This week House of Coco caught up with inspirational multi-potentialite Louise Chunn who is the creator of Welldoing.org , a marketplace for therapists that is opening up access to wellbeing support. We talked becoming an entrepreneur later in life, Palo Alto and removing the stigma around therapy.
HOC: Wonderful to speak with you Louise. You are a ‘Girl Boss’ working in an incredibly important space, can you tell us about Welldoing.org?
LC: Thanks for having me. Welldoing.org in a nutshell is a marketplace for therapists. It matches people looking for therapy with the right therapist. We do this through first diagnosing what is going on with a conversational questionnaire rather than something clinical and medical. Essentially, if you are seeking a counsellor or a therapist, you should be able to find the right person for you on the platform. Looking for a therapist can be very overwhelming; there are 100s of different styles of counselling and often when people are looking for a counsellor they are in some form of extreme situation.
The platform is simple to use; at the end of the day no-one should have to understand every last thing about the counselling process. You go to therapists for help and finding the right one shouldn’t be a traumatic experience! Too often people are put off by the jargon and huge array of therapists. We break it down by focusing on the main problem through asking the right questions to understand the immediate situation rather than make things confusing.
HOC: It’s such an amazing platform. What inspired you to create it?
LC: I have had my own experiences with looking for a therapist and finding the whole thing very stressful. At the time [that I thought about creating this platform] I was editing Psychologies magazine and I was looking for the next step. While I hadn’t worked in tech I had been overseeing website development at Good Housekeeping and Psychologies but it’s not a movement I’ve grown up with so I had to learn!
HOC: Do you identify with the ‘tech entrepreneur’ label?
LC: I definitely identify with it now. In fact, I was lucky enough to be invited into a course at Google on a pilot scheme for entrepreneurs at Campus, London for Founders Over 50. There were about 9 of us and that was the first step for me into that type of community. I remember fearing that I would feel out of place but we were all welcomed and supported each other. From there I dived into the tech world and I won the only British place at an event in Palo Alto called BlackBox where I heard the most amazing and inspiring people speak!
HOC: Palo Alto seems such an intriguing place. What was your experience of your time there, did being a woman or older than other entrepreneurs impact on your experience?
LC: They do have a real drive on female entrepreneurs but there were 19 of us in our group and only 3 were female. What characterised the majority of the group is that they were male and also young, with no family responsibilities. They could live their lives completely immersed in their business. I still have one child living at home, the other ladies had 3 and 4, respectively. In our situations, just going to the course was a more complex arrangement!
I would say there are advantages to becoming an entrepreneur when you are older. You understand what motivates people and how they behave. You also understand the world better and know what is likely to go wrong. I find that you are less willing to risk things; let’s be honest you have fewer rolls of the dice left! You think long and hard about what you are going to do; it’s never a casually whipped up idea.
On the other hand, you see a lot of the opposite with young men in tech – they are perfectly prepared to walk away. When you talk to some people in Silicon Valley, especially slightly older people, you understand that success will take some time. During BlackBox one of the speakers addressed this asking whether we were all prepared to give five years of our life, five years of our youth to our businesses. It can also be financially hard for younger entrepreneurs; when you are young and you are not earning money, that’s tough. When you are older you may have some savings behind you and you have far more contacts.
HOC: It’s great to hear that as I think many people think that they have ‘missed the boat’ if they didn’t set up their businesses in their early twenties! You are very right to flag up the stresses of being an entrepreneur…
LC: I’ve actually been reading about mental health and entrepreneurs and a high proportion [of entrepreneurs] do have mental health issues like Aspergers, ADHD, learning problems, depression and anxiety. In fact, these experiences can make them into good entrepreneurs. A more average person would look at the long hours and think ‘I’ll just go and get a job’! I think it’s a little dangerous that being an entrepreneur is trendy at the moment; it’s not for everyone and you have to really want it to have a chance to succeed.
HOC: We couldn’t agree more. Where do you go for support?
LC: I have a few mentors; one is Suzanne Nobel, a woman I met at the Founders over 50 course. She’s further along on her entrepreneurial journey and suggests new opportunities and things I can try out.
Other than mentors I find the events at Campus London and General Assembly to be of great help. I also read a lot which helps me keep my energy up between events. I heard about this House of Coco series through Ada’s List which is an online networking group for women in tech. I feel it’s a lot like the ‘Women in Journalism’ group that I co-founded when I worked in journalism when there weren’t enough senior women in publications or enough representation of women. Ada’s List is really interactive and great for getting you up to speed with events or advice for recruiting new team members. My impression is that’s it’s really international and youthful. While it’s a tech network many of the women are like me and ‘non-tech’ as we are not developers and don’t code; it’s great to see the conversations and feel part of it all.
HOC: How do you run Welldoing.org; do you have a team around you?
LC: To start with it was just me and I’ve recently brought on a business development co-founder, and he’s made a big difference. We also have a full-time assistant and part-time developer. At the moment we work from my home in North West London. We had been working one day a week in the Google cafe where we were surrounded by other entrepreneurs but it got to a point that we were inspired enough and needed our own space!
We’ve been going for just over two years and we’re one of only two directories who are linked to from the NHS Choices website, which was a giant step for us! Sourcing the therapists for the directory was difficult and, as we didn’t have budget for outsourcing, we had to build it ourselves.
HOC: Having that seal of approval from the NHS must be amazing. What’s next for Welldoing.org?
LC: As your business builds you realise that your level of responsibility grows too, which is very exciting. Even though I’ve run 5 magazines this is all new to me! For me it’s really important that we’re public facing and we’re helping access to therapy; everything we do is around that.
We would like the platform to be able to look after booking and payment, we’re all about giving you much quicker access to seeing a therapist. We could also broaden the directory into other similar areas like life coaching and other mind and body support. The platform is a way to normalise the process of therapy and also get more therapists to use tech to support their businesses. Technology benefits both the therapists and users of the platform as both sides can easily manage payments and bookings.
It would be great if the NHS could cope with everything that people needed for mental health but we’re a way off that. The ideal would be if therapy was normalised so it was like paying a gym membership or going out for a regular Nando’s. A preconception with therapy is that it’s something you need to do for years and years. Seeing someone for even a short time can help and your life can be improved without huge expense. What many people don’t know is that 90% of our therapists offer concessions to people with lower incomes and benefits to people who can pay upfront – there are all kinds of things available. We all need to learn to speak up and say what we want ; if we find the therapist we are seeing isn’t working for us we need to be comfortable enough to say so and make a change. It’s a special relationship and is important to get right. With Welldoing.org I would like to be focused on improving access to therapy as much as expanding the platform itself.
HOC: It has been amazing to speak with you, Louise and we’re big fans of your mission to open up access to therapy and general wellbeing support.
LC: Thanks, it has been great to share our story. At the crux of it we want people to know that there are people who have benefited greatly from speaking with therapists, without being in extreme circumstances. Many people find great help in speaking with someone about how empty life can feel, work pressures or relationships. Therapy can benefit many people; it’s not necessarily just for deep rooted problems or needed for a long time.
Here at House of Coco we’re on a mission to not only inspire but also support our readers to achieve everything that their heart desires. If you would like to find out more about overcoming wellbeing challenges that you or a loved one might be facing and to access the free of charge directory please visit www.welldoing.org .