Written By Ravi Sharma
This is frankly pretty hard, but I feel compelled to share the genesis of OOTify, a new mental health startup in Los Angeles, story authentically while being respectful of others’ privacy.
To begin, I’m Indian American and “OOT” means uplift in the Hindi language and OOTify is the process of lifting each other up. This is a quick story of hardship on a personal and professional level, but overcoming it and ultimately what I hope you will see as an uplifting story.
In 2005, I graduated from USC and got a demanding, but rewarding job in finance. I had a stable relationship, a united family (which I thought was immensely important - divorce is not common in Indian culture) and I was in good physical and mental shape (relatively).
And then it started to fall apart... or at least that’s what it felt like. My mom’s health had been languishing while I was at USC, and culminated about a year into my first full-time job when my parents decided to separate and she no longer felt like life and what she was going through was worth it. We could have lost her.
Professionally, I had just passed my Series 7 exam (primary exam I needed to do my job) and was poised to do very well in my new career. But I wanted to be there for my mom. I immediately met with my boss and told him I needed to quit. I told him my mom was not feeling well. He asked what was so bad that I needed to quit?
And...I sort of lied.
I said we weren’t sure mainly because we did not know the extent of it, but it resembled depression. I tried to tie it more to physical health because in my mind, that was more acceptable and relatable.
And that moment began to capture the stigma I had noticed in my culture my entire life. I’m sure many others as well have felt this way one time or another. My boss and I chatted and decided a 30 day leave of absence would be enough time to see if I needed to officially resign.
I drove home from Los Angeles to Orange County immediately.
And then the next thing I did was I reached out to my mom’s best friend for support. She essentially told me she couldn’t help. She was scared of taking on the unknowns of the challenge at hand and it’s probably not her fault, but that stung. Stigma got the best of my situation again.
That hurt a lot because my mom had supported this friend in a major way when they first began their friendship. Her friend had gone through a really bad car accident with some sustained body injuries and physical health issues so my mom picked up and watched her kids, dropped off food and basically was by her side in such a meaningful way...for months. So when she said she couldn’t help my mother or provide that support in time of need, this was just another example of physical health being given more footing over mental health in our society.
What was the next step? We turned to some professional help and it took some time, but my mom is in great health now and has been for a long time. My parents have even reconciled their marriage. It wasn’t an easy journey, but we got through it as a family. Ultimately, that’s when I had the “aha!” moment, that therapy works and man, this stigma fn sucks. We were fortunate to get through that and not many families can be so fortunate, but it did take a toll on all of us.
I ended up going back to work within 30 days, went on to pass my Series 63 exam (last exam I needed to take for my job) and had a great career in finance. But a few things happened to me personally: I ended my own relationship, gained 20 pounds, and turned to unhealthy food and going out with friends late into the night to help cope with what I was going through.
Then the global recession hit and I saw it as an opportunity to get out of finance and more importantly, it seemed like an appropriate time to refocus on my family, my health and try my hand in entrepreneurship.
On the business side, I took my severance and started one healthcare company focused on electronic medical record implementation, which I later sold. That taught me some valuable lessons in healthcare and more importantly, how to build a solid company with some monthly recurring revenue (MRR) with large institutional health clinics. My biggest customer was Scripps Health in San Diego.
Simultaneously, I worked on some cleantech ventures - one worked and I was able to exit within 6 months and the other did not. The one that didn’t work out was my biggest bet so I had to eventually go back into finance.
The best part of these few years was I was able to focus on my health, help my family and learn a lot in the process. I was in my late 20’s, great time to be learning anyway even if not every bet worked out as expected. On a fun note, I traveled to India on a spiritual journey, bought a motorcycle (super zen!) and really refocused on myself and simultaneously, helped my family go to therapy to cope with everything we had gone through over the past few years. A lot of growth on the personal and professional side of things.
When I returned to finance, I loved what I was doing for another solid 7 years, but had a shocking wake-up call in 2016.
I lost a friend to suicide. Stigma winning yet again.
In that moment, I knew I needed to do something about it since this seemingly was one of the biggest crises we have in our country. So I quit my job as a Portfolio Manager at Western Asset and launched OOTify.
It was a big career shift and people thought I was off my skis, but I had some startup experience under my belt and one secret weapon: passion.
I had seen my mom and too many others battle mental health issues and now had lost a friend. It was time to tackle mental health because I was disappointed with the platforms that were out there. Not just the technology, but the branding and messaging was off.
So, the first hire I made was one of the best creative executives (Mike Quinones) in Los Angeles to build our brand with a focus on positivity and community. We built the technology in tandem with the brand and a diverse team - it has paid off.
What we have today is a company backed by mental health counselors, life coaches, clinicians, creatives, business leaders, investors, academia and our entire community. Over the long term, we will be able to help all those willing to work on their mental health or support their family or friends. Although the company was started because of the stigma and trying to help those in need, it’s really become a great tool to help the backbone of our community - mental health professionals and those that help others.
Community of those willing to engage in supporting one another and encouraging each other to work on our mental health will ultimately sustain OOTify. We need to talk about our mental health and regularly make it stronger.
OOTify is a meant to be a resource if and when people feel compelled to work on their mental health. It’s something we don’t have to do when we lose someone we love or when our health has deteriorated, but rather proactively work on making one’s mental health flourish. OOTify is a mental health marketplace powered by technology, uplifting content and online community forums available as a mobile application in both the Apply and Google app stores.
My lifelong aspiration with OOTify is having everyone, especially those like my friend that I lost, to have access to help, whether that be a mental health professional, life coach or verified mentor. To get that help in a way that they feel most comfortable. No judgement. Just pure upliftment.
Hope you’ll “OOT” or lift up with us and join us in our mission. We’re just getting started. To find a therapist and connect with our community find us @iTunes, GooglePlay or visit us online @ https://www.ootify.com/