The Startup Experience. Moving on From Being a Full-Time Founder.

Hey everyone, this is Nick Neral. Co-founder of haley inc. By now, you've probably seen I've accepted a role at Healthie. The following is a brief overview of our year building haley and a short bit about what's to come.

Prior Experience

In college, a horrible experience with a college counseling program left me with 6 months of medications and a generic Xanax with zero clinical oversight. After picking up the meds, I never spoke with another provider about them. I had 6 months of SSRIs and 30 Xanax - and was on my own.

It was the loneliness of this process that left me with a curiosity about what it would be like to work in this field. Fast forward, through the first few years of my career, and in October of 2021, I saw my partner come out of a work meeting in tears while we were traveling. Again, the loneliness in the moment of this sadness left me wondering, what else could be done. 

You might be thinking, “Lonely? Her partner was right there.” True, I was. But, how am I, someone with zero professional or clinical training, going to aid in her mental health. As a romantic partner, there's only so much I could do in a moment like this. I wanted to build a solution to this problem. 

Starting haley

I read books, listened to podcasts, joined the startup world in online communities, and made many first-time founder mistakes. Thankfully, finding my co-founders was not among the mistakes. When co-founder disputes are one of the top reasons for startup failure, I couldn't have found a better technical co-founder to work with. After being introduced by my former college roommate, Michael and I met several times in late 2021 before he agreed to come onboard. 

Nick (Left) and Michael (Right) at the MHM Conference in 2022

In early 2022, we reached out to a large number of venture capital firms with mixed responses. We got the stereotypical nos. As an Orlando-based startup, I feel incredibly fortunate we got the meetings we did.

“Neat idea, we’d like to follow you and maybe participate in the next round.” 

“Sorry, this doesn’t fit our portfolio at this time.” 

“Sorry, we have a stealth investment that’s too similar.” 

We continued to move along and launched the website on March 5th, 2022. It was a content marketplace with our first 10 providers. At the time, we were paying providers to post content on the platform.  Pretty quickly we scaled to 50+ providers through a Twitter growth strategy of #coffeeforclinicians. Every Monday, I would Venmo a few therapists $5 for their morning coffee. You wouldn’t believe how many responded with a photo of their Dunkin or Starbucks. 

More than anything, I made some great connections through this strategy, people I still DM with to this day, and some of my biggest supporters online. More than anything, I made a lot of online friends by joining these spaces.

In late Spring we advanced to 200 providers on forhaley.com. Much of this increase came from adding a clinician directory functionality to the site and our Head of Mental Health posting it as a free option in different communities. 

But, in hindsight, we started to go too wide. Were we content first or directory first? In both crowded spaces, we hadn’t really established our core. An amazing meeting with a well-known marketer in the space helped put us on a more narrow path. This piece of founder advice is very hard to follow in the moment. However wide you think you've gone, multiply by a factor of 2, 3, or even 4 times for how far your audience thinks you've gone.

To get our name out there, we built “A Therapist’s Guide to Mental Health Startups” Versions 1 and 2. It was meant to be a long-form piece of content that would provide value to therapists trying to learn about all the new mental health startups out there. In a way, it worked. It was shared by Health Tech Nerds. It was shared in Reddit among therapists. We had unicorns tell us it was the talk of the morning in their company Slack. 

Around the same time, we made the decision to pivot haley into more of a search engine functionality. The decision was made based on simplicity. A very easy-to-understand home page with a brief description that the search engine was meant to connect you with a variety of mental health content. While a search engine on the outside seemed like potentially a good idea, it actually led to a decrease in content views. 


Our emotions and experiences are very hard to put into words - words that could be put into a search engine. People didn’t want to search. They wanted to find a home page with potentially relevant content to start from. Yet, we still saw searches. Not enough for a business, but enough to be a resource. 

Which is exactly what we built - a resource, not a business. I am incredibly proud of the haley team for building a search engine where users can trust the responses come from licensed clinicians. I am enthusiastic about where the space is going seeing companies like Youtube starting to promote authoritative creators on healthcare related topics. 

In the end, we built something based on a desire to find a solution and our early pre-product interviews failed "The Mom Test." The interviews were more about confirming they thought our solution was good rather than understanding their problems, their day, and the pain it caused potential users. In future endeavors, this will be among the top, if not the top priority we focus on doing better. 

Finding My New Role

In the Fall, the haley team acknowledged, we had built a resource that we had not properly monetized. As a first time, 25 year old founder, I had a small safety net that I could afford to not take an income for about 6 months. That’s pretty much what happened and that time had come to an end. In 2022, I have gotten engaged, have been planning a wedding, and have a lot soon to come in life. It was necessary that I get back to making an income.

So in October, I started seriously looking for a job and after talking with a variety of startups, I joined the Healthie team. My passion for the space, desire to make a difference, and entrepreneurial spirit will always live on, and I’m excited for this next chapter working with the Healthie team to empower the healthcare service-providing startups of today and tomorrow. After being in the role for a few weeks, I'm very excited to be at a company with such a strong product and culture. You'll be able to find me here for quite a while and if you're looking for an EHR, Scheduling, or Engagement tools my email is nick.neral@gethealthie.com. After spending five years helping to scale telehealth platforms like Mend, and in a digital health advisory company Panda Health, I've seen dozens of demos, RPFs, and the like from a variety of digital health companies. I can confidently say that from what I've seen, Healthie has built an incredible product to empower a variety of healthcare organizations, and with a modern infrastructure that will allow it to be critically important for years to come.

There are a lot of people I want to thank for being a part of this journey. First to my fiancĂ©, who put up with me working many late nights and quitting a job any 24-year-old would feel grateful to have. To our co-founders, Michael and Judy, who willingly joined what at the time was just an idea. I couldn’t be more thankful for the goodness in their hearts and how they approached haley and made a difference in the world. To our first therapists, from Anim Aweh, Sarah Kalny, Elizabeth Hinkle, and many more. It was you all who gave us inspiration, guidance, and more clinical voices to listen to. To our professional mentors like Michael Fulwiler who not only helped us navigate the mental health community but became friends along the way. There are many more people who were a part of haley. The 200+ clinicians that made profiles, the dozens of investors and founders who took the time to make connections, and the friends and family who believed in us. 

Thank you. 

Forhaley.com will continue to exist. The volume of searches has decreased as we have reduced awareness efforts but it sees searches here and there and hopefully continues to help 1 person at a time. If you are a therapist and you’d like to contribute to the content on the site, it’s still possible. At forhaley.com you can create a “creator” account and submit proof of licensure to become a creator and upload content directly to the site.

What's next?

Thisisbarelyworking.com 

We've seen the power behind sharing lived experiences. The past few years have changed conversations about mental health and what we all do from 9-5. This is Barely Working is a media site that shares super relatable stories to help us have easier work days in under 5 minutes a week.  

Let us know if you'd like to guest write on This is Barely Working at nick@forhaley.com


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