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Engineer-Turned-Entrepreneur Richa Singh On Why She Founded 'YourDOST' An Emotional Wellness Startup
Hailing from a typical middle class family, Richa Singh grew up in an environment where entrepreneurship is neither practised, nor encouraged. Both her parents have government jobs and they believe 'business is too risky'. They always believed in the simple mantra – go to a good college, earn well and have a settled life. However, life had different plans for Richa.
After completing graduation in the field of Usability Engineering, Human Computer Interaction and Interaction Design at IIT Guwahati, Richa has worked with various organisations such as Product Manager at Webfluenz, MuSigma and o9 Solutions.
In late 2014, Richa got together with Puneet Manuja, IIM-B alumnus and Prakhar Verma, a computer science graduate from BMSCE, Bangalore to start YourDOST - a company that revolves around bringing emotional wellness solutions to users who can seek support from psychologists and other experts while staying completely anonymous. In November 2015, her company raised Rs.2.5 Crore in an angel funding round, a sum that she and her co-founders are investing in marketing and expansion initiatives.
In an exclusive interview with CrazyEngineers, Richa Singh discusses her journey from IT world to the startup world, the motivation behind her idea, the challenges they face, the competition and a lot more. Read on!
Richa Singh , Co-Founder, YourDOST
CE: Tell us about your experience at IIT Guwahati (any prominent memories from that time).
Richa Singh: It taught me independence and team-work. We have done multiple projects in groups where we had to take the complete responsibility. That is the first time I realised that with freedom comes responsibility. The incident about friend – and hostel-mate – committing suicide changed my perspective towards life and also helped me find the purpose of life.
CE: How would you describe your journey from IT world to being a startup owner?
Richa Singh: I was working as a product manager in my last company. But I always wanted to start YourDOST because this is something I believe in, and it is something very close to my heart.
Contributing to create something meaningful is what drove me to start YourDOST.
Starting your own venture brings a lot of responsibilities with it. Each day brings a new challenge and new learning opportunities. But I am enjoying it because I am working on something I believe in. ?
CE: What was the motivation behind starting YourDOST - An Online Counselling and Emotional Wellness Portal? What research/planning went in behind before starting YourDost? Tell us the entire behind-the-scenes story.
Richa Singh: The idea took birth out of a personal experience: When I was at IIT Guwahati, my hostel-mate committed suicide due to anticipation of bad placement. None of us had any clue of her suffering before she took such a drastic step. I think this could have been avoided. Even though we had counselors, psychologists in the campus but hardly anyone was seeking their support/help.
When I started working, people around me were stressed due to job pressures and relationship issues. However again, most of these people were not willing to talk about their problems fearing social implications and for the fear of being called mentally ill.
With these questions haunting me, I started researching in this field to find answers. I spoke to a lot of them and also to many counsellors and psychologists in the field, and got a lot of insights into this. The main problem people had was to be anonymous. They did not want anyone to know, even if they approached psychologists and this itself stopped them from seeking help.
That’s when I conceptualised a system YourDOST - an online emotional wellness coach - where people can anonymously seek support. I initially shared this idea with Satyajeet, our other Co-Founder and he loved the idea. He also believed that through YourDOST, we will be able to help a lot of people. The day I shared the idea with Satyajeet, he started coding to make the YourDOST website, and within 24 hours we had it up! That is how the idea started shaping up into a technology product.
With a few hurdles that came his way in terms of moving to India became a serious roadblock to scaling our technology. We were fortunate to discuss the idea with Prakhar (ex-Capillary). He joined our mission and helped us take our product to the next level. Since then things started falling in place.
Through YourDOST, anyone going through emotional problems or anyone wanting to seek personalized guidance or help on self improvement, or issues pertaining to relationship, career, parenting, etc. can chat with our experts anytime, anywhere, while being completely anonymous.
Through personalised guidance, our experts help you develop:
- Healthy personal relationships
- A productive and satisfying work-life balance
- A more focused approach towards achieving your goals
- A more confident self
- The ability to deal with stress, anxiety, depression and pressures of all kinds and from many sources – personal, societal, peer, etc.
CE: What challenges did you face in initial days of running YourDOST? How did you tackle them?
Richa Singh: Initially to get people to open up was not easy. Given the status of mental health in our country, not everyone were comfortable with the idea of approaching a counsellor. There were several questions like, “Will people be able to trust online counselling?” “Is online counselling effective?” and many more such questions.
Another challenge I faced was that I personally was not from a Psychology background and did not have the technical knowledge in this field. Extensive research and meeting more and more people from this field was the way ahead.
Also, what I had always believed in is that, anything is possible if you hold a strong will power.
Today YourDOST has already touched, more than 2,00,000 and we continue on this journey of breaking the stigma around mental health in the country.
CE: How does your startup differentiate itself from others in this space?
Richa Singh: We are trying to bring mental health to the forefront of physical health, and make expert help as widely and easily available as possible. In that sense, anonymity (people can talk to experts while being completely anonymous), ease of use (our platform is available on website, and also on mobile platform Android and iOS, through which people can talk to experts anywhere, anytime at their own convenience) and affordability (free, text based consultation while A/V services are priced at nominal amount of Rs. 500/- which is far less than the market price of about Rs. 1500 / 2000 per session, are some of the key differentiators for us.
CE: Tell us about the different packages/services YourDOST is offering. How do you go about pricing your services in this competitive market?
Richa Singh: We have a ‘freemium’ model for our business – Where primary features like text based consultants, live chat or messages are free for the user.
A few premium features like Audio and Video calls are paid at nominal amount of around Rs. 500/ as opposed to the market price of 1500/ per session.
CE: What are benefits of online counselling service over local counselling agencies?
Richa Singh: Both of them have their own pros and cons. Online counselling has a major advantage of mass reach and anonymity/ confidentiality. No one will spot you on your way to a counselling clinic and judge.
Given the stigma in our society pertaining to mental wellness and seeking help, online becomes the main solution for that. With the improving technology and hassle free video calls, it is bound to make the online experience seamless and as close as possible to an in-person counselling session.
This is why we chose online medium to start with.
On the other hand, if a case is very serious or requires clinical intervention, we prefer recommending them an in person session. We do not want to take a chance of the lagging video becoming a deal breaker in such a scenario. This is especially true in Tier 2 and 3 cities where the internet bandwidth is a bit slow.
CE: What kind of publicity/marketing you've done so far? How is the response in terms of no. of customers and overall traffic to the site?
Richa Singh: We rely on both online and on-ground marketing and advertising means to increase awareness about the importance of Mental Health and benefits of seeking counselling and guidance.
Further to increase the awareness and to educate people, content helped us a lot. We wrote stories, case studies, also did videos, etc. which helped in breaking the taboo.
Over the course of 1.5 years of our journey, over 2,00,000 people have sought guidance and support using our website/platform. We handle 600+ conversations everyday.
CE: Where is YourDOST office located? How big is YourDOST at the moment?
Richa Singh: YourDOST office is located in Koramangala, the start-up hub of Bangalore. We managed to attract some of the best talent in the market from premier institutes like IIT, IIM and from a few top companies like Flipkart, Mu Sigma, Vodafone, etc. Currently we are over 25 people strong (in house) working across counselling, Operations, Tech, and Marketing. We also have over 250 experts (which includes, counsellors, career coaches, mentors, etc) working remotely from across India.
CE: What will you say if you had to describe entrepreneurship in one line?
Richa Singh: Entrepreneurship is about believing that "IT IS POSSIBLE"!
CE: Any message to your readers aka engineers and wannabe entrepreneurs?
Richa Singh: No matter how many hurdles come your way but you cannot afford to lose focus. Believe in yourself and what keep moving, things will start falling in place.