In this episode, we have Theodoric Chew, CEO and founder of mental health company Intellect, who’s become somewhat a regular of the show. He went on our podcast earlier this year in January, and had a pretty interesting conversation with Samir, our principal, and then we had a Clubhouse session with him and a […]

S03E22: On Call with Intellect CEO Theodoric Chew on hyper localization of mental health in Asia, end-user experiences for businesses, and the Y Combinator experience

In this episode, we have Theodoric Chew, CEO and founder of mental health company Intellect, who’s become somewhat a regular of the show. He went on our podcast earlier this year in January, and had a pretty interesting conversation with Samir, our principal, and then we had a Clubhouse session with him and a couple of our other founders, which is also on our podcast. 

Even if it’s our third conversation with him already this year, there’s still a lot to unpack as Intellect has been up to a lot lately. Since our first round with them we’ve since doubled down in their latest round following their graduation from the Y Combinator program Summer 2021 cohort. They’ve also launched and fully rolled out their digital therapy program for enterprise, now used by more than 20 Fortune 500 companies and tech giants, including ShopBack and Carousell, and their app, which at the time in January was already downloaded or used by a million people in the first six months since launch, it’s now doubled to more than 2.5 million users.

Highlights and Timestamps

  1. 00:26 Re-introducing Intellect’s Theodoric Chew!
  2. 01:27 The YC Experience: Biggest Learnings, Challenges, and Advice for Founders; “But overall YC is, for people that are thinking about it, the right balance of hands-on and also hands-off in a sense.”
  3. 05:44 B2C Business: Intellect’s top-rated consumer app as a growth channel for their B2B core business, and learnings from reading customer reviews; “We use B2C as a very strong growth channel for our core business…We also get a lot of clients that come in initially as users themselves and are either HR or are themselves, someone who wants to bring Intellect to their workforces.”
  4. 09:40 B2B Business: Driving adoption through hyper localization and delivering impact for multinational organizations; “We have always ingrained ourselves as an end-user experience whereby we’re not being a B2B to them that companies get on and it just sits there on the shelf. We want to build something that people actively use — daily, weekly, monthly, whatever the case that they want to use it for as well.” 
  5. 14:55 The science behind Intellect: Scaling programs with on par efficacy to face-to-face intervention; We’re trying to solve for access to scale, to millions of people, but retaining as much of the outcomes, the efficacy that we can do.
  6. 16:51 Navigating the nuances and increasing competition of being a global mental health care company; “A key part…is that we hyper localize it, not just translating the app, but making sure we answer the nuances of what each market struggles with…it’s both through software, but also through us customizing things by the market as well that has helped us win a fair bit of the market share in a sense.”
  7. 19:55 Updating January 2021’s predictions on the future of mental health care and the role of Intellect; “Our job is to fast-track the normalization of the fact that everyone can do with this support…The key thing we’re trying to drive towards is that mental health applies for everyone just like physical health.” 
  8. 21:58 Rapid Fire Round; 

About our guest

Theodoric Chew is a serial entrepreneur and startup leader. Prior to founding Intellect, he was with Entrepreneur First where he led marketing and growth, and before this, he was with Rakuten as well, after they acquired, the startup Voyagin. The first startup he founded was a digital media platform existisgreat.com which was acquired two years later.

Transcript

Paulo: Yeah, So I think we’re really gonna have an interesting conversation, even if it’s our third conversation already this year. It’s just because Intellect has been up to a lot lately and has been through a lot. Since our first round with them, we’ve since doubled down in their latest round.

Also, they’ve launched and fully rolled out their digital therapy program for enterprise, now used by more than 20 Fortune 500 companies and tech giants, including ShopBack and Carousell, and their app, which at the time in January was already downloaded or used by a million people in the first six months since launch, it’s now doubled to more than 2.5 million [users]. A lot of great news all around, and I think one of the more important news or milestones is that you guys have just recently graduated from Y Combinator. 

Congratulations on that and I wanted to kick things off talking about that experience, that YC experience since you are the first founder that we’ve had in our show who has gone through that and can actually tell us about going through that program and pretty fresh from it as well. So what’s the biggest takeaway from the YC program that you think will be really impactful for Intellect moving forward?

Theo: Yeah. So firstly great to be back. Thanks for having me Paulo. YC has been pretty amazing. So we just came out fresh from YC demo day, about two weeks back. It’s a three-month program and I’m sure most folks on this podcast are familiar with YC. 

When we got in and entered the program, we were quite cognizant of how big of a deal it was for us given what you hear about it. YC is great. You’ve seen Airbnb and Dropbox go through [it] and become great companies. 

When we got in, we were really excited and I would say overall it was a great experience. It got us super focused on key growth metrics. We were definitely, just being candid, a bit more mature than a typical YC-stage company that goes in. We’re very fortunately backed by Insignia and have had great traction. 

With YC, it got us hyper-focused in actually making sure we know what we’re trying to build, get on key growth metrics, [and] actually double down on things that matter most to us. This is why since we spoke last January on a call and on Clubhouse, things have grown quite significantly since then and I’m happy to get into how the experience was.

“With YC, it got us hyper-focused in actually making sure we know what we’re trying to build, get on key growth metrics, [and] actually double down on things that matter most to us.”

Paulo: Even if I haven’t had these conversations on the show per se, we have backed a number of YC companies or companies that eventually went to YC like Intellect. And that’s a common theme whenever I get to ask [the founders] how the YC experience has been. It’s really about helping focus on what really matters, as you mentioned. So what was the biggest challenge for you, participating in the YC program and running into that? 

Theo: I think the challenge here is that YC traditionally has been done in person in the US, in San Francisco, I think we were probably the second or third cohort that has been doing it remotely. So we did it fully virtual, fully remote. I’m in Singapore, so [I did the program] based out of Singapore. 

The good and the bad thing is [that it is remote]. [On one hand], I had time towards my working hours, to focus on the business. YC hours were my off-hours. The bad side was that it was from midnight to like 3 am for many, many nights. So I had a couple of sleep-wrecked nights. But overall it was a great balance where it didn’t detract us too much from actually doing business, given that we’re still a quite tight-knit team. I get involved in most things in the company as well and so that’s kind of obvious. 

But overall YC is, for people that are thinking about it, the right balance of hands-on and also hands-off in a sense. You work with great partners that have experienced starting companies, growing things, and they give you feedback when you need it. But they weren’t trying to [always ask] “Hey, how are things?” and then I keep bugging [us]. It’s not too much [like] school, but it’s really where you actually drive your own growth with great guidance. 

“But overall YC is, for people that are thinking about it, the right balance of hands-on and also hands-off in a sense.”

Paulo: I think there’s obviously that trade-off with having it remote. But overall, you guys have definitely benefited from the program and came out of it with a lot of learnings as well. So what’s one piece of advice that you would give to founders that are looking to apply to YC? And what’s your advice on making the most out of the program, especially since they’re taking it remotely, at least for the foreseeable future?

Theo: It definitely depends from company to company itself. What I can share from my own experience is that it’s a huge value add if you use it right. It [also] depends on what stage you are at the company. If you’re at an early stage, seed or maybe even past seed it’s immensely valuable. You get access to really great folks. There are lots of doors for you in terms of the halo effect that YC gives any Southeast Asia company. It’s not just the kind of the brand and credibility but [also] a lot of the value that the partners and the network gives you as well. 

We get easy access to different folks in the ecosystem in Asia and the US. It just helps really build trust for [your] company, whether you’re B2B or B2C. So if people are concerned about it, It’s worth a shot. As with most things, give it a shot. If you get a chance to go in, [take] it from there, and see if you want to take the offer. But for us personally, it’s been really helpful to help direct growth and focus and help us build and scale our traction with the trust it gives us as well. 

So for folks who are coming [in the program already], back to what I mentioned earlier, the value you get from it is really self-driven. If you make the most of it and you make the extra effort to go above and beyond the curriculum, to connect with your batch or partners, it’s up to you to book the partners if you wish as well. And that’s how you make the most value out of it. It works really well if people are keen to take full use of it. And if you don’t want to touch it as well, it’s kinda up to your call. It works well for folks who are really keen to fully utilize the network and the access you get in the program after the program.

“[YC] works well for folks who are really keen to fully utilize the network and the access you get in the program after the program.”

Paulo: Moving on from YC and then speaking of self-guided programs, you guys have come a long way since we talked to you in January. As I mentioned earlier back then you hit the 1 million mark and now 2.5 million [app users]. I’m interested to know, how has the consumer app evolved since we last thought and what have you learned from doubling your user base? What have you learned from the application that has fed back into how this is being developed further?

Theo: I’ll start with what the vision for Intellect is. So the vision, firstly, is that we’re doing a full end-to-end mental health care system for Asia. So we’re not trying to be a self-care app. We’re not trying to be a mindfulness app, but trying to build a full mental health care system that democratizes access to everyone in the region for mental health care. That’s the first piece.

And what we have [that is] pretty unique to our business [is that], as of today, it’s become a lot more streamlined on what we’ve tried to push and sell. We have a core business [that is] B2B-driven. We work with a lot of employers and insurers to push mental health benefits to workforces and policyholders across APAC. And what we do have is a very unique, I would say, secret sauce channel [through] our consumer app that you just touched on, Paulo. 

We launched this consumer app where we use it as a front-facing channel that gives access to the masses to get started on mental health. And it helps us actually get people started on Intellect as well. We launched it in April last year at the end of about 15, 16 months ago and when we launched, [the app] was sort of in a beta form. We hadn’t actually fully blown out what we wanted to do for it. [Then] we crossed a million users at the end of the year. So it got exciting quickly. Fast forward to today, we’re now well past 2.5 million users. So the pace is constantly growing and picking up. So it’s been really exciting on that front. 

I would say what has been a lot clearer is that [the app] is a fulfillment of this vision of a mental health care system. So we went from a self-care app for consumers, to now telehealth, and we match individuals and employees to personal coaches, counselors, and psychologists anywhere across the region. The app has gone from one language in English to now 11 languages across Asia from Japanese to Thai and we have a network of professionals and providers across all these markets in the region. So we’re [rapidly] trying to fulfill the vision of being the most comprehensive and extensive mental health system in the region. And we’ve done a good amount of that [already]. 

Paulo: What’s interesting is that sometimes the users of the consumer app end up selling the whole experience to their employers, for example, and they become champions as well for the B2B side of the business. In that way the consumer app does lay that strong foundation for the rest of the business. 

Theo: Great point here. So we use B2C as a very strong growth channel for our core business. And in this year by having 2.5 million users, and then having won one of Google’s best apps of the year last year, it creates a lot of trust as a young brand. That helped a lot with how we could reach partners and clients [at scale]. We also get a lot of clients that come in initially as users themselves and are either HR or are themselves, someone who wants to bring Intellect to their workforces. So that’s been [going] pretty well for us in many ways. 

“We use B2C as a very strong growth channel for our core business…We also get a lot of clients that come in initially as users themselves and are either HR or are themselves, someone who wants to bring Intellect to their workforces.”

Paulo: Speaking of the consumer app, since it’s been out for a couple of months now, do you have any interesting stories or scenarios when it comes to users who’ve experienced significant change from using the app?

Theo: One of the big things that drive me is seeing the active real-time feedback of people and users benefiting from it. One of the key things we’re quite proud of is that if you check us out on the Play Store or App Store right now, you’ll see we have over 9,000 five-star reviews with a 4.8 rating and in just a year plus we built one at the top-rated mental health apps globally, and very much so in Asia as well.  

When we go through the reviews, myself and the team, as we do this periodically, we get to learn and see that people really [are] impacted whether it’s from a very lightweight perspective and they’re struggling with their relationships or they’re going through a really rough period of loss and grief. Our programs have baked in science from day one. It’s got CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) based programs embedded within the app and [it’s] constantly updated [and] tested for efficacy. 

So we see people improving, going through tough times. And also not just going through tough times but having the opportunity to overcome certain barriers in their personality. And in terms of chronic anxiety, stress, or certain barriers to being themselves, for example, we help them go through these things and we see this quite actively across our reviews and user feedback and customer calls as well.

“When we go through the reviews…we get to learn and see that people really [are] impacted whether it’s from a very lightweight perspective and they’re struggling with their relationships or they’re going through a really rough period of loss and grief.”

Paulo: Going back to that point where you mentioned that it does serve as a way to build that trust and that brand, that jives in with this whole context, that businesses have been changing their perspective when it comes to mental health care. Specifically you mentioned that it’s no longer a nice-to-have, but now they see it as a real need for the employees and I think the rollout of your enterprise solution has been a testament to that case. So what have you learned from growing this B2B side of the business so far? 

Theo: We see this on multiple fronts. There’s the end-user, there’s the organization. And then even the societal level of change that governments get affected by as well. Since COVID has hit, it has firstly affected a lot of people directly. Most of Asia has been locked down for many months. So many individuals have been really affected in their personal mental wellbeing and emotional states of mind. We see individuals getting affected and [as a result] what has happened very quickly is that companies get the consequences of this, because people are the core of any workforce, at Insignia, at Intellect, at any company at all, and people are the core of it. When people get affected, it affects output and the performance of companies. In workforces we see higher turnover rates, we see people having more struggles with health anxieties and output motivation. 

It was not long ago, two or three years back, mental health, as you just talked about, was a nice-to-have piece. Now, it’s become very clear that if companies don’t actively look after employees’ wellbeing, the ones that get affected are the companies themselves. So I think it’s become quite clear that workforces are looking at this in a way where, “It’s my people first,” but also, candidly, from an Asian perspective, “How does this affect my business? And my bottom line as well?” So we actually can show very strong correlations that better well-being leads to better outcomes for companies.

“We see individuals getting affected and [as a result] what has happened very quickly is that companies get the consequences of this, because people are the core of any workforce…”

Paulo: Speaking to that, like, how is the challenge and driving adoption changed, right?  Before it was selling this whole idea of even adopting mental health care, but now what are the new challenges that you’re facing in terms of driving adoption?

Theo: So that’s a great question. One big thing is that we’ve seen a lot more alignment with corporations, insurers, and us as people providing mental health care to these companies. Companies are a lot more attuned and aligned to actually driving this with us as well. So it has become very clear [to companies] that you want to make this a priority in workplaces. So we get a lot more push, and credit to our client success team, they do a great job actually pushing this to workforces and we see best-in-class adoption rates of workforces, anywhere from 20% to 40% of the workforce use Intellect in the first few months of rolling it out. It’s quite a strong point here whereby people need it and we are resonating well with like workforces. 

I would say the challenges in what we’re trying to drive and move towards more quickly is hyper localizing it towards Asia-wide needs and use cases basically. So we set up from English in  Southeast Asia. Now we are live in 11 languages. We have therapists on-the-ground in twelve countries across APAC. The goal is not just English-speaking markets, but anywhere in Asia that needs access to care where a lot of our clients have a presence. How can we help support them in a very local, nuanced way? Because one thing that we have won in many ways against the big US companies and credit to them, they’ve done a great job building the whole industry and paved the way for players like us to come in and do something that’s hyper-localized to Asia.

A key thing is that we win by adding a nuance towards an Asian perspective on mental health. In the US It’s not without stigma, but it’s a lot more open than Asia. With us here, we understand that by market, even between Singapore and Indonesia, or Philippines and Thailand, there are different nuances. So we hyper-localize it. We get [our solutions] very much geared up for an individual in the local market with actual, live native professionals. That makes it very, very attuned to them.

“A key thing is that we win by adding a nuance towards an Asian perspective on mental health.”

Paulo: Especially since you guys work with companies that have teams in various countries and perhaps the experiences of each team and employees from different countries would definitely be different, and I think that you guys focusing on the end users of the workforce really helps in that regard. Speaking of that, can you share a particular case study perhaps of the kind of impact you mentioned? How does the solution that you’re offering help the businesses as well?

Theo: That’s a good question. So what I want to say is that we help companies in a few ways from their well-being improvements. They are ensuring that [the programs] get utilized, right? That’s a big thing that we help drive and make sure, that it’s not a checkbox that the company’s HR teams roll out and source out. We have always ingrained ourselves as an end-user experience whereby we’re not being a B2B to them that companies get on and it just sits there on the shelf. We want to build something that people actively use — daily, weekly, monthly, whatever the case that they want to use it for as well. So I think that’s been very, very core to what we’ve been building towards. 

With Shopback, for example, one of the great clients that we have worked with very closely since, start of the year, we helped push this, not just to Singapore, but from a region-wide perspective. And it got taken up so well they had to expand [utilization] to different markets. That’s one that speaks true to the fact that what we push, it’s not only towards clinical needs, but it’s very much streamlined for an everyday use case. Taking in account that most people’s struggles are real. It may not be so real to the point that it needs to be clinical in nature, but people do struggle enough. They do need support. 

So to get into some hard examples, high utilization is one key thing, more people actually being engaged in their workforces. We help companies measure this in terms of their output, their motivation and then just overall driving the point that there will eventually be better outcomes for the company in terms of less turnover, less causes of people being ill and falling sick. So [these are] different points that we help companies quantify, not just qualitatively report on.  

“We have always ingrained ourselves as an end-user experience whereby we’re not being a B2B to them that companies get on and it just sits there on the shelf. We want to build something that people actively use — daily, weekly, monthly, whatever the case that they want to use it for as well.”

Paulo: One thing I do want to reiterate that you mentioned earlier is that even if the core business is B2B, it’s not the contracts that are the success metric, but rather the utilization or the engagement and making it as personalized as possible. A large part of that is Intellect’s digitized programs are clinically-based. Could you share with us an example of how these studies have impacted the user experience of Intellect’s customers, as opposed to not having them at all?

Theo: It’s two fronts right which you covered pretty well. We have to be clinically-based in research-backed as well. [There are] two fronts here. We have our own in-house clinical team to develop the programs based on well-established modalities and therapies to make them work. And then we drive active clinical studies with different research partners in the world, like NUS in Singapore, Kings’ College in London, hospitals around the region as well to make sure that we are not just building a self-care app, but one that’s very, very strongly grounded in science. 

I’ll give you a few examples. We already have efficacy proven for a good number of our programs. Three to highlight is that the stress, anxiety, and well-being [programs are] ones that we see the very strong statistical significance in terms of positive improvements close to, if not on par efficacy with face-to-face interventions. So again, that’s truly one of the best things we can do because, with our solution, we’re not trying to say that we are better than in-person face-to-face therapy. My belief is that the truest format is in-person, where you can sit down with an actual practitioner and get the full experience. That’s the most immersive and that’s the most beneficial. 

But with that, there are limitations of scale, access, and cost as well. We’re trying to solve for access to scale, to millions of people, but retaining as much of the outcomes, the efficacy that we can do. With our research, we’ve really driven as close to, if not on par efficacy with face-to-face inventions at the scalable rate, [and so that’s] what we’re quite excited about, because that means it can reach millions, more people in a way that helps them in a very real way.

“We’re trying to solve for access to scale, to millions of people, but retaining as much of the outcomes, the efficacy that we can do.”

Paulo: As you mentioned it can’t really compare to face-to-face intervention, but you guys get very close to it or at least that’s the aim — to get us as close to that experience as possible. 

Speaking of being a global company, you mentioned earlier that a large part of Intellect’s approach to mental health care is really hyper localization balanced with the fact that you are working with multinational companies with several teams across the globe. I’m curious to know what the nuances are across markets. Let’s accept the fact that they are already realizing that it’s something that they do have to adopt, but how are they engaging it and adopting it on the ground?

Theo: One interesting trend we see is that across the region, and there are many, many local nuances by country like Singapore differs quite a bit from Japan and Thailand, [but] the one thing holds true is that it is really stigmatized. For the most part, [mental health care] has been seen as a very, very clinically severe topic to touch on, and not so much [something] that’s everyday. But what’s been very clear as well is that for the markets or the countries that have been affected by the lockdown, it’s become very top of mind for them as well. 

A key part, as you just mentioned is that we hyper-localize it, not just translating the app, but making sure we answer the nuances of what each market struggles with. Singapore, for example, where we’re based, is a very, very performance-driven, outcome-driven country. It’s not news, a lot of stress from work stays and stuff like that, whereas I’m going to assume it’s quite different in Australia, for example. So I think answering these nuances, how people purchase, how people relate to problems, is what we’ve been doing when we work with companies at scale across the region itself.

Paulo: How much do you actually have to do these adjustments yourselves or does the technology come into play here in making it as tailor-fit as possible or as customized as possible to these different markets? 

Theo: Good question. I’d say it’s a mix. For us, we don’t just do an AI self-guided piece. A lot of it’s driven by the extra human touch. It’s the live professionals we connect with people. So it’s both through software, but also through us customizing things by the market as well that has helped us win a fair bit of the market share in a sense. 

“A key part, as you just mentioned is that we hyper localize it, not just translating the app, but making sure we answer the nuances of what each market struggles with…it’s both through software, but also through us customizing things by market as well that has helped us win a fair bit of the market share in a sense.”

Paulo: Definitely part of this whole trend is the demand side looking for more mental health care solutions, and obviously there are a lot more companies out there as well, including yourselves and new emerging players that have come to the forefront to serve these needs. Being a global company puts you in a larger ocean, but also a more competitive ocean. How do you see Intellect standing apart in this space as it becomes increasingly venture-backed and competitive?

Theo: I think we’ve been quite fortunate. We’ve had the benefit of Insignia being one of the first investors that believed in us and helped us drive things and we’ve seen it really play in the outcomes with the drive of having strong backers early on. That’s the key thing. We have built a brand that has global scalability. We have users across 150 plus countries if I remember correctly. But a big part of what we’re trying to do today is to really win in Asia where we believe there’s a big gap in the solutions and resources for mental care here. There are many great companies in the US and North America and Europe that tackle it in different manners and approaches. What I see is that there are not enough players that are making a big enough dent in Asia in mental health care. We’re quite fortunate that we’ve managed to do a big push in actually making it more accessible in the short span of time we have been around. For us, it’s how do we double down on this piece here? Then get really hyper-localized but at the same time with the potential for scale globally, but really winning in Asia today. It’s the biggest need for the region here. 

“​​What I see is that there are not enough players that are making a big enough dent in Asia in mental health care. We’re quite fortunate that we’ve managed to do a big push in actually making it more accessible in the short span of time we have been around.”

Paulo: It doesn’t hurt to have users across the globe, but you guys really want to focus on making that dent, as you mentioned, in Asia. Speaking about that, you mentioned in January that in the next three to five years, the majority of people in Asia would have experienced some kind of form of mental health care. How has your outlook on that changed if at all over these past few months and what’s Intellect’s role and how has it evolved in leading the charge? 

Theo: I think it holds super true. It’s becoming clearer that that timeline it’s on track, if not going to happen sooner or later in some form. We’re not talking about psychiatric care and tons of mental support, but it can be any form from coaching to a self-guided app, like what we do, like CBTs about stuff like this. We believe that a lot of Asia and the world will actually have used some type of support at that point in time. Our job is to fast-track the normalization of the fact that everyone can do with this support. There’s a tool like Intellect that helps you do this in a very easy manner, and that you don’t have to wait for yourself to reach a breaking point again to seek help for mental health care.

The key thing we’re trying to drive towards is that mental health applies for everyone just like physical health. I’ll give a quick example. For physical health, if we look at it when you’re sick, you go see the doctor and you can see the GP. And that’s what you do when you’re sick for mental health, you see a psychologist or psychiatrist. But in a physical perspective, you [also] go to the gym, you have like diets, you have things that you do to be healthy, not just not sick, but there’s no real equivalent for mental health to date so far, at least not prevalent in most of Asia. So we want to drive that point whereby we cover those who are needing more critical care or clinical care, but also the folks that want to be healthy in mental wellbeing, that we’re here to help them and do this at scale.

“Our job is to fast-track the normalization of the fact that everyone can do with this support…The key thing we’re trying to drive towards is that mental health applies for everyone just like physical health.” 

Rapid Fire Round 

Q: What are the top 3 skills a CEO should have? 

Theo: I spent a bit of time thinking about our company culture and I think this applies to me as well. So I think three key things that come to mind: 

  1. The CEO of a startup has to be a very strong self-starter. Someone who can solve problems, has the initiative to figure things out, find problems and try to tackle them early on. You have to prioritize but a key thing is being a self-starter 
  2. Second is being adaptable. In a startup, you get new pieces of information on the goal for your business, for your product, and for your competitors. How do you adapt quickly and not be stuck to […]? If there’s something that’s changed in the last week, you’ve got to adapt quickly. 
  3. The next key thing and this is quite true to us as a mental health company is having an important point and focus on company culture as well. We have tried doing this quite actively whereby we hire people who have a good culture fit, collaborative and actually good to work with, not just super sharp people who may be hard to work with for us. I think it’s one that somebody has an eye for company culture in hiring and in building it themselves. It’s super important for a startup CEO.

Q: Any advice for early-stage tech founders raising their first round?

Theo: Honestly, fundraising is hard. For anyone fundraising out there, you guys are not alone. It’s super hard. Especially in emerging markets where there’s not been a precedent of a market being proven here and it may be a big one, it may be off or something wrong, it could be either, but what I want to say is this: have a very good thing of the problem you’re trying to solve for, and have good market understanding. 

For us early on when Insignia chose to back us, I think it was because we had a good understanding of the landscape, what the nuances of mental health care are in Asia, and a good roadmap and plan as to how we were going to tackle this in the next years to come. So I think having a good, strong understanding of your market that you’re trying to tackle, be quite focused on what I’m trying to focus on. It’s a common trap that a lot of people try to do global, Google company from day one. It’s not going to happen. Just be clear of what you’re trying to tackle, know your market well, prove that you are a good operator, execute and it will help. I won’t say it’s easy, but it will help.

Q: What is a book / podcast / resource you would recommend to business leaders?

Theo: A book that I recommend you read — I’m quite a big fan of personal development and personal growth naturally why I started a mental health company. So I’m a big fan of Tony Robbins. One of his best books is this book called Awaken the Dragon Within. It’s not related to what startups per se itself, but it has a lot of skills that have helped me learn and grow as an individual like your own emotional mastery or your own skill sets, how you deal with people and stuff. So a book I would highly recommend. 

Q: What’s the biggest thing that you think founders aren’t doing that could actually help them in terms of their mental health or mental wellbeing?

Theo: I think it’s super important. I think being a founder myself and having gone through these things with my co-founders as well. I think it’s very clear that burnout happens to everyone especially for people that are very invested in doing this. I think what has helped me a lot, and I think it’s important and I’m sure people do this in their own [ways], but really taking time to unplug. I forget it sometimes myself. Having a circle that supports and drives this with you is important, but taking them to unplug, on weekends, evenings, just making sure you detach every now and then. Your mind is going to be on the work most of the time, but trying to at least kind of unplug a bit of time, that’s a good amount and I try to remind myself and my team [as well].

***