Meet Lella, an app that helps you stay connected while you stay at home: services, insight, and advice online or straight to your door.
We’re all feeling a little isolated these days. What a weird time to be alive, right? Staying at home around the clock, in many cases working from home or only connecting with loved ones by video chat… it’s hard to stay positive and motivated in such a disconnected landscape. On a positive note, though, social distancing is waking us up to how disconnected we are from one another.
But now… think about new mothers. Social distancing is nothing new to them.
Ask a recent first-time mama how she feels in her strange new role – how she honestly feels – and you might be surprised to learn how many mums secretly admit to one common thread: a deep sense of isolation. While social media encourages new mothers to share photos of their brag-worthy nurseries and post stories of their baby next to stylized letter boards, the reality behind those moments are all too often dark and lonely. Sleepless nights that melt into disconnected days, home alone while their partner goes to work, recovering physically and emotionally from birth, assuming a new identity, all with a tiny human permanently affixed nearby, is enough to rattle even the strongest women to their core. But add in the inherently detached nature of modern living, with many of us hundreds if not thousands of kilometers away from parents, siblings, friends, and the impact of disconnection is bound to be tenfold.
“It can’t be an accident that Lella, a connection tool for meaningful matches in the beauty / wellness / baby space is launching during such a challenging global time.” says Mary Bratko, the founder and CEO of Lella. Lella launching in this COVID time is an opportunity to rediscover the power of connection, particularly for women.
An Interview With Lella Founders
How did you come up with your vision for Lella?
Mary: “Founders evolve, and so do their brands.”
For the past few years, alongside her co-founder and partner, Mark Wilson, Mary was developing a simple, Uber-inspired booking tool for hair and makeup pros in Canada.
Mary: “Despite being 1st of its kind in Canada, I knew PrettyBird [our original brand] wasn’t enough. A girlfriend asked me, “Why hair and makeup, Mary? You hate doing your hair and makeup. And she was right – hair and makeup was not my thing. But it was just the first thing I thought of when wanting to make an impact for women: make it easier for them to feel beautiful, to feel confident.”
It wasn’t until Mary’s own life took a major turn that she was inspired to make a major adjustment to her startup.
How did they end up in Krakow?
These two Canadian entrepreneurs decided that a digitally nomadic life would extend their financial runway as they continued to build PrettyBird. Mark and Mary sold everything they owned and planned to travel permanently around the world… until they found out two stowaways had joined them on board: they were expecting twins. With Mary’s parents in Poland, her father originally born in Krakow, the City of Kings became the couple’s next serendipitous stop on their journey.
Why is Lella so important, especially RIGHT NOW?
Mary openly describes her expat birthing experience as a ‘trainwreck’.
“As foreigners in a new country, we were completely alone. We didn’t know who to turn to for advice, insight, or recommendations.” Since her own experience postpartum, it was Mary’s training as a birth doula that inspired her to pivot PrettyBird into a more holistic, meaningful matching tool. “The mamas who book me to be their birthing coach trust me to provide meaningful recommendations and referrals based on what I have learned about them: their personality, their physical needs, their lifestyle, their preferences, even their native language. I wondered, ‘Can technology be used to combat the disconnection it’s created?’. She and Mark decided the answer was ‘Yes.’ – and Lella was born.
How did coming to Krakow change Lella?
Krakow quickly proved itself to be a powerful hub of meaningful connections that Mark and Mary needed to nurture Lella into existence. Michael Ros, CEO of one of the most successful Kraków-based startups joined the Lella advisory panel, followed by Anna Rys, a notable KRK-based serial startupper and growth visionary, who came on board as Lella’s Chief of Strategy. Today, the global team of Lellans is made up over 50% female, works from a half-dozen countries across five timezones, building one common vision: a connecting tool that makes matching with Pros you need quick, easy, and meaningful.
“Lella is built on the foundation of conscious connection.” reiterates Mary.
What is ‘Conscious Connection’ in the real world, though?
Mary: “Technology, despite its far-reaching solutions, is driving a wedge between people; making the exchange of services increasingly faceless, meaningless, and transaction-oriented. For so long, we lived in tribes. We survived on close connections around us. Lella bridges this gap once again, to reconnect our users, from tech to tribe.”
So, what exactly is Lella?
Lella is a marketplace app that intelligently matches clients, through an advanced data driven recommendation engine, to beauty services, wellness pros, and parenting experts locally and around the world for services, insight, and advice both in-person or online. “You can book a hairstylist to come to your home and cut your entire family’s hair, or you can book an online session with a lactation consultant to answer questions about feeding your newborn.
The women using PrettyBird services back in Canada for hair and makeup are the same women who would benefit from an in-home massage, a manicure at their office desk, online counseling sessions, or a physiotherapist right to their door. Lella gives women access to everyone they need, anytime and anywhere.”
Lella’s tribe is made up of two types of users: 1. women and 2. the service providers they know, use, and love already (as well as those they have yet to discover!).
Mary: “So, when Maya creates her Lella profile and tells us more about herself through interactive personality questions, she’ll be shown all the Beauty, Wellness, and Parenting Pros available to her nearby. Service providers range from hair stylists, makeup artists, and nail technicians to personal trainers, yoga instructors, physiotherapists, even certified midwives, doulas, lactation consultations, and therapists or counselors.”
A user’s experience will be custom-tailored to their needs, preferences, and lifestyle based on the answers they provide and the bookings they make and rate.
Mark: “Think of it like a dating website. The more we learn about what you love, the better we can show you services and experts you didn’t even know you had available to you.”
Booking through Lella happens in real-time, either for appointments as soon as possible or booked much more in advance. Services are available in the Pro’s brick-and-mortar shop, at the Client’s home or hotel room, or connections can be made by virtual visit online.
“Creating a safe space that upholds privacy and modesty is the key” mentions Vivien, Lella’s newest addition – a social media maven working remotely from SE Asia. “Lella allows women to book services directly into their home or – as is so needed right now – online, whether it’s a talk with a mindfulness guru or a birthing class for a single mum. Lella offers the opportunity to indulge in the services and support each woman’s unique needs, away from the prying eyes of the world.
But the power of Lella doesn’t end with booking services and consultations. “At Lella, our user’s personality is their power.” explains Mary. The entire Lella browsing and booking experience is driven by each user’s personality profile which they fill out as much or as little as they feel comfortable sharing. “If you tell us you’re interested in yoga, ayurvedic products, and a vegan lifestyle, our matching engines will connect you with Pros who share similar lifestyle preferences.”
Mark: “If a user tells Lella about their exact hair type, we will automatically match them to hair stylists who specialize in working with this type of hair. No more taking a chance on an unknown salon or throwing caution to the wind with a Pro you’ve never used before.”
Lella users will also have the ability to filter by specific services, areas of expertise, and even native language spoken in a foreign country.Mary: “It’s this algorithm-based, deep-learning technology that I refer to as the conscious connection I look for in my own life, and what I strive to provide for my birthing clients in Krakow.”
It looks like with the passion you have for this project, it is bound to succeed. But are there any other reasons you believe Lella will be used by millions of users around the world?
Mary: “About half of the world’s population is female, so let’s aim for hundreds of millions!”
“Aiming high – that’s definitely something Anna, our mentor-turned-CSO taught me. And we have quite a few reasons to believe in Lella’s large scale, global success.”
Passion is just one of those reasons, but it’s a very strong one, since it’s backed by experience of the founders, team members and the thousands of people who wait to hear about the launch of the app both in Poland and Canada. The need is there, it just has to be answered in the right way.
“Whenever I talk to someone about Lella, they ask how and when they can sign up and start using it. All the encouragement we’ve been getting from future users – especially since we decided to address the social distancing issue with virtual visits – has been amazing,” says Mary.
On top of that, the prosocial impact of an AI-based booking technology is so far-reaching that Lella has raised an impressive Friends + Family investment round from nearly a dozen investors from the U.S.,Canada, Bermuda, Poland, and Australia. This allowed the founders to focus on building an MVP quickly and without giving up any core features. Another benefit is that they can focus on traction, without being too distracted by fundraising.
They did start meeting with some potential investors for their seed round though. During one such meeting, a director of a prominent accelerator recently touted Lella’s offering of community alongside its booking service as something the competitive landscape has lost sight of. “This is something nobody else is offering, and this will go far.”
Sign up to join the Lella tribe and receive exclusive VIP membership. Lella is expected to launch the first week of April. Follow them on Social Media to stay updated!
The Foundation Supporting #OMGKRK wishes the team of Lella the very best for their future and is proud to have a startup as innovative as theirs in our Girls Up Mentoring Program!
Interested in knowing more about the startups taking part in this program? Click here!