How Atlanta Founder Tamara Lucas Built a Successful App with No Prior Tech Experience

Welcome to another episode of The Female Founder with Bridget Fitzpatrick, Co-founder of ASBN and the CBT Automotive Network. The Female Founder is a show all about helping women grow their businesses and reach their full potential. Each episode will highlight inspiring stories and advice from female entrepreneurs to help you build and grow your business. This show is designed to inspire and motivate other female founders to be the best entrepreneurs they can be.

Today’s guest is a tech entrepreneur here in Atlanta. She’s a female founder who is passionate about supporting her community, empowering other women, and the app she has developed happens to do both of those things. Please welcome, Tamara Lucas, CEO and founder of the My Panda app, a community-based, personal assistant platform.

Transcription: 

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Tamara, thanks so much for joining us today.

Tamara Lucas:
Thank you for having me. I’m excited.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Now, you have an interesting background, it’s completely different from what you’re doing now. So, can you talk to us a little bit about that and then how you moved into My Panda app and the development?

Tamara Lucas:
Yeah. So, I’ve done a gazillion things, but I have my master’s in social work and I particularly worked with children and troubled teens. I was working in group homes and doing counseling with kids and their families. And then I got an opportunity to go live in Italy for a little while. And when I came back from Italy, I was like, “I don’t know if I want to go back into teaching.” So, I stumbled into an Italian food and wine distribution job, which was perfect.
And then as I started to get into that field, I was like, “This is really fantastic.” So, that’s where I spent a bulk of my career, really close to about 20 years. And so, sales and management and portfolio management and whatnot. And so, that’s what I was busy doing. I was representing actually at the time, several Virginia wineries. My family in the midst of my career, selling wine, decided to plant a small vineyard in the mountains of Virginia.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Nice.

Tamara Lucas:
Which was crazy, because I thought that was the stupidest idea ever.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
I’m from Virginia. They have great wines there.

Tamara Lucas:
They really do.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
They do.

Tamara Lucas:
And nobody really knows, because there’s just so many small, little family wineries, but they went ahead and did that. And so, I left the corporate sales position and was working with my family winery and representing several other wineries, trying to give them distribution and sales and exposure in the Southeast. Was busy doing that, raising my two kids, single mom. And as I’m sure you can imagine, and many of your viewers can imagine, there were always dishes in the sink and the laundry was always-

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Always.

Tamara Lucas:
… in the washing machine for too long and then I’d have to wash it again, because it gets mildewy. So, I was living that kind of life and a friend of mine who was working as a dog walker, we were having lunch one day and she was like, “Wow, these people need so much more than just a dog walk. If they would just throw me 20 bucks when I walked in their house, I would so pick up that kitchen for them.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, I need someone to clean up my kitchen for $20.”

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Right?

Tamara Lucas:
So, I started to just think that there’s so many people just like me in our communities and people like my friend, who are just driving by our houses every day, who could just pop in and help us with all of the things we have on our plate. So, I went ahead and was like, “Well, let’s try this.” And I had the idea of just doing it in my neighborhood, which is in Decatur, the Oakhurst neighborhood in Decatur. And as I started to mention it to people, every single person I mentioned it to was like, “When can you come to Philadelphia? When can you come to Miami? Can you get to Virginia?” So, I was like, this is something I need to really look into doing. So, that’s how it was born.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. So, now, app development’s so different, your background you just mentioned. Now, when you were telling your friends and family that this is what you were going to do, were they … I know when we started our company, it was like, “What? You’re crazy.” Especially ASBN, they said, “You stick to what you’re doing. CBT’s great. You don’t need to do it. It’s crazy.” What kind of feedback did you get from your family and friends?

Tamara Lucas:
It was mixed, because a lot of people were really excited. They’re like, “Oh my God, that’s a great idea.” So many people, particularly women that I talked to are like, “This is a fantastic idea.” So, it was a little bit of excitement for that. But then also, you have no idea what you’re doing, which I didn’t. I mean, when I had the idea of, well, I mean, it’s an app, how much could an app be? Maybe five grand. I had no idea. Yeah, so they were a little bit like, “What are you even doing?” I was like, “Well, let me just try it.”
So, we started with an MVP, a minimum viable product, just did a beta test in my neighborhood. I found an app development firm indicator. I wanted to be so, so hyper-local. That’s a huge part of what our business model’s about is being really hyper-local. And I started meeting with the app developers and I had no idea. They’re like, “Okay, well, let’s go ahead and just draw out a wireframe.” And I was like, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about. I have no idea.” I rarely even use apps.
But I just really gave into the fact that I didn’t know much of anything. And then I think my friends and family, as they started to see, I was just learning from a lot of different places. And I still was doing my other work and stuff too. So, it wasn’t like I just threw everything to the wayside. I really was testing it to make sure it was something that was viable.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. It’s a testament to the passion that you had for your idea, not knowing anything about it. I know we kind of went through the same thing, not knowing anything about it. I didn’t know anything about broadcasting, but here we are 10 years later. So, true testament to the passion and how strongly you felt about your idea. Right?

Tamara Lucas:
Yeah. How important it is and how it could help so many people.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Tamara Lucas:
And that really goes back to, I mean, with my psychology and social work background, helping people, that’s really what I do.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
There’s a lot of women watching right now that are thinking about starting a business. So, what advice would you give them?

Tamara Lucas:
Do it. Right? Make sure you have a safety net of some sort. Don’t completely just throw everything to the wind, but you got to take a little bit of a risk in order to make anything worthwhile. And also, recognize the things that you don’t know and find resources and support from everywhere. And particularly in the startup community, particularly here in Atlanta in the tech community-

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes.

Tamara Lucas:
… I can’t even believe how many people are here to help, willingly just reach out randomly to see if I need anything. It’s astounding.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. And you take advantage of a lot of the great programs in Atlanta that are offered, the ATDC and the Emory Business School. Can you talk to us about how they’ve helped you?

Tamara Lucas:
Yep. I call the ATDC program the gateway drug into the startup tech world. So, they’ve got an amazing education program. It’s really inexpensive and you just get some really solid basics. And so, you go in on your own time or it might still be virtual at this point, I don’t know, but it really is great. It really carries you through. I learned so much and I also met some key people there. So, that was really great.

And then I got into the, Emory Goizueta has the Start:ME program and that is designed for small business owners in underserved parts of the city. Right? So, they’ve got something in Clarkson, South Side, and then East Lake. So, I live right near the East Lake area, and that was also very similar to ATDC but more of solid foundational business aspect. And they still are amazing. I’m constantly getting emails from them with different resources they have for us as alum, and it’s great.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s fantastic. And some congrats are in order for you, you’ve been chosen as one of the Atlanta Techstars.

Tamara Lucas:
Yes.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Which is sponsored by Cox Enterprises, right?

Tamara Lucas:
That’s right. Yep.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Congratulations.

Tamara Lucas:
Thank you.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Can you talk to us about how that has helped your business?

Tamara Lucas:
Yeah. A, I get to be on the ninth floor of Ponce City Market, which is-

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
So nice.

Tamara Lucas:
… awesome.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
So nice. Yeah.

Tamara Lucas:
It’s really exciting to go from dining room table, COVID, just dogs running everywhere, and to be up overlooking the city in this really innovative place with nine other companies that we’re all going through the same thing, right? So, it’s this really supportive, excited, just full of energy. Tim Dorr is the managing director and this is his first program. He’s doing an amazing job and he is just having the resources there. And then the entire rest of the resources of the Techstars world, that’s a huge, huge support because there’s people all around the world that are in this program.
But the biggest thing has been the mentor component of the programming. We went through two weeks of, they call it mentor madness, where we met with about 90 mentors in 15 minute, like speed dating.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Oh my gosh.

Tamara Lucas:
Which was crazy. And then, mentors are selected, we ranked them and picked up people we really wanted to work with. And then they said who they wanted to work with. So, I have five mentors. And right before this, I was meeting with one of my mentors and we’re coming up and they are just experts in all the areas that I need help.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
I think that’s great. There are so many resources and you’ve taken advantage of a lot of them. And I think a lot of female founders, don’t realize that, they don’t know what’s out there or they think, “I can’t do that. It’ll be too expensive.” So, thanks for sharing that information. And you recently did a contest, you pitched some-

Tamara Lucas:
Yeah. Yeah. So, Atlanta Tech Village, which is down in Buckhead, they’ve got the, I think it’s called the Startup Village Battle. And so, I think it’s every two months they have a group of businesses that pitch against each other and then they all go to a final pitch. And then the winner of that final pitch of pitching their business, gets a year of free office space at ATV and free parking, which is on top of everything.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Oh, yeah. Yeah, especially in Buckhead.

Tamara Lucas:
So, I won that and then two weeks later I found out I got on Techstars. So, I was like, oh my gosh, I went from this dining room table to having two of the coolest offices in the city.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. And talk about a catapult for your business, too, having those resources available to you and then free rent and parking.

Tamara Lucas:
And really, I mean the space is great, but it’s the people and the community that are in these places.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes.

Tamara Lucas:
And it’s just, you just walk in, you’re having coffee next to some investors and other founders and it’s just such a great community. And there’s more and more female founders in this ecosystem. I mean, even when I started doing the classes at ATDC the beginning of 2019, it was a lot more guys were around, even just a few years ago. And now, it’s just, I have so many groups of women base.

The City of Atlanta has a Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative program, which is amazing. Monica Hooks runs that program. It’s amazing what she’s done with that program. And we were in that as we went into COVID and then it was this really intense period that 15 women founders, we all went through it together and we navigated and we’ve grown our business, and we’re all doing amazing things now. And that’s been a really, really great, great resource, I continually go back to.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Wonderful. Wonderful. Now, you’re surrounded by a lot of entrepreneurs, small business owners. What characteristics do you think it takes to start a business?

Tamara Lucas:
You have to just take a chance, right? People that really just want safety and security and consistency, it would be too uncomfortable. And you have to really have a drive to want to make a difference and you see a problem that needs to be solved, right? I can’t imagine just doing this just to try to make money. This isn’t just to make money. This is a problem that is a serious problem that needs to be solved, and I think that my solution can solve it, right?
So, it’s being creative to see problems and then come up with solutions. But then, it’s also really the perseverance of sticking to it. You’ve got to stick to it and that’s really, really hard. And sometimes you can’t, you don’t have the resources, which is a big issue that female and underrepresented founders have is getting funding. And money, resources are necessary to build a business. Thankfully, my parents were able to help me a lot, which I’m so grateful I have that resource, right? And so many people don’t have that.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Tamara Lucas:
And so, the sticking to it and just continuing to be comfortable with failing and know that failing is not a statement on your sense of worth. That’s just another problem to solve

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. A lesson. Yeah. Mistakes are often a lesson. Yeah. Now, you have two beautiful boys-

Tamara Lucas:
Yes.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
… and balancing the mom life, entrepreneur life. Can you talk to us about how you manage that?

Tamara Lucas:
It’s a lot. Well, you use Pandas.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
I was going to say. There’s help out there.

Tamara Lucas:
There’s help out there. So, I’m like many women today who, we don’t have our village of support around us. And back in the day, we used to have our mom or our aunt, we used to have extended family around us. And we lived in small communities where people knew … Everyone stepped in to help. And we don’t have that anymore. We’re away from that village of support, we’re in our individual houses, in our neighborhoods and we have friends, but they’re as busy as we are. And it’s a really difficult thing to navigate.
So first, I give up on having everything be perfect. My house is never as clean or as organized as I want it to be, but I’ve just relinquished that. I’m like, right now’s not a time in my life that’s going to happen. And it’s okay. I will make good food. I’ll make sure the kids are eating healthily and we are reading. There’s things that you prioritize, right?

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Tamara Lucas:
And choose the things that you’re going to actually put your energy towards, because we only have a certain amount of energy. Try to get basic things off my plate, right? Whether it’s having my kids do it or finding a hired resource or whatever. That’s a big, big part, is realizing to ask for help and it’s okay. That’s a big, big part of it.
And having honest communication with my kids, I mean, they’re older, right? So, they’re 15 and 10 now. So, I can have an honest communication. I’m in Techstars right now, I’m like, “Listen, I’m not going to be around like I have been. You guys are going to have to go in and get some of the frozen pot pies out of the freezer every once in a while and make yourself dinner.” And fortunately, my kids are old enough to do that. It’s harder when they’re really little, but—

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. I’m so glad you brought up the fact that you’re going to have to accept that not everything’s going to be perfect, because that’s such a big part of entrepreneurship. I think that so many times … I know that I do, I’ll sometimes wait. I’m like, “Oh no, no, it’s not perfect. I can’t launch this, or I can’t send this out, or we can’t post this, because it’s not perfect.”

Tamara Lucas:
Yes. Yes.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
But then it doesn’t even get done, and that’s no good.

Tamara Lucas:
And that’s less than perfect.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right. Exactly. The opposite.

Tamara Lucas:
One of the mentors in the Techstars program, he had a workshop with us. He’s like, “You’ve got to have just such a sense of urgency. You just got to go and just throw stuff against the wall and when it doesn’t work, move on. And it’s okay.” And that’s where that sense of failure comes in that I was talking about, like, it’s okay if it doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean anything.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Mm-hmm. Right.

Tamara Lucas:
It just means that didn’t work and that gives you one step closer to the solution that will work.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Exactly. Exactly. Now, in the mornings, I like to listen to motivational speakers and life coaches and things, as I’m getting ready for work. I listen to Brendan Burchard and Mel Robbins. Do you have anybody that you look up to or you listen to?

Tamara Lucas:
I’ve got several different podcasts. During the pandemic, I was listening to Brooke Castillo. She’s a life coach. A lot of her work was really adjusting your brain, your thoughts.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. I love that.

Tamara Lucas:
So, that was really helpful for me in a lot of different ways, because the pandemic was insane and crazy and I needed help above and beyond my business. Now I do a lot more, I listen to a lot more business related things. Actually, a friend of mine, Stefanie Diaz, she has a wonderful podcast called She Conquers Capital. And it’s great. She does interviews of women that are in capital and whether they’re VCs or people that are raising capital. So, that’s been really good to touch base and listen to that. Brené Brown is always amazing.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
She’s great. Yeah. I think that’s helpful.

Tamara Lucas:
I try to listen to music a lot too, because that helps me relax and get my brain off, because sometimes I need to turn my brain off from thinking.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
I do, too. That helps with not getting too burnt out. I know that sometimes I hit a wall at night and I know I need to do this and this and this, but if I continue, I’m not going to be any good for anything later or tomorrow.

Tamara Lucas:
Totally. Totally.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Tamara Lucas:
Yeah. I mean, self-care, right?

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Right.

Tamara Lucas:
It’s like, whatever, everyone knows we should do self-care, but it’s like, how do you do it?

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
But even that adds to the, “Okay, I have so much to do including taking care of myself.” And it can be so overwhelming. So, besides listening to music and listening to other people, is there anything that you do to help when you’re overwhelmed?

Tamara Lucas:
Yeah. My thing is, I need to talk with people and connect with people. So, I’ve got my core group of support that I just talk to all the time. A bunch of the women that I’ve gone through a lot of these programs with, because they understand so much. So, I find some of my really good friends, my longer term good friends, they’re there to listen, but they just sometimes just don’t get it.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Don’t get it.

Tamara Lucas:
And it’s like, “How’s it going?” I’m like, “Oh my God, I don’t even know where to start.”

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
So busy.

Tamara Lucas:
There’s so much. So, that’s a big part, talking to my family, my mom and my sisters, that is really important just to process things. So, that is all important and taking the time … My kids and I love to camp, so we try to just get away and be away from the phone, which is … I mean, I can’t really do it, I’m constantly have to check it because I mean, I’m running a business. But soon I’ll have a team to support me-

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Exactly.

Tamara Lucas:
… moreso than I do now. But doing things like that, getting out into nature and fresh air and away from the screen.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Exactly. Now, let’s switch gears and talk a little bit more about the My Panda app. Now, I assume that it’s probably a lot of women that you have, as you call them, your Pandas, the people that actually are doing the chores and things. Talk to us about where you are now and where you see My Panda app in five years?

Tamara Lucas:
Yeah. So, My Panda is a personal assistant next door app. So, they’re personal assistants that we hire and vet. They’re contractors, but we screen them very, very carefully. Interview them all. And we’re really trying to find people who, they’re not just gig workers. This isn’t just Instacart, Uber, and My Panda, right?

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Okay. Yeah.

Tamara Lucas:
We want people that have run a household, can problem solve, that want to help. Between 90 and 95 of both of our users and our Pandas are women, as you would expect, women tend to do most of the things around the house, right?

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Tamara Lucas:
And we certainly have some guys that use us and we have a couple male Pandas that are great, too. But the women helping women is a big part of our culture, that also adds to a trust level, I think, in a lot of ways. And also, we hire our Pandas, personal assistants next door, from within the hyper-local community too. So, a lot of times there’s two or three degrees of separation, right?

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Tamara Lucas:
And the Pandas, they understand the best store to go to, they know what road to avoid during rush hour. So, all these little things that help support the local community. Dekalb Farmers Market runs is a huge request that we get, because Instacart doesn’t go there, there’s no curbside pickup, but Pandas can go and do that for you. And they shop there regularly, so they know how to get around there.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes.

Tamara Lucas:
If you’ve ever shopped there, you know that it’s crazy.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Crazy.

Tamara Lucas:
So, anyway, right now we are serving basically ITP, the Northeast quadrant. We’ve just opened up Stone Mountain Tucker, Sandy Springs, over to Smyrna and Vinings. So, now we have a few Pandas in each of those areas, so we feel we can give decent coverage.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Nice.

Tamara Lucas:
And we’re doing a lot of updates in our app right now. I’m working with my development team on that. We’ve got a lot of strategy things that we’re reworking, our go-to-market, it’s a whole marketing thing that we’re bringing on. So, there’s a lot of things that are happening right now-

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Nice.

Tamara Lucas:
… that I’m looking towards the end of the year, being able to really be a lot more intensely saturated within Atlanta. And then, we’re looking to start opening up a couple other key markets in the Southeast, going into 2023. And we’ll probably be in two new markets in 2023 and then we’re looking to expand beyond that.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Fantastic. Yeah, all over the country.

Tamara Lucas:
That’s what I’m hoping. Yep.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Exactly. For those of you that would like to hear more about the My Panda app, please go to mypandaapp.com. If you want to be a Panda yourself or if you need help, that’s where you go. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Tamara Lucas:
Thank you so much for having me. It was fun.


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