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Feature

Bryan Altman and Jai Kissoon

Bryan Altman (left) and Jai Kissoon

Family matters

Building a new business brings unexpected benefits for Carlson School grad

By Sara Aase

Published on July 29, 2005

Not many successful Carlson School of Management grads are still answering to mom and dad. But 25-year-old Jainarain (Jai) Kissoon's career path hasn't strayed far from his family tree. As vice president of OurFamilyWizard.com, a subscription-based scheduling tool for divorced families, Kissoon reports to his mother, Kathleen, who is the firm's CEO, and his dad, Deonarine, who serves as its COO. He also consults regularly with his cousin, Paul Volker, the company's executive vice president and originator of the business idea. And let's not downplay Kissoon's own role in the venture. His business plan for the company, written as a senior-year project for his entrepreneurial studies major, helped launch OurFamilyWizard.com. (He also consults with a non-family member: Bryan Altman, a classmate of Kissoon's who has worked for the company for more than a year.)

The site helps divorced parents communicate vital information about their children, such as immunization records, medical coverage, doctor's appointments, and piano recitals. "Often it's breakdowns in communication that cause problems," Kissoon says. "Parents are trying to do in two households what used to be done in one."

Since its launch in 2001, OurFamilyWizard.com's subscribers have grown from a test pool of 50 families to 4,000 paid subscribers in 49 states and six countries. Initially dreamed up by Volker after a scheduling mix-up ruined Christmas for his blended family, the site has since become so successful in reducing court visits that 15 states now routinely order families in divorce cases to subscribe to its service.

According to Kissoon, the key to its success is in creating a space for organized, documentable, and emotionally neutral communication--particularly for parents who are barely on speaking terms. "So often if parents want to just pick up the kids, the when and where is passed from the mom to her attorney to the dad's attorney to the dad. In just that hour of legal fees you've already paid for [the cost of subscribing to] the Web site. It also provides a trail of bread crumbs to see what really happened when one parent isn't cooperating," Kissoon says, adding that when both parents use OurFamilyWizard.com, many judges say they never see the family in court again.

Subscriptions cost $99 per year per parent or for professionals such as lawyers, and scholarships are available for families who can't afford the service. The company has two angel investors, a patent pending, and enough interest from divorce lawyers and court systems to assure steady growth, Kissoon says. On paper, it might even become profitable this year, he adds.

As a teenager, Kissoon helped his parents balance the books for one of their businesses, so he knew his family could negotiate work and personal boundaries. He's now enjoying his growing responsibility in the business and the recognition that has accompanied it--he recently was invited to speak at the Canadian National Judicial Institute and at a United Nations summit on online dispute resolution. He also marvels at how an idea for uniting divorced families has brought his own family closer together. "I've developed a great relationship with Paul [Volker] that I probably never would have had we just been relatives," he notes.

From the magazine Carlson School, spring 2005.

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