Trust your internal compass and don’t overcomplicate things.
Shawn Kernes is a visionary trailblazer in the tech industry. With over 20 years of executive experience in building and leading startups, Shawn is always ahead of the curve while remaining grounded in understanding how to meet the fundamental needs of everyday people through innovative new products.
A highly driven entrepreneur, Shawn has spent the last two decades building and managing teams using his exceptional expertise in technology, operations, business strategy, business development and customer service. When Shawn learned that an estimated 30 million Americans aren’t getting the mental health care they need, the idea for LARKR was born.
Shawn and his team at LARKR are committed to improving people’s lives by delivering accessible and affordable therapy, using licensed professionals and a trusted modern channel that is available wherever and whenever it’s needed. For Shawn, using the right technology to remove barriers to quality mental health care is a personal and meaningful commitment.
Prior to co-founding LARKR, Shawn was at the helm of exciting burgeoning companies including serving as Senior Director of Product Development at eBay, CTO of StubHub, COO of Cash4Gold, CTO of BeyondTheRack, CTO of Boost Media, CTO of JOIST, and CTO of BuzzMob.
Shawn played an instrumental leadership role in directing these startups, helping the companies grow rapidly and disrupt their industries for the better. His professional passion for innovative solutions has cultivated remarkable success rates, driven by his personal quest to wed the best of technology with the unmet needs of society. Throughout his career, he has earned the confidence and respect of the startup community in Silicon Valley and some of the nation’s leading venture capital firms.
This impressive business career combined with an innate ability to anticipate the world’s evolving needs through intuitive platforms have propelled Shawn to the forefront of his industry.
Shawn received his Bachelor of Computer Science from Marist College in 1998.
Where did the idea for LARKR come from?
I have always had a fascination with technology and how it can benefit people. For the past two decades I was fortunate to have helped propel a number of very innovative, technology-driven companies to the top, including StubHub, eBay, Beyond The Rack, and so on. Although it was incredibly rewarding to see these ventures succeed and become industry leaders, I always felt that something was missing.
In the meantime, my wife Christianne Kernes, who is a licensed marriage and family therapist, would always tell me how personally satisfied she feels every time she is able to help people resolve their issues and mental health challenges through therapy. However, she also told me that over half of Americans with mental health issues do not receive treatment due to a variety of barriers, including costs, accessibility, and stigma.
And that’s how the proverbial light bulb lit up in my head. I realized that I could use my tech expertise to help break down these barriers and provide people with affordable mental health care wherever and whenever they need it. This is how the idea for LARKR was born.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
As the CEO of a technology-based company, I never really know how my day will progress or when it will end. My days usually begin around 6 a.m. I start by checking my calendar and following up on the status of various projects and business matters that are in progress. Then, I create a list of priorities and get to work.
My role requires me to be pretty flexible and wear many hats. Whether it’s leading strategy sessions with the team, working on business development, or making improvements to our platform – there’s always a lot to do. Having a clear agenda with a defined list of tasks to be completed each day really helps structure my day and keep me focused on the most important items.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I start by thinking about the big picture – how can my idea benefit other people and why would they use the end product or service? Once I’ve answered those questions, I begin working on technical aspects and figuring out how I can materialize my idea into something tangible.
It’s also important to make sure that your concept can be supported by existing technology. Take LARKR for example: using a video chat to connect people with licensed mental health therapists across the nation is clearly a great idea, but it would not have been possible if not for the advent of smartphones and high-speed internet. The good news is that as technology continues to evolve, it creates new pathways and possibilities for more and more bold ideas to become realities.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m excited to see the rapid expansion of telehealth technologies throughout our healthcare system. Many U.S. clinics, therapists, and physicians are bringing their services online to patients via webcams and smartphones. This has already benefited thousands of people, especially in traditionally underserved rural and mountainous areas. The continued implementation of telehealth technologies will further increase public access to healthcare while also providing patients with more options and flexibility.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I make sure that I maintain a healthy work-life balance. As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to get caught up in the 24-hour work cycle, but this type of lifestyle is simply not sustainable in the long run. This is why I always make sure that I have enough time to spend with my wife and my two daughters. Spending time with my family allows me to recharge and maintain my mental focus. But most importantly, it puts things in perspective and motivates me to work so much harder as an entrepreneur.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Trust your internal compass and don’t overcomplicate things. Overcomplicating things can lead to indecision, which is a deal-breaker for being an effective entrepreneur. You can save yourself a lot of time just by trusting in your own faculties and taking challenges head-on when they arrive. There’s no such thing as a “perfect plan,” but all obstacles can be overcome with determination and grit.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Having mental health issues is perfectly normal. For some reason, people think that if they are experiencing mental health problems, there must be something inherently wrong with them. The fact is – more than 43 million Americans struggle with mental illness, and most of us will experience mental health issues at some point in our lives. Spreading these truths and eliminating the negative stigma around mental health is what I and the LARKR team are trying to accomplish.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Dedicate time to build relationships and communicate with other entrepreneurs and business people from every background. There’s a distinct mindset that all entrepreneurs possess. They are always asking questions, charting out plans and finding ways to make things happen. Call it tenacity, drive, or just curiosity, but that type of energy is very inspiring and has always motivated me to reach higher.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Mental illness doesn’t discriminate based on age, location, or income, and so our strategy from the start was to make LARKR available to as many people in the U.S. as possible. As a result, LARKR is currently the only teletherapy platform that can be used to help children as young as 13 years old. Equipping our platform with this and other unique capabilities allowed us to fill the pre-existing void, quickly gain the market share and become a go-to service within the industry.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Being heavily involved in the startup industry, I’ve had my fair share of failures over the years. But for me, a failure is just another building block for success. It’s important to remember that success doesn’t just happen – it takes years of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears. But if you have an idea you really care about, succeed or fail – it will never be a waste of your time.
I’m not usually one to quote other entrepreneurs, but there was an interview that caught my attention years ago, and it is one that I regularly remind myself of. The interviewer asked “what’s it like to be an overnight success?” and the interviewee responded “those 8 years were the longest night of my life.”
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
When I think of business opportunities where I can have the largest impact, I tend to gravitate to traditional (offline) problems that can be significantly improved through technology… Basically, the last thing I want to do is teach people that they have a problem before I can provide them with a solution.
I also tend to focus on problems that apply/appeal to my children, myself, and my parents.
With that said, i think eldercare is a really interesting space… Everything from health, to housing, to recreation.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I’ll list a few:
– I spend about $100 per month on co-pays to visit 2-3 in-network therapists through my insurance. This allows me to stay grounded in what those who are looking for mental health care through traditional channels experience.
– The ability to charge my laptop on the road is also important to me as an entrepreneur. My $80 Mikegyver 87w car charger and powerbank has been a lifesaver more than once.
– We had a major heat wave here in Northern California a few weeks ago, and I think I bought my daughter her body weight in ice cream. This was money well spent for sure.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
As many companies do these days, LARKR has multiple teams working simultaneously from different locations across the country. Slack has been very helpful in synching up our internal communications and allowing us to discuss and coordinate our activities in real time.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Choose Yourself by James Altucher. I think this book has a great message for anyone thinking about becoming an entrepreneur or pursuing “big idea” that they’ve had in the back of their mind for a while. The entire book has a lot of valuable takeaways, but the essential message is: if someone is going to do it, why not you?
What is your favorite quote?
“If only we wanted to be happy, it would be easy; but we want to be happier than other people, which is difficult, since we think them happier than they are.” ~ Charles De Montesquieu
I find it fascinating how this 18th century quote couldn’t be more pertinent today. Life has never been easier for most people in the U.S., yet our reported mental health struggles and suicide rates have never been higher.
Social media has made it easier than ever before to compare our day-to-day lives with the curated versions that other people choose to share on their social media platforms. But it’s important to maintain balance and perspective. If people took stock of the many things that they actually have going for them in life, I think a lot of them would find that they are actually quite happy.
· Think about the big picture.
· Don’t get caught up in the 24-hour work cycle.
· Trust your internal compass and don’t overcomplicate things.
· Build relationships and communicate with other entrepreneurs.
· Don’t compare yourself to others. Be grateful for all the wonderful things in your own life.