My mental wellness journey began six years ago when I suffered my first major depression. Later that year, I sat my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course. In the span of 12-months I experienced the downside of a poor mental state and the upside of a peak mental state. It took a few years for that inspiration to truly seep in. Last year, I decided to place mental wellness as my personal North Star Metric. This led me to make many lifestyle changes, to rebuild consistency in my meditation practice, and to experiment with new tools. I have been rewarded with significant step-change improvements in the quality of my day-to-day life (despite the unavoidable daily fluctuations). More importantly, I feel like I have become a better friend, colleague, and person.
After stepping away from my first startup two years ago, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. I shadowed 15 start-up CEOs across six industries and four countries. I launched a micro-fund and started angel investing (learnings shared here). I helped launch a high-growth social commerce scale up. I dove into Fintech, Crypto, Web3, SaaS and all of the other hot trends. It was all exciting, but none if felt right for me.
I initially started to explore the mental wellness start-up ecosystem as a customer. My goal was to find tools to improve my existing mental fitness practices. As I dug in, I uncovered an innovative, impactful, and growing sector. I began to make angel investments into the space. I mapped the 200+ leading companies, tried 100+ products, met with 50+ founders, and made 6 investments.
After a year long deep dive, I am convinced mental wellness will be one the most exciting growth sectors over the next decade. I have enough confidence to dedicate my fund and the next chapter of my career to the space (another announcement coming soon!). Finally, it feels right.
With that, I am excited to officially launch MindEd Ventures, an early-stage micro-fund that invests into technologies that help people improve their mental wellness and live their best lives.
As I officially launch the fund, I want to share with you the key insights that have led me to focus on mental wellness. I decided to split these insights across two articles with two distinct objectives:
1/ To share why I passionately believe mental wellness will be one of the most exciting and impactful sectors to invest and build in over the next decade. The hope is to encourage more builders, investors and supporters to join so we can collectively create tools to improve the quality of life for billions of people. This will be the focus of this article.
2/ To share my view on the Future of Mental Wellness and the 5 themes that excite me most in the space. As part of this overview, I will cover a number of products that have helped me on my mental wellness journey. I hope there will be inspiration and new ideas for those on their own journey. This is the focus of the follow up article.
Together, these articles are the fund thesis for MindEd Ventures. A stake in the ground that will most certainly evolve as the sector quickly develops.
Why Mental Wellness?
The first question you might be asking is why mental wellness. Isn’t it mental health? Let’s start by aligning on how I think about these terms to ensure we are all on the same page.
In my framework, mental health is a spectrum that covers both mental illness and mental wellness. Mental illness covers those who are clinically diagnosed with a mental condition (e.g., general anxiety disorder (GAD) or depression). According to the WHO, 1 in 8 people on the planet are living with a mental illness. Many more of us, while not mentally ill, are not living in an optimal state of mental health. 3 out of 4 US adults report active symptoms of stress (headache, fatigue, anxiety) and 55% of US adults reported feeling very stressed the day before taking the survey (some countries are even higher). An astonishing 75–90% of all doctor visits worldwide are a result of stress-based conditions. Our society has normalized these symptoms as a by-product of a busy life.
Mental wellness is a broad category covering everyone who does not have a clinically diagnosed mental illness. This includes the billions of us who suffer from one or multiple sub-clinical conditions (severe stress, anxiety, fatigue) on one end, to the many fewer of us who have achieved mental mastery on the other (which at its extreme I believe can allow one to overcome all challenges in life). Mental fitness represents any activity (e.g., meditation) that supports one to improve their mental wellness and move towards mental mastery.
The core focus of MindEd Ventures is on the mental fitness tools that will allow us to improve our collective mental wellness.
Mental wellness has been an exciting investment frontier for over a decade. VC money has been flowing in but it hasn’t gone particularly well. Most publicly traded companies in the space have lost 50–90% of their value in the past few years. However, there are 3 reasons why I believe the industry is at an inflection point and why I think more people will be investing more money into their mental wellness in the coming 5–10 years:
1/ We are in a mental wellness crisis. Many attribute the mental health pandemic to the recent COVID pandemic. I believe COVID just exacerbated the root cause — our growing reliance on addictive apps to interact with the world. An average American spends 5 hours on their phone and 2.5 hours on social media. For those under 30 years old, these numbers are double.
I believe in 10-years we will look at social media and our broader relationship with addictive technology in a similar way to how we look at sugar today. Sugar, along with processed foods, was one of the biggest drivers of the obesity crisis. Obesity in the US tripled between 1960 and 2000. The 21st century has been a tipping point for physical wellness. Between 2011–18, many countries and states introduced taxes on sugary drinks and products. A plethora of new products and tools have entered the market over the past 20 years to support us to live more physically healthy lives. Awareness has grown rapidly. While not eliminating sugar completely, many people have a healthier relationship with their nutrition and physical wellness than they did 20-years ago (although we still have a long way to go). Even continuous glucose monitors, a product typically used only by those with diabetes, are starting to go mainstream.
Now, we are facing a new crisis. We are becoming mentally obese. Many of us are moving in the wrong direction on the mental health spectrum. And it is not our fault. Just like sugar and other chemicals are put into our food to have addictive qualities, digital products are built to capture and hold our attention. But not all sugar is bad. In fact, we need (natural) sugar to survive. Technological advancement too is inherently a good thing. It has, and will continue to increase the quality of our life. It is the aggressive tactics to capture and monetize our attention coupled with progressively easier access (smart phones and smart watches) that has left many of us without a moment in the day when we can be fully present with ourselves.
The obesity crisis was the trigger for the physical wellness movement. I believe the attention economy will be the catalyst for the mental wellness revolution over the next decade. Billions of people are suffering and it is getting worse. Mental fitness is no longer a vitamin. It is a pain killer.
2/ Mindfulness has gone mainstream. 10-years ago, meditation was gaining popularity, but most remained skeptical about the benefits. In 2012, only 1.9% of US Adults completed at least one mindfulness practice. By 2021, that number is 14%. Opening up about mental health was considered taboo, especially in the workplace. Now, 4 of 5 employers in the US who offer insurance benefits also offer a mental health benefit and in 2020, 40M American workers received mental health support through their employers. Most importantly, the benefits of meditation and mindfulness have been validated across hundreds of scientific studies.
Early pioneers like Calm, Headspace and Insight Timer have played an integral role in bringing meditation and mindfulness practices to millions of people. But a base meditation practice is just the start. Everyday I see many people around me start their day with a 5-minute meditation practice and then spend the rest of the day in high stress fight or flight mode. That is the equivalent of going on a 5-minute jog and then eating spoonfuls of sugar the rest of the day. It is a good starting point, but not enough to move the needle on the mental wellness spectrum.
There is so much more we can do to build off of this foundation. The market is ready for the next generation of mental fitness solutions that are more personalized, impactful and rooted in a deeper understanding of our brain.
3/ Neuroscience is advancing quickly. The book Future of the Mind predicts the neuroscience innovations that will change our reality over the next 50 years. It was published in 2014. I read it last year only to realize that many “future innovations” covered in the book are already in the market. We still have a long way to go to understand our brain, let alone reverse engineer it, but the industry is speeding up. The biggest catalyst of the acceleration is and will continue to be data.
Brain sensors are getting cheaper and better. For the first time, we can build products with medical grade sensors at a consumer price point. This means that data that was collected in a few neuroscience labs scattered across the world can now be gathered in every home. It may take time for us to get comfortable giving access to our brain data, but it will soon be the new normal (luckily great organizations are already working hard to protect us). The expected growth in consumer brain technology over the next 5–10 years will give neuroscientists exponentially more data to rapidly advance our understanding of the brain.
There have also been strong advancements in the BCI (brain-computer interface) sector over the past few years. According to Blackrock Neurotech, 36 people already have a computer interface implanted into their brain. This number will grow quickly as Synchron recently announced the first FDA approved BCI device. Neuralink and Science Corp don’t seem too far behind. Graphene promises to be the world’s most sensitive sensor which will increase our ability to read neural signals by 10x. This will catalyze a new wave of BCI innovation. As more people get BCI implants, the depth of the data we have on the brain will dramatically increase.
Exponentially more data will lead to a much better understanding of our brain. A deeper understanding of our brain will unlock the next wave of product innovation which will enable us to improve our mental wellness in a much more personalized and impactful way. And as you will see in the follow up article, some of these innovations are already being launched.
These are the reasons why I believe mental wellness will be an exciting industry from a commercial perspective. But other sectors have equally attractive headwinds. Why I have decided to invest my time, energy and capital into mental wellness is the deep rooted belief that an investment into mental wellness can have the highest return on quality of life.
Why Should We Care?
Every day we face many problems in our lives. Some are caused by our own actions and others we have no control over. Advancements in technology have been helping us solve many of these problems for centuries. But the truth is, no matter how many solutions we come up with, there will always be new problems in life. We will continue to discover innovative ways to solve our problems. Isn’t it equally important to support ourselves to better deal with the inevitable stream of problems that will arise?
Our mind plays a key role in how we interact with the external world. It is the filter by which we integrate the external world into our inner experience. Our inner experience, not the external world, is what has the biggest impact on the quality of our life. By improving our filters, we can improve our wellbeing. Mental fitness helps us improve these filters. With improved mental wellness, our never ending supply of external problems becomes less relevant. We become more resilient and better at solving our problems.
I believe investing into scalable mental fitness tools is the fastest way to improve the collective human condition. However, we need to be careful. Technology will never create a silver-bullet path to enlightenment. If you want to become physically fit, you need to do the work. Buying dumbbells or a fancy fitness machine alone will not get you there. There is no replacement for the hard work and disciple that a meaningful mental fitness practice requires. That said, the next generation of personalized mental fitness tools can make our practices more effective, help measure our progress, and keep us motivated on the long path to mental mastery.
My confidence comes from personal experience. A commitment to mental fitness has dramatically increased my quality of life. To a higher degree than I could have ever imagined when I started. A big part of my progress over the past year can be attributed to the many new tools (which I will share in the next article) that I have integrated into my practice. Most of these tools have been launched in the past 3–5 years. This is just the start. Thanks to these tools and my commitment to mental fitness, I am now more joyful, patient, productive, and creative. My quality of life continues to improve every day. I cannot wait to invest into new innovations that will enable billions of others to do the same.
Opening the doors for collaboration
My intention with this article was to pique your interest in the mental wellness space. If I was successful, there are many ways to collaborate:
- If you are building mental fitness tools, please reach out. MindEd Ventures invests in pre-seed and seed stage rounds. You can learn more about the investment process and philosophy in my previous article.
- I am looking to build out an advisory group for the fund (formal and informal). If you are interested, please let me know by reaching out directly on LinkedIn.
- If you are considering a career in venture capital, I am looking for a part-time associate to help with DDs (5–10 hours per week). This could be a great opportunity for those who are passionate to get involved.
- If you want to stay in the loop on what is happening in the industry, I am considering launching a community to share updates and discuss models. If you have interest, please leave a comment with your email.
- I am still relatively new to this industry. If you disagree with any of my views, please challenge them — I look forward to learning from you.
If you enjoyed this read, I welcome you to check out the follow up article where I cover my views on the Future of Mental Wellness and the 5 themes I am most excited about in the space.