Making FounderJoy

by Charbel Semaan

This is how I created a side project using the Google Ventures design sprint model to support mental health in the startup community. It’s a curated email newsletter of science-backed research to alleviate founder depression.


Unpack

Unpack the idea and create a simple user story.

Run a Google search for “founder depression” and you’ll get about 32,500,000 results. It’s a growing problem in Silicon Valley and the global startup community. Influential community members are speaking up and showing support like Sean Percival, Brad Feld, Rand Fishkin, Sam Altman, and many more. There’s a great resource compiling many articles on the subject called Startup Depression.

Anonymous tools exist for founders, entrepreneurs, business owners, and creatives to share their struggles privately. 7 Cups of Tea offers “Free, anonymous, and confidential conversations with trained volunteer listeners…Over 3 million conversations.” Fantastic.

My friend Alejandro Foung is the founder and CEO of Lantern:

We envision a world in which people think differently about their mental health–where they feel empowered to take a simple step toward self-improvement. We’re on a mission to make this happen, and we hope you’ll join us.

Yep, I’m in. And I was honored to play a tiny part in providing usability feedback in their beta days.

Originally, after having lunch with a few friends working on various startups, I thought the problem we needed to solve was helping founders find co-founders. I’ve experienced that problem. I thought the struggle to find a solid co-founder might help alleviate the anxiety, stress, and depression.

My immediate thought was to design a Tindr-like swiping app allowing founders to search for co-founder matches. A technical founder could look for a business co-founder. A designer founder could look for a technical co-founder. And so on. Future versions might include investor matching and a community of startup enthusiasts who support one another and suggest matches. (Startup Connection with Chuck Woolery, anyone? Anyone? Bueller?)

An app would still take more time than I wanted to initially invest. I wanted to create something valuable almost immediately.

Must we default to an app as the solution to everything? What do you do if you can’t code? How do we start with something simple and immediate?

Here’s the problem statement:

Founders suffering from depression is a growing problem in the startup community.

Here’s how we can reframe it as an inquiry to solve:

How might we help founders develop an awareness and understanding of depression while positively communicating the importance of mental health (i.e. Break the taboo of depression in the startup community)?

Seasoned designers and entrepreneurs often say, “Scratch your own itch,” or “Solve a problem you face yourself so you understand the user’s/customer’s needs.”

I’ve experienced two major seasons of depression in my life and I’ve thankfully become more aware when I see the early signs of another season coming on. I asked myself, “What would I appreciate using or experiencing to help me with depression?”

I’ve been curious about psychology, neuroscience, and behavior science since I was a teenager. In the past couple years, I discovered a few psychology blogs that summarized interesting studies and experiments in layman terms. The summaries that caught my attention most were about depression, joy, happiness, and mental health.

I wondered what it would be like to receive science-backed research and insights so I could understand my struggles and experiences better.

Here’s the user story:

I want access to science-backed research, insights, and discoveries about depression in one place.

How might we make that possible? We’ll find out in Day #2 when we sketch.


Sketch

Draw as many potential solutions as you and your team can.

Since I’m flying solo on this project launch, I’m not creating a dozen potential solutions. As I mentioned, I originally planned to design a swipe-app to match founders with one another.

I knew I wanted something simpler, so I intentionally chose to move forward with a product concept I’ve been exploring: an email newsletter.


Decide

Pick a potential solution you sketched to start prototyping.

I decided to launch a simple email newsletter with curated science-backed articles, research, and insights. I sketched in-browser several different landing page concepts.

When it came time to pick a name, I used a few of my favorite tools. First, I visited Lean Domain Search to enter some keywords I might want to use. Here’s the list of keywords I made:

  • founder
  • startup(s)
  • happy
  • smile
  • joy
  • up
  • lift

I saw that founderjoy.com was available, but the Twitter handle was already taken. Usually, I sweat a detail like this when I’m creating a brand, but I chose to ignore it since a) the username is dormant and b) I’m not optimizing for social media following right now. I’m validating if people even show any interest in receiving a weekly newsletter.

Since I’ve missed out on domain names I wanted in the past due to inaccurate DNS info, I always double-check the domain name availability using Domainr.

I purchased the domain name using NameCheap, hosted the site using Bluehost, created the landing page with Landing Sumo templates (based on Bootstrap), and used MailChimp to set up the email opt-in form and email list management.

A couple newsletters I enjoy receiving (Jeff Reads Things and Hiten Shah) use specific tools for email newsletter curation. jeff vincent uses Goodbits and Hiten Shah uses Curated. Since I’m trying to validate interest, I chose Goodbits because it has a free option. I’m curious to try Curated for a future project, and I’ll share UI/UX insights with you when I do.

Keep in mind, I’m merely sourcing potential newsletter curation tools. I’m not setting them up yet because I haven’t validated if there’s real interest. I just want to get the landing page launched to test whether anyone signs up.


Prototype

Create a functional prototype to put in front of users.

I chose to initially prototype the newsletter landing page by editing the Made in Public landing page “in-browser.” In-browser editing simply means I edit the website content and structure within my browser (in my case, Chrome) to quickly edit and visualize how the site could look.

You can do this by visiting any site you wish in your browser, right-click anything on the page, and select “Inspect Element.”

This allows you to modify elements of the page like copywriting, images, colors, borders, etc.

As for branding, I chose to keep it minimal. I often fall back to old habits of searching for perfect icons, perfect fonts, and perfect unions of icons and fonts. No. Not this time. There’s no time to fuss and waste. Validate interest. That’s the main objective. To keep myself in check, I used one of my favorite fonts (Brandon Grotesque) because it’s calm, peaceful, and elegant in my opinion, and I opted for no icon, or mark, in order to focus on copywriting.

Logos can come later.

My first few iterations seemed too busy and complicated. That’s okay. One of the most important aspects of prototyping is to be scrappy and then pair down. Minimize. Remove and reduce what’s on the screen in order to get to a minimum version that will deliver the key message and allow users to do what’s necessary (sign up).

Eventually, I decided minimal is all I needed to get this launched. White background, dark legible text, and yellow as the accent color since yellow is typically associated with evoking joy, happiness, and action.


Test

Launch your prototype, observe, measure, and learn.

Before launching, I did some basic quality assurance (QA) and testing by signing up for the newsletter using one of my personal email addresses. I also confirmed the Google Analytics tracking code was installed properly.

It’s time to launch. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve launched a project and heard nothing but crickets chirping. And they didn’t even care about my project. (Oof, bad joke. I promise to keep those to a minimum.)

Since I’ve been focused on building the Made in Public private email list (join here, teehee), I first shared the launch with my community. Then I made a list of people I wanted to contact to help spread the word. The list was a mix of founder friends, startup advocates, people I’ve met at 500 Startups where I am a design mentor, Ryan Hoover at Product Hunt, people who manage startup newsletters, and a few startups in the mental health industry for possible sponsorships.

Note: My goal with sponsorships isn’t to make money. The goal is two-fold:

  1. Build awareness by associating with apps, startups, etc., in the industry
  2. Use their logos on the homepage (only with their permission of course) for added social proof and credibility

Results

I’ll share a breakdown of launch results in one of two ways:

  1. If it’s a hit, I’ll share the launch metrics, signup numbers, outreach details, etc., and…
  2. If it’s a dud, I’ll add a line below saying, “It was a dud.”

Help me make this a hit. Help me spread awareness for more mental health resources for the startup community. Help founders alleviate depression so they can live a healthy, joyful life while pursuing their entrepreneurial goals.

Tap/click the heart icon below to recommend this and spread the word.

IMPORTANT:
If you or someone you know is in serious need, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255.