BigTent arose out of a need to find a white-label platform to support volunteer-based group leaders without a lot of operations money. Groups such as PTAs, alumni groups, and new-mother groups need to be able to maintain membership lists and have a means of disseminating important information, organizing volunteers for events, and other activities. In this interview conducted by Sheela Sethuraman, Laney Whitcanack talks about how BigTent offers online aid for the self-perpetuation of these inherently intimate groups, which typically have both online and offline member connections. It’s quality in relationships, not quantity, that Whitcanack emphasizes. Advertising sponsors recognize the worth of volunteer leaders and “household CEOs,” as Whitcanack dubs the typical involved moms, who make decisions for families and influence their communities.

Laney Whitcanack focuses on online and offline innovations that connect people with communities they care about. Taking notice of the scarcity of good and cheap technology to support groups, and being part of 27 Yahoo! groups herself, Whitcanack cofounded BigTent in 2006. She spent the decade previous to BigTent coaching and training hundreds of community leaders, in the U.S. and Mexico, most recently as the Director of Community Programs for the Coro Center for Civic Leadership.

While at Coro, Whitcanack co-founded The Princess Project in 2002, engaging thousands of girls and women across California each year in volunteer opportunities. A published author and speaker on entrepreneurship and community organizing, she received the Jefferson Award for Public Service in 2008. Whitcanack has a BA from UCLA, an MBA from the Simmons School of Management, and an EdM from Harvard University.