A couple of weeks ago I announced that I’d be starting my own venture in the mental health space. The post was decidedly vague and plenty of people have been asking me; “What are you going to do next?”
Before I got carried away with unicorns, chatbots and big data I decided to do customer development and speak to the people affected by these issues first.
In true ‘Lean Startup’ style I’ve spent some of the last month speaking to all types of people working in startups. At times it has been heavy, but in general it’s been truly inspiring. I’ve seen how exceptionally strong people really are. I’ve listened to what people are battling with on the inside and behind closed doors. To be honest, I’ve been taken aback at times, but it’s only motivated me more.
I’ve discussed the problems at length in my previous posts, but to sum up:
- Many people in startups (and across the board) feel isolated with nobody impartial to talk to.
- There is an inherent fear of being judged and showing weakness, therefore personal or emotional subjects are rarely discussed.
- There’s a distinctly negative stigma around mental health, which affects general understanding and access to solutions.
I spent a lot of time asking people what they currently do to cope, with my favourite question being; “Who do you currently talk to about this sort of thing?”
In terms of a solution, there seems to be the lack of a trusted and impartial support network for many. Mentors, advisors, colleagues and even co-founders have a vested interest in the business, which may not always correspond to the individual’s best interests. Friends and Family aren’t always impartial too, they can place their subjective views onto the individual unknowingly.
Coaches, therapists and counsellors are expensive and have their own stigma attached. Informal dinners and meet-ups are the closest thing I’ve seen to a manageable solution. However, I’m yet to hear of a format which has consistently worked, most seem to lack organisation and structure.
After spending 3 years building a company that didn’t have one, I know only too well how important it is to have a vision for what you’re working on. A vision binds you, it gets you out of bed in the morning, it gives you a basis for making decisions and it’s the light you work towards when things inevitably become dark.
My vision is to make mental health cool.
The brand I am building to embody this vision is called Sanctus.
I want to transform the negative perceptions around mental health and turn them positive. When the phrase “mental health” is uttered I want it to conjure thoughts of awareness, strength, creativity and fulfilment.
Mental health should be about becoming the best person you can be, being more open, being authentic and pure.
Many before me have made the analogy between mental and physical health. There should be no difference between how the two are perceived. We talk proudly of our physical fitness and we support people if they become injured. Depression, for example, is an injury that should be treated like any other. Yes the mind is complex, but the principles remain the same.
So why does the analogy stop there? For our physical health we have gyms, fitness classes and various clubs. Why can’t we have the same products for our mental health?
In physical health and fitness, gyms like Frame and GymBox have a unique approach that is class based. GymBox boasts 104 different fitness classes that change every month, with a creative studio constantly churning out new & innovative sessions. This is a cool approach to the traditional gym model and I’ve taken inspiration from this for my first product.
Obviously, I’m not silly enough to be attempting to launch a gym (yet). My minimum viable product is a standalone mental health class initially focused on startup founders.
Sanctus Mental Health Classes
Just like any good fitness class, there is a group of like-minded individuals, a specific area of focus, a trained instructor and of course, you must pay to attend.
Circuit training may focus on weight loss and getting toned, this class will target the feeling of isolation many experience in startups.
- A group discussion of ~8 founders talking candidly about their challenges.
- In an impartial, confidential and comfortable environment.
- Guided by a trained facilitator who moderates and guides the conversation.
When I shared this class and asked for feedback from my network, the biggest question was around what they would take away from the class. Not just talking and listening, what’s the action, what is the value?
- Get stuff off your chest.
- Sanity check — people go through similar things — shared experiences.
- Gain perspective from people in other situations and from different backgrounds.
- Learn from others who may have been through similar challenges and how they dealt.
- Pick up tips/techniques/advice from the facilitator plus the other attendees to the session.
This isn’t support or therapy; it’s about self improvement and development — being the best person you can be. It’s like training our mind for a marathon just as we would our body.
Would you like to attend?
If you’d like to put your name down to attend the first class, or simply learn more, then please e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org
There’s no fancy booking page (or even website) yet, I want to do everything manually so that I am a part of this process from start to finish.
Thanks for reading, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my analysis of the problems and my vision for the future. Please leave a comment, send me a tweet or share this post with your friends if you think they’d like it.