At 33 years old, Kevin Cutler was a healthy and active young man. He had just moved to Dallas, excited to begin a new life in his new city, when without warning, a blood vessel in his brain burst, rendering him incapacitated. Coping with despair, Cutler’s friends and loved ones lacked the personal and professional information needed to manage their friend’s life in the face of crisis.
“I remember sitting in the hospital with his mom, and we kept getting hit with questions,” says Oscar Villarreal, who met Cutler through a mutual friend when he first moved to Dallas and quickly became a close buddy. “I felt I should have known answers to simple things like how to contact [Cutler’s] work but I didn’t.”
The traumatic experience inspired Villarreal to create ReKall, a secure platform that allows users to give information and direction to friends and family in the event something happens to them.
“There are 2.6 million accidents a year where people suffer from a traumatic brain injury. All you want to do is help someone, and you can’t,” says Villarreal, a Dallas native and Rockwall High School alum. “To have a platform where you can help—I’m passionate about it and I believe in it”
The “K” in ReKall stands for Kevin and serves as a constant reminder of the young company’s mission: provide trusted friends and family an easily accessible platform where they can gain access to vital information that could help manage the life of someone who has become incapacitated.
“There was a problem, and we wanted to provide a solution,” Villarreal says.
Three months after Villarreal sat in the hospital with Cutler’s mother, he met with Jake Istnick, a born entrepreneur and founder of Effing Gear, an apparel company that donates one article of clothing to kids in need for every article sold. The two met in 2011 when Istnick relocated to Dallas, and they cultivated a professional and personal respect for each other over the next three years.
“I was flattered that Oscar came to me with his fairly ‘raw’ idea and asked if I could help him turn this into a business that would ultimately help families and friends in the future,” says Istnick, who today serves as ReKall’s chief operating officer. “After Kevin’s accident and the difficult weeks of recovery, it was so evident to us how stressful and difficult it was to help his family piece together Kevin’s life.”
Propelled by their mission and now equipped with a business mindset, Villarreal and Istnick quickly moved to build a team. Their first hire was Steven Rogers, a student in UT Austin’s computer science program. At 20 years old, Rogers’ impressive background already included experiences at Dell and Amazon, making him a perfect choice to write ReKall’s app and web programs.
“That’s when ReKall was formed,” Villarreal says.
Over the next year, the team designed and beta tested its app and website, brought on adviser Magnus Stjernstrom, a veteran cyber security expert with 20 years experience, and picked the fruits of Dallas’ bountiful startup scene.
“Dallas has done great as far as a startup community, as far as an innovative community,” Villarreal says. “It’s very ambitious, yet I’m so impressed with how much people are willing to help here, how genuine they are, and how people stay true to their word.”
ReKall launched its website and app toward the end of 2015—roughly a year and half’s time from Cutler’s traumatic brain injury.
“Our team didn’t realize how much we had accomplished in a short time until we talked to people,” Villarreal says. “We are on pace to have 5,000 sign-ups by the end of quarter one.”
Users sign up by visiting ReKall’s website or app, creating a profile, and assigning family and friends as “life managers,” those who can access critical information in a time of unforeseen crisis. ReKall also allows users to set a timeframe for releasing information to life managers, filter what information each can access, and assign each specific instructions—for example, a user can assign parents medical instructions and friends details on how to take care of his dog.
Should an unforeseen crisis arise, life managers can quickly access their loved one’s information on ReKall’s website or app. To protect privacy, the user will be notified of attempts to access his information, and if there is not a real emergency, he can decline a request for information.
“We are proud and confident that ReKall can and will help save lives and alleviate so many layers of stress during very trying times for families suffering from unexpected losses and accidents of loved ones,” Istnick says.
Since its website and app launched in late 2015, ReKall has received a warm reception from individuals and families affected by traumatic brain injuries. A community Villarreal and his team set their early focus on.
“People are signing up and sharing their stories about their experiences of being left with no answers,” Villarreal says. “After the traumatic brain injury community, I want to focus on the stroke and Alzheimer communities.”
In addition to the health industry, Villarreal believes the applications for ReKall are potentially limitless. Going forward, he and his team will look toward financial planners, managers of corporate health benefits programs, and others who are in the realm of long-term planning. Villarreal also sees benefits for the SPCA and other pet-centric organizations, noting that people’s pets are often a top concern for those enduring an unforeseen crisis.
“It’s been such a crazy journey,” Villarreal says.
Kevin Cutler’s Message
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending: Kevin Cutler survived his traumatic brain injury. Today, he works on the ReKall team in sales and marketing.
“Protect the things you’ve worked so hard for in life in case something happens,” Cutler says. “You never know. I’m a perfect example of that. You never know what tomorrow is going to bring.”
Perhaps it was fate that Villarreal and Cutler hit it off so quickly when he first moved to Dallas in 2013. “It’s funny how things come together,” Cutler says.
Whether fate or chance, Cutler is using his experience and ReKall’s platform to give voice to an oft overlooked—albeit vitally important—message. “I firsthand realized that you must always have you life’s work and information protected because you never know when your time is going to come. I went through everything. I had everything taken away from me,” Cutler says.
As a survivor, as well as someone who had to go to great lengths to piece many aspects of his life back together, Cutler believes ReKall is a big solution to the problem of inaccessible information for friends and family in times of crisis.
“Get the app, get the service, because it is going to protect you,” Cutler says.