– What is Paralign and how does it work?
– Considerations when using technology for mental health
– Why Pouria developed an app for mental health
– Finding investors in the mental health space
– Advice to others thinking about innovating in the digital health space
Rachel is interested in the role technology can play to help us with mental health and wellness. Rachel has also been involved in the development in healthcare apps, one as a consultant and one as a co-founder. One of the apps was aimed primarily at supporting carers and people affected by chronic conditions.
Paralign is an anonymous thought and mood tracker. With every thought you record, it connects you to people who have experienced something similar. It also creates a universe of mindfulness content, guided meditations, educational videos tailored to your thoughts and moods. It’s like a forum for mental health, but it’s much more than that.
Once people express themselves, the custom-made AI processes different thoughts using graph theory and clustering technology. It can then connect you to similar minds and offer specific support. It could be a community, educational material, or a suggestion of an on-demand coaching session or a support hotline.
The beta version went viral. It trended on Reddit, the front page of Inc. Magazine and Entrepreneur.com. Bloggers from different countries started writing about the app in Chinese, French, Russian, Croatian, and Spanish. Now they have users from 90 different countries.
The similar minds feature allows you to connect to others feeling the same. There is a possibility that vulnerable patients are at risk or their experience becomes negative due to the responses of other users. Paralign manages that by allowing users to report thoughts and conversations. There are moderators 24/7 reviewing these issues. They also notify the reported users and remind them of the community guidelines.
There’s only one rule, which is that you have to empower other users on the platform.
There are also monitoring tools in the back-end of the app, listening on certain key words that suggest a user is having thoughts of self-harm or suicide. This allows the Paralign team to get involved, either by talking to that user or by sending a suicide hotline for them to call.
Pouria has been in the digital health space for 10 years. He’s worked at hospitals, academia and other digital health startups, including co-founding Vitagene. He and his cofounders see the fundamental issue in digital health platforms being that many don’t understand what users go through emotionally or mentally. One of the goals with Paralign was to solve that problem. They also lost their friend to depression and through that experience, made it their mission to do something about this space.
Mental health is a difficult space to get investors, because there is still a lot of stigma. In the US, investors have gained little in mental health startups, so fundraising for Paralign has been challenging. They managed to find investors who saw the vision and potential. So far, Pouria and the team have raised $150,000 and they’re in the process of closing a $500,000 seed round.
Previously, Pouria had raised $5.6M for Vitagene. The most vital thing he took from that venture was connections.
If you want to be a founder and raise money for your startup, you have to really push yourself to network and find good connections to help you along the journey.
Another key lesson was the power and importance of the team, especially in the early stage when you’re talking to angel investors. They assess your team and prototype to minimise their risk.
The aim is to combine physical health with mental health, and offer users a comprehensive analysis of their health. It’s going to be the first platform that does that combination:
We’re not going to stop until we become the platform you go to for your health, where you check in every day, and track your health. We have a unique angle and we’re not going to stop until we figure out how to be the consumer health platform for everyone.
Digital health is challenging. Pouria has been part of startups that tried to go direct-to-consumer and they eventually failed. The history of most direct-to-consumer apps is they eventually become B2B, and they start servicing enterprises to be successful. The other factor is that you need more time for digital health companies because change takes longer in the health space.
Patience is essential for digital health entrepreneurs. The formula of a startup, the ‘join an accelerator for 2-3 months’ approach, doesn’t really work with digital health. You need more money and yet investors can be conservative because it’s digital health. Many digital health apps or startups are often driven by a personal cause which is a driving force.
Pouria would love to hear from you personally with feedback and comments. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you enjoyed the show and found the content valuable you can help in two ways. Subscribe to the show in iTunes and leave an honest rating or review. Both of those things really help to spread the word about new shows.