Today’s guests are Jessica Kim and Steven Lee, co-founders of ianacare. Jessica and Steven seek to connect home caregivers in order to lessen the isolation many inevitably experience. Through ianacare, caregivers can get support for everyday tasks that come with caring for a loved one around the clock. Listen now for Steven and Jessica’s insight on the crucial need to connect caregivers, how to collaborate on a business, and their personal experiences with caregiving that led them to supporting others.
Jessica Kim [00:00:00] In a nutshell, ianacare is one platform that organizes and mobilizes all the possible layers of support for family caregivers.
Sam Jayanti [00:00:12] Welcome to Ideamix radio. I’m Sam Jayanti and every week I chat with entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, career changers, experts and enthusiasts for insider tips that you can apply to turn your idea into a business. So sit back and enjoy today’s show.
Sam Jayanti [00:00:34] What do you do when you’re a full time caregiver and find yourself exhausted, lonely and with no support system? You create one. Jessica Kim is founder and CEO of IanaCare. She’s a serial entrepreneur working on her third startup venture who deeply believes that the purpose of business is to love people. She graduated from Brown, got an MBA from Kellogg and is also a busy mom of three kids. Steven Lee is also the founder of Ianacare and the COO. He’s a two time entrepreneur, passionate about building enduring businesses that combine technology with innovation and has taken startups all the way to IPO, graduated from MIT and loves being a dad to his six year old. Jessica, Steven, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show today.
Jessica Kim [00:01:22] Thanks so much for having us.
Sam Jayanti [00:01:25] Wonderful. So tell us about IanaCare and your business model.
Jessica Kim [00:01:30] Yes, so Sam, thanks so much for having us here. We’re just so excited about everything that you do. So it’s an honor to be here. In a nutshell, Ianacare is just one platform that organizes and mobilizes all the possible layers of support for family caregivers, and it’s all in one place. And so to really explain it, I love starting with defining the problem. So one out of seven people in the US alone are diagnosed with a chronic condition or illness where they are reliant on a caregiver. And so we’re talking about Alzheimer’s, cancer, stroke, diabetes, mental illness, special needs disabilities. And when we often think about these conditions, we tend to focus on the surgery, the medication, what’s happening in the hospital. Right. But over 90 percent of the actual care that happens happens in the home, not in the hospital. And they are typically cared for by family caregivers who are unsupported, unpaid and untrained. And so when we look at the stats, it’s pretty staggering. There are 54 million family caregivers. They do 24.4 hours of caregiving per week on top of full time jobs. And if you added up all the hours they provide, it equates to four hundred seventy billion dollars worth of care every single year. And it just shows that without family caregivers, our entire health care system and society would absolutely collapse. And yet it is completely overlooked. And so when Steve and I looked at this, we said what they need help with most are the everyday tasks, right? It’s the non-clinical aspects of care, which ultimately are the social determinants of health. And so on our app, what we do is we pull in all the possible layers of support and resources. So everything from coordinating help and communication with friends and family around meals, rides, respite care, child care, pet care, housing and those types of things. We also integrate employer benefits that you already qualify for. We have local resources in your own zip code around the country, and we also have a human caregiver coach to personally guide you throughout the entire journey. And so everything is in one place and people can download it. We have a free version that people can download today but it really boils down to what our name means so the “i.a.n.a.” stands for “I am not alone”, because at the core of it all, caregiving can be an isolating experience. And so our mission is to encourage, empower and also equip family caregivers with the resources, tools and community. So no one does this alone.
Sam Jayanti [00:04:22] It’s an incredible problem you guys have honed in on. I know some of that must have been from personal experience that both of you have had, but that number is staggering of 54 million people. And in so many ways, it is such an unsung group, but also such an unsung type of work that hasn’t been recognized traditionally in our society. And as you said, is a deeply, deeply lonely task because you don’t have any support or haven’t had any support in the past. So tell us a little bit about, two questions that popped into my head listening to you, one, who is your customer? Like, what’s the business model? And then second, one of the hardest things for new businesses and start ups is getting an onboarding, the very first hundred users. So how did you guys think about that and tackle it?
Steven Lee [00:05:23] Yeah, I mean, I will tackle the hundred users, one, you know, as we’ve been talking, one in seven people are in need of caregiving. But what’s even more remarkable is that almost every single one of us knows someone in a caregiving situation. So we started with just people we knew people in our extended network who needed caregiving support. And from there, it just kind of spread because our solution has a very natural viral component. You sign up for the app, you build a support team, you invite 10 people on it to support you. And then some of those 10 people need their own support team. And so they start a team and they invite more people. So it’s been deeply rewarding to see, to see it grow, to see the impact that we’ve been able to make. And we’ve gotten to know some of these caregivers really, really well and have become some of our key advocates, just amazing people. So that’s kind of how we got to users in terms of onboarding as the product evolved with both in ways to onboard them so they know how to use the platform. So, for example, when you first sign up, there’s a checklist that walks you through what you should do. So, for example, if you’re a supporter, you should post an encouraging message for the care recipient or the caregiver. And if you’re a caregiver, you should freely ask for releasing those to help. But the first hundred, we didn’t have this. We kind of built this over time. What we did do was from day one, we focused very much on making the product as intuitive as possible. So the copy, the wording we used to flow of the app and I think a big part of the void that we’re filling is that there hasn’t been a support system with a user experience that caregivers really deserve. So making it all intuitive and easy to use to get started is very much at the core of what we do.
Steven Lee [00:07:21] Yeah. And then just to address your question about who is your customer or the business model, you know, we really spent a lot of time understanding this problem instead of just saying what’s a good business model? And we are solely dedicated and always focused on that family caregiver in the home. But what we discovered was that the lack of support for family caregivers is actually a deeply systemic issue. Right. Like it’s the systems that aren’t supporting them. It’s not just that they aren’t doing enough. We’re not finding what they need. And so we realized that it would require more than the family caregivers to solve this problem. Right. Caregiving impacts the way we live, work and care. And so what we realize is that until our employers, our insurance companies, institutions, government policies, unless those things are changed to impact the structure of support, there’s no way that a working caregiver or any caregiver can sustainably keep doing what they are doing. And so it comes from that deep focus on this real change that we want to see and our mission and our culture. That then said, it made us say what, how do we make this into a sustainable venture? Because the change is what we want to go after. And we said we need to get, you know, employers involved. We need to get insurance companies involved. And so our initial phase is working with employers because there’s such a direct benefit that is a win win, win, win win situation for the working caregivers to stay productive, for the employer to keep their employees, for health all around. And then together we impact society. And so that’s really how we came up with the business model, is to say what would actually change this problem?
Sam Jayanti [00:09:08] It’s a virtuous circle, both of you have filled. So you started Ianacare in July 2018. Some of the best businesses, concepts, ideas come out of personal experience. What made both of you want to do this?
Steven Lee [00:09:28] Hmm. It comes from a really deep place. Steve and I both, we both have caregiving stories of our own. And so, you know, my mom had pancreatic cancer for seven and a half years. And when the cancer came back for the third time, her body just had nothing else to give. My dad, who’s ten years older than her, was her main caregiver initially, and he was completely burnt out. And so they ended up moving from New Jersey to Boston, where I live now. And they moved in with me and my family. And I’ve always been a working mom of three kids. But for the first time, I quit my job to be a full time caregiver because it was that overwhelming and so unpaved about the path that and it was that important to me. And so I was thrust into that role of managing all of her medical care, preforming the nursing duties. I was draining her stomach several times a day. I still get emotional, when I think about it.
Sam Jayanti [00:10:31] Such a tough situation.
Jessica Kim [00:10:34] Just doing the feeding and bathing and just carrying her. And eventually she did in home hospice after a year and a half of just twenty four, seven like round the clock care. And it was the hardest and loneliest time in my life for sure. And she eventually passed away in my home on June 30th of 2017. And in my deep, deep grief, the biggest thing I felt was frustration, like anger. I just, you know, being a consumer tech entrepreneur, I knew it could have been better. Right so Steve and I went on this deep learning journey together and just realized, one, how big of a problem this is that as I was going through it, I thought was the only one that was going through it or that it was such a unique situation. We see this with our caregivers today because we don’t talk about it, but we saw how underserved it was. And so we just knew we had to go in and solve it and really put the human experience at the center of everything that we do.
Jessica Kim [00:11:37] Yeah, I mean, it is definitely deeply personal for us. I mean, everyone on the team has been touched by caregiving in some way. For myself, I met Jessica when she was caring for her mom, and I could identify with the situation because my family was caring for my grandfather, who had just a really long battle with Parkinson’s. And that was almost 30 years ago. And after that, I tried to recruit her for working on a different idea. But she really, really opened my eyes to caregiving. And we realized that the gaps that existed three decades ago in terms of support for caregivers still exists today. That was mind blowing to us. But the technology is different today, so it opens up a huge opportunity to actually solve it and do something about it. So we set out on our mission and started digging in together and we saw how technology could really be leveraged here. I spent almost a decade in ADTECH figuring out what types of marketing messages to put in front of people at the right time. And we figured we could use the same technology to put the right resource in front of caregivers when they need it. So, yeah, deeply personal for all of us at Ianacare.
Sam Jayanti [00:12:51] Thank you both for for sharing that. I mean, those are, those are really tough experiences to go through. And both of you have been through them in different ways and that you found each other and found this sort of common shared passion, in a sense, and goal of making this process better, which, as you observed, had not evolved in a 30 year period, which is sort of amazing when you think about the rate at which a world changes around us right now.
Jessica Kim [00:13:20] Yeah, good point.
Sam Jayanti [00:13:21] We’ll be right back. So, Jessica, Steve, so you decided to focus on family caregivers working from home to start with. Tell us a little bit about the reasoning behind that decision.
Jessica Kim [00:13:35] Yeah, I mean, it was quite intentional because we we started directly in the home with family caregivers because that’s ultimately who we’re serving and where all the care that was happening. Right. And we realized until we really understand their world and their needs, where all this care is happening, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to truly create a solution that empowers the caregiver in the home. And so it was really, you know, we walked into this and said, OK, what do they need? What is going on? Like, we had our own experiences. But the number one rule in any startup or any any venture is that you can’t just take your own experiences and assume that everyone else goes through the same thing. And so we said we first have to go there. And oftentimes Steve and I, as you said, and we have like this isn’t our first business. And sometimes when you start a business, you can focus on all these other things. How are you going to make money? You know? What’s the market? All of that. And so we knew we had to figure that out. But we said, let’s root ourselves, though, in really serving the person that we’re trying to serve and let’s really go deep into it and understand all the nuances. And until we figure that out, nothing else will matter, or we could create a solution that doesn’t even solve the problem. And so that’s why we started there.
Sam Jayanti [00:15:03] It’s a great place to start. I think, you know, often people who start businesses, it takes them time to understand this perspective of starting and running any business, which is so important is that step one has to be taking your own experience and sort of objectifying it, in a sense, spending time with enough other people who are in slightly different situations from your own. But to really understand what they go through in informing sort of what underlies a product solution.
Jessica Kim [00:15:38] Totally. Yeah. You know, to take it a step further, it’s you know, people say, know your customer, or the demographics of your customer and totally understand what they mean. But think what we’ve really embraced is how do we know them and care about them so much that we can honestly say we love them and we don’t use love in business often. But when you put it that way, you only love someone or people if you deeply understand them. And it’s that love that then you’re going to fight for what’s right, not what’s a good business. But like, what do they really need? Because we deeply understand their pain, their joys, their pride, their desires. Right? Their fears, if we can get to that point as a team, then we’re going to always do the right thing. And that’s kind of a big core principle of how we operate.
Sam Jayanti [00:16:36] It’s a great principle underlying any business and a methodology for success, I think. So, Steve, maybe you could take this one, having started companies before, both of you have started companies before Ianacare. How did you think about partnering together as co-founders in this company? Did you, you knew each other, bu you didn’t really have a history professionally together? How did you think about that? Because obviously, partnerships drive the success of businesses just as much as every other element does.
Steven Lee [00:17:11] Yeah, no, totally. I mean, I think, first of all, it’s important to recognize the importance of having a co-founder. I think if you look at the statistics, you’ll see that companies really cofounding teams are more successful than those that just have a solo founder. And there are a lot of good reasons for that. I mean, there’s so many skills required to build and scale a startup that one person can’t possibly know at all. It’s also important to have multiple perspectives and have really healthy debates on issues, because when you debate, that’s how you arrive at a better solution. So for me, it was about finding someone that is super complimentary, shares the same value and really someone that you have really good chemistry with. Yeah, so and their stats out there, six out of 10 startups fail due to co-founder issues as as you mentioned. And it makes sense. I mean, it’s it’s worth it because it’s so important when I think about it with a very intentional and type process. So one important element actually has a has a medium post about this. There are a set of seventy five questions that we went really deeply on that we asked each other and it really was a great process. There were questions on it like if we can only pay one of us, who would it be? What would you do if there was an acquisition offer for X? Like how would we decide what to do? What do you want to achieve in this startup? I think different people have different goals they want. So we had a lot of conversations like this, some just to get alignment but some really hard questions also. And just really no way to uncover every single possible scenario that you will hit in the startup. But the point of seventy five questions is to set a foundation for the relationship and to set a precedent for how we process things. And it gives a really good sense of how we work together. So we did that and that was just enormously helpful. I think another element is we spent a good three to six months working together before really committing to starting a company. Just really no better way to get a good sense for how you really work together than by actually doing it. And so we learned in the three to six months all the things that I mentioned, we were super mature. You have same values and just have a great chemistry and really enjoy working together. And we apply this one to our recruiting and hiring as well, making sure that whoever we’re bringing on, we work closely with them, whether it’s a two week project on the side or consulting contracts over a longer period of time to make sure that everything fits.
Sam Jayanti [00:20:07] I can’t tell you how much I love the seventy five questions concept Jessica mentioned to me and I’m so glad you brought it up, Steve, because we need to do a separate podcast just on the seventy five questions to ask you about that.
Jessica Kim [00:20:20] That would be fun.
Sam Jayanti [00:20:20] Yes, that would be a lot of fun. Jessica, do you have anything to add?
Jessica Kim [00:20:26] No, I think Steve covered it well. Good job, Steve.
Sam Jayanti [00:20:29] I mean, it’s so, this is such an important point, I think that so many people ignore. And as you said, Steve, so many companies fail precisely because of co-founder issues, either because there isn’t skill set complimentarity because I think different skill sets and not overlapping ones is super important. And then obviously a shared set of values that I think the seventy five questions sort of get at in terms of how do you deal with different situations. But I also love that. You actually spent three to six months working together to get to know each other professionally and sort of see each other in action and at work before then saying, OK, let’s actually do this.
Jessica Kim [00:21:16] Yeah, and I would say that that is key, I would that would be one of the most important advice actually, both of these to seventy five questions, but also when someone asks, how do I know this is the right co-founder, you know, start a project, work with them for three weeks, whether it’s directly related to the company or just it can be anything, work on something together because you really, really learn a lot and uncover a lot of things that you wouldn’t just talking about things theoretically.
Sam Jayanti [00:21:48] Totally. Let’s take a quick break. So, Jessica, Steve, how do you think about allocation of responsibility between the two of you as co-founders?
Jessica Kim [00:22:01] Yeah, we think about that a lot. As Steve said, what we love about our partnership is that our skill sets and even our personalities are incredibly complementary. And so we talk a lot about what we refer to as super power. So as we considered being co-founders together and we even apply that to building out our team like what is everyone’s superpower. And so our team, even their super talented and everyone is capable of so much. But we ask ourselves, what is each person’s super power that we need to hone in on and empower to really flourish so the company can really kind of move forward. And so, you know, I guess for me, it’s I, I tend to handle and lead the marketing, the sales, the beauty, consumer insights and Steve really leads the tech, the product, operations. But as co-founders, we always say that we bring this combination of a deeply human anthropological approach, plus really amazing, great tight tech and operational excellence. And the DNA of our co-founder partnership is embedded throughout the product, our operations and our entire approach. And so in order to stay aligned with that, we really spend a lot of time making sure that we are completely thinking about the key strategy and goals together. We invest a lot of time on a weekly basis. So we have our Monday coffee meetings and we have our Friday coffee meetings. There’s a lot of coffee happening here. Actually he doesn’t drink coffee. I drink enough for both of us.
Sam Jayanti [00:23:42] Tea is better for you.
Jessica Kim [00:23:44] That’s true. I should change to tea. But we we intentionally put it into our calendars to say, let’s make sure we’re aligned on these key things because we know we have our super powers and our team. But if we’re not aligned, this can go into a whole different direction. So we just really invest in that.
Sam Jayanti [00:24:06] Yeah, it’s very it’s very intentional and conscious, which which I love that you both have, were obviously doing that at the very beginning, but it hasn’t sort of fallen by the wayside as as sometimes things do in the course of building a startup, because there’s always a shortage of time. And I think it’s time so well invested in making sure that a founding team is checking in as regularly as possible and remains on the same page.
Steven Lee [00:24:40] Yeah, I totally agree. That’s critical.
Sam Jayanti [00:24:44] What keeps you both up at night right now?
Steven Lee [00:24:48] I think, you know, just gaining awareness, because when people use Ianacare, we know they get amazing value from it. We were just in a discussion with one of the users of the app, and it was, it was just so incredible hearing her talk about how much it helped her through a really tough situation. And even she talked about how, you know, just she wants to be helpful, kind of bringing more into the Ianacare community, so that they they can experience that when they when they have that need. So just getting the word out so people embrace not being alone when they go through the journey, the caregiving journey. Well, thanks for having us on to help get the word out. This is, I think, the biggest thing that we focused on.
Sam Jayanti [00:25:44] Yeah, absolutely, I think it’s are there particular strategies or their particular tactics that you’ve used that have worked particularly well? Because for every company, I think even one that’s delivering as much value as you guys are to users, there is that period of building awareness that such a thing exists and that people should try it.
Jessica Kim [00:26:10] Yeah, I mean, we’re trying we’re doing a lot, but I think it can be boiled down to, you know, it’s this whole redefining what we even think about when we think about caregiver and support and help. And what a fascinating thing is that feeling like a burden is the number one reason why people don’t ask for help on all sides. Right. And so, you know, a lot of what we’re doing other than, of course, the we’re going to share the product and talk about the features and what you can do. We see that a big message is redefining what care looks like when people are in need and then showing how easy it can be to just show up. And so we have a just show up campaign. We have these t shirts that we sell that all proceeds go to caregivers. And it’s really changing this culture of, you know, being there for each other. And covid was awful. That goes without saying. But I think the thing is that it accelerated just everyone’s awareness on an international level of all the care that happens on the in the home for all the people who are vulnerable to it, the importance of community when our institutions are shut down or limited. And so it’s exactly so aligned with what our whole movement is about, which is I am not alone care. What does that look like? Let’s redefine what our circles of care look like. And so, you know, it’s really that kind of messaging that is resonating and getting out there. And then our platform becomes like the perfect tool to actually mobilize and make it happen.
Sam Jayanti [00:27:54] Yeah, absolutely makes total sense. Last question for you both. Think about yourselves and Ianacare three years from now. What are the three things that you would want to see for yourselves personally and the company?
Jessica Kim [00:28:14] Hmmm, I mean, that’s a great question, I think of three hundred things right now, but I think if I were to really limit it to three, the top things that come to mind are, I think, personally, this feels like life’s work and so and it’s such a big, complicated, complex problem, and so I see myself diving deeper into it and just really focusing on the systemic changes to really support family caregivers in the way that they truly deserve. And so it feels like a very deep personal mission. And I see myself in three years that we’re going to make a lot of progress, but there’s still going to be more to do. And then I think with Ianacare, it’s you know, we want to serve millions of caregivers and not only practically, but also to yeah, and kinda mention this cultural change, but it is I think it is we feel like we we are achieving success if we start seeing our culture change in how we support each other. Steve, you have anything to add?
Steven Lee [00:29:27] Yeah, I mean, just echo that. I mean, just increasing the level of impact we’re making. We talked about the 50 million caregivers in the US alone. We want all 50 million of those to be using Ianacare and embracing not being alone when they get thrust into the situation, into the situation. And I think beyond that, just for myself, I just want to continue to deploy technology in ways that facilitate and enable the systemic change that we’ve been talking about, because it’s really been too long in this country that we have not yet, not even just this country, but globally put the spotlight on caregivers and given them all the support that they truly, really deserve. So, yeah.
Sam Jayanti [00:30:17] I mean, look, it’s it’s there so many analogs for this. And and there’s a there’s a distinct role for activism and raising of awareness around these constituencies that they don’t get the help and acknowledgment that they deserve. Right. I mean, think back to not that long ago when mothers in the household were a totally unacknowledged, silent workforce who were going about this work with zero acknowledgment or kudos for it.
Steven Lee [00:30:53] Totally, yeah, I think yeah, that’s we often think about these kind of parallels and we see, you know, the changes that we saw in supporting women and all the kind of hidden work that they do. And it required a structural change. And so it’s like, oh, they’re the caregivers are very similar in that way. And so we talk about that a lot.
Sam Jayanti [00:31:20] Yes, absolutely wonderful. Here’s something else you should know. Two thirds of the US public expect to become caregivers in the future and increasing customer set for Ianacare. And another reason why this company is so crucially important today, thanks to AIPA for the data used in today’s episode. Steven, Jessica, we love your story because you took a prolonged period of what were very difficult personal experiences and tragedies and decided to build something that helps people going through the same thing. Thank you so much for joining us on Ideamix radio today.
Steven Lee [00:31:58] Thank you for having us.
Steven Lee [00:31:59] Thank you, Sam.
Sam Jayanti [00:32:02] Thanks for listening today. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And while you’re there, please do review the show. We love hearing from you. So e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or Instagram DM us. Our episode this week was produced by the incomparable Martin Milewski with music by the awesome Nashville based singer songwriter Doug Allen. You can learn more about Doug at DougAllenMusic.co
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