Mental Health problems are difficult to identify and easy to rule out. And with the stigma associated with mental health in our society, people often avoid or delay seeking treatment because they fear being judged.
After being diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease, Anchoul Kamath, who started his career in finance in London and then moved back to India in 2016 to start, realized the importance of managing his mental health. He then decided to dedicate the next phase of his life to solving this problem.
“In 2017, I started a passion project to help people with their mental health. Over the past three years, I’ve collaborated with leading psychologists, life coaches, and wellness experts, and I have facilitated workshops for thousands of people on mental well-being and personal growth. From students to CEOs, I observed a common problem: no one knew how to manage their emotions, especially their stress and anxiety, which prevented them from growing as individuals and leaders. I saw the need for a platform that was easy to use, accessible to everyone, and joyful,” recalls Anshul.
This is how the idea ofwas born. In 2020, Anshul partnered with Rohan Arora, whom he met at a wine tasting, to launch Evolve.
“Like me, Rohan was extremely passionate about working in the mental health field, and for over a year we spent time understanding the core values, working styles, etc., before he officially join us as a co-founder,” says Anshul
The Mumbai-based startup aims to make mental health a priority for millions of people around the world.
“The word ‘evolve’ means that we are all on our individual journey towards better well-being and no matter where we arrive there is always room for improvement,” says Anshul.
The app and its proprietary interface help users improve their mental well-being through interactive content, based on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Evolve was also recognized as part of “Google Play’s Best Of 2021” in India and currently has over 200,000 users from all over the world.
Focus on the LGBTQ+ community
In 2021, the nine-member team noticed the need to address mental health issues facing the LGBTQ+ community.
Anshul says, “The LGBTQ+ community is the most underserved segment of the mental health market in terms of the propensity to seek solutions versus the availability of products that actually meet their needs. Despite the strong trend of seeking mental health solutions, very few apps are designed for this audience. »
“One of the biggest trends we noticed, through Google Play, was the need for mental health for the LGBTQ+ community. During Pride Month last year (June 2021), we ran a few experiments on the Google Play Console to test a more inclusive logo and branding. We noticed a big increase in our conversion rates and this trend continued even after Pride Month, helping us realize that members of the community naturally gravitated towards our application,” he adds.
Even when it comes to therapists, many aren’t trained to understand the issues facing community members, Anshul says. The number of queer-affirming therapists is extremely low. Similarly, when it comes to digital mental health platforms and applications, most solutions are heteronormative and do not meet the needs of community members.
Thus, in February 2022, Evolve pivoted as the first LGBTQ+ app. It features content curated specifically for members of the community, including interactive introspections on “coming to terms with their sexuality” and “revealing to loved ones.”
The app has added a lot of contextualized content for community members, especially around the most pressing issues (e.g. homophobia at home, exploring their gender identity or sexuality, etc. ). The team also spends a lot of time with users as well as queer affirming therapists to understand how they can address the mental health needs of the community.
Anshul adds, “We are seeing high levels of engagement and retention, even from users who do not identify as part of the community. We also have members of our core team drawn from the community. and overall, and we made the decision to pivot to the community in order to fill this gap in the market.
According to the founders, Evolve may be the only global mental health app that is LGBTQ+ first.
Develop the application
How it works?
Everything about Evolve centers around creating a safe virtual space for its users where they can spend time exploring their thoughts, working on contextualized issues that impact their mental health, and building healthy habits, the all without any fear of judgement.
One of the unique features of Evolve is the guided introspection sessions which are interactive and designed to simulate in-person sessions led by a therapist or life coach. These focus on specific issues such as coming out to loved ones, dealing with homophobia at work, social anxiety, etc.
During these sessions, the platform structures the time a user spends on the app, asks them the right questions, and incorporates techniques and approaches similar to those an expert would adopt.
“Depending on the session and the problem, we decide which techniques to use when we design these sessions. For example, when dealing with specific issues for the LGBTQ+ community, the level of trauma is often much deeper and therefore many trauma-informed techniques such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) or work somatic come into play,” says Anshul.
“If it’s more work-related issues, such as impostor syndrome or self-esteem issues at work, we tend to use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) more. Apart from that, we also integrate other proven methods for better mental health into the product, including meditation and journaling to make the experience more holistic and allow our users to build positive habits,” adds- he.
Turnover and business model
The seeded startup is working to close its first round of funding very soon. Although the app operates on a freemium model, where it offers some services for free, some parts are only unlocked when a user subscribes and pays.
However, as an early-stage startup, its goal has been to ensure that it meets the mental health needs of its users, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, all community features and content are free at this time.
Growth and the road ahead
Speaking about some of the learnings and challenges, Anshul says, “When we decided to become an LGBTQ+ first app in January 2022, we knew we had a big learning curve ahead of us. We had to go back to the drawing board to create new user personas and begin to understand the mental health needs of the community, which are different from the needs we were solving earlier.
The team also needed to ensure that the language used in the app was queer affirmative, especially when it came to including all gender identities.
With over 200,000 users, Evolve considers India and North America to be its top markets, as together they make up nearly 80% of its user base. Other users come from all over the world.
Posting its pivot as the first LGBTQ+ app, the startup noticed a significant increase in community users without any targeted marketing. While around 65-70% of its new users in the US are from the community, in India around 35-40% of Evolve’s users are from the LGBTQ+ community.
Anshul credits Google Play for its growth as it actively recognizes and promotes the app to potential users.
“We have received a lot of support from Google Play team members. Evolve is one of the apps featured on Google Play to celebrate Pride month in India this year which is very special for us” , he adds.
The app has over 150,000 installs and a 4.7 user rating on Google Play. The startup is also part of a cohort of 100 startups that are being trained under the Appscale Academy, an initiative of the Startup Hub of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and Google.
“It has been a truly rewarding experience for us as we are mentored by Google and industry experts on product development, user growth and various aspects of building a successful app business for a global audience. “, adds Anshul.
Over the next year, Evolve will focus on two key themes: creating safe virtual spaces and communities to help users openly share their feelings with others facing similar issues, and enabling its users to track and measure their mental health.