Episode 16: Creating The Product He Needed: The Story Of A Firefighter Turned Mental Health App Founder with Andrew Douglas

May 23, 2023 | podcast | 0 comments

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You can find the full transcript for this episode at the bottom of this page

In this week’s episode I’m introducing you to Andrew Douglas, a firefighter turned mental health app co-founder. 

This episode is an intense one and I want to warn you that there is mention of suicide as well as a traumatic event that contributed to Andrew’s PTSD while working as a firefighter. However, all this serves to highlight the importance of his company’s mission and I hope you’ll feel as inspired as I did about the work he’s doing to share with the world the mental health app that he wishes he would have had at his darkest moments. 

Andrew dedicated several years of his life to serving his community as a firefighter/paramedic and union leader before he personally struggled with PTSD. This experience showed him the importance of mental health support which led him to co-found Siento, a stigma-free mobile application platform designed to help first responders and professionals in high-stress industries.(note: “Siento” means “feeling” in Spanish)

Siento’s mission is to provide a safe and anonymous space for people to share their feelings, connect with others who understand their challenges, and access the mental health assistance they need. They believe that by fostering an environment of understanding and compassion, they can make a positive impact on the lives of those who serve our communities and work under immense pressure.

As a passionate advocate for mental health, Andrew is committed to raising awareness about the importance of mental well-being, and to breaking down barriers that prevent people from seeking the help they need. He’s dedicated to supporting and uplifting those who dedicate their lives to helping others.

Something a good leader does is listen. You should really be the last one to talk and listen to your team. And so just having those like vulnerable moments, even with our team gets that buy in on the mission and vision that we’re trying to build in our company. Vulnerability in general has changed my life.

In this interview I learned about research showing that more firefighters die by suicide each year than in the line of duty. I hope this episode helps to raise awareness about this important cause and the work Andrew and his team are doing to change these disturbing statistics. 

If you, or anyone you know, is suicidal, don’t hesitate to call 988 (in the United States) or visit this website for a list of suicide hotlines around the globe.

What You’ll Learn in this Episode:

  • Andrew’s story of developing PTSD during his time as a firefighter and paramedic
  • How he made the difficult decision to step away from a career he’d worked so hard for
  • How learning to lean into vulnerability has changed his life and made him a better leader
  • What he does now to take care of his mental health and the signs that show him he needs to prioritize it even more 
  • The barriers he faced when seeking help and how he’s trying to overcome these with his company
  • How Andrew uses rejection and negative feedback as opportunities for growth
  • The challenges he’s faced pivoting from being a firefighter to co-founding a tech startup, and what’s helping him overcome them

Find Andrew Online:

Resources & Inspiration from the Show

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About Founders’ Fears & Failures and your host, Dr. Melissa Parks

Melissa is an entrepreneur, former therapist (PhD in Clinical & Health Psychology), and an executive coach for entrepreneurs with a special focus on startup founders. Her passion for supporting startup founders in particular began after witnessing firsthand the emotional rollercoaster her husband experienced as a startup co-founder.

She started the Founders’ Fears & Failures podcast with the mission of shining a light on the mental and emotional challenges that come with life as a startup founder. Having lived abroad for 10 years herself she realizes how much we can learn from hearing stories from around the globe which is why the show doesn’t focus on a country-specific startup ecosystem.

Melissa is also the co-founder of the Location Independent Therapist Community, and a mom to a toddler who keeps her on her toes, and fuels her passion for helping to make the world a better place.

If you are interested in coming on the show, please get in touch. We would love to hear your story.

Want to connect further? Get in touch with Melissa on social media:

Want to work with Melissa?

Melissa is a former therapist who provides mindset coaching for ambitious professionals around the globe. Schedule your free discovery call HERE.

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Did you enjoy listening to this episode? Leave your review on Apple podcasts or Spotify.

Disclaimer: The Founders’ Fears & Failures is for educational, informational, and entertainment purposes only. It is not meant to be used for personal health advice and should not be construed to constitute personal or professional consultation or guidance, or to replace medical or mental health treatment. The opinions expressed by this podcast, including the podcast guests, are not meant to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of a medical or mental health provider regarding any questions or concerns you have about your medical and/or mental health needs. If you are in crisis, please visit this website to find a list of suicide hotlines around the globe. 

Episode Transcript

Melissa 

Hi, Andrew, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Andrew 

Hey, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Melissa 

Awesome. Yeah, well, so when you got in touch with me on LinkedIn, I knew right away like, Okay, I want to know more about your story. I want to know more about your company. But then I learned that we also have some things in common. The Pacific Northwest, Costa Rica, which is where my in-laws live. And I know, that’s where you’re calling in from today.

Andrew 

Yeah, it was, uh, you know, I love what you’re doing on your podcast. And I definitely have a unique story, right, in that I went from firefighter to selling all my stuff, leaving the fire department, and then now co founding a tech startup. So it’s been a wild journey. But I’m, I love it down here. Costa Rica is the best as you know.

Melissa 

It’s wonderful. Yeah. And as I told you, I was just there a few weeks ago, one of these days, I’m sure, you know, I mentioned we go annually. So hopefully, we’ll cross paths in person. But let’s let’s jump into the interview for today. You know, I usually start with people kind of like warming up, like, let’s talk a little bit more about your career, and then we’ll talk about startup life. But I was thinking for you, we can’t really like separate the two, we kind of have to jump right into the vulnerable stuff, I think, right? Because that is, that’s how you became a startup founder. So if it’s okay with you, why don’t we jump in and tell us more about that career you had as a firefighter? And how that how that led you now to be a startup founder?

Andrew 

Yeah, that’s a good question. So, you know, that I, I’ve always had this, like desire to give back to my community, and truly, like making an impact on people’s lives is, it was it was, it was kind of what drew me to the fire service, but also like, the sense of family, right, the fire service is, is very tight, you know, we call each other brothers and sisters for a reason, because you live 1/3 of your life with these people. And it was a, it was a challenge, I mean, it’s a very competitive field to get into it, you don’t need, you don’t need a degree nowadays, you know, you could have a high school diploma and still get a great career in the problem is, is when I started, there was a culture of a culture of Shut up, don’t don’t express your feelings, just you take, take the punches, and you go with it. And so that’s kind of how I was like, raised in my career of, of, you know, suppressing all my feelings and emotions. And, as you probably can imagine, we see some pretty horrific things that really nobody should ever see.

In that, like, really made a huge impact on my life, to the point where, you know, I had a suicide attempt in 2019. After about like, a year of what not knowing I was struggling, but I definitely, like could tell something was going on towards the end once it got closer to August, when I had that suicide attempt. And, and that was kind of like a groundbreaking moment for me, you know, I had a really good support support network, we the fire departments have, a lot of them have what’s called a peer support network. And that that was one of one of the huge impacts for me was having that person come over and be by my side? Well, you know, I just was about to commit suicide in my wife was lucky enough to get a gun out of my hand before it, I was able to load it. And, you know, so I had that person that was by my side the entire time. And, you know, from there, it was ups and downs and got to the point where, you know, I realized my, the impact that that my PTSD had on me, number one is that I wasn’t taking care of myself. I wasn’t doing self care, and I really, I really tanked again and decided that, you know, ultimately, my health and my my family are more important than a job. And so I made like, a huge risk of like, walking away from these what we call golden handcuffs, right? Because you’re making, you know, really good money. You get your part. I worked eight days a month. Well, I mean, I worked a lot overtime, but technically, you could work eight days a month. So it’s like, yeah, so I took this huge risks to leave and I had no clue what I was going to do. And I had a lot of like, negative self talk about, you know, oh, you you have you’re not you’re worthless, like you don’t have a college degree like what the heck are you going to do with your life? And so I had to really like go through that and then I realized like, how many like tangible skills that I got that is like unteachable, right as far as leadership goes, You know, I always tell my paramedic students to be like a duck, because, you know, in times of in times of duress, or, you know, when things aren’t going right, you know, as a leader, you need to be the one that steps up and stays calm on the surface. But it’s okay inside to be panicking. You know, if that’s totally fine. That happened to me all the time. But yeah, I mean, it’s been a crazy journey, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Melissa 

Yeah, wow. Well, one thing that you just said that it’s, you know, I talk to a lot of founders who actually, they have a lot of the technical skills, but they don’t have those leadership skills. So in some ways, I think you’re, you know, you’re going into this life as a founder, even better prepared than some of the people who started in this on this journey.

Andrew 

Yeah, I mean, I was also a union leader, too, right. So we had, I did two different stints at two different departments as a secretary treasurer. So I mean, I kinda got some exposure to like, the business side of things, but I really got exposure to being a leader, and an understanding, like, you know, I think in today’s society, what we, what we struggle with is we have two different types of people in business, we have managers, and bosses, and you have leaders. And I think, especially, especially in like the technical field, like, you know, coding or you know, software engineering, or any kind of technical job, it’s a lot like being a paramedic, right, you need good leadership, you need that person that’s going to get you the resources, you need to back you up and have your back. And you don’t need to micromanage those people, you just you need to get them the resources they need. And, and make sure that, that you support them, and they’re, you know, owning of your mission. And I think, and I don’t mean to sidetrack too much, but mission is like super important to me, like mission and vision is everything. And I in your any founder that are listening to this, like, if I can tell you one piece of advice is your mission and vision is everything put put a lot of effort into that, because that, you know, as a firefighter, my mission and vision, I had it memorized for my department, because that’s what drove everything. And, you know, I think you can really read a lot of the stuff I learned from the fire service when it comes to leadership. And, you know, the, that mission and vision passion is is important to translate into a business. And that’s what I’m hoping to do as a as a founder and CEO.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah, I couldn’t agree more how important that is. I told you, but I’ll tell listeners to my son had a cold this week. So I’m, I’m losing my voice a tiny bit, but I hope it hangs on for an interview. But I just want to pause for a minute because I think I did something that is very human. And even being trained as a therapist it happens. I kind of went right into the, you know, strategical positive sort of things here. And I just want to go back and say, Thank you for sharing this really vulnerable story with us, right, because you’re sharing it now as I think you have a lot of space from it. But this is the first time I’m hearing it. This is the first time listeners are hearing it. And that’s a must have been a really, really tough time in your life. Andrew, I’m so glad that things turned out the way that they did.

Andrew 

Yeah, I thank you I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s something that still I struggle with, you know, my PTSD, frequently, you know, I just went through a period of like, kind of being down and isolation. You know, I found like, the startup life is so much like waves, right? Like, it’s, you got so much, there’s so much going on, and then like nothing. And so and then like, you have like, oh, you know, this investor, I thought that was gonna be, you know, interested in us, like, shut us down. And, but I mean, I like rejection, it motivates me. But I tried to take, you know, when I do get those moments of rejection, I try to take that as an opportunity to learn as a as a paramedic, like feedback is everything. And so whatever feedback I can get, I can then hone in my message and my craft and be better at what I’m doing. By getting rejected. Yeah, I mean, it’s, I appreciate it.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah. Well, I think that’s so true, right? Yeah. It’s definitely a roller coaster or waves. You have to surf for whatever metaphor we want to use. And, and I do think if you’re coming, I think so many entrepreneurs, either, you know, you’re coming at it, if you have to like yourself, like with a mental health startup, you know, you’re coming at it with this personal story, or maybe someone you know, who’s been affected, or there’s just so many stats out there too, that say that entrepreneurs seem to have a tendency, like some of what makes them good entrepreneurs may also make them vulnerable to mental health struggles. So I appreciate you saying that, you know, this isn’t just something in your past. It’s, it’s, you know, it’s something that you have to be on top of and take care of yourself still.

Andrew 

Well, I think I think when we’re talking vulnerability to like, you have to be vulnerable to be a founder, like, you’re, you’re willing to take a risk on yourself. And initially, and then you have to have the ability to admit when you’re wrong and, you know, go a different path, which is, I’ve already ran into that. And I was, you know, I listen to the people around me, that’s, again, something a good leader does is a good listener, you know, you should really be the last one to talk and listen to your team. And so just having those like vulnerable moments, even with our team gets that buy in, on on the mission and vision that we’re trying to build in our company. And so it’s, I think, just vulnerability in general has changed my life. I was never never vulnerable before. I didn’t even know what feelings were honestly, I couldn’t tell you the last time I felt joy and happiness until probably this you know, this year, once we moved to Costa Rica, I started to really get that after working on myself and focusing on self care and the things that I’m supposed to do. But yeah, no vulnerability has changed my life.

Melissa 

Well, can I ask you that? Because yeah, you did say at the beginning, there was a time, you know, we you were just kind of like, taught to suck it up and not think about those feelings. Were there things along the way that really helped you to tap into those feelings and to reframe that vulnerability?

Andrew 

Yeah, I mean, I, so I went to it, inpatient treatment program. A couple years after that suicide attempt, I got back into a bad spot. And in there, I really learned more so to like, connect with my body, and to connect with my feelings, right. And that’s kind of where where my, my company comes from, is that, like, it’s really bad to like, keep things locked in your body, and not express how you feel. And then it makes it difficult for you to like, recognize what those emotions are. And when you can connect with your body, you can feel where, okay, I’m starting to get anxious, I can feel it in my chest. You can sense these things happening before it gets to where it’s, you know, not manageable. So I you know, meditation and connecting with my my feelings and emotions, like was really like, put me to this trajectory of where I’m at today.

Melissa 

Yeah, you know, I think emotional literacy, that, that just ability to name your feelings kind of, it gets brushed aside like, oh, yeah, that’s, that’s easy. You’re not that important. But it’s, it’s foundational, right. And that’s what I hear you saying,

Andrew 

ya know, and that’s why like, I try to tell my, you know, fellow brothers and sisters in the fire service, and first responders in general, of, like, we need to start talking about this, we need to start, you know, we’re really good after a fire, like, you know, high five and and talk about what went good and what didn’t go good. But why aren’t we doing this on these tough EMS calls, EMS, for your listeners, emergency medical calls, right? So somebody who’s having a heart attack or stroke or shot or stabbed? Like those super stressful or like the kid calls, especially, we need to be talking about that and talking about how we feel like, how do you feel like not just okay, but like, do you, you know, like I wanted to, it took me a long time to like process a kid call. Because I had and as a therapist, you probably understand this is that people can put that face, their child’s face into this child. And so, you know, we were recessitating my kid that was in the NICU. And I was resuscitating premature baby. And you know that that impacted me a lot. And I couldn’t, I couldn’t tell what my what the issue was, because I didn’t know my feelings. And ultimately, later that later down the line, I ended up doing a psilocybin therapy session. And that was a breakthrough moment where I figured out what bothered what bothered me about that call was guilt, the feeling of guilt. I, you know, I again, I had a paramedic student, when I was talking about paramedic students, I had a paramedic student with me. And I wanted them to have opportunity to get skills that you’re not going to because you’re not every day going to see a baby that is in cardiac arrest. It doesn’t happen as often right. So this is an opportunity for him to learn and you do something called an inner osseous device, which basically means that you put a needle in in the bone and it goes into that space in the middle and you can give him medicine and fluids and so he failed the first one. And I made the decision to let him do the second one. Because I didn’t I wanted it to be a learning opportunity. It’s okay to not make it every time and he failed. again. And once you fail, it’s, you know, there’s not much more you can do. And so I harbored a lot of guilt from that. And I didn’t realize that until I had done the psilocybin session where literally, it was like an entire session of me, like watching this call happen. And because we really set intent on this specific call. And so, you know, it just really changed my perspective and helped me, you know, realize that the underlying emotion that bothered me and feeling was was guilt.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah. And it sounds like it really helped you to process that situation. And I don’t know if you would say heal from it, or get some healing from it.

Andrew 

No, it definitely. So here’s a good example, I hated… on the same call we had, there was a rooster in rural rural Washington state. And there was a rooster on the front porch. So we drive up, I hear screaming from inside, and I hear this rooster continually going off. And for years after that, like, screaming really bothers me to this day. And also the sound of a rooster for for years, like would trigger me instantly to the point where and I hate to admit this, but we had chickens at our place. And we ended up getting two roosters, and like, I got pissed one day, and you know, we were already planning on getting rid of them. I went out there and like was they were crowing and like, I had a flashback moment. I’m like, I gotta get rid of these things. And I ended up killing him. And, you know, I realized after that like, looking back like holy cow, like that’s why is because, you know, that was a trigger and putting me back into the that event, where now I have we have a rooster here in Costa Rica – Bob. He’s he’s probably my best friend now. Well, I’ll be doing like work down at Rancho which is like a covered space. And Bob hangs out with me. And, and I can I can be around that now where I couldn’t before. So yeah, it was huge impact for me. Yeah, absolutely.

Melissa 

Well, and it’s I mean, it’s amazing, right? What can happen with your brain when it is in that that traumatized state? Is there anything that you noticed, like looking back that were maybe warning signs that you missed out on that, you know, maybe people listening should be on the lookout for?

Andrew 

Yeah, I would say isolation isolate. I was an isolation specialist, I still am, and when when I get that, like feeling that like I need to, like, go hide in my room. Like I have to go against what feels good. And I think that’s a good thing for anybody in general in life. Whatever feels comfortable, if you’re constantly comfortable, comfortable, you’re doing something wrong, you need to go and challenge yourself. You know, that’s the only way you’re gonna grow in life is by taking risks. And yeah, I mean, it was. It was a Yeah, sorry. All this talking about calls and emotions. Feelings kind of gets me because it still definitely affects me.

Melissa 

I totally understand. I want to thank you, though, for what you just said. Right? Like, I think sometimes we hear we hear like self care. And we think massages and bubble baths and, you know, binging Netflix, you know, we like you’re saying whatever makes you feel good. And sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it is doing the counterintuitive thing, like being around people, even if it’s the last thing you feel like. Yeah, yeah. And it just sounds like yeah, just knowing that

Andrew 

Human connection is so important. So important. Having having that good support network in and truly connecting with people like truly caring about people and connecting. I mean, that’s building that community around you is what’s going to help you heal. So. Yeah, yeah.

Melissa 

So what about on your journey? What were some of the barriers that you encountered? And how have those influenced, you know, what you’ve created now with your company? Siento.

Andrew 

Yeah, I mean, so I’m creating a product that I wish I had, when I was going through all my struggles. And the one of the hardest things is they’re still you know, we impose a stigma on ourselves really. And at the same time, there is a vocal vocal minority of people that will trash talk people who go out for mental health stuff. I viewed it as a weakness, right. And so that was a real difficult barrier for me to you know, ask for help because I didn’t want anybody to know, which is why we want our platform to be anonymous. And we want you to be able to express your feelings and get stuff off your chest so that you can you know, go on a tough call and afterwards say like, Hey, I’m really struggling. I feel super sad and guilty about this baby call. I went on Right, getting that stuff off your chest is super important. And so that was one of the barriers. And then the other barrier for me was just like this, the getting care was so impossible. I, the system is broke. First of all, I think we can all admit that, especially in Washington state when their mental health system is beyond broke. It’s pretty sad, like, especially over the last three years, like on the streets like it was, it’s getting so bad, I’ve worked in the inner city and in my career. And so like that barrier to entry of like, getting care, when you’re in crisis is very difficult. And when first responders like ask for help, it’s too late, they’re in crisis, or they’re very close to crisis, they don’t ask for help. They’re not like, seeking help, in general, because they’re so afraid to have this stigma, putting the stigma on themselves, right, that like I’m crazy, nobody, you know, I’m gonna get fired from my job, because there are people out there that get fired in the fire service in police departments, because of mental health issues. And, and that really upsets me because I feel like it there, there is hope of getting better. Like you can have healthy a healthy career, and whatever you do, but you know, if you’re not taking care of yourself, you know, you can’t take care of anybody else. So it’s, you know, having that focus on teaching newer firefighters or paramedics, it’s like, the skills to be able to, like work through and work through the trauma you’re going to see because it’s inevitable, you know, it’s really important that each teach, so, you know, there’s an educational component of it, too. And those are all kind of things we’re hoping to accomplish, with Siento.

Melissa 

Yeah, it sounds like in a lot of ways, just, I mean, there’s obviously like a service you’re providing, but also kind of starting to change the conversation that’s happening around mental health in those fields.

Andrew 

Yeah, that’s, I mean, that’s why you’re seeing me speak out, right, change, change happens within you, like, you can’t not, you can’t expect anything around you to change. Because you can really only control like, truly control your own your own actions. And so I’ve made it, you know, now that I feel comfortable coming out and talking about it, like, I think it’s really important that we share our stories and, and start the conversation of like, expressing our feelings. I honestly, I believe that, that is one of the main issues is that people hold things in, and they don’t get it off of their chest. And so then I explained to my kid that like, life’s like a cup of milk. And it’s, it’s like, you know, every day you pour some milk in your glass, that’s kind of like all this stressors that we have in life, right? And if you don’t, like dump it out, or drink it, eventually it’s going to overfill and that’s when we get in those moments of crisis. So how can we like dump that glass of milk so that we don’t get into those moments of crisis is is really important. And that’s a good skill that I learned, which has been awesome with as a as a firefighter paramedic on a little side tangent, is that like, I’ve gotten very good at explaining complex problems to people and simple in a simple way that they can understand. And so that that’s a huge skill I learned from my job that I can now apply to you know, my business and that I think that’s a skill that is very it’s challenging to to accomplish but possible.

Melissa 

Yeah, but important as a leader and important as a parent to right like I’m gonna I’m gonna use that with my kid he’s just two and a half so we’re not exactly there yet. But we do. Yeah, I don’t know I totally probably different life story. But I also grew up very much being told, you know, like, look on the bright side of things like it’s not a big deal and you know, coming from a family, a history of a family that had gone through a lot of difficult things. So that’s the way they got through it. Right? It was just like looking at the bright side. And I’ve had to unlearn so much of that. And even even getting into the mental health field. Unfortunately, even amongst mental health professionals, there are there is still stigma, right? Like it’s like, No, those are the people who struggle with mental health. When so many therapists, potential therapists, psychiatrists, medical doctors, like they have their own struggles too. And so I love to hear what you’re saying about, you know, just breaking that stigma around the fact that it’s just like the other people who are struggling, right, because we all have mental health. And if we don’t take care of it, we’re all at risk and some of us more than others, but, you know, it’s important for all of us.

Andrew 

Yeah, I think, you know, you think, you know, the statistic I’ve heard a lot lately is like one out of five people struggle with mental health right? I think that number is a lot higher, especially in the fire service. You know, there’s a study done showed Like, you know, there’s a high rate of first responders who report PTSD symptoms, but there’s a very underreported amount of first responders that are committing suicide, like this year alone, you know, we have more more firefighters that have killed themselves than have died in the line of duty. And I don’t think a lot of people understand, and there’s a lot more deaths that go unreported, that they say it’s not suicide, but it really I mean, it is. So you know, that’s at the end of the day, like my, our business like we, we want to help, you know, if we can save one life, like we did our job. That’s the most important thing is I’m tired of losing friends, I’ve lost a lot of close friends to Suicide from the fire service. And you know, I’ve harbored guilt over one of them, because I felt like I should have been there and I wasn’t. And, yeah, it’s just hard. And I’m tired of that. And I think I have, I think I have a solution to a problem, not another resource, but a solution to a problem. And we we want to address that problem. And stigma is definitely one of them. For sure. But you know, getting stuff off your chest and talking about it is like that first step to like being able to get help. So.

Melissa 

Yeah, so what has the response been so far when you’ve been talking about the app? Like when you talk to other first responders, what did they say?

Andrew 

Okay, so, you know, I think initially, everybody’s like, because I’ve always been, I’ve realized now, like, I’ve been an entrepreneur at heart for you know, like, since I was a kid.

Melissa 

I hear that so much.

Andrew 

I know, and I, but I didn’t realize it, right. And I finally, like, accepted that. I love it. And I love this lifestyle. And, you know, for me, like I talked to everybody I can, like literally anybody that’s, that is that user I’ve been talking to because I, you know, we want to build a solution to their problem, not build a solution, thinking we’re going to solve the problem. And so like getting that feedback has been amazing. Like, we haven’t really done any promoting at all. We just started doing some social media stuff for a beta, which is upcoming in the next week or so. And I mean, we’re almost close to 200 people signed up for a beta, like just your organic word of mouth. We, we, we have one for sure. One, one department that signed up for, I mean, we don’t even have a product yet. But they, they see our vision and believe in it, and have signed up. And, and I think it’s just going to continue to be a domino effect. Because people the feedback I’m getting is like, you’re onto something this year, right? Like, we need to have this anonymous space, that we can’t get something off our chests. And our first responders do need help getting connected to care and having that advocate for them that we want to build. And, you know, it’s, it’s, again, it’s I’ve faced the I personally faced the problem, right, I’ve seen the problem, I kind of have a good advantage over. Most people that in that, like, I know, my target audience, like back of my hand. And you know, that that feedback from them has been super powerful. And it’s not always positive feedback, right? I’ve gotten some, some negative feedback that have made us kind of pivot in ways because of that feedback. So you know it. I think people get so wrapped around like negative feedback, that they take it personal. And it shouldn’t you shouldn’t take it personally, you take it as a challenge, like how can I? I mean, not every not every negative comment, you need to like worry about fixing the problem, their problem, but you can, some of them are very valuable. It’s very valuable feedback that you can really pivot and change something within your product, which which we have, because initially we were going to be like a consumer based product like anybody and everybody can do it. And, you know, we we realized that we could, when we did our market research how less than 20% of our 130 plus first responders that did our survey, less than 20% are happy with their mental health resources that they have today. There’s a huge problem. There’s not solutions that aren’t there. There’s a bunch of resources for first responders, but there’s no solution out there that truly solves a problem for them. And they’re an underserved market. And you know, we’re hoping that To change that, and and make an impact on somebody.

Melissa 

Yeah, well, I just I mean, by it’s it seems like a no brainer listening to your story. And I know from knowing other people in the in the same type of career like, there is a need for this. It’s it’s a bit shocking to me like that it doesn’t exist yet. But I mean, thank goodness, you’re you’re out there filling the gap because it’s needed.

Andrew 

There’s definitely solutions out there. Don’t get me wrong, there are solutions out there. But I feel a lot of the solutions that you have out there is the shotgun approach. And I don’t mean that it’s good to have resources, and I’m not downplaying what resources are out there. The problem is, is that they don’t solve the problem. The problem is they don’t solve the problem. That’s what we focused on. How can we reduce that number of first responders from killing themselves like that, that’s the biggest problem that that we need to solve right away. There’s all these other low hanging fruits that you can try to solve. And so that’s what we’re hoping to solve is that like, connection of care piece, yeah, if not, right away, we’re starting with this ability for a person to not honestly express how they feel. And then connect with other like minded professionals, and then also gain some insight from, from from their feelings. And we use we use, it’s pretty cool, because we use AI to detect the topic that the person is talking about, as well as the feelings and emotions behind it. Because like I said, Before, I didn’t even know what feelings were honestly, I didn’t know, I didn’t know what grief was or what guilt felt like. And so just that beginning step of allowing people to speak how they feel and get some insight on their feelings and emotions, we feel is that first step of ultimately, that person asking for help. And then on the back end, we hope to be able to connect them to care, because like I said, if they’re in crisis. And we need to solve that problem. But we also want to rely on the peer support within the organization, and help facilitate that you’re utilizing technology to make it easier on that person in crisis. Because when you’re in crisis, like you can’t think straight. So if there’s any barrier to entry, you know, I think about when a time I was in crisis, and I tried to call our EAP Employee Assistance Program, and like, I was on hold for, like, 15 minutes. And then when I finally I’m crying, and like, upset, and when I get on, it was the most impersonal experience talking on the phone to this person who’s like, oh, we’ll call you back in 24 hours. Like, wow. No, I’m like, crying like I feel suicidal. And you’re, you know, I was, I was smart enough as a paramedic and firefighter not to admit that I was suicidal, because that can get you committed, you know, you know, the, you know, the boundaries of what not to say, unfortunately. Because we see people get committed all the time. But yeah, I mean, it was it was just a, it was a really rough process. And that’s a lot of the feedback we’ve gotten is like, you know, the resources that are available are just impersonal. They’re, you know, it’s, it’s complicated to access, you know, a lot of them like we had to go to to our HR for EAP. So if you’re already worried about mental health, you don’t want anybody else to know about most likely. So now you have to go to your HR and say, Hey, I need the phone number, because it’s not out there. And we found this in our research, too. Is that like, that is very common across the board. Is that like, people have to go through their HR because the resource is not easily available. And so that’s another complicated. Well, it’s why we need something that’s anonymous.

Melissa 

Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. Well, I’m curious, going back, is there like a certain moment where you were like, I need to create this. Was there some some type of catalyst for you?

Andrew 

Yeah, so I mean, we talked about vulnerability earlier. And I’ve built a… since I’ve been here in Costa Rica. I’ve been very vulnerable and open with my new friends. And that has been able to build a bond and a friendship, like I’ve never experienced in my life. And, you know, so I’m very open with them. And Jason, my co founder, he’s, he’s got 20 years in the in the tech industry. And so he, you know, thinks I’m that tech like mine, and I’m just like the crazy visionary. And so we’re sitting down and I’m having a hard day and I’m like, Dude, I just want to I just want this app I want to because I wanted to get into tech after fire service. I wanted to either do like some Cybersecurity or, or, you know, software engineers, you know, one of those two career fields. And so I’m like, I’m gonna build this app because I had been teaching myself to code. And I said, I just want to, like, make this app where there’s a simple screen, you type in how you feel, and then you hit burn and the page catches on fire. And so that’s when like, he got his, like tech, how can we give insight to these people? Well, that’s great, we should get stuff off of our chest. And then that’s kind of how it all started. And it pivoted a couple of times, you know, we’ve, we’ve had been lucky to, like, meet some very helpful people, you know, that have advised us and kind of helped us like, pivot in in directions that have made us very successful. I mean, we’re only two months into this. And, I mean, we already have a customer, right. And we’re, hopefully, we’re, we have been talking to a lot of people, and I think that we’re definitely onto something, and it’s, it’s just really exciting to be able to, to work your butt off. Because it is a lot of work. And, and build this solution, not only for myself, because I’m probably gonna use it more than anybody. But, you know, also, like, just be able to continue to give back as for me, is, is what I want to do. And that’s, I’m just super excited with the path that we’re on. And we got a great team. I mean, basically, everybody on our team, like I talked about mission and vision earlier, like I pound that into our team’s head, like, this is important. Like, I hope Jason doesn’t mind saying this, but like he, he and I had a discussion and and like, I wanted to feedback from our software engineer on our mission and vision that I come up with and our values as a company. And Jason’s like, oh, no, you know, like, that’s more like C suite, you know, our kind of discussion? Absolutely not, I shut it down. I was like, not not gonna happen. I’m like, we need from, I don’t care it from the bottom to the top, you need buy in from that mission and vision. And you get that through feedback from them and keeping them in. And I think that’s a problem. And it was leadership in general is like, you think that the people below you know, everything, right? And certain things like that, it’s like, you could not, that needs to be buy in from the bottom to the top. So yeah. I’m, I’m super go with the flow type of person, right? And, but at some point, like I, you know, something like that, like, I put my foot down, and I’m like, no, like, we’re that, I get that we’re co founders, and we’re gonna have these disagreements. And he agreed with me. And that’s, that’s, you got to have those hard conversations, to be able to, like progress and move forward.

Melissa 

Yeah, I mean, we could have a whole conversation about about co founders and the challenges and things there. But I think you’re really onto something that I’ve heard from other people is that you have to know the moments, the moments when you let it go, right. And the moments when you also like really need to, like have the hard discussions.

Andrew 

Yeah, I mean, it’s, I’m, I’m, I’m a very laid back person. So for me, it’s like, I don’t like confrontation as much as I can. And I find that if I, the more I can just sit there and listen and absorb everything around me. You know, the more more successful I’m going to be more, more successful our company is going to be and, you know, it’s just it’s, it’s, it’s such a journey, like it’s, it’s crazy. It’s I’ve never experienced anything like this. Well, because I also don’t have a business background. So now I’m having to learn, like, well, you know, what, what’s your guys’s TAM? I’m like, damn, what’s the TAM? And like, then I’m having to do research on like, TAM, and all have. So it’s, it’s it’s been a little bit harder than I would say from other people that have a business background. That makes it a lot easier than than having to learn all the time. But that’s good.

Melissa 

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think no matter no matter what sort of background you have I, what I’ve heard is, yeah, being a startup founder is just, there’s a learning curve. There’s a huge learning curve. And so if it wasn’t learning that it would be would be something else. So I do want to make sure we have time to talk about the issue of work life balance, which I always say I hate that term. But you know, that challenge that comes up right if like your personal life, and it sounds like you your family life is really important to you. How do you juggle that the family life and then being the startup, the founder of a new startup?

Andrew 

So I’m the best person at preaching things, but I don’t actually follow it myself, that’s my wife walking by smiling right now. So that’s something that I struggle with, because you gotta, like, when I am like, passionate about something, it was like the union when we were doing union negotiates. I put my all into it and, and I did sacrifice those, those little things, but it’s it’s taking like time out like my wife and I made an agreement that once a week we’ll go out for lunch or breakfast today, we went out for breakfast together. And to spend that you stole my phone a little bit. And like, because I have these ideas that come to my head that or something pops up and but you know, just taking those moments, even even if it’s 30 minutes in, to be there with your, your family and be completely present is super powerful. But again, I’m uh, I understand the significance of it. Because when I am like that, it’s good. But I’m also a hypocrite and saying that I don’t always follow that. So I think it’s just, you know, taking time every day, like, even if it’s like, a half hour with your kids. You know, for me, I struggle with connection with my kids. Just that comes from my family. So like, for me, like video games are my my upbringing as a child, sir. And so playing like video games with my kids, or like swimming in the pool was like, good for me to like, connect with them. So I try to try to do that as much as to be able to, like have that true connection, because like, understanding play for me is just not built into my DNA. My wife’s like, really good, like that play with the kids. And I just,

Melissa 

yeah, I think it’s a similar dynamic in my house, too. But I think you just you find what works, right. And I think connection can happen in lots of different ways. So and I just want to say, I appreciate you giving us like the, like, I don’t know, the non polished version to the authentic version, because I’m sure so many people listening relate to what you’re saying, right? Like, it’s like, no, I wish that I was doing more, but it doesn’t happen every day. But this is kind of what I’m aiming for.

Andrew 

Yeah, it’s, you know, you’re not going to be perfect. And I’ve realized that I’m going to make mistakes every day, and I’m going to make choices that that are going to affect other people. And at the end of the day, it’s it’s important to, to, you know, I secure my life through my core values. And that’s something that I got, when I was struggling, they pounded that into our head, like, you need to have need to have a direction. And, you know, for me, my core values are compassion, accountability, loyalty and family. And, you know, accountability is huge for me, like I, I need to, you know, have my wife needs to hold me accountable and called me out when I’m not being perfect. And she is very good at that. And I still struggle with that work life balance. So it’s a core values are everything, too. I mean, I’ve told you, your viewers a handful of things that they need to focus on mission vision, core values, you have like those three things like, You’re powerful, you’re very powerful.

Melissa 

Yeah, well, your core values, I think about it kind of as like, it’s like your personal vision and mission. Right and in your personal life. So it sounds like you got started on recognizing the importance of that. Before you were even a founder.

Andrew 

Yeah, yeah. And it’s it. It guides me every any decision I make I reflect off of that. And yeah, it’s just really important.

Melissa 

I want to ask you, so I always ask this, listeners, how it was asked guests. You know, if we could go back in time to the beginning of your startup journey, what advice would you have for yourself, but you are very new to your startup journey. So I actually want to ask you, if we could go back in time to when you were struggling with your mental health? What words would you sit want to say to yourself back then?

Andrew 

Okay, so this is? That’s a great question. So I have two things, but I’ll just give you one. And it’s been a newer one for me, and it would be forgive yourself. I harbored when I talked about guilt, right? I harbored a lot of guilt, about my actions, no of flipping out. Like I had moments. Where I literally was like, out of my body freaking out from having a flashback when my my children had to see that my wife had to see that. And that made an app that made an impact on their lives, and I harbored a lot of guilt that like I ruined my kids and you’re a horrible person and and I was very like negative and a lot of negative self talk. So I would say like, forgive yourself is the most important thing. You It’s a, it’s okay to feel the way that you’re feeling. But at the end of the day, you need to forgive yourself for those feelings and realize that what you do today is making that change. So not following the same path you did, by making that change today, and worrying about today, you know, because I was very, like, worried about the future and the past kind of person. And I tried to, in that present moment as much as I can. And that’s, that’s really powerful. Forgive yourself.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s short, but sweet, right, I would say, my own journey. And what I’ve seen in clients too, like, there’s so much power in those words, I do a lot of self compassion work with my clients, and that forgive yourself is like, at the heart of, of self compassion.

Andrew 

Well, I just got this not too long ago from a podcaster, he was a retired police officer. And, you know, we had a really open raw, vulnerable discussion, kind of like this. And at the very end off off camera, he said that he’s like, forgive yourself. And ever since then, like, it really, it was an impactful moment. And this is only about like, a month ago. And it really, it really changed how I felt. And I used to say hope, like, there’s hope, have hope that like, things will get better, because there is hope that that you’ll get better. But I’ve, I’ve really, like been drawn to that, like, forgive yourself ever since. John he really impacted me with that.

Melissa 

I love that. Yeah, no, it’s, you just saw me kind of wiped away a little tear. Like it really, it’s, it was very moving to hear you say that. So I hope that listeners have has the same effect on them. And they can practice it themselves too, right? With whatever, you know, we’ve all have that stuff that we kind of just spin around in our heads and feel guilty about. So we have to wrap up. No, I’m gonna say let’s wrap up. But I want to hear what you were gonna say.

Andrew 

Advice for somebody whose their mind’s going a million miles an hour, breathing, meditation, cold water. Though, if you do those three things, you you will be able to control. I don’t have racing thoughts through my head anymore. You know, because I can breathe through it. Or if I’m having a hard time, I’ll go hop in a cold shower, to kind of reset myself. So yeah, those three things real quick. For your viewer, it really be helpful for them.

Melissa 

Yeah, absolutely. Finding the things that grounds you and like, like you were saying, it’s so important for you to be in the present. And sometimes you really need things that kind of like just really help ground you in the moment. And of course, I’ll say too, you know, find a professional you could work with who can help you learn those tools to, right? So you don’t just listen to a podcast to get your tips.

Andrew 

Great podcast, but you need to work with a professional.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I’ve worked with therapists myself. And it’s, it’s really powerful. So if you’re thinking listening right now and thinking about it, definitely, I would definitely encourage it. So Andrew, we do have to, unfortunately, wrap up, I could talk to you for you know, another hour and ask and ask you questions, but but we won’t, we won’t do that. Where can listeners find you connect with you learn more about siendo?

Andrew 

Yeah, so you can go to www.siento.io And I didn’t say this, but Siento is a Spanish word for to feel. So that’s why we went with that name. We felt like it really was, you know, it was it was what our company is all about, you know, getting people to feel again and get help. So they can go to our website. We have our beta, it’s open now, which is gonna close this next week. And then we’re hoping for July-ish ish launch. Also, you can find me on Instagram or Facebook. I think you have I gave you some links for that.

Melissa 

Yeah, I’ll include this in the show notes.

Andrew 

Yeah, or if any of your viewers want to get a hold of me like Andrew at siento.io is another way that I would love to talk to anybody that has questions or as wants some feedback of their own on their project. I’d love to talk to anybody.

Melissa 

Awesome. Awesome. Yeah, well, like I said, I’ll include all of those in the show notes. This has been such a great conversation. Andrew, thank you so much for coming on the show. I am really excited to share this it’s it’s we might just miss your beta launch I think like when we when it goes live, but that’s okay. You’re gonna I know this is just the beginning for your company. So we’ll include those those links for people to learn more about Siento.

Andrew 

Thank you so much. Again, thank you. Thank you for allowing me to be open and vulnerable with you and your audience and and I truly hoped that they got something from today and you know I just really appreciate the opportunity it’s been it’s been great thank you

Melissa 

thank you Andrew

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HI I’M MELISSA

I'm a therapist-turned-coach who loves working with clients around the world! I work with the globally mobile community to support them through transitions as well as entrepreneurs who need support navigating the rollercoaster of entrepreneur life.

I'm also the co-founder of the Location Independent Therapists (LIT) Community, a mom, a self-compassion advocate, and an aspiring author.

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