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. You’re here for an episode of “Between a Sort-of Fern and Eucalyptus” with me and Jon Stavis. I’m up in Maine at his home. 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  

Yeah, eMoods is a free app that lets people with various mental health diagnoses (mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and depression) keep track of common symptoms, keep track of their medications, and chart their progress to 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. So people have come to like it and to 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 a little bit more empowerment when communicating with their provider. To give people more insight into their symptoms and the external factors in their lives that cause either negative symptomatic outcomes or positive symptomatic outcomes. What leads to an unhealthier life and what leads to a healthier life and to be able to communicate that with their doctor or therapist better.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Jon, tell us what you see the value is in being a mission-driven company.

Jon Stavis  

Yeah. First off, I recognize that I have a lot of privilege in being in this spot. I’m not sure if I would have been able to recognize not being a mission-driven company. Obviously I’m a white man in America, and I’ve had a lot of opportunities to get to this place and to be able to have my own business. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to bounce back from a pretty severe mental health diagnosis with a good support network and good health insurance. And so what I notice from that is to not take that for granted. I also 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 9 to 5 job. I was able to move slowly, to not have to take money from investors, and to not have to stress myself out with savings and living on savings. I’ve therefore been able to prioritize my mission, to do what I think is ethical, to hold true to my principles, and to make this a human focused company rather than just only a profit-driven company. I think that that puts me in a good position to build more of a community around this rather than just 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, I think. But it evolved and became a little bit clearer to me over time. I’ll go into this in a little bit. I started the app as a hobby project. I didn’t really expect people to be using it that much. But as I got more feedback, and 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. Also, respecting people, respecting their time. It is very important that they have minimal distractions and be able to do this activity, this tracking, and this looking at their data in a pretty quick way that doesn’t interfere with their lives. So it became a little bit more clearer over time what the mission was. I think it’s an important one because it gets overlooked a lot with bigger companies, and 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 a lot of different people that are using the app. It varies. I think that it’s a really individual thing. The common thread between everybody is that it gives people more insight into their lives and into their mental states. It gives people more mindfulness and that helps them make the decisions that they need to make. It helps them to navigate a really complex medical system with a lot of different choices, and to see for themselves what things have worked for them, and what things haven’t worked for them, rather than to just trust their doctor to keep track of this all and then report back to them. I’ve gotten feedback from people that they’ve come off their medications. I’ve gotten feedback from people that they’ve gone on the right medications. I’ve gotten feedback from people that have used this to improve their relationships to make their lives happier and more meaningful. To have more control over their emotions and more witness to their emotions, rather than letting their emotions affect them and their ability to function the way that they want to be functioning.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

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

Jon Stavis  

Well, I think that this comes out when I communicate with users when they write. I respond to everybody that writes as if they’re a friend. I take them very seriously. And so, if you’ve communicated with me that way, then that’s one thing. Another thing would be that I’m starting to do interviews like this, so maybe people will get to know me a little bit better, and understand it that way. And another part of the, I don’t want to call it “the marketing” of the app, is that 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 donate part of those proceeds to various mental health charities that I find.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Wow. Which are your chosen mental health charities?

Jon Stavis  

There’s a bunch. There’s the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. There are several indigenous mental health organizations and black mental health organizations. There’s a list of about 10 to 15 that is constantly changing. I think that it would probably be important to start publishing that and making that public, but it’s not something that I’ve done yet. It’s just that I haven’t really had time. I’ve gotten like one or two interested people asking me and I usually just respond to them, like, “Oh, these are the organizations that I donate to, but it’s also open for suggestions.” So for people that want to say, “There’s a mental health charity that you might not know about,” then that’s an opportunity to reach out.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

What inspired you to start your business?

Jon Stavis  

My own needs, actually. 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. I knew the Java programming platform that Androids are built on a little bit, 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 kind of 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 that part of that was, “Hey, this is going to help me to get on the right medications or to reduce these other 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 are all things that were factors in me wanting to start giving this to people more as I saw people starting to really use this free app more and more.

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  

Yeah. There’s a big stigma with mental health in general with the various diagnoses. I was just not wanting to make it more known that I was part of this world. That is something that I struggled with. There was an element of this everywhere, in all aspects of my life. There were like whispers or kind of like sardonic attitudes towards me and just people treating me differently because it was this unspoken thing that people might know a little bit about, that they might notice. So I basically just said, “Yeah, fuck it, like, bring it out into the light and just tell people what’s going on. And you know what? It makes it their problem now. Like, if it’s uncomfortable for you then deal with it. It’s not my problem anymore. Just bring it out into the light and be genuine, open, and honest about what I’m going through in my life.” Your coworking community helped a lot with giving me encouragement and courage to be public about this and celebrate my wins. Toastmasters, which I’m a member of, has also helped me a lot with public speaking and getting up in front of crowds. And, frankly, it’s a generational thing. I think that the younger generation just don’t give a fuck about any of this. It’s like, be your authentic self, you know, and let’s all move on to becoming better people with the truths that we all have.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

You started working on the business full time in 2019, which meant leaving your 9 to 5 as a programmer. We all know that programmers make pretty good money. Steady job, 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, I think you have to ask yourself why you want to leave your day job. And if you’re unhappy, that’s great. While you’re thinking about what you want, what hole you want to fill in your life by being an entrepreneur, you should also be asking yourself whether you can be gaining anything from your day job now. I think that yes, you can. You can be learning from any situation. If you do want to become an entrepreneur, and leave your 9 to 5 job, then you’re probably going to be making connections in this 9 to 5 job that you can carry with you into your future endeavors. Other advice is to go back to the privilege piece. You can work hard, and you do need to work hard, but the fact is that you also need a lot of luck. Most people that do this have a lot of comfort and a lot of privilege. So don’t forget that. Work towards a goal of putting yourself in a better place, but understand that it takes a lot of luck and takes a lot of hard work as well. For me, that has become a drive to help lift people up and to not lose that human-centered mission to help other people that are having this goal of transitioning out of working for the man towards working for themselves.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

You’ve done a pretty incredible job at growing this company. It seems like it was just because you have a really good product, because 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  

In my case, it was to build something that solves your own problem, does it in a way that aligns with your philosophies & ethics, and that is not really offered in that same way by anybody else. So find a problem that you have in life and solve that problem. There’s probably going to be a lot of other people that you’re going to encounter that want it solved in the same way that you are offering. Other advice in growing an audience that I would have is to treat your audience like a community. Treat your users not like customers, but a community. They’re your friends. When they reach out to you, respond to them. Respond to every single person that writes like they’re your friend. We’ve all been on these terrible customer service calls, and it’s not the fault of the customer service person. It’s, in my opinion, just these big companies that have quotas, and people have to do a job and they’re forced into these constraining positions of having to talk to lots and lots of people that are really, really rude. Some of them are really really rude. I think it negatively affects the way that we interact with these customer service organizations. And so I would say to look at it as if you’re meeting interesting people. You’re meeting people that in many cases, for me, have become really close friends that have originally reached out as users. Anybody that you write to is your friend. Respond to everybody and take their suggestions seriously. That’s how I see it.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

How do you set the boundary between them being your friend and them being a user of your app?

Jon Stavis  

That’s a great question. It becomes kind of clear with most people in that they 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. In many cases, now, it’s all these bots that are responding to you and not actual humans. So I think that human connection in like 99.9-whatever percent of the time is great, and that’s what people are looking for. 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’s connected that’s wanted to become part of a more central core community has been a welcome guest. I don’t know if I’m answering your question, but there’s not been really like a boundaries issue with that.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Yeah. You are answering the question, and I love that you’re answering it like that, because I think that the concern is “Well, if I treat everybody as friends, where’s the boundary?” And what you’re saying is, “I have treated everyone with care that’s reached out to me. Not inviting them all out to lunch, but I’m answering them in a kind, friendly way.” And in doing so, there hasn’t been an issue with boundaries. 

Jon Stavis  

Right. I’m not seeking out these closer relationships. It just so happens that a small percentage of the people that reach out and that are responded to politely develop a closer relationship.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Nice. I think that’s the case, right? Like when we treat customers with kindness, they want to come further into the community,

Jon Stavis  

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

Megan Taylor Morrison  

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

Jon Stavis  

Again, it’s just responding to everybody. Responding to every review and keeping track of things. The tough thing is that you’re going to get a lot of suggestions but you can’t do all of them. It’s just being present with and listening to those suggestions, taking them in, and seeing what needs are there, while understanding that most of them aren’t going to get done. Just knowing that the person has been heard and that there is a possibility of solving that problem in another way is the main thing. Maybe there’s another feature that I’m doing anyway that can also solve the problem of a request that I wasn’t able to get to. So that kind of thing and that kind of balance.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Yeah. It can be difficult as a solopreneur to take all the feedback knowing that you’re a team of 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 roadmap of what I need done, I know what I can do, and I know what the limited number of contractors that I have can do. So it’s really just prioritizing. There’s like a big future which wish list of things that are hopefully going to get done one day. But to also further answer your question in a practical sense, in order to respond to all the reviews and respond to all these these emails that are coming in, hire a good customer support person. I’ve found that paying a little bit more for a customer support person that is going to be aligned with my values and with my tone and language choices when doing these responses is really really worth it. This is so critical to a mission and to a brand image and to building this community and really respecting the people that are supporting this business as the users and the customers.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

What have been the most valuable tools and systems for growing your business? There’s probably a lot, so just share with us one or two.

Jon Stavis  

Sure. Um, so Help Scout is really good, going back to the customer support piece. It’s an emailing program that lets a bunch of different people respond to the same emails. You can make a knowledge base and you can point people to deeper articles and answers to questions. Revenue Cat is a programming tool that lets you manage subscriptions in an easier way. It’s a programming API. But actually something else is just coming to me. I think that the biggest honorable mention here should go to the open source software that we all are using on a daily basis, whether we know it or not. Even if you’re paying for software and even if you have a proprietary iPhone, or a fancy Windows computer, you are using a lot of open source software on the internet. This is developed by volunteers, a lot of very, very talented people who put in free labor in their spare time. It’s been going on for years and years and years, as long as the internet has been around and longer. So that I would say is something that I’m so grateful for, because it saved me so much time and effort in developing all of the various software that I’ve worked on throughout my career, not just with this business.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

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

Jon Stavis  

Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. And nobody really realizes it either.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Yeah. Thanks open-source software people, wherever you are! 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 and therapy 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 that I’m talking to, some are managing 25-40 patients. 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. So my goal with this HIPAA-compliant portal is to make their lives easier, to allow them to have a cheap or affordable piece of software that is something that their patients are already using, that makes the communication with the patients easier, and that will give this doctor or therapist more free time in their lives to go and spend with their family or do whatever it is that they want to do that’s going to help them balance their lives. So one goal in the next five years is to grow this enterprise portal. And then to add more visualizations to the app to allow people to start noticing correlations and patterns that they’re not noticing from what’s there already. A simple example is some really simple machine learning or what some people call artificial intelligence. It’s just like fancy statistics to show correlations. People might see a correlation between a certain type of weather or temperature, and different extreme moods or their sleep, or between skipping a medication and extreme moods, or sleep. That’s the kind of thing that you can kind of start to visualize now with what’s in the app. But 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 the app. For example, it might have sort of like a weather forecast based on what you’ve reported in the past when there’s this much daylight during the day. And the days are lengthening or shortening by this rate every day. And the temperature is this. Based on all this, there is a 60% chance that you are going to report an elevated mood or a severe elevated mood. And that could give people a little bit of extra feedback, like “Hey, maybe I should be a little extra aware today. Or maybe I should call somebody in my support network, or even maybe call my doctor and chat about this since this is a triggering set of circumstances for me.” The app will hopefully eventually tell them that sort of thing.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Yeah. I feel excited to use the app. I have anxiety. I’d be curious to how the anxiety goes based on what I’m eating or based on the weather or whether I’m drinking. So it seems like even though you’ve designed it for people that have been diagnosed with various mental health challenges, it really could be useful for everyone.

Jon Stavis  

Oh, totally, yeah. There’s actually a lot of people that reached out saying that they were a little apprehensive about using the app because it mentions bipolar and depression when they just wanted a life tracker. But they’ve used it, and they just ignore certain questions and add other questions. And it helped them to save their relationships, improve their sleep, or improve their fitness. Actually, during the beginning of COVID, I did sort of a little mini spinoff of the app that had just sort of changed the questions around to be a wellness tracker for people who were quarantining, social distancing, or isolating in their houses. It asked them just general wellness questions. That’s sort of picking up steam a little bit. It’s not really the main focus, but there is that other app that exists too that doesn’t have the scarier sounding like psychosis and elevated mood or depressed mood questions, if that’s not something that’s happening for somebody’s life, but they do want to do some kind of easy life tracking.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

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

Jon Stavis  

Right. I mean, it’s really a glorified journal. It’s just one simple place that organizes your thoughts. It gives you a moment, at the end of the day, to think about what happened in your day, and to be mindful about that. And to get this feedback loop going of self awareness, followed by self regulation, and then eventually, hopefully, the self transformation.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

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 I mean, like, you know all the answers to this already. It’s a great group of people. Especially when you’re working alone or at home, and not around other people, it’s really really nice 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, what you’re going to be working on. And you either do it or you don’t do it. When you don’t do it, you have to have that accountability at the end of the call of why didn’t you do it. It goes back to what I just said about the feedback loop. It’s like the awareness and the regulation of trying to develop healthier behavior patterns. And just in general, it’s having a coworking community, not necessarily yours specifically, but I’ve definitely gotten this from yours. It’s like, at our core, we’re mammals, right? We all need that human connection. Doesn’t matter how much conditioning we have that says that we don’t, but we do. That’s one one great thing that I’ve gotten from your community in particular. Yeah.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

You mentioned it’s full of great people. I agree. Who’s your favorite? Just kidding. Just kidding, don’t answer that one, they’re all great. 

What have you found with our community that you hadn’t found elsewhere? Because people watching won’t know this, but one of our hosts actually poached Jon from another? Didn’t you meet her on some other coworking space? We don’t have to say which one.

Jon Stavis  

Yeah, that was great. So I won’t mention the name of it, but this is much more personal. I mean, it’s a little bit more expensive than the other particular space you’re talking about, but it’s not unaffordable. But that wasn’t a community. That was just coworking with random strangers, and you couldn’t even really request who you got to cowork with. In contrast, this is the same people every day. You’re really getting to know people, you’re making connections. I mean, for me, I’ve made many friendships. I had housesitters this summer from the coworking community and we’ve had some good times. Yeah, I guess that’s what you can get from yours as opposed to other ones. We’ve got 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 pretty unique and amazing thing.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

What do you enjoy about the virtual coworking sessions?

Jon Stavis  

Yeah, so like I said before, I like getting on and seeing the same people and having that company and celebrating tiny wins over the course of a session, but also celebrating the bigger wins when somebody has a big launch or gets published in a really well known publication. It’s just that everybody in the community gets really really excited for them. I think you asked what specifically I enjoy about the sessions. Yeah, I’d say the same thing really. It’s that 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, and you have to admit that at the end and nobody laughs at you or anything or is mean to you, but it’s that social accountability and that regulation, again, of being aware of what you did or what you think you did wrong, or what could be a healthier kind of activity when you’re trying to be focused and trying to do better next time. Yeah.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Who do you think would be the best fit for the community? What kind of person?

Jon Stavis  

Somebody who’s open minded and is not afraid of kind of pushing their discomfort a little bit. I mean, we didn’t even talk about the authentic relating that you host, and that’s part of the community too. We have these AR meetings once a month that are incredibly fun, but also incredibly uncomfortable at times. You always grow from them. So I think somebody who’s open minded, willing to be a little uncomfortable, and wants to push themselves a little bit. Somebody who wants to get a supportive group of peers to be working with on a daily basis and to help encourage people and get back from those people what you put in. You’re giving encouragement, you’re getting encouragement, you’re celebrating others wins, and they’re celebrating yours. It’s forming a community, which is what I think we all need as human beings.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

That’s it Jon, you did it. Rock star interview, way to go! This was fun. Thanks for telling us about eMoods. I’m really excited to be offering a 3 month subscription, which I will put more details around in the call notes. Thanks for being with us.

Jon Stavis  

Yeah, thank you.

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