Anike Mlemchukwu, Lapapoe Special Needs – Podcast Season 4
Anike Mlemchukwu has always known she wanted to work with children. After settling into a career as a special needs teacher, and seeing first-hand the problems faced by caregivers, Anike got the idea to start Lapapoe Special Needs, an online platform that connects children’s caregivers with the help and services they need. After originally launching in London, the company was rebuilt in Atlanta earlier this year.
Episode 2 – Anike Mlemchukwu, Lapapoe Special Needs
[00:00:55] Sanjay Parekh: Today's guest is Anike Mlemchukwu, the founder of Lapapoe, a platform that supports parents in caring for their child's additional needs. Originally founded in 2019 in London, Lapapoe relaunched in Atlanta earlier this year. Anike, welcome to the show.
[00:01:12] Anike Mlemchukwu: Hi, Sanjay. Thank you for having me.
[00:01:15] Sanjay Parekh: So, I'm excited to have you on because I think the area that you're working in is so needed. But before we get into that, give us a little bit about your background and what got you here, today.
[00:01:26] Anike Mlemchukwu: Yeah. So, when I was a baby, I died and I think, I believe that there's like a baby...
[00:01:32] Sanjay Parekh: You just passed over that. Let's, uhhh. ‘When I was a baby, I died.’ Tell me a little bit more about that before we just gloss over it.
[00:01:44] Anike Mlemchukwu: Yeah. I don't always tell everyone this story. Because I do think it's a little bit weird. But essentially, the coroners came, they pronounced my body was gone, my mum prayed, she was like, you're not taking my baby, there's no way that she's gone, go back and do something. The doctors were like, no, I'm really sorry, but she's gone. My mum continued to pray and then I was like, I guess I'm back.
[00:02:16] Sanjay Parekh: I guess I'm back. That's like the second line of the Terminator. I'll be back. And then, I guess I'm back. Yeah, I'm not saying that you're a robot, there you go. Okay, so, you died and came back and then what happened?
[00:02:40] Anike Mlemchukwu: So, I think there's in my mind, right? There's like a baby heaven and I went there and then there were these children, right? And these children were like, look, if you're going to go back to earth, do something to help us. And I was like, sure. And they were like, you can go now.
[00:03:01] Sanjay Parekh: I like how you took it very casually. Sure. That sounds like a reasonable request. Let me go do that. Okay.
[00:03:11] Anike Mlemchukwu: But essentially, I've always wanted to work with kids since I was a kid. Like I was five years old and I remember looking at a mailbox and they had these little papers like, be a babysitter. I'm like take off a paper to become a babysitter. And I was like, you're five, who are you going to babysit? I'm not babysitting anyone. And then I wanted to be a pediatrician and I was like, yeah, I don't like blood. It's not for me. But I just continued to have, when I was younger, just continue to have like different health issues. Like I still have a scar on my belly from like having surgery. So, I have a picture that my mom took when I was a child and it said on the back of it, it said, this is Temi, this is what my family called me, Temi. This is Temi six months after surgery. I'm just there smiling. Two weeks, sorry, two weeks after surgery, I'm six months old. I'm like, oh, you're just smiling two weeks after surgery at six months old. Of course. I don't stay down for long. I think my passion for working with kids just came from there, and I became a special needs teacher, and I absolutely loved it. Loved working with the kids, loved working with families. And I was like, there's something needs to be done more to help these families. And that's when the Lapapoe journey came.
[00:04:42] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, tell us, what exactly is Lapapoe?
[00:04:45] Anike Mlemchukwu: So, Lapapoe is an online platform that uses technology to make it easier to care for a child with special needs. Essentially, we offer home care, respite, and in home services that allow families to get that break and maintain that work life balance. That's essentially how we operate. We're looking at going through Medicaid and health insurance to take that financial burden off the family, so they don't have to pay for it. It’s all focused around that.
You've got a lot going on because I grew up in a single parent home, like, my mom, one mom, four kids trying to figure out where we're, I still remember like looking in the newspaper, like where are we going to live today? We're moving. Oh, we're moving again. Okay. Where are we living? Just looking at different apartments, like trying to figure out where we're going to live. And it was like four of us that used to share one bedroom. So, like me and my sister wanted a bunk bed. My brother and my sister wanted a bed that was next to the bunk bed. So, it was like we had a very interesting childhood. Like a very interesting upbringing.
[00:05:55] Sanjay Parekh: So, is Lapapoe, the first time that you've started something entrepreneurial? Or was there something, obviously, you weren't a babysitter when you were five years old. But was there something entrepreneurial that you did when you were younger?
[00:06:09] Anike Mlemchukwu: Yeah, so we used to, me and my sisters used to have, we used to play restaurant in our house. And we would make the whole menu, we would invite our friends over, and we would make bread, we would make pizza from ketchup and cheese. And then we would just say, hey, do you want to buy our pizza? So, I think we always had that entrepreneurial spirit.
When I went to university, I started what became the Brunel Psychology Society, which was basically just focused on psychology and like encouraging people that are studying that. So, I was like, why is there no psychology society? Whenever I think, why is there no this? I always just start it. I also started the TLA Tech for Disability working group. They're doing a great job now. It's in London. I was there with different TLA groups, and I was like, why is there no group focused on disability? And I went to meet the head of TLA, and I was like, you should have a TLA disability group. It was, if you want to start it, then you can. I was like, sure, why not? So, I think I always had that, I would say an initiation spirit more than an entrepreneurial type of thing. But I do think there was a part of me that would have been happy doing that.
[00:07:40] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, I got to ask about the cheese ketchup pizza? Did you actually make money on that?
[00:07:49] Anike Mlemchukwu: And the microwave cakes.
[00:07:51] Sanjay Parekh: Of course, you cannot forget the microwave cakes. Did you actually make money on that? Did people actually pay for it, or did they ask for refunds for the cheese ketchup pizzas?
[00:08:01] Anike Mlemchukwu: They didn't give us real money.
[00:08:07] Sanjay Parekh: No real money. So, it was a very solidly in the red business. It was a money loser. Maybe not for you, maybe for your mom because she's providing all this, the materials and making no money on it.
So yeah, early lesson on making sure you get paid for the thing that you do.
[00:08:27] Anike Mlemchukwu: Right. Yeah. That's the way. Yeah.
[00:08:29] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, but it was fun, and it taught you stuff. So that's good. So, when you were starting out Lapapoe, were you nervous about it? Did anything concern you about doing this and launching this? Not understanding some part of the business? What was that if, there was anything?
[00:08:50] Anike Mlemchukwu: Yeah. When I originally started, what I originally wanted it to be was something very different. And coming from a teaching and education background and moving into the business world is a complete shift. So, I first went to try and get this grant and they were like, I like the social idea. How does it make money? And I was like, right.
[00:09:22] Sanjay Parekh: You're like, somebody else just gives me money over and over again. That's not my problem. No, it is your problem.
[00:09:31] Anike Mlemchukwu: So, I went back to the drawing board, changed it. And then what the product was then was a product marketplace. I then made it a product marketplace for children. Special needs products for children, and essentially parents would pay for the products. It was essentially an e-commerce platform. Parents would buy products online. It did decently well. I raised a crowdfund for about 10,000 pounds. Got a couple grants for it, and then we made sales in Australia, America and Denmark, when we were living in London. So, I thought that was quite interesting because people would say, oh, we found your website because someone talked about it from when I was in Australia. I was like, you found me from Australia? Interesting. So, it was doing okay, but COVID happened. And then I was like, this product marketplace is not solving a problem I set it out to solve. So that's when I was like, okay, something's not right. So, we stopped and then pivoted.
[00:10:45] Adam Walker: Support for this podcast comes from Hiscox, committed to helping small businesses protect their dreams since 1901. Quotes and information on customized insurance for specific risks are available at Hiscox.com. Hiscox, the business insurance experts.
[00:11:06] Sanjay Parekh: So, you've gone through a pivot too, which is super interesting. How did you manage that with the business? And during all of this, you also moved from London to the US, here to Atlanta. So how did you manage the business doing all of that at the same time? Or did the pivot happen because of the move as well?
[00:11:27] Anike Mlemchukwu: Yeah, so, when I was in London during COVID, after COVID, I was like, this isn't right. It's not solving the problem I wanted to solve. I decided that, okay, I'm going to take a step back. So, I was like, let's just close it down. And that was hard because when you've crowdfunded, and people have invested into you, and you've got these grants and you're looking at this thing and you're like, it's just not it. And then I was in London, but I always knew I wanted to go back to Atlanta and I'm very like intuitive person. So, I feel like if something's telling me that I need to move or that a certain space isn't right, then I usually follow that intuition. So, that intuition was like guiding me back. I always knew I wanted to come back to Atlanta, but that intuition was guiding me back to Atlanta at that time. So, I was like, okay, let's move back. And then I was like, am I really going to restart this business in a whole new city? When I don't even know what's going to come of it. And then the WEI program, which is, they would invest in Atlanta, but they focus on women entrepreneurs. that opportunity came up and I was like, and it had so many criteria. It was like, you have to get this much revenue. You have to be doing these things. I was like, oh, I don't have that, but I have this.
[00:13:07] Sanjay Parekh: I have this other thing.
[00:13:10] Anike Mlemchukwu: Yeah. And I didn't think I was going to get in, but I did. And I think that just started the initiation of starting a business. Because to get on a program, you have to have your business registered. I was like, I don't have it registered yet. I'm just thinking if I want to get back into it. And it just started the initiation. And it was so funny because when I was in London, some of the things I wasn't able to do came so much easier when I came to Atlanta. For example, finding a co-founder. When I was building Lapapoe originally, I was on my own and everyone was like, you shouldn't do a business as a solo founder. I'm like, I hear you.
[00:13:53] Sanjay Parekh: Are you joining me? Is that what you're saying?
[00:13:57] Anike Mlemchukwu: But if you want to find them for me… The whole time I was in London, constantly trying to meet people, trying to bring someone on, it was so hard. Finding a CTO in London was, like, there’s no one anywhere. Moving to Atlanta, met my CTO within a couple of months. I was like that process – when you're meant to be somewhere for a reason, you're meant to be somewhere for a reason.
[00:14:30] Sanjay Parekh: Research shows, and that advice is true, that research shows that the average number of founders for a successful startup is like 2.3 founders. So, between two and three is kind of the magic number. That said, there’s plenty of companies that have been founded by a single person, that have been successful. And then plenty of companies that have been founded by teams of five and seven people. I feel like Intel is actually one of them when it was like four or five people, or maybe it was three people, but it was not just one or two. It was a number of people. And sometimes having all of that expertise around the table is useful in getting going.
My own startup, my very first startup, it was three of us, me and two other co-founders. And this was well before I knew any of this stuff, probably before this research even existed. So, I got lucky with so many things along the way.
Okay, so let's shift gears a little bit, and talk about kind of the stress. The business that you're in is meaningful and impactful, but probably also stressful because you want to do things so fast because you know that the impact that this could have on families and most importantly, the kids, especially the kids that sent you back to do this work. They're watching you. You've got that stress on you too, or maybe you never thought about that. And now I've just introduced that stress on you. So how do you manage the stress of owning this company and this business and the rest of life?
[00:16:08] Anike Mlemchukwu: Yeah, that is a great question because it is. I think anyone that journeys to become an entrepreneur has to be some level of crazy. You have to be a little bit crazy. But in some ways it's also freeing. And I don't think it's freeing in the same way that people say it's freeing. I've got all this time, and I can do all these things. I think it's freeing in the way of, you're not oppressed by the system in some ways. You're not like, you're, following your own path. You're following your own kind of journey. And that is freeing because you're not tied to something else. But I think it's also, for me, I'm very big on meditation, very big on meditation. I meditate every morning. I think for me, gym is a big thing as well. I need to do my yoga. I need to go to get a good workout in. I just, going for a walk in the park. Because there are so many pressures. I think being a founder, even though I've got a team, it's you're still carrying the brunt of it because you're the visionary, the ideas person, you're still like paving, finding, figuring out. And I think that's a lot of pressure on top of it. And then obviously the people that this community that I'm trying to serve, hearing their challenges and trying to figure out how to best serve them as well. That's also a challenge. And on top of that, being a black female added to it is a lot. But I think if you know your why and you're centered in your why, and you hold true to that, it can be more freeing. Not in time because there's no free time.
[00:18:22] Sanjay Parekh: There is no free time as an entrepreneur. That basically doesn't exist. So, I want to ask you about, you mentioned exercise and you've got this routine and yoga. How do you work that into your day? Is it like, do you have your calendar? And then every day that time is already blocked off and then that's sacred and nothing else interferes with that. Or is it flexible? And you're like, I'm just going to work it in somehow. How do you manage that for yourself?
[00:18:48] Anike Mlemchukwu: Yeah. So, it's definitely blocked in. I wake up at about 6am and I leave to start my day at about 8:30. So, from 6 to 8:30, that is my time to, if I need to listen to some videos, if I need to read some books, if I need to meditate, shower, all of that gets done in that period. And then I have a set gym day. I have a Thursday evening. That's my gym and yoga day, Sunday morning and Saturday morning. So, I have it like built into a set routine. So, I know each week, like this is how, I don't really break from that.
[00:19:38] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, it's, set in stone. This is what you do. And yeah, nothing, breaks out or is there something like, is there something that would break that routine for you if it happened?
[00:19:52] Anike Mlemchukwu: So, my morning routine, nothing breaks that. But my evening gym routine, if there was a business networking event, that would take precedence. So, I'd do that. And I would just switch my gym day to another day in the week. So, that's like flexible, but I usually try and get in two to three days minimum a week in the gym. So, as long as I can keep that up. But morning, I feel like that time is, I have to keep that time. My day would be impossible. I wouldn't be able to get up and move and still be happy, positive about things, because even like right now, like the amount of things that are happening right now, I'm like, and you're still smiling. Yeah. Why not?
[00:20:45] Sanjay Parekh: Why not? We still get to work on these things, right? So that's the positive of all of it is that every day we get to go out and make a difference and hopefully move the needle just a little bit.
[00:20:57] Anike Mlemchukwu: Yeah, I like that. I think it's just that little bit of just being able to move the needle. Because I was looking at something the other day and it was like, sometimes if you can't take a leap, just take a baby step, take a step in the next right direction. Like what's next, just do that.
[00:21:14] Sanjay Parekh: And I think that's a challenge for a lot of people because they see how large of a task they have in front of them to go from maybe being not an entrepreneur to being an entrepreneur. And you've lived it, right? There are so many things that you have to do. You mentioned that, to register your company and thinking about how you're going to raise money and how you're going to fund this thing, it's a lot of steps. And for a lot of people, when you look at all of that, it becomes overwhelming. But instead, if you break this down and be like, every day, I'm going to move the needle just a little bit. And once we become entrepreneurs too, taking it that same approach. We're not going to conquer the mountain on day one, but we do a little step every single day and maybe by day 365 or 1,000 or 5,000 we'll be able to look back and be like, oh, look, all of those little steps added up to this big accomplishment.
[00:22:07] Anike Mlemchukwu: I love that because I would say it's not a sprint, it's a marathon. If you think about, if I was to think about right now, what I see in my head as Lapapoe, and how to create that, I would be like, I'm not doing that.
[00:22:30] Sanjay Parekh: Oh, that's just too much. Let me just go get a job. This is just too much. Yeah.
[00:22:34] Anike Mlemchukwu: But it is just those, and also knowing why you're doing it. I think if you know why you are, and everyone has a different why. But holding onto that, whether it's family or like your future children or whatever.
[00:22:50] Sanjay Parekh: And I think it also goes back to what you said earlier, that we've got to be a little crazy. Like you, you see this big thing that's ahead of you and you're like, yeah, I'm, the person that can do this. It is a little bit crazy, maybe a little bit arrogant, maybe a little bit ignorant.
[00:23:07] Anike Mlemchukwu: Why not you?
[00:23:09] Sanjay Parekh: Why not you? Somebody has to do it. Why not you? Is what it boils down to. Okay. So, you've been doing this now for four-ish years, right?
[00:23:20] Anike Mlemchukwu: Yeah, it's crazy, right?
[00:23:22] Sanjay Parekh: Every day just built upon itself, what we were just talking about. If you could go back and do something differently, knowing what you know now, what would that be? And why would you do it differently? And how would you do it differently?
[00:23:35] Anike Mlemchukwu: I don't think I would change anything because everything taught me what I needed to learn to get to the next stage. I think one of the greatest challenges was my crowdfunding campaign. And I think if I was to do anything, I would have probably, so when I started my crowdfunding campaign, I originally wanted to raise 20k. And I was like, it was match funded by the bank. And so, you just had to really raise half of it. And I told myself, I was going to do it. At the beginning I was like, yeah, I'm going to do it. I'm going to do it. Halfway through, I'm like, I'm not going to do it. I can't do it. I can't do 20, I can't do 20. I brought it down to 10. And if I was to go back, I would have kept at 20 and seen how far I could push myself, to see if I could have done that 20. I did get the 10 in the end, but I would have wanted to see if I could have reached that 20. Because there was this metaphor, I was looking at a thing, it was like, sometimes you're so close to the goal, but you back down like just before you get to the goal. It’s right there, but you back down. And I feel like that was one of those moments where it was like, I could have, if I pushed it.
[00:25:10] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Do you think it was self-doubt?
[00:25:13] Anike Mlemchukwu: Yeah.
[00:25:14] Sanjay Parekh: That's all it was.
[00:25:15] Anike Mlemchukwu: Yeah. I think it was definitely. I think everything's mindset. I feel like mindset is so big. If you believe you can do something, you can do it. If you believe you can't do it, you won't do it. If you believe there's a way around it, you'll find it. If you think, oh, this is hopeless, it's hopeless. So, if I had just had that self-belief and that confidence and that ‘I'm going to find a way to get it’. But I didn't have that then. I had the ‘I can't do it’ mindset.
[00:25:47] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. You remind me of a quote. I've actually got it on my laptop. I'd taken one of my kids to space camp in Huntsville, Alabama, and we were being toured around by a docent who had been involved with the space program, the rocket program, a long time ago. And one of his quotes, that he said a number of times, was ‘the only things that are impossible are the things you don't try.’
[00:26:15] Anike Mlemchukwu: Right? I love that.
[00:26:16] Sanjay Parekh: And that stuck with me. Like, you are dead on, but also, and this is like that, right? You didn't try to do the 20 because that self-doubt creeped in. So, you got the 10 because that's what you tried, but maybe if you'd kept it at the 20, maybe you would have been successful with that. Great advice. And now do you think about that now when you're doing things? And push down that self-doubt?
[00:26:43] Anike Mlemchukwu: Yeah. Now I'm like, okay, what do I, knowing that your belief is everything, what do you believe you can achieve? And then also you have to put in the work to make that belief. You can’t be like, yeah, I believe I can achieve this thing and just sit back and it's going to show up.
But if you believe that you can achieve something and then you work hard to achieve that thing, that's now my mentality. Whereas before it was like, oh, I can't do it. Even now, people were talking about investment and all these types of things, ‘only point something something of investment goes to Black people. I'm like, okay.
[00:27:19] Sanjay Parekh: So, I'm going to be one of those. I don't see the problem here.
[00:27:26] Anike Mlemchukwu: You said point, okay, there's still that point.
[00:27:31] Sanjay Parekh: So, you're saying it's not zero, so…
[00:27:34] Anike Mlemchukwu: It's not zero. So, there's still a possibility.
[00:27:37] Sanjay Parekh: Unless it's zero, I'm good. There you go. Okay, so last question for you. What would you tell somebody, and I think we've given them tons of advice throughout this interview now, but what would you tell somebody that's thinking about taking the leap like you and starting a side hustle or launching a full-time business?
[00:27:58] Anike Mlemchukwu: I would say if you know why you want to do it, and you believe in yourself to do it, then you have to leave. Because otherwise it will eat at you. And something said, I read something the other day, it was like, never go, you don't want to go to your grave with your dreams because then you can't achieve them. So, you have to leave.
[00:28:24] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. I think the other part of that, then, too is that inevitably somebody else will probably do the thing that you have thought of and you're going to regret, and see, they were successful.
[00:28:37] Anike Mlemchukwu: Exactly. And that could have been you.
[00:28:39] Sanjay Parekh: Exactly. Anike, this has been an incredible conversation. I think we could probably talk for another hour, and our listeners would probably love it, but we're going to end it here. Where can our listeners find and connect with you online?
[00:28:56] Anike Mlemchukwu: So, you can find me on LinkedIn if you want to spell my name.
[00:29:03] Sanjay Parekh: It'll be in the title of the podcast so they can find it there.
[00:29:06] Anike Mlemchukwu: Because I'm definitely not going to spell it now.
[00:29:11] Sanjay Parekh: Oh, is, that the main place they should find you, LinkedIn?
[00:29:15] Anike Mlemchukwu: You can also find, me, Lapapoe, at Lapapoe.com, on Instagram, same, Lapapoe Special Needs.
[00:29:24] Sanjay Parekh: Awesome. Thanks so much for being on the show today.
[00:29:27] Anike Mlemchukwu: Thanks for having me.
[00:29:29] Sanjay Parekh: Thanks for listening to this week's episode of The Side Hustle to Small Business Podcast, powered by Hiscox. To learn more about how Hiscox can help protect your small business through intelligent insurance solutions, visit hiscox.com. And if you have a story you want to hear on this podcast, please visit hiscox.com/shareyourstory. I'm your host, Sanjay Parekh. You can find out more about me at my website, sanjayparekh.com.
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