Why mental wellbeing platform Hollis.io is putting the brakes on its growth

Hollis.io co-founders

Hollis.io co-founders Alexander Markov, Nate Kraizelburd and Guillaume Ang (left to right). Source: supplied.

Within months of launching a live product, the demand for mental health startup Hollis.io seems promising, but despite this, its three co-founders are intentionally limiting user growth to allow time for product development.

Amid growing awareness of the prevalence of mental health issues among workers, Hollis.io integrates into commonly used work platforms, such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, to match workers with mental health professionals from the privacy of their desks, at the click of a button.

While growth is undoubtedly a priority for the team of three, co-founder and chief executive Nataniel Kraizelburd tells StartupSmart the trio are deliberately onboarding users slowly to allow time for researching how to maximise results.

“We’re not going to be silly enough to go out to hundreds of thousands of users from the beginning,” Kraizelburd says.

“We have worked really hard to not have sales outpace our product development.

“So we’ve been learning a lot from our initial users, around the nature of their problems and the nature of the support they need,” he adds.

Even within this past month, Kraizelburd says the team has had to pivot their product’s direction based on learnings gathered from their current users.

Gathering data

Being aware of the sensitivity of the information that passes through the app, Hollis.io relies on what Kraizelburd describes as “high-level anonymous” data collection. More specifically, that means the users are only identified by the companies they signed up under and their Slack IDs.

In fact, some of the data is gathered before users are even logged in.

Kraizelburd says businesses are involved in a discussion before their employees are onboarded, and share contextual information such as if there is a new manager in charge of a large project.

Businesses, as well as employees, are also offered the opportunity to volunteer more feedback, and Kraizelburd says this level of involvement has also seen a shift in thinking about accountability over mental wellbeing in the office.

“We’re seeing organisations actually opening up to the idea of them taking some ownership of individuals’ mental health and supporting their employees,” Kraizelburd says.

Acting on learnings

Initially, Kraizelburd and Ang’s conversations with StartupSmart zeroed in on problems with accessibility, privacy, and issues with reaching out for mental health help in the workplace.

This informed their decision to release a product attached to popular platforms such as Slack.

The initial findings, that users were likely to open the Hollis app “several times a day, indicated to us that they were looking for some support but maybe had a bridge too far to actually get that help”, Kraizelburd says.

This led to key decisions to broaden their services to behavioural coaching, in an attempt to encourage users to use Hollis.io’s services in response to early signs of stress or decreasing work performance.

These symptoms include being distracted, losing quality sleep, anxiety and burnout.

Within the last few weeks, however, the co-founders have started leaning even more heavily towards early-stage intervention, rather than waiting for workers to self-identify with ongoing mental health issues.

“Traditionally, mental health help comes too late,” Kraizelburd says.

“So a solution that only improves access isn’t going to cut the mustard.”

Looking to academia

Now searching for solutions specifically addressing their users’ issues, the co-founders have had to look beyond existing solutions, turning to academics for guidance.

Talking to a PhD candidate studying early wellbeing engagement within a high school cohort, Hollis.io is piloting a similar approach where it offers ‘wellbeing coaching sessions’, instead of advertising ‘mental health sessions’.

The method boasts effectiveness with short, infrequent sessions, seeing participants improve goal-setting and resilience, Kraizelburd says.

The co-founders hope to replicate these results to negate more easily-identifiable mental health issues in Hollis.io’s users.

StartupSmart was invited to Antler HQ as the official media partner of Antler Demo Day 2019.

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