Dr. Stephanie Smith is Clinical Psychologist and Founder of the Finding Center app, the first intuitive eating classes app.
Victoria, along with surprise co-host thoughtbot's Director of Product Strategy, Jordyn Bonds talks to Dr. Stephanie about creating the Finding Center app to give people who are struggling with their bodies and their relationship with food a way to follow a plan, understand a path forward, and be able to see themselves getting healthier.
- Finding Center app
- Intuitive Eating by RDN Evelyn Tribole, MS and RDN Elyse Resch, MS
- The Body Is Not an Apology, Second Edition: The Power of Radical Self-Love
- Follow Dr. Stephanie Smith on LinkedIn, Instagram, or Facebook.
- Follow thoughtbot on Twitter or LinkedIn.
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VICTORIA: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Victoria Guido. And with me today is Dr. Stephanie Smith, Clinical Psychologist and Founder of the Finding Center app, the first intuitive eating classes app. Thank you for joining me.
DR. SMITH: Yeah, it's a pleasure to be here. It's nice to see you.
VICTORIA: Nice to see you too. And we also have Jordyn, our Director of Product Strategy at thoughtbot. Hi, Jordyn.
VICTORIA: So let's just kick this off. And Dr. Smith, tell me a little bit more about your Finding Center app.
DR. SMITH: So I created the Finding Center app really a little bit selfishly because I wanted to create what didn't exist for me 10 or 15 years ago when I was really struggling with food and my body. And I'm very by the book, you know, tell me what to do, and I'll follow that. And there just wasn't something like that at that time of my life.
And so I created the Finding Center app to give people who are struggling with their bodies and their relationship with food a way to follow a plan, a way to understand a path forward, and to be able to see themselves getting through this, you know, getting to a healthier tomorrow. And that's what I really wanted for myself, and that's what I hope to build here.
VICTORIA: Well, I love that it came out of a personal issue you were having. And what was the gap between that type of content versus what already existed in the market?
DR. SMITH: Back at that time, you know, this is probably dating all of us here a little bit. But at that time, [chuckles] apps were a little bit newer; technology was, of course, you know, things are growing so quickly. And there were things like books, so you could read something on your own. Or you might be able to go see a therapist or a counselor, but they may not specialize in this kind of thing. And so there really was sort of this DIY, like piece things together, figure it out, try a book, try a workbook, maybe they'll go together, maybe they won't. Or go see a provider, and they may or may not specialize.
But there really wasn't something that was going to be a direct guide for these issues. And certainly, at that time, and still exists today, there's this huge lack of available things that are respectful to body diversity and size diversity. And so, really looking for something that wasn't going to be further stigmatizing, it was and still is an extremely huge challenge in this marketplace.
VICTORIA: Great. And tell me more about, you know, you've mentioned intuitive eating. And how is that different from a diet or from your regular food tracking apps?
DR. SMITH: That's such a great question. So intuitive eating is really the most old school [laughs] kind of style of eating because it's what we're all born doing. If you've spent any time around toddlers, you know that they'll have a couple of bites of a sandwich, a little bit of apple, half a cookie, and then they'll go run and play. Kids are natural intuitive eaters, and that starts to fade as we get older. And we start to have this morality around food and morality around body and this pressure to change and have things different. And we kind of lose that intuitive ability to have half a cookie and go play because I'm done right now, and maybe I'll come back to it, maybe I won't.
Intuitive eating really is about this recognition that that's what you were born with. That's what your birthright is, and you still have that. And it's really kind of pulling away these kinds of stigmas and biases that culture puts on top of our relationships with food and our relationships with our bodies. And when we can pull that back, there's this beautiful natural ability to eat what we want and to find a balanced way of nourishing ourselves. And that's really what intuitive eating is about is getting back to that.
VICTORIA: I love that. And how did you go about taking what seems like even though it's a basic, like, at its most [laughs] basic concept, but it's this very big, different way of conceptualizing food and boil that down into like an application? [laughs]
DR. SMITH: I have to be very clear here. I did not do this on my own. [chuckles] So intuitive eating has been around for a long time. It was started by a couple of dieticians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. They've recently been in The New York Times recently and in other places. So it's becoming a little bit of a hot thing, which is great. But I had those resources.
So I've been following people who kind of are in this space. And they are one of those people who had a book and a workbook, so you weren't able to get that kind of personalized walk-through. But these resources have existed, and those are some of the resources that are the ones I mentioned, you know, that I started putting together when there wasn't something like this app that existed.
So it's really borrowing from them and then tying intuitive eating into body acceptance, and body liberation, and radical self-love, you know, tying intuitive eating in with these things, with our bodies because body shame and how we treat our bodies in terms of nourishment these are really integrated concepts. And I wanted to bring them together in a very intentional and overt kind of way.
VICTORIA: I think that's wonderful. And I'm curious, Jordyn, if you have any thoughts on if you were meeting with a founder who had just built this app, what would be your first questions you would ask?
JORDYN: Frankly, a lot of what I would ask is what you've already asked. But the sort of next thing I would focus on are questions around who are your users? How did you figure out who to bring this to first? How did you make that decision?
DR. SMITH: That's a great question. So when I was building this, you know, I think I mentioned that I was really building it from this place of what would I have needed at that time? And so I'm really looking for people who kind of think similarly, you know, who really want structure, who want multimedia kind of support. I wanted journaling activities, and I wanted education, and I wanted something to think about or some mindfulness. I really wanted a lot of things because I learn in a lot of different ways. So I'm looking for people who like to learn that way.
And I'm also the type of person that when I do something, I really want to do it. I want to dive in. I want to figure it out, you know, I really want to show up for it, and this is that kind of thing. And so it was pretty natural to think about the type of, you know, maybe personality who would be a great fit for this.
And then, in terms of who it's for, I really started with people I knew. So the first program that I ran through it was an intensive version of the app, which meant that there were weekend group meetings with everyone. And there was live Q&A and a place for us to ask questions and respond back to each other and share.
And I really started with people that I knew and friends of friends because a lot of people, you know, I think if we all think about our networks, a lot of people struggle in their relationships with food and in their relationships with body. And so the first place I started was with the people I already knew and saying, "Do you know anyone else who would be a good fit for this?" And it has kind of blossomed from there.
JORDYN: What's been one of the more unexpected things you've learned from your users as you've gotten more people into the app using it?
DR. SMITH: I think one of the things that isn't necessarily unexpected at all but is really striking to me in terms of how impactful it is is how much medical stigma impacts everyone and especially those who are in larger bodies, or bodies who are marginalized for other reasons because of their health status, or racial status, or age, or other factors like that.
As a health psychologist, I like to think of my work and my workplace as being somewhere that people can come and feel safe, and feel heard, and feel understood. And now I'm seeing, you know, I work in a doctor's office, yet my experience of being in a doctor's office is so different from other people's experiences and the stories that I heard from others about how they went in for some kind of pain and weren't even offered physical therapy, you know, were offered a diet instead of that. And those kinds of stories, how many of those I've heard, has been really striking and really surprising to me how impactful that has been and how much work we really need to do to improve the experience for patients.
JORDYN: Given that finding of the importance of safety, how has that idea informed how you've gone about designing and building the app?
DR. SMITH: Of course, with a project like this, you know, I think a lot of founders on here have shared kind of building the airplane while you fly it. [chuckles] And so I've gone and, of course, recorded a lesson or made a journal entry activity or something like that. And then I am going back, and I'm adding things to those. So I'm doing a re-recording or adding a piece, or adjusting the journal prompts or the mindfulness activity, really to make some very clear statements there around if you've heard this kind of thing, you're not alone.
If you have experienced this type of being shamed, let's really bring that out of the darkness. Let's bring it into the light because shame is something that lives in the dark. And so really wanting to help people excavate the parts of that shame that they are willing and comfortable and wanting to bring out into the light and creating a space for that has become really important for me.
It is making sure that we're able to talk about these things and say, "No, yeah, I think my provider is a great person. I do think they care about me. And at the same time, they're living in this weight bias and this stigma place too. And these are the recommendations they gave me. And that was a person that I thought would be safe." And so really trying to have those balanced discussions around why that might happen and giving people a place to talk about that.
VICTORIA: And one example I've seen in, I think, in your marketing materials is a measurement like the BMI or the Body Mass Index. And that's one that even myself I've experienced being used on me in a way where it's like, "Well, the index is saying you're overweight." And I'm like, "Well, clearly, I'm not. [laughter] Something is wrong with this measurement." And I can't even...you probably have a greater understanding of the harm that causes in communities.
DR. SMITH: Yeah, that's such a great point. I have looked at that myself. And I remember the very first time that someone said that, like, "Well, you're overweight. Have you considered losing weight?" And I was coming in...I think I was coming in to talk about something related to my period, something like that. And I thought, why are we talking about this? What is going on? [laughs] Where did this come from? I just wanted to talk about switching my birth control. And it just comes into every conversation.
And I think even someone like me, even someone who's in this space where I'm going, well, this is a bunch of crap; I think we all know at this point BMI is a bunch of crap. But even knowing that there's still this part of me that...and maybe you relate to this too of just, well, I do live in this culture. And you're saying these words about me like overweight. And my immediate thought, even though the one coming after that is frustration, my immediate thought is, oh no, what's wrong with my body? It's to be afraid. How am I going to be treated? Or does this mean something bad about my health?
And so even these metrics like BMI do a terrible job at acknowledging body diversity and actual health and all of those things. They're still scary still. And I think in a body acceptance space; it's really important for us to also acknowledge that even though we want to be body-accepting and be advocates for ourselves, it's still really normal when someone gives us that kind of information, especially someone in a position of power like a health care provider, that when someone is saying those kinds of things to us that it can still hurt. Even though we know, maybe intellectually, this is where that's coming from, that it doesn't need to hurt, it still does.
VICTORIA: And it can have financial implications as well if they're indicating that you're not "healthy" quote, unquote, because of a statistic like that that is meaningless. [laughs] But yeah, that can affect your insurance and all other kinds of things, so...
DR. SMITH: Yeah. And I think the financial piece that you're bringing up there is such a good point because there's so much power and control dynamics that can occur around finances. We really are limited by [laughs] what we can afford and not afford to do. And so people who are limited in terms of what they're able to pursue for their health will have to go along with lots of things that they may not believe in or may not want to follow up on because that's what their doctor is telling them is within their insurance to do. And that's a really hard thing.
VICTORIA: Sounds like the app gives patients or people the tools to be able to push back in some of those scenarios and also furthering body acceptance and an understanding of eating habits. What is the kind of immediate goals for your app? What does success look like in the next six months? And then maybe what does success look like five years from now?
DR. SMITH: When you started asking that question, I almost felt like a magician or a stage performer putting on 18 different hats all at once. [laughs] And I thought, from which of these should I respond to that question? [laughs] And so there's the health care provider inside of me going, well, as many people getting the support that they need, that's the benefit. So if one person gets it, that's great. I want anyone who can feel greater liberation to have that.
And then that hat pops off, and the marketer hat that I've been wearing kind of pops on and is like, well, these are the metrics in terms of growth and collaboration with other people in this space that I want to do. I want to collaborate with more people who are working here, and there are metrics around that that I want to pursue. And then the person inside of me that has to make money goes, okay, well, this many sales.
And so I think success is a really hard thing for me to pin down. But if I were to summarize, trying to kind of encapsulate all of those roles, it really just is having more people experience the app, having more people experience the education there, and being able to get that feedback to make it better. This is the first year of growth, and so there's going to be so much learning. I don't know yet what's going to be the next big thing that makes me go, oh my gosh, how did I not put that in there? And I'm just so excited to get to that point where I'm getting more of that feedback so that I can continue to make it better and better.
VICTORIA: I love that. And I think that it's a great place to be, [laughs] and you have an app that has a meaning for people. And then you also have other ways to measure your success. And, Jordyn, I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on an initial strategy to kind of meet some of the goals that Stephanie is laying out.
JORDYN: I was actually going to go backward in time first, if you don't mind, and ask, as a person with an application now out in the world who does not have a technical background, could you tell us the story of how you went from this idea to those first steps of making it happen in the world? What did you do? Where did you go?
DR. SMITH: [laughs] Yeah, so this is, on my end anyway, kind of a wild story though it may be typical for those of you who have been in this space. But so for me, I had this idea that I wanted to do to take the classes that I already do...because I already teach classes and I teach them live, and I love to do it. It's so much fun for me. But I wanted to take those and make them accessible for more people. And I wanted to make them in such a way where people could go at their own pace, you know, kind of follow through.
And so I've had this idea for, I want to say, something like five years, but I just wasn't finding the right platform. A lot of the online courses and things like that I do like them, but they didn't feel as flexible as I wanted them to be. For me, when I'm listening to an app and learning information, I want to be able to listen offline. I want to be able to watch it sometimes. I'm really looking for a lot of flexibility.
And I didn't even have the thought of an app, but that's what an app gives you, you know, it gives you this ability to be flexible, to be on the go, to kind of make your learning what you want it to be. And so I didn't really know what I was looking for, but I knew that I hadn't found it.
And then I saw this program that helps you build apps. I think I saw an ad for it on Instagram or on Facebook, you know, just one of those very random things. And I saw the ad, and I went, oh, that's kind of interesting. And I went on the platform, and they do this thing which I think makes a lot of sense. And they say, "Well, here's a 30-day free trial. Do our educational thing to learn how to build an app. And then, if it's not for you, cancel at the end of 30 days, no big deal." So I thought, all right, that sounds good.
And what I didn't realize that they were doing...I don't know if you've heard this metaphor before, but maybe it's this concept that if you want to take the island, you have to burn the boats. Basically, it's this general kind of showing up on this island with the army and saying, "Okay, well, if we want to take the island, the best way to get my troops to be able to do that is to make it so that there's no way to go back basically." And that is what this program did.
It wound up walking me through these steps that were actually slowly burning the boats because about halfway through that free trial month, they said, "Okay, now we're going to post something online about this. And we're actually going to post every day for a week." And I'm just following the steps and going, wait a second, now I have to do this because now I've said I'm going to.
And so it finally kind of got me out of this hemming and hawing, and I don't know what to do and very much launched me into this, okay, well, now this is happening kind of place. And so it was really interesting to see that happen to myself. [laughs] I could kind of see it happening a little bit. And yeah, that's how it happened.
JORDYN: That's great. I love how you made sense of the process as a person going through it. And burning the boats to take the island metaphor is one I've never heard before. But now I have to know what the platform was [laughter] because it sounds like they did a really good job of getting you to put something out there.
DR. SMITH: Yeah, they really did. The platform is called Passion.io. And they are actually a platform that I think targets health and wellness influencers which, as you know from talking with me or if you follow my things, you know sometimes I have some beef with some of the things that they might share. We might not have the same idea about how to go about those things. But Passion.io was the platform, and they have a ton of learning tools. They've got a lot of different resources on there for walking you through the initial stages of creating something.
And then they also walk you through a little bit more high-level things. And one of the pieces that I really like about it is that underneath all of this how-to is this bolstering. Because I think for a lot of people, certainly for myself, there's this thing, this imposter syndrome that we all have of, well, I'm not good enough, or no one's going to like it. Or what if I'm embarrassed? Just the many, many places of doubt that we have.
And underneath all of the how-to is really this space of you've got this. You've got a good idea. If you don't try, you'll never know. And so that's really the undercurrent of all of that. And I found that combination of this is what to do, and here's why it's meaningful to you, and here's why you are in the best place to do it, and that was really helpful.
JORDYN: Yeah, I really love that. That's a lot of my work with early-stage founders is that. It is constantly saying, "You've got this. This is your space. You know it better than most. Just because you don't know everything there is to know about starting a tech business doesn't mean you aren't qualified to engage with your customer. So like, "If not you, who? And if not now, when?" is always [laughs] kind of what I'm asking. And it sounds like this platform does a lot of that coaching.
DR. SMITH: Yeah. And, Jordyn, I just want to comment, too; I'm sure for you, if you do this a lot, you may get to points where you go; gosh, do I still need to be giving the same kind of reassurance? And I just want to say on the end of someone receiving that reassurance, yes, [laughs] we still need it. And so that work that you're able to do of just providing that consistent I'm here for you, and you are here for you, and we're going to do this. It's amazing to me how much I have needed that, and I still need that. And I just appreciate anyone who is out there doing that because it is really, really, really hard to be that vulnerable.
JORDYN: Oh, 100%. And this is hard-won for me. I've been a founder twice and a very early employee at other startups twice. And what's amazing about that particular journey is that just when you feel like you're getting your footing at one stage, the stage changes.
DR. SMITH: [laughs] Yes.
JORDYN: So, to your point, you never stop needing that bolstering and that sort of just the coaching and the cheering on because the situation you find yourself in is constantly shifting under your feet. So 100% agree.
DR. SMITH: Yes. [laughs] It sounds like you absolutely have the experience to be the person [laughs] to shepherd people through this, which, thank goodness, somebody's got to do it. [laughs]
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JORDYN: I just feel like with a lot of things...and as a mental health professional, you're in a better place than many to understand this, but with any big undertaking like starting a business, really just anything, training for a marathon, you name it, some very significant percentage of the challenge is mental is yourself. It is getting yourself into the mindset where you can keep doing it. And I feel like a lot of folks just focus on the tactical stuff, here's how to do this, here's what to do, which is great. And you need those things.
At least half the battle is inside of us. It is emotional. It is mental. And any amount of being able to acknowledge that and grapple with those feelings as they arise is going to just make everybody that much more effective, which I feel like it's great when folks are working on apps where that's built into the mission like yours is because it's like, you can't lose sight of that. It's actually your life's work.
DR. SMITH: Yeah. And this is going to be such a psychologist comment, so forgive me for [laughs] it. But it's such an interesting thing that you're pointing out because what we're really talking about, from my perspective, is this place on the graph where vulnerability meets your highest ability to perform. And so I think for a lot of industries, not just mine, it's that crossroad where I'm at optimum vulnerability to really be able to connect.
Because when we're not vulnerable, if I keep myself too safe, then I'm not going to be able to position myself in a place to reach the most people or produce something that's going to be the most meaningful. And so I have to be willing to say, "This is going to be [laughs] really scary. This is going to really suck for me sometimes, and I'm going to get it wrong. And it's still worth it to do that because of this meaning that I'm wanting to do."
And I don't think all times in someone's life is the time [chuckles] to do that, you know, this happens to be the time for me, which is wonderful, and scary, and hard, and terrible, [laughs] and all of the rest. But it's, I think, just being conscious that there is a necessary amount of vulnerability to achieve the potential with something like this that you want to achieve and acknowledging I am just going to be sitting in a lot of hard, and that means I'm doing it right.
JORDYN: Absolutely. Yeah. And it's sort of without meeting a challenge we don't achieve. But to your point, it's that right mix of challenge and vulnerability. You don't want either of those things getting too out of balance. That is kind of the art of this journey, but 100% agree.
DR. SMITH: Yeah, I was thinking just earlier today about stress because this is stressful. It's so difficult to do. And I was talking to a friend the other day, and I was saying, "Yeah, you know, I've just been stressed with all of these things that I was doing." And this person said, "You know, well, if you tried blah, blah, blah thing, it will take the stress away." [laughs] A substance you could use to take the stress away. And I said, "You know, I haven't thought about that, and I guess I could."
But I thought in my mind how quickly we went from talking about the particular things that I was dealing with that were causing stress to trying to fix for stress and how much that's a part of our culture. And I thought, you know, the level of stress that I'm having is appropriate to the situation. I don't actually want to dull that level of stress because I need it in the same way that a car might benefit from a backup camera. When it starts to beep louder, [chuckles] I want to hear that because that's letting me know I'm heading for a crash, and I want to be conscious of that.
So certainly, as a mental health provider, I think that's one of the things that's helping me move through. It's just that sensitivity to there's a certain level of stress and a certain utility to stress. That's important when you're building something because you're also needing to maintain yourself as a person, and you've got to monitor that pretty closely.
JORDYN: You're still in private practice.
DR. SMITH: Yeah. Yeah.
JORDYN: It sounds like you've got, and I think you alluded to this earlier, a lot of hats that you're wearing.
DR. SMITH: [laughs] Yes.
JORDYN: How has it gone balancing the launch of this app with the rest of the work that you're doing?
DR. SMITH: [sighs] Well, it's been a lot. So I am a private practice psychologist. I also have a nine-to-five. I work in a hospital as a health psychologist, and, you know, building the app and doing all of those things. And I think the biggest thing that's been important for me to be able to remind myself again, and again, and again, and again is just if it stops being what I want to do, even just in a moment, don't do it; do the next thing.
Because for me in this space, as much as I might say, you know, I've burned the boats...and that is motivating for me to get through particular things. I also have to recognize that just like my body will tell me what I need with food, my body is going to let me know when I've had too much for the day or when I've been doing too much of one thing. And I need to go for a walk, or I need to just go the heck to sleep, or I need to do whatever. I need to do a different project, toss the marketing down and take a look at some of the patient notes or whatever.
For me, because I love all of what I do, everything is important to me. I think I get something from all of that, and that is important to me too. You know, not every day is roses. There are days where I just want to say, screw all of it. I'm moving to Tahiti or whatever, whatever the fantasy is. But honestly, when it comes down to it, I do it because I love it. These things are meaningful to me, and being able to share in the world in all of the myriad ways that I do that I get a lot of meaning from that.
And I would start to become concerned about that for myself if I stopped getting something back. And I think this is basically how we feel in anything that we invest in, whether I'm investing time or love, or money, or whatever we invest because we also get back, and when that stops happening, that's the time when I reevaluate. And so far, that hasn't happened yet. So far, I've been able to pivot and stay conscious of where I'm at and switch from one thing that I love to something else that I love. And then I find when I do that; I do always want to go back.
VICTORIA: That's the benefit of wearing multiple hats, right? You can pick one up and put on a different one if you're matching your energy levels.
DR. SMITH: Yeah. They say...one of the quotes that I've always related to for better or for [laughs] worse is if you want something done, give it to someone who's busy, and I think that's true for me. I'm one of those people where I like a level of busy. I thrive on that; I enjoy it. And it's just staying conscious of the balance.
VICTORIA: And I think that's great. And we talk to founders about that a lot, actually, about how to balance their time. And it's interesting to hear from a psychologist's perspective.
DR. SMITH: Yeah, it's been an interesting thing going through this as a psychologist because when I do say things like, "Well, yeah, I've been stressed," People say, "What? But you're a psychologist. You're not supposed to feel stress." And I always think this is hilarious because I go, "What the heck do you think psychologists [laughs] are?" Stress is a normal part of life. I'm going to be stressed and ticked off, and irritable, and all of the things just like everyone else.
I am very fortunate to have additional skills for how to manage it when those feelings come up, which I'm extremely, extremely grateful for. But being stressed, or upset, or sad, or any of the range of unpleasant but completely normal human emotions, we all feel those [laughs] too. Those are just as natural for us.
VICTORIA: Like, I never thought the goal of psychology was to never be stressed.
DR. SMITH: Right. Yeah, it's just to become increasingly better able to manage it.
VICTORIA: That makes sense. With your approach to your app, are there experiments that you're designing in the app to see what your clients relate to more, or how are you building that?
DR. SMITH: Yeah, absolutely. So one of the things that I am kind of balancing right now is that there's this space with intuitive eating. It really covers nourishing yourself, and a lot of that is around food. But our relationships with how we nourish ourselves and how we relate to our bodies also impacts how we move our bodies or not, how we are intimate with our bodies or not, how we are in much, much broader spaces in the world.
There's a quote that says something like, "It's not about food, but food is sort of the stage where we enact what we're going through," kind of where we enact the deeper things going on for us. And so for me, really, what I'm experimenting with and balancing is how much do we want to focus completely on foodstuff? And how much do we also want to recognize that food is going to also dovetail into movement, and also dovetail into mental health, and also dovetail into how you manage stress at the end of the day, and also dovetail into the intimacy that you have in relationships, and the pleasure that you allow yourself or not, or that you think that you deserve?
So I think really what I'm doing now and probably what I'll be doing forever with it is finding the right balance of those things and making sure to be respectful of all that's impacted by someone when we talk about just their relationship with food and their bodies. We're talking about their whole lives and really wanting to be able to go deeply with that and not keep it just on the surface.
VICTORIA: That makes sense and an interesting thing to try to measure and experiment out within an application, right?
DR. SMITH: Mm-hmm. So one aspect of the app, and probably the most meaningful one, is the courses. And there's another aspect of the app, which is a subscription. And so that's weekly lessons that are similar to the courses in that they're journaling, and a lesson, and mindfulness, and different components to them. But rather than being step by step by step like the courses, they are kind of on different topics each week. And so that's really been a space for me to experiment with some of that and to see what people are into and what really resonates with folks.
And also, of course, to use places like social media, I'll use Instagram, and I'll do a reel on this topic, and a reel on this topic, and see how that goes or a visual or whatever. And I think it's really been an interesting process within the app and also in the other places where I'm able to advertise for it, like on social media, just to see what's meaningful for people. So much of this process is finding your people and creating things that are meaningful for them, and I'm still learning how to do that.
VICTORIA: I think that's great. And I love to hear you're experimenting on a weekly basis for what content really resonates with people. I'm wondering, Jordyn, if you have any advice or tips for how to find your market, how to find your people.
JORDYN: Well, in this scenario, since you've got folks using the app already, it's great because you basically have leads, trails to follow, breadcrumbs to [laughs] chase down. So I don't know how many users you have already. And you don't have to tell us if you don't want to.
DR. SMITH: [laughs]
JORDYN: But I would basically look at the patterns of their usage and find those folks who are really using the app in the way you feel it is most useful and follow up with them. Who are they? Interview them if you can. But if you can find out things about them anyway, zero in on those folks as a specific niche and see if you can get as many people who look like them and can be defined in any way. It really depends on the characteristics of the folks themselves. And it could be geographic. It could be some component of their identity. It could be anything.
But basically, those folks who are really getting the most out of your app in the ways that you are sort of locating value for them really double down on those folks. Can you find more people like that? Can you find out more about how they're using the app? Why it's resonating. That's what I would be doing right now, and it's possible that's what you're doing. [laughs]
DR. SMITH: Well, I'm kind of curious about how to do that, you know, because anything you ask of people is one more thing. [laughs] And I think the truth for a lot of us is that we have a lot of things. And so I have a hesitancy in saying, "Well, do I send a survey that someone has to fill out? Do I try to take some of their time over the phone or ask for an email?" Because, of course, anything that takes time is something someone needs to put into their lives.
And as willing, as I think people are to be helpful, and certainly I'm very fortunate to be around just incredible people, there's a limit to that. You don't want to be asking for too much. And so I would be curious from your perspective, Jordyn, if you think there's a right way to do that, if there's a way that you think is kind of the right way or a way [laughs] to try to strike that balance.
JORDYN: Yeah, definitely. And that dynamic is something you've got to be sensitive to. People are busy, and you are asking them for something. But at this very early stage, that's kind of the beauty of this stage of the work is that it's an opportunity to really build with people, to invite them into the process so that they feel like they're co-creating something with you.
And that's why focusing on those users who appear to be getting the most out of the app is the best place to go because they're going to be the most likely to want...if they're getting something out of it, they probably are pretty excited about that. They're probably going to be excited to talk to you about it, et cetera. But that said, you should do something to compensate, and I don't mean that necessarily with money but compensate them for their time and their effort.
But in a mission-driven context like yours, it's really a great opportunity to kind of bring the community along with you. These folks are your first champions. You'll be surprised. In my experience, the people who are the most sort of impassioned about what you're doing and are benefiting from it the most are more than excited to help. And the channels how you make this ask just totally depends on the details of these folks and how they prefer to communicate.
So with regard to the question around a survey versus getting people to talk on the phone, it's a little bit of trial and error. Send out a survey, see if people respond. Putting a survey in the app is great, especially if it's just one question or two questions right after some key interaction. So maybe they've done today's lesson, or this week's lesson, or this week's activity, and right afterward, asking them one question about how they're finding the app.
And then, if they engage with that, then the follow-up can be, "Hey, thank you so much for giving me that feedback. If you're willing, I'd love to chat for 20 minutes with you about this. I really want to be creating this with my customers and my users. So no big deal if you don't have time; I get it. But it would be really valuable."
And you'll be surprised, I think, [laughs] how many people are more than excited because they really do feel it's a signal to them that you care deeply about their experience and that you really are trying to make that experience the best thing for them. It's sort of unintuitive. It feels like you're asking them to give you something, but what you're giving them is you're leaning in to co-creating with them.
DR. SMITH: Yeah. Jordyn, I love that. I think that's such a great idea. And from a mental health perspective, it's so authentic, too, because, of course, you want to offer people the opportunity to share about what they've learned and to be able to process it out loud. And you're right, that will be helpful to me, but it is also a service that's not dissimilar to what sometimes people come to therapy for, you know, is to just be able to process their experience out loud and be heard...and some of those things for themselves. So, Jordyn, I think that's such a great approach to that, and I really appreciate that. That's great.
JORDYN: Absolutely. And I would only add that it's another signal...who ends up responding positively to that is another signal for you on who your best collaborators are in the app. I mean, you can look at how they're using it to answer that question. But it's another signal to you like, oh, these are the folks who are really finding this useful. They're finding it so useful if they want to talk to me about it. And that will then additionally help you double down on those folks.
DR. SMITH: I'm curious for you, Jordyn, and I'm curious about how to reach a broader audience. So, certainly, I know people, and people who know me are much more comfortable reaching out to use the app or to be part of things because they know me and trust that it's going to be good. But expanding that to people that I don't know or that aren't, you know, through somebody, through a direct connection, that part is more challenging, of course. Because how would they know to trust me, especially when they've been around providers, as we were talking about, where sometimes that trust can be broken in some of these very vulnerable areas?
I've been experimenting with some things like creating an Instagram and things like that because I wanted to create a space for people to see what is this person all about? What is this messaging? But I'm curious if there are other ways that you would recommend to reach people who don't know me who would be then willing to take a chance on something like a course, which is often a kind of a high-ticket high-investment type of thing.
JORDYN: Well, there are myriad ways to do that, too, that come to mind, the kind that sort of define the ends of the spectrum. One of them is along the lines of what you're doing with Instagram, basically, advertise. Do a Google ad, do an ad on Instagram. You're going to capture a certain segment of people who are maybe not as focused on relationship-based referrals, who maybe are suffering in isolation, maybe they're not talking to anyone about this. So that's sort of one end.
But the other, I would say, is reaching out to fellow clinicians who you have a good relationship with and saying, "Hey, is this something you'd be willing to recommend to your patients or the folks that you work with? If not, why not?" Basically, activate your professional network in terms of adding this as another resource that they recommend to folks because then you're kind of multiplying that people you know effect, and that can be very powerful.
DR. SMITH: Yeah, it's such an interesting thing too because as you were talking, I started noticing, in my own mind, that little piece that we were talking about before of this kind of like, ah, well, I don't want to burden anyone. I don't want to give them one more thing to do. Then I thought, well, I love resources for my patients; that's only to the good. [laughs] I love having those things.
And so it was so interesting just to kind of observe that kind of process happening in real-time in my mind of this little bit of doubt that makes me go, oh, that makes me nervous, and then having to dig down to what you're actually telling me [laughs] because this is value-added.
JORDYN: 100%. And I'm glad that you noticed that and brought it up because I think this is especially for underrepresented founders, so women, people of color, so much self-doubt. And that hurdle is sometimes the biggest hurdle. And what I did, this is funny; this is fairly tactical.
DR. SMITH: [laughs]
JORDYN: When I was a founder, I made a document that was basically a reminder to myself. I would look at it before almost every call I had with anybody about what I was working on. But it was basically, hey, Jordyn, why are you doing this? [laughs] And it was like, why does this thing need to exist? Why am I the right person to be making it? Sort of a series of those things. And just to remind myself every time that what I was doing was valuable and that I'm not out there trying to get people to do something for me. I'm trying to get them to do something for themselves.
I'm taking a problem they're already trying to solve for themselves and just giving them another tool. That's it. And if they don't want to pick it up right now, that's fine. It might not be the right time. But reaching out to other practitioners and saying, "Hey, I have this tool. And the tool was developed out of a lot of the same things I'm imagining all of you are experiencing in your practices." A significant number of them are going to be like, "Oh great," just what you said, "Great, another tool. I can add this one. And maybe it won't be right for every one of my patients, but it might be right for some of them."
And just getting around that in your heart of, like, you're not asking them for something. You're giving them another resource. And in fact, not doing that sells yourself short, sells them short, frankly. You're not making this for you. This isn't merely about satisfying your own ego. I'm sure there's a little bit of that in there.
DR. SMITH: [laughs]
JORDYN: There always is. But for the most part, you're trying to help people, and by not telling them about what you're doing or offering it to them as a resource, it sort of defeats the purpose.
DR. SMITH: Yeah, it's such an important reframe. And like we were talking about before, it's one of those things that I think just needs to be on loop, [laughs] in the heads for founders. And probably some version of this on loop for all of us, you know, just as we're going through life kind of reminding ourselves my presence is not a burden. [laughs] It reminds me a little bit of what Sonya Renee Taylor kind of started with, "The Body is Not An Apology." And I think this is basically kind of going off of that topic. You know, I'm not a burden.
JORDYN: Absolutely. And I love that frame. You're doing this for a reason. You're not a burden. Your app that is out there helping people is not a burden; quite the opposite.
DR. SMITH: Right. It's amazing how [laughs] important that reminder is.
VICTORIA: Yeah, I love that. And, Jordyn, you also have our incubator program coming up soon for other founders. Do you want to mention that real quick?
JORDYN: Of course, I would love to. thoughtbot has a new incubator program launching this year. We have our first run of it starting in mid-March. Who this is for is non-technical founding teams. So you might be a solo person. You might have a team, but you haven't found that technical co-founder or partner yet, but your business idea involves building an app or building software of some kind. And basically, you're at the early stages. You haven't launched anything. You've identified the opportunity, maybe you've talked to a bunch of your potential users or customers, but you're not sure if there's a there there and what to do about it. That's the ideal sort of stage and persona.
And the program is really about helping those non-technical founding teams validate the market opportunity, do some experiments with product, basically build a couple of features, maybe a landing page that expresses the value proposition, et cetera, just to learn as much as they can about what the opportunity is and how they might need it with software. Get them used to working with a technical team and then help them with their planning for next steps, maybe that's raising capital, or maybe it is finding a technical co-founder. We can help with that. That's the idea. It's an eight-week program. Everybody who sees themselves in what I just said should apply. And the URL to apply is thoughtbot.com/incubator.
VICTORIA: Great. Thank you so much, Jordyn. And thank you for all your advice and your questions that you brought to the episode today. And, Stephanie, is there any final takeaways you'd like to leave our listeners with?
DR. SMITH: No, I just think this was such an excellent opportunity. I feel like I learned a lot from it. And I want to thank you both so much for taking the time. It's really been a pleasure.
VICTORIA: Wonderful. All right. Yes, thank you both so much for joining me today.
And for our listeners, you can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at giantrobots.fm. If you have questions or comments, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can find me on Twitter @victori_ousg.
This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore. Thank you for listening. See you next time.
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