This interview with Jon Stavis of eMoods is part of my 2021 Autumn Adventure Tour‘s Entrepreneur Interview Series.

This trip promotes small businesses along the East Coast, shares interviews with my past and current clients, and highlights my upcoming business mastermind.

Click to watch the interview with eMoods founder, Jon Stavis

SPEAKERS

Megan Taylor Morrison, Jon Stavis

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Hey everyone! This is Megan Taylor Morrison and you’re here for an episode of “between a sort-of Fern and a eucalyptus” with me and Jon Stavis. I’m up in Maine at his home and I’m going to get out of the chair so that he can get into the chair and we can talk to him about his business.

For those who don’t know eMoods, share briefly about your app and its mission.

Jon Stavis  

eMoods is a free app that lets people with various mental health diagnoses, mood disorders, anxiety disorders and depression keep track of common symptoms. It can also help them keep track of their medications, chart their progress, get an overall view of what’s happening in their lives and make it easier for them to report this to their doctors.

The app is pretty simple, programming wise, but it values people’s privacy. And it is very, very easy to use. And so people use it daily as a means to empower themselves when they’re communicating with their doctors and/or their therapists.

The mental health space is a world where oftentimes there’s a big power dynamic between the practitioner and the patient. My mission is to balance this out a little bit– to give people more empowerment when communicating with their provider, more insight into their symptoms and their external factors in their lives that cause either negative symptomatic outcomes or positive symptomatic outcome and the chance to better communicate that with their doctor or therapist.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

What’s the value in being a mission driven company?

Jon Stavis  

First off, I recognize that I have a lot of privilege in being in this spot. I’m a white man in America and I’ve had a lot of opportunities to get to this place — to be able to have my own business and bounce back from a pretty severe mental health diagnosis with a good support network and good health insurance.

I don’t take that for granted. I appreciate that I’m in a position where I’ve moved slowly on this. I was able to do this as a side project while I had a pretty steady nine-to-five job. I didn’t have to take money from investors or to stress myself out living on savings. I’ve been able to have it be my mission, do what I think is ethical, and hold true to my principles. I’ve made eMoods a human-focused company, rather than a profit-driven company. And I think that that puts me in a good position to build a more of a community around this rather than just like a customer base.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Your mission is so clearly defined. Was it always this way or did you refine it over time?

Jon Stavis  

It was always that way, but it evolved and became clearer to me over time. I started the app as a hobby project. And I didn’t really expect people to be using it that much. But as I got more feedback, as more and more people started using it, I discovered that privacy was really important. I mean, I knew this already. It’s an intuitive thing to me that this is private information, and that people wanted to keep it that way. And also respecting people and respecting their time is very important. I want to make sure tracking and this looking at their data can be done quickly and doesn’t interfere with their lives. I think being mission-driven is important and gets overlooked a lot with bigger companies. Being a small, one-person team allows me to focus on that a little bit better.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

What impact has the app already had on people’s lives?

Jon Stavis  

I get a lot of feedback from different people that are using the app. The common thread is that the app gives people more insight into their lives into their mental states. It helps them to navigate a really complex medical system with a lot of different choices and to see what things have worked for them and what things haven’t, rather than just trust their doctor to keep track of this. I’ve gotten feedback from people that they’ve come off their medications. I’ve gotten feedback that people have gotten on the right medications. I’ve gotten feedback from people that people have used this to improve their relationships, have more control over their emotions, or to make their lives happier and more meaningful.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

If someone were to sneak peek into your business, how would they know it was human-driven?

Jon Stavis  

It comes down to how I communicate with the users. When they write, I respond as if they’re a friend. I take them very seriously.

Another thing would be that I’m starting to do interviews like this, so maybe people will get to know me better and understand that way.

Finally, it’s a free app. People are encouraged or offered the opportunity to upgrade to a freemium or patronage level where they get some extra features. It’s pretty functional without these extra features, but if you want to donate and get a couple extra features, that’s great. I put part of these proceeds toward various mental health charities.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Which are your chosen mental health charities?

Jon Stavis  

There’s there’s a bunch. For instance, the National Alliance of Mentally Ill and the Bipolar Depression Support Alliance. There are also several indigenous mental health and black mental health organizations. I have a list of about 10 to 15 and they are constantly changing.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

What inspired you to start your business?

Jon Stavis  

My own needs. I was getting a printable chart from my doctor to fill out. I am a programmer and this was right around the beginning of when Android phones were coming into the world, so I said to myself: why don’t I automate this paper chart that I’m filling out for my doctor?

I did it in my spare time as a hobby. I made it in a way that was easy for me to use and easy for me to find value from. I quickly realized this would help me to get on the right medications or to reduce these medications. Most people know that these medications have a lot of pretty bad side effects and some people have philosophical objections to supporting big pharmaceutical companies or big insurance companies.

These were all factors in me wanting to start giving this app to people.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

You were initially afraid to associate your name with the business. Tell us why and how you overcame that fear.

Jon Stavis  

There’s a big stigma with mental health in general with the various diagnoses.

I didn’t want to make it more known that I was part of this world and that this is something that I struggled with. In various places in my life there were whispers, a kind of sardonic attitude toward me or people treating me differently.

Eventually, I just said: Yeah, fuck it. Bring it into the light and tell people what’s going on. If it’s uncomfortable for them then they can deal with it. It’s not my problem anymore.

I started to be more genuine and open and honest about what it is that I go through. And your coworking community helped a lot with giving me encouragement and courage to be public about celebrating my wins. Toastmasters also helped me a lot with the public speaking. And, frankly, it’s, it’s a generational thing. I think that the younger generation just don’t give a fuck about any of this. Be your authentic self!

Megan Taylor Morrison  

You started working on the business full time in 2019, which meant leaving your nine to five as a programmer. We all know that programmers make pretty good money, have a steady job and enjoy lots of job security, what advice would you give to others who are thinking about leaving a day job to start a company?

Jon Stavis  

First off, ask yourself why you want to leave your day job. If you’re unhappy, that’s great. But while you’re thinking about what you want, can you be gaining anything from your day job now? I think you can. You can be learning from any situation.

If you do want to become an entrepreneur, then you’re probably going to be making connections in your day job that you can carry with you into your future endeavors.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

You’ve done an incredible job growing your company. You went from making this for yourself to having more than 50,000 active users. What wisdom can you offer to entrepreneurs who are trying to build an audience?

Jon Stavis  

Build something that solves your own problem. And that does this in a way that aligns with your philosophies and your ethics. Make sure it is not really offered in that same way by anybody else. If you have a problem, there’s probably a lot of other people that want to solve it.

Other advice in growing an audience is to treat your audience like a community. Treat your users not like customers, like friends. When they reach out to you, respond to them with care. We’ve all been on these terrible customer service calls and I think it negatively impacts how we interact with a company.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

How do you set the boundary between the person and professional if you’re treating users as friends?

Jon Stavis  

That’s a great question. Most people just want their questions answered. But it can be done in a friendly way. It doesn’t have to be this mechanical customer support experience. But as far as drawing boundaries, it’s not been something that I’ve really had to struggle with. So far, it seems like anybody who has connected with me wanted to become part of a more central core community, which I am building.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

I love how you are answering the question. What you’re saying is that you have treated everyone with care — you’re not inviting them all out to lunch or anything — and that there hasn’t been an issue with boundaries. For some people, this could happen. It’s great to know you’ve used this approach and it’s only been a great experience for you and your users and is helping you build a community. When you treat your users well, they want to become more involved!

Jon Stavis  

Right. You probably get that with your coworking and coaching, as well. I’ve sensed that with you. And I’ve gotten a lot of that from you also.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

You mentioned listening to your users. You emphasize that it’s part of what makes the app so good. What are your best practices for getting feedback?

Jon Stavis  

It’s, again, responding to everybody, including every review. The tough thing is that you’re going to get a lot of suggestions and you can’t do all of them. It’s more about being present with those suggestions, taking them in and seeing what the needs are. You have to understand that most of the changes aren’t going to get done and there is a possibility of solving that problem in another way. Maybe there’s another feature for the app that could also solve the problem!

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Yeah, it’s it can be difficult as a solopreneur to take all the feedback. If you’re a team have one or a very small team, how do you decide what to do? I imagine that, if you get the same comment frequently, maybe you respond to that. Is there any other heuristic you use?

Jon Stavis  

Not really. I have my own kind of roadmap of what needs to get done. It’s just prioritizing. I also have a big future wish list of things that will hopefully get done one day.

I also believe in hiring a good customer support person. You can pay a little bit more for a customer support person that is going to be aligned with your values, tone and language choices. It’s important if your customer service is critical to your mission, brand image and building community.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

What have been the most valuable tools and systems for growing your business?

Jon Stavis  

Sure. HelpScout is really good. It’s a emailing program that lets a bunch of different people respond to the same emails. You can also make a knowledge base so you can point people to deeper articles or answers to questions.

RevenueCat is a programming tool that lets you manage subscriptions in an easier way.

I think that the biggest honorable mention here, however, goes to the the open-source software that we all are using on a daily basis. Whether you know it or not, you are using a lot of open-source software on the internet. And this is developed by volunteers. A lot of talented people provide free labor in their spare time. This has been going on for years and years, as long as as long as the Internet has been around and longer. So that I would say is something that I’m grateful for because it saved me so much time and effort. I didn’t have to develop all of the various software that I’ve worked with throughout my career.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

I love that. It makes me feel like there’s some good juju in the air, since we’re all using this open-source software.

Jon Stavis  

Oh, absolutely. And nobody really realizes that either.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Thanks, software people, wherever you are!

And what’s your vision for eMoods? Where do you hope the company will be in five years?

Jon Stavis  

I’m working on a HIPAA-compliant portal now for doctors offices, medical practices, therapy practices and small doctors practices. That’s going to be launching soon.

As I’ve been talking to more and more practitioners about this, I’ve been noticing a lot of pain for them too — especially in the United States, where they seem to be incredibly overworked. I’m talking to some doctors that are managing as many as 600 active patients, whereas in other countries doctors I’m talking to are managing 25-40 patients.

So, in my opinion, it’s hard for a patient to get the right level of attention from a doctor that is trying to juggle 600 patients at the same time. This can make doctors’ lives easier. It gives them an affordable piece of software that is something that their patients are already using and can make their communication with the patients easier.

So that’s one goal that in the next five years is to grow this enterprise portal.

I also want to add more visualizations to the app to allow people to start noticing more correlations and patterns. People might see a correlation between a certain type of weather or temperature and different extreme moods. They might notice a connection between their sleep or skipping a medication and extreme moods. I’m going to make better visualizations and some more sophisticated statistical computations to allow people to more easily view this or to get suggestions from from the app.

For example, it might have a weather forecast. Based on what you’ve reported in the past when the days are lengthening or shortening and there’s a specific temperature, it could tell you that there is a 60% chance that you are going to report an elevated mood or a severely elevated mood. That could give people a little extra feedback. They might say, “Hey! m\Maybe I should call somebody in my support network or call my doctor and chat about this.”

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Yeah, I feel excited to use the app. I have anxiety and I’d be curious to know how the anxiety goes. But I’d also just be curious to know — based on what I’m eating, the weather or whether I’m drinking — what happens.

So, even though you designed it for people that have been diagnosed with various mental health challenges, it really could be useful for everyone.

Jon Stavis  

Oh, totally. There’s actually a lot of people that reach out saying they were a little apprehensive about using the app because it mentions bipolar and depression and they just wanted a life tracker. They use it and just ignore certain questions and they’ve said its saved their relationships, improved their sleep, or improved their fitness.

I’ll mention this, too: during the beginning of COVID, I did a spin off of the app that changed the questions so it was just a wellness tracker for people who were quarantining or social distancing. It asked them general wellness questions. And so that’s picking up steam, but it’s not my main focus.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Who doesn’t? I mean, a lot of people probably don’t, but if it’s gonna make your life better, why not?

Jon Stavis  

Right? I mean, it’s like a glorified journal. It’s one simple place that organizes your thoughts. And it gives you a moment, at the end of the day, to be mindful about what happened during the day. To have this feedback loop that builds self awareness is important for self-regulation and then — eventually, hopefully — self-transformation.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

So let’s change gears and talk about your involvement with my online community for entrepreneurs. Some of the people listening have heard about my virtual coworking group and might be interested. What has made the community valuable to you?

Jon Stavis  

I’m laughing because you know all the answers to this already! It’s a great group of people. It is really, really nice — especially when you’re working alone or at home — to see the same friendly faces every day and to help celebrate other people’s wins and to celebrate your wins.

There’s an accountability piece as well where you get on the call and you state your intentions. Specfically, what you’re going to be working on. And you either do it and or you don’t do it. And when you don’t do it, you have to have that accountability at the end of the call.

It goes back to what I just said about the feedback loop. The awareness and the regulation of trying to develop healthier behavior patterns. At at our core, we’re mammals, right? And we all need that human connection. It doesn’t matter how much conditioning we have that says that we don’t. We do. And that’s one one great thing that I’ve gotten from from your community in particular.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

You mentioned it’s full of great people. I agree. Who’s your favorite?

Just kidding. Just kidding. They’re all great. Don’t answer that.

But you can answer this: what have you found with our community that you hadn’t found elsewhere?

Because some people watching won’t know this, but one of our hosts actually poached you from another coworking program.

Jon Stavis  

Yeah, that was great. This is much more personal. I mean, it’s a little bit more expensive, but that other company wasn’t a community. It was co-working with random strangers and you couldn’t even really request who you got to work with.

In Meg’s virtual coworking community, is the same people every day you’re really getting to know them. I’ve made many friendships and some of the people even house sat for me this summer. Also, we’ve got a a person in charge who holds a really nice space for everybody and I think really cares about the success of all the members of the community. So that’s a that’s a pretty unique and and amazing thing.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

What do you enjoy about the virtual co working sessions?

Jon Stavis  

I like getting on and seeing the same people. I also like celebrating tiny wins over the course of a session and celebrating the bigger wins when somebody has a big launch or gets published in a really well-known publication. Everybody in the community gets really, really excited for them.

During the sessions, you get that accountability for a short period of time, and you either get laser focused on what you’re working on, or you don’t. At the end, you have to admit that. Nobody laughs at you or anything, but that social accountability is important, as well as being aware of what you did and how to be better next time.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Who do you think would be the best fit for the community?

Jon Stavis  

Somebody who’s open minded and is not afraid of kind of pushing comfort zone a little bit. We do authentic relating in the community once a month and it’s incredibly fun, but also incredibly uncomfortable at times if you are open to growing from the sessions. So, I think this community is best for somebody who’s open minded and willing to be a little uncomfortable because they want to push themselves a little bit and have a supportive group of peers to be working with on a daily basis. These people will encourage you and you will celebrate each others’ wins. It’s a real community, which I think we all need as human beings.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Thanks for telling us about eMoods! And I’m really excited to be offering a three month subscription, which I will put more details around in the call notes. Thanks for being with us.

Jon Stavis  

Thank you.

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