In a recent episode of the Dealmakers’ Podcast, Alejandro welcomes Dr. David Mou, a distinguished figure in the mental health and entrepreneurship space.
The conversation delves into David’s personal journey, insights into mental health for entrepreneurs, the intersection of academia and startups, and his vision for the future of mental healthcare.
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From Chinese Immigrant to Harvard Graduate
David, a Chinese American, shares that his parents’ immigration to the United States shaped his upbringing. He and his identical twin brother were the only two Asian kids in their high school, an experience that left a lasting impact.
Both went on to attend Harvard, where David pursued neuroscience. His fascination with understanding human behavior and mental health ultimately led him to become a psychiatrist.
He completed his psychiatric training at Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital in Boston while founding multiple companies. Along the way, David developed a keen interest in psychiatry and was fascinated by his interactions with patients.
He was inspired by their stories as they talked about the challenges they were facing and the lowest points in their lives.
David draws parallels between the worlds of medicine and entrepreneurship. While they share similarities in seeking funding and driving innovation, the critical difference lies in speed.
Academia’s rigorous but slow approach contrasts sharply with startups’ ability to implement change rapidly. He sees startups as a powerful means to blend scientific rigor with scale, thereby accelerating the spread of positive impact.
Correctly harnessed, this combination can move medicine forward.
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Competitiveness: A Double-Edged Sword
Drawing from his experience as an identical twin, David explores how understanding relationships and childhood experiences can drive and fuel achievement. As a twin, he shares how he is inherently wired to be highly competitive, which has both the potential for positive and negative outcomes.
A healthy dose of competitive spirit is certainly useful when launching a company, but too much of a competitive mindset can also erode necessary collaborations and partnerships.
Ultimately, it is the awareness and understanding of these personality traits and experiences that allows David to channel the competitive drive towards productive ends. Though the experiences and traits will be different for individuals, this general theme is true for all entrepreneurs.
This is where therapy can play a significant role for anyone wishing to become more aware, insightful, and successful.
The Power of Empowerment in Mental Health
David shares personal anecdotes, underlining the empowering nature of therapy. He emphasizes that every individual has experienced defining moments that shape their responses to life’s challenges.
Recognizing and understanding these experiences can lead to personal growth and self-improvement. David emphasizes that this is particularly true for entrepreneurs, who must invest everything in realizing their vision.
Lack of awareness or one’s own biases can be particularly problematic for those involved in startups.
David talks about how people focus on physical well-being and are open to purchasing gym memberships to stay fit. Mental well-being is no different, yet people do not conceptualize mental fortitude in the same way as they do physical fortitude.
Much of this is caused by stigma against seeking mental healthcare, but this trend is changing. He mentions that most of his most successful entrepreneurial friends have a therapist to help them throughout their journeys.
The Journey of Building Companies
David reflects on his entrepreneurial journey, starting with an education platform for medical students. He then co-founded Valera Health, focusing on accessible mental healthcare delivered remotely or telepsychiatry.
Later, he assumed the role of Chief Medical Officer at Cerebral, one of the largest telemental health companies, before becoming CEO in May 2022. David highlights Cerebral’s mission to provide comprehensive virtual mental health care via a direct-to-customer approach.
The company offers a subscription-based service, ensuring accessibility to both therapy and medication management through smartphones or computers. The emphasis is on delivering patient-centered care, empowering individuals to take control of their mental health journey.
One of the most exciting features of Cerebral is its proprietary electronic medical record system, which allows clinicians to document their notes and clinical outcomes and engage patients in their care via educational materials and clinical surveys.
Eventually, they integrated this application with a machine learning system that detected if someone was a suicide risk. And if they are, the system pushes them through to the resources to get help.
Challenges Faced: Navigating Rough Waters
Acknowledging the challenges faced by startups during a tough macroeconomic environment, David emphasizes the importance of establishing an unwavering focus on mission.
Cerebral weathered the storm by making structural changes while maintaining a focus on its mission. The company’s commitment to patient care remained unwavering even during the toughest times.
David envisions an adaptable, data-driven mental health system. He emphasizes the importance of meeting patients where they are, providing objective data, and offering personalized care at the right time.
This patient-centric approach is the guiding principle for the future of mental health. Today, patients can sign up at www.cerebral.com and request talk therapy and/or medications to help address their problems.
People can access Cerebral’s services on their phones and computers, making it accessible to anyone who needs it on the go. And without the need to spend time and money on traveling to physical clinics to speak to professionals.
The company is serving patients in all 50 states in the US and has improved the lives of over 750,000 people, which is phenomenal and exciting. Cerebral has also successfully raised more than $450M in venture capital, building a robust runway.
Storytelling is everything, which is something that Dr. David Mou was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.
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Lessons Learned: Pivoting Decisively
Reflecting on his experiences, David emphasizes the importance of making strategic changes decisively. Startups possess the advantage of agility, allowing them to pivot quickly. This ability to adapt swiftly can be a key differentiator in the competitive landscape.
David also advises entrepreneurs to focus on their employees to keep them motivated and excited about the company’s mission. That’s how you can spur them to reach new heights.
David Mou’s journey from a Chinese immigrant to a prominent figure in mental healthcare and entrepreneurship is a testament to the power of passion, purpose, and resilience.
His vision for revolutionizing mental healthcare through personalized, accessible, and data-driven solutions promises to reshape the landscape of mental health support for generations to come.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Mental health is a critical aspect of any successful entrepreneur’s journey. All founders can benefit from support.
- Empowerment through therapy enables individuals to understand and navigate their unique challenges for personal growth.
- Startups need to remain agile in strategy and decisive in tactics; these are crucial advantages in a dynamic market.
- The future of mental healthcare lies in adaptable, data-driven systems tailored to individual needs.
- Combining the rigor of academia with the speed of entrepreneurship can revolutionize healthcare delivery.
- Building a company with a strong sense of purpose sustains motivation even through the toughest times.
- Patient-centered care and accessibility are pivotal in transforming mental healthcare for the better.