10 mins with John Harper

John Harper, Founder of Rize

Founder, John Harper

John Harper, Founder of Rize, first walked onto the CW (Cambridge Wireless) scene back in 2014 as Discovering Start-Ups Competition entrant. Since then, he’s gone onto win a variety of awards and accolades including the CER Internet Entrepreneurs Prize. For those of you not familiar with John and his up and coming  mental well-being app, we caught up with him to find out more about the entrepreneur.

In a nutshell, please can you tell us what your product/service is?
Rize is a mental health app that integrates therapeutic concepts into simple, interactive exercises.


Rize app on the smartphone

When did you found the company and what was the biggest challenge in the start-up process?
The idea gained momentum mid 2013. Soon after being accepted onto Accelerate Cambridge I founded the company – Moodmap Ltd, November 2013.
There are many challenges that an entrepreneur faces when developing their first product or service. I had no professional experience with mental health and had never touched a smart phone in my life. For me the biggest challenge was not knowing day to day whether I was doing the right thing or not – keeping the motivation and belief that each step I took had a greater purpose for the development of the company.

piles of coinsIn terms of funding – can you tell us how you sought investment. Did you find there was enough support and information about your options?
I began with drawing on my own savings of around £10k. Then came the round of friends, family and fools in the form of a crowdfunding attempt on indiegogo (~12k). I have so far avoided investment from angels and VCs for Rize in particular as I’ve always wanted free reign over business development and the creative process, but this may change in the coming year as Rize grows beyond my earlier expectations. The rest has come from sales and winning a 20k prize in the CER awards – a competition I would highly recommend for any digital businesses to enter. It’s allowed me to evolve Rize and to plan to make the next version of Rize completely free – I’ve heard that this year so far the CER don’t have too many applicants so chances of winning are high (Details below).
Prizes – three cash prizes 18-26k euros
Application time – five minutes
Application deadline – July 31st 2016

Regarding information and support..yes and no.  Accelerate Cambridge supported me a lot. I got a £3k grant from them during the development process and they introduced me to crowdfunding sites, investors, and government funding options.

I don’t believe I would have made it to where I am today without the truly dedicated support of my mentors and friends, including Hanadi Jabado, Kaye Coleman Rooney, David Coates, Brewster Barclay, Jack Bowman and Jeremy Sosabowski. There are also many other generous, intelligent and driven people I am proud to know here…that’s what I believe makes Cambridge truly great.

I think signposts and introductions are extremely helpful and there could be more of them for the less seasoned entrepreneur. Although innovation has been around in Cambridge for a long, long time the ecosystem is still growing and changing, and the ways that we support new start-ups still has room for improvement – something I hope I will be able to help with in the years to come, in my own way.

You mentioned in an interview with Inspiring-careers (last Jan 2015) that you work 7 days a week – is this still the case?! Do you manage to find that allusive work-life balance?
That is most definitely not the case anymore. As I mentioned, near the beginning of Rize, the biggest challenge was knowing if I was doing the right thing each day – was I working hard enough? Was I trying hard enough? There are so many different ways to doubt oneself as a fledgling entrepreneur. I found the only way I could prove to myself I was working hard enough was to work long, long hours. But it’s just not sustainable. Although entrepreneurial mindsets are shifting there still exists a glamourisation of pushing yourself to your absolute limits…a self flagration that allows one to believe they’re doing the right thing just by falling asleep at their desks rather than their beds.

As someone who has in the past had experience with anxiety and depression this lifestyle wasn’t going to work. I was making bad decisions, losing faith in my product, going to important meetings feeling stressed and unsure of myself. I got to the point where I knew that if I only looked after my life I could achieve in ten hours what I was currently doing in a 60+ hour week.

Maybe pushing myself was an important part of the journey but I am most definitely living a different lifestyle now that works much better for me and my business. I pay myself a basic salary. I concentrate on my relationships with those who are important to me, I take time for unrelated hobbies. I exercise and dedicate time to learning new aspects and industries in the entrepreneurial world that excite me. I find all of these things give me the energy, focus and sustainable determination to keep developing my business further.

I believe that if we take a deeper look at our entrepreneurial ‘values’ we may find that many don’t make sense – working seven days a week is one of them. That’s just me though. each to their own!

When you’re not working – where would we find you? Do you still manage to gig?
Right now you’d find me taking freezing cold dips in the river cam! I practice something called iceman training which gives me a lot of energy and joy. I’m currently training to be an assistant instructor at Cambridge Kung Fu, so you’ll find me training. Other than that I do gig around Cambridge either solo or in a band called 4th Labyrinth, although I will be soon leaving the band to give myself even more ‘off’ time to spend time with friends and family.

The River Cam, Cambridge

The beautiful river cam – brr!

What made you choose to develop an app for mental well-being?
When I moved back to England in the Spring of 2012 I suffered from moderate depression. At the time it was an incredibly confusing thing and had no idea what it was and if anyone else in the world had these issues. Fortunately I was persuaded to visit my GP and very fortunately I had a GP who was fantastic – understanding and empathetic. I’m very headstrong so I chose the best way I could ‘fix myself’. I enrolled on an online course to understand depression – symptoms, how to help myself and where I can get help. I got sufficient confidence to start seeing a therapist and things got better from there.

Mobile apps are the simplest and easiest way to help people to discover information and practise behaviour change – information is worth nothing if it doesn’t result in a change in decision making or behaviour. I saw a need and I set myself the goal of filling it.

I knew I wanted to start a business…I just hated writing CVs. I had four ideas and chose one to start with – Rize.

Do the NHS offer anything similar to help and support mental wellbeing? What’s your opinion of this?
The NHS used to offer a page of appropriate mental health apps but took that down. I can’t comment on their future intentions but things do look hopeful for mhealth tech in the coming years. The best known service they offer currently is ‘Big White Wall’. You can also find IESO on the NHS website, a Cambridge-based online therapy service.

Big white wall logo

My opinion is that the power of digital innovation is something that will impact the way health services are managed and delivered across the UK..but the process in general will be slow. There seems to be an emphasis on mental health technology in healthcare at the moment which is encouraging.

I believe when it comes to bringing in new technology for mental health institutions it’s best not to take the stance of throw them against the wall and see which sticks. They need to be integrated mindfully into the existing solutions that we already have – face to face therapies, online support, etc. Technology, at the stage it is now can be a powerful supplement, but not a stand alone cure.

Therapy is of course something I believe in strongly to help those in need but right now waiting lists for these services are incredibly long. Could something like Rize step in to help and support these issues? Possibly but not just by simply putting it there – technology will need to be integrated with a well-considered strategy from a range of relevant parties.

The NHS has been stung before in terms of low quality technology both for staff and patients so I understand why uptake of new technologies can be slow. So just like in a start-up the NHS should, and I think will, take the stance of ‘hire’ technologies slow and ‘fire’ fast. All being said I personally am impressed by the push from the NHS in the last few years for mental health technology. If anyone is interested in finding out more about tech and institutional mental health I’d recommend googling MindTech as a first step.

If you can give one piece of information to aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Patterns can be a lot more useful than rules. If that’s too short drop me an email, I’m always happy to point aspiring entrepreneurs in the right direction.

Working in Cambridge, do you find there is plenty of good networking opportunities?
Yes but I don’t think aspiring entrepreneurs should let networking opportunities distract them. They’re useful to a point. I tend to select one or two networking events a month, if that! The events I select tend to be quite specific or have attendees worth talking to. But I do love attending Enterprise Tuesdays and fully intend to make an appearance at Thursty Thursdays at the CJBS because I love the atmosphere and networking can be quite high quality there.

How hands on are you with the app development? Do you have developers in-house or do you work closely with a app specialist?
I now run an app development agency called App Shine (www.appshinedevelopment.com). Rize is an important project that we continue to develop in house. But now, with my team I develop apps for others. This is how I get to pay myself a salary whilst putting any money raised by Rize straight back into the app. It’s a good point in my career to be in.

Have you attended any CW events, and if so – were they useful?
I’ve attended a few in my time. CW Wireless Healthcare SIG was very useful in terms of content and contacts. They had a UX Designer talk at the event which I found very impressive as often for health tech events it’s creators of the tech, selling their tech. I must say at the last CW event I went to the food was great! And the team behind CW always have a lot of energy so I find meeting them at these events  fun.

What’s next for Rize?
I’m very excited about the coming year for Rize. The app will be evolving from a stand alone app into a platform. I intend for Rize, by launch date to be completely free for the user. It will not only be available to individuals but it will also be a powerful tool for organisational well-being, and for use by counsellors and clinicians to connect with their patients. The use of Rize by counsellors and clinicians is something I’m really looking forward to as it’s something that I believe can make a huge impact on the way they can help their patients.

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