Liya Shuster-Bier: “Making Cancer Less Lonely” with Alula
Liya Shuster-Bier is the founder of Alula, the “first onco-lifestyle brand in the country.” Alula is a direct-to-consumer marketplace anchored by a partnership with McKesson Medsurge, the same medical supplier that stocks the majority of oncology clinics nationally. Alula has a recovery registry, analogous to a wedding registry, to help patients and their supporters through cancer. It also has Humans of Cancer, “a radical anthology” that puts the experiences and topics encountered by individual cancer patients in a new light. It is a major source of site traffic for Alula, as well as a huge driver of community. The stories that are featured often cover topics that a patient would likely not cover with their oncologist.
“We want to be the place that’s taking on these unconventional conversations, which shouldn’t be unconventional.”
Shuster-Bier’s inspiration for Alula came in difficult times, initially when her mother was undergoing treatment for breast cancer and was looking for a “shopping list” of medical supplies and functional recovery materials. When her mother landed remission, Shuster-Bier was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Like her mother, she desired a “one-stop place” to help herself understand what she needed as a patient and to empower her supporters to invest in her recovery. She founded Alula recognizing that she had — unfortunately — experienced cancer from so many “chairs” — the waiting room, the radiation chamber, the surgical table, and many more — and this positioned her well to address the challenges she and her mother had encountered. In addition to treatment and recovery, Shuster-Bier wants Alula’s digital toolbox to focus on survivorship, which often comes with side effects and entails aftercare not fully understood.
The name of the company relates beautifully to the grace and persistence of cancer patients. Shuster-Bier found that cancer is often looked at as a war to be fought and won, and the name “Alula” pushes against that narrative in a way. As she explains, “Alula is the mechanical part of a bird’s wing that aids in-flight navigation, flight maintenance, and flight landing during turbulent air, and when I heard that name, I knew it was going to be the name for the company because I very much wanted to not have a brand positioning that was antagonistic to cancer.”
When asked about Alula’s marketing strategy, Shuster-Bier responded that they are currently using typical direct-to-consumer acquisition strategies. She noted that “Doctor Google” has helped bring attention to Alula since people frequently google questions like “what does a cancer patient need to get through chemo,” leading them to land on Alula. Shuster-Bier finds this touching and pretty amazing, especially since she hopes Alula will help combat reliance on google when people are uncertain about how to handle cancer, both in themselves and in loved ones. From the beginning, she felt it was critical that oncologists and those involved in the patient workflow trust and desire Alula’s product.
“We want to build a product that is working hand in hand with the delivery of care.”
When asked about leadership style, Shuster-Bier says that’s she has focused on being a “radically honest leader.”
“Especially during the pandemic, I’ve learned that sharing as much of your journey as the CEO is really important because it lets the rest of the team really understand what it’s taking to build the business and ride the bumps with you.”
Alula has had remarkable coverage across the nation, but they aim to increase this coverage in the future. Shuster-Bier notes that they want to address the digital divide and make Alula accessible to neighborhoods lacking strong internet, and to people without digital devices at home.
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Story written by Nikita Gupta.