Hi, Could you introduce yourself?
Hi! My name is Lucinda Koza, I’m from South Carolina but I live in New Jersey, and I’m the Founder & CEO of I Ally, Inc.
What are you working on?
I created I Ally, a holistic support app for young family caregivers. I founded the company after my own experience becoming a caregiver for my father in late 2018. I was alone, devastated, overwhelmed, and had no idea what to do. I noticed the huge lack of resources and advocacy that were available to me and other family caregivers, and I decided I had to change that. I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through – facing such a huge responsibility while isolated and alone – so I built I Ally to connect users to mutual aid, administrative advocacy, Telehealth, a database of mental health providers, financial & legal counsel, and more.
What are the challenges and successes you’ve faced creating I Ally Inc?
I knew in my heart what I Ally was, that it was needed, and that, if done right, it could change the world. However, that visceral, personal knowledge was not enough to create a business, much less a product. My gut feelings needed to be turned into something specific, fortified by data, and easily explainable to other people. This was a VERY hard process for me, and it’s always evolving. It’s about figuring out what is the most basic, simple need, what is the most basic, simple, lean way to solve the need, and the most basic, simple and lean way for the user to experience that solution. However, trusting in my personal experience and trusting in the experience of my community gives me confidence and dogged determination to keep going and keep evolving.
I have experienced first-hand how taking care of a loved one can consume your life and leave you completely wrecked – and it shouldn’t be this way.
What are your goals?
There are over 40 million unpaid family caregivers in the US alone, and 25% of those are Millennials. This number has only risen due to the pandemic. When you are young and hit with this responsibility, you are at risk for anxiety, depression, financial ruin, or complete life derailment. Over half of family caregivers report feeling moderate to severe burden. I have experienced first-hand how taking care of a loved one can consume your life and leave you completely wrecked – and it shouldn’t be this way. I want to empower caregivers so that they don’t feel like victims. I want to arm them with the tools they need so they are not taken advantage of legally or financially. I want to support & protect their mental and physical health. I want big companies and organizations to acknowledge that they need the family caregiver and should be marketing and catering to them. I want to scale I Ally to the point where I can really save this significant yet invisible workforce of human beings and change their experience.
Do you have a mentor?
I have a few people who have made a big difference for me along the way. Elizabeth Hitchcock is a woman I used to work for as a personal assistant. At the time, I had never really been around a powerful female executive in the tech and business world (she was working at AT&T at the time and had been at Microsoft as well). She taught me how to be direct, bold and confident, and to take responsibility for myself and my work. There have also been women, other female founders that I’ve found through groups like the Female Founders Alliance and Women Make, who have extended their expertise and resources to me purely out of the desire to help another woman succeed. That is a beautiful thing.
Do you mentor anyone?
I’ve worked with apprentices through FLIK – The Female Laboratory of Innovative Knowledge. It’s a fantastic program. They connect young women who are in school or are looking for experience with a female-founded company.
What could tech do to better foster female talent?
There are so many fantastic outreach groups and support systems, but the only way to truly make change is to hire more women and pay them equally. Treat women and men the same. Hire more women. Hire women. Hire women. Hire women.
What advice would you give to people getting into your field?
Be bold! Trust yourself! Always be learning and adapting and taking constructive criticism but maintain your boldness while you do. Read constantly so that you are knowledgeable and know the context of as much as you can. Always be working on something. Always be writing. Always be learning a new skill. Be hungry. Be ravenous. Join networking groups and support groups – that will be your saving grace.
What’s the best and worst advice you have received?
I’ve had a lot of people tell me to be patient, or to be more patient. Sometimes this is helpful, but I think the suddenness of my father’s illness and how quickly it changed his life and my life showed me that time is precious. We do not have a lot of it and we are not guaranteed any of it. Time spent making something is never time wasted – you will learn how to make it better, you will get valuable feedback, you will stumble until the answer is clear. I don’t think I will ever tell anyone to be patient.
Possibly the best advice I’ve gotten is “you can afford to be more of a b**ch.” Since I grew up female in the south, I’ve had to fight against my tendency to be too nice, and my former boss said this to me once. It was like she was giving me permission, and it set me free.
Who do you follow? What blogs do you read?
I read The Helm, Crunchbase, Femstreet, Hello Alice, Today in Tech by AngelList, Elpha, Product Hunt Daily, Lifehacker, Girlboss, and I know there’s more I’m not thinking of! Oh, I have also been a huge long-time fan of Words of Women. I also read The Outrage.
What’s the best way to keep up to date with what you’re doing?