May 13, 2021

Romanian AnaMaria Onica is blazing a path in modern Speech Therapy

Romanian AnaMaria Onica is blazing a path in modern Speech Therapy

 | In this episode of Innovators Can Laugh, I sat down with AnaMaria Onica, the co-founder of Voxi Kids. We discussed her design background along with how she discovered an unmet need for the thousands of kids who don't have access to speech therapy.


But my next Romanian guests, an entrepreneur, Anna Maria. And Olga, the co-founder of voxy kids is looking to change that. Without further ado, let's jump into the conversation. We're Anna Maria and I are talking about huckleberry Finn and other books that she enjoyed growing up.  

I was fascinated about huckleberry Finn. It was another word for me as a child is  we're like so dreaming and imagining all those places, those adventures.

So I think, yeah. Yeah, after that, I think it was, there are so many different two books I learned and I liked over the time, but when I was smaller, I was just, okay. I want to read more about this or about  or about huckleberry Finland. Story's worse. Were amazing for me as a child, it was another world, like you said.

 Yeah. I used to have a neighbor and to me, he was huckleberry Finn. I'd go to his house. He would have ducks in the front yard. His family were big time hunters. They had guns all over the house. But he taught me how to catch crawfish. And so we would catch crawfish. So you actually it's like huckleberry Finn to me.

 But  it was fun hanging out with him           as a kid. So    when you were in high school, did you have any favorite bands, any favorite music any favorite concerts that come to memory? I was very much into fall music and rock music and and that, because we had teachers that there were teaching us to play guitar or a block flow, they, or different instruments.

They were taking us to in trades to mountains and the end there, there were we are we were just singing folk music and songs and trip songs like And it was very nice. So I was very into fall camp, rock music. I still am, but different bands like I'm, I'm just thinking other bands than we were in the, in in my high school years, but I still listened the same folk guys from the high school.

It's a nice it's being back in time, if one of those bands were to tour again and give a concert, who would you want to see?

I think I would like to hear a Mitchell Bonnie tune, which is a Romanian folk singer. 

What did you do after high school?

After high school I stayed still in C. I was still in CBU and I did go to the university. I, and I did. International relationships and European studies. Okay. While I was studying also oil painting because I liked, I like art and I was, I have a, it's like a hobby for me, so I explored this meanwhile I was in in the university and  did you have a room and you had white pants and the white t-shirt and just paint all over the place.

 I had rented a room and it wasn't such a big space to do all this, so I. Had it just a corner where I did all this. Yes. And I it's like you said, yes, it was very messy also, but it's also very relaxing if you like it.

Of course. 

But now it's just a hobby that I don't have so much time to, to do it anymore.

Maybe you can take it up again. When you get the planning. Yeah. So I read somewhere that you studied user interface design on your own. What intrigued you about that? Obviously you were a painter, did you want to get more into the technical side of things? At that time one of my friend, my friends just told me like, okay, why you are so passionate, you are drawing so nice.

Why don't you do this in Photoshop or in illustrators or in? And I was like, I don't know. I never taught him doing that. And it seems hard to do as you. And she was like, okay I'm coming at your place. And then we'll just show you some staff in in a photo shop. And after that, you'll see, it's so simple.

Just just in style, the, just by the the software, install it and let me know. Okay, let's try it. And I did all those steps and I was like, let's click, you can see how it's looking, how Photoshops looks like. And after I click it and it opens, and it has so many tabs and ES, and every tab I was pressing, it was like more tabs.

And I was like, Oh my God, how. She, how was she? She was thinking that I can learn this by myself. And then I was so scared. So I close it immediately. I was like, Oh, okay. I'm not capable to learn this by myself. It's like too much. 

And she was just encouraging me. She came to my place. She showed me towards the bottom. What can you do? And after that, she opened some tutorials on YouTube and it were digital drawings. And I was fascinated immediately. I was like, Oh my God, you can create like another world. Like it's something totally different.

So I started initially learning to do a straight shot. In a Photoshop and Adobe Photoshop. And after that I was I was looking for another type of illustration to learn something new. And there's so guy that was like UI UX, designed to design mobile interface. You said okay let's see what's this about?

And I liked the idea to create something new. And for someone like, okay, you can create an interface and you must think what's happening. When a person is clicking on this bottle, what's the next step he seen what's that it was like a puzzle. It was like, you are having a puzzle on a table. And it just needs to see where the pieces are are coming from.

After that, they said that it's not the everything about UI, how bottom is looking, like how other stuff, other UI, and an insight looking at. It's about the user experience you are offering to the, so I take some online courses because in Romania, in those times we didn't have any school that was focusing on design.

Just people online and they took some UX courses, of course, in English, everything was in English, but it was okay for me. So from there, everything just to build, it was a buildup. After that I took some freelancing projects just to see how I can handle it. If preparing now for the, for these two to become a job after that, I I with opera for the four year old or a week, my works.

And when I felt confident enough, I applied for my first job and for that from them, it's just, let's say. Yeah. And so from there you start having an idea about, okay, how can I utilize this skill and help more people? And when did the light bulb moment for boxy kids happen? 

 I knew that I could do something different and better than I did at the job where I didn't control. The features, I don't have control of the product. I was just a designer. Gotcha. Also I knew a lot of people that were I can be first.

So what is what, like I, with designer, I have friends that are a defendant course of 30 developers and together we can really build something. And the first spark was like speaking with my Actually the co-founder of book C keys, it would be so nice if we could book something, those cues like use our skills for good, like use tech for good.

And we just need to find a niche that we like, and let's think of what product what can we do? What's the product we want work on. And the first thing was like, I would like to do be in the medical area. And he was like, okay. Something I like to like, because it's motivating you besides the business, it's like you are having an impact to someone's in someone's life.

Yeah. Okay. It was like, okay we want to be e-health to product, but to what niche okay. So my, and we just, within the first month we were just researching and reading all kinds of articles about. About the digital products that are out to death, not just in Rumania.  And wonderful.

Fred is actually a speech therapist. And we were like, okay, we want to develop this. We like to do this. And she was like, Why don't you do that for a speech therapist? Because we actually don't have a digital solution and we're like, no. And she was, no, we don't have. And I was like, yeah, because I don't hear it to the left, my left ear.

So I was in the position of a patient at some point. And I remember that no one had movement. Or device of each social. For me, it was like going there and speaking to go to the medical for doctors and a lack of falls. Like my parents didn't know at that time, like what the next appointment or the next doctor we need.

And he plus much time, like we spend looking and Googling and asking friends and asking other doctors, what can we do next? And it. So I just remember it was so tiring for me and or my parents. And I was like, just, it was like a clique, like something I knew somehow, but I didn't think it's like a real need for all the people.

I thought that it was just my experience. 


In 2018 that needed access to speech therapy and solutions to help them exercise at home or exercise between session or two already to have access to speech therapy. Because we also found that there were countries or a parent has to wait to up to 12 or 24 months. Who have access to a speech therapist in their job area.

Oh, wow. So it's not just an affordability issue. It's also, there's just not enough qualified personnel. Yeah. Coverage. Okay. And that's when I was like, okay. I would like to have a clinic to help all kids with. Many medical areas, but it's too much for us as a startup. So to spread the so much. So I was just less with speech therapy because it's a niche that so few startups really got in there and did something in this area.

And this is, was the moment when we was like, okay, this is what we are doing. Let's build a product on MVP or prototype just to test the Romanian market, to see if it's really working. So we started with the prototype in 2000, that was launched in 2019, actually. But the 2018 was more about research, looking at markets, finding the niche, exploring the nation, seeing the, what was the real pain for our customer.

What's our what our customer in the first place and so on. So it was a research. Period for us. And after that what's that fantastic. So since then, what's been one of your proudest moments and boxy kids. I think every time a parent or a special based the it's calling us and just, I don't know, the other days a speech therapist was like I just wanted to congratulate you because you are doing this project because it's so hard.

W to gather all this information and build such a product. And and they're so happy that the finally they have a product for them, like built for the needs as a speech therapist, where they can control the content when they can control what the end and see the evolution of every patient. Something they never had.

Yeah, you can now. And they were like never thinking that someone who came and wanted to digitalize their, a niche also. And the first moment when I was like, okay, we have to drink something. Really important was one day it was raining.

My phone was ringing. I was a kid. I didn't know the number. Okay. Let's see. And then it's it. And it was apparent who had just a bottle. Our mobile app and use it, but with her kids at home during last year, when it was the luck of doubt period, and she was just calling me to say she was crying actually.

And she was like, thank you for the, thank you for building this app. I bought it initially without any expectations. And use it with my doctor during the lockdown period. And yesterday out of the blue, my 12 year old daughter who has a problem and speaks like a five year old, she just use two new words, learn from your, and I was like, okay.

Almost crying. I would like, I couldn't speak. Like I was like, okay, must say something, but my feeling, but I will cry. I'm speaking. I'm trying to say something. So I just, I was spending in the middle of of the, in front of the date in to enter in the, in in the office. And I was like, The phone tried to say just, I think I just said thank you.

Such a good story. So I know you're in the Romanian market. Do you have any any future plans for expansion? Yeah, actually the digital clinic, it's in a Romanian, but also in English. And right now we are collaborating with a speech therapist from the UK. And a clinic from us is just testing.

Our athletes. We have a pot piloted. There is, she had his own clinic with 10 speech therapist around 200 clients in the clinic. And so we are just testing it in the, on the U S market in the small, no more environment, just to see if we are if what. We built for the Romanian market. It's a property for the UK and us market.

And we got some feedback.  And we weren't expecting to have more of a negative feedback okay, there are many differences, but. Apparently there are not so far different as how the speech therapy is approaching mania is how it's approaching them in us and UK.

And that's because we build it to be appropriate for other markets too. And I am referring strictly to the content of the clinic because as Many of our users know we provide content. A special place needs access to some special exercises designed for the four day for dead children needs.

We are working intensely to improve the content to add new content right now. And we hope to. To be more present in the new U S market, the anti weekends of this year. Fantastic. That's great to hear. That's great to hear. I'm just wondering, do you, have you ever thought about killing , an employee or investor?

Not yet. No, not yet. We have absent doubts with both of them, but it's normal. It's some are people. I think many, maybe my employees wanted. To kill you some days. So I think it's in that area then otherwise. Yeah. Quick question, if you could post a large billboard in times, square for free about boxy kids, about, what boxy kids does, what would the billboards say?

I think, I just say that inbox of kids is the best solution for mental health problems, because we want to address all mental health problems. And we know that there are so many people with mental health problems. And and not so many solutions actually. Okay. Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs coming out of Romania?

Just to follow their dreams, do not quit on them. Even there are some ups and some downs. You can go to the don't discourage yourself and keep learning. Entrepreneurship. It's not something you are bored lit. You are learning and becoming an entrepreneur day by day. So it's a step-by-step and if it's something, if it's something you really want, then it's worth to fight for your dreams and make them business.



Okay. Now for some fun stuff, what's a favorite movie or TV show that you've watched again and again. Okay. I think I watched very much friends. The TV show friends. Yeah, many times. 


 What is a food that someone close to you EAs or enjoys, but you find disgusting that I don't like that's correct, but you don't like. Oh, I am. No, I am so Peaky when it comes to food that it's like, there are so many, I don't like fish really at all, but I like tuna, but in, in camp, which is like a little bizarre, but otherwise fresh fish is like no big, no, 

a big enough big, no. Okay. Okay. Anna Maria, if people want to learn more about you where should they go? So they can go to LinkedIn or we are on the Facebooks too, or if they want to learn a little more about our product and what  does. They can enter a box of kids that come and from there they can see, or even our team.

So we have the team in there. I will update it because we grew in the last in the last month. So I might must update the team page. And from there they can go on each of four of one LinkedIn. They can see the LinkedIn of the team members and the co-founders you advise us. We have, so they can learn more about us.

Yeah. When I go there, next time I should see, Anna Maria likes to paint and she doesn't like fish. It doesn't say it's a secret. So until now it's a seat. It was a secret. But right now not many people knows that I like painting or that, that is like fish. So no, they know. Okay, Anna Maria, thank you so much for being on innovators can laugh.

We're excited to have you on the show. We hope that everybody learned about Anna Maria and boxy kids, especially about the latest advances when it comes to speech therapy until next week. This is Eric saying goodbye and LA river. Daddy. Bye. Thank you very much.