An entrepreneur who is actually changing people’s lives (with a physical product)

In preparation for this interview, I went into a YouTube rabbit hole, learning about people who struggle with obsessive-compulsive behaviors. What I learned is that some people are really struggling with this stuff.

We’ll go into what kinds of problems that I’m talking about but today’s guest created a bracelet that goes on their wrists and actually helps them avoid it. That’s what we’re finding out about today, how she created it, how she turned it into a business, how it’s helping people’s lives, and more importantly, if we’re creating physical products what we can learn from her.

Aneela Idnani is the founder of HabitAware, a smart bracelet that uses custom gesture detection and awareness training to help people with unwanted habits. I want to find out how she turned this into a real business.

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Aneela Idnani

Aneela Idnani

HabitAware

HabitAware is a smart bracelet that uses custom gesture detection and awareness training to help people with unwanted habits.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I believe that entrepreneurs change . . . Yeah, I know it’s going to sound so hokey and trite, but change the world. And you know what? If you don’t buy into that, you will by the end of this interview see that at least it can change a few people’s worlds. In preparation for this interview, I went on YouTube and I got . . . I went down a rabbit hole. There are people who will pull their hair to the point where there’s bald spots on their heads. I had no idea that this was going on for adults. There’s a name for it, which today’s guest will tell us. There are people who bite their nails and . . . Actually, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of people who bite their nails. I think Gary Vaynerchuk who talks about being in control of his life . . . You’re smiling. Is that right, Aneela? Have you heard that?

Aneela: Yeah. A lot of people bite their nails.

Andrew: Gary Vaynerchuk specifically?

Aneela: I actually haven’t heard of him specifically.

Andrew: I could have sworn he said that. I know Casey Neistat, the podcaster who just like talks about how hard he works too just like Gary. These guys are such disciplined people. I’m 99% sure that Casey Neistat bites his nails and Gary Vaynerchuk and others. It’s surprising how many people have these types of habits and more.

There was one woman who was just . . . I don’t want to get too deep into it. Some of these things are just like nasty habits that . . . Well, I shouldn’t say nasty, it’d be judgmental. But for them they feel that people judge them, and it goes all the way down to elementary school. They see it. They produce these videos on YouTube just talking about their pain and you think, all right, this is just like one weirdo person who’s going through it. No, look at the comments. There are other people who go through the same thing. Look at the view counts. There are people who are going through this.

Anyway, why am I telling you all this? Because number one, I do go into like rabbit holes of research in preparation for an interview to see is this really a thing? Will people watch it? What do people do with it? And what I discovered was there were a lot of people who had these issues pulling their hair, etc. Regular people. Interesting Lives. They have second YouTube channels that talk about their lives and business, like, you know, this is not the be all and end all of their lives, but it’s a huge issue for them.

And today’s guest created a thing that goes on their wrists that actually helps them avoid it. That’s what we’re finding out about today, how she created it, how she turned it into a business, how it’s helping people’s lives, and more importantly, if we’re creating physical products what we can learn from her.

So, the person whose voice you heard earlier is Aneela Idnani. She is the founder of HabitAware. They make this smart bracelet that you put on your wrist. It looks a lot like a Fitbit. There, she’s wearing it right now. I’m looking at it. It looks a lot like one of these personal trackers that tells you when you’re running or how many steps you’ve taken. But what it does is it lets you know about your obsessive habit like hair pulling so that you’re more aware of it, and it turns out when people are more aware of it as they do it, they reduce the number of times that they do it because it’s just like this habit and they get this . . . What is it? A vibration I think on their wrist, right, Aneela?

Aneela: Yeah. Just a gentle vibration kind of like if you get a text message while your phone is in your pocket.

Andrew: Yeah. Like that. And they notice it. All right. And we’re going to find out how she turned this into a real business here, how she’s going and how she’s getting customers, all the usual business stuff with a little bit of feel-good for me about how an entrepreneur is changing people’s lives, all thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first I’ve been using them for a long, long time, and now they reached out to me. The founder did and said, “I’m a longtime listener, Andrew.” I want to support our sponsor. And so we’ve got them. The landing page and funnels creation people, ClickFunnels is one of my sponsors. And the second is a company that if you’re doing email marketing like Aneela is doing and you’re using a different email marketing provider, I’m going to convince you to switch over to ActiveCampaign. Aneela, I’ll tell you why later and I’ll tell the audience why later.

First, let’s get into the dollars and cents. This is not just like a do-gooder organization. You’re actually selling. How many have you sold, and what’s your revenue?

Aneela: So I can’t go into details, but we have sold in the thousands. We started the company in 2014, spent a few years actually building prototypes and getting to manufacturing ready and actually started shipping in 2016 . . . I’m sorry. In 2017.

Andrew: Yep.

Aneela: For the last two years we’ve been selling direct to consumer on our website, and we’ve shipped to more than 55 countries around the world. We have a four-star customer rating. We have more than 600 treatment professionals that are, we call friendlies that recommend our product and believe in what we’re doing. I can’t give you revenue.

Andrew: By the way, I do have revenue on my screen, but we did tell you if you told us in private, we’re going to keep it private. Are you comfortable saying whether it’s over or under $1 million?

Aneela: It’s in that range.

Andrew: In that range annually or total?

Aneela: In that range.

Andrew: In that range is all you’re going to say? And then you made your first sale when?

Aneela: 2017 was our first shipping of pre-sales.

Andrew: Okay. So about a couple of years now that you’ve been doing this. Oh, for shipping. Got it. And there’s a reason why you’re making that distinction as we’ll see in the story. Do you have an example of somebody who’s been helped?

Aneela: Yeah, we have tons of examples on our website at habitaware.com on our blog area. We do a series called “Conquering with Keen.” I actually just hit Send on our newsletter campaign where we send out stories of people who are changing their lives and really finding themselves and finding their self-confidence, their self-love, and taking control of these behaviors.

Andrew: You know what? I’m going to go in a different direction. Let’s get personal. There’s one time you and your husband were married I think at the time. You walked over to get your, I guess, an eyebrow pencil?

Aneela: Mm-hmm.

Andrew: You did?

Aneela: Yep.

Andrew: Why did you do it and what happened? Tell me that story.

Aneela: Yeah. So I’ve actually been pulling out my eyebrows and my eyelashes since I was 10 or 12 years old. And I hid it for a really long time. So you kind of talked about in the YouTube videos, people are very ashamed about this disorder, very scared of being judged, so we don’t tell our loved ones. We readily will go on YouTube and talk to strangers about it and build community online, but for us to go to a parent or a spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend, it’s a lot harder to say, “Hey, I pull out my hair or I . . . ”

Andrew: And that day you walked over to get your pencil because what were you trying to do? And then what happened?

Aneela: I was trying to cover up the gaps that I had pulled out from the night before.

Andrew: And is that when he saw it?

Aneela: Yeah. And he . . .

Andrew: He looks at you and he sees. He spots immediately that there are gaps in your eyebrows.

Aneela: It was so noticeable that day. Usually, I’m able to cover it up much before he’ll see me because he just that moment I just turned around and he was standing right there and he was like, “Where are your eyebrows?” This is the man that I married. This is the man that I promised to spend my life with sickness and health and I had known him for years, but I had been training myself this whole for 20 plus years to make sure no one ever saw, and in that moment it was over. I finally just broke down and told him that I have trichotillomania, which is the medical name for compulsive hair-pulling disorder.

Andrew: And you’re sleeping next to him at night and he wouldn’t see it because?

Aneela: It’s just not something you notice. It’s not something you really pay attention to. And I would have the makeup on so you couldn’t really see it, but by morning it’s rubbed off and it’s . . .

Andrew: Wow. You would sleep with makeup.

Aneela: A little bit, yeah.

Andrew: A little bit on your eyebrow. And how far back does that go you’re pulling your eyebrows?

Aneela: Twenty-five years. So I started when I was 10, 12’ish, so roughly 25 years. Yeah.

Andrew: Why?

Aneela: Why did I start pulling?

Andrew: Yeah.

Aneela: It’s really hard to know. I think for me it started when I moved to a new town and I just felt kind of out of place and it was sort of a soothing mechanism. I was a thumb-sucker as a baby, and then I used to twirl my hair as a little bit older child. And I think it was just sort of a natural progression of this is how I cope with stress, boredom, tiredness, and it just was my go-to, just became my go-to.

Andrew: You know what? I wonder if the fact that there’s a name for it maybe makes it feel more remote and like someone else’s issue because it’s a pathology and maybe I’ve got some that I wouldn’t consider to be pathologies. Like I chew my fingers. I noticed it only now because I’ve been doing time-lapse videos of myself working on my GoPro. And in time-lapse you can see a lot of . . . I put my finger in my mouth and I just kind of bite on it because I can’t sit still. Like, I’m typing at my iPad but I’m moving around all the time. What makes it different moving around like biting my thumb or my index finger as I’m thinking? What’s different about that from pulling hair?

Aneela: So the umbrella disorder is actually called body-focused repetitive behaviors. So anything like that where you’re using your body as your method of coping. So it could be teeth biting, it could be hair pulling, it could be biting your nails, something where you’re constantly doing that where, you don’t really realize it’s happening. It’s more your subconscious that’s just channeling this nervous energy that you have.

That’s not a scientific way of explaining it, but it’s just an easy way to kind of understand it is that when you’re working, there’s this nervous energy and then there’s this positive energy that you’re channeling into your work, but that nervousness has to kind of get out somehow. And so that’s what it is, but what makes it a disorder, what makes it something that people want to try to take control of is your point of how you saw on the YouTube videos. It gets to a point where there’s bald spots or you bled your nails to the point of infection where it’s starting to inhibit your ability to live a full life, whether it’s bullying or your own self-confidence shrivels up because of what’s happening to you on the outside, on the inside, and that’s when people start seeking help.

Andrew: You had a job. Did you . . . When you were a senior integrated producer for Fallon, did you make your Indian parents happy?

Aneela: I made my Indian parents happy when I handed them my CPA license and after studying accounting and working in accounting for a few years.

Andrew: That was it. So they were happy about that, and then when you said, “Hey, you know what? I’ve got this itch to build an app,” which I’m guessing was Kid Around, right?

Aneela: Yeah.

Andrew: How did they feel about that, their daughter who finally made good who had a documented, like . . .

Aneela: Well, by that time I was married and someone else’s problem.

Andrew: Okay. And so did you quit your job to go and build that app?

Aneela: Yeah. So growing up, Indian parents, very much either business or medicine and so I gave . . . Obviously, I’m in business, so it worked out just the way they probably were hoping and praying. But I had this itch inside me back in 2006’ish, 2004, 2005’ish after accounting where I just wanted to be doing something more creative and something more fulfilling. And for me advertising was the answer to that question, which I’m shaking my head, it really wasn’t. I’ve learned after more years that it wasn’t. But it gave me the skills that I needed to start thinking about problem-solving and building products and designing products. So the advertising process is very similar to the entrepreneurial process. So I always suggest anyone that’s younger that wants to start a business, go into advertising for a little while and just keep your eyes open.

Andrew: What did you learn? What was the process?

Aneela: So the process is, who’s your customer? What are their problems? How do you reach them? What messages are going to resonate? There you’re building . . . you’re writing a TV spot or building a website or a banner ad campaign. For an entrepreneur, the product is the product. For an advertising agency, the product is the advertisement.

Andrew: Okay. Do you remember one of the products that you worked on maybe IBM where you had to understand their customer before you can start thinking beyond that?

Aneela: Yes. So, IBM, we were working on Watson which now is everyone knows is this big AI artificial intelligence machine. So we were working around like, “Hey, how do we wrap our heads around this new technology and explain it? And how do we show that it’s going to impact your life in a positive way?”

Andrew: And so who was the customer for Watson, because I’ve seen entrepreneurs here in San Francisco sign up and work with Watson to add more intelligence to their software, but also Apple incorporated it and then there’s also us as individuals who use Watson sometimes just to get answers? So how did you narrow it down who the customer was so you can start communicating to them?

Aneela: Yeah. So, back then, that was pretty long time ago. So they were probably more focused on B2B and small business . . . B2B and mid-sized businesses to leverage that technology. And now obviously, it’s ubiquitous. Anyone can access their API think now and build.

Andrew: Got it. So you were thinking, “How do we get small businesses to start using Watson?” Got it. You know what? I take it back. It wasn’t Watson that Apple incorporated into Siri, it was . . . I forget what the search engine was that they had, the one that’s named after the creator. But I get it. So what you have to do is understand, “Who is this?” Of all the people who could be using this amazing technology that does business intelligence, that thinks almost, who are we going after? What do they need it for? How can they use it? Got it. What’s their problem? Was that one of the big things that you did?

Aneela: What’s their problems in the strategy phase? Who’s our market? What’s their problem? How can our product solve their problem and how can we explain that?

Andrew: What the problem that your customers had that Watson helped with?

Aneela: So I can’t speak to Watson only because it was so long ago and my memory is not that good. But in my Fallon days, we were working with a big pet food company and we wanted to help them create a connected ball that would help them stay connected to their pet. And this was way before . . . This was before anyone . . . Like, now you go on Kickstarter, there’s like 20 of these. We were trying to sell it before anyone really had this idea. And we were just trying to sell something that could also sell pet food, right, at the end of the day.

Andrew: Okay.

Aneela: But something new, something novel that would get people talking about this pet food brand in a new way and show that, “Hey, we understand that you as a pet parent, you feel such a connection to your pet, to your dog that you want to know how they’re doing during the day even though you’re not there and you want to send them a message through this little ball or you want to track their . . . Are they getting enough playtime? Are they moving enough because you care about their health?” So those insights lead to this idea of a connected ball. We never got it off the ground, sadly, but go on Kickstarter, I’m sure you can find plenty now.

Andrew: I’ve been googling it as you talked. Apparently, there are a lot of smart dog products now. Okay. So you started this app. What happened to the app?

Aneela: So Kid Around was a mobile app. I was very a creative child and I used to do photo scrapbooking a lot. I used to take photos on those disposable cameras, go print them, cut them out and make fun scrapbooks for my friends. And with the advent of the iPhone, I stopped doing that. So I lost . . . I call the photos at the cemetery. It’s where good memories go to die almost because you never really look back.

And so my idea was to build a mobile app that helped parents . . . I was also a new mom at the time. That helped parents find cool things to do in your city and give the kids a way to engage with technology but still connecting them to the real world, so giving them scavenger hunt ideas of photos to take at the children’s museum or at the history museum or at the science museum so that they were using the app to answer trivia questions or to take photos, building up a scrapbook that you could just hit Print at the end of your trip somewhere or at the end of your, you know, hometown weekend.

So we got pretty far in building it out and in testing and in even getting it into the App Store, but two things kind of held me back. One was the organic force of nature that came through with the creation of HabitAware. So I was pulling a lot because I had just quit my job, I was super stressed, I was super low-confident in my abilities as a graphic designer building this app, and I was pulling. And my husband catches me and we start on this sort of track with HabitAware. And so that was one thing was just the doors kind of just kept opening for HabitAware in terms of I’ve lost . . .

Andrew: Because you said, “If only I could know that I am doing this, I think I would be aware enough to stop.” Is that right?

Aneela: Yeah, that was it.

Andrew: And you said, “Okay. He caught me and the jig is up. This is now finally a thing. We have to confront it, but I can’t just stop because I’m aware of it.” And is that when you created the first bracelet with the bells on it?

Aneela: Yeah.

Andrew: You did. Talk about what that looked like and then why you did it.

Aneela: Yeah. So we didn’t want to jump straight to technology and we are technophiles, but not technologists, so even if just the two of us sort of working together, we had to go low-fi. So we went to Michaels, we got a slap bracelet and added jingle bells. And just the idea was, “Hey, if I can be notified that my hand is here and hearing the jingles, then, well, is that enough information for me to make a new choice?” And it started to work. It was super. Like, everyone in my ad agency at the time was like, “What is that noise?” And I’m just like, “Oh, don’t worry. Just me.” So it was working, but it was also every time I raised my hand . . .

Andrew: Everyone sees it.

Aneela: Yeah. Everyone [inaudible 00:18:19] was writing notes, it would still jingle. But it was enough to say, “Okay. Check the box that, yes, this idea of, if I know my hand is here, can I stop? Can I recognize? Can I make a new choice?” And so that was enough to say, “Okay, let’s go to the next step,” which is, “Let’s try to find a technical team to help us build something that has actual detection capability and put that prototype on.

Andrew: Okay. Let me take a moment to talk about my first sponsor, and then we’ll come back in here and see how you found your co-founders. I’m looking at HabitAware. I’m going to actually tell you why I think you should use ClickFunnels. I believe that there are people who just want a few tips. It’s on the bottom of your site. You have a “Subscribe to our Newsletter.” I don’t think people are going to go to the bottom of your site and subscribe to the newsletter especially if all you say on the site is, “Your HabitAware newsletter, fuel for your soul.”

But I think that people who are not yet ready to buy a HabitAware bracelet, but do want just some help on how to . . . Let me see some of the things that you address. How to stop biting their nails. Or kids even can use this, right? Suck their thumb. Maybe the kids’ parents are looking for some solution to sucking their thumbs. And I could imagine that if you created a report that said, “Here are 10 ways to help your kids stop sucking their thumbs.” And all a parent had to do is see, look, “Created by a doctor or based on medical research or whatever. Enter your contact information we’ll give you that 10-tip guide and we’ll follow up and give you some more techniques to help you.” And then if you create another one for adults who are biting their nails at work and so on. People would fill out these forms and do it.

And then if on the next page you said, “By the way, we do have this bracelet that can actually help you. If you like, you can sign up right now and buy it.” I think you would have a nice one two-step process, it’s called a funnel, that would allow a stranger to understand that you want to help and then also beyond that get to buy. Are you doing anything like that, Aneela? You’re nodding as I’m talking?

Aneela: Yeah. We do have one popup that comes up but we’re not providing anything that moment, like a PDF of tips or anything like that. It’s something that is on my list of things to do and I just keep not getting to it.

Andrew: I totally get it. Maybe at some point someone else on your company will be tasked with this. If they do, suggest that they . . . They’re going to say, “You know what? I could build this myself because that’s what I said.” Then they say, “There are tons of other tools. I can go do those.” There absolutely are tons of other tools.

I ended up building my own, using other tools and so on and then when I tried ClickFunnels, what I found was they made it really easy to do things like, say, imagine if you had this one-two process with a document to a PDF or something with some free advice followed up obviously with the email and then on the next page it was, “Do you want to buy this?” There are some people who are going to buy it, but after watching some of your YouTube videos, I’ve noticed that there’s some people who want two of them, one for each hand because they really have noticed that they fidget with both hands. Maybe if they have a vibration on one they move to the other and so on.

You can have a little order bump where you say, “Look, for a little bit more money you could buy a second one. Just check this box and we’ll give you a second one.” Or maybe you have another thing that you’re doing and that you’re selling. All they have to do is check a box and they get another one. These little techniques, you could absolutely build, but with ClickFunnels all you do is you drag one of these order bumps as I think they’re called on the page that has your credit card and, boom, it’s done. You want to plug into Stripe like I do? Plug into Stripe and you get to use Stripe to collect tons of stuff like this.

Now, I was very proud, Aneela, that I’ve got, and I’ve showed it, I’m not going to show it again now, a ClickFunnels’ gold record that says I’m in the 2 Comma Club because I’ve did $1 million in sales with one of these funnels, two commas in 1 million, so they call a 2 Comma Club. I was at the ManyChat conference the other day and I didn’t brag about it, but I heard other people just say, like, “Yeah, I’m in a 2 Comma Club.” And I realized, “Why am I even bragging in Mixergy interviews about being in 2 Comma Club? Apparently, a lot of people who are using ClickFunnels have gotten to over $1 million in sales, so it’s not that big a deal.”

Here’s what is a big deal. I’m going to let you, Aneela, I’m going to let anyone else who’s working at your company, anyone who’s listening to the sound of my voice, try this for free. See how good it is. All you have to do is go to clickfunnels.com/mixergy. When you do, you will get to try it for free. You’ll get to see the funnel that I used to get to over $1 million in sales, and, frankly, you’ll get to help people and create a funnel that allows you to also close sales.

I love them. I’ve been using them forever. They should not have even paid me because I’ve been talking about them anyway, but I’m happy to take their money and I’m happy to tell everybody about how good ClickFunnels is.

All right. Next thing. Your co-founders. I heard it was your friends who introduced you to your co-founders. Am I right?

Aneela: Yeah. So it was a couple of things. So we found John, our hardware engineer and co-founder, a friend of ours, I was asking around in the Minneapolis tech community, “Hey, can you help us build this or do you know someone?” And a friend of mine just made us aware of a hackathon that was coming up. And so we applied to do our project at this hackathon, this two-day event, and John was just there. He was there and came to our table and said, “Hey, I do hardware. Do you want help?” And from that moment on, you know, as I was alluding to earlier, like, doors just kind of opened.

And Kirk is our software firmware CTO, co-founder. And we found him on Twitter, actually. So I was looking on Twitter at some other technologies and I saw him tweet about it, and then over in the little left corner, I saw that he was in Minneapolis and I told Sameer, my husband, “Hey, let’s reach out to him and see if he wants to come to this hackathon.” And that’s how the four of us came together. So very organic, very serendipitous.

Andrew: And you just started working together. And then did you create anything at that hackathon?

Aneela: Yeah. We created an off-the-shelf prototype using Light Blue which is a little a little chip that is a detection sensor [inaudible 00:24:24] proximity.

Andrew: Did they give that to you there?

Aneela: Yeah. So Light Blue, I think was a sponsor of that event. So they were giving out all these different sort of hardware assets that people could . . .

Andrew: Oh, got it. And so in that type of hackathon where you’re making physical products, they’re giving you some of the chips. They’re showing you how it works. They’re teaching you. Got it. And so you’re taking some of their pieces, putting it together with . . . Was it John who was at that hackathon?

Aneela: Yeah, yeah.

Andrew: And creating a prototype right there.

Aneela: Right there. So John built that little hardware, which I have pictures of too with just like the hardware chip on like a 3D printed bracelet or something. And Kirk was doing the software to talk to that hardware to make it such that as soon as you lifted your hand to your head it vibrates, it notified you.

Andrew: Wow. Oh, that’s so cool that you’re able to put that all together. Okay. I see John’s a PhD. Your Indian mom must have been very proud of . . . I don’t know why she should be very proud of him, but I’m looking at him. I’m very impressed by his background as I’m looking him up. You built that out. At what point did you go to . . . It’s HAX Accelerator? HAX?

Aneela: Yeah.

Andrew: Because I think what they were trying to do at one point wasn’t called like HAX Accelarator with the letter L-A-R for larator, right? They were being a little cute with it, which I guess they decided it was too confusing for some people, so it’s now called HAX, H-A-X, Accelerator. Got it. This is a . . . Is this a Chinese company? It looks like it’s from Shenzhen.

Aneela: Well, they’re based in Shenzhen, but the parent company is actually SOSV, which is a VC firm that’s based in I think New York and San Francisco.

Andrew: Okay.

Aneela: And then they have a number of different accelerator programs for different industries, food, biotech, etc. Ours was specific to hardware. So ours was in Shenzhen, China manufacturing capital of the world. We were literally steps from these giant buildings of materials in the marketplace basically. So you need a motor, thousand motors to try. You need a button, you need this . . .

Andrew: And they got it.

Aneela: And they’ve got it.

Andrew: And because you’re part of HAX, you get access to all this. They’re working with you, they’re helping you get through it. Got it. And so where did you do the accelerator? Was it in San Francisco here the eight-week program or did you go to Shenzhen?

Aneela: We went to Shenzhen. We took our two-year-old son at the time. We found an English-speaking daycare.

Andrew: Wow.

Aneela: And so myself, Sameer, and John went out to China. And it was really meant for John because he was like a kid in a candy store, access to all this hardware materials to keep building prototypes. We were connected to different manufacturing facilities, doing tours and getting learning the lay of the land in terms of who does what and how to build those relationships, hooked up with a translator, hooked up with some of the key components of the manufacturing process, industrial design, mechanical engineering, sort of, like, getting ready for manufacturing. We didn’t have that in our four-team, so they were an extension of our team. And that really helped us just move so much . . . Like, in those three months, we moved so much faster than we had in the year that we were doing this nights and weekends, obviously, because we were just 120% focused on building it.

Andrew: I’m looking at Sean O’Sullivan, the founder of HAX. There’s an article in the Irish Times about him, “Poor New York Boy Makes Good.” And it just goes into the different things that he’s done. Did you get to meet him and work with him?

Aneela: Yeah. We got to meet him very briefly. He came to do one of the talking sessions and we met him again at our San Francisco Demo Day. I think he was in whatever the Irish version of Shark Tank is.

Andrew: Oh, really?

Aneela: Yeah.

Andrew: Okay.

Aneela: He’s pretty, like, well known in some of these VC-type communities. And so it was really cool to meet him. The managing director, his name is Duncan, he kind of just kept us on the ball, like, every week, every two weeks. Every time we saw him even in the hallway he wanted to know what we were doing and what had changed and what improvement we were making. So it’s really, really a huge . . . It was just an awesome experience because it helped us keep moving, keep being motivated to make change and to get to market fast.

Andrew: I had no idea this was even there. And production is so hard. How many people I’ve interviewed have gone through trouble just, like, with one factory then another and so on, and now you’re actually deep in with them. I’m looking, by the way, at his background. He IPO’ed MapInfo for . . . And then I guess his wealth rose to $17 million. But he came down with an ulcer soon after just from the stress of checking the stock price all the time over and over again. It could be $2 million one evening for his wealth and down to $300,000 by morning. It was just, like, up and down and up and down. He eventually sold. The company did for $408 million in 2007, but until then, it was just painful for him. I’m just fascinated by this guy now as I look him up.

Aneela: Yeah. And it’s interesting to see, like, stress manifests in so many different [inaudible 00:29:50]. It can make you physically sick. It can make you pull out your hair. And so trying to get a hold on how do you build your lifestyle so that you have positive healthy outlets for that energy.

Andrew: You know what? I think that now whatever you’re going through, you can find other people, successful people, people who are ordinary people, people who are just young and starting out and haven’t done anything either way, you can find them to identify and then to identify with them and see you’re not the only one, to recognize that there are some solutions. The hardest part, though, is even knowing that you’re doing it. Like, you didn’t just wake up one morning and start pulling your eyebrows. I imagine that this has just been a part of who you are. You’re not noticing that this is what you’re doing.

Aneela: Yeah. Yeah. In the moment, it’s very hard to notice and even those times where I do notice I’m like, “Okay. I’ll stop after just this one, just this one, just this one.” It’s like eating the bag of chips. You just . . .

Andrew: Right.

Aneela: By the time I’m done, it’s 100 hairs or the whole eyebrow is gone and you just don’t have that sense of control, but as soon as you get that vibration, it’s just this shift in your mind. It’s like your train is on a track . . . Your track is on . . . Yeah, your train is on a track, and as soon as you get . . .

Andrew: And gets derailed.

Aneela: It gets derailed and you’re like, “Oh, wait. What am I doing? I don’t . . . ”

Andrew: But Aneela, how does somebody even recognize that this is something that they’re doing? Like, I think I might have to be like him. I’d have to check my stock price over and over again and wouldn’t know that that was an issue causing me stress until a doctor told me you have an ulcer. And at that point, I don’t know that I’d say it’s too late, but it could have been caught earlier. Same thing with pulling hair, same thing with other . . . How do we even recognize that we’re doing this so that we can start to deal with it?

Aneela: Yeah. That’s exactly . . . For 20 years I knew that I was pulling, I knew that I was doing this behavior, but I thought I was alone, I thought I was weird, I thought there was something wrong with me, so I hid it. It’s in going to Dr. Google that I figured out why I’m pulling out my hair and it came to me that it was a mental health condition, trichotillomania.

Andrew: But you had to have somebody . . . I feel like the only answer that I’ve got for it is to either hear someone’s story and they’re going through and you realize, “Wait. Maybe I’m like that,” or have somebody catch it. It’s hard to look through your life and say, “What am I doing that’s a little bit off and I want to change?”

Aneela: Well, it’s very apparent when you look in the mirror and your eyebrows are gone. But . . .

Andrew: But that doesn’t happen one night. If I just went to sleep one day and woke up in the morning and my eyebrows were gone, fine, I get it, but if it’s something that’s just been a little at a time, maybe one eyebrow, not a big deal, five, not a big deal. And eventually, you start to cover up not a big deal, not a . . . And then, before long, you end up with no eyebrows. But by then you’ve been covering up so much that you don’t even recognize it’s an issue.

I don’t have an answer to it. I just feel like the only way that I can understand to find it is if I hear someone else’s issue or have someone in my life telling me that it’s happening. The only thing I can actively do is I could maybe start looking for these things in my life, but I could train myself that if somebody is giving me some negative feedback, instead of being dismissive of it, instead of being combative of it, instead of puffing up my chest, instead of all that saying, “Maybe. Let’s sit with it for a moment.” All right. Let’s continue then. So, now you’ve got your prototype, you’ve got . . . Did they take equity in your business, HAX? Did they invest?

Aneela: Yeah. They invested. They . . .

Andrew: What are their terms?

Aneela: Their terms . . . They are on their websites. So their terms are probably around like 200K for about 5%, but don’t quote me on that.

Andrew: Okay. Somewhere around there. So that’s really generous. That’s basically what a software company, accelerator, would offer.

Aneela: Yeah.

Andrew: Got it. And so you were able to build the first product. As you did it, did you start talking to customers?

Aneela: Yeah. So we were talking to customers this whole time. We actually before we got into HAX, we went to a major nonprofit in this space, it’s called bfrb.org. We went to their annual conference. And we showed people these 3D printed prototypes. They tried them and their eyes just lit up . . .

Andrew: And it worked.

Aneela: It was working and doctors were just like, “We’ve been waiting for something like this.” So we knew people were excited. We had done alpha testing, beta testing, customer survey, talking to people all throughout the process. And then after that conference, we got into HAX and we said, “Okay. We got to do this.” At first, we were like, “No, we’re not going to China. That’s crazy. We have a child. We’re still working full-time.” And then one of our friends’ companies here in Minneapolis who also did HAX we did a phone call with them and they were like, “Shit or get off the pot.” So we did it. We packed up and we went and we made this thing happen.

Andrew: How long were you in China?

Aneela: We were there for three months.

Andrew: Okay. What was it like? I’ve got friends whose families in China and with a baby. They didn’t even feel comfortable walking outside because the air was so dirty at times.

Aneela: Luckily, Shenzhen the air is a lot cleaner than like Beijing, for example. We would check the air quality reports and every I think maybe three days where we either stayed inside or we wore the face mask. But Shenzhen I think is a little bit of a newer city, so it’s very modern, like, just these huge high rise buildings, very clean, pretty Americanize, lots of shopping mall type areas in that sense. And so it felt really safe. It felt really clean. It felt really comfortable walking around with my two-year-old at the time, picking him up from school. And it was . . .

Andrew: The cool activity.

Aneela: Uber was out there. So it was super easy to get around [inaudible 00:35:31] learnt a little bit of enough Chinese to know how to say, “Okay. This is our street that we need to go to,” or, “Turn left, turn right.”

Andrew: My trick . . . I’ve been traveling a lot this year because I have a goal of running a marathon on every continent. My trick is whenever I get to a new country, I have an app called Cheat Sheet for my watch. I ask, how do I say things like “Please. Thank you,” stuff like that. I put it on Cheat Sheet on my watch and then whenever I look at the time, I could see the cheats. So if I forget to say, “Thank you,” to somebody or how to say thank you, I just look down, boom, I’m in. What did you learn from talking to potential customers, from talking to people who had BFRB? What’s that? Body focus repetitive behavior. What did you learn from talking to them that you didn’t know that helped inform your product?

Aneela: So great question. So we learned a lot of just about the mental anguish that people were going through. So one of the big things was, as you mentioned, it just looks like an activity tracker. So people . . . There’s a lot of shame around it and people don’t want to say, “Oh, what’s that for?” Usually, everyone wants to talk about their cool new technologies that they’ve got the iPhone X and now the iPhone 11, and whatever it is, but . . .

Andrew: Right.

Aneela: Also, it was very important that we give people a way to take control of this behavior to build awareness without bringing attention to it.

Andrew: Got. So you intentionally made it look like a Fitbit.

Aneela: That’s what they can say, “Oh, it’s my step tracker. It’s my activity tracker.”

Andrew: Does it actually do step tracking or activity tracking?

Aneela: It doesn’t.

Andrew: It doesn’t.

Aneela: We also intended it to be very single-purpose, very focused because if this is something that’s been weighing on you for 20 plus years, in order to make true behavior change happen, you need to be focused in that work that you’re doing for yourself. And so we intentionally didn’t want it to vibrate to let you know that you had 1,000 steps because we wanted you to know that that vibration was, “Hey, your hands are not where you want them to be.”

Andrew: And that’s one of the things that I was wondering about. How do you know when someone is biting their nails or pulling their hair? And I saw the answer, but maybe you can tell us here.

Aneela: Yes. So the way the bracelet actually works is you connect it to a mobile app and you train the bracelet. You record the gesture that you do onto the bracelet kind of like a voicemail. So, for me, it was kind of back and forth motion and it just went off. So it’s trained for that movement for me it’s going off. And it’s just looking for that . . .

Andrew: I can’t even tell.

Aneela: Yeah. It’s just looking for that movement.

Andrew: Yeah. By the way, now that you’re saying it looks just like a fitness tracker, that’s something I think that’s on every single video, every single video that I watch. I could be wrong, but they were bringing it up. So I get how talking to customers made sense. You took their credit card numbers even though you weren’t processing the credit cards. Why did you take their credit card numbers at the conference?

Aneela: So that was psychology, right? They are giving . . . We wanted them to know that this is something of value. We wanted them to make that financial commitment. But we also wanted to honor the fact that, “Hey, this isn’t built yet. We don’t know when it’s coming, so we’re not going to take your money now. We’re going to take your money on the backend when we actually ship the product to you.” That was just our promise to them. We just wanted to do business in that way.

Andrew: But you wanted . . . Is it because you needed the sales or you wanted to make sure that what they were doing or what they were telling you is actually what they wanted?

Aneela: We wanted to prove the market is really . . .

Andrew: Prove that they were willing to pay for it, not just here a pat on the back, “Great. One day I’ll buy it,” but to see, “They’re taking credit cards out to strangers who haven’t built this, that means that they’re seriously looking to buy it.” Okay. I’m going to talk about my second sponsor. Since I’m using you as an example, I’m going to tell you that I know that . . . Actually, you’re not using my second sponsor, ActiveCampaign. Who are using?

Aneela: MailChimp.

Andrew: MailChimp. I’m going to, again, use you as an example and then I’m going to help you understand why MailChimp helps companies like yours. If you had ActiveCampaign, what you could do is especially since on your site, you’ve got a blog where you’re talking about different issues that people are going through, I think that you might have some videos up on your site, I did see one, I don’t know if it was yours or not, where you’re within the video answering how the . . . Yeah, there it is right on your homepage. You’ve got a video that’s from YouTube showing how you help people.

I think as you start to build up your business, you’re going to start to see, you know what, that these four groups of people that are really important to us and they see themselves as different. Someone who bites their nails doesn’t see themselves as someone who pulls out their hair. They see themselves completely different. A mom who’s treating a child has different issues than an adult. Like, she might be worried about, is there any kind of Bluetooth or radiation or something coming through that could . . . Three different kinds of people maybe is who you have as biggest customers. And then a fourth one it’s everybody else.

And what you might start to notice is maybe they don’t tell you explicitly this is what they have. Maybe they don’t even recognize that’s what they have. But as they’re reading blog posts about things like biting nails as an adult, maybe they’re reading another blog post with 10 well-known entrepreneurs who have bit their nails and feeling good about themselves that they’re not weird. There are something that other people go through. Maybe what they’re doing is not explicitly signaling to you that what they have is an issue with biting their nails, but they’re telling you by clicking on different things on your site.

And if you have ActiveCampaign, you pixel your site, you know what people are checking out, so you don’t want to address to an adult, “Here’s how to fix your child’s nail-biting.” You recognize they’re reading old articles about adults. And so you can have a follow-up sequence of, “Here’s how we help this one adult. Here’s why adults are putting this on because they want a fitness tracker. Here’s a video from YouTube, not at all even on our site, of somebody who’s doing a review where we didn’t even send them the HabitAware bracelet.”

And now you’re starting to speak their language without actively having them raise their hands and say, “I have this problem. I want to know about more adults who . . . ” You just recognize who they are and your software follows up with them. And at some point your software sells to them. And because it closes the sale after doing all these different steps, you know by customizing, we’re actually getting engagement, by customizing, we’re getting sales and we’re on the right track and you keep doing more. Aneela, that’s what ActiveCampaign will do. Make sense?

Aneela: It totally make sense. I’m going to look at later.

Andrew: All right. Now, what I’m imagining is you’re really busy. You already have email marketing software. You got to deal with physical products. You have a bracelet that looks so nice, the leather band that looks like a really polished, elegant piece of jewelry. You got too much to worry about. So you’re going to say, “Maybe ActiveCampaign makes sense. I don’t know that I’ll actually be able to do all this. This is for marketing hackers, not me.”

But you know what? If you go to activecampaign.com/mixergy or someone on your team, one of the things you’re going to find is ActiveCampaign has done a lot to make sure that these tools, that these features are super easy for anyone to use and they will let you try it for free so you can see it for yourself. If you decide to sign up when use my URL, you’ll get the second month free. I don’t think that’s going to be a major issue for you. I know your revenue is doing fairly well.

But the next thing I want to say is going to be incredibly helpful. They’re going to give you two free one-on-one sessions when you get on a call with them and you say, “Andrew told me I could do all this. How do I do it?” And they’ll tell you exactly what to do. And then you go and do it. And then you come back on a second call and you say, “Well, this part didn’t work. It was a little confusing. This part work. I think this is not working for us.” And they will on the second call make sure that you get it all for free.

And finally, if you’re with a different email provider just like Aneela is, we all are with different providers at time to time, they’ll just migrate you for free. All you have to do is go to activecampaign.com/mixergy. They’ve been around for years, but, boy, they’ve been updating themselves unlike other email providers that were around when they started. Activecampaign.com/mixergy. You told me how you got your first customers. What you told our producer, Brian Benson, was that at some point, you decided that you were going to start to spend time and money on marketing and sales. Who did you hire and what did that person do to help you?

Aneela: We didn’t hire anyone.

Andrew: You didn’t? I thought you hired a marketing and salesperson that started targeting doctors and health professionals started going to conferences.

Aneela: Yeah. Sorry. We didn’t hire. I was thinking more around like online marketing which we’re doing in-house which if you have suggestions there, I’d welcome them. What we did do is we hired Ellen, her name is Ellen. She actually came to us again, serendipity. She was a customer of ours where she tried the bracelet, she had some issues with training it. We offer video training calls because sometimes it’s helpful to actually see the behavior and help them do that recording of the gesture onto the bracelet. And after that it worked phenomenally for her and she came back to us a few months later and said, “Hey, I work in sales and events. I want to join this team. You’ve changed my life and I want to help others.”

Andrew: Wow.

Aneela: So that’s what she does now is she shares her story directly with psychologists and other treatment professionals and goes to conferences where they are to . . .

Andrew: That’s what she does. When you say she shares her story, how is she sharing it?

Aneela: Either by emails, by going to conferences, by doing phone calls. All of that.

Andrew: Speaking conferences or you guys do booth? She speaks at conferences.

Aneela: We do both. So we will speak at conferences, different mental health conferences. We will also get an exhibit booth at those conferences. Oh, yeah, all to raise awareness of what these disorders are as well as how our products can help people overcome them.

Andrew: And why do you do that? Because you just happen to find someone who’s good at it or did you pick that over online marketing where you create landing pages, buy ads, etc.?

Aneela: Well, we do online marketing in terms of like Facebook ads, Google ads. We don’t do the click funnel sort of landing page stuff as much probably mostly because it’s a black box for me. It’s something that it’s like I said, it’s always been on the list of things to do and we’ve done some of it in the past but we found that especially with these disorders, that that one-on-one connection is really helpful in bringing a person into the fold of our community like all our customers, customers. We call them Keen family. The bracelet is Keen.

You know, so there’s something around . . . people are with their technology all day long, and when it comes to mental health, I really think it’s important that even if they are with their technology that they know that newsletter is not just like auto-generated or whatever. It’s not just automatically getting sent. It’s someone’s taken time to write that, someone’s taken . . . Even these newsletters that we write are often very cathartic for ourselves. Like, we want to show and be that example of here is how you make change in your life. You write about it, you journal about it, you share it with other people, you let people in. And we’re trying to be that example. And I think by having someone that’s dedicated to that, it just helps prove that and show that and set that example.

Andrew: I’m trying to see, like, what online marketing you’re doing because you said that you bought some ads. Is that working? Is that . . . That seems like a small portion of your traffic or your customers. It’s mostly these in-person events.

Aneela: So it’s Facebook ads, Google ads, and then a lot of it is word of mouth, like, people sharing us in online support groups, doctors sharing it with their patients, patients sharing it with their doctors. It’s the community talking about how we’re helping.

Andrew: You know what’s interesting? So one of the things that I did was I went to Ahrefs to see where bfrb.org, that’s the organization you mentioned. I went in there and I wanted to see who’s linking to them. And it looks like it’s things like, nose picking is an issue, right? And so they’re getting links from that. There is a New York Times article about chronic skin picker and so on. I wonder if one thing you could do is hire somebody to just contact every one of these people who’s written about it and is linked over to that organization and say, “We have this tool. We actually have . . . We launched it at the BFRB conference. I know that you’ve written about it. You could maybe write about us or in these articles that I see you’ve linked over to them. You should know that you can link over to this and get people solution that BFRB helped launch.”

Aneela: Yeah. Yeah. And we do that as well.

Andrew: At some point.

Aneela: Yeah. So we do a little . . . We do our own sort of PR outreach as well. So one of our other teammates are Karla, our Director of Customer Success. She helps with support tickets and training customers as well as PR outreach.

Andrew: And it’s just part of your internal process now.

Aneela: Yeah. Yeah.

Andrew: I heard that one of the issues you personally have as a leader is you’re a people pleaser. Are you? How does that come out?

Aneela: Oh, it’s just I always I don’t know how to say no because I want to help everyone and that means that I also don’t know how to delegate, which I’m learning now. We have a designer on our team that, as you mentioned before, our website she’s now taking the reins on. But really just . . . I think a lot of my behavior, my hair pulling behavior stems from this perfectionist need. My eyebrows were very bushy as a child and so there was at some point like a reason that I was . . . . And so I think that perfectionist nature ties into that people pleaser because I want people to know that I’m a good person and I can do a good job and you ask me to do something and I want it to be like the T’s are crossed, the I’s are dotted, like, to be perfect every single time. But then I sort of just get over wrapped into putting too much effort into things that don’t need to have that much of me.

Andrew: What is it . . . What happens when you . . . Or what happen to you as someone who’s a people pleaser when someone tries your product and HabitAware and doesn’t eliminate their habit? What goes through your head?

Aneela: It gets personal because we know it works. And what I recognize now is there will be parents that will say, “Oh, it didn’t work for my daughter.” And I think people need to recognize that it’s not a magic bullet. It’s not you put this on and you stop pulling or picking. It’s, you put this on and you become aware so that you can make the choice.

And so I think it’s hard for people to sometimes recognize that that there’s still work to be done by that person. Like, it’s a very individual journey. There’s not just the physical behavior of pulling or picking that’s involved in this, right? There could be trauma, there could be lack of self-love, there could be lack of self-confidence like I had, like, there could be a lot of other underlying things that you need to work through to get to a point where the behavior just becomes less and less and less, and awareness is that first step. Awareness, acknowledging that the behavior is happening and starting to see those dominoes and how they all fall, really is an important process, but people need to be ready for that work to really make positive change.

Andrew: I feel like that’s a challenge with your bracelet that before we started I said, “Can I say that it eliminates habits?” And you said, “No, actually, it just makes you aware, helps reduce it.” That’s too much pressure to put on any one device.

Aneela: Yes.

Andrew: Does that then hurt sales because you’re not solving people’s problems, you’re just making them more aware of it, more aware of their problems?

Aneela: You know, it doesn’t because the people who purchase the product and are using it in the way, like . . . I hope that our website is very clear in this, right, that we are helping you build awareness so that you can take control. And we actually have a research grant from the NIH that is helping us build up more of a program for people, more of a plan so that, okay, once you’re aware, what do you do next?

So we’re working with a renowned researcher in this space to actually build out some therapies within the app, some tactics, some processes to help them on that journey. But sales are fine. We’re pretty much . . . In terms of return rates, were pretty standard in terms of an electronic product. It’s more about getting people over that mental hump. And most of the time, if you’re putting your credit card down to buy our product, you’re over that hump. It’s just this little pocket of people that . . .

And a lot of it is parents who want that magic bullet and think, “Oh, I’m going to strap this on my child, but it’s the child that needs to be ready.” You can’t make someone else change because you’re agitated with doing this behavior, right? They need to be the ones to say, “Okay. I’m ready.” And so that’s probably where most of our returns come from, it’s, “Oh, I bought this for my girlfriend or my son or my whatever and they don’t want it.” It’s like, yeah, you can’t force change on people.

Andrew: I know when I was a kid I bit . . . I think it was biting my nails that was the habit and my parents were so proud that I was willing to put that nail polish on that makes it tastes really bitter. And even as a kid, I must have been like four or five years old, just being aware that that was happening got me to stop it. And I know it’s one of the stories that my parents tell a lot because they’re so proud that I was willing to do this and, like, eagerly trying to eliminate it. But one of the other things that I took away from it was just being aware of what you need to stop and when you’re doing it enables you to stop, to slow it down.

All right. So the website for anyone who wants to go check it out is HabitAware. I’ll tell you that one of the big takeaways that I had from this conversation was, frankly, just the fact that there are our accelerators in the hardware space, if they’re partnered up with Chinese manufacturers, if they’re introducing you to Chinese manufacturers, to chip makers. That is a huge, huge win. I think that it’s a much bigger challenge than we realize to produce physical products. It seems easy at times and it’s a lot harder than it . . . It’s a lot harder and it continues to be a challenge and I think it’s interesting that there’s an organization that helps with that.

All right. So that is HAX, H-A-X for anyone who wants to check it out. I want to thank the two sponsors who make this interview happen. The first it’s ActiveCampaign. If you’re doing email marketing, you’ve got to check out activecampaign.com/mixergy especially if you’re starting out. It’s a no-brainer if you’re starting out. And then if you need to create funnels that help you capture email addresses, phone numbers for text messages and so on, and then close sales, ClickFunnels. I overlooked them for years. I’ve loved the people there and then I started using them and it’s been fantastic. Clickfunnels.com/mixergy. Go check them out. I’m grateful to all my sponsors. Thank you.

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