Founder and CEO: Tamar Blue
Year founded: 2016
MentalHappy is a startup invested in by Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures.
MentalHappy CEO Tamar Blue began her professional career working in staffing and human resources. In 2013, she made the leap into entrepreneurship by cofounding an online staffing platform in Miami. Two years later, after selling the company, Blue decided to pursue her interest in the health technology space.
Now based in San Francisco, Blue runs MentalHappy, an online mental health platform that helps people manage their mental health with the support of peers and practical tips and advice. Below, she shares the personal experiences that led her to launch the business and her advice for others who want to become entrepreneurs.
What gave you the idea for MentalHappy?
I struggled with panic attacks most of my life. Between racking up bills from therapists and trying to find more effective solutions, I started learning a lot about self-activated care. I really enjoy performing preventative health and self-care practices for myself, but I thought there should be a way for more people to easily access professional advice and strategies in a setting where everyone feels comfortable.
For example, when you’re going through a life event or something painful, you may not be able to afford one-on-one therapy, or your family may not really understand. I saw MentalHappy as a way to leverage the expertise of health professionals, along with the collective support of other individuals who are navigating the same problems most of us inevitably face.
What were your first steps?
A cofounder and I started by selling a wellness kit to consumers from our website and later to large corporations — we sold more than 10,000 units. Originally, the kit had items aimed at spreading joy and promoting wellness, like a gratitude jar and a journal, along with instructions for how to get the most out of them.
After a couple of years, as both our user community and my vision grew, I shifted the model from a product-based business into a service-based platform. With that evolution, we became capable of serving millions of people who struggle to find and afford the support they need to improve their emotional well-being.
How does the platform work?
Members can join various peer support groups, which meet weekly online via video, and tackle issues such as anxiety, grief, stress, illness or injury. Our platform also offers self-guided resources and techniques for coping — in addition to 100-percent anonymous support groups — creating a truly private and safe space to heal.
Our facilitators are health and wellness professionals — including general medical practitioners, psychologists, psychiatrists and even acupuncturists. We believe in helping people address their issues holistically. Our leaders not only facilitate dialogue, but they also teach weekly practices that can help individuals get more sleep and reduce stress.
We found many of our practitioners within our existing Facebook community, which now has almost 100,000 followers. Many of them were already running private support groups on Facebook or WhatsApp, and they were looking for something more secure for their members. As a platform, MentalHappy has fewer distractions. It’s kind of hard to focus on your health and healing when you’re seeing ads or posts from your friends.
Individuals can join for free and access health resources, toolkits, Q&A and community forums, and take free mini courses or read inspirational stories.
How did the pandemic impact your business?
In 2020, we started a waiting list when we were still transitioning from the physical product and running a lot of beta tests for the peer support groups. The pandemic seemed to make people desperate for solutions, so we got a tremendous number of sign-ups. Right now, we have about 5,000 active users, which is really exciting.
What types of challenges did you face launching a startup?
When I was starting out as an entrepreneur, I definitely didn’t see many people who looked like me in the health-tech space. The women of color I did meet were usually just starting out as well. It was very difficult to find a community of people who understood where I was coming from. I also didn’t have a traditionally technical background, so I had to teach myself how to build a website with a good user interface and create products that people will feel attached to. It was a huge learning curve, but my first company opened the door to what I wanted to do. MentalHappy has become my true north — it’s something I could see myself building for the next 20 years.
What advice do you have for other would-be entrepreneurs?
First, if you’re going to start, you should just start right away. Second, it’s OK to not know what you’re doing in the beginning or have it all figured out. Just keep asking people questions. Keep taking whatever small steps you can to move forward. Sometimes when we look backward, we realize all the dots really did connect — even though in the moment it felt like they never would. That’s just because you didn’t know enough. But that’s how you learn.
How do you balance work and life?
As a wellness maven and someone who has been through some very painful anxiety attacks — plus, I have a mother who constantly reminded me you don’t want to look like you’re 60 when you’re 41 — I do my best to take breaks. The best way for me to find that balance is by incorporating it into things that give me some ease and trying to do them as early in the day as I can. So before opening my phone to read email each morning, I’ll meditate.
And when the weather is nice, my husband and I will take a walk or even hike for about an hour in the evenings. I also love to cook. Chopping vegetables is meditative for me. As long as we are both in town, we do dinner together. Prioritizing myself and the people who give me care and love has made me much more productive — and it’s also great for my mental health.