carol ladonna

Carol Ladonna, Co-Founder, Defy Community

Only a highly determined and optimistic heart can bounce back even when all are the odds stacked against them. An ideal example of such is Carol Ladonna; a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), co-founder of StudyNotesABA Technologies, and co-founder of defy community®.

Ladonna’s life story is one of a kind. An inspiring one that incites struggling minds to emerge from devastating times with flying colors. “The beginning of my entrepreneurial story was, ironically, at rock bottom,” Ladonna begins her story.

Hitting Rock Bottom

Ladonna was at her lowest point before she entered entrepreneurship. She was far away from her family and support systems while she was working through major life transitions. At the time, she was facing divorce and infertility, dealing with mental health issues due to PTSD, and recovering from a brain tumor; all of which were affecting her career as a healthcare provider. Those times made her realize that she had no other choice than to trail-blaze her own path to health and balance. For better health and career growth, she had to follow her intuition, believe in herself when many others didn’t, and most importantly, push through everything that came along her way. With these thoughts in mind and no other choice, she finally quit her job with whatever savings she had left; she pawned her wedding ring, AirBNB’ed her house, and even moved back with her parents to make ends meet. But she always had hope for a different future and gave herself 3 months to make her dreams a reality. Even though many people around her were expecting her to fail, she had a breakthrough. She met her first business partner, Liat Sacks (co-founder of StudyNotesABA Technologies), who believed in her and shared similar dreams. Sacks and Ladonna got together to create the StudyNotesABA app, an innovative test-prep tool for aspiring BCBAs. “The people you decide to surround yourself with will play a major part in your progress and success, so choose wisely!” advises Ladonna. Six months later, in 2020, the app was released and quickly became one of the top-ranking educational apps in the apple app store. A few months after this, Sarah Trautmand and Ladonna established defy community®; a research organization and educational community devoted to changing the trends of burnout in the field of applied behavior analysis. Headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, defy is dedicated to helping BCBAs use behavioral science to counter the negative effects of work-related stress. 

Ladonna’s success with StudyNotesABA Technologies and defy community® is founded on solving problems with behavioral science using innovative, creative, and entertaining approaches. They use effective data-driven, evidence-based solutions that still make things fun, authentic, and entertaining. defy is the only burnout-dedicated research organization in the field of behavior analysis. They not only use research to find solutions to a major problem in the field but are also dedicated to providing solutions that are driven by real-time data and practical, human-centered interventions that are generalizable to other fields facing similar issues (e.g. nursing, teaching, medical, etc.). 

As someone who rose to glory from ashes, Ladonna has a different perspective on success. For others looking to pave their own path, she emphasizes the importance of realizing that setbacks and challenges are often neglected in the stories of glory and success. She stresses that she also had her fair share of setbacks and challenges including imposter syndrome, lack of support, financial resources, and guilt for leaving the clinical work she was so passionate about. Needless to say, she sailed through all these difficulties triumphantly thanks first and foremost to her family, friends, and mentors in and out of the field of behavior analysis. She managed the financial aspect by strategically balancing her focus on short-term and long-term income development. She ensured that she was surrounded by supportive and like-minded people and regularly conducted risk-benefit analyses for project prioritization. Taking her experiences into account, Ladonna suggests that the right environment and support are the keys to ensuring that one stays motivated and balanced enough to work through whatever challenges come their way. She also adds that using one’s time strategically and working on the most impactful projects is also important. 

The Dynamic Duo

defy community® consists of two people – Ladonna and her business partner Trautman. Trautman and Ladonna foster a company culture that is quite dynamic. She describes defy as creative, supportive, and authentic. At defy, they always prioritize nurturing an environment of inclusion, authenticity, and sincerity. Sarah is a boujee BCBA and previous ABA Organizaton Owner that dresses to the nines, while Ladonna is a laidback millennial and tech entrepreneur who typically sports yoga pants and a crop top. Both of them have cozy office spaces within walking distance from their condos. They share the same motivation for creating a sustainable business model that has a positive impact on the field of behavior analysis. This harmony allows them to maintain their autonomy and work with individuals that love their work just as much as they do. The duo believes that their often differing opinions, unique experiences, and unwavering support are what makes them such a strong partnership, and consider this the cornerstone of their success.  Ladonna refers to Sarah as a light in her life; more than a business partner, she’s a valuable mentor in her career and friend. Sarah handles the front-end business doing networking, public speaking, and partnership management while Ladonna works on the back-end with tech developments, social media, and membership engagement. 

Leadership, Values, and Future Work

Ladonna is someone who truly commits to the responsibilities of being an entrepreneur. She takes accountability for all her businesses to make sure they are running smoothly, profitably, and ethically. When asked to explain what she does on a day-to-day basis she states, “I wear so many hats. I wouldn’t even know where to start the list.”. She adds that seeing the chaos in a day of shadowing can usually help people understand why she has trouble giving specifics, “it changes minute to minute.”

For Ladonna, good leadership is about being present with and connected to their team and committed to their team’s well-being and success. She is always available to help and describes her leadership style as visionary and supportive. She leads with a progress-focused and inspirational approach and tries to model prioritizing human-centered work. 

Future plans for defy include launching the first data-driven burnout management tool for BCBAs. Ladonna considers this application to be one of her greatest passion projects; defy has invested in years of research to create a tool that will help behavior analysts manage and avoid the often debilitating effects of burnout. This will give BCBAs the evidence-based support and tools needed to foster sustainable careers and offer better quality behavioral health services for their clients. The app includes assessments for clinicians to measure their burnout, identify contributing environmental variables, hypothesize the functions of targeted behaviors, and prescribe interventions with practical tools. It will also continuously collect pre- and post-treatment data to monitor effectiveness, guide product improvement, and allow the tools to be strategically replicated for other fields being affected by burnout, where the needs and intervention impacts differ.