Riding Unicorns

S4E4 - Adnan Ebrahim, Co-Founder & CEO @ MindLabs

May 25, 2022 Riding Unicorns Season 4 Episode 4
Riding Unicorns
S4E4 - Adnan Ebrahim, Co-Founder & CEO @ MindLabs
Show Notes Transcript

Adnan Ebrahim is the co-founder and CEO of health and mindfulness app, Mindlabs. Adnan can trace his entrepreneurial roots all the way back to the school playground where he would often be seen selling wristbands to his classmates. Adnan’s love for business did not stop there however and after one successful venture in blogging Adnan decided to follow that up by launching Car Throttle, an online community for car enthusiasts. What started out as an idea born in his bedroom quickly grew into one of the most popular content platforms in the automotive space. The company's growth drew the attention of none other than Dennis Publishing, who in 2019 decided to acquire the company. Shortly after the acquisition Adnan decided to launch his latest venture, Mindlabs in the hope of bringing people some much needed peace of mind through accessible wellness classes. 

In this episode James and Hector start off by looking back at Adnan’s time at CarThrottle, the challenges he faced growing the business and its subsequent acquisition by Dennis Publishing. Later into the episode the three discuss the motivation behind Adnan's new venture and explore what learnings he is taking from his first start-up experience. The episode closes with some helpful tips on fundraising and angel investing. 

Make sure to like and subscribe to the Riding Unicorns podcast to never miss an episode. Also don't forget to give Riding Unicorns a follow on Twitter and LinkedIn to keep on top of the latest developments.

[00:00:00] James: Hello. Welcome to the riding unicorns podcast. This is the podcast all about growth startups on James Pringle. I'm a technology entrepreneur and investor and founder of Pringle capital. My co-host is Hector Mason. Hector is a partner at B2B investor episode one ventures. This podcast is all about uncovering what it takes to build a unicorn business.

[00:00:36] We speak to some of the best founders and investors. Many from unicorn companies, and ask them about that journey, operational insight, tips, lessons, stories, and the thing that can help uncover what it takes to build a high growth business.

[00:00:52] Today's episode is with Adnan Ebrahim co-founder and CEO of mindlabs. Mindlabs is a mental health platform. They offer video classes for your mind. Rooted in neuroscience, led by experts. Previously Adnan Founded car throttle, a car focused social media platform, content creator, and agency. Cultural school was acquired by Dennis publishing in 2019.

[00:01:17] I've known Adnan as an occasional angel investor. Very well respected within the startup ecosystem. Great guest incredible episode. So let's get started.

[00:01:24] James: Hi, welcome to riding unicorns. Thanks very much for joining us.

[00:01:31] Adnan: Thanks for having me looking forward to the.

[00:01:32] James: Awesome. So we start every episode with a broad question, which is what does entrepreneurship mean to you?

[00:01:39] Adnan: So entrepreneurship to me means I think a combination of things first and foremost, it's risk-taking I think that at the heart of every entrepreneur, there's a need to go against the grain. There's a need to take a lot of risk in order to. Build something that hasn't been built before. And so with entrepreneurship also comes this inherent optimism about what the future can hold.

[00:02:02] And I'd like to think that, along the way path of my career, there's always been this idea of actually I think the world might look slightly different in the next five to 10 years. And in the case of car throttle, it was, you know, the realization actually that was, uh, a vision that did come to light and definitely with.

[00:02:21] There's a similar kind of vision of what the world's mental health and how to take care of our mental health and mental fitness might look like as well. So entrepreneurship for me is about risk-taking. It's about being optimistic, and it's about inherently having a bias to build. And that is building the future.

[00:02:34] Hector: yeah, so, so super interested to kind of learn about, your journey with car throats and just, the kind of overview of it, what you learned from your experience there.

[00:02:42] and then maybe just talk briefly about the acquisition.

[00:02:46] Adnan: Yeah, sure. So Carl throttle started off as a, as a twinkle in my eye. As a university student, I been dabbling around and building communities since I was 16. And coming back home from school, obsessed with this idea of building communities. The first community grew to about a hundred thousand users and they got acquired just before my 18th birthday, which was a great experience.

[00:03:08] I remember my parents had to sign the legal documents to. Sell the business, which they had never even heard about this website that I was running called block troponin. And suddenly they got this legal document that they had to sign as my guardian. And they were, what on earth is this?

[00:03:21] What's blocked Youpreneur. And I had to explain that I'd had this, you know, second life where I'd come home from school and write articles and sell advertising space, but it sparked my curiosity about web blogging, content creation and catheter Russell was this idea of what happens when you create top gear, but for the Facebook generally, And that was our tagline.

[00:03:41] In the early days we were creating video content. That's a time when not many people were creating car videos on YouTube. The first two that we created got a hundred thousand views each, and it was then that we realized, Hey, there's something here. There's an audience of millennials that aren't buying magazines anymore.

[00:04:02] Aren't buying newspapers are getting all of that card information on social media. So that was the kind of start of California, graduated, raised money from investors like passion cap. Who actually have been supporters now for the last 10 years, and we've got to work. we were obsessed with creating content, finding new distribution channels.

[00:04:23] We're very early power users of Facebook, and that became our big growth engine. So in those spaces of time, it's all we grew to over 10 million followers. We were starting at our peak about half a billion video views a month. One of the weird facts was that. Serving more video views and BBC news. And we used to, we used to have this prints out that we would pin and prince and stick around the office and fly out.

[00:04:45] So all of our clients to say, Hey, this month we, we secured more views than BBC news and it was, it was a whirlwind. and. Of course, there were big changes in the media space. As we started to grow Facebook, Google with YouTube, they all became quite powerful platforms and they were essentially taking all of the money out of the advertising.

[00:05:05] Advertisers stopped going to the middle tier publishers. And when you know what my daughters are far better executed directly on Facebook. So that's where I'm going to spend my money. So we ended up having to pivot the business a few times and that it was quite painful. You know, there was one pivot in 2015.

[00:05:21] We were growing a platform product with mobile apps and a team of engineers. And really, we had ended up basically building the Instagram for cars, which is still Instagram. the retention metrics. Weren't good. We were losing a lot of users every month, just from clicking on Facebook link, going to our app and then bouncing straight back out to Facebook.

[00:05:42] We just hadn't built a 10 X experience. So we had to make the really difficult decision. making half the team redundant. And that was, I guess, a learning experience for me, it was quite painful to go through. And I was still in my admits early twenties, figuring a lot of stuff out for the first time, but we regrouped and we decided to go down at path.

[00:06:02] across platform distribution, creating content and serving it where you used to spend all of that time. And that led us to create some, the biggest YouTube channel in the UK, in the automotive space. And then eventually in 2019, uh, we got through to, Dennis publishing who acquired the business, which was a fantastic and to the journey for us.

[00:06:19] And, and again, lots of learnings from the acquisition, which, uh, yeah, happy to.

[00:06:24] James: Yeah. So lately I think a lot of entrepreneurs dream about selling their business. it's not always as sexy as maybe people sort of fantasize about it being, but maybe you could just explain about where the initial contact came from with Dennis, how they kind of approach this conversation. Was it like a strategic partnership that ended up being an acquisition or how did that conversation evolve?

[00:06:50] And then what was the emotional side for you? Once the transaction had complete.

[00:06:55] Adnan: the journey of acquisition was an interesting one. I had been in touch with the CEO of. And actually a couple of members of the dentist's team since 2014, 2015. And I think I have gone into their offices showing them what carports was doing on the social space and probably not understanding it at the time and thinking, okay, this might be a bit of a fad.

[00:07:16] This might not work out. And we just kept in touch. I think it was. And so 20 18, 20 19 came about, and we started to get a couple of inbound offers. Now, usually you would kind of fobbed them off, say that you're not interested, carry on heads down building. But I think we had reached the stage where we were growing the business.

[00:07:36] 50, 60% year on year revenue growth was consistent. However, we'd built a massive audience and there were some kind of looming things that we could see on the horizon platform, dependence being one of them. Facebook and YouTube, they continuously changed our algorithms, which is fair. I mean, that is that business.

[00:07:54] And it just means that with every algorithm change, you are susceptible to what they want to see happen on that platform. So there was a worry about what's going to happen in the future. We also had basically started running an agency business and it was a lower margin agency business where we were selling content solutions.

[00:08:11] And it just wasn't as fun, I guess, as it used to be. we had already ticked off a number of massive goals. You know, I mentioned that top gear for the Facebook generation dream. We had basically done it in terms of the number of views and number of followers that we had. And then I think also it was, can we invest enough in the future of cohorts for assist to sustain it?

[00:08:32] And we were a profitable. The last round that we did was in 2015. So for four years we created a nice profitable company, but it also meant we didn't have the resource to invest in the areas we wanted to invest in content sales. And so we were operating on a shoestring budget and over time, I think that just became a little bit tiring.

[00:08:52] And there was this appeal when we started first, started talking to Dennis. Actually what happens when we have more resource to play with when there's more stability around the future, where we're not looking at runway six months, nine months, 12 months in advance, constantly as a profitable business, trying to manage cashflow.

[00:09:09] And so it just was the right time. the process itself was grueling. I mean, we were quite quick at getting ahead of terms and it probably took two or three weeks and we had some fantastic. corporate brokers and finance, yes. And advisors that were helping us on that journey. They also became investors in mind labs, actually, funnily enough, because we just had developed such a great relationship.

[00:09:29] But after we signed the terms, it was two months, it was a two month sprint. And I remember my airports were glued in my ears because I was taking calls from our lawyers, our accountants, our advisors, their lawyers, their accountants, their advisors, tax consultants at the same time, trying to meet all the business.

[00:09:47] Operationally sound. because that's the last thing you want, you know, for business metrics to start falling off a cliff. So we were trying to, we were burning the candle at both ends and it was tough, really tough. And so when we came to signing the papers, everyone always asked me, what was that? Like?

[00:10:02] It must have been amazing. It must not a big party. Honestly, I came home and I'd probably. Flex on Netflix and watch something mind numbing to just reset my brain because I was so exhausted and it was over the next few months that we integrated into Dallas, we moved into their offices and I think there was the first, the first sign was, I started to feel like I had signed over my baby, which talking to other founders is quite a natural feeling.

[00:10:32] You know, the first time when someone else makes a decision for catheter, that isn't, you hits you quite hard because this is a baby that you've raised for 10 years and then suddenly you've just handed over to another parent. So I think that was the first part. I definitely probably went through an identity crisis as well.

[00:10:48] I was, you know, Mr. Car throttle. It was my still here's my Instagram handle. All of my feed has cars. And, you meet friends in the industry and then for you to say, Take a step back from the industry was difficult. And I think I went through a period, especially then when I started to see a coach and CSF, a psychotherapist of Rudy trained someone pick what had happened.

[00:11:11] and then, you know, the big caveat is it's easy to, whinge and cry and moon, but fundamentally we've got an exit away and it was a great moment. And, as with anything, it's a mixture of emotions and there was definitely a lots of feelings. Happiness for the team pride in what we'd done. And then that drive of, okay, what's next.

[00:11:29] James: Yeah. And so I guess that probably leads us nicely into mind labs. how soon after that kind of experience were you starting to think about mine labs and how much of that experience. Was cool too, the whole thought process around mental health and why that was important.

[00:11:45] Adnan: Yeah, the, the backgrounds of our mental health has founders was critical as to why we decided to go into this space. So. As I mentioned, I struggled really throughout my twenties with the ups and downs of the startup rollercoaster, started to see a therapist and a coach in 20 18, 20 19. Carried that on through to today.

[00:12:04] I still continue to see a coach, uh, every single month. And, it wasn't just me that felt that way. You know, my chief operating officer gap's who became my co-founder, he also was quite open about his health anxieties and we thought, okay, we can't be the only ones here that have some kind of, pain mentally.

[00:12:23] And it turns out we clearly weren't alone. If you look at trends for anxiety searches on YouTube or Google depression cases, especially here in the UK, unfortunately, suicide rates in young people. They will all trending at their highs up until 2020. And then of course the pandemic care. Now I left cath what's left right now in January 20, 20, a month later, it was a pandemic.

[00:12:48] So we were already in break mode, but we went back home. We were doing the stereotypical, baking banana bread and day trading and spending too much time on Reddit. But we, we still had this idea of actually the pandemic is going to create this huge amount of turmoil for our general.

[00:13:06] And we saw it in the first six months, depression doubled tripled, depending on which source you look at, people had to deal with loneliness and isolation. That was a whole new wave of social anxieties, health anxieties, and really the effects of COVID us that were lingering on whether it was a, you know, joblessness and income loss, or worries about the next pandemic or the next strain.

[00:13:25] And we're starting to see again, an uptick in COVID cases and. Really we thought, okay, what is an, a home solution that really encompasses the future of mental health? And going back to that question, you mentioned, you know, entrepreneurship, after we left cards, thoughts, or we started really dreaming about the future.

[00:13:42] Again, it was this really amazing moment of creativity where we were thinking what happens in the next five to 10 years. And one of the fundamentals was we've changed how we consume content. And also we changed how we track our. Not just physical health, but mental health as well. And these things, these biomarkers on our wrists, apple watches or rings mattresses that can tell you how you slept.

[00:14:05] They're only going to get more popular over time. So the big bat was what happens when we can finally track our mental health. What happens when we can finally start to see if we're getting happier over time in a medium, that we're all used to something that is mobile, social first and led by.

[00:14:22] Hector: Yeah, the stuff around, wearables, I just think is so interesting. I've seen a few companies doing stuff, but not as many as I'd expect. And I got kind of obsessed with it for a short period and was Googling all around the sort of quantification of self and that whole space. And it's kind of about closing the feedback loop, right?

[00:14:40] it's saying, okay. We're all depressed. Um, so all we can do about it. Okay. We'll, get therapy and we'll meditate and we'll form good new habits, which we'll talk about more in a minute, but then you start doing those things and you start to feel better and you say, well, okay, but is it because of the meditation and the habit?

[00:14:59] So what is it? And so. I think the wearables come in in closing that feedback loop and, and actually making, showing you those causal relationships. Okay. Well, when you meditate at 8:00 PM on a Thursday, like we've seen across all of our users, you're feeling less stressed the next morning because your heart rate variability is high or whatever it might be.

[00:15:22] And I think it's super interesting to think about that. And I completely agree with you. what I should, I don't know whether this is how you, how you see it, but I think the wearable stuff comes into, the picture in a big way, for mental health over the next 10 years. So just curious to hear kind of how, how will you guys think about using wearables and, and actually partly around and explain just how you think about kind of closing the feedback loop on the therapy that the people get and the tools you provide them with.

[00:15:53] Adnan: closing the feedback loop is a really great way of putting it in. There's something that we've been obsessed by and the best analogy is looking at how we track our physical health. So you go to the gym, you generally haven't had. And maybe the objective is to lose weight or to increase muscle mass.

[00:16:09] And there's a measurement there. Right? You go to the gym, you run on a treadmill for 30 minutes. You step on a weighing scale and you can see if you've lost. Or you're pushing more weight at the gym because you've increased the number of reps or the way of the Dumbo, the increases, or you it's doing like an arm measurement.

[00:16:26] There's always a measurement there that, tells you whether you've been successful or not. Now, when it comes to our mental health, traditionally, The ultimate question you can ask is, do you feel happier or not? And obviously that is incredibly difficult to measure and we're not there yet. And who knows in the future, maybe we'll get there, but actually in the interim, what we can measure, what we call the second order, happiness metrics.

[00:16:46] So for example, Hey, Hector, did you have a good night's sleep last night? And I can measure that thanks to your sleep cycle app or thanks to your iPhone sleep mode. And I can see that actually, you only slept six instead of seven and a half hours, or looking at your ordering data. I can see that your sleep efficiency wasn't great.

[00:17:03] You didn't get enough REM sleep. And so maybe today you're not feeling too hot and tonight maybe we should sign you up to this sleep rattler. Or, Hey, I can see that your, your resting heart rates like to 3:00 PM, is it because of work stress? Did you have a stressful meeting? Is there a meditation work stress series so I can sign you up for and send you a push notification for and close that feedback loop straight away.

[00:17:27] Now, five years ago, if we're looking at the rest of the meditation. Those meditation apps didn't have access to any data. And so when you go into a meditation app and I go into a meditation app, our experiences are basically the same. We see the same feed. Now mental health is 50 shades of color. And we know that how I feel right now is not the same way that you feel.

[00:17:48] So why is it that we're seeing the same products? Well, it's fundamentally because we haven't been able to build any kind of personalization because we haven't been able to track how you feel. So that kind of long-term vision is very much geared around. The health optimizer, connected self, the bio-hacker, whatever you want to call it, this idea that actually we can start to serve you more personalized content that you haven't been able to get access to before in a way that you're used to I on your mobile phone with video, with instructors, with experts, but actually now it's targeted for you.

[00:18:19] And you can see that when you do that specific class, you can actually feel better over time and you have a metric that shows.

[00:18:25] James: what mine loves is doing is amazing. I think we'll come back to it in a second, but one of the bit I wanted to ask was just like, this is obviously not your first time doing it. So what did you do differently from the start this time? Based on what you've learned already.

[00:18:42] Cause there'll be a lot of first time founders that don't have that experience that you've got that maybe looking for tips on things that an experienced founders like you is implementing early on in the journey

[00:18:52] Adnan: Yeah, it's really interesting. I think the number one thing has been the level of, The level of aggression we've been able to use in terms of going off to the market opportunity. So strip away everything we're doing, and there are a couple of fundamentals. First, it's a massive market. And depending on which source you look at, there are 800 million people in the world that have some kind of mental health issue.

[00:19:16] We really actually believe it's one in one. Everyone will feel not good at some point in their life. So the first part is. How can we make sure that we are capturing that market as quickly as possible? Now, as a second time founder, the benefit is that you've already made a lot of mistakes and you've already done a lot of things that are first founder might find intimidating.

[00:19:36] So hiring the first employee. I remember at Carrefour it's all back in 2012, we just raised a tiny pre-seed from passion capital, and it was time for me to hire the first. Now I had never read through an employment contract and had to, you know, negotiate it from this perspective of an employer before I didn't have the right employment process.

[00:19:55] The interview process was not correct. the onboarding of an employee, how we can make the most out of them. was learning on the fly. So it probably took me a year to get someone up to speed, which now takes us three months. And actually now we were able to hire the best people very, very quickly. It also meant we were able to aggressively build.

[00:20:16] and I think the main learning that never goes away is that the only way you can actually understand whether you've built something of value or not is to get in the market as quickly as possible and to test and to iterate and to learn. That's something that you hit over and over again. But I think that some first-time founders might be reluctant to get into the market because they're scary.

[00:20:36] In that success or failure mode, but actually you're much more likely to fail if you don't do that. So the inverse is actually, Hey, you need to get into the market as quickly as possible. So we shipped to Bita within the first month, two months of us hiring the first engineer. And it meant that we were able to get real market feedback and data straight away.

[00:20:54] And that really helped to tee us up in order to go and raise the seed which we did in October 20. a lot of that was just because we were not afraid of shipping and testing being out in the market. and there are lots of other things in, in the middle of that, you know how to deal with certain situations.

[00:21:10] Having said that you always think that you've seen everything and then the next month you see something completely new and, you know, Well enough, I can't believe this has happened and I've never experienced it before. So you never stop learning. And I guess that's the beauty of it, but there are certain things that are core fundamental.

[00:21:27] How do you hire, how do you raise what's the process behind breezing? How do you structure your business financially? Are you on track on your phone, on track of your financials? You know, there, there are fundamentals that never go.

[00:21:38] James: And that leads us quite nicely into my next question, which is really around metrics. Every company looks at things slightly differently, but what's the thing you guys are optimizing towards. And what are some of the things that you're doing that have worked to help move that north star

[00:21:55] Adnan: So I went north stop pretty openly classes watched. So we believe that the biggest amount of. Comes when you consume a class, when you watch a class and hopefully at the end of that past, you feel better. So everything we do in terms of products drives towards can we increase the number and the quality of the class content and how people engage with classes.

[00:22:18] Some examples of things that we did test it, try it. We made a big concerted push behind increasing that on demand library. So you might think that there are only certain types of meditations or breath works or visualization classes, but actually there's a certain situation where someone might need a very, very specific class.

[00:22:36] So we have classes to do with, flight and zone. So you were at an airport and you're feeling a bit anxious about stepping on a flight. We have anxiety about end of the Workday. You know, what to do when you've got a stressful work meeting, coming up, tips and techniques, you can have to incorporate mindfulness exercise to make you feel.

[00:22:55] So that was number one. We have done a lot of testing around closing the loop. So initially integrating with apple health, looking at the things that apple healthcare can provide us right now, we're looking at things like mindful minutes, but next looking at things like sleep, heart rate, resting heart rate, incorporating that into the products and serving it to users as they start to use that product more and more, is a huge one for us.

[00:23:17] And, There were so many things when it comes to onboarding and conversion that you start to learn. So what's the right sequence of screens that you need to have to get people to understand your product the most. And so we're constantly playing with things like freemium trial length, how much content you can see without going behind the paywall, Well, the in-class experience looks like with instructors. So today we have 17 instructors on the platform, but that's been a lot of testing to get that. So instructors that we might have just invited on to do one or two classes that might not have worked out live classes that we had quite regularly in the app that we've actually started to move more into, on demand.

[00:23:52] In a nutshell, nothing is ever stagnant. You're always testing new things because you've never quite found the right way of doing things. And, the goalposts are big and, the ultimate goal for us is how do we get everyone in the world to feel happier? And how do we make the world a happier place?

[00:24:09] And us obviously extremely lofty goal. And it's up to us to kind of bring that

[00:24:12] into.

[00:24:12] Hector: honestly, I love, I love this. And hearing you talk about it is, is fascinating. had, we met however long ago, it was, I would've invested in your, around if you did one, but, cause you're just doing it the right way. I haven't seen anywhere else. Who's. Doing it in a very practical way with hooks that people get, you know, okay.

[00:24:32] End of the work, they meeting stress, whatever it is, actual practical things that people can latch onto them and relate to. And then the wearables integration and the data-driven element too. I just think it's, brilliant. the challenge around so many meditation apps and, positive habit, forming apps and, tools are just the fundamental problem of changing human behavior, which is so hard.

[00:24:57] and it's so hard and it's, you know, it's the reason that Often we're passing on companies, that I look at as investment prospects passing on them, because this is the way the world should be fine. We get that the world would be a better place if your product existed.

[00:25:12] But the reality is that too much behavior has to change here to make it work. People won't use your product. So, and it's such a fundamental problem in the world. Right. And it's kind of. You're trying to solve a part of that. And you, you guys have the same problems, right? You've got to get people to form good habits.

[00:25:29] And, uh, and so I'm just interested to hear your perspective on how you do, change people's behavior. What, what have you found to what.

[00:25:38] Adnan: Yeah, that's a great question. Because behavior change, especially when it comes to something. New like mental health, you have to make it incredibly easy for that behavior change to occur. So I guess the first part of us making that easy was to establish behavior change on a platform in a product that they are kind of already used to.

[00:25:59] So 2020 we saw a huge growth in fitness apps and they were already grown before and a pandemic just accelerates it. So you're looking at things like palliative. Which incorporated video content with instructors with wearable and Hey, it's applied to cycling. Great. You're looking at platforms like fits in the UK, like in Germany and we're taking something that is already proven the idea that people will prop up their mobile phone at home and they will take a class when someone isn't in the room.

[00:26:29] So that's kind of number one. So can we help someone to establish a habit? Well, they're already doing that habit. The second part is when it comes to something like their mental health, how can we make it easy for them to see the value in it? Now that goes back to our point around tracking biomarkers, closing the loop and data.

[00:26:45] If someone can see that actually they're gaining benefit out of doing a practice, they're much more likely to incorporate that habit more and more into their life.

[00:26:53] Hector: just quickly, it's a particularly difficult one because in your case, in your business, some of the people who need this most are going to be actually the least motivated in a way, because you're depressed or whatever, you're, you're not motivated. And the idea of changing how you work and how your brain works.

[00:27:15] it seems like a huge uphill battle. And so it's almost like the people who need it most, at least likely to debt. So it's extra hard for you guys.

[00:27:23] Adnan: Yeah. And actually we noticed that there are instead of targeting and having those users that really, really need it. So we look at things in a funnel and at the bottom of that funnel, similar to the NHS stage four is. Life interrupting mental health illness. The problem with trying to get users that our at life interrupting stage is that you're not going to be their first port of call.

[00:27:45] They're probably, and they should still go and see a psychiatrist or therapist, and they need to go there first because it's life interrupting. Instead, what we did is we kind of went back to the top of that funnel. People that potentially don't have a life interrupting mental health illness, or maybe they don't even know they've got a mental health issue in the first place, but they've clearly got markets in their life, which then note that they're not feeling too good.

[00:28:07] So there are two big ones for us. The first is sleep so more often than not someone will experience pretty poor. And that is a result of something going on in their life. And the great thing about sleep as to be fair, the meditation apps alone is that you can target people at certain times of the day.

[00:28:24] So it's either first thing in the morning and they've seen that essentially, they haven't had a good night's sleep, and if they're feeling a bit groggy and they don't feel like, you know, when you've had a good night's sleep. And the second part is at night when you're just preparing to wind down for sleep, but your thoughts are racing and you just can't get into that quiet space.

[00:28:41] And so it becomes incredibly easy to target people that those two points of the day. And then the second journey is around stress and we know stress effects all of us, especially us, working millennials, because more often than not now we're on video calls where never turning off.

[00:28:55] We've got mobile phones pinging us after hours, but you have a window in the day where you can also target. So actually I think what we found in the learning is that instead of trying to target people that are most in need of a product that helps them mental health, can we target people that are different part of their mental health journey with real life activities that they're struggling with.

[00:29:16] And therefore it's kind of our go-to market wedge. And that's where to be fair. We found the most.

[00:29:20] James: Yeah, it's really, really interesting. And I think it's that got to prove that you can not value, but you guys are hitting people at the right moments and I also think that you're sort of branding. The sessions in a way that makes them tangible, which I think is so interesting because I, lot of people go, I don't know if I need this session or not.

[00:29:40] Whereas something like playing anxiety is much more like relatable, which is really interesting. And so you've raised money, uh, according to Crunchbase of $3.9 million from passion, capital seed, camp Ascension, and a bunch of amazing angels as well. what's your top tip for fundraising and also. Maybe you could explain sort of why passion again and like why that's actually probably quite an important relationship.

[00:30:07] How relevant is it that they backed call throttle as well?

[00:30:10] Adnan: Of course probably massively relevant that they backed car thoughts and then they're back at it again with us. I think first and foremost, Eileen Burbidge, who sat on the board at portal and who sits on the board of mine abs as well. I just had a great relationship with her. I think what she values a lot is just openness, integrity, transparency.

[00:30:30] And I hope that I demonstrated those values to her over the eight years that we worked at car throttle and obviously then to have an exit and a return for passion capsid as well, also helped. And I think we pitched Eileen. Very early on with my labs where we just had a prototype. In fact, it was in, it was in our very first coworking space office that we just rented out for a month.

[00:30:51] We had a prototype of a class that we had shot really budget with a headband, one of our form of biomarket data, which is EEG data. And we sat Eileen in a room and we said, right, watch this for 10 minutes. And we'll show you what happens to your brain. And she did it. And it basically the graph showed that her brain went into this amazing deep, relaxed state, through combination of measuring alpha-beta FITA, brainwaves.

[00:31:18] So it was the combination of, Hey, Eileen, we're doing it again. We've got the proof points we had, you know, all of the things that you might be worried about, we're also worried about, but here's what we're doing to mitigate all of those risks. So we, yeah, we we've raised in total 3.9 million pounds.

[00:31:35] I think one of the biggest learnings is, and something that I did poorly with coal fossil, I would only really ever look to raise when we needed to raise. And I think that it was a mistake. It was trying to forge a relationship with an investor right at the end, and hoping that in two weeks you can strike up this amazing friendship and they're going to be sold in.

[00:31:55] it's not practical. And it's. The opposite of what you should do this time with my labs, we've been building in the open. We have a list of people that haven't invested in the company that have expressed interest that we update every quarter, telling them how we getting on. I always take calls with investors, even if there's a common adage, which is only take calls with partners of funds.

[00:32:16] I personally think that's BS because, you know, you can build relationships. Any person within the farm and actually for pro founders, we built a great relationship with. VK, who wasn't a partner at the firm. And, over time we just showed that we were making progress and we started chatting and we became friends.

[00:32:36] Um, so I think relationship building is super important and I wouldn't underestimate the value in showing investors progress really early. You know, it's been said before, but investors invest in lines, not dots. And then I think when it comes to the actual fundraising, when you're ready to go and raise that money, you have to have a really tight process.

[00:32:53] And I think I, again, the cost also days would let processes drag on for four or five, sometimes six months. I was series AC took eight months from start to close. it needs to be compressed and confined. And that's actually something that I was taught by our brokers. When we were selling car throttle, they created these amazing gun diagram showing you exactly what needed to be done when, and we compress everything into essentially two or three weeks.

[00:33:20] So when it came to raising the pre-seed, it was done in two or three weeks when it came to eating the seed, it was done in two or three weeks because everything was lined up. We've got the deck, which had been iterated on. We. practiced in front of, friends, families, angels from the previous rounds.

[00:33:35] And then we had the data room set up. It was a very well-oiled machine. And you know, a lot of that is, thanks to my co-founder gaps as well. Who's super on top of the detail that you can't be organized enough when it comes to fundraising. And then it shows because if you can get everyone to the same point in the timeline where everyone is ready to give you a term sheet competition is what drives this process.

[00:33:56] And that's what.

[00:33:57] Hector: Yeah, I think that final piece, that. The running a tight process and getting everyone, all the investors running, running in tandem with one another is, almost the single truth of investing that you hear. It's the kind of common wisdom that is actually correct. I think you hear so many other bits of advice and people are very opinionated on it.

[00:34:17] People have that view and say that it's the only way, like. some people say you should be in fundraising mode or not. And you shouldn't take investor calls if you're not fundraising, which I don't think is right. You know, the key thing I think for founders to understand is that there is no right way really.

[00:34:36] I mean, the FOMO staff, the momentum that we've just talked about is true. And I think that is to be stuck to. It's important for founders to realize that there's not a single way to fundraise and different methods work for different founders.

[00:34:50] James: I was just going to say that I thought that was a couple of really interesting. That's where basically did show me. Don't tell. But in a, in a couple of different ways you did show me, don't tell me in terms of like an early sort of product demo of the impact of what this can do. And then you also did show me, don't tell me by showing progress over a period, up to your point of them doing a fundraising process and like helping people come on that journey.

[00:35:18] and I think that's a key one is like, I think a lot of founders think, you know, you can just sort of talk about something and money will magically appear in your bank account. And I don't think that's how it works. It's like show me this amazing thing. either for a product demo or whatever, show me, it's working by showing me the data and where it's going and what you're optimizing, and that's how you can really raise it.

[00:35:43] So.

[00:35:44] Adnan: Yeah. And the best advice I ever got when it came to the actual fundraising process. And especially when it comes to pitching, think of your pitch, like a cattle that's coming to boil, and it just gets hotter and hotter and hotter and hotter to a point where it clicks and the investor is ready to put the money in.

[00:36:03] When it comes to specifically the pitching process, what I see quite often and other founders is they will put in filler slides and there'll be a lot of filler and it removes the tension in the buildup. And then you go back to the psychology of fundraising. And what you're trying to do is really two things.

[00:36:20] You're trying to answer all of the risks that an investor is. They're sitting there going. Why won't this work and you have to think in advance of all of those answers and upfront tell them so that they actually walk away going, you know what? I can't even think why this wouldn't work. And then the other side is you have to be so good at selling the future.

[00:36:41] And I think that's also something that British entrepreneurs are probably slightly worse at, which is we're all quite. realistic and not optimistic enough. And so what happens is you'll go, you know what? I think we can take the UK model. And your us counterpart will go, you know what? We're definitely going to change the world and you can't tell me otherwise.

[00:37:01] And I think that's where we still need to get to. And I had to drum that into myself because more often than not, you find yourself being, you know, that classic British entrepreneur, or I don't want to be, I don't want to be that guy. I don't want to be too much of a loud mouth, but really that's what an investor is buying.

[00:37:15] They're buying the fact that you a new. I think that you can change the feature. And if you don't believe you can change the future, I'm just not going to invest in you because I want to invest in people that do think that they can change the world. And there are those people around.

[00:37:27] Hector: Yeah. I think if we had to distribute a, um, five minute segment, James of fundraising advice from riding the unicorns, it's the five minutes leading up to this point. I agree with everything that's been said, and I think it's all great advice. And I suppose you do, you do a bit of angel investing, right?

[00:37:41] So I wonder, I wonder how you kind of, think about evaluating opportunities

[00:37:46] Adnan: Yeah, I've done it. Very, very small amount of angel investing. definitely can't wait to keep investing in, the next cohort of amazing entrepreneurs. The things that I look for are really simple, and it's almost exactly what I've just said, which is, do I fundamentally believe that this person or these people.

[00:38:04] We'll change the world. so unpack that. Are they optimistic by nature? Do they have a bias towards action? Are they trying to change the part of the world that I'm quite excited about? So the very first angel investment I did was in lik, uh, in that pre-seed round, which I was lucky to get into as the first one, because they've, they've gone on to do fantastic things and shout out to Lucas and Sam for, for really, pioneering change in a, very established, entrenched industry, which has essentially

[00:38:32] painted.

[00:38:33] James: have Lucas on season one. So anyone who wants to go back and listen to that home home season

[00:38:38] one.

[00:38:39] Adnan: Fantastic. the first time I met Lucas and he came to the office, I just believed he would change the paint industry. He was confident, he knew his stuff. He had clearly researched. And whilst he just had the deck at that point, he had done a lot of the groundwork and trying to prove that there was a market here and, you know, given his background, I believed he could do it.

[00:39:01] And that was it. he actually didn't have any traction at that point. He hadn't sold any paint. but I believe he could. Uh, and it was the same with the next entrepreneurs. you know, why hungry? I believe that they would change the cooking at home experience. Uh, and they just got into Y Combinator, which is fantastic.

[00:39:19] And when you speak with the founders, they just have so much energy and you just, you are swept away with them and you think, well, if anyone's going to do it, they're going to do it. And I think ultimately, especially at an early stage, that is what it boils down to, which is perseverance bias for action, willing to take risks.

[00:39:36] All of the things I spoke about right at the beginning, really, because the path is hard. Startups are hard and resilience is key. And every time you get hit with a setback, you have to know that that person has just got what it takes to open.

[00:39:48] Hector: I think you'd make a good engine best when you already are with, some investments. Cause I totally agree on, on all of the things to look for in an investment opportunity. I wonder whether you look for, um, people who remind you.

[00:40:02] Adnan: Great question. And the answer is yes, fundamentally I do because not to say that I am successful, but the chip on my shoulder. Todd and the resilience at that bridge. Is what is needed because you can have someone that has had an illustrious career at startups or scale ups, or they were only ever kind of, you know, they've got the brand logos on the deck and you've probably seen it a lot.

[00:40:28] They've got all of the right logos on the deck, but fundamentally when it comes to the crunch and there will be a lot of crunches over the course of that first year. Do you think they can weather out the storm? And I look at my attributes of. You know what? I don't care. I'm going to use whatever people say about me to my advantage.

[00:40:45] And people used to say a lot of stuff about us at Carfax or back in the day, especially as you can imagine, it was a very old. Industry, all of these big kind manufacturers were afraid of anyone that would take that brand ever so slightly. So when we started doing car music, videos and rapping about cars and all kinds of weird stuff, you can imagine the type of comments we got and blacklisted from events, blacklisted from driving sown cars and certain brands that refused to work with us for years and years and years.

[00:41:13] So I just think, does that person have what it takes? Would they be like me in that scenario and power through the debt? Yeah. If I think they can, that's basically 90% of the investment at a pre-seed or seed.

[00:41:27] Hector: I mean, I'm in no position to do that, but some, sometimes I see people remind me of me. don't know whether it's just like an affinity you have for those people. And you have to be careful with that if it's biased. But yeah, I think it's a valuable tool.

[00:41:39] If you have that. you know, that I've also invest in plenty of people who, don't remind me of me. So it's not, man, that's a crazy thing. Maybe I really shouldn't be investing in people that remind me of me. Maybe that'd be a terrible idea, but I think it can be a useful tool.

[00:41:53] James: Yeah.

[00:41:54] it's been amazing talking to you and we've covered some great topics and really dug out some real true anecdotal and useful stuff for founders to take away and think about, as you know, we like to end these with our dinner party guests game.

[00:42:10] So if you were to have dinner with any three people in history, who would

[00:42:14] they be?

[00:42:15] Adnan: So I've, I've had a bit of time think about this because you did give me a bit of warning, which was very useful. The first person is very stereotypical and is Elon Musk. Now the only reason why I'm just so intrigued as to see what Elon Musk is like in person is to AC what he would order, because I have a feeling here probably order something very strange.

[00:42:38] He'll probably be drinking mechanical oil

[00:42:41] Hector: it's gotta be powdered food has met.

[00:42:43] Adnan: Yeah, space feed. Exactly. He's probably got like a pouch of just liquid meal was out here to eat, but also. So deeply intrigued by how one person can weather so much stuff. And I want to know what the chip has that he has on his shoulder. And I've read a lot of books. And I obviously know from his upbringing and living in South Africa and his early life, but I think there's just something that I'd still like to see and see in person, which is how he can do it and how he can run multiple companies and deal with all of the stuff that happens because it's hard enough running one less.

[00:43:15] Two three now basically biggest shareholder of Twitter for probably soon. It's insane. They've got the guys work creators just literally out of this world. No pun intended. So he's won the second of try and give it a bit of balance. I'd probably invite my favorite music, which is Dave. Now the reason that I'd invite Dave is because.

[00:43:36] I really resonated with his first album, which was called psychodrama. And it was really a look inside his mind. And I really was captivated by just how deeply he thought about things. And he's clearly gone through life and really being able to reflect and create amazing music that took him from basically nothing with a brother that was in jail to being one of Britain's biggest artists.

[00:44:01] So massively inspired by him. And I think he would have an amazing story. And again, Always curious to know what chip he had on his shoulder, which allowed him to, power through the depths. And then finally, I think, because you always need a bit of humor at a dinner party, I would invite, an old UCL alumni, Ricky to the dinner also because I think our, Hema levels are the same. We probably both like engaging in quite, offensive banter. So I think it would just make for a good light. I'll throw it in somebody's head and he'll throw one back at me. And that, that would to be fair. That was the fun part about working with the people that we did over eight, nine years at cough.

[00:44:38] Was it as well? We were all just constantly taking the Mick out of each other and it just made coming to work fun. We would have, we would have a laugh. So, um, yeah, those would be my three and hope he I'd meet for quite a nice well-rounded seven.

[00:44:52] James: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on and telling us your writer, unicorn story, as I said, seriously, incredible insight. yeah, we're really excited to see the future of my labs and wish you all the best with it.

[00:45:04] So thanks again.

[00:45:05] Adnan: Thank you guys for having me on.

[00:45:07] James: That's it for this week. Thanks very much for listening. To stay up to date with the latest episodes, please follow or subscribe on your favorite podcast platform. We also have a newsletter called reading unicorns, which is another great way to get every episode direct to your inbox. Please tell your friends about it and engage with us on social media And we'll see you on the next episode.