh, COVID, um, sort of, um, yeah, priorities and what have you.
Yeah. Which is why they were the perfect partner to work with on that.
Yep. And they set up a whole really good looking landing page for us, which, uh, we were able to directly link to, and it looked really fantastic.
So yeah, they did really, really nice work on that. That's awesome.
So like, so from the outside hearing it now, it's like, it's so smooth. Everything just sort of like jumped in together.
You just like popped a couple of pieces and it just took off on its own.
Like, was it, was it as easy sounding as, as that, or were there any, any interesting stories of things that didn't go perfectly?
Um, well, I have one story. Um, so right around the time that, uh, we were going to be launching the t-shirts.
So with Ryan Reynolds help, um, that's when I was discovering an error, um, where I wasn't able to edit any web pages.
So we obviously had to put something on our website, uh, to direct people to where they could buy the t-shirts.
Um, so the workaround that I did was I, with Kinsta, they have a staging environment.
Um, so I would change the page in staging and then push it to live.
Um, and because we had Cloudflare, we were able to do that and there was no disruption on the website.
Um, and I realized eventually that it was a confliction with a rocket loader and the page builder that I was using.
So I, that's when I emailed you and said, can I just turn this off?
And you're like, yeah, go ahead.
So I turned it off, problem solved. So that was, uh, really the only website, um, hiccup that we had, but, uh, we managed to make it work.
So. Nice. And then how about from you, Greg?
I mean, any lessons learned with, you know, uh, reaching out to different groups or organizing people?
I mean, you've also, I guess this is maybe the most successful, uh, hero move, but you've done this a couple of times.
Well, I've, I've, I've, I've certainly not been as involved on the previous ones.
I just helped out more from an amplification perspective. And also, I mean, with the Syrian refugees helping bag, welcome gifts and get, get, um, you know, beds and tables and chairs and stuff to them.
Um, on this one, you know, we had, because we were working so fast, there were some challenges and we had to be real nimble.
So, um, we had a distribution facility that we were going to work with that, that, um, things didn't work out, uh, for whatever reason.
Um, one of the companies, XYZ storage, which is just, it's like a self storage facility or a couple of a few facilities up here in Toronto.
Uh, they helped us where we were doing the drives.
And so people would drive into their facility and drop off PPE and then leave as we did our weekly drives on Saturday, PPE drives.
Um, they stepped up huge and we just essentially moved all of our product into them.
And we became our own distribution facility.
Um, you know, half of the team were unbelievable, uh, in having to pivot.
So being able to do that, I guess that's one of the big things that, that we learned, which is be nimble and be ready to pivot.
I don't know if pivot's the right word, but you know what I mean?
Be ready to, to make the changes that you're going to need to make, because we were, we were making stuff up as we go.
So. Nice. Well, I guess with, uh, five minutes left, I'm curious, what's, what's next for, uh, Conqueror COVID-19 what's, uh, you know, and, or, you know, what's next for the team that got involved with this?
Are you, are you guys on to the next thing?
Some rest. It's summertime.
Some summertime. Um, I think, I think we're really at this point right now, we're really ramping it down.
Um, we've, we've stopped the intake as we've talked about, you know, we've, we were making our last, uh, purchase.
I think we have, I don't know, whatever the amount is a hundred and some thousand dollars left to spend.
Um, we're going to spend that we're going to move it out to, uh, help some of the marginalized communities in and around the Toronto area, I believe is one of the mandates we're looking at.
Um, and then as we've talked about, you know, I think we're just going to, you know, ramp it down and keep it, you know, we've learned a lot.
Um, we've got a pretty good team in place right now.
So, you know, it would, do we get a second wave of this? Don't know. What's the need?
That's a big part of it too, right? It's like, if the, if the, if the governments are already procuring PPE, then do we need to go and get PPE?
Is it mental health?
Is it like, who knows what it is? And, um, yeah, we'll just sort of sit and be waiting in the wings and the shadows.
And if we need to, we ramp up and we get going again.
Nice. Well, that's, that's exciting. How about, how about for you Natalie?
Um, yeah, I mean like in an ideal world, um, our mission would be accomplished, right?
So yeah, we'll just have to see what happens, but, um, yeah, our mission was to just fill a need while there was one.
So hopefully the government can, can, uh, fill in where we were and kind of take over, but we'll just have to see.
I guess I'm curious what, um, for, for this sort of group of folks that you, you've collected, you, you have this ability to work together.
Uh, I'm sure there's like sort of lasting sort of relationships and bonds there that have been strengthened through adversary, uh, or, uh, through, through big challenges.
Um, do you think that there's a, what's the next project if it isn't conquer COVID -19?
I don't know what the next project is, but if I can talk to you, the point you made just there, I mean, if you look at Haley, um, you look at like, we had a lot of like of our high end, sort of the ESPN, but we call it TSN up here, broadcasters and like the head, the main voice of the Blue Jays got involved and everybody sort of checked their egos at the door.
And, and when you talk about, you know, the relationships that have been built, it's amazing how many people feel that we're all really close friends, even though many of us haven't met each other yet because of the circumstance that we're in, right?
Like if it had been no fly list or Syrians, we would have all met at somebody's basement and been bagging welcome gifts, but we can't do that.
So, um, I think that's one of the, for, for, I know for me personally, and I think a lot of the people on the team, it's the legacy for us is going to be the relationships that we've built with people we've never met before.
And they never meet. Like we have people from East coast, West coast, six hours away from us.
It's, it's really all across Canada, this group. That's so, that's so awesome.
I guess if I was going to, uh, final thing, if you did like leak, if someone watches this segment and gets really inspired by your work and you had to give them sort of like one bit of advice, uh, what's your, what's your top bit of advice?
Putting you on the spot, Natalie. Sure. Um, well, like I said before, just, you know, use the people around you.
Everyone has their strengths. Everyone's good at something and use them, especially with things like this.
Like people want to help.
They really do. So let them help. And organize into business units as soon as you can.
Is everyone just going like this? That's where you're going to go, right?
Whereas, okay. I know sales. I know business development. I know legal, I know distribution focus on that.
Yeah. That's awesome. Well, thank you guys so much, uh, both for joining and telling us your story.
It's super inspiring. And, uh, also for, uh, for just doing this work, it's, it's just so powerful to see, you know, people coming together to me.
That's like, that's one of the most inspiring parts about the Internet ads, how we can sort of connect everyone together from, um, you know, organizing groups of people to solve hard problems, um, to delivering the actual websites to our zoom call to talk about it now.
So, um, really, really, uh, thank you guys so much and we'll talk to you guys soon.
Thanks, Trey. I appreciate all the support you've given us very much.