SoulUp is a startup building “LinkedIn for mental health”. Here’s how that works
- Founded in February 2022,
SoulUpis a Bengaluru-based early-stage startup promoting mental healthwellness.
- It was founded by two IIT alumnae, Punita Mittal and Mahak Maheshwari.
- SoulUp featured on Season 2 of
Shark TankIndia, winning an investment of ₹50 lakh from shark Namita Thapar, executive director, Emcure Pharmaceuticals.
AdvertisementEven though mental health issues have always plagued humans, it’s only recently that the conversation around mental health wellbeing is being normalised. Bengaluru-based early-stage startup SoulUp aims to further this cause by building a “LinkedIn-like network for mental health”.
SoulUp featured on season 2 of the reality show Shark Tank India and received an investment of ₹50 lakh from Namita Thapar, executive director, Emcure Pharmaceuticals, in exchange for a 5% stake in the company. Founders Punita Mittal and Mahak Maheshwari spoke to Business Insider India about the story behind the startup, the ‘shark tank’ effect, and being a “category creator”.
“SoulUp is taking a unique approach to mental health - no one has really attempted to solve this space using peer conversations as the core. So being a category creator and being one in the mental health space - for us has meant working hard to earn user trust,” shares Mittal.
Building something meaningful in health-tech
Co-founders Mittal and Maheshwari have known each other for nearly two years now but first met through mutual friends. Both are IIT alumnae with a background in health tech and share a “deep commitment to building something meaningful in a related space”.
Mittal is an alumna of IIT Delhi and ISB Hyderabad, and has over 13 years of experience in the healthcare space - she led the fitness app HealthifyMe, building the world’s first virtual fitness coach during her tenure there.
Maheshwari, on the other hand, is an alumna of IIT Bombay. She started her career with the management consulting company Bain & Co and is a third-time founder, having founded D2C snacks startup WeDesi and health-tech startup Proactive For Her before SoulUp.
The idea of SoulUp actually came to Mittal when she was volunteering at Auroville and witnessed open conversations without judgement across the community. SoulUp aims to emulate this experience - connecting people who have been through similar emotionally -challenging experiences.
The business model
Founded in February 2022, SoulUp offers 'Peer Conversations' across a range of areas - relationships, health/medical issues, parenting, career, self-growth and diagnosed mental illness. All conversations on SoulUp happen via video calls.
AdvertisementSoulUp has the following offerings:
1-on-1 Connect: Users discover and connect via one-on-one video conversations with SoulUp verified 'Peers' who have been in the same boat as them. Prices are ₹199-399 for a 45 minute-long conversation.
As per Maheshwari, all prospective peers go through a one-on-one verification process on video calls. If prospective peers claim to have a diagnosed medical or mental health condition, they have to submit proof of diagnosis, following which they undergo their first level of mandatory training conducted online in collaboration with the Hank Nunn Institute in Bengaluru.
Group Conversations: Users can select from a range of topic-wise groups. Each group is led by an expert with a small group of 6-7 users and runs for a fixed number of sessions. Group sessions start from ₹2,500 for a 4-session group. 50% of this fee goes to the facilitator.
StirUps: SoulUp recently started long-running groups called StirUps. StirUps are along the lines of group therapy. They don’t have a specific topic and run for 6 months to a year. The membership cost is ₹1,000/month
AdvertisementOne of SoulUp’s core differentiators is its peer-led network. However, running a peer-led network comes with its own set of challenges — the likelihood of peers inadvertently influencing another person’s behaviour, privacy concerns, etc.
SoulUp does not oversee conversations due to privacy issues but has steps in place to ensure that peer-led conversations are actually beneficial and not triggering.
“Callers are made aware that this is not a space for expert advice but a space to derive true empathy and to share common, lived experiences. The risk of being inadvertently influenced is low since expectation-setting is done at various levels and peers are trained accordingly. Also, feedback is taken from both parties (caller and peer) after each conversation. If we get feedback that the caller needs higher-level help, we suggest therapist-led SoulUp groups and one-on-one therapy sessions with the therapists in our network,” revealed Mittal.
Maheshwari added that peers were trained in active listening, empathy and other skills as part of their mandatory peer training. “As part of this, they learn how to handle situations which may be awkward or triggering for them. Peers follow a set protocol in cases where they identify that the caller may need professional intervention and is not already taking it,” she said.
The Shark Tank Effect
AdvertisementSoulUp has done over 1,200 conversations and has a network of over 300 peers. It has a collective reach of over 8,000 people across social media (Instagram page, LinkedIn page). SoulUp’s user base is spread across Tier-1, 2 and 3 cities and about 10% of its users are from overseas.
SoulUp saw a 10x increase in traffic and a proportional increase in revenue in the weeks immediately following their appearance on Shark Tank India, shared Mittal.
While the team didn’t face any challenges while applying for the show, the multiple steps in the selection process did put the two co-founders out of their comfort zone.
“The Shark Tank selection process has multiple steps - the initial steps are simpler but the subsequent ones where we need to make videos or give trial pitches in front of a camera did put us out of our comfort zone - but all for good reason,” revealed Mittal.
When the duo pitched on the show, the entire panel was interested in investing in the startup but after multiple rounds of discussions, the founders finalised the deal with shark Namita Thapar.
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