Lizzy Hodcroft: In Conversation with CEO & Co-founder of Myndr
We recently held our first ‘Notes from the Field’ interview (details of the next one to be revealed soon!) and interviewed Lizzy Hodcroft, CEO and Co-founder of Myndr.
Myndr is a mental health and wellbeing platform, which has recently received 6-figure investment from Innovate UK, obtained with the help and expertise of Teesside University and with support from us here at KOMODO. We’re now the design and software engineering partner for Myndr and working with Lizzy and co-founder Emma Reilly to bring their ideas to fruition.
If you have an idea for a digital product and are at the early stages of ideation, this interview might come in very handy. The journey of bringing Myndr to life has been varied and complicated in parts, but it’s a really inspiring story and shows how creative thinking, determination and a firm belief in the idea can help to propel the concept forward and get buy-in from those who can help.
So let’s find out more about the Myndr story so far.
Tell us about yourself and the origins of the idea behind Myndr.
I've personally struggled with my own mental health since the age of 14 when I had my first suicide attempt. Throughout my teens and up into my late twenties, I was in and out of treatment centres, drug rehab, eating disorder clinics and therapy. I was lucky because I had a family behind me that wouldn't quit, but also had the means behind them to ensure that I got help (and that help was sometimes private when public services couldn't act fast enough).
However, so many people do not have the same support system that I have been fortunate enough to have and even if they do, they might lack the self-awareness to know that they need support. One of the biggest turning points in my recovery was finally starting to get to grips with who I was as a person and also being honest enough with myself to become aware of my triggers, bad habits and unhealthy coping skills.
The idea behind Myndr and the platform is to provide a safe and anonymous place to access preventative care and support so that people can learn about therapies, skills and coping mechanisms before reaching a crisis. We also focus a lot on the shared experiences of peers who have been through a similar experience as there is so much knowledge that hasn't yet been captured just through the life experience of problem-solving.
Myndr wants people to recognise that they are not alone and also not the first person to feel the way that they do. We also want to help them understand the cycles that we can get stuck in so that hopefully, with a little self-awareness and support, they can make the changes they need before reaching a crisis.
What did the early days of bootstrapping Myndr look like? Was there any hustle or smart innovative thinking that helped you progress?
Lean. It’s all been so lean.
Myndr was fortunate enough to be picked to take part in the Ignite Pre-accelerator. Ignite is one of the UK’s top tech accelerators and they were offering £15,000 early investment from Northstar Ventures as part of the program
However, £5,000 of that immediately went to Ignite to be on the program, so we were left with just £10,000 and made that last for over a year. We didn’t pay ourselves but we were passionate and believed in our vision so much that we were willing to do whatever it took to keep the business alive.
To be honest, although we may not have seen it this way at the time, having pretty much no money forced us to reimagine how to operate as a business – keeping our presence known, interest in the company high and development still moving forward.
We took an entire year to just talk to our potential customer base as well as professionals in our industry. We sat down with people that were struggling with their mental health, friends and family that cared for those that were struggling and businesses in regard to how they currently supported staff. It was hugely valuable and helped us to validate our assumptions.
Had we had all the money we needed to develop, I’m not sure we would have spent so much time doing this. But, now that it's done, it’s been vital to creating a solid foundation for our business and the insights gained have been excellent for applying to our product.
We made a bit of money here and there with workshops that allowed us to connect with potential users and clients, trying out our ideas of how we might best support them. In the meantime, we were having meeting after meeting with VCs and other investors. We got a lot of interest. We had a lot of people really understand the idea and need for what we were trying to accomplish but everyone wanted to see a product.
Completely chicken and egg.
We needed the money to build the product and they wouldn’t give us the money until the product was built. It was an extremely frustrating time.
But, again, it made us solve our problems creatively and look in places that we might not have looked at otherwise. We had heard of grants but had never spent a huge amount of time trying to secure any but we were at the end of our options at this point and decided to give it a go.
With the help of Omar from Teesside University, we wrote in a bid for a SMART grant where KOMODO agreed to be our development partner and low and behold – we got it! Now we have the best of both worlds – having the money and the expertise to bring our idea to life without giving away any equity or control.
I would recommend that more businesses look into this route of funding but be aware it is not a quick-fix. From the time it takes to actually complete your application to the awarding of the grant and the kick-off of your project, it can take up to 6 months.
How did the idea evolve over time? What did you learn about product development along the way?
I kind of think of this like a snowball. Over time, the concept picks up more and more ideas to it, becoming some kind of large snowball but without any kind of organisation or structure to it.
From talking with potential users and customers, taking part in different business incubators and bringing in Emma and I’s own vision, we had pieced together a fairly broad concept of what we thought the product should be.
We were also able to refine our idea from market research – checking out what others were doing, what they did well, what they missed out and applying that knowledge to our offering.
One of our biggest breakthroughs came from sitting down with the KOMODO team in a workshop and breaking down the idea.
The KOMODO team brought in a new and experienced skill set we didn’t have and also a fresh set of eyes. The team was able to ask the right questions (some we hadn’t even thought of) and gradually pin down and organise the ideas Emma and I had.
Immediately, it’s like having a full Myndr team in place, working on the same solution but with the knowledge and skills behind it that Emma and I just would have not been able to afford at that point. The guys really took the time to understand what we were trying to accomplish, and they offered up as many ideas as we did!
We spent the day narrowing down the vision to what was reasonable for a first-build, stripping back the nice-to-haves and focusing on what was really needed. And creating user personas was impactful. I’ve always kind of pawned off this kind of user persona idea previously as it kind of felt like you were trying to box in certain personality traits that can’t really be relied on, but the KOMODO team demonstrated how powerful these user groups could be for us and they’re something we have continued to use.
Having structure and guidance to what can seem like a chaotic mess of an idea is what makes the difference between an ‘okay’ product and an ‘excellent’ product and the team really set the stage for us and mentored us through this.
What does innovation look like for you and how is healthcare different when it comes to innovating an idea to fruition?
Innovation to me is finding a way of solving problems in a better way than it was done before. It’s also about removing yourself from that solution. Of course, most of us want to work on innovations in areas that we are interested in and have a passion for, but we need to solve these problems in a way that is inclusive.
We came to the conclusion early on that this business and our mission to support others is not about us. We needed to remove our ego from our ideas if they were going to really make a change. And that’s part of what makes tech in healthcare different – you cannot go into healthcare with the mindset of driving home the highest profit. You are impacting individuals’ health and lives, so you need to be humble and empathise.
It also means that you can’t be as reckless as other tech companies. A lot of tech companies will work on the principle of failing fast and breaking things. You can’t do that when you are working in mental health and wellness. You can’t just realise some pilot to find out how people react and then bring out another version later. This is about building trust and ensuring that people believe you are really working towards a solution that is of benefit to them and not just your bottom line.
Innovate UK does a great job in filling the financial gap so that companies and organisations can focus on innovation in the right areas and in the right way.
How have you found working on your first software startup? What's it been like working with an external software delivery team?
It’s been a steep learning curve, that’s for sure! Especially in regard to how you create your business model. With my last business, it was very straight forward – cost of goods, cost of sale; all very straight forward, mostly material things. Decide on gross and net profit margin and work the model like that.
I was pretty taken aback to learn that a tech business does this all differently: high profit margins but also higher operating costs because all your spend goes to build the thing!
It’s also taken some time to get used to the language. I spend a lot of time articulating these ideas or ways of working only to find out that what I really mean is API or some swanky computer process. It’s all fascinating to learn, though.
Working with KOMODO has helped me to be able to focus on the things I am good at. I will never learn to code or build software but I am great on the mental health side of things. Having the external delivery team means that we at Myndr can focus on the support we provide, while the experts at KOMODO can focus on building the system that we place the support in.
Don’t get me wrong, there are probably people that feel that outsourcing the build of your tech is the wrong thing to do and I understand that. Emma and I had to make some big decisions – are we a software company or are we a mental health company? Because right now, at the stage we are at and with the money we have, we cannot be both.
I’m sure one day we will look to bring some of the tech in-house, but it’s reassuring that KOMODO are well versed in delivering projects for businesses, even ones that already have an in-house dev team. They can fill gaps, bring in new ideas, ways of working and support the process – being as hands on or as hands off as you need.
What's next for Myndr?
We are really busy right now. Being patient and slimming down when we have needed to has paid off big time. We are 6 months into our Innovate UK project, and working closely with HomeGroup on user testing and feedback. We also have some pretty exciting projects in the pipeline that involve the RAF.
And next year, we launch Myndr X Con, a night of exploration and insight into the mental health landscape today as well as the official launch of Myndr. KOMODO will be there too, of course, offering insight to the development process and our continued plans for the future and release of the application version.
It’s hosted by Alfie Joey of BBC Radio Newcastle and we will also feature a panel of local celebs to discuss their personal mental health stories and feature hopes for mental health support. Covid-19 aside, this will happen on Feb 4th 2021 at Northumbria University. Tickets and info can be found here.
Long-term, what really excites me is what we might be able to do with our anonymised, aggregated data. Through this, we may be able to create a better understanding of how people are choosing to solve their mental health and wellbeing issues – what works, what doesn’t, how to best support different people with more tailored ways.
We hope that one day, we might be able to help advise on Government and NHS policy and interventions in the mental health landscape, leading to better, faster and more personalised support for those that need it.
Finally, what would you recommend for someone struggling to innovate their product, service or organisation in 2020?
Create confinements around the way you can solve a problem to find creative solutions - Like I said, Myndr was forced to come up with ways to continue moving forward without money and without development experience. It’s certainly not easy, but it created the perfect environment for fresh thinking and unusual ways to solve our problem.
Collaborate. Myndr is still really small, with a team of four, and collaboration has powered us forward. We have found amazing partners, businesses, people and companies that are as passionate about what we are doing as we are and are totally up for helping us in any way they can.
Make time to be bored. Ever notice how sometimes the best ideas pop out when you are daydreaming or staring into space in the shower?
Forcing our brain to focus in so many different directions can sometimes feel like we are trying to squeeze more juice out of a dried up lemon and you will never get a great idea that way. It seems weird and lazy but taking time off and just sitting (don’t use your phone) can get your mind flowing again.
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