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Life and Work with Janine Boleda

Today we’d like to introduce you to Janine Boleda.

Janine, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I started Good Karma Apps Inc. almost ten years ago. My middle son, Will, is a nonverbal communicator and has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). At the time, my youngest daughter Charlotte had just turned two years old. Will had been experiencing high anxiety when going to run any errands or any activities that were not routine for him, so we had implemented the use of visual schedules to help mitigate his anxiety. Visual schedules are a type a visual prompt that is used to help individuals on the autism spectrum predict or understand upcoming events by using images or pictures to show what activities will occur and in what sequence. Like most ASD families at the time, we were using a portable paper visual schedule that consisted of a Velcro strip with laminated images. That day, we were missing two of the images in our schedule, and so when we got to the store, Will’s anxiety peaked. He refused to get out of the car as he did not have his visual schedule to help him interpret what we were going to do. In my case, “desperation was the mother of invention,” I was out of diapers, and I needed to get to the store. I had to find a way to help him understand what we were going to do. I quickly snapped a picture of the store, my car, searched online for an image of diapers and found on my photo roll a picture of our house. In the photo album on my iPhone, I showed him all the images I just gathered, in the sequence of completing the shopping activity. We were then able to go into the store, get a couple of items, and leave with no incident! His success was a huge “Aha!” moment for me as I realized how beneficial it would be able to create a visual schedule on the fly, and simply being reliant on laminated pictures didn’t give me the ability to do that. I realized that a digital solution could hold the answer for not only us but also many other families who face similar situations.

Fast forward a couple of months, I had done some research and worked on preliminary wireframe designs. With some rudimentary knowledge of coding, input from some tech-savvy friends, support from professional experts in the field of ASD, and using the developer tools from Apple, I set to work. I quickly realized that some of the features I wanted to implement were above my coding experience level, so I was able to hire some folks to help me complete my work, and six months later, we released our first app into the Apple App Store.

We currently have three apps in the App Store that have done quite well. I am humbled that my apps are used by people with disabilities around the world, including my son. The apps have been featured in the Apple App Store multiple times as the “best apps for autism“ and been used in research projects to validate the use of visual schedules for those with (ASD). But, the best measure of success for me has been the countless emails that I have received from families, teachers, and individuals with disabilities who have shared with me how my apps have helped make a difference in their daily lives. Creating Good Karma Apps has fueled my passion for advocating for the inclusion of the disability community in all areas of life. In addition to Good Karma Apps, I am now working in a small startup in San Diego, which Is creating a local search for people with disabilities to find inclusive places and services based on their specific needs.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Jefferson, who said: “I have not failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” So, be prepared to make lots of mistakes! I have made too many to count, but each mistake turned out to be a great lesson, and with each failure, I improved. My failures have made me more confident in my decisions and better at finding alternate solutions. It also has made me a better listener to my users. When something was not working as expected in my apps, and a user emailed me frustrated and angry, I took the opportunity to listen and learn. Many of the best features of my apps came out of listening to my users’ frustrations and opening up a dialogue with them to find possible solutions.

My advice to other women is to let yourself “think big!” If you have a great idea, sketch it out and find people or local resources who can help you make your dream a reality. Look into some of the great resources that we have here in San Diego that support women and minority lead startups. Some of the wonderful organizations that I would recommend are ConnectAll at the Jacobs Center, AdAstra Ventures, Hera Hub, Mission Edge’s (SAIL Program), and the Brink at USD. All of these exceptional organizations can provide mentorship or advice on what your next move should be.

Finally, you also have to recognize that it will take sacrifice on your part, so be prepared to work! It isn’t enough to have a good idea; you need a strategy and plan to make your idea a reality, then take that vision and execute it. I can’t tell you how many people have approached me about an app idea that they want to create. But, when I get down to the actual work involved to execute their vision, they are usually shocked and not interested. But, with all great things, you will need to take risks and prepare to sacrifice, but in the end, when your idea becomes a reality, it will all be worth it.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Good Karma Apps, Inc. – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Being a mom to a child with a disability has given me a unique advantage over many other app developers who market to those with disabilities. I am proud that Good Karma Apps, even if only in a small way, has helped support people with disabilities by easing anxiety and setting them up for success in their daily tasks. I am thankful to my son, who has challenged me to look at the world differently and inspired me to play my part in creating a society that extends equity, kindness, and acceptance to all. Raising a child with a disability brings its own set of rewards and challenges. These challenges provide me an opportunity to improve and create change.
I have taken of the lessons I have learned along the way at Good Karma Apps, Inc and am thinking even bigger! I am now the co-founder of a small tech startup called Mapigator. Mapigator is a local search platform for people with disabilities to find inclusive and accommodating places. Our vision with Mapigator is to eliminate the informational, physical, and attitudinal barriers for people with disabilities by empowering them with personalized information about local places and services that meet their specific needs. We work with local businesses to educate about the societal and economic value of inclusion. It is crazy to me that, according to the CDC, there are 61 million people with disabilities in the US yet, we are still fighting for equity, access, and respect in our local communities. Considering that people with disabilities control over $645 billion in disposable income, this underserved population is an extremely powerful consumer group. This $645 billion, doesn’t even take into account the circle of influential people with disabilities have on the consumer decisions of their friends and family! So, if we can’t inspire our local businesses and service providers to become more inclusive of all people because it is the “right thing to do,” we can show them it is the “smart economic thing to do.”

What advice would you give to someone at the start of her career?
Be persistent, resilient, humble, and kind. You are going to have so many people who are going to tell you that your idea is stupid or that you don’t have the skillset to make your vision to reality. The sooner you mute those voices, find mentorship, and align yourself with other visionaries, the sooner you can execute your vision. I am always looking to learn from people who are smarter and have more experience than me. I continue to be thankful and humbled by some of the great business mentors here in San Diego who I have reached out to, who have offered to sit down and give me advice over a cup of coffee. Extend that kindness and reciprocate by sharing your knowledge and lessons learned with others who may be following your path.

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Image Credit:
Isabella Boleda

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