As a shameless ThisWeekInStartups.com fan, I first learned about Tamar Lucien while she was a member of Angela Benton's NewMe accelerator, where she was working on CanUStart.com. I was impressed by Tamar's ability to identify real markets and solutions.
As I connected with Tamar via Twitter and exchanged periodical messaging, I became aware of her new venture Mental Happy, a start-up which allows users to send emotion-specific "cheerboxes" to those in their personal networks.
In this Q&A, Tamar and I discuss her journey into being a founder, starting Cheerbox and the progress she has made with her company. Enjoy!
1. Thanks for sitting down with us Tamar. So what problem is MentalHappy solving for its customers and community?
Thanks so much for the opportunity to chat with you!
Often times as human beings we experience tough times; personal relationship issues, illness and trauma of some sort. Many of us find it really hard to cope or even heal emotionally.
I mean, what do you say or give to a friend who is trying to heal from an unexpected illness, how to you show support to your best friend who's have a rough time with life in general?
At MentalHappy we hope to solve the problem of helping humans feel good in the midst of life's roller coaster.
We do that with the Cheerbox. A Cheerbox is a unique gift filled with motivation, joy and happiness tools to help individuals feel good mentally, emotionally and physically. The tools in a Cheerbox provide lasting support beyond just a get well card or flowers which both fade away.
2. How did you get involved with this problem? And what are some of the big challenges you have encountered in constructing a product for this market?
The idea of Cheerbox was something I did just for myself. I had a long term relationship that ended and my businesses were failing all at the same time. However, I decided to not be eaten up by depression.
So I just shifted my attention towards what made me feel good outside of work or relationships. I got down to the essence of who I am as a human being.
My cofounder suggested that I give the box to someone else, and I told him, absolutely not! No one will really get it- it's too personal. However he kept nagging me about it so I did, still not believing anyone would have any interest in it. The woman I gave it to shared it on social media and within a couple hours we got over 50 pre-orders...it was insane!
The biggest challenge has been carving out a new sector in the market for what we are doing. No one is really doing this as a physical product. I have built products in the past but now I have the product and focused on building a brand and culture. When you have advisors and investors it can be a challenge to stay true to your mission so I am learning the balance of that.
3. Where is Mental Happy in terms of product and business development? What milestones have you reached and what lays ahead?
Any tech entrepreneur will tell you the product is always in beta, lol. I have learned to relax a little and to appreciate the continued development of the Cheerbox. We have a complete product but we are always evolving it based on the customers who love the product, but especially, based upon those say they don't enjoy the product.
Our next milestone is to attract more international, non-US customers.
4. Is this your first start-up experience? (If no, what was your last company and its mission).
This is not my first startup experience, thank goodness!
I have worked on so many products: Collegebread.com, Swaav.com, CanUStart.com. Three years ago I knew absolutely nothing about tech and it was a steep learning curve for me. All of those ideas had different business missions but I think on a personal level (mission) it was all just preparation for what I am doing now.
5. How did you get into entrepreneurship and product development?
Three years ago I just decided to do something creative but I had no idea what. I quit my very cushy and well paying job as an Operations Manager of a staffing office to pursue working on my own staffing platform CanUStart.com.
I had no idea what I was doing. I taught myself UX/UI at night and my cofounder/CTO taught me the basics of coding and technology stack.
6. Do you feel your skin color, class level or gender have deeply affected your experience as a tech entrepreneur? If so, how?
I think as human beings we feel what we give attention towards and I don't give it much attention.
However, I recognize it is an issue because once we removed our colored faces from the MentalHappy.com website our conversion rate from visitor-to-customer increased by nearly 30% in states like Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma. However, I do my very best to focus on the experience I want to have. When I was a kid I didn't even know "tech" existed or that women were and/or could be "CEO's".
It doesn't matter if I am judged based on skin, class or gender because I am being the difference I want to see in the world no matter how anyone feels about it. This will enable little girls who look at me to know that female CEO's in tech do exist.
7. Now, you're based out of Miami? How would you compare the start up scene there to Miami or San Francisco?
My team and I were based out of Miami but after things were picking up with MentalHappy we decided to head to the West Coast. We are based in Las Vegas, allowing us to be close to investors and have more access to capital. Las Vegas is also very cost effective while still being a short 50 minute flight to San Francisco.
The experience here on the West Coast has been a very positive one for us. As a Florida native I love Florida- it will always be my home. But you gotta move to where the industry is if you are serious about your company. And that is not to say that you can't have successful tech startup in Miami- I know people who do.
But for example it's easier trying to be an actor/actress in Los Angeles than Charlotte.
8. Lastly and Quickly. Favorite app and software right now, regarding your daily work with Mental Happy? And Why?
That's a good question, I've tried a lot of work and collaboration apps but I can't say that I am on the cutting edge of all new apps....
I just started using Slack. I keep my usage of the app simple because all of those apps can honestly create more work. I also really love Basecamp these days- It's very simple to use.
We often times collaborate with other people/vendors/contract workers so it let's us just add them temporarily to a message board without showing them our entire business work flow or proprietary information.
And I love everything Google! Google Voice, Hangout, Docs, etc. And Crazy Egg is a favorite of mine too...I learn a lot about customer interaction from it. I am really into predictive index type stuff so I love seeing where customers click so that I can adjust the user experience on the page.
Tamar Lucien is the founder of MentalHappy.com, a start-up which allows individuals to send customized care boxes to those in their personal networks. You can follow Tamar on Twitter at @FindTamar or follow Mental Happy on their Facebook Page [link].
Medvis Jackson is a web designer at Hindsite, curator at Kulchah and avid cricket fan. You can follow him @medvisjackson for his random thoughts.