Mental health is a topic that deserves conversation. Each of us has been touched by, or have personally experienced, the struggles of mental health. It’s something that is vital to our development and directly correlates to our feelings of joy and fulfillment. Even though the conversation around mental health has opened up a lot over the last few years, there is still stigma that exists. And what is worse than the stigma, is the difficulty for those who are struggling to access supportive programs and people, due to wait lists, bureaucracy or a fear of speaking out. That’s where Aidan Scott comes into the conversation.
Aidan is the founder of Speakbox, an advocacy focused project in its early stages of development. Speakbox is an application that aims to help people attain good mental health and to feel independence and freedom in the process. Aidan and his team took second place at a recent ProtoHack Vancouver event for their idea and he is continuing to work on this project with a renewed sense of clarity and productivity.
ProtoHack spoke with Aidan about Speakbox and his experience through the development process.
What was the ProtoHack experience like for you, did you have expectations, did you have a team in place or an idea that you knew you were bringing to the event?
Honestly, I had a really minimal idea as to how the day was going to unfold. There was sort of that voice in the back of my head, “Oh I’ve already done entrepreneurship at UBC, I know the lean business model canvas, I know agile project management and scrum,” and all of these sorts of things. But for me it was actually a chance to almost turn my brain off and invite new ideas, because I find that if I go in and all of those mechanisms in my brain are already firing, then I’m usually pretty stuck in my own ways, while ProtoHack really focuses on carrying you out of the standard process.
So, I went knowing that I wanted to propose a mental health project… and then wanted to recruit people and knock it out in those 24 hours, really use it as an opportunity to nurture new ideas. Which is the great part about ProtoHack.
I was referred to ProtoHack by one of my mentors. He was like, “You need to go to ProtoHack to go and interact with other people because you are kinda stuck in your own head.” And I was like, “Agreed,” haha. I didn’t go in with any pre-existing team. These were just strangers rallying around mental health, which was cool.
Was it easy or difficult connecting with people and forming your team? Did you put yourself out there with the topic of mental health being how you wanted to connect?
It was actually surprisingly easy. I’ve been a mental health advocate for about six years. Just being authentic and vulnerable with people. More and more people talk about mental health now, it’s much more of an open public conversation. Stigma still is there but it’s greatly reduced, particularly in Vancouver and I think even more so in the community that ProtoHack attracts, you know, very forward thinking and inclusive, all about safe environment individuals. So there was never any concern in being vulnerable in such an important and personally impactful area that mental health is in my life. We were really able to rally people around some of these common themes.
Let’s back things up a little bit and ask you to describe Speakbox.
Speakbox in a nutshell seeks to accomplish what I believe is the really big challenge in mental health, it’s addressing [the] loneliness and isolation that is becoming far too prevalent in our current society. We’re the most digitally connected society and yet we are the most lonely. We are the most outspoken online and yet we’re the least authentic sometimes in being outspoken. And that leads to a lot of challenges, particularly in mental health. When we can’t express ourselves we just bottle everything up inside and that leads to terrible outcomes. We want to make a difference in that with Speakbox.
A good example is physiotherapy, we can all relate to physiotherapy. We get this high when we go to physio and then when we leave we’re expected to go and do these exercises and like many people, we don’t. Mental health is actually very similar, it’s physio for the brain, it’s an opportunity to learn new skills and emotional regulation and emotional intelligence and self management to live a more mentally health life. But that actual phase of autonomy and integrating those skills into our life, that’s incredibly difficult. [At Speakbox] we’re integrating those behaviours, so it’s a little bit of a lighter, gamified way for people to start doing those baby steps.
We’ve got the archetype of a student, for example, our program is going to seek to give them tips during [classes], to help them maybe lower their anxieties or stresses and also make suggestions that wrap around that particular activity. Maybe deep breathing for 5 or 10 minutes before their next [class] and then wrapping up with some introspection after they’re finished so that they can find out what was working, what didn’t work, what were the stressors. It’s a really important phase [introspection].
[People are] usually disaster responsive, not proactive, so our service shifts that narrative to wellness activities immersed into the day, and daily. It’s looking at things like joy and curiosity and empowerment. And when we put those into somebody’s day, we can start to look at further fulfillment in life. Fulfillment leads to more confidence and confidence leads to, through evidence, a more mentally healthy and regulated life.
What were your creative processes prior to ProtoHack and what has shifted since your experience?
It really accelerated my thinking and it’s really focused me in thinking what is most important. [In] entrepreneurship you kinda fall into the same traps. You’re like, “I’m gonna work on my website today,” or, “I think our social media info section needs to be tweaked a little bit, that’s going to be the difference to our success.” Haha, all of this is false. First and foremost is do we have the right talent on the team. The next most important thing is let’s get an MVP (minimum viable product) out there so that we can do proper testing. Cause we can sit and talk about ideas, and I think ProtoHack just drove this home, ideas are kinda cheap. Everybody has ideas. It really drives down on what are the actionable steps to going from idea to reality. It was really remarkable how far we got within that 24 hour period. Having a much more solidified narrative, having our lead customer archetype, we even started interacting online with people who fit that archetype and getting validation specific to what we’re looking to build. I’d never done prototyping before ProtoHack and now prototyping is a regular practice. It’s just accelerated every conversation I’ve had post-ProtoHack because I know how to do wireframing and prototyping.
So some of these skills and platforms you were exposed to at ProtoHack for the first time?
Yeah, so there were a few different short mentorship sessions, we got a crash course in wireframing. They had a partnership with App-Scoop, which is a local development company here in Vancouver and one of their team members gave a quick rundown on what’s important. There was also a session from Launch Academy, [they] talked about gamification and behaviours and user experiences, [as well as] the user interface itself. [They] really targeted on giving the practical tools and some of the software to envision it and then go and pitch it. Really useful. I liked that ProtoHack was very immersive.
Can you speak to the difference between ProtoHack and other learning experiences?
What was really refreshing about ProtoHack is that they truly support the knowledge base and the acceleration of [going from] idea to something more than an idea. ProtoHack really goes back to the roots. ProtoHack is really in the business of startup building and even getting you to that, it’s pre-team, which is remarkable, it’s a really difficult phase to be in. It helped me recognize where I actually am in the process, or where I was in the process prior to ProtoHack. It’s being able to get that really early support because I felt like I was spinning my wheels when I was in a lot of [other] seminars or sessions. And they also create a really great environment for non-technicals. Startup is very intimidating, it’s been a journey. ProtoHack really takes a lot of the barriers away, it’s not hyper-technical, it’s really not technical at all which is good because you really don’t need hyper-technical at that stage. It’s back to the roots.
What advice can you give to people out there who might want to tap into ProtoHack and expand their ideas?
Just do it! Just put inhibitions aside and worries and doubts and fears. If you’re thinking about it then part of you clearly wants to be uncomfortable a little bit and explore, so give yourself that space to go and do so. ProtoHack is a fantastic environment. It’s an opportunity to just go and play. You need to bring that childhood curiosity with you because there’s going to be a lot of questions and you should ask them at every chance you get. You’ll get so much out of it. Be prepared to work but as soon as you’re willing to show that initiative, be prepared to be embraced by a lot of passionate and caring individuals.
Aidan and his team are building something incredible! Please check out Speakbox.ca