Marie Ng builds Llama Life – A Tool for Productivity & Focus While Staying Calm
As a person with ADHD, Marie had spent many years in search of the right tool to help her manage her productivity and focus while still making it fun to get her work done. Hence the idea for Llama Life was simple. Marie wanted to build an app that was a hybrid between a productivity tool and a wellness app.
She wanted to create Llama Life to help her manage her daily tasks while staying calm, and she went ahead building it all the while learning to code!
Our mission is to help people achieve calm, focused productivity. We live in a world where things can get pretty hectic and there’s this false notion that we need to be busy all the time, kind of going at a hundred miles an hour. With Llama Life, what we want to do is help people still achieve things, but, achieve it in a calm, focused way.
In 2020, mid-pandemic, Marie was teaching herself how to code. What started off as a fun personal coding project soon caught the attention of the Twitter community as Marie was sharing her building journey with the public.
But very soon Marie learnt that there was a much bigger demand for what she was building as people started inquiring about how they can get their hands on Llama Life.
Listen to the full podcast to learn all about Marie’s building journey and what she has planned for the future of Llama Life.
Marie’s Book Recommendations:
Where to Find Marie:
Follow her on Twitter: threehourcoffee
Find her on LinkedIn: Marie Ng
Where to Find Llama Life:
Website: Llama Life
In today’s episode, we have Marie the woman behind that Lama Life. Welcome to the show.
Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Hi Marie. To get started, Uh, could you give us a 60-second elevator pitch for Lama Life?
Yeah, for sure. Um,
How, how would you describe Lama Life to somebody who hasn’t heard about it?
Llama life is a productivity tool that is designed to help increase your focus to get work done. And it does this by managing your attention. So not just your time. And it’s, it makes it very, very fun to use.
So it is essentially a to-do list at heart, but it’s all about managing focus and attention, not just time management.
Got it. Um, could you tell us your backstory, where did it all start?
It’s Um, well it depends how far you want to go back
As far as you want
As far as I want. Well, um, I would say it probably started, uh, close to the beginning of COVID. Um, so that would be 20 20 ish. Um, everybody was learning a new skill and I decided that I wanted to teach myself to code. And I’d actually tried to teach.
What were you doing before that, before you learned to code? Or what was your career? What were you doing?
Yeah, so I worked 10 years thereabouts in advertising and branding. So that was kind of my corporate career, uh, that was in, in New York city, but I’m based in Melbourne Australia now. And that was a fantastic experience.
You know, that was a place where I, um, kind of learned like the foundations for business, how to work with clients, how to manage a team, um, you know, how, how to do presentations, how to write reports, how do analysis? So it was, uh, it was a really good foundation for me. And, um, You know, I just kind of got to a point in my career where I thought I’d wanted to try something different.
Uh, following that I actually did a few startups in New York and, um, they, they didn’t work out, uh, which is pretty common. But with those startups, I was more the product person, the marketing person, the business person. I was never really the developer or, um, the designer. So this time around is a little bit different.
Uh, it actually didn’t start off as being. Uh, a startup, right? It didn’t, it started off as being a way to practice what I was learning. So I was learning web development and I had actually tried to teach myself to code several times. This is my third attempt. So the first two times I learned by reading books.
And for some reason, like, It didn’t really stick with me. I’m not, I’m not a huge book reader to begin with. So I don’t, I don’t even know why I tried to learn that way, but, uh, this time around, I decided to try by watching YouTube videos. So all my learning was, uh, video based, um, mostly YouTube. And then I did a sort of a short course on Udemy for about 20 bucks and, um, I, I just, it really clicked for me.
I think the learning method was important. Video, just video and audio just really clicks for me. And. Llama life started off as a way to practice what I learned and the reason I chose Llama life. Um, other than sort of practice is because I, I got diagnosed with ADHD about 10 years ago. And ever since then, I’ve been trying to find tools that work with how I want to work.
And I’d kind of put together, you know, multiple tools and multiple hacks. But nothing really had the, the features that I wanted, the exact features, you know, and I thought, well, now I’ve learned a little bit about coding. Like maybe I’ll just build it myself. So that’s how Llama life started. It was a very, very basic tool at the beginning.
And I put it on Twitter. Uh, I build, I built it in public on Twitter, so I shared what I’m doing very transparently day-to-day and it started getting a little bit of a following on Twitter. So the first time I posted the MVP, somebody commented like, oh my gosh, like I want this, where can I get this? And I was a bit surprised because it was very, very basic.
Where did you post, was it on hackernews or where?
Just on Twitter, on Twitter. Yeah.. And, um, you know, that kind of surprised me, but I just kept going and. I think it was, I put a lot less pressure on myself getting started versus my other businesses. And I think that helped a lot because everything I did with Llama life in the beginning was about learning.
So at the beginning I created the basic to-do list. Then I created the feature to be able to add a timer like a countdown timer, not a stop watch a countdown timer to every task. So it plays on this concept of time boxing. And then I learned to work with a database. Um, I learned to add Stripe payments, uh, user authentication and, you know, just a bunch of different things that I wanted to learn about building an online business.
And because it was because it was a learning exercise, it didn’t feel I wasn’t as pressured. You know, I didn’t feel that as much pressure to do it. And I was enjoying it. That was the main thing. And I, I just kept sharing it on Twitter. and It started getting a following and, um, yeah. And that’s kind of where it is today.
Um, I actually just closed a pre-seed right. A funding round for it with a black sheep capital. They’re an investor in Australia, but also Jason Calacanis in the US has invested in the round as well. So that just closed. Um,
How did that happen? Like why you expecting Investment right from the beginning? Or is that something that happened randomly, they reached out to you? How, how did that happen?
It Kind of happened randomly, but after the decision was made, you know, it was done very purposefully. So it was, it was super like serendipitous at the beginning. So I was, um, at some point I decided to turn Llama like into a business, but I wanted to bootstrap it.
So, um, I just kept building in public on Twitter. And what happened was someone from Jason Calacanis, his team saw it on Twitter and he bought it and he really liked the product. He ended up bringing it back to Jason and the team there. And they reached out to me and said, Hey, we like what you’re doing.
Um, we like the progress that you’ve made. It kind of fits in this remote work productivity slash wellness space, because it focuses a lot on how people feel like it’s not just about checking off tasks. It’s about your mental state, your focus, your attention, managing your mind. And I really liked the space.
Um, so they said to me, you know, would you, would you be open to raising money for it? Would you be open to joining an accelerator program? And I, you know, I thought about it because originally I was going to bootstrap it, but I kind of believe, you know, things happen for a reason. And I was really excited to, to be able to work with Jason and team and just have a chance to go through the accelerator.
So I applied for it. I went through all the interviews and everything, and I ended up getting in. It was a three-month program. And as part of the program, you do a demo day at the end. So you get to pitch to a lot of investors and even actually throughout the program itself. So it’s called the launch accelerator throughout the program itself.
You get to meet investors along the way. So it’s not just right at the end. It’s throughout the whole program. You’re constantly getting feedback on your pitch. Um, you constantly sort of learning how to answer questions from it, from investors and you know, what they’re looking for. And I would say one of the biggest advantages for me was it just helped me think a lot larger, like in terms of the mission of the product.
Like where could it go? Because, you know, as you know, productivity is a pretty crowded space and that’s kind of where Llamar life is sitting productivity slash wellness and. You know, it, it could, could stay a very, it could’ve stayed like a very small app, right. But there’s also now a much larger vision that we’re working toward.
And in order to get to that vision, it will well it takes, it takes money. So we’re going to fundraise to build a team, uh, rapidly, build a team rapidly, build a product and try and grow it in the next 18 months. So it’s a little bit of a switch from the, the bootstrapping journey, but yeah. Um, it’s just a different journey and I’m super excited to try that journey that the fundraising, the fundraising way and see how that goes.
And in terms of your team size, how many people have your recruited? Uh, is it just yourself now, or have you brought in people into the team?
So it started off as myself and I’ve brought one other person on the team now. So, um, she joined, um, at the beginning of this year. So at the beginning of 2022, and I am doing kind of the, the dev and the design.
So I do both dev and design. And just overall business. I also do marketing because I’ve had the branding and advertising experience from before. And she’s come on board to focus more on content, your community and partnerships. So she’s writing a lot of blog pieces. Um, she’s doing social media stuff.
She’s, she’s reaching out to people to figure out if we can collaborate on things as well.
Um, tell us a bit about the VC landscape, especially in Australia. How is it different compared to the us? Um, you do have the same environment, uh, same amount of VCs to help you out or no. Uh, is it different compared to the us?
It’s it’s a little different. Um, I would say. You know, Australia is a lot smaller, a smaller country, right. And, and that is it’s just reflected throughout the landscape. So I would say overall, there’s, you know, there’s, there’s less money around, you know, in Australia versus the U S the investors are a little bit more risk-averse.
Versus the U S so the U S tech tend to make some very big bets. Um, the U S is very sort of consumer-focused as well. Like a, B to C product. I would say Australia is a little bit less B to C, a little bit more B2B products, um, slightly more risk-averse, but, uh, still a very, very heavy focus on understanding the customer.
Yeah. Talking with customers, trying to get product-market fit. All of that stuff is, is still very, very present in Australia. It’s just the. The size of the country, I think reflects in the overall VC market as well.
Um, in terms of the app, I see the app is still a web app, but, uh, are you planning to move to a desktop native app going forward at any point, or will this stay a web app forever?
How are you looking at it?
I do think that. Yeah, mobile itself is, is a, is very competitive, right? You obviously have the advantage of the app store for distribution, and that can really help a, a small company in terms of, you know, getting it into the hands of consumers. But at the same time, I think you’re competing with a whole different set of apps, so the fact that Llama life is desktop based. Um, there are some advantages because most of the customers are doing work. Right. So they’re not using it as a, as an app to manage their routine during the day. Like maybe getting ready for work. They’re actually using it during work. So it’s, it’s very much aimed at people who are working at a desk at the desk, um, office worker, you know, that there are plans eventually to go into enterprise.
But right now it’s still very much a, B to C, B to C play.
Good. Um, and, uh, in terms of, uh, you are a female founder, how do you find that you think, uh, there are any special, um, barriers or, challenges being a female founder. Oh, right now it doesn’t matter.
Um, you know, you always, you always do here like the stories. I’ve been, I think I’ve been very fortunate because all the investors that I’ve spoken with have been super respectful. They haven’t treated me any different because I’m a female founder. I have never felt any different because I’m a female founder. But at the same time, I do want to acknowledge that stuff happens. I’ve I’ve seen stuff happen. I’ve got friends. I’m not going to go into any details or names, but I have friends in the startup space now, and you always do hear, you know, the occasional story, but I hope that we’re, you know, moving away from that as much as possible.
But I personally have had a very good experience with that.
Um, growing up, um, when you were really young or what is that you want it to be, uh, as a kid,
As a kid, I never knew, I never knew what I wanted to be. I struggled a lot trying to figure it out. I was, I was, I was a kid where, you know, you go first-year uni and you do like every single subject.
Cause you don’t know what you want. So I did, I did very random subject at university. I did, um, I did some science subjects, but I also did philosophy. I did animal ecology. I did criminology. I just did very like across the spectrum. I like psychology as well. Just very, very random things. Yeah. I would, I would say I even fell into like the advertising branding job, but I never sat out going. I want to do that. I kind of just fell into that. Uh, I liked media, so that was sort of related to advertising and branding. But, um, what happened was during the advertising branding, uh, stint in sort of New York, I, I, I was quite lucky because I got to work with. Um, lots of clients. So we had lots of big name clients, like L’Oreal American express P and G Unilever Coca-Cola like very, very big, big name clients. And, um, I got to work with them, but at some point I kind of transitioned into the innovation team. Within the same company I was with. and I got to try and like create new products and I really, really enjoy making new products. You know, suddenly you’ve got to think through like, what’s the value of the product? How do you actually present it to a customer? And in those particular cases, you know, we weren’t making landing pages and websites for a product, but we were doing sort of internal. Um, pitch decks to pitch it to a management team, which is very similar to writing a landing page. Right. You’ve got to think about how to best communicate what the product does.
Um, you know, how much sort of, how much, uh, what’s the audience for this product or some market. Um, how much would it cost to build it, that kind of thing. And obviously it’s a little bit different when you’re talking about owning a corporate product within an organization, um, versus doing like an indie product.
The timelines are very, very different. The mentality is a little different when you’re thinking about sort of doing business plan versus just putting something out in market, but it’s still kind of, it’s still gave me a little bit of a sense of. You know, I could, I could build stuff. And, um, it was kind of shortly after that, I left that company and, um, decided to try and do my own startups, but I’m super grateful to that company.
They were amazing to me. I, I met lots of people through that and like I said, I got a good experience sort of all around in terms of thinking about a business, how to manage a team, um, you know, how to do presentations and pictures and all that, that really started from, from that experience.
Knowing what you know now, If you have to go back in time, give advice to younger self, what would you tell ?
If I could go back in time to my younger self, What would I tell myself? Oh, okay.
Um, you know, I would, I would tell myself to just Stress less, because I think stress is one of those things where. You know, it manifests in different ways. And sometimes we don’t even know that we’re stressed until it’s too late. So, um, you know, sometimes we can think that we have everything under control and we feel okay, but then you might start to feel like, oh, you know, I’ve got a few aches and pains somewhere, or I’m getting a lot of tension in my neck or, you know, suddenly my posture is really bad.
And, um, I just think it kind of creeps up on you. I would say to try and stress a little bit less because it doesn’t always help to stress. Right? Cause sometimes like if we were living in, you know, more caveman times and we were being chased by some lion or something like that, this the stress is a good thing, then that the adrenaline and the anxiety from being, you know, almost eaten by something, kicks you into gear and you can, you can run away from that and you can, you know, it’s actually valuable.
Um, but the stress nowadays is not valuable in the same way. I think we, uh, you can say it’s an indicator, it’s an indicator. Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s, it is an indicator on, you know, kind of to check ourselves, I think, you know, and just be realistic about like, why you’re getting stressed. Um, I would just tell him myself to stress a little bit less because you know, when you’re young, you’re always trying to figure stuff out, but sometimes it just takes a bit of time.
You know, it’s, it’s hard to say, well, if I knew that I wanted to do this when I was 15 or 16 or something, would it still be this way? I don’t know. It might not have been, I might not have had the experience, like the life experience to actually do it. You know? So all the other things I’ve had along the way have contributed to where I am now.
So I can’t, I can’t really fault any of that. I’m very happy with where I am at the moment and what I’m working on. It’s pretty much my dream job. I get to build a product. I really love, um, I’m working with someone that I love working with. You know, we actually, uh, we, we used to work together in a previous job, so we’ve already had experienced working together and we always had a good time.
So, um, building product alive, I’m working with someone I like working with and we now have the capital to build the team even further. So I can’t, yeah, I can’t really complain. I’m I’m really enjoying what I’m doing at the moment. Just try to keep stress in check.
Good. Um, and what are your future plans for Llama Life or what is that you have in mind now?
Well, our mission is to help people achieve calm, focused productivity. So, you know, we live in a world where things can get pretty hectic and there’s this false notion that we need to be busy all the time and, um, you know, kind of going at a hundred miles an hour. So with Llama life, what we want to do is Help people still achieve things, but, you know, achieve it in a calm, focused way. Uh, two people can have exactly the same to do list. And two people can get through exactly the same list, but feel very different when I end the day, like you might feel very calm and accomplished, and I might do exactly the same things as you still get it done, but I might feel a bit more hectic or stressed, and obviously we want to design the product to help people feel. Calm and accomplished and not overwhelmed. Cause you know, there’s, there’s a lot of, a lot of, you know, stress in the world today and sort of taking off your to-do list and getting through your Workday should not be one of them.
Cool. Um, I know you’re not an avid reader, but could you name three books? Like you really liked or at least the concepts, maybe you didn’t read the whole.
Three books. Uh, God, um, I do like atomic habits by James clear. I haven’t, I haven’t finished it to be honest, but I’ve, I’ve, I’ve sort of, you know, it’s one of those books where I’m halfway through. I have a lot of books where I’m halfway through pretty much every single book and my Kindle is kind of halfway through, but I love the concept of, uh, of atomic habits and, you know, just building habits into everything that you do because they can save time.
Um, and kind of breaking it down and just kind of getting started on stuff. Um, other books it’s right now, uh, we’re talking about business books or just any book, any book? I like the Harry Potter series. Um, I’m a bit of a, like, I like the, I like a lot of young adult fiction. Like the Harry Potter’s a hunger games, that kind of thing, which is slightly embarrassing, but.
I think they’re good. I think they’re good stories. That’s why I like them. They’re good stories. Right. And they kind of put you in the minds of, of the hero and, you know, the journey. I just love, I love that kind of, that kind of young adult journey, where people are coming of age and, you know, achieving things against all odds.
Um, so I would say sort of the hunger games and the Harry Potter books, and I don’t know what are the books. Let me just have, like, I’ll have a quick, let me have a quick look on my Kindle. One second. If you have any nonfiction would be good as well, any nonfiction? Sure, sure. Um, Hmm. So I am reading this, like I haven’t finished it yet, but I am reading this book about community and I don’t think this is as well known as other books.
Um, it’s called get together and, and it’s all about community building. And I think that’s really essential for a business. Even if you’re just talking about, say, building a following on Twitter, a lot of it is about, you know, how you engage, um, the community. So this book has got a lot of practical examples.
Um, let me just get the author for you. So it’s, um, it’s called getting together how to build a community with your people. And it’s by three people, um, Bailey Richardson, uh, Kevin wing and Kai Elma Sato. We could probably put it in the show notes later, but, um, yeah, I kinda, I kinda like looks at it a little bit off the radar as well.
You know, they kind of written by people who have had experience doing it, um, and not as well known, but they’ve got a lot of examples, those kinds of books, practical books.
Well, Marie, thank you for being here and sharing us with your journey and that’s a wrap!