Listening to Customers is Crucial
My name is Chakameh Shafii, the founder and CEO of TranQool, a video therapy platform that allows people to access care from the comfort of their home.
I grew up in Canada with a Middle Eastern background. My mom was an artist and my dad was an engineer. There were three career choices that were considered “good”; medicine, law, and engineering. I really liked humanities courses, but I was much better at math and science, so I started looking into different types of engineering. I did my Bachelor and Master’s degrees at the University of Toronto in mechanical engineering.
I pursued an internship in the oil and gas industry, and after graduating, I started in the world of Information Technology at General Electric on a business rotation programme. While I was working, I began to suffer from anxiety, and cognitive behavioural therapy changed my life. I realized that it is so important to take care of ourselves and that there are many barriers to people getting the help they need. It is hard to find and afford a counsellor and to be able to fit appointments around a work schedule.
This led me to found TranQool, an online platform that matches people with counsellors in their area. Counsellors can conduct video sessions with patients. In a competitive marketplace, we were able to bring down the price to half the cost of traditional therapy.
When I decided to start the company, I was embarking on a process of finding the right team, doing market research, and then building a bigger team.
My two co-founders are my friends. The stress that comes with building a company can damage many friendships, so don’t start your company with your best friends – but look for people you know, who have a strong work ethic, and whom you can trust. We’re a team of engineers, and we all have different backgrounds –in product management, sales, and leadership. But at the beginning of start-up life, everyone is doing everything.
I learned that what is really important is listening to customers. When conducting initial market research, we used Google surveys, which provide unbiased, anonymous data. We then surveyed friends in our social networks and on LinkedIn. When we understood which questions to ask, we started going into Starbucks and similar venues to size the total market.
Our user base is now in the thuosands. The most rewarding part of my job is the feedback we get from our users. Having suffered from anxiety myself, I know how our users feel and it is great to know that we can help reduce wait times and financial concerns.
I was very nervous about quitting a stable job with very good prospects, not knowing how my idea would turn out. Running your own business means you have to know your strengths and weaknesses and regulate your emotions. Fundraising is never fun. I have had people tell me that my project is just a “lifestyle business”; and I have had people reject my pitch, but the important thing is to be able to bounce back and listen to the feedback people give.
What has helped me is knowing our core competency. When convincing people that three young engineers were going to make a difference in mental health, I relied on our thorough knowledge of the sector and market. I became really open to sharing my story and reaching out to mentors.
We are now finalists for a Canadian startup award in the social impact category. Our goal is to build TranQool into a single-stop resource and to make access to high-quality therapy a human right.
My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs would be to do something you love. When you really love something, and surround yourself with people who are just as passionate, it does not feel like a lot of work, and the long hours do not feel like a drag.