Welcome to our first edition of #WCW (that's Woman Crush Wednesday)! Each week, we will spotlight one of our favorite female founders and her company.
Today, meet Carolyn Straughan. Carolyn is Co-Founder and CEO of Selfina, a mental health startup that aims to improve body confidence in women.
Carolyn, we are so excited for you to be our FIRST EVER #WCW! Jane and I know you from our time together at Stanford, but why don't you start by telling our readers a little bit about yourself.
Hi everyone! I grew up on an island outside of Seattle and absolutely love calling the PNW my home. I'm passionate about public health, female empowerment, and Philz coffee. After spending six years in the Bay Area, I'm moving to NYC with my significant other. Honestly I feel a little crazy for moving in the middle of a pandemic!
Let's talk about what it's like to be a CEO.
Being a CEO in general can feel lonely, and especially as a female. Most of my founder peers are men. Luckily, my female classmates built a strong entrepeneurship community in business school where we met monthly. We continue to support each other and I feel safe texting them dumb questions like, "what is a SAFE?"
(Editor's Note: a SAFE note is a "Simple Agreement for Future Equity" - it is a security that allows entrepreneurs to get cash now in exchange for the investor getting an opportunity to invest in a future financing round.)
What has been the most surprising part of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
I wasn't expecting the varying feedback I would get on every decision - from design to fundraising to product development. There isn't one way to build a startup. It's up to me to choose the path forward with imperfect information and conflicting advice.
What advice do you have for young women who want to be a founder or CEO?
Surround yourself with people who you can turn to when the going gets tough. There will be plenty of haters, and having people who support you in your corner can make all the difference.
That's an amazing tip - for being a leader and, honestly, for life in general. It's also a great lead-in to what your company does every day! Can you tell us a little bit more about Selfina?
Selfina provides digital, evidence-based products that are proven to empower women, curate community, and improve mental health. Our core program is 4-weeks, group-based, and is backed by 20+ years of research.
The group sessions are very similar to group therapy. However, the groups are not led by clinicans, but by facilitators who we train and certify in our material. My co-founders are two researchers at Stanford. They found that having trained peers lead the groups is much more effective than clinicians. (It's also more affordable and accessible!) Women seem to feel more comfortable opening up to their peers than an authority figure. Groups will meet weekly and complete activities designed to improve body confidence and body activism. I'm actually going through it right now, and will report back on my experience!
Why did you choose to work on Selfina?
I've personally struggled with my body image for as long as I can remember, and realized in my mid-20s that many of my peers did as well. I spent years of my life thinking, "if only I could lose 10 pounds, my life would be perfect." Well, those 10 pounds came and went, and the focus on my body became a huge mental time suck. I've slowly started to realize that I used to put a ton of my worth in my weight, but I'm much happier when I'm not focused on it. I started Selfina to help women on a similar journey.
What do people not understand about body image and body positivity?
Body image is messy! It can be a super triggering topic, as we saw when Adele posted a photo of her weight loss a few months back. The world went crazy from all sides. We know that negative body image can start young - some studies show that by age six, girls start to worry about their shape and size. Today, 75% of adult women say their shape and weight interferes with their happiness. That's crazy! One question we get a fair amount is whether it's possible to get to the point where you truly love your body. To us, goals look different for everyone - some might be striving for radical self acceptance, while others lean more towards the body neutrality movement, which aims to move society's focus away from appearance.
What sets Selfina apart?
We pride ourselves in offering research-backed products. My co-founders are two psychology PhDs who have spent years refining programs that actually work. A recent study showed that only 14% of mental health apps were designed with real-world evidence. Also, there is a lot of noise around dieting, weight loss, and body positivity - our goal is to be a source of truth and empowerment for our customers.
Wow, that's a shocking statistic! How can women tell who to trust in this space?
The market is noisy! There are so many mental health and community apps popping up right and left. I recommend taking the time to look at the company's website to see what supporting research exists, and to research the team to understand what clinical trials have been completed with their product.
What's up next for you at Selfina?
We're building out our product team and plan to launch in the fall. Right now the program is only for women, but we're actively developing programming for the transgender community, and plan to expand to men, as well.
Are there any tips you can share with women working on self-love or struggling with body image?
If you're feeling down, know that you're not alone! One activity we encourage our users to do is stand in front of a mirror and write down 15 positive attributes. The attributes can be physical, emotional, or intellectual (but we require at least three to be physical). It doesn't take more than 10 minutes, and is truly impactful.
Selfina launches in Fall 2020. Check them out on Instagram at @weareselfina or on their website: https://www.weareselfina.com/.