Episode No:93

Startup Success and Mental Health: Insights from Jiyun Hyo

Jiyun Hyo

Co-Founder and CEO, Seon Health

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Ep#93: Startup Success and Mental
Health: Insights from Jiyun Hyo (Co-Founder and CEO, Seon Health)
Ep#93: Startup Success and Mental Health: Insights from Jiyun Hyo (Co-Founder and CEO, Seon Health)
  • Ep#93: Startup Success and Mental Health: Insights from Jiyun Hyo (Co-Founder and CEO, Seon Health)

Episode Summary

In the 93rd episode of the Hyperengage Podcast, Jiyun Hyo, the founder of Seon Health, discusses his entrepreneurial journey and his focus on mental health solutions for start-up founders. Hyo shares his experiences transitioning from soccer to consulting and entrepreneurship, and how his personal experience with depression led him to develop Seon Health. Seon Health is a mental health chatbot that specializes in improving the relationship between entrepreneurs and their key business partners. Jiyun emphasizes the importance of developing a chatbot powered by the knowledge of a clinical psychologist and provides insights into the project’s validation stage. The conversation also touches on the challenges faced by start-ups and the importance of conviction and passion for entrepreneurs.
Key Takeaways Time
Knee surgery ended soccer career, sent Jiyun into depression at 21; startups brought him out of it. 3:58
When launching a startup, target desperate people, not just interested ones 6:26
Jiyun’s startup Seon Health uses AI to mimic top therapist logic for mental health chatbots 10:04
65% of startups fail in 2 years due to cofounder conflicts; Jiyun helps founders discover values, facilitate conversations 16:40
To overcome depression, Jiyun focused on light at the end of the tunnel; change takes time but bringing hope gave purpose 22:46
Don’t let LinkedIn successes make you doubt yourself; stay focused on conviction to solve problems 28:59
  • Antler
  • Cognito
  • Skillsoft

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[00:00:03] Taylor Kenerson: Hi everyone. Thank you so much for joining us on the Hyperengage podcast. I am Taylor, along with my co host Adil, and we have a beautiful guest today, Jiyun. Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you, really appreciate it. So you have to tell us you have a really interesting journey. You came here to America and you started to get involved in startups at a really young age. And I want you to just discuss that journey a little bit and how you went through a different couple of different startups before actually founding your own. And we'll dive into that journey a little later, but yeah, sounds great. [00:00:43] Jiyun Hyo: So I guess I can just give you a little bit about my background. So I'm from Korea and I moved to China when I was ten. I went to an American school in China and so in 2008, I came to Duke originally to study biomedical engineering and then I quickly realized that I wasn't really into engineering. It was really boring. And so after my sophomore year, I took a semester off and I went back to Shanghai and I joined an ad tech startup. So we're building like an adaptive learning platform. So that was when I was 21 and I was tasked with the goal of building a team of engineers, teachers and designers to build this platform for them. And so I went through a lot of hardships in building the platform, but we kind of made it successful after a lot of failures. So I worked on that project for two years and then we sold the company and I came out of the company and then I went to Beijing where I founded my own education consulting company. I did that for six years. It was actually really good money, a lot of cash coming in, but it was really not that intellectually stimulating because I was doing the same thing every year. Nothing new, pretty much, and I was basically like helping rich Chinese kids get into college. And so I came back to Duke in 2020, right before COVID So that was when I realized that I didn't want to do this for the rest of my life, the education consulting stuff. And then I came back to Duke and I changed my major to computer science and then I finished my bachelor's degree and I also did my master's degree. And I've always been involved in startups and I've also personally invested in three startups, like 50K each, and after all those companies failed, so I'm kind of poor now, but afterwards graduating, I always knew I wanted to do startups. So I don't know. People always ask me why I do startups, but I am like, why not startups? Because I've never thought about myself working for a big company. [00:02:47] Taylor Kenerson: It's the ebb and flow that the startups give you and that flexibility and you're constantly doing something new. It's definitely not like your last gig where it was a repetitive cycle of continuous thing. It gets to a point where you feel like a robot yourself and you start to question, what can I do that's more stimulating or actually can shape the world in a different way. I'm really curious to know what some of your lessons and takeaways were at your first startup, like going through all those failures, those lessons and then getting acquired because that knowledge really shaped how you then began your startup after the consultancy. [00:03:28] Jiyun Hyo: Yeah, when I first started out, I think the biggest takeaway was that you just have to have the grit to continue because people are going to tell you all these things. Even investors, even my own teammates would tell me that you can't make this successful and this is not the way to go. And I realized that you just have to push sometimes and keep talking to users. And also another thing that I learned is that you got to actually go for people who are desperate for a solution. If they're just supportive and they're smart and they're kind of interested, but if they're not desperate for a solution, then after a few failures, they kind of lose interest in you. And if you're going after those people, then it's going to be a long journey and it's not going to end up well. So to kind of tell you a story, when we first launched Adept Learning Platform, I didn't know any of that, so I thought the launch had to be perfect. So we prepared three months of advertising and marketing and we launched our perfect product to people. We built a waitlist and we launched it. My students, about 80 to 100 students, took like a four hour exam on the Adaptive Learning Platform. And at the end of the four hour we realized that none of the answers were recorded because when we were testing, we were kind of like clicking through the pages. And then the way we kind of made the platform was that they had to click submit at the end of the four hour exam to record all the questions. But some people were of course not at the last page. They couldn't finish the exam and none of the answers were recorded. So a lot of failures like that. But because these students were really desperate for a solution, even after that, they stuck around and we kept building. We kept building new things. We pivoted I don't know how many times. And then eventually I woke up one day and I saw so many emails and so much usage and the servers crashing and that's kind of when we knew that, oh, okay, maybe this is exactly what we wanted to build. And after that, everybody's attitude changed. But it was basically like hell until that moment. [00:05:37] Taylor Kenerson: Yeah, you were really in the trenches deep until you literally saw a little sparkle and you're like, wait, it can't be. Am I actually seeing these emails. Is this for real? As a founder, I mean, you know, you go through so much shit and it's that persistent dedication and just like you said, you might go into it with an initial idea, but it might turn out completely different and you have to be flexible and adaptive to that. So now kind of bridging into what you do now. What was your why for starting this company and can you explain to everyone a little bit about it? [00:06:12] Jiyun Hyo: Yeah, so we are sea on health. We're building mental health chat bots for young adults and also for founders and students. So my mental health journey kind of goes back to when I was in high school. So I used to play varsity soccer. I was the captain of my soccer team. And then in twelveTH grade I actually had a knee surgery. I had to get my meniscus removed from my right knee. And then afterwards my doctor was like, hey, we have a good news and a bad news. I'm like, okay, what's the bad news? I'm like, oh, you can't play sports anymore. I'm like what? And then I'm like, okay, then what's the good news? Because I'm Korean citizen and Korean men have to go to the army. But doctor was like, oh, you don't have to go to the army because your knees kind of messed up. I'm like, okay. And after that I kind of went into depression and people around me never knew that I was struggling because I was always seen as someone who was really like, he knew what he's doing, jiu knows what he's doing and he should be fine type of situation. And then I just really had to go through lots of therapy, lots of antidepressants, and then I came out of that and actually startup actually helped me come out of that because I found passion in startups. And afterwards I came back to Duke to finish my degree. I always knew I wanted to do startups again and then I realized that, okay, mental health is actually getting worse and worse for people, especially after the pandemic, and it's becoming a huge social issue in Korea and also in China. And I know that it's a huge issue in India and also in the US. And I saw that the mental health care system was broken. So I kind of wanted to utilize my knowledge and expertise in AI to kind of try to help people who are in need. So that's kind of how we got into the space and yeah, that's very interesting. [00:08:05] Adil Saleh: Thank you very much Taylor, for digging in deep into his personal journey. And now we're going to be more talking about his chatbot that is more on the therapy side. I know that there are so many solutions even pre the evolution of AI. In the recent times there were platforms like Siri Lexa. People can ask questions, they can ask personalized questions. Where they can get unique responses tailored to their personal needs. How do you think a chatbot like this? I know that Chat GPT Four has enabled a lot of in terms of data and in terms of making sure you have a bigger language modern where you can apply your solutions and build use cases and cures around it even still. How do you think this platform that you're talking about? It's more of a therapy chat bot where people can personalize and ask tailored questions to their problems. Pertaining to mental health is different than most that they have free access to or they offer. Even Chad GPT four. If you ask them questions, they can give you some personalized, case to case based answers that can serve a little bit. So how it stands out? [00:09:23] Jiyun Hyo: Yeah, I think a lot of large language models have been used to kind of maybe provide therapy. But then, first of all, when these language models were trained, they were not trained with the clinical aspect in mind. So they kind of go through what's the process, what's called a reinforcement, learning from human feedback. And the people who are giving feedback to these language models were not clinical psychologists. So they don't know what to say, what the right thing to say, or they don't even know how to detect, let's say, some sign of depression, some sign of anxiety and all these different things. So it's not clinically endorsed. And if you look at Chat GPT, if you ask for some, let's say, mental health solutions, it basically speeds out information. Hey, if you're depressed, try 123-4567. They give you a list of things to do and you're like, okay, it's like a textbook, so you might as well just go and read the textbook and learn it yourself and do that. But it doesn't really work that way because getting the people to talk about their problems and actually kind of dig deeper into why they're thinking this way and why they're feeling this way and then offering a tailored solution is what this clinical psychologists do by training. So what we did with our language model basically, is that we have a clinical psychologist in our co founding team and she got a PhD in clinical psychologists from Duke. And then her specialty in training was to develop digital interventions for people. So for our language models, we basically try to mimic the logic of a top therapist like her by having smaller models that determine the logic of the language model. So it's not just like one language model that spits out, it's like a black box where you give it an input and it spits out random stuff. We have actually smaller models kind of thinking through and asking the right questions that a top therapist would ask. Let's say, oh, is this person displaying signs of suicidality or is this person displaying signs of anxiety? So we have different models kind of judging that so with that, we kind of congregate all the different models decisions and then we have different states that kind of determine the output of the chat bot. So put it simply, we basically mimic what a top therapist would do when you're talking to them. So, yeah, before I really dug into the clinical psychology, I also thought that kind of mental health, oh, isn't it really easy just to offer them support and offer them empathy? But the more you dig deeper into it, there are actually clinical methods that are endorsed through the different trials and the training actually really helps and helps you kind of know how to respond to people for specific kind of outputs. So language models are good. If you're not desperate for a solution for your mental health, it looks like it's good. But let's say you're actually in need of help, let's say from release of your anxiety, depression and then you go to ChatGPT for help, it's not going to make you feel better. And a lot of the times our psychologist has told us that the ChatGPT responses are not what a psychologist should say to a patient asking for help. I absolutely love that. The fact that you have a clinical psychologist on your team that has done it for people and you're trying to make sure you take those expertise into mimicking and standardizing and later on productizing the entire journey of a patient, starting from asking the initial questions to digging in deep into navigating through the problems, initial problems with it. Is there any kind of personal assistance that's involved? At this point, what I get from what you've shared is you're trying to nail the initial process to do it for scale. And during the onboarding part, of course, thinking of monetizing it, you need to think of enrolling 30 patients a day, 100 patients a day, and then to 1000 patients a day. So how does that journey from a business standpoint look like at this moment and how you guys are trying to make sure the efficiency doesn't get compromised? Yeah, I think you're kind of referring to our go to market strategy. So I think our strategy is initially to actually target the founders because founders go through a lot of mental health problems because of stress from co founder conflicts, stress from the investors and stress from not having enough time to spend with their family and friends. And so we are actually going to start what's called the Antler Residency Program in New York with all these other potential co founders. So we're going to actually talk to them. And I think my philosophy here is to kind of build something initially for people who I have direct access to. That's like the business aspect of it. It's all about iterating, right? Because clinical psychologists might have all this clinical knowledge, but then we need to tailor that knowledge for specific people's problems. And I think initially we are trying to solve these problems for founders. And yeah, if you're scaling this, of course there might be some people who are not being helped by this and have all these different problems that arise from scaling. But I think just like in the beginning, talk to a few. Our goal is to find passionate people and desperate people looking for a solution. And maybe if we can find like five of them, we will iterate with them until we feel like the product is mature and then we tend to kind of go and kind of scale it afterwards. Got you. [00:15:11] Adil Saleh: So right now you're kind of at the stage, you're building a product and trying to hand it over and validate this with a few founders that have this problem. And you're trying to make sure this delivers value to a handful of people that fit in that profile. And how far are you guys to this process? Entire process? Like how many founders you guys spoke to and what are the results? How you're going to be measuring success of time to value deliverance with these handful of people? [00:15:40] Jiyun Hyo: Yeah, so I mean, we've spoken to about like 20 different founders, people who've actually exited and also people who've actually failed. And also I've spoken to my founders that I've invested in and we basically have interest. But we are kind of actually at this stage where we're kind of struggling to see what the initial value we provide to these sort of founders are because the startups in the early stages, they don't have cash and mental health solutions are not on their priority list. And so they do have the problem. They're desperate for a solution, but they have so many problems to begin with that they don't want to pay for this mental health solution. So that's the struggle. And we have basically conducted qualitative interviews with these founders and then found that they find it really hard to deal with their stress and also with their co founder conflicts and because they've never really talked about the values upfront with the co founders. So I've also had people tell me that they've worked at a problem for eight months before finding out that the co founders had different values from each other. And so this is something that we kind of feel like we could offer immediate help. And you said that basically how do you prove that this is helpful? Right, so from a clinical perspective, we need to run a lot of clinical trials and that could take about two to three years to actually prove the efficacy of the solution. But obviously we don't have that much time in the startup world. And so what we plan to do is instead of, let's say, offering mental health solutions and then maybe okay, over time it proves helpful. We want to do like an initial assessment of, let's say, all the co founders values and then we will have used executive coaching therapy methods to actually help them discover each other's values and also at the same time, kind of facilitate the difficult conversation upfront so that the companies don't break up because of cofounded conflicts. And we're doing this because we realized that after talking to a lot of founders and also doing research, that 65% of companies fail or they break up because of co founder conflicts absolutely. In the first two years. [00:17:57] Taylor Kenerson: And I think too, you're talking about something really important, especially on the mental health aspect. Normally from my experience and from others that I've encountered, when you face a challenge or some kind of rut or you can't get out of this point in your life, whether that's anxiety, depression, whatever that looks like to you, there's a lot of reasons why that you're feeling this way. It's normally not just that one scenario you ran into that sparked this anxiety or depression that's actually sending you into it. It's because of a compounding effect of multiple times or maybe one experience that you never dealt with. So it's truly uncovering these root causes and these root problems as to why you are the way you are. Who am I? I can't even tell you my values. If you don't really know who you are as a person and where you stand, where your values are personally, and then being able to relay that. And that's like key too to relationships. I mean, before you even look at business models or GTM strategies or whatever, it's a relationship amongst people or amongst a co founding team or you and your customers. But at the end of the day, it starts with a relationship. But if you first don't have that relationship with yourself, then everything else is going south. And I think you hit it on the head is you need to get to this root problem. And if you're not sure of it, what are the resources? What are the solutions that can help you inch your way there because it's on your mind, you're feeling the effects of it. But maybe you're not willing to spend money on a therapist or on some tool that can help you because you're just not in that desperate space. So what does your plan look like for maybe three months, six months in the future, taking this knowledge and having these different conversations? You said you're going to this residency. That's amazing. So yeah, what does your future look? [00:19:59] Jiyun Hyo: I mean, so the residence program is going to be from October to December. So we're going to be talking to a lot of founders. And also Antler is a VC firm and the Antler is kind of interested in digging deeper into our solutions. So I don't know if VC firms are going to be interested in purchasing our solution because after I talked to a few VC firms, they're like, oh, okay, we offer office hours or we offer dinner times. I'm like office hours are not for mental health. So it's really like an uphill battle because I don't think a lot of people understand, especially men don't understand what mental health really means for them and it's not intuitive for them because they're like mental health. This is not important. [00:20:46] Taylor Kenerson: I really want you to if you don't mind diving into this because I think it's an important conversation to be had. When you were going through your mental health challenges, you said startups kind of brought you out of that hole because you were able to recognize a new passion outside of the sport. But what were some of the tools or resources or thinking models or frameworks that you implemented to pull yourself out and then also to be courageous enough to speak about it? Because you don't hear many people saying, yeah, I have problems, I have problems. We all deal with shit. And whatever title or word you want to put on the problem is one thing. But what are some tools that you can offer and some advice? Because we have so many people listening to this from founders to people that are thinking of starting their product, to people who have exited to VCs. So if you don't mind diving a little bit into that. [00:21:47] Jiyun Hyo: Yeah, so I mean, I was really young then. I was like 21. I didn't know anything about mental health. I mean, I knew I was going through depression, I knew I went through therapy, but it was not helping me at all. And I think the thing for me was that my mind started racing when I wasn't doing anything and thinking about stuff. So I couldn't sleep and I would always go down this spiral, emotional spiral of okay, I'm worthless, I'm not useful, stuff like that. But then when I started doing startups number one, I was distracted in a sense because I was talking to a lot of people. And then startups basically really help you meet a lot of people and see their perspective. And then I realized, okay, this isn't the only way to view my problem. And so that kind of gave me some courage. And then at the same time though, when the failure kind of is lasting and that I have some successes, those successes gave me confidence more and more and some kind of conviction. And I kind of felt myself being addicted to this process of okay, proving people wrong in a sense. At the same time helping people and just hearing back their feedback and this loop of kind of, oh yeah, you're actually doing something, making a change. And when I realized that change actually requires time, but when you put your time into it and energy into it, it will come at the end. So when I knew that at the end of the tunnel there's some hope waiting for me, there's some light waiting for me, I think it kind of gave me a lot of hope gave me a lot of, I guess, conviction that this is the right direction. And I think when I fell into depression, it was because I kind of always had this feeling of, oh, my life is over. This isn't going to improve. It's never going to get better. But then when I saw that light at the end of the tunnel, I was like, okay, well, it's going to get better, even if it sucks. So that's kind of like the model that I was adapting. [00:23:42] Taylor Kenerson: That's great. And I so resonate that. When you think about some of the most valuable things in the world, relationships, right? Companies, they didn't happen overnight. Maybe they went on the stock market overnight and IPOed overnight. But that success didn't just happen. It was years of effort, time, investment, whatever that looks like. And I think that's a real big misconception when it comes to some of the tools that can help you with your mental health, like meditation or breath work or yoga or these other modalities of helping yourself, eating better, it takes a little bit of effort and it's a struggle. And you might not feel the benefits right away. It might take you a couple of weeks or months, and you might not get there for a little bit. But understanding that you are changing things that you've been doing for your whole life, and you're changing your neural pathways and these neural circuits, and it really does take time. And if you look to science and the biology of the human body, things don't just happen quickly and swiftly. So if you want these benefits of helping yourself and being that advocate for yourself and lifting yourself up so you can help others, you have to understand that these tools, it takes a little bit. You have to put time and effort into it. Just like a startup, just like anything that you would do that you care about, care about yourself in the same way, and take time to understand all the different resources that are out there. And don't just say, okay, yeah, I'm depressed. That's it the world's over. No, help yourself. There are resources out there that can truly shape you. And for anyone out there that's listening, that's struggling, I'm here for you. Send me a message. You got this. It's really important that we all share in the common theme that we're humans, we have a mind, we have a heart, we're affected by things. When VCs tell you no over and over again, yeah, it has an effect on you regardless of how thick your skin is or whatever that might be like, it hurts, but it doesn't mean that you have to take it personally and quit. And I think that's a really important key nugget that we can all take away from this conversation is to keep going and keep uncovering the true meaning of why you're here, what your purpose is, what your values are who you are 100%. [00:26:03] Jiyun Hyo: Yes, absolutely. [00:26:04] Taylor Kenerson: And I think pretty much covered everything. Oh, go ahead, Adil. [00:26:11] Adil Saleh: I'm sorry. We came across Cognito two years back. It's also a healthcare stimulation platform. They're mostly investing into the education sector, education institutes and all. Later they got acquired by Send Learning. Now they are a send learning company. They recently got shut down, but not all of their operations. They have certain products. If you just look at their case studies, they have products that are helping these students get over their mental health issues and they have entirely productized. They are sort of healthcare simulations tailored to mental health issues for students early on in their lives. And we worked with them for about two years. And all this time was thinking that it is still a big enough problem. But not a lot of companies or business entities or even government has not invested too much. Into productizing it or having an easy access to these people studying during their dad time and of life, where they need the most of that's. Why probably they got shut it down like they first acquired it and they shut down the entire company that's been there for about 20 years now. And they showed the intent that this is not something worth an investing, but it actually is because it's big enough a problem, but they're not able to find a solution that is easy to access for for all and easy to apply as well. It's not just about getting your doctor, your clinical psychologist, getting an appointment, have some three sit ups in the month and get your problem solved. It's not just about it. It's about enabling yourself. Do it on your own by productizing it. And if you just look at some of the products I couldn't find it today. I was looking through their website, maybe they recently got shut down in the beginning of August. Maybe they have removed it. But if you can still find some of their healthcare simulations, that would be super helpful for you. [00:28:21] Taylor Kenerson: And I do want to end on this note, June, if you wouldn't mind just sharing one piece of advice that you would like to give to someone out there in the world, whether they're a new founder just starting their first company or this is ten years in and they're about to exit. [00:28:40] Jiyun Hyo: Wow. So I guess one word of advice. I wouldn't say advice, but just say it's so easy to get kind of sidetracked by all the successes that you read on LinkedIn and it's basically like the effect that social media has on you. It's like, oh, everybody's raising so much money, everybody's finding product market fit. And you always try to question yourself. Like you said, if VC starts saying no, if customers start saying no, you start doubting yourself. But at the end of the day, if you have a conviction for the problem you're trying to solve and you. Know that there are people desperate for a solution, just keep going and don't let other people's successes or other people, like posting things on LinkedIn kind of get to you. And that's kind of what I realized. Yes. [00:29:33] Taylor Kenerson: And we're all smart enough to know too. The algorithm only shows a couple of people, there's billions of people out there. So the couple of friends that you keep seeing on your feed, amazing for them. But there's also a large majority that are not reaping those same talking about success. [00:29:50] Adil Saleh: Exactly. Success. Talking about success. We get to meet a lot of these companies, some big, very successful. But there is one thing I notice that is like, if you talk about passion, if you talk about how bad you want to do that thing, be it product or anything, there's always going to be one person. Most of the times there's one person behind that vision that is compassionate, that's passionate to do that, no matter the result, like whether it's success or failure. So it's just about it like if you really want to do something, you don't care about success or failure, you got to make sure that you find ways. You need to align resources, align everything that it's needed to get it done because you want it to do so. Just like Elon Musk says, at some point you need to figure out if something is important to do and all the ODS are against you, you got to do it. So it's just about it. That mindset, as you mentioned, is really important for a founder. Yeah, definitely. [00:30:53] Taylor Kenerson: Amazing. [00:30:54] Jiyun Hyo: Yeah. [00:30:54] Taylor Kenerson: We so appreciate this conversation, Jiyun, and the time that you took with us today and all of the nuggets. [00:31:00] Jiyun Hyo: Thank you. [00:31:01] Taylor Kenerson: Thank you so much for joining us. [00:31:03] Jiyun Hyo: Yeah, thank you, Taylor and Adil for having me here. Thank you so much. Yeah, it's a pleasure. [00:31:07] Taylor Kenerson: And we'll definitely chat with you in the future, maybe a year out, when you have everything settled, your product, you're in the market, things are going amazing. So exciting for that future conversation. Thank you so much again. Have a beautiful day. [00:31:20] Jiyun Hyo: Thank you so much. Yeah, you too. Thank you. Thank you. Bye.

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