Tom Keya

Founder of Soulh Tech

Tom Keya currently works and lives in Dubai, UAE. His work encompasses business development and strategy, advocating for a better understanding of mental health issues within the workplace and impact investment.

Tom is a passionate supporter of the need for systemic change in the way the mental and physical health of employees is supported. As well as philanthropic and strategic work in this sector, Tom also regularly writes for various online publications on mental health in the workplace and a number of other topics.

As a member of the Impact 17+1 Club, Tom regularly communicates with like-minded business leaders from many different sectors. Together, they raise awareness of the urgent need for impact across the board. There is a strong emphasis on the individual and taking responsibility for the impact we all leave behind.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

I had worked in the City for over a decade and my mental health had deteriorated to a full on breakdown. I was diagnosed with mixed Anxiety and Depression disorder, and the late diagnosis had led to a number of mistakes and errors in my personal and professional life.

During my recovery I came to a realisation. When you walk into a construction site, you see people in hard hats, hi-vis, gloves and so on. You also have a dedicated health and safety officer. Lawyers and other professional service providers simply do not have this. This means that you are thrown at the deep end and expected to figure things out with every now and again a “stress management course” to help you out. Stress management is in mind opinion entirely irrelevant in professional services. We need to look at anxiety, depression, impostor syndrome, OCD and all other such matters that are proven to develop during the working environment.

We therefore founded a firm dedicated to looking after the staff’s mental health. I did not want to practice law: I wanted to prove that you can have a firm that looks after it’s staff and is profitable. This meant getting good offices, in a great location with lots of light. This meant spending time hearing staff needs, making sports mandatory, brining psychiatrists in once every few months to talk to the staff about mental health.

The result was a success, before COVID and before lockdown, we had created a team able to withstand serious pressures of mental health. As you would with physical exercise, we created a mental strong team. We grew by 250% and have been consistently growing since then.

That is the essence of a purpose-based business.

I have now left Berkeley Rowe and focus purely on mental health initiatives such as Soulh, which is a mental health supplement as well as my podcasts.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

As with everyone, it starts with emails and whatsapps and calls with the operations people to ensure the various systems are working. It then moves on to business development meetings, staff entertainment initiatives, vision implantation, client meetings and calls – and – of course, as much fun and sports I can squeeze in.

I am generally up around 5, and go to bed around 11pm. It is an exciting time for business and when you are driven you don’t feel it. I hasten to add, I don’t work during all of these hours, but I am connected.

How do you bring ideas to life?

The right Team. Again and again and again. It has to be the right team. I am working on a start up idea. This idea requires me to first come to terms with my weaknesses – and then bring people who fulfil that weakness; and making sure they are incentivised.

Every single business on earth is about sales. Even purpose based businesses. So to bring an idea to life first beggars the question, how can I sell it? Who can help me make it marketable and above all, does it bring about a solution to a problem; or cause problems that later need solutions.

It always starts with ambition and excitement – and then discipline. I like to pick an idea, put a team together and dedicate a certain amount of hours, or if I can afford it, some cash into it. As soon as I am invested I am hooked – unless this works I would make a loss so I need to make it happen.

Without being invested, your ideas will stay in your mind as a fantasy. As soon as you invest time and money, departing from it becomes more expensive – thus keeping you in there.

I love business development – so quickly work on logo/product and presentation. That makes me feel closer to the product which then creates a sense that it is well within reach – all it needs is a little hard work.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I love seeing young people do well. In the advent of social media, crypto and the business revolution I love seeing people be more independent or rather invested in where they work. Some people want to open their own business – it is now easier than ever – your phone or laptop does 90% of the operations. You no longer need a PA or admin team (unless you have a large team). With access to a global market you can get logos and decks designed from all over the world and delivered within days.

Conversely, those that want to build a career within business these days no longer sit by their desk and grind. They come up with ideas which they have been exposed to and they drive the leadership to implement them. That is fantastic.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Sports. I would put therapy also but I am restricted to one habit. Your mind and body dance in a unique conference daily. Sports help you clear your mind, lead to better sleep, reduce stress and, if you push yourself, every day you can have a small victory (running a bit faster, lifting a bit heavier, or surviving a harder class). This frees up space in your mind, pumps you full of endorphin and excites you to keep going. You should not ever sacrifice sports for a longer hour at work – you’ll be more productive once you’ve worked out. It should be in fact part of your working day – missing it considered the same as missing a crucial meeting.

Finally please remember as I cannot say this enough: Ambition will take you 100% of the way in the first two months – it will then reduce dramatically to 20%. Then go up again. What keeps a balance is discipline. No matter what happens or how you feel – turn up every day. Without discipline ambition will just fly away.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The reality of it is you learn from your mistakes. Some of my errors are the reason why I am where I am for good and for bad. If there is one thing I would tell my younger self though is to seek therapy. Part of my dream is to make mental health be part of the curriculum in schools – but without a test at the end. We would be teaching people meditation, actual ways to relax the mind and to train it for the life ahead. If I had known even a tenth of what I now know about the basics of mental health, I would have been far more successful. I have found therapy, when you actually feel good and well mentally, to work at it’s best.

When you seek therapy during a difficult period, it is like going to the hospital with a broken leg. But when you receive it during a health period, it is like going to the gym to get stronger and better.

I would also encourage more mental health supplements – as we take vitamin c every now and again the same can be done for the mind.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Working from home is not a good idea. A workplace brings about opportunity to meet new people professionally and socially. To interact with people different to you – or in different stages of their life. Such interactions build character and educate. This level of socialisation develops the mind and creates better ideas or even a better person. Tech is wonderful, but it cannot replace ordinary social interaction where as I am sure we have all learnt, the majority of the conversation takes place without works being spoken.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Network of course! Keep meeting new people. Meeting one person or even a 100 is not good enough. A business leader needs to be meeting new people regularly for collaboration, exchanging of ideas and perhaps even funding. The more people know you, the more people may come across someone interested in your business. Networking isn’t attending networking events – it is meeting people socially – a mate of a mate, or even someone in the coffee shop or gym. Especially with social media, if more people know you, they may share aspects of your business with their followers thus raising your profile.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Mental health and networking, both are covered in detail above.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Failures and stumbling blocks are part of life. Every now and again you get a blow that you feel will knock you out – as a part time boxer I can tell you, nothing hurts more than the ones you didn’t see coming. I think that is why it is important to take care of your mental health so you are strong enough to recognise and see the issue as a stumbling block and nothing more.
If I am honest, I have had a handful of failures and cannot choose between them; but one thing I would say is that it may feel sometimes that the world is against you. That every time you are finally getting somewhere, something comes across to crash the party. That is not the reality. The road to success is a lot like a heart beat – it goes up and down. Keep your eyes focused on the target and have people around you who you trust and who can deliver when you call on them.
With the right team and with hard work, nothing is impossible. It does mean feeling like you are sprinting an entire marathon, but stay in there. You will get there. If a path is fully blocked, find a way around it – there is always a way. You just haven’t seen it yet. Maybe take a break and you’ll find it.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Such a good question. The path to the idea is easy, find a problem and create a solution that doesn’t create more problems. Find an app that can safely open up all your password protected items. I hate the different password requirements and caps locks and special characters and often forget them. Create this app or device, and the world will subscribe. The ones that exist don’t do good enough job it seems. Or create a new system better than a password!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

A meal prep service. I am not invested in them and will not name them, but the food was great and I am seeing decent results! I never thought what they serve could be healthy, but it is.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I am going to be boring here and say whatsapp/signal – you get the whole team in there and are able to sort out the quick fire matters way better than email. Shopify are pretty cool too if you are selling products.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The boy the mole the fox and the horse, by Charles Mckesy – a short book, every page is magic, every page makes you feel good:
“What is the bravest thing you ever said.”
“Help” said the horse.

What is your favorite quote?

“Defeat is not fatal, victory is not final, it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Keep going – no matter what you are going through – keep going.

Key Learnings:

• Physical health and mental health should be part of your day. As important as a key investor meeting. Do not miss it.
• Hard work and the persistence to continue is the difference between a successful person and otherwise. There is always a way.
• Look after your team and choose loyalty perhaps sometimes more than competence – though not much.
• Keep moving forward.
• Be kind to yourself.