How I got given £20k off the back of a blog post
Here’s the story of how I got given £20,000 to work on the first year of Sanctus – it’s a story worth sharing.
In February 2016 I wrote a blog post called mental health in startups, it got 10,000 views in 2 days and I got over 500 personal messages about mental health.
Post-blog post was a bit of a blur; I wrote in The Guardian shortly afterwards and started getting asked to speak on panels and give talks about mental health in the startup world. It all happened very fast.
Clearly mental health was a pretty huge problem and something people passionately cared about.
I was still right in the midst of my own journey with mental health, still feeling pretty raw and anxious a lot of the time.
I was working for Doug Scott, running his Angel Investment Syndicate and making early stage investment deals happen.
I told Doug I was going to focus on mental health in my spare time, so I kept writing about mental health through a blog and newsletter. I was getting other people to share their stories on my new fangled website https://mentalhealthinstartups.com. I even got Brad Feld to share his story with me.
Project Karma, as I called it, was my passion project, I wasn’t getting ahead of myself and I didn’t want to rush into anything too soon — I was still pretty burnt from my last company.
Chatbots were the latest buzzword in tech…
I went about faking a mental health health chatbot called Sanctus. I got 50 people’s phone numbers who wanted to be part of the experiment, bought a new sim card and set up a Sanctus whatsapp.
I was basically pretending to be a chatbot and broadcasting messages like; “How’s your day going? Rate how you feel with an emoji.” I didn’t really know what I was doing but a few people were responding.
One of the few people who was receiving my Sanctus chatbot messages was mills, founder of ustwo.
I’d known mills for a while and he’d been letting me use space at ustwo for work.
One night I was staying late in the office after work playing around with Sanctus the chatbot and mills messaged me back.
We chatted over whatsapp about how passionate I was about mental health and he asked me a question…
“What would it take for you to go full baller on this?”
To go “full baller” I needed cash, I was living in London with expensive rent and was enjoying my job for Doug, but to go all out and try and make something happen with a spare phone and the name Sanctus just wasn’t feasible. I had no idea what Sanctus even was.
Before I knew it I was meeting Mills at 7.30am at Shoreditch House and talking about what I wanted to do in mental health. I was just a ball full of energy at this point, I wanted to “make mental health cool”, “change the perception of mental health”, “treat mental health like physical health”, “remove the stigma” and “build a brand that defined mental health & fitness.”
Yet at this point, the product was still a fake chatbot on a broken iPhone 4.
Another meeting with Mills in The Ace Hotel a couple of weeks later and I was talking about my new found vision for mental health gyms on the high street. I wanted to start off by running mental fitness classes for startup founders then build up a real physical business.
I think I was a tiny bit more coherent than our first meeting and the idea for a mental health gym felt a bit more legitimate.
After breakfast, mills got out his phone and wired me £10,000 on his mobile banking app, from him and Sinx (his business partner).
I had no business plan, no Ltd company and no product. I had nothing.
But, I now had £10k to play with.
I did also still have a job.
So that all happened on a Friday.
By Monday I was in Lichfield walking around a park telling Doug what had happened with mills & sinx— I was handing in my notice.
I’d worked for Doug for about 9 months and he’d been amazing to me, I’d learned a lot from him and had a lot to thank him for.
In what seemed like a no-brainer for him, Doug offered to do the same as mills.
Suddenly, I had £20k in the bank and time to figure things out.
Suddenly, I was founding a company again and this time, working on something I was truly passionate about.
I’d been backed to the hilt by two people I massively respected. Two people that had not just built great businesses, but were also genuinely good people too.
I couldn’t believe it and still can’t in many ways. If I’m honest, I didn’t understand what they saw in me, why they’d backed me so much.
Shutting down my last company was a huge blow to my confidence and this was a huge boost.
After matchchat I didn’t feel like I was good enough to build anything again, but Doug & mills thought I was and that made me believe in myself too.
Neither of them cared about valuation, return or terms — they just believed in me and that I was doing something good for the world.
I suppose it’s time to say thank you to both of them now. Thank you for backing me when I had nothing, because now Sanctus is something, to a lot of people.
So from me, the Sanctus team and the Sanctus community.
Thank you x
p.s to all the people in startups reading this — this isn’t supposed to be one of those fundraising blog posts that tells you how it should be done, it’s just how things happened for me. Carve your own path.