In the process of starting anything, there will inevitably be points where you feel like you’re failing. It’s even more critical in those moments to maintain belief in your vision.
Roni Frank is a Co-Founder of Talkspace, an online therapy platform and mobile app that connect clients directly with licensed therapists anytime and anywhere.
Roni also serves as Talkspace’s Head of Clinical Services, leading the company’s provider network of more than 1,500 therapists and responsible for quality of clinical service and therapist network growth. Roni is committed to open access to mental health care for every person in need. Roni and her husband co-founded Talkspace in 2012, while she was pursuing her Master’s degree in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy at the New York Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. Roni earned her degree in 2013. Before co-founding Talkspace, Roni was a software developer at Amdocs, a leading software and services provider to communications and media companies.
How did you get the idea for your company?
My husband Oren and I got the initial inspiration to start Talkspace online therapy after going to couple’s therapy ourselves. Therapy saved our marriage. It enabled us to acknowledge that we had separate needs, and to communicate them, rather than fighting about our differences. After experiencing the impact of therapy firsthand, I knew I wanted to learn more about it on my own.
When Oren and I moved from Israel to New York, I started a master’s program in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, and became interested in the pressing issue of mental health care access: 20% of people are diagnosed with some level of mental disorder, yet 70% of those people don’t end up getting any help, often due to cost. Even before we landed on the specific idea for Talkspace, I knew I wanted to pursue a career that would expand access to mental health care, and help destigmatize it.
Surprisingly, the rise of social media that was taking off at that time—about seven years ago—was also a big part of the original idea for Talkspace. It was then becoming clear that our culture was obsessed with digital platforms, especially as a form of communicating and connecting with others. We were relying on Facebook and Instagram to connect with friends and family—but I didn’t feel like those were real connections. It felt unsafe to talk about negative feelings, everyday problems, and challenges. I felt there needed to be a digital space where people could be authentic and talk about real issues. The result of all of this Talkspace.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I begin my day by drinking coffee in bed, brought to me by my husband Oren, the CEO and Co-founder of Talkspace. I cherish my mornings, and try to use them as a chance to slow down, relax, and set the tone for the rest of each day. Before I head to the office, I get my girls ready for school while they eat breakfast. I love spending time with my kids before the day begins.
I also try to do yoga every morning, even if it’s just for 20 minutes. This ritual helps me feel more present in my body throughout the day.
Once I get to the office, the workday begins. My first step is making an action-oriented list of tasks for the day to help me set measurable goals. Before I start on them, I pick the top two or three most critical things that I need to accomplish by the end of the day. Keeping my expectations realistic helps me stay productive and focused.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The phrase “bring your ideas to life” makes the process sound very romantic. Elements of it can be, but it’s also a lot of work. If you have an idea and you want to make it happen, it’s important to believe in your vision, while also recognizing the importance of being pragmatic and realistic.
There are a lot of mistakes that happen along the way when you’re building any idea from scratch. But accepting trial and error doesn’t mean losing hope. In the process of starting anything, there will inevitably be points where you feel like you’re failing. It’s even more critical in those moments to maintain belief in your vision. This will sustain your motivation to continue, which you’ll need to endure the various stages of hard work and failures.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Admittedly, I’m really excited about automated cars. I think they’ll end up saving a lot of lives by decreasing instances of human error, and drunk driving. Current data shows that 28 people in the United States die every day due to car accidents involving an alcohol-impaired driver. Now that my kids are old enough to walk around in our town, I am worrying constantly about the way most people drive. Also, as someone who drives about 3 hours every day to and from work, I’m pretty excited about the possibility of having extra time to sleep or relax while my car drives me home! What a dreamy idea.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Yoga—without a doubt. I used to be the kind of person who did yoga occasionally and never fully felt or understood the benefits. About two years ago, I started practicing more regularly—about 5 days a week. I noticed how different my quality of life was, and the quality of my focus at work. Now, I’ve made a commitment to it, knowing that it relaxes me physically and mentally in a way that I couldn’t have imagined. When I can maintain that calm focus throughout the day, I get so much more done. Another source of productivity for me is when I’m able to give valuable input to people on my team. My first priority as an entrepreneur is to help my team solve their problems.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I’ve never had “the worst job.” I spent six years working as a software developer, which definitely wasn’t the right career for me. I never hated being a developer, but I was also never that passionate about programming. It was considered a “good” career because I’d studied computer science, and knew the money was good.
But after studying psychology and eventually launching Talkspace, I realized how important it is to be passionate about your work. There is so much value in spending time doing something that stimulates you and gives you a sense of meaning, regardless of whether or not it “makes sense” on paper.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. It sounds cliché to say that you always learn from your mistakes. But my biggest lessons were always the result of things that went wrong or were unexpected. Quite honestly, I don’t believe in the idea of “doing things differently.” Ruminating on the past is a destructive way of thinking.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
The #1 recommendation I’d have for any entrepreneur (including myself) is to stay radically open-minded, no matter how successful you get. Don’t fall in love with one idea and fixate on executing it. Try to see every disagreement as an opportunity to learn—not as a threat to your ego. Accept when you’re wrong, and own your mistakes. Learning to be resilient while building your company will increase the chances of its success—and your well-being—by a long shot.
In the process, listen to other people—your team, your audience, users, clients, everyone. If you want to be in this world of innovation and disruption, you have to create space for many perspectives and cultivate a culture of collaboration and flexibility. Sometimes, even as a leader, your instinct won’t be the best decision. Being willing to accept this will help create the foundations of an inclusive and dynamic company.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Learning to take care of my mental and physical health helped grow Talkspace. Of course, I had to experience burnout first hand before realizing this. In the first years of the company, I didn’t leave enough time for myself to decompress. I was totally obsessed with my work. I didn’t eat very well, and never slept much. At some point, I knew I needed to make a change, and I learned how important it is for me, and all entrepreneurs, to admit when we feel stress, anxiety, and depression—and to set aside time to take care of ourselves. With the support of my therapist, I was able to focus on self-care strategies to help myself grow and feel better.
Even though there’s been more recent media attention on the prevalence of mental health issues among business leaders, we all need to continue speaking up about the emotional challenges of entrepreneurship. In a recent study, Michael Freeman, a clinical professor of psychology at UCSF, showed that mental health conditions are more likely to exist among entrepreneurs. Of the 242 entrepreneurs surveyed, 49% reported struggling with a mental health condition. Depression ranked as the #1 reported condition, and was present in 30% of participants. (Compare that to the U.S. population in general, where only 7% report themselves as depressed).
Mental and physical health are integral parts of success. Founders need to start opening up about burnout, stress, and the price they pay to start and grow their businesses. We’ve all suffered from it, and we can help each other by learning to be more authentic about our mental well-being.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When we first launched our product in 2011, the first service we offered was group video therapy: a scheduled video call that would happen in real-time between a therapist and four or five people. After the launch, nothing happened for a few months. People just weren’t interested.
But as always, in every failure lies a big opportunity. At the bottom of our old homepage was a button for Customer Support, which we eventually realized users were interpreting as “clinical support.” We were so small at the time, so I was the person checking Customer Support emails. No one was buying our services, yet the Support inbox was flooded with emails from people about their personal problems. The takeaway was that people wanted to be able to communicate via text, and to do so immediately—without having to wait for an available session.
This was huge intel, and inspired us to revamp the model of online therapy we were creating. With Talkspace today, clients can send their therapist text messages, audio messages, as well as picture and video messages in a private, text-based chat room.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I would love to see an automated Personal Assistant app. In the social media age, our phones buzz every other second with notifications. With such constant distraction, it’s harder to stay focused, and easier to feel anxious—how could we not with our attention constantly scattered?
Ideally, this product would let you talk to it, cataloging all of the things you told it you needed to get done and organizing them in terms of importance—at work, at home, with friends, for your kids, whatever. You could talk to it while driving, telling it something to add to your to do list that you suddenly remembered. The app would help you stay organized and focused, so you could complete all of your tasks with more clarity—and much less stress!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I spent recently was on an American Girl bunk-bed that I bought for the 7-year-old daughter of a close family friend. She had a rough year and was very sick, and I wanted to get her a present that would make her happy while she had to stay at home. Every time I’ve seen her since, she tells me how much she loves the gift, and how much she and her dolls play with it. I really felt the emotional value of giving that gift. I think the most powerful way to feel the value of something is to give it to someone you care about.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
● Slack: The Talkspace team uses Slack all day in the office, but it’s especially useful for me as I communicate with our clinical network of 1,500 therapists on Talkspace.
● Lessonly is a team-learning software that we use for our therapists to become trained for the Talkspace platform. It’s a wonderful tool.
● Amazon and Zappo’s: I couldn’t live without Amazon and Zappo’s. I buy my girls clothes and shoes on Zappo’s.
● Spotify is the best for music.
● Since I drive to and from work every day, I am indebted to Wayz.
● Last but not least, Facebook provides me a social connection to our network of therapists. It’s a place where I can be more authentic and informal. Many Talkspace team members and therapists also use Facebook to share innovative studies and articles in the mental health field, and I value that it gives us a place to have an ongoing conversation.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I would recommend Victor Frankl’s 1946 memoir Man’s Search for Meaning about his experiences as a victim in an Auschwitz concentration camp. On one level, Frankl’s book is about his journey of survival. On another level, it’s a deeply existential and therapeutic book about learning to find one’s purpose in life, applicable to anyone who has ever felt lost or in pain (e.g. any of us!)
Throughout the history of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, there have been many theories about the forces that drive humans to live. In 1900, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud first presented the idea of the “pleasure principle”—the notion that the most foundational instinct of humans is to seek pleasure. About a decade later, psychotherapist Alfred Adler attempted to revise Freud’s theory, positing that all humans were driven by a “will to power.”
Frankl wasn’t deliberately writing Man’s Search for Meaning as a contribution to this dialogue, but his book is the first existentialist text that addresses the human search for meaning in our lives.
Meaning is an elusive word, but I treasure this book because of how Frankl addresses the universal desire for purpose. He attributes his survival to the power of purpose, and to the power of his imagination. What he says about our drive to live really resonates with me. After finding more meaning in my personal life and in my professional life at Talkspace, I felt much more satisfied and content in my daily life. I’ll end now with a quote from the book to pique readers’ interest: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
- If you want to be in this world of innovation and disruption, you have to create space for many perspectives and cultivate a culture of collaboration and flexibility.
- If you have an idea and you want to make it happen, it’s important to believe in your vision, while also recognizing the importance of being pragmatic and realistic.
- There is so much value in spending time doing something that stimulates you and gives you a sense of meaning, regardless of whether or not it “makes sense” on paper.