LARKR CEO and Co-Founder Shawn Kernes talked about the importance of establishing a presence in Hartford and what it really takes to launch a startup.
INNOVATION DESTINATION HARTFORD: When did you launch the startup?
SHAWN KERNES: We officially launched LARKR in November 2017. The app is now available on the Apple App Store and will be coming soon to Android.
IDH: How did you develop the business concept?
SHAWN: For more than 20 years, I’ve had the pleasure of leading burgeoning companies like StubHub, eBay, and Beyond The Rack, which all disrupted their respective industries for the better, utilizing the best of new technologies. Although the work was enjoyable and I was successful, after a while I began to feel as though something was missing.
Meanwhile, I saw my wife Chris Kernes, a licensed marriage and family therapist, gaining personal satisfaction and joy by helping hundreds of people overcome their personal challenges through therapy.
I knew I wanted to do something that had a social good component. Then, I learned that an estimated 30 to 50 million Americans aren’t getting the mental health care they need. Closing this service gap using modern technology became my passion project, and the idea for LARKR was born.
IDH: Tell us more about LARKR and what makes it innovative.
SHAWN: LARKR is an on-demand mental health app seeking to close the massive service gap that currently exists in mental health care. Through an easy-to-use-platform, the app connects patients across the country with certified mental health care professionals in real time from the convenience of their smartphones. In addition to therapy sessions, the app provides free tools for everyday mental wellness, including a daily mood tracker “My Story,” a daily good deed suggesting feature “Be the Change,” and guided meditations.
IDH: How does the app work?
SHAWN: LARKR provides a convenient alternative for people who may not have access to or may not be comfortable with traditional therapy. Once users create a free profile with LARKR, they can be connected within minutes to licensed clinicians via live streaming video for 50-minute sessions. The platform also allows for multi-user sessions from different locations, which means couples can schedule a therapy session together while on their lunch breaks or parents can join their child’s session during the discussion of a particular topic.
In short, the app ensures that mental health care is readily available for anyone in need, anywhere and anytime.
IDH: Why did you become involved in reSET Accelerator program?
SHAWN: Typically, reSET’s Impact Accelerator works exclusively with local businesses, but its leadership team was so excited by LARKR’s mission that they invited us to participate.
The program’s thought-provoking workshops and powerful network, combined with its passion for changing the world through innovation and entrepreneurship, fit right in with LARKR’s company values.
Also, since Hartford is known as “the insurance capital of the world,” it is a valuable location for healthcare companies like us to establish a presence.
We are excited about the opportunity to utilize the Impact Accelerator’s tools and insights to help us reach more people in need of LARKR’s on-demand therapy services.
IDH: In what ways is your company making a social impact?
SHAWN: As many as 50 million Americans who suffer from mental illness currently go without needed healthcare due to cost, lack of access to qualified local practitioners, or because of the outdated stigma that exists around seeking mental health care.
By minimizing the barriers that keep people from receiving care and making it easier for people to get the help they need, LARKR will not only improve the quality of life for millions of Americans, but ultimately save countless lives.
IDH: What has been your biggest challenge as a startup?
SHAWN: All startups are hard. They are lonely, scary, and psychologically stressful. Great startups aim to change the world in some way, and resistance to that change can be daunting.
Our biggest challenges are related to awareness and stigma. People can’t use something they don’t know about, and won’t use something they are afraid will cause them embarrassment or even humiliation.
IDH: What resources do you need most to move your company forward?
SHAWN: Top of mind right now are: capital to accelerate growth, help navigating the insurance and medical establishment, and, of course, media support to raise awareness.
IDH: Any advice for other startups?
SHAWN: There are many important don’ts:
- Don’t get discouraged.
- Don’t fear competition.
- Don’t lose track of what's important.
- Don’t get married to your own ideas.
- Don’t forget to breathe.
- Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can do it all yourself.
- Don’t expect others to do the things you don’t want to do (take out the trash, clean the kitchen, drive people home) and don’t be late for meetings—be the first person in and the last person out.
- Don’t pay yourself more than you really need. If you are a founder and are able to squirrel away money for a rainy day, you're doing it wrong. Your equity is your savings plan.
I would also add that no one will ever care more about your business, your customers, your success, or you, than you do, so roll up your sleeves and make it happen.
When asked what it was like to be an overnight success, I think it was Reid Hoffman who said, “It’s nice to be in the daylight after years of darkness.” Remember, startups don’t just happen, they take years of hard work, sleepless nights, fights, failure, and tears. But succeed or fail, they will be some of the best years of your life.
LARKR Co-Founder Jon Dabach also noted that the best advice he ever received was actually from me: Just do it. There are a million reasons not to create a startup and there are a million people who will tell you you’re crazy for even trying. But if you have an idea you really care about, something you can live and breathe day-in and day-out for years and not get bored, then just figure out a way. Beg, borrow, and steal and just start. There’s no template, no business plan, no mentor who knows everything—you just have to start.
Learn more about LARKR
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