How I Give: Staying Sane in Lockdown with Mike Nolet

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Philip Kasumu
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From Founder to Philanthropist

How I Give is a Founders Pledge podcast about entrepreneurship, philanthropy and social change. We talk to founders, philanthropists and social innovators about what drives them, how they are rethinking social impact and how we can do philanthropy better.

Episode 1

COVID-19: Staying Sane in Lockdown with Mike Nolet, Founder of LiveBetter

Mike Nolet founded LiveBetter in 2015 to help others incorporate well-being and mindfulness activities into their daily lives, just as he tries to do in his own life. He does a bit of everything at LiveBetter, from writing code to fundraising. Over the past five years, LiveBetter has reached thousands of people around the world through their interactive, conversational app experience paired with engaging, evidence-based activities. Their research has proven that the use of LiveBetter can decrease stress, boost confidence and support people through challenges such as anxiety, stress and self-confidence issues. LiveBetter technology was acquired by Ginger in March 2020. Prior to LiveBetter, Mike was the co-founder and CTO at AppNexus, which was acquired by AT&T in 2018 for close to $2 billion.

In today’s episode, Mike shares lessons from his own journey building AppNexus through the 2008 financial crisis, experiencing success and burn-out, and launching LiveBetter to promote positive behaviour change at scale.

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Post-show readings:

  • Join LiveBetter and Action for Happiness' 10 Days of Happiness free coaching programme.
  • Contact us: podcasts@founderspledge.com


    [00:00:00] Philip Kasumu (host): Welcome to How I Give, a Founders Pledge podcast about entrepreneurship, philanthropy and social change. My name is Phillip Kasumu and I head up Growth across Europe for Founders Pledge. On this podcast, we talk to founders, philanthropists and social innovators about what drives them, how they're rethinking social impact and how we can do philanthropy better.

    On today's show. I sat down with Mike Nolet. Mike founded LiveBetter to help others incorporate wellbeing activities into their daily lives, just as he tries to do in his own life. He does a bit of everything at LiveBetter. Some days he writes code, other days he's fundraising. Over the past five years, LiveBetter has reached thousands of people around the world through their interactive, conversational app experience paired with engaging evidence-based activities.

    Their research has proven that the use of live data can decrease stress, boost confidence, and support [00:01:00] people with challenges, including anxiety, stress and self-confidence issues. LiveBetter technology was acquired earlier this year by Ginger. Prior to LiveBetter, Mike was the co-founder and CTO at AppNexus, which he co-founded back in 2007. AppNexus is an American multinational technology company operating a cloud-based software platform that aims to enable and optimise programmatic online advertising. AppNexus was acquired by AT&T for close to $2 billion back in 2018.

    Before we get into this incredible episode, here's a few words from our founder.

    David Goldberg: Hey everybody. Thanks for tuning into the How I Give podcast.

    I'm David Goldberg and I'm the founder and CEO of Founders Pledge, a nonprofit on a mission to help entrepreneurs do immense good. We are a global community of more than 1,400 entrepreneurs finding and funding solutions to the world's most pressing challenges, just like the one we face today. Since COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill, Founders Pledge has mobilised quickly and [00:02:00] decisively. We've partnered with charities, frontline responders and research institutes at the forefront of fighting this pandemic and directed millions of dollars from our members to high-impact interventions that are working to stop the spread of the virus, mitigate the social and economic costs, and prepare us for future pandemics. It's been so inspiring to see our members take action when we need them most.

    The Founders Pledge model is simple; on joining, every member commits a portion of their personal exit proceeds to charitable causes. We offer the simplest path to impact for successful entrepreneurs, providing end-to-end giving infrastructure, pioneering research and a world-class network of experts all at zero cost. If you're an entrepreneur of a series B or C+ funded startup, and you'd like to be a part of this incredible community of entrepreneurs, we'd really love to hear from you. You can email us at podcasts@founderspledge.com. Again, that's podcasts@founderspledge.com.
    Thanks. And I hope you enjoy listening.

    [00:03:00] Philip Kasumu (host): When you are at an event, let's say a startup event or any kind of entrepreneurial-type event, how do you introduce yourself to people?

    Mike Nolet: Maybe a reformed entrepreneur? Maybe that's the way to describe it? As you know, I co-founded my first company in 2007. It's a company called AppNexus in ad tech, which I was at for seven years, it was a great journey. We can talk about it a little bit more. Then I did another startup in wellbeing and I'm now running a nonprofit called LiveBetter, dedicated to helping people boost their wellbeing. So reformed entrepreneur, does that work?

    Philip Kasumu (host): We're really keen to delve into your journey with AppNexus and then talk about LiveBetter. And then the work you guys are doing now and your kind of like outlook and your perspective on life now as a recovered entrepreneur. So AppNexus, [00:04:00] 2007, just on the cusp of the financial crisis. So how did that come about and how did you guys navigate that?

    Mike Nolet: Well, I co-founded the company with my old boss, Brian O'Kelly, and we were actually working at a different ad tech company that had just been acquired by Yahoo, actually, just a few months earlier. And at the time, no one knew that there was a crisis coming. And to be honest with you, we didn't really think about it. We just started the company. We managed to raise some capital. Our first business plan was cloud computing for ad tech, so kind of vertical clouds trying to compete with Amazon. That didn't work so well. It turns out cloud computing is not a venture-backed business really, it's much more you rent servers at least amount for a little profit.

    And then we honestly just got lucky. When 2008 came - I know everyone's talking about the crisis these days, because coronavirus is hitting and what's this next dip going to look like. [00:05:00] But 2008 for us, it was kind of strange because we raised money. We raised a venture round a few months earlier and we raised venture debt literally weeks before Lehman went bankrupt.

    And so it ended up actually probably being good for the company. Because venture funding definitely dried up in the space. And so the competition was really quite limited. But I'm not going to say it wasn't a stressful time, it was probably more stressful at the time as we were going through a full pivot away from the cloud computing business towards actually building advertising infrastructure. And that required a lot of team changes, which is happening right at the same time. But the crisis in itself probably just kind of slowed down growth and slowed down business a little bit, but we had cash in the bank and that, that really made all the difference.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Wow. So you didn't see a direct impact on the business, just in terms of like, did you have to make any fires? Or did nothing like that have to [00:06:00] happen?

    Mike Nolet: It's hard to say. We didn't know it wasn't directly impacting, it impacted the overall advertising business. So there was less spend, but for digital, it actually probably reduced growth because I'm pretty sure it's been a while, I mean it's been over 10 years now, but I'm pretty sure 2008 and 2009 were both years where people spent more online than they did in prior years. So it was more kind of a slowdown of growth for digital advertising, maybe 2008 was a little bit down, I actually don't remember. Either way, we're really at the early building phase of the startup. So we're still trying to find product market fit. So actually to be honest, didn't have much revenue. So a dip and not much would have been still not much.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Right, that makes a tonne of sense. And so during that time, post-crisis AppNexus was growing rapidly right? Definitely one of the tech companies to [00:07:00] look out for during those days. What were some of the challenges that you experienced as a founder during that time?

    Mike Nolet: Well, actually 2008 to 2010 was a really difficult period for us because we had what we thought was a great idea. So what AppNexus did in 10 seconds for everyone is basically try to transform digital advertising into an auction-based system. And so before you load an app, before you load a webpage in under 100 milliseconds, holding a real-time auction, kind of like high-frequency trading for that ad space. And so we start building a platform in 2008, did our first pilots probably late 2008, early 2009. And the truth is it took us a year and a half to get adoption because there was this fundamental chicken and egg problem.

    So while the crisis was happening, we were just trying to figure out how to get people to move from kind of a traditional pre-purchased, pre-negotiated way of buying and selling media into a [00:08:00] real-time trader transactional one. And it's a chicken and egg problem because you need, you know, in a market, you need two sides to a market. You need buyers and sellers. And our breakthrough really didn't happen until late 2010 when we convinced Microsoft both to adopt a platform and to lead our series C fundraising. And that instantly, they basically brought all their supply on board, which solved our chicken and egg problem. And that is when it really started taking off. So that rocket ship journey didn't really start until really late 2010.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Yeah. And I can imagine that being a really tumultuous time, you know, as a recovering entrepreneur myself, when you don't have product market fit, you're kind of just chasing your tail. You don't really know what works and what doesn't. That must've been really tricky.

    Mike Nolet: It's super frustrating, and the worst part is we had competitors who are out in the market saying they're doing the same things we were, but only spending a few thousand dollars on real-time traded ads and then doing everything else pre-negotiated.

    [00:09:00] And so we had all the scale infrastructure to do it for real. And basically, what I was just saying; oh yeah, we do that too, even though they weren't. We had the stats to prove it because suddenly it brought a lot of transparency to that market too, you could see who was bidding, who wasn't. So yeah, a very frustrating time, there were several pivots that were really, you know, painful, trying to figure out how to make it work.
    And then, I don't know if you got to that point, but when you hit product market fit, it really is an amazing, well also emotionally terrifying journey, but a cool feeling. My analogy is you feel like you're banging your head against a brick wall over and over again. And then, you know, at some point we broke through and that was just, I'm so happy we did.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Yeah, it must've been super euphoric. And obviously the story goes, you went on to have amazing success, sold the company for just under $2 billion to AT&T, I believe.

    Mike Nolet: Yeah. I actually left, well, I left before then. I [00:10:00] left in late 2013. So after the company started taking off late 2010, we started expanding, we expanded to Europe. We opened offices all over the world and at some point in around early 2013, I realised that my time was coming to an end because we were shifting away from finding product market fit and building new products and much more moving towards commercialisation and going to market. And how do we now scale this in as many markets as possible, as fast as possible to become a market leader.

    Philip Kasumu (host): And that's just a different business to what you started, right? I speak to founders all the time and you know, a lot of them say that it takes a different mindset to go from running a million-dollar business to a 10-million-dollar business and a different mindset for a 100-million-dollar business to a billion-dollar business. Did you feel like you had reached your tenure when it got to that point?

    Mike Nolet: Yeah, it was definitely the same business. It was a different role being the CTO, you know, CTO of [00:11:00] a 10-person tech team is all about rapid building, a CTO of a 50-person tech team, you know, you're starting to mature a little bit. Being CTO of 200, 250 people, you know, it was more, much more about process and building mature, scalable, stable technology and doing the same thing at higher scale, rather than inventing new things. And that's the part that just didn't excite me as much. And then the honest truth is I've never liked advertising, which sounds strange.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Plot twist.

    Mike Nolet: What else? I really like building ad tech infrastructure. I mean, the technical details are amazingly fun and fascinating. I mean, we were doing millions of transactions per second, and each transaction had, you know, I think we're at, when I left, what we were doing is sending out to about maybe 20 bidders in parallel.

    So you're requesting 20, 30, 40 million bids a second. And I'm sure that number has 10x by [00:12:00] now. So those are fun, technical challenges, but advertising as an industry, as a business, I don't like. It's shady. A lot of people get screwed, especially small websites actually, and small advertisers. And it's a bit of an oligarchy.

    So yeah, I didn't like ads and I was honestly, I was burnt out. It was time for me to leave.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Let's switch gears a little bit now and talk a bit about that, the burnout. So you're a prolific writer on Medium and you often talk about the darker side of entrepreneurship. Do you want to share a bit about that and what you mean by the dark side of entrepreneurship?

    Mike Nolet: Yeah, I think it's more, there's very brief moments of glitz and glamour. When you raise a new fundraising round, when you close a big strategic client, those are incredibly euphoric because you work so hard for them. And then actually the majority of the time it's just lots and lots of stress, very little sleep, [00:13:00] and very little time for family and friends. So I think I probably worked seven days a week for several years, six days a week for several years on top of that. And it's not necessarily the hours per se, but more the mind share in the sense that this just took over all of my mind share for seven years. And it's not healthy. It's not good for the brain.

    Philip Kasumu (host): The first thing you think about when you wake up, the last thing you think about when you go to bed, right?

    Mike Nolet: Yeah, exactly. That's exactly right. I would check my email before I'd go to sleep, check my email first thing before I woke up and it just wore me down and it ended up at a point where I was really just totally burnt out. I was having night terrors. Night terrors is this thing where you start screaming in your sleep, because, kind of, who knows? Personally I did a little bit of therapy. It didn't [00:14:00] take me that much, but the therapy basically helped me figure out like time to go, it's time to go do something else. And what's interesting is I then spent several months recovering and learning how to boost my wellbeing and get back to a good place.

    And what's the interesting tidbit that I now tell a lot of entrepreneurs when I talk to them is I didn't realise how bad of a mental state I was in until many months later. And what I kept telling them my wife is, so I remember about a month after leaving, we went travelling, so really no work to do. A month later, it's like, wow. I had no idea how tired I was. You know, I really needed a month of rest. And then a month later I said the same thing. It's like a month ago, you remember? I said. I thought I was feeling better. Nope. I wasn't. Now I'm feeling better. And then three months later I said the same thing.

    It really was amazing just seeing that it took me a full three months to get my energy back and [00:15:00] feel what I now know is normal and I'd completely lost touch with. I think for a lot of people, that's one of the traits of burnout actually, is that most people think they can go with little sleep. They can go with working too hard and you don't realise how tired and how ineffective you become. And that's just a drag on your mental health.

    Philip Kasumu (host): That's fascinating. And obviously it took you going through therapy, leaving your situation, and then three months to realise, okay, this is actually what normal feels like. Is there anything that entrepreneurs can do while they're still in the thick of it or does it always require some kind of retreat and some kind of distancing yourself from the thing that you're trying to reconcile?

    Mike Nolet: I don't know. It's a really good question. That's why I call myself a reformed entrepreneur, because I think there's something about the startup business, the model, right? Where you get millions of dollars and your investors push you to run as fast as [00:16:00] you can to win your market. It's always about winning and there's so many war terms in this right. Scope, the enemy, right? And, and I don't know, I don't know many stories that don't involve these feats of heroism that come with this world.

    And so, you know, is there a different way to do it? If someone is listening to this and they have found a different way or they have some stories, I would love to hear them because I'm not sure. And that's why the reform bit is also because I wonder if, whether or not what we're doing is a good way of running business. Like we're really making founders heroes and championing this new entrepreneurial ecosystem. But if you look behind the scenes, there's also a whole model where basically millions of entrepreneurs are working very hard for low wages, for a small chance of being successful.

    Is this any [00:17:00] different than football? Where you have millions of kids who play on the streets, trying and hoping they'll become the star of the Premier League, but most of them don't make anything. Right? So anyways, it's a bit of a philosophical point, but I think going back to the advice for founders, I think sleep, sleep, sleep is so, so important.
    So, I don't know if you can work less. I don't know if you're going to reduce the stress. I don't know if that's possible, but prioritising sleep and time off is just critical. You know, Arianna Huffington wrote a whole book about it. I totally agree with her, just sleep. I mean, that's the one thing that'll do magic. If you can manage to.

    Philip Kasumu (host): It's tricky. Because you know, it's just sleep, but at the same time, if you want achieve the level of success, whether it's the Huffington Post or AppNexus, it sounds as though you have to make a decision, right? There's no, it doesn't sound like there's middle ground, but we know there is.

    Mike Nolet: Maybe, but at least in winner take all markets. So, you know, Peter Thiel wrote this great [00:18:00] book, Zero to One. And in winner take all markets, the name says it all, right? There's markets where one player will be the best. Right? You see it with video conferencing, Zoom is winning. Right there, they're getting, and if you look at the stats, they probably are on their way to 80% market share.

    And so if you're on a winner takes all market, like if your competition is working seven days a week and cranking, right, as hard as possible, can you take a relaxed pace? Probably not. And the thing is, it's not just one competitor, it's 10. In our case it was about 10 and everyone was gunning for the same market and everyone was trying to get to the same position.
    So it's difficult. It's difficult.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Yes it's difficult, yeah. So with that experience that you've had with AppNexus and then, you know, post-AppNexus and recovering, how has your previous experience informed your newest venture, which is LiveBetter? And for those who don't know what LiveBetter is, can you share what it is?

    Mike Nolet: Yeah. So [00:19:00] in my journey of kind of self-healing, I read a lot of books about wellbeing and being happy. And, one thing that was really surprising to me is that just the same themes come back over and over and over again, which is that if there's a few things that if you do them, everyone seems to agree you'll be well. And basically it's take care of your body, which is sleep, eat well, get some exercise. Take care of your mind. So make sure you find some peace and calm. It doesn't have to be meditating. It can be gardening, but having something that gives you some peace every day and then having quality interpersonal relationships and doing something that's meaningful to you, if you do that set reasonably well, you will be well. And all the research backs this up.

    So I started LiveBetter in 2015 with a premise of, can we take these, what people think are secrets, but actually aren't really commonly known. Can we help people incorporate these practices into their daily lives? [00:20:00] And for LiveBetter, many different iterations, many different products, we ended up building, we have an app it's available in the App Store and on Google, where we built a digital coach that tries to help you learn a little bit about these practices and then, and then add them to your life. LiveBetter as a business, as a startup, actually didn't work so well, so we couldn't figure out how to make money.

    And so we actually winded up selling all of the IP, actually this year, just a few months ago, to a company called Ginger that does corporate wellbeing, they have really great value on company and what they've done, and I've now set up a nonprofit also called LiveBetter. So I'm still working on LiveBetter, just a different LiveBetter, and Ginger has graciously licensed back our IP so that we can keep operating our app for free.
    Because we did do a lot of research that shows that what we do actually works. So basically now I'm doing what I've been doing in the past, but just trying to use technology, trying to help people boost their wellbeing and trying to do it at scale.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Nice. And [00:21:00] you talked about the impact, can you break down the model of what LiveBetter does and the impact that you guys have had so far, if you have any data around that?

    Mike Nolet: With the app, what we found, what's really interesting about wellbeing is the challenge is getting people to do things because, you know, Instagram is fun and gratifying and it boosts your dopamine and you kind of boost all your addictive habits. And so you kind of get this instant feel-good boost. Wellbeing, you know, at LiveBetter, you know, we're trying to get you to take a minute and write down three things you're grateful for. Gratitude is a proven practice for boosting your positive emotions and we did a research study where we basically found out that when people do these things we ask them to do they get better.

    We've done several studies now, we've done it in partnership with universities, we've done it internally and also in partnership with Action for Happiness, actually, although that's not a technical research study and basically most of the things you measure are based on a 1 to 10 self-reported scale. And we see that [00:22:00] depending on what we try to influence, whether it's self-confidence or happiness or stress, we see about a 1 to 2-point improvement on a 10-point scale, which doesn't sound like a lot, but it's actually really significant. That’s a real material difference and that's several weeks after completing even just 20, 30 minutes in the app that you see someone has gone from maybe a seven to an eight to how happy they are.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Nice. That explains everything. And I guess what are the challenges that you've come across as, you know, you transitioned from a startup to a nonprofit?

    Mike Nolet: Well the big challenge broadly for any kind of consumer wellbeing service is customer acquisition. And so I don't have that many challenges yet on the transition, if that makes sense. Cause I'm just smack in the middle of it. Honestly, my original plan was to take some time off before kind of relaunching the nonprofit and kind of unexpectedly the pandemic and me being isolated at home kind of killed my plans [00:23:00] of travelling and going on vacation. So I've been starting the non-profit sooner than expected without a real plan. So I can't really speak too much about those challenges, but broadly, you know, the real challenge is customer acquisition. It's so expensive these days to find a customer. People are so inundated with marketing messaging. All these damn ad tech people.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Not that you had anything to do with that, but okay.

    Mike Nolet: Nothing at all. But it really, it's just, the price and everyone I talk to has the same problem. And so it's one of the founding theses, by the way, for the nonprofit, is that as a nonprofit, we can get free customer acquisition since the right people will promote it because we have nothing to gain. And so that's what we're testing. We did our first test a few weeks ago with Action for Happiness, which is also a Founders Pledge-recommend charity. It's really cool. The pandemic happened, they shut down their classes, and in two weeks [00:24:00] together, we've developed a virtual version of their 10-day course over email. So we took a lot of the practices from our app and we kind of built very quickly a little system that just gets every day, a little activity in your inbox. You learn a little bit about why you get something to do. And that again, we saw a full point different sense, subjective wellbeing, so we do a pre-post kind of measurement; how people felt before and after. So that's been really satisfying to do and work on as well.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Awesome. Awesome. Yeah. Action for Happiness, a great charity. We're going to have Mark [Williamson] on the show as well. So I guess, was that impetus around starting a nonprofit, just around the customer acquisition side of things or was there more into it? Because I'm thinking, you know, why not do what, going back to Arianna Huffington, why not create like a Thrive, for example, which is a for-profit institution around sleep and employee wellbeing.

    Mike Nolet: Yeah. It's what everyone asks, so thank you for asking. It's just it's I should probably know, it's the thing I'm passionate about, but yes. I think it's really, what everyone [00:25:00] else was doing, you know, I think startups, they go in cohorts, you see people follow a wave, and there were about 10 different companies that did various apps and chatbots and trying to do good mental health coaching and started right around the same time. A few of them have gone bankrupt and most of them have now gone corporate. So they sell it as a corporate wellbeing service, and it's a logical thing to do. And corporate wellbeing seems to be profitable. It seems to be that customer acquisition, you basically solve the problem by making a lot more money per customer so that you can hire salespeople to sell it.

    And, but what I realised like on the LiveBetter app, what we see is the people who use the app the most are not people working white collar jobs, having nice salaries for companies that want to offer them wellbeing services. We see people, we see a lot of stay at home moms, we see grandparents, we see, we even had some homeless people who all actually remarkably many of them have smartphones.

    So, and then if we were to go corporate, we'd leave all those people behind. And that just doesn't feel right. It [00:26:00] didn't feel right to me and the team, actually, that we then just only help people who have money and this is, you know, one of our kind of core problems in society today is inequality.

    And, you know, I think given that we'd had the AppNexus exit, I have the opportunity, I don't have to raise money. I can keep working on this without paying myself a salary, and that means why not continue, we're doing this for free because there's a huge percentage of the population which is completely underserved.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Absolutely. And I guess, you know, by doing that, you address another issue around that, more like a social issue, right? Like accessibility.

    Mike Nolet: Yeah, exactly. And mental health in general, I think the UK is one country I know from the world where actually the NHS takes it seriously. And it's the beauty of a single payer system, right?

    So to the NHS stress is tremendously expensive, [00:27:00] but not in terms of mental health care, in terms of heart problems, in terms of stroke. Stress is deadly, right. But the health system ends up paying for it, but 10 years down the line. And so in Switzerland, where I live, where we have kind of a private health insurance scheme, where everyone's required to have private health insurance, the insurance companies don't have much budget to offer in kind of prevention for a decade from now. And so basically, there's just not much money out there for it. And in the end, I said the NHS, they're an example, they're starting to work with companies, they did a purchase, it was Sleepio for sleep coaching. Cause they know sleep is tied to mental health and future wellbeing.

    So that's why like, there's just, we need more services out there that are more affordable and are more approachable. I've, you know, we've learned now that technology can deliver that. And the for-profit model just doesn't seem to be the way that's going to get that [00:28:00] into the hands of enough people.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Exactly. And you know, that makes for a really nice segue to my next question around COVID-19. We're all going through a crazy unprecedented time. I don't think anyone's seen anything like this before. And so to your point, finding a digital solution to support mental health is more crucial now than ever before, I can imagine. People are in isolation, it's literally like a social recession. So I can imagine you guys are pretty busy right now. How have you been coping during this period? And have you seen anything drastically change?

    Mike Nolet: So in the work we've done, so first we're definitely seeing a lot of interest in people developing digital programmes. So this idea of kind of using technology at scale. We're talking to lots of charities that are interested because so many of them traditionally work in person and that in-person work has been completely disrupted.

    And then kind of on a more deeper note, [00:29:00] you know, we did on, March 22nd was international happiness day, and we launched this 10-day challenge with Action for Happiness. I don't have the stats off hand. I should have brought them. Sorry. But it was, I would say almost half of the people, we ask people up front, why do they want to do the challenge? And almost half of them mentioned isolation or coronavirus directly. So it's pretty clear that, you know, the vast majority of people and then the ones who don't mention it directly, it's also likely that they're influenced by this. Right. And so it's clear, there's clearly a mental health crisis brewing. Ginger, they're the ones who acquired LiveBetter tech, Russ is their CEO, and he tweets about this, that he's seeing, they're seeing upward trends for many of their metrics as well. So you know, the mental health crisis is brewing for sure. And the fact that, you know, in-person care is declining, it's only gonna make it worse and isolation is just bad. Remember in my list of things, like have friends and [00:30:00] people that you care about to have meaningful interpersonal interactions, like that's gone away for a period of time.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Yeah. And is it head-on affecting you personally as a leader during this time?

    Mike Nolet: No, it's had more effect on me personally. As a leader, given, you know, a bunch of the team went over to Ginger and we were kind of preparing to kind of hibernate for a little while, it hasn't impacted me as a leader really. I mean, personally, I've got to say that I'm sick and tired of isolation.

    I can't wait until May 11th here. So in 10 days my kid goes to school. Yes. But no, not as a leader, I don't think so, but mostly because I'm kind of in this in between phase, if that makes any sense.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Totally. And I guess for founders in general, I mean, obviously you alluded to earlier in regards to 2008, not being that much of a tumultuous time for you guys, in terms of the crisis, but you know, we're going through another time now, right? Where it's unprecedented, we don't know what's happening. [00:31:00] What are some of your top strategies for founders dealing with uncertainty around the future of their business?

    Mike Nolet: Well, I think the first one is solidify the cash position of the business because right now, there's definitely, VCs are still investing. Most of them have raised their funds. Those funds have to be deployed. And so there's deals to be made. And if you haven't raised recently and you aren't, you're not in a position where you could eventually get to break even, raise money. I mean, I think the future, look, this could be a, you know, if you look at the McKinsey and Goldman and JP Morgan reports, you know, this could be a quick fee balance.

    You know, the stock market seems to indicate everyone's pretty optimistic that we're just going to bounce back and, you know, 2020 is going to be a little blip on the global markets, but we'll go back to normal, but I would, you know, I think there's also a decent probability that that doesn't happen.

    But [00:32:00] I think as a founder, your job is to make sure the business is prepared for the worst, plan for the most realistic, but be prepared for the worst. So cash is number one, and that might mean making some really hard decisions around staff cutbacks or delaying projects or delaying investment.

    And then the second thing would be also to look at this as an opportunity. You know, the world is changing in front of our eyes and at a speed that probably hasn't been seen since World War II. So, you know, especially digital, the number of people who are suddenly comfortable doing a podcast over the internet or virtual, you know all the grandparents are now on Zoom! Like products are targeted. I downloaded this product, which is just brilliant, and it's an app for my mother to read books to my son, for grandparents to read to their children. That whole market is [00:33:00] completely neglected. And that whole market is suddenly becoming far more digitally savvy than they ever were.

    Yeah. So I think, you know, one, make sure you have cash, make sure you conserve and then look at the bright side, look at the opportunities. Right? It's, you know, it's not what some people think other people are, there's people who are lucky, but people are lucky.

    It's not that they're lucky. It's just that they see the opportunities and go for them. And so there, there's definitely luck to be had here with all of the dysfunction all around us. And so I did not lose the optimism, while also, you know, conserving cash or going out raising funds to make sure we can weather the storm.

    Philip Kasumu (host): You know, there's two very good pieces of advice there. How can founders support their teams now, build trust and improve workplace wellbeing during this time? And I guess in general, right? Like when we're all allowed back into the office and whatnot, cause it's more of a cultural thing, I guess, around workplace wellbeing, right?

    Mike Nolet: Yeah, I think [00:34:00] for this time, the one piece of advice, we talked about this in our webinar, a webcast we did together too, is provide people with a rhythm and a structure. I think most people have some pattern. I get up, I have my breakfast, I take the subway or the bus or the car. I go to the office at work and then I go home and maybe on my way home, I go to the gym and do some exercise.

    And so that's been upended for everybody. And I think as an employer, employers can provide some structure to people's lives and actually too much flexibility might be bad. So actually saying, okay, here's the hours, right? If you need us to change them, let us know. And we can, but by default, we want you working from 9-6 and there's a lunch break.

    And so we're all going to have lunch at the same time. Right. Also another thing to do today, virtual lunch breaks, and people take the time off for lunch to take a break and have a little bit more of that social chit-chat. That much more naturally occurs in an office and less so when working remotely and then [00:35:00] broadly, I think, one of the best ways it will look as a leader, it's modelling the right behaviors, right?

    So if you look at companies, often companies where people all work too hard and they're stressed all the time. If you look at the CEO, the CEO is working too hard and stressed all the time. So, I think companies that have good wellbeing have CEOs that model good behaviour, and that then trickles down through the entire organisation.

    And so, I mean, and there's microcosms of that, right? If you're a manager of a smaller team, you know, your team tends to model your behaviour as well. And so I would argue for one, model the right behavior, which means, you know, disconnecting at a certain point, we all know that sleep is important. How do you get good sleep? You stop working several hours before sleep. You don't write emails in the evening. You don't expect responses to the email and sending an email on 11 a saying "don't worry if you write back tomorrow", it doesn't work. You have to not send the email until the morning because that's really saying, I don't work from 7:00 PM to whatever, 7:00 AM or whatever the hours are, I'm modelling great behaviour. And then the last one [00:36:00] is being okay with being vulnerable and talking about these potentially uncomfortable things. So whether that's stress coming around, you know, reduced revenues, you know, don't be afraid to talk about that transparently with the team.

    It also means if there's harder conversations going on in the future, down the line, they’ll be much easier if you've been transparent throughout the entire process. So, yeah, so I think it's model the right behaviour, give people structure now, have, you know, including virtual lunch and trying to replace some of the social activities that have been lost and then be vulnerable and be transparent. I think if you do those things, you're probably in a good spot.

    Philip Kasumu (host): I think that's great advice. And I think our members are definitely going to take heed of what you've said here. I really liked the idea of the virtual lunches. I don't think I've had any virtual lunches yet. I'll put that to Founders Pledge next week.

    Mike Nolet: Cool. My co-working space [00:37:00] does it every day. It's amazing. It's kept the community alive, actually, to some extent.
    Philip Kasumu (host): Wow. I mean, we do various meetings. I mean like stand ups and whatnot, but I think an actual, intentional lunch might be something I might explore.

    Mike Nolet: I was going to say, if you think normally when you're at the office, you're going to see someone while you're making coffee and you have a few minutes, right? And how many of those moments do you have a day? 10? That comes up to 15, 20 minutes of chit-chat, right? 30? You gotta, that's missing from your life and that's important social connection that's gonna make you happier. So make time for it somehow.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Yeah, definitely. I want to work towards wrapping up now, Mike, and I just wanna ask, how did you get involved with Founders Pledge and why did you get involved in Founders Pledge as a member?

    Mike Nolet: Um, why, how... That's a really good question. Someone introduced me to David somehow. I think that's everyone's story. Why? Because I, as you can tell, I believe in giving back and doing good, and I [00:38:00] think Founders Pledge is an organisation that's clearly focused around that, which is just great. And then I think David rung my arms and nagged me enough, but it was, it was already, it was actually to be honest, it was actually quite nice. I mean, I was already in the process of setting up a donor advised fund. We ended up getting in touch right around the exit or at first liquidity. And so it actually ended up being really convenient. So for me, it was almost less signing a pledge then taking advantage of some of the services in terms of kind of dealing with donor advised funds and figuring out what charities, you know, I met, actually there's three guys, by the way.

    So yeah, no, I believe in the mission, I believe in giving back, I think we have a lot of shared values and so, that's why I'm here.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Awesome. And also, you know, speaking about Action for Happiness, when we had our webinar last week about staying sane during this time, you made a generous donation of a matched [00:39:00] fund. So do you want to tell people about that to see if they they'll be interested in matching?

    Mike Nolet: Yeah, absolutely. So Action for Happiness is the charity that made the fund the matching donations are for. So if you donate funds, they're basically £150,000 short this year because of coronavirus. They get a lot of their fundraising, they host in-person wellbeing classes, they moved those virtually, but they aren't getting the same revenue from them virtually as they were in person. People are less willing to pay for things on screens than live, even though it takes the same amount of staff to deliver. So it's, I just love what they do. What they do is based on research, they've helped thousands and thousands of people be happier every year. And so they have a £150,000 gap in their budget for the year. And so I generously offered to match up to £75,000 . So I'm going to ask anybody who is out there, who wants to do some good.

    Everyone is donating to coronavirus relief, but actually a lot of the charities out there that have nothing to do with coronavirus that are so important [00:40:00] are seeing huge funding gaps. And so I would urge anybody to please donate.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Awesome. Mike, thank you so much for coming on the show with us. What's the best way to contact you?

    Mike Nolet: mike@livebetter.io, or you can find me on LinkedIn.

    Philip Kasumu (host): Awesome. Thank you so much.

    Mike Nolet: Awesome. Thanks for having me.

    Philip Kasumu (host): And a huge thank you to Mike for coming on the show today and sharing his journey with us, what a journey it's been. And thank you all for tuning in. If you enjoyed today's show, please help us spread the word by sharing this episode with your network. It honestly does go a long way. Until next time!

    Be inspired, give better and drive change.

Philip Kasumu


Philip joined Founders Pledge as Growth Lead for Europe in January 2020. He has spent the last few years building health and wellness tech products in both London and New York. He’s extremely passionate about tackling the global issue of obesity and diabetes in particular the impact of fizzy drinks. In addition to his passion for health and wellness reform Philip truly does drink the startup kool-aid and regularly nerds out on his weekly podcast Startup Handmedowns where he sits down with successful founders.

Philip studied Accounting and Management at the University of Essex.