Advice from Mental Health Entrepreneur, Chakameh Shafii of TranQool
Recently, we had the privilege of interviewing Chakameh Shafii, Co-founder of TranQool, an online therapy platform. Chakameh is a Toronto native, who obtained a Bachelor of Engineering and a Master of Mechanical Engineering from the University of Toronto. During her Master’s degree, Chakameh founded the WISE National Conference, which encourages women in STEM to innovate and become leaders. Now, Chakameh is revolutionizing access to mental health services, through TranQool. In our interview, Chakameh shares her experiences in starting TranQool, offers insights into her life as an entrepreneur, and provides advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.
What is TranQool and how did it start?
TranQool is a mental health platform, that connects people with registered therapists, clinical social workers and psychologists. If you are feeling stressed or depressed, you can open up your laptop and book a video session with our therapists. Our licensed therapists have expertise in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a type of evidence based therapy. TranQool offers many advantages over the conventional method of therapy: you don’t need a referral from a family doctor; you can access therapy instantly, and determine if it’s going to be helpful for you. TranQool is also covered by insurance benefit programs, so it’s more affordable.
Since I experienced anxiety, I tried therapy, which transformed my life. I recommended therapy to everyone, but most people did not try therapy because of the costs associated with it, the lack of accessibility and the stigma. So, thinking that there had to be a better way, I reached out to my cofounders and we started TranQool.
Depression and anxiety might seem like temporary mood swings. However, if you don’t get help early on, these changes in mood can develop into something more problematic. School is so stressful. A lot of times when we go through school, we don’t even know what we’re feeling. We have anxiety, but we don’t know what it’s called. Sometimes, we don’t have anyone to go to. So we tend to neglect our mental health. But if you get help at the beginning, you will have a plan for your physical and mental health. Then things are all on your own terms.
What is your typical day like?
Typically, I wake up around 6:30. Since Im not a morning person at all, I make a shake or oatmeal. I get to work around 8-8:30. I love starting work earlier; it lets me get tasks that require more attention done. Around 10:30- 11, I start meetings. These meetings often go back-to-back and end around 6:30-7:30. I work six days a week and take Sundays off.
I love being an entrepreneur. Every morning, I wake up and I’m very motivated to work. The long work hours do not bother me at all because I dont feel the time passing by.
What are the most rewarding and most challenging experiences you’ve had as an entrepreneur?
I had a live demo of TranQool in front of five hundred people for an event called Tech TO in February. Afterwards, an audience member told me that they had a session on TranQool the next morning. The most rewarding thing was following up with them. That person emailed me a full page of descriptions, raving about their experience.
The most challenging aspect is that we don’t get sick days because theres no one to fill our shoes. There are five of us, but we have very different portfolios. If someones not feeling well that day, they still have to work from home, because they are irreplaceable.
What sorts of lessons have you learned in entrepreneurship? Are there any resources that youve used to help you (i.e. blogs, incubators, etc.)?
Lesson number one is not to be afraid to ask for help. Despite our engineering backgrounds, we started a company on improving mental health. At the time, we had no idea how challenging the mental health system is, nor did we know about its number of regulations.
Luckily, there are a ton of resources: blogs, research innovation centers, and incubators. There’s an incredible amount of online content, about everything entrepreneurship. Anything you want to learn, it’s online.
Incubators on campus are really important resources. We’re actually from OCAD’s incubator. Incubators can help you access government funding, develop a business plan, and have other resources.
The second lesson I’ve learned is to live in the moment. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by your worries, so I’ve found it useful to react to situations as they occur. For example, you can get stuck on perfecting a product, because you get so focused on your vision. But this focus can be detrimental, because you can lose track of the bigger picture. Is it worth investing that time into developing the product?
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Firstly, you wont know until you try. Just jump into it. However, if you are the type of person who would be unhappy with downgrading your lifestyle for a while (ie. spending less money on shopping, rent, car, food), this may not be the best advice.
Secondly, plan ahead financially. Since most businesses fail, you have to have a contingency plan. Make sure you have enough money saved. Alternatively, find a part-time job. Make sure that you have a sustainable financial plan, so that you can continue to work on your start-up.
Thirdly, find cofounders. My cofounders are amazing; we’re an incredible team; we provide so much support to each other.
Fourthly, make sure that whatever you’re starting, its something youre happy waking up to everyday. Avoid doing things because they’re popular and it’s what everyone else is doing.
Lastly, failures are inevitable. To deal with it, I try to live by a quote from Bob Marley: “You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is your only option.” When you do fail, remember that you gave yourself the chance to try. Now, when you move beyond this failure, you have a new opportunity to prove that you are strong enough.
TranQool is currently recruiting for Ambassadors to act as champions of mental health. Learn more here.