Lindsay hosted a panel on Mental Health & the Entrepreneur at SXSW in Austin, TX on March 10th, 2023. Panel guests included:
Zach Booker, CEO and co-founder of Mentavi Health and ADHD Online
Keith Brophy, Chief Operating Officer of Mentavi Health and ADHD Online
Andrea (dre) Wallace, Founder of Opnr
Keith Chaney, CEO and co-founder of Peadbo
Listen to these accomplished business leaders, two that also have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disoder, as they talk about:
- Managing the unknowns in this life of building something that sometimes has no stability
- Letting go of control and trusting the team you build
- Working “on” your business as opposed to working “in” your business
- Incorporating family into your business; is that a good thing?
- Building strong and diverse teams and getting out of your own way
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, we encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call “988”
Lindsay Guentzel (00:01):
My name is Lindsay Guentzel, and on today’s episode of Refocused, we’re revisiting the panel I hosted at South by Southwest, Mental Health and the Entrepreneur. It’s the discussion that kicked off the 2023 lineup for Midwest House on March 10th. I am so excited to share this incredibly important conversation with you, but I want you to know that in this episode, one of our speakers shares a story about suicide. If this may be potentially triggering to you, please skip this episode or consider skipping ahead to the 22-minute mark where the panel picks back up after the conversation. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, we encourage you to call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
Production support for this episode comes from ADHD online and Mentavi Health, a company committed to addressing and solving the absence of preventative mental healthcare In the United States. Mentavi is the culmination of listening to mental health professionals, patients, and patient care advocates, and holding steadfast to the founder’s mission of making mental health services more easily accessible for those who need them. To learn more about their mission, check out mentavi.com. That’s M-E -N-T-A-V-I.com.
A quick Google search tells you all you need to know about the current state of our mental health. On March 23rd, CNN health data editor, Deidre McPhillips, highlighted recent results from a joint survey between Gallup and Illumina Foundation, a private independent organization focused on creating accessible opportunities for post-secondary learning. A survey that shows more and more college students are considering dropping out because of mental health concerns.
The survey looked at responses from 12,000 adults in the fall of 2022. Adults who had a high school degree, but who had not yet completed an associates or bachelor’s degree. And according to McPhillips’ reporting, the survey shows that two out of five undergraduate students, including nearly half of female students, say they frequently experience emotional stress while attending college. And it’s those mental health struggles that are pushing more and more to consider dropping out in higher numbers than researchers saw in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Right now, the survey shows that more than 40% of students currently enrolled in an undergraduate degree program had considered dropping out in the past six months. And remember I just told you that’s higher than the first year of the pandemic. Yeah, it’s 34% higher.
Over on military.com, reporter, Drew Lawrence, shared information on a new rollout by the VA to address the growing need for mental health support. One of the goals of the scholarship program that was launched earlier in March is to help recruit mental health professionals to fill the need in underserved communities across the country, while also addressing the ongoing need for more support for those adjusting to life post-Afghan War.
And in a conversation with Matt Richtel and The New York Times on March 21st, Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, increased not only the call for awareness on the growing concern over adolescent mental health, but also shared how his own focus on the subject is intensifying, describing mental health as the defining public health crisis of our time.
But the headlines aren’t all bad. Like Fortune’s Alexa Mikhail’s March 23rd piece, Hybrid Workers Are Exercising and Sleeping More, Reporting Better Mental Health Than Before the pandemic. Mikhail’s reporting highlighted the results of a recent study published by the International Workplace Group that provides businesses with hybrid workplace solutions. The 2000 hybrid workers surveyed in the UK reported getting more sleep than before the pandemic, an extra 71 hours in bed in the morning each year. The survey also found hybrid workers are getting more exercise and are eating better, finding it easier to make healthier meals throughout the week.
And just a few days ago, the next city over from mine, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, unveiled a new mental health alternative response team, meaning that when a mental health call comes in, a social worker and a paramedic, both unarmed, will respond, providing an alternative to police response in certain situations, like welfare checks, low level mental health or substance use concerns, social service needs or physical healthcare requests.
Today’s episode focuses on Mental Health and the Entrepreneur. And before you turn this episode off because you’re not an entrepreneur, I didn’t think I was an entrepreneur either. And then well, as you know, the last couple of months have been a little chaotic for me. And I’ve got to say, realizing you are an entrepreneur as you’re being diagnosed with a rare autoimmune muscle disease, it’s really not the best time to figure out that if you can’t work, it’s not getting done. That you are in fact now a business owner. No one told me. I didn’t get a notification on my phone, I didn’t sign anything. It never became Facebook official. But the amazing news is I actually have a support system in place. The podcast is growing and that has highlighted the need for building a team and making that a priority I am forever grateful for, because I would not be this calm, cool, and collected if it were still a one woman show.
But opening up to that idea took work. And sometimes, some days, it can still be a lot of work, because accepting help and letting go of control and learning to trust and oh my goodness, getting out of our own way, it’s hard. It is so incredibly hard and it is all tied to our mental health. And that’s why today’s conversation is so important because growth can happen anywhere as long as you can see it. And so while you might not have build tech company on your vision board, I guarantee you’ll have more in common with my four guests than you might have expected.
Mental health and the Entrepreneur was a live panel I hosted on the stage at Midwest House to open up South by Southwest on March 10th. It’s been edited for content and stair climbing and water drinking. And despite having to cut out a great joke about being from Minnesota, but always worrying about sounding like I’m from Canada, it did make the most sense to cut out my introduction and get started with Mentavi Health and ADHD online Chief Operating Officer, Keith Brophy.
In effort to not follow my old ways of procrastinating until the last minute and feeling unprepared, I actually interviewed all four of the panelists to help me prep for the event. And when I talked to Keith Brophy, I learned that he worked at IBM before the internet was commercialized. I think I even bestow veteran status on him at some point during the panel. So I thought it made perfect sense to have him open the panel by setting the scene for us. When we talk about mental health and entrepreneurship, has anything changed?
Keith Brophy (07:32):
Let me set the stage by taking you guys back to a very significant week in my life. That was almost 25 years ago, and this was during the era of the dot-com boom. I think I highlight some of the mental health challenges that are out there today for entrepreneurs. At that point, I had a fast-growing tech company. We were seeming to hire more and more people with each passing week, and I was certainly living the classic entrepreneur life, high stress, adrenaline-driven, sleep deprivation, and it seemed pretty normal. It was very hard.
But as I looked around at the other entrepreneurs, I was friends with the other founders, they were pretty much in the same boat. So every week was jam packed full of meetings, customer breakfasts in the morning, business lunches, happy hours with partners and meetings in between. But this one particular week sticks in my mind because of three meetings, three meetings I was quite excited about because they were with three fellow entrepreneurs for different situations. I’ve slightly disguised their identity, but it’s an important story to hear what happened that week.
The first of those three special meetings with the entrepreneurs that I knew I could connect and identify with was with a referral partner, somebody that had a complimentary fast rising business, and we referred business back and forth. I really admired his confidence. He was the guy that was always on top of it, so confident. And we’d had a number of meetings sometimes over beers or coffee, but for this meeting, he came into my office, walked in and closed the door, and he burst into tears, sobbing so much he could hardly even talk. And when he finally collected his breath, he told me that he was about to miss his payroll the next day. He’d exhausted every avenue and he wanted to know if my business could front him $100,000 to make his payroll.
So I very painfully and awkwardly explained that we didn’t have the capacity to do that, and I still remember that sight of him walking out of my office, his body, again, racked by just heaving sobs. His business closed its doors a couple days later, he totally removed himself from the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and I never saw him again, although not for lack of trying. But that taught me that confidence is no guaranteed protection for the entrepreneur against catastrophe.
The next meeting that I had looked forward to of the three was with a potential merger partner, another founder of a fast rising business, and we’d had a number of talks about potentially bringing the firms together. One of the attractions was they had a very calm, soothing style, kind of unflappable. And so I went to meet this friend, fellow entrepreneur for the next step conversation at a restaurant, but he wasn’t there. So I waited, I waited, waited some more, drank some more coffee, waited some more, went to the restroom, waited some more, and he was a no show. And that happens, happens all the time.
I didn’t think too much of it until I reached out to his team and they didn’t know where he was either. Eventually we got the story, he left. On the spur of the moment, he left his company, he left his home, he left the city, he left the state, he left his life essentially, and just went off to the other side of the country to start a new life because he couldn’t take the pressure anymore. Back then, his team described it as a nervous breakdown. Today, in mental health, we have a much better understanding of situations like that and much better terminology. But essentially he reached his coping breakpoint and was done. And even though he was a good friend, too, I never saw him again after that breakpoint.
The third and final story of that very impactful week was a meeting with an entrepreneur who I had never met before, but I’d heard a lot about him. He had a business that was fast rising and his business was complimentary, too. He had a solution that it seemed we’d be able to work on together to take the next level. So I’d reached out to him for a meeting. I was eager for this meeting because he was known to be a hard driving entrepreneur, high work ethic. And I thought, “I can really identify with him, we’ll probably really connect.” Except the meeting never happened. That one I got word before the meeting came up that very sadly he’d committed suicide. And that underscored to me that no matter how hard driving one is, it does not guarantee you won’t run into a wall of hopelessness. That business ramped down soon after.
Those three stories had an impact. It definitely underscored that building business is risky business. It’s risky financially, but it’s also risky emotionally. So we can ask ourselves, given that that happened 25 years ago, is it much different today? Those lessons shaped my career. I often still think of my friends and the price that can be paid by hard driving people who are wired that way, including myself. But if we look at the stats in 2023, we can see that the Center for Disease Control says, in the general population, one out of every five Americans will experience the mental illness, per year. It also tells us that mental illness across the board is on the rise, anxiety, depression, ADHD, PTSD.
If we dial it in to look just at entrepreneurs, the numbers are even more stark. A recent research study showed that 72% of entrepreneurs are experiencing mental health challenges and entrepreneurs have six times the rate of ADHD, three times the rate of bipolarism, twice the rate of addiction and depression. So stark numbers. It’s hard to say how much that has changed over 25 years because the data back then does not allow a real solid comparison, but one thing we can say is the problem remains. Entrepreneurs are driven, typically work long hours, especially in the high growth stages, it’s very high stress.
There is some upside. The mental stigma, while it remains for mental health issues, it has reduced over the last couple of decades. There’s a much more awareness of the value of stewarding one’s physical and mental health. And there’s a lot of resources out there that are available, from community resources to resources like the 988 Suicide in Crisis Prevention line. Those are resources that if anybody here knows anybody that’s struggling, I’d encourage them to seek out. So ultimately, our hope is that very tough week that I described from long ago is not a current state, but just a relic of the past.
Lindsay Guentzel (14:52):
A week I think every single one of us would remember and live with. And I’m so grateful to Keith for sharing that experience with us. I want to pull back the curtain a little bit. After I asked Keith to open the panel, he asked me if I would listen to what he planned to say. And during that initial conversation, he shared the details of that week. And like I’m sure you were right now listening, I was blown away. I think I thanked him for sharing that with me, for being open to sharing that with the world. And then I said, “It’s actually encouraged to say, ‘Died of suicide,’ instead of, ‘Committed suicide.'” Because as humans, as we learn and grow, we are learning things. And one of those things that we’re learning is that language matters, especially when addressing mental health.
It’s something Lindsay Holmes explored in her March 2019 piece for Huffington Post, Why You Should Stop Saying ‘Committed Suicide.’ What Lindsay found is using sensitive mental health vernacular is crucial in eliminating negative stereotypes attached to mental illness, which also means it affects the potential consequences tied to that mental illness. And research shows when stigma is present or when a person feels like stigma is present, they are more likely to avoid seeking help.
Language is also important because certain words, like the word committed, can evoke dangerous associations. According to Dr. Jacek Debiec, an associate professor in the University of Michigan’s department of psychiatry, who specializes in post-traumatic stress and anxiety disorders, the phrase “committed suicide” is damaging because it makes people think committed a crime or committed a sin. And that makes us think it’s something morally reprehensible or illegal.
Lindsay also spoke to Dr. Dan Reidenberg, the executive director of Suicide Awareness, Voices of Education, who added that addressing suicide should be handled the same way as any physical health condition. “You don’t commit a heart attack,” he told Lindsay. “Instead, you might hear someone say, ‘They died from a heart attack.’ Dying by suicide is the same. When attaching the word ‘committed,’ it further discriminates against those who have lost their battle against a disease.”
And Dan reemphasized, “Using ‘committed suicide’ ignores the fact that suicide is often a consequence of an unaddressed illness, which means we’re once again ignoring the bigger issue, our mental health.” And the importance of language isn’t isolated to the phrase, “Committed suicide.” Keith touched on it when he referenced a nervous breakdown. “Nervous breakdown is without a doubt something we’ve all heard or maybe even said or used to describe someone. But you know what? It’s not a medical term, it’s not a mental health diagnosis, and in most cases it’s found to not even be an accurate description of what’s happening. And I think we can all agree, it comes with negative associations already attached to it.”
So back to the moment when I told Keith, “Hey, the experts who know about this stuff, they suggest we say, ‘Died of suicide.'” I told him, “You’re breaking years of habit, you’re going to make mistakes. And you might feel foolish or embarrassed or like you’ve offended someone, but that’s also a part of your own growth. It’s how we learn.” And then it happened, even when we practiced, even when I know he made notes and reminders for himself, because we’re human. And we’re also creatures of habits and that means the word we use, they are coming out of our mouths sometimes faster than we might like, making these conversations even more important.
I could have tried to dub over Keith’s mistake, we could have cut around it, tried to hold off any potential outrage, but honestly, having this conversation, while it’s not how I saw the episode going, it’s also better than I could have imagined. And I’m so grateful to Keith for being someone who cares and who understands the importance of breaking down the stigma that surrounds mental health.
I don’t know a lot of people who would be okay with me highlighting their mistakes on a panel meant to highlight their achievements. The unfortunate reality is, even though mental health professionals have been researching the power of language for decades, for most of us, we don’t get the crash course in appropriate language until we have to deal with it firsthand. I know I didn’t, not until April 20th, 2021. As the world responded to Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict, our world, our bubble was responding to the loss of a beautiful, bright, larger than life friend. And in the days that followed that loss, as we tried to manage all of the questions we had that would likely never be answered, we learned by following the lead of those around us, the unfortunate handful who had been there before, who had to learn from those around them. It’s really just the worst kind of trickle-down effect you can imagine.
I wish I could tell you all of these great statistics on how suicide is becoming less of a concern. It’s not. In fact, even though suicide rates declined in 2019 and 2020, numbers went back up in 2021, which is why I’m so proud of the conversations we had at South by Southwest. This is not an easy topic to talk about and it would’ve been really easy to pick something much safer, much less taboo. But what good does that do us? Throughout the rest of the podcast, you are going to hear from Zach Booker, CEO and co-founder of Mentavi Health and ADHD Online, someone we all got to learn a little bit more about when Zach shared his own ADHD story during our first Refocused together last October,
Zach Booker (20:41):
It takes about seven months on a national average, once referred by a physician, to see a psychologist and go through those mental health assessments, costs upwards of $2,000, even after insurance. And the complexity of taking time off of work and school, taking your child out of that and waiting for a child for that whole year is just, yeah, it’s disheartening.
Lindsay Guentzel (21:02):
We’re also joined by Andrea Wallace, known to most as Dre, who is a music producer, DJ, entrepreneur and technologist, and is someone you might recognize, because like Zach, Dre has been on Refocused before, back in July for episode eight. A lot has changed since then. She is now living the entrepreneur life full-time, the founder of Opener, an app inspired by her own time on the road as a musician.
Andrea Wallace (21:25):
We’re actually a two-sided marketplace that is designed to remove some of the annoyance, irritation and frustration that is part of the talent booking process. So for talent booking, whether it’s for live performances or appearances, we use data to actually do some matching between organizers and talent to be able to make the process much simpler, more cost-effective, and also just a lot more inclusive.
Lindsay Guentzel (21:47):
And finally, you’re going to meet Keith Chaney, a consultant and strategist, also a husband and father who led organizational transformations at McKinsey and Company, and most recently, partnership strategy at Google and now solely wears the title of CEO and co-founder of Peadbo.
Keith Chaney (22:04):
Peadbo is actually shorthand for Personal Advisory Board. It’s exactly what it sounds like. In the same way that pretty much every company has a board of people with diverse skill sets to help them accomplish their business goals, we believe that each of you individually should take that approach to identifying people you either respect or admire or look up, to hold you accountable and to support you on your personal or professional journey.
Lindsay Guentzel (22:31):
Again, this panel has been modified from its original version. It’s been formatted to fit this podcast and edited for content. So to make sure you know where we’re hopping in, after getting all of the panelists on stage and making introductions, you have to keep in mind this is just hours after news broke regarding Silicone Valley Bank. So it made sense to start by asking, how do you not focus on the future, on the what ifs, on the scary headlines? How can you use the information you know, facts, like the current state of the market or the economy to help you not hyper-focus on what might be coming down the pipeline? The stuff that’s going to happen whether you like it or not. It’s something I think a lot of us struggle with, regardless of if it’s connected to your job, your personal life, your home. And it’s definitely something I have struggled with.
I have a really hard time staying in the present moment and working in the present moment. And then you have all of these other things coming at you. And I love to catastrophize. Anybody else? Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and we’re going to go big. We are going to go real big. So I’m curious, and Keith Chaney, I’d like to start with you because I know that layoffs play a role in your journey right now.
Keith Chaney (23:47):
Yeah. So for the first year or so of Peadbo, I was juggling, I was working with my team to build the platform, but also working at Google, the Partnership Strategies team. As you may have heard, mid-January, Google laid off about 12,000 people and I was one of those people. And so to your point, I can clearly see how it’s both a blessing and a catastrophe. The blessing being, not very many startup founders are in a position where they have six months of severance, where essentially Google’s paying me to build a startup. That’s amazing. The scary part is, six months is a very definite amount of time, and so the clock is ticking. So I find myself trying to raise, trying to build, trying to sell, all while this clock is ticking. And I’m not the traditional 23-year-old startup founder with no responsibilities. I have two daughters, I have a mortgage, I need to be able to pay myself. And so I’m dealing with some mental health struggles as I try to manage both sides of that coin.
Lindsay Guentzel (24:54):
Dre, I’m going to toss this one to you next. You’ve always had a lot of projects going on and I know that Opener right now is a main focus for you, but it always hasn’t been that way, and the change to that has been kind of dramatic. If you follow this woman on social media, I do not know how you keep everything straight because it is constant. So tell me how you have balanced some of the what-ifs and the unknowns over the years and still tried to stay in the lane of making sure that you’re focusing on what you want to focus on?
Andrea Wallace (25:25):
To me, I feel like everything that I’ve always done has been related, even though it might not look like that to other people, there’s always methods to my madness. And I have to explain this to my parents a lot too, but there’s things out of each piece of thing that I do that is usually tied together somehow. So whether it’s me working for a different company and gathering skills that I could use for mine, or whether it’s applying certain things from side projects to Opener. Everything is still sort of connected in some way. And so as much as it probably seems fragmented and crazy, it doesn’t feel that crazy to me. Also, because I’ve always done multiple things, but always had them tied together somehow.
Lindsay Guentzel (26:13):
Zach, you mentioned COVID and this influx of people, not only just looking for mental health in the teletherapy capacity, but also looking for testing for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. We’re not through COVID so to speak, it’s not over. But some of the restrictions or ways to make life easier that were put in place during COVID are either coming to an end or they’re changing, which means that your company has to adapt. And not only does your company has to adapt to follow these very, very highly regulated rules coming down from the US Government from different places, but then you also have to make sure that you’re educating your patients in a way that works for them. And anyone with ADHD knows executive function, not sometimes our strong suit. And so you’re changing things on people and expecting them to adapt very quickly because you can go to the US Government and be like, “Hey, yeah, so ADHD, it’s sometimes hard for people to follow tasks in a row and now you’re changing everything on them after a couple of years and it’s not going to really get you anywhere. “
Zach Booker (27:14):
That’s a loaded question. Thanks for reinstating the fear back into us having to adapt so quickly. But yes, COVID has introduced a waiver that has allowed Americans to be able to use telehealth in a more free way. Well, the genie’s out of the bottle, we figured it out, it works. It creates better access, it’s less expensive, and it’s much faster to be able to provide the outcomes to patients. And now, we’re coming back into normality with the regulations that will then be reinstated, I believe May 12th. So May 11 is going to be the end of the PHE, the public health emergency. And then everything goes back somewhat to normal.
With that, as entrepreneurs do, we have to adapt and we have to adapt now. So it was quick. There were a lot of pivots over this last four and a half years of growth. There hasn’t been a week where you’re like, “I don’t know what tomorrow’s going to look like.” So yeah, it really allowed me to say, “I need smarter people around me. I need to be able to have the right people by my side that has complimentary skill sets to my weaknesses.” Because as an entrepreneur, we tend to want to do everything ourselves because we feel like we own the vision, we see it, we know what needs to be done, but ultimately, the smartest entrepreneur surrounds themselves around smarter people. So if I’m the dumbest one in the room, I’m in the right room.
Lindsay Guentzel (28:43):
Keith Brophy, I’m not playing the veteran status card, but I’m going to play the veteran status card ’cause I’d like you to reflect on your career. You mentioned, you went back to that week 25 years ago. What have you learned about managing some of the unknowns in this life of building something that sometimes has no stability behind it?
Keith Brophy (29:04):
Well, I’ve learned a lot over the course of a number of fast growth startups and other endeavors, and I think I’ve paced it well in my career, because this is a amazing journey working with Zach and for Zach and in support of his vision because we really can have broad reach and make a difference in lives. It’s a great journey.
I think some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years are to listen carefully to the team you build. The team is usually the most connected to the mission of the business. And over the course of various endeavors, I’ve found again and again and again, listening to unlikely voices can really pay off. Some of the best ideas that I’ve had in growing businesses, and this might sound like a bit of a hype, but it’s really not, some of the best ideas have come from receptionists because they see the pulse speed of the customers and the team and the business.
But collaboration, teamwork and creating a space for ideas and trust to thrive. They used to call that just building a good team, but nowadays, that’s called building an emotionally safe space. I think that’s a much better term for it. If a team leader can build an emotionally safe space for their team, where there’s trust in listening and empowerment, they’ll move mountains. So I’ve learned a lot of those lessons along the way.
Lindsay Guentzel (30:37):
I have to imagine there’s a lot of stress that comes from trying to find funding. Keith, you mentioned a mortgage and two kids and trying to pay yourself. Dre, I know you’ve been in the thick of it, jumping all over places, being in different showcases and trying to garner attention. How do you manage the rejection side of it? Because you’re so passionate about what you’re working on and you see the potential, and you have to get in front of people and many of them are going to tell you no. What is that like and how does that sometimes show up in life in ways that you wish it wouldn’t?
Andrea Wallace (31:13):
Crazy and there’s really no amount of prepping. Both Keith and I were actually in Techstars together and they spent a lot of time talking about how to deal with that. Mentally, there’s still not really anything that can prepare you for it, but the best thing I can say is you almost have to treat it like it’s a game. Because as much as, yes, we are the ones in this seat who need that funding and so it feels like the power dynamic is just really, really off, they have also raised a fund and they have to deploy those funds. They have to do it. They have to invest this money on behalf of these other people who have put money in these funds. So they have a job to do, we have a job to do. And so it actually can be more equal than you feel like it is.
And so when you talk to them, it’s like you almost just have to be, “If this doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.” It’s just like dating. It doesn’t mean that just because you go on a date with somebody that you have to marry them. Maybe you hung out one time, you see it’s not it and you keep moving. And so it’s the same thing with investors. Even if you think you know that this is the one, there’s thousands of them out there that might be a much better fit. And I think the best thing you can do is just kind of treat it like it’s a game and really just pull the feelings and emotion out of it. So now, at this point, I have no feelings when I’m in these meetings. They are gone.
Lindsay Guentzel (32:41):
Keith Chaney from the dad perspective, loaded. That’s a lot. And not only are you trying to make sure that you’re providing for your family, but then you’re away from them a lot.
Keith Chaney (32:52):
Yeah, that’s not the best. But I’m very intentional about stating and sticking to my negotiables and my non-negotiables. And so while I am trying to build this company and being rejected all the time and having my confidence challenged, I’m going to make sure I make time to read to my daughters, to watch Encanto, to just make sure that there’s a very clear boundary between the business and my identity and what’s important to me. Because there are so many external factors that I have no control over that are going to play a role in the fate of Peadbo, but none of those factors care about me and my family. And so I have to prioritize them because to everybody else, we’re just a company that they have a call with and they’re going to make a decision. And so I have to maintain some type of balance.
And that includes texting Dre and us complaining about how these VCs keep moving the goal posts and saying they’re pre-seen, but then saying you need a bunch of traction. And I think even that, hearing that other people are going through this and having that encouragement, especially from our class, which I think is pretty tight, we boost each other, we send forwardables, we try to help each other to make the connections. Even if we get a no, it might not be a no for Dre, so let me make sure they know Dre’s on the radar. And I think just building that community and really taking my medicine and Peadbo and making sure I have my board to support me as I go through this craziness. It helps me in just knowing my daughters don’t care. They don’t care. I got rejected. They think I’m cool most of the time, and that’s enough for me.
Lindsay Guentzel (34:31):
I mentioned when we started that I had this realization of realizing I’m an entrepreneur, I kind of have a production company. It doesn’t have a name or anything, but the last two months have just been pure chaos. And today I’m here, and on Tuesday I got a call that I have an autoimmune muscle disease that they’ve been trying to figure out for two months. Long story short, I went on a hike, it did not end well, and here we are. So I’ve had this crash course in, one, letting go of power and control so that people can help me, and two, advocating for myself in real time.
And as I was working with my producer who I trust, I trust him so much, but it’s so hard to let go because it’s your baby and you just can’t do that. And Zach, I want to bring you in on here because this was a big moment for taking ADHD Online to the next level. You had this idea, you built it to where you could get it to, and then to get it over that hump, which every entrepreneur, every business owner, anyone who’s doing something that is big and grandiose and takes a lot of work, you need to bring people in. And that takes being able to allow that to happen, which is not easy for a lot of us who have control issues. I am one of them. So I would just love it if you could talk a little bit about that mindset in that moment. A lot of companies that are no longer around are gone because whoever was in charge couldn’t handle this transition.
Zach Booker (35:59):
Yeah, very true. I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 20 years, with over 40 companies post revenue. Many of them have failed, many have succeeded. However, the failures, I’ve learned so much with. And I’ve really built that up to seeing that I didn’t have the right people in the right seats, the right people around me to take it to the next level. And I wanted to take that education that I couldn’t have learned in a university and take that and apply it to the next idea.
Thankfully, with ADHD Online and Mentavi Health, I have the right people in the right seats, I’ve got the right investors, but I did it at the right time, so I did it when we were profitable and debt free. That’s the best time to raise money because all the leverage from an investor standpoint is gone. You don’t need the money. I raised the fund to try to get people like Keith Brophy to help me, because as the co-founder-CEO, I was doing everything, cleaning the toilets, too. So at some point that becomes an overburden and you’re just detrimenting the health and future of your own business and idea. So for that, for my mental space, for my mental health, I needed right people like Keith Brophy and the rest of my C-Suite to be alongside of me to ensure that my vision in the company can continue to grow.
Lindsay Guentzel (37:17):
I want to talk a little bit about the blinders that you have to put on to stay in your lane. You talked a bit bit about it, Zach, cleaning the toilets or hyper-focusing on the social media post that’s going to go out. Dre, we’ve talked about this. At some point, you have to acknowledge where your time and energy is best spent and it can be so hard when you’re so wrapped up in it. So how have you, as you’re building your team and you’re working with people that you trust, how have you started to be able to let go of things?
Andrea Wallace (37:47):
It is hard, but you hit a point where you have no choice. And I think, to be honest, what really pushed it for me, and we had a couple of people that we were already working with, but what pushed it for me was Techstars, because I quickly saw that there was absolutely no way that I was going to be able to do this program, also have a full-time job and also be running opener at the same time. It just wasn’t going to happen.
So it kind of forced it in some ways, which I was glad for. Because before that it was a little bit harder, I think, for me to let go of certain things because also I’m a developer, so I like being in the stuff. So I had to back away from that and really start thinking about more of the strategy of the company overall and really where we wanted to head and how fast we wanted to get there. And I’m like, I can’t do that if I’m still in the weeds as Monica Wheat always says our Techstars managing director, “You need to be working on your business and not in it.” And I now truly understand that.
Lindsay Guentzel (38:53):
Keith Chaney, you told me that you work with family and friends, which feels very brave. How does that work out and how do you manage that? Because if something goes wrong, it’s not just somebody you’re working with, it’s somebody that is really intertwined in your life.
Keith Chaney (39:10):
Yes, and for clarity, two of my co-founders I’ve known since undergrad, so over a decade. And then my third co-founder is actually my sister. And so I think there are pros and cons to that. The cons are, obviously you have to consider that there could be potential ramifications on the relationship. You want to make sure you have, again, boundaries. I’m big on boundaries lately because I’m learning how important they are.
But I think the pros for me have been essentially their credit score. I know them really well. Well enough to where it’s a bit easier to let go of some of the things, especially the tech things, two of them are techy. I couldn’t build Peadbo if you pay me a million dollars, although I’m asking for a million dollars. And so knowing that they have this work ethic, knowing that they’re going to come to me with problems because we’ve been through things together, it makes me sleep a lot better at night than I would if it were just someone I was maybe paired with or linked up with and I don’t necessarily know if they’re going to do the work. So it’s been great so far. Hopefully it stays that way.
Lindsay Guentzel (40:20):
Keith Brophy, I want to touch a little bit on one of the things that I’ve noticed from my year of getting to work with you and getting to work with people who work with you, is you build people up and you encourage people. And one of the moments I got to see it was actually when I was in a Grand Rapids in September and I got to go to the very cool event, and Dre won $10,000 and it was so cool. And to see how excited Keith and the team were for Dre, even though Dre worked for them at the time, but to see her and to encourage her, I was like, “I have never been around that.”
Now, keep in mind I come from a journalism background, so I work with media personality, so it makes complete and total sense that I have never been around that. But Keith, I’d like you to touch a little bit on your motto in life and why you have taken this on as a challenge. Because there are a lot of people who would not slow down their path to bring other people along with them. And the unfortunate reality is I think we see more of that than we see with what you are doing.
Keith Brophy (41:19):
Yeah, well, mentoring and supporting is rewarding and a noble thing to do. It’s also kind of self-serving as you invest that time. And I like to think I don’t do it for the self-serving reasons, but because it just makes the journey richer, deeper and more meaningful. But yeah, I’ve worked with a broad range of colleagues at multiple companies where I’ve been in a leadership position, and as I’ve built up teams, team members have come on board. And I’ve joked with some of the team members where we’ve worked together a couple of times, “Either I must be a really good leader or you must be really dumb because you seem to keep coming on board on the teams that I’m leading.”
Joking aside, I think what it is you get to know each other and you can bring out the best together. Teams can bring out the best in leaders, teams can bring out the best in teammates. And early in my entrepreneurial journey, I used to think it was a matter of more of imposing the will of the business, almost kind of hammering team members into the mold that would fit. But over the course of many years then decades, in the wonderful gift of working with people in different situations and seeing people grow in their careers, you start to realize we all have our quirks and our strengths. And a big part of success and building a entrepreneurial business is learning how to work with the quirks, with the weaknesses as well as the strengths. Don’t try to hammer out the weaknesses or the quirks, but just build together and build around them in this interlocking team. So that is one thing I value very much, is the team cultures, the team commitment, the team trust really behind every single successful effort I’ve been involved in.
Zach Booker (43:16):
I wouldn’t have known or met people like Dre without Keith, and that’s part of that cascading waterfall effect. When you get the right people on your team, they’ll introduce you to the right people that will fill the rest of the company. So we grew to 50 full-time employees and about 150 doctors across all 50 states in four and a half years. But I couldn’t have done it without people like Keith and Dre by my side. So I want to encourage that. You almost have to get out of your own way and get people that know and have the experience of how to run and operate businesses in a much bigger scale than you can, but still follow that dream and have the people that are willing to share in that passion, like Dre has shared in the passion alongside of us.
Lindsay Guentzel (44:03):
Us. The topic for the panel today was obviously Mental Health and the Entrepreneur and we could have got up here and had everyone go down the line and talk about their own mental health issues. Five of us, couple hours up here, no big deal. But I really wanted to focus on what sets a lot of that stuff off, because a lot of mental health concerns tend to be comorbidities, so they exasperate one another. And with that, comes learning about your own coping mechanisms.
And I want everyone on to run down and you just tell me what is something that you do in life to make your mind, your head, your heart feel a little better? And it doesn’t have to be something physical because one of the things I think we’ve heard up here with all the different names that have been thrown out there, Start Garden and Techstars is the community and how you can infiltrate yourself in that in a nice little bubble, like a little blanket wrap up, and utilize those people to be your support system because it does feel so alone. And then if you add depression, anxiety, ADHD on top of it can just feel like you’re never going to get yourself up to where you want to be. So Keith, let’s start with you.
Keith Brophy (45:09):
Sure. I have a number of settling techniques and I’ve evolved them over the years and boy did I need them. That first company I launched Sagestone, which grew like a rocket ship, kept me immersed and very mentally unhealthy for about five years straight with extreme sleep deprivation and many other things going on. And I’ve always been grateful looking back at it that I survived it in a way.
But towards the end of that stretch, a good friend and mentor of mine sat down with me and he said, “Keith, there’s only one way that I see people like you make it with a sense of purpose and happiness in life, is you’re just working so hard.” And he said it’s, “Work hard, play hard.” And I know that’s a cliche saying, but it came at the right time for me because I realized I needed a very tactically up things I did outside of work.
So I’d run marathons, prior to starting that company, Sagestone, but I’d quit for those five years pretty much. And over the years since I’d do marathons, ultra-marathons, I did a 50-mile races through the mountains, that type of thing. Do them slowly, but I do them. But another recent finding is hot yoga. That’s really amazing because it demands such full focus and it helps me stay fresh and focused for our Mentavi Health challenges. The last thing I’ll add that came about over the last few years is I write haikus. It’s very clearing and totally shifts your focus around team problems. And I even published a haiku book on Amazon largely just for the fun of it. So those are my coping mechanisms, but they work.
Lindsay Guentzel (46:59):
Just publishing a book of haikus for the fun of it. I love that. Keith, you talked about your non-negotiables, one being reading to your girls, watching Encanto. What else is on the list?
Keith Chaney (47:09):
One thing that I do, and I’ve actually done this since even before Peadbo, is on Instagram, almost every day I’ll post seven things that I’m thankful for. And it’s usually something really basic, like that cereal I just ate. But what I found is when I don’t post that, people will DM me, “What’s going on? Where’s my list? This is my favorite part of the day.”
Lindsay Guentzel (47:36):
They’re checking. They’re checking in on you.
Zach Booker (47:37):
It just helps me to all shit the going on, there’s still so much little stuff that I should be grateful for. And for the non-negotiables, in addition to the girls, I’m not doing ultra-marathons, but I have to work out, I have to sleep at least seven, non-negotiable seven. And it all comes from a thing that my dad always said, “If it costs you your peace of mind, it’s too expensive.” And so I just keep that at the core of how I try to run my life, which is, that thing is very attractive, but how much is it going to cost you and is it worth it? And if it costs you peace of mind, then it’s not.
Lindsay Guentzel (48:11):
Dre, what’s going on in your life right now That’s calming?
Andrea Wallace (48:14):
Visualization is huge for me. Community, music, and physical activity. So music, obviously I’ve been playing instruments since I was four years old. So it’s always a happy place for me so I love doing that. Physical activity. I too am kind of like Keith, I tend to be on the extreme end of things, don’t just do yoga, I like to do Bikram. I don’t just like to cycle, I’m tearing up the Peloton every day. But those are things that really help me burn off extra energy and that helps me with focus.
The community thing is huge. Just the different startup communities and people in the ecosystem have been a huge thing for me. I don’t think I realize how isolated you start to become when you are an entrepreneur, because frankly, your family doesn’t want to hear about what you’re doing all the time. Your friends don’t want to hear about what you’re doing all the time.
No one wants to hear about that every day, except for your co-founders, to be perfectly honest. So it’s like you kind of have to balance this thing that is inside of you that you want to talk about all the time, but you just can’t. And then lastly, I think the visualization, that’s always been a huge thing for me. If I picture myself in the situation that I want and how I want it to happen, I feel like I can just make that stuff happen. It’s worked really well for me. If I actually see myself there, if I see myself signing the paper, it makes a huge difference for me to stay focused.
Lindsay Guentzel (49:44):
And Zach, finally to you?
Zach Booker (49:46):
Yeah, so for myself, I don’t do any of the marathons or exercise. I was sweating just walking up the stairs. So for me, ADHD is my superpower. That’s something that I absolutely love having because I use it as an advantage. So it’s not a disability, it’s an ability. So for myself, my ADHD is focused around business, and anything business, I thrive on, I get energy from. I feed off energy from other people’s business success, business failures, my ability to tear apart a business model and to be able to figure out how to solutionize around it. Love that. So that’s really one of my coping mechanisms, is business.
But another one is that work-life balance that you need with family. I have three kids and a wonderful wife at home and they’re a huge support system for me. And I try and turn business off, but as an entrepreneur, it’s 24/7. So that phone is still on. I try and leave it in the home office, but you can hear it ringing in the background, and as an entrepreneur you’re like, “Oh my gosh, is that a small fire that’s going to become a big fire, and if I don’t address it now it’s going to be huge tomorrow and am I going to lose half the team or am I going to lose nobody?” And you’ve got to be able to separate that and turn your phone off. So that’s something that you got to do, but for me, ADHD in business is, it’s fun.
Keith Chaney (51:12):
What you said about ADHD reminds me of my relationship and how it’s evolved with fear. For most of my career, fear has been this thing that scared me, fear of failure, fear of going against the grain, not doing what’s expected. I’ve recently harnessed fear and framed it of this fear of not knowing if you could have done it or this fear of being old and having a bunch of regrets for not shooting your shot. And that has actually turned into a bit of a superpower. Whereas my daughters are going to see me take this risk. Whether I win or not, they’ll learn from that and when they have an idea or they have something they want to do, they’ll say, “Well, I’ve seen it. I know that it’s something you could do and it’s not the end of the world if it fails.” And so that fear of never showing them what jumping looks like is driving me to take some risk and really just put it all out there.
Lindsay Guentzel (52:06):
Teach me your ways, we need to chat later.
Zach Booker (52:09):
As Wayne Gretzky and Michael Scott of The Office said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” So yeah, for sure, you got to turn that fear into an advantage. Yeah, I love that.
Lindsay Guentzel (52:21):
I think it’s safe to say that my first panel at South by Southwest was a success. Although if you listened to episode 72 from two weeks ago, you know that I had a lovely case of imposter syndrome that I’m happy to say has been buried out back in a giant hole since we started working to get this episode put together. I am actually so happy with how the panel turned out, and I’m even really happy with how we decided to share it with you, because it gave us some opportunities to dive further into specific topics, like talking about how the language we use when addressing our mental health and the mental health of the people around us. It all matters.
I’m really glad Keith Brophy shared what he did to open the panel. I think it was his line, “Building business is risky business, it’s risky financially, but it’s also risky emotionally.” That reminded me of what we put on the line every single time we put ourselves out there. And it’s not isolated to business or just our jobs, life is just heavy on the emotional risk.
I love how Dre just put it out there when I asked her how she handles rejection. To hear someone who loves as loudly as Dre does say, “I have no feelings,” I worried you guys might get the idea she’s a robot or something, which is the furthest from the truth. But Dre’s done the work to get to that point. And knowing Dre, it’s honestly really inspiring to me because it’s a sign that it can actually happen.
Hearing how Keith Cheney works around his non-negotiables, most importantly his family, but also sleep and exercise, it was a reminder that in order to create our best work, we have to be at our best. And that’s going to look different for everyone, which means we have to work extra hard to make non-negotiables just that, non-negotiables, without apology or explanation. And I’m so glad he talked about how his layoff from Google was a push forward, but that it came with heavy parameters and how that added pressure can hold a person back, because fear is real even for the bravest person.
And I’m really glad we got to hear about the on the fly pivoting ADHD Online had to do throughout the pandemic in order to serve their patients. It makes me feel good about the future of not only telehealth, but healthcare in general. I hope you guys liked this episode as much as I liked working on it. Thank you so much for supporting Refocused, our team and me. And I can speak for all of us when I say we are so excited for the months ahead of us.
I thought I would wrap this up with one of my favorite takeaways from my time in Austin. It’s actually something you all heard from Zach Booker, and I’m going to send it out into the universe for all of us. May we all find ourselves as the dumbest person in the room and be okay with it.
First off, a huge thanks to Ted Velie and the entire team at Midwest House for truly pulling out all the stops and welcoming us to their panel lineup and for supporting this important conversation. Thank you to Keith Brophy, Zach Booker, Dre Wallace, and Keith Chaney for really showing up and sharing their stories with us. And a huge thank you to Mentavi Health and to ADHD Online for letting me be a part of it.
Again, if you or someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts, we encourage you to call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. We’ve also loaded the show notes with all of the articles referenced in this episode, so please check them out now.
Now, it’s my favorite time of the week, the time to thank the incredible team that makes Refocused happen. A huge thanks to our coordinating producer, Phil Rodemann, to Sarah Platanitis, who’s been instrumental in helping shape the stories and the topics we’re sharing with you. We get social media production help from Al Chaplin. And as always, a shout-out to Keith Boswell, Claudia Gotti, Melanie Mile, Suzanne Spruit, Tricia Merchant Dunny, and the entire team at ADHD Online for all of their ongoing support. Our show Art is created by Sissy Yee of Berlin Grey, and our music was created by Louis Inglis, a singer-songwriter from Perth, Australia, who was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020 at The age of 39.
Links to all of the partners we work with are available in the show notes. To connect with the show or with me, you can find us online @RefocusedPod as well as @lindsayguentzel. And you can email us directly at [email protected]. That’s [email protected].