Alumni insight: Founding my mental health start-up after completing my MSc

22 March 2021

Muskaan Karanwal, MSc Management alum, shares the challenges and successes of setting up her own business, TlkOut, and aiming to break the stigma that accompanies mental health and wellness.

Tell us about TlkOut and what the company offers

TlkOut Initiative was started in April 2020 with the aim of breaking the stigma that looms over mental health and wellness globally, by starting honest and active communication and by spreading awareness.

In an attempt to help people share their experiences and challenges honestly and freely, we launched our mobile application “TlkOut” on both Android and iOS operating systems in November 2020. TlkOut houses 30+ communities, covering topics from anxiety, depression, and career stress, to LGBTQIA+ and chronic illnesses.

At TlkOut we believe that, while not everyone has a mental illness, everyone has to look after their mental health, and dialogue and support is especially important for doing this. The idea is to connect those who have been through various rough patches and life challenges with those who are currently there. We believe that, if given a safe and judgement free environment, people will share their true feelings and real thoughts more often and thus not face what life throws at them alone. Our platform offers them a place to acknowledge their real feelings, whilst learning from and getting inspired by the stories of others.

TlkOut is a young yet ambitious venture that aims to do good and make this society more accepting and aware.

What does your role within TlkOut entail?

I am the Founder and CEO at TlkOut. Since TlkOut is a young venture, our team is also relatively small which means that I have to take on multiple roles. Being a founder, I have been responsible for almost everything right from planning and structuring the business model to ultimately executing it.

I have a team of dedicated individuals who are responsible of taking care of the technical stuff, whilst I work on planning the content to help us connect better with our current users and potential customers, user communications, collaborations, growth and expansion strategies, and, since we will be going for funding in the near future, the finance model. I also reach out to concerned individuals and organisations as part of my role.

In my opinion, a founder can have a team to advise her and help her out with execution but the strategy part of it lies solely on her, especially when a venture is first starting out. As the Founder and CEO, I have to ensure proper budget allocation to get maximum returns and growth; this is especially challenging when you are bootstrapped. I have to be everywhere and ensure that different aspects of the venture work in coordination to deliver the planned results.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur and set up TlkOut?

I have always believed that an entrepreneur with her startup has the ability to change the world and change the way people view the world. This was one of the first reasons I decided not to follow the conventional route and join the corporate world and, instead, took this path.

I love the autonomy that comes with being an entrepreneur and having your own venture. You get to work towards something you are passionate about and build a system based on your ethics and values. In my opinion, doing what you love and working towards a bigger purpose in life than just earning money is the best way to make your life worthwhile.

TlkOut was born from my own experience with poor mental health. During my undergraduate course, my mental health wasn’t the best and something that helped me a lot was having an incredible support system around me. However, not everyone is as passionate as me and that is when I decided on building a judgement-free platform that will ensure that no one has to be alone when they need support the most. Mental health stigma is a real problem that stops many from reaching out and seeking the help they need. By building a platform that connects people facing different challenges in life, we remind people that they are human for feeling the way they do and that there are plenty of others like them so there is nothing to be ashamed of. The peer-to-peer support platform is just the beginning, and we intend on extending our platform to offer professional support and multiple wellness solutions as we go along the way. Our plan is to make it a one of its kind platform that reminds people that mental health and wellness is just as important as physical health and wellness.

How did your MSc help you while setting up and developing your business?

During my MSc I took up entrepreneurship as my elective and think what I learnt then has been the most helpful. Learning how to build your model, from the process of building a pitch to finally pitching it to investors, is something that the elective taught me.

In my opinion, the strength of the course lies in the way it draws this balance between practical, real-life examples and modern theory. Topics like negotiation, marketing strategy, HR practices and operational strategy have really helped me deal well with important business partners and also choose appropriate and dynamic business strategies. A lot of the course learnings were derived from real life examples of what an organisation did and did not do right.

Lastly, the fact that I did my masters in a foreign country with a cohort that was multi-cultural further added to my learning by giving me a more global perspective that I can effectively implement here.

How does your MSc help you in your day-to-day role?

One really important element in running a business is proper communication and coordination, and I have WBS’s group projects to thank for that. WBS taught us how to function as a diverse group and get things done, and that certainly comes in handy when you are a founder who needs to work with people with diverse experiences and values.

The different real-life examples of marketing strategy have also been super helpful, as when your venture is still an infant it’s the marketing strategy with distinct content that sets you apart from the rest and helps you build healthy and long-lasting relationships with your target market. The financial strategy and theories taught are also very important for a venture that operates on limited finance, and the financial management theories and practices that I learnt at WBS are proving to be really useful as I try to use the venture budget in the best way possible.

Would you recommend MSc to someone trying to set their business up?

Absolutely, I think MSc Management is a comprehensive course that covers all the areas needed to make someone a successful manager. As a founder, you have to be an excellent manager if you want your venture and team to succeed and the course teaches you that. Additionally, the diverse electives offered let you get the necessary information and understanding of the industry or market of your choosing.

What are your top 3 tips for taking care of your mental health whilst at university?

My top 3 tips learnt from personal experience are as follows:

  1. Have a dynamic and simple daily schedule: It’s important to define a simple daily routine, giving special importance to regular breaks. A routine will ensure you manage to attend and study for lectures, while doing what you love, and not skipping meals and sleep - both of which are especially important for your mental and physical wellbeing. In your routine, you can also maintain a to-do list that will serve two purposes; it will help you to ensure that all-important tasks are completed, and will keep you motivated as you tick off tasks. I will reiterate that taking regular breaks during the day is essential and that breaks should not be viewed as a reward, rather as an accessory to productivity.
  2. Take a mental health day off: Based on the curriculum, designate one day per week to do nothing. View that day as a day to practice self-care, giving your mind and body the rest and love that it deserves at the end of a hectic week. We all live busy lives where we rarely ever slow down to just be in the moment. A mental health day will allow you to gather your thoughts and feelings and prepare you for what the next week has to offer.
  3. Journal daily: Sparing 15-30 minutes at the end of each day to journal allows you to be more mindful of your feelings and thoughts. It allows you to analyse how you felt about different events and people during the day and lets you make more informed choices in the future. Journaling helps you express those feelings that you can’t otherwise, helping you dump those thoughts that are pulling you down. With multiple applications and journals available in the market, this process can be more guided if you find that easier.

    For those who find writing down difficult, you can swap journaling with self-talk. Self-talk does something similar and helps you become more mindful while you skip the whole process of having to write everything down. It’s super simple, all you have to do is to stand before a mirror and talk to yourself just how you would talk to a friend. You can also record your self-talk on your phone to help you identify patterns later.

Take your course one day at a time and take every failure and obstacle as a learning, but remember that if coping gets tough, you should seek help. The University offers exceptional support for mental health through their Wellbeing Service, so book yourself an appointment and seek professional assistance.

To discover more about our MSc Management course and the opportunities it offers potential entrepreneurs, start-up founders, and managers, visit our course webpage.

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