Image courtesy of Lara Cena.

How A Former Business Analyst Went On To Create An Innovative New Therapy App

Before founding the mental wellness app Talley in 2019, Londoner Lara Cena was in the throes of an existential crisis following a major work demotion and issues related to a struggling relationship just three years prior.

“It felt like — in the space of a month — everything was attacking me and I was feeling very depressed,” Cena says. “That was when I had the initial idea, because I felt like I couldn’t speak to my family or friends or they couldn't relate to the experiences I was going through.”

Then it hit her. “I thought it'd be cool if there was a platform where people could speak to other people that have been through similar things ... anonymously.”

Cena’s idea for the anonymous therapeutic app began to manifest itself in 2019, after she watched an episode of the popular HBO series Silicon Valley. A business analyst and UX UI designer by trade, Cena rallied her brother and two friends to help her get the idea off the ground. With self-determination and the support of a close-knit team, Cena discovered a tech startup weekend on Eventbrite where she could incubate her ideas and create an impromptu business strategy for her future brand.

“People from all different skills would be at the event and they would choose what idea they wanted to work on. ... For six hours, we would do nothing but work on that idea and create a business model. We had to present it to judges and [in a surprising turn of events] we won,” Cena says. “It gave us more belief in the idea and motivated us to keep on working on it.”

A strong advocate for therapy, Cena shared that her last bout of sessions lasted for twelve weeks and felt almost as if she was developing a friendship. Gradually, sessions became prohibitively expensive, reaching £60 an hour for Cena, who says she didn’t have enough disposable income to keep the treatment going. Suited for those who seek immediate remote therapy rather than having to book in-person sessions, Talley hosts peer-to-peer support that makes community wellness and confidentiality a top priority. “We use a third-party solution which allows our calls to stay anonymous,” Cena says, “and [that] basically gives us the room to interact with one another based on shared mental health experiences.”

Learning from her experiences as a business analyst, Cena pivoted her focus to Talley’s U.I experience. “The user experience is key and in terms of what we're doing, it is very much about the community,” Cena says. “When it comes to functionality, things can be functional, but it's also about those nonfunctional requirements — I'm very big on the emotional connection people have with our product. Working as a business analyst, it’s all about managing people’s expectations. When it comes to understanding the feedback that we get from our users, it’s all about understanding [our consumers], getting to know what they want and optimizing as quickly as possible.”

Given how vulnerable users can be on Talley, Cena knew there were necessary requirements for the app’s focal point: the Talley Listener. “The ideal Talley Listener is somebody who’s patient, someone who’s attentive, picks up on social cues and understands that [conversation is always about the caller],” Cena says. “Empathy is so important and listening comes naturally to some people more than others.”

As Black women continue to congregate industrious spaces within STEM, there’s a dire need for POC representation in tech to segue into global conversations. As COVID-19 and recent Black Lives Matter protests go global, Cena realizes that Talley’s creation is timely — especially their streaming discussion “Talley Talks,” which air each Saturday at 11 A.M. CST, which can often serve as a gateway for those unfamiliar with the product. “You don't need to join in terms of contributing into the conversation, but [if you] just listen in, [you may] find things that will resonate [with you],” Cena says.

“I just feel very honored to be able to be doing something that can impact people and [maybe even help them], especially right now.”