Twenty-five years ago, Joe LaGuardia realized the importance of recording the stories that told of his family’s history before they were lost forever. His father, Joseph had died, but his Aunt Isabel was still alive.
LaGuardia and his two brothers videotaped her as she recounted the past. “Each one of Isabel’s children, when they sat down and watched it, cried,” the former Anthem senior executive, now a business development consultant, says.
Last year, LaGuardia teamed up with Jim Gehring, a local entrepreneur/business and technology consultant, and founded Familia!, a service that helps clients capture, store and share stories with their families.
For a fee of $299, Familia! will digitally record a family member telling treasured stories in his or her home and upload it to a private family “group” on the company’s secure website, familiastories.com. The price drops to $150 for sessions conducted by online videoconferencing.
Each session lasts up to an hour and includes a story coach, who facilitates recollections by gently questioning the subject when he or she struggles to find words. Gehring observes that although some people are very nervous, they relax after they begin talking and require little or no prompting.
“Once they start telling a family story, it just rolls out of them,” LaGuardia says.
The initial fee includes a year’s access to the website and an online/mobile app that the client can share with family members. It allows users to record their own memories, or those of another relative, and upload them to the family “group.” The app is sold separately for $13.99 a month or $119.88 a year prepaid. Some, like Gehring, augment the videos by uploading family photos, along with descriptions and comments posted by relatives.
“It’s like a living photo-video album, where it’s got a social-media feel,” he says of the result.
LaGuardia and Gehring are test-marketing the service at senior-living facilities, including Anna Maria of Aurora. Administrators at the facility say the service, with the assistance of regularly visiting family members, will enrich the lives of residents — particularly those in memory care — by increasing interaction with far-flung relatives.
“It helps to connect them — that’s part of what we do is help keep families connected,” LaGuardia says.
LaGuardia and Gehring double as story coaches and maintain offices in Beachwood and Richfield. They employ another story coach, as well as a coordinator who schedules sessions and helps clients prepare for them. They anticipate hiring 60 to 65 people and generating more than $5 million in gross revenue by fall 2021. App users alone should number 1,000 to 2,000 by the end of this year. Gehring notes that technology is being upgraded to make the app more efficient, accommodate multiple languages and incorporate artificial intelligence that prompts story-coach questions appropriate to the user’s culture.
“The application online, when it’s rebuilt, will be something that grows by itself. Those are numbers we can’t even predict right now,” Gehring says.
The optimism stems from the co-founders’ passion for the product. LaGuardia and Gehring recite the Familia! tagline: “We’re passionate about the power of family stories.”