Originally published in FemFounder
Lucinda Koza is the Founder & CEO of I Ally, a holistic support app for young family caregivers. Lucinda is a Lyfebulb Patient Entrepreneur and has been featured in Authority Magazine & Thrive Global's Heroes of the COVID Crisis Series. She is a Founding Member of Tech Ladies, owns the social media marketing agency Got It Done Gal, and is proud to be her father’s primary caregiver. www.i-ally.com
Can you tell our readers about your background?
I grew up in South Carolina, where my father was a civil rights advocate in the state legislature, and my mother was a teacher. My mother made sure I was exposed to the arts, and I fell in love with the theatre and was in my first play at age six. I went on to get my degree and work professionally in that field for years. However, there was an important shift that took place within me in my 20s. I believe that art and storytelling have the power to change society and create a social impact. I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing that, and I knew I wanted to help people in a more direct way. I started to try to learn and read everything I could about technology and innovation, and it fascinated me.
What inspired you to start your business?
In late 2018, my father had several strokes that caused him significant brain damage, and I became his full-time caregiver. I was so young, completely unprepared, devastated, and alone. I noticed a huge lack of advocacy and resources available for family caregivers in general – much less young people on their own. I soon realized the scope of what we are confronted with. There are over 40 million unpaid family caregivers in the United States – 25% of which are millennials – so, why did I feel so isolated? I knew that if we were connected to each other, this burden could be alleviated. I decided to create a platform that would connect us, as well as connect us to the resources and solutions that we need to advocate for each other, the patient we care for, and ourselves. That platform became I Ally.
Where is your business based?
I Ally, Inc. is based in New Jersey.
How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
From a logistical perspective, I started by looking into crowdfunding. IFundWomen was actually having a momentary price drop on one of their most comprehensive services, which includes a lot of coaching and a hosted crowdfunding campaign. I signed up. I knew that once I committed to the IFundWomen process, I would have to create a pitch, which involved identifying the exact need and the leanest, meanest way I could solve it. It was my way of holding myself accountable.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
The most effective way of raising awareness for I Ally has been for me to tell my own story. It’s terrifying to be completely vulnerable, risk all potential consequences, and admit to everyone, everywhere that you have a deep-seated wound that is so gnarly you are searching for solutions at the societal level. The story then moves from searching to creating – you are creating a solution at the societal level. It’s like putting all of your insides in the spotlight and then declaring the thesis statement of your entire existence.
Knowing this was what I would have to do in order to create authentic awareness for I Ally was horrifically daunting. At the same time, it was a process I could trust. Vulnerability and emotional engagement incite vulnerability and emotional engagement in others. This way, I would never have to be fake or phony while talking about I Ally. I just have to remember to tap into my truth.
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
When the COVID-19 pandemic started to grip the United States, my first impulse was that creating I Ally did not matter anymore. Then, it hit me like a ton of bricks that I Ally is even more useful and vital at this time – I didn’t need to pivot so much as I needed to kick into high gear. Everything became more urgent, and another dimension was added to the I Ally community. Not only were we all family caregivers, already living with high stress and need, but now we needed to figure out the safest, most efficient way to behave in response to the COVID-19 threat. I did research voraciously and found so many other businesses and organizations willing to extend themselves. That’s how so many of us have dealt with the challenge of the pandemic – leaning on each other and exchanging resources. I hope that continues.
How do you stay focused?
It’s very hard to find the right balance, which is something that everyone struggles with, I’m sure. Since I Ally is so personal, I find that I work too hard for too long. When I get to that point, I’m not doing my best work. Even though it feels counterintuitive, taking a break is the only remedy. I don’t remember where I read this, but experiencing a sense of wonder can be a direct antidote to feelings of hopelessness (or depression). Ways to experience wonder easily are to go outside or to experience art.
How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
From the beginning, I knew I wanted I Ally to be action-based. There are support groups online that can be very helpful, but there is no group or resource out there that can provide an actionable solution and tell you exactly what you can do to receive support. This is what I wanted and needed and could not find it. While I Ally does seek to rid users of isolation and feeling alone, the most important part of its mission is giving users actions to take that will provide tangible results.
What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
The most effective marketing strategy is to be as deeply entrenched in communities of family caregivers as possible, so I truly know my users; to do as much research as I can so I can back up anecdotal evidence with data; and then to create content constantly. Write, make videos, interview people, write more. Create content constantly and put it out there, everywhere.
What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
Find a mentor if you can; find a coach. Join networking groups. You can learn so much from reading about other people’s journeys. Write as much as you can for yourself – document your journey. It will help you get more and more specific about what you want and what you are doing. Let it be exciting!
What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
I am an absolute app fiend, so this is tough! I think the app I use and enjoy the most is ‘Over.’ In my experience, it’s just the most fun and user-friendly app for creating graphics, logos, and videos for social media and beyond.
As for blogs, I have devoured Words of Women by Lauren Martin for years. She’s brutally honest and vulnerable in a gorgeous way, and she uses brilliantly effective quotes and images from famous women that illustrate her point.
My favorite book right now is Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. It’s so life-changing to hear such an accomplished woman detail her experiences with being treated less-than by men. It’s liberating because you realize that of course, it’s not just you, and of course, it’s not based on any kind of reality.
What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
I’m a member of the Female Founder Collective, and I have found an endless amount of resources and partnerships through other members that have proven to be huge for my development or my business. To look through the members and their businesses is like a feast of possibility.
Who is your business role model? Why?
Sheila Lirio Marcelo, the woman who founded Care.com, is very impressive to me. She started it because she was in a sandwich caregiving situation – she had both children and parents to care for – and there was no go-to place to find and hire professional caregiving help. So, she created it. Care.com is now the standard for hiring caregiving help. She was also able to scale the company tremendously.
How do you balance work and life?
I heard a quote – I tried to find who said it but I couldn’t – it was, ‘My life is less about balance and more about rhythm.’ That makes so much sense to me. Sometimes life is going at a quicker tempo, and that’s okay. Sometimes there are entire years that go at a slower pace. It’s like the Beatles song A Day in the Life. The first part of the song is this one tempo, then there’s this huge crescendo, and then the song completely changes. They seem like two completely different songs, but they’re in the same song, describing the same ‘day.’ I’ve never heard a song mirror the variability of life so well.
What’s your favorite way to decompress?
I love the app Peak – it has a bunch of games, but they are all games that require a ‘workout’ of the brain. It’s so relaxing to do my daily Peak workout, but I’m still engaging my brain, so it’s relaxing but not mindless.
What do you have planned for the next six months?
I am going to work very hard on the evolution of I Ally – specifically, the mobile app.
How can our readers connect with you?
I can be reached directly at email@example.com; also I’m on Twitter at @gotitdonegal and Instagram as @lucindarogerskoza. Readers can also find I Ally at www.i-ally.com and on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook as @iallyinc.