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7 Cups Of Tea (YC S13) Connects People Who Need Emotional Support With Listeners (techcrunch.com)
258 points by zackmiller84 on Aug 5, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 91 comments



7 Cups of Tea founder here. I wanted to share a little back story with you on this. I'm an entrepreneur and have had my own fair share of challenges both in business and in regular life. My wife is a therapist. I'm incredibly fortunate to have her support. It occurred to me that it'd be great if people could have someone to talk with when they are struggling or going through a hard time. We built 7 Cups of Tea to solve that problem.

We have a long way to go, but the initial signs are promising. I'd love your feedback on how we can make it better. Thanks!


A great idea.

Can you expand a bit on this statement on your home page:

"Speak with a compassionate, trained listener through our secure, monitored network."

What does "monitored" mean?

By "trained" what do you mean (because it seems as if anyone can be a listener)?


I can't speak as to 'monitored', but in terms of training, from the article: "Potential listeners must complete an online training program and speak with Moriarty on the phone before they start taking calls."


Please consider adding Bitcoin support to your payment options. For me personally, I would not want to be vulnerable, without making sure I was extra secure. BitPay [1] has an easy to use merchant platform.

1. https://www.bitpay.com


Thanks Michael. We have some bitcoin experts in our batch. I'll talk more with them.


Expecting this to be unpopular, but the name is confusing by its proximity to "Three Cups of Tea" (which had me confused for a second, because I couldn't remember if it was 3, or 7, and why Mortensen would have gone to YC).


No problem. It is a valid point. We hear that from time to time. No worries!


I have been a lurker for quite a long time on HC now and I created an account just to give you very heavy kudos. Ive been through some serious times in my life and this service would have been a godsend. Thank you and I will spreading the word about your site.

Good luck.


Thank you! I appreciate you taking the step to create an account and let us know. That means a lot. Also, if you are interested in becoming a listener, then we'd love to have you : ). www.7cupsoftea.com/listener


Having just joined the site and carefully read your privacy policy: could you please clarify either here and/or on the site whether or not you are permanently storing any of the text of the conversations? It seems to me that the policy states that only directly identifiable information (e.g., names and email addresses) will not be stored. I apologize if I'm being paranoid here, but this greatly effects my ability to use your website. I suspect that I'm not the only one.

Also, your website does not seem to keep me logged in (in Firefox). Even directly after logging in and being able to view my messages, the upper-right corner still contains the 'Login' button.


I'm not trying to nitpick, but I am really not crazy about that image on your homepage. It's just too reminiscent of shots/scenes from ads by pharmaceutical companies. I suspect there's a healthy segment of your users who are sick of being told their problems will go away if they just talk to their doctor about the latest-and-greatest pill. There has to be a way of conveying tranquility & peace without so heavily reminding us all of those horrible, borderline-abusive television commercials.


Very interesting business. Quick question - is there any meaning behind the name? Why 7?


Thank you. Yes, the name comes from a famous Chinese poem titled "7 Cups of Tea" The basic idea is that each cup of tea brings a greater level of healing. Also, I just liked the name because it suggests meeting with a friend several times and having a conversation.


Awesome idea! I wish you the very best of success. Turning what can be an alienating technology into a means to reach out to people in need is really heartwarming.


Thank you!


Having personally gone through some very difficult times, this is one of the startups that I'm most excited about for the very simple reason that I believe it has the potential to help millions of people in a very direct and personal way. I've already started referring family members to the service.


It's wonderful to see the problem of depression being targeted in a new and interesting way, but I'm very scared for the chance of this being exploited in 4chan-style raids. They've trolled everything from cancer community forums to lgbt support forums to whatever else you can think of.

Are listeners first going to be vetted? Is there going to be some push in associating listeners with their Facebook accounts, to have them authenticated as the good folks. Any comments in general about making it resilient to these types of attacks?


In Australia an online counselling service had a privacy breach and was shut down by the potential amount of legal action that followed http://www.probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2010/03/sacked-depre...


It seems that most of the time when a startup is announced on HN and commenters point out obvious legal dangers, the startup goes on to do pretty well.


Clicks want to send me an email to further discuss? info at 7 cups of tea dot com.


Please understand me. No desire to sound negative. No wishes for anything but the best. I am just curious as to what your business model will be for this?


If you look at the screenshots, listeners can charge a fee. So far it appears to be all free, but eventually I'm sure they'll have a few professionals (psychiatrists, etc) on there who you can pay to talk to.

The startup will obviously make a commission on that.


Sure thing, would be happy to.


"Potential listeners must complete an online training program and speak with Moriarty on the phone before they start taking calls."


From last October: Supposedly phone-based therapy works as well as in-person for people with mild symptoms, and _better_ for more-severe.

http://www.choosehelp.com/news/emotional-health/study-phone-...

And from last week: Ditto for online.

http://www.examiner.com/article/internet-therapy-works-just-...

I don't know if the latter is a result of your own PR effort or great luck. Either way, congrats! :)


Thanks for posting these links. Nope, not a result of our PR efforts : ). I think we'll see a lot more research support for online treatments.


Skeptics Guide to the Universe did a podcast discussing this last week. Interesting.


Wow, very cool. I was actually just thinking about this exact idea last night. A close friend of mine is going through a very rough time and I spent a few hours on the phone with him.

Mental health resources just aren't working for him, and I don't think he has a lot of positive role models in his life whom he can turn to. And we live in a time where many of the traditional institutions tasked with steering a young person into adulthood (religion, education, family, etc.) are broken or dysfunctional themselves.

This is definitely one startup that I would really like to see succeed. Good luck...


Thank you. That comment means a lot to me. Good on you for taking the time to support your friend. Truth is we all hit hard times in life and often we just need a little extra support to get through.

Also, as you indicated, a lot of the old institutions just are not there to provide as much support. I also always think of the role neighbors used to play. I still have friendly conversation with my neighbors, but I would feel really uncomfortable leaning on them for support.


   And we live in a time where many of the traditional institutions tasked with steering a young person into adulthood (religion, education, family, etc.) are broken or dysfunctional themselves.
I feel like this has always been true (in fact, truer than it is today). The only difference its easier to leave your religion/education/family today than it used to be, so a lot more people do.


Some of the "listeners" might be surprised to find out that they can be located easily with google image search. I just did that for one person and found their full name because they used the same exact picture elsewhere.

I guess the question (not reading any of the sign up materials) is is there an implied expectation of privacy on the part of listeners (I see with the people needing support there is an explicit statement of confidentiality) and should they be notified of ways that people can find out who they are?

Edit: And things to do (picture and name wise) to prevent that from happening?


I'm having trouble thinking of even a hollywood movie plot where that info could be exploited. Other than where the listeners are actually 4chan trolls on a raid, in which case the pics are probably fake/stolen anyway.


You can't think of how a person with a mental illness could exploit the name and address of a caregiver?


"Speakers" or whatever you want to call them, but also others. Just a brief glance showed that lots of the listeners posted personal info about what they have gone through. Not sure if I would want the whole wide web to know about my personal mental history.


> Not sure if I would want the whole wide web to know about my personal mental history.

Wrong. You're absolutely sure that you don't want that.


What are you trying to say about people with a mental illness? Do you know the amount of illnesses which fall under 'mental disorder'? Over 400 [1]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mental_disorders


But I fail to see how a pix online would help. Given how easy it is to run a search as is.


Am I sensing a trend in more recent YC batches to select teams that want to help people rather than find a market? Watsi, True Link, now this.

I mean, both are about building something people want, but they are definitely different points of view of this goal. One is about what people are willing to pay for, other is about what people could benefit from.

I most wholeheartedly welcome this trend (if it is in fact a conscious one). Myself, I work very close to this new field of "social ventures/social business/impact investment", the latest labels of a model that combine, at once, social impact and profit. No judgmental ideology, just using market forces to improve people's lives. Specially people with some kind of vulnerability (in general, poor people, but as seen here, not restricted to).

Muhamad Yunus (Nobel peace laureate) is the most famous champion of this way of changing the world, but he sure put some very rigid limitations on how to manage the profit, which I think are too demanding and not particularly effective. But it is a good way to think different about creating new business: http://www.muhammadyunus.org/index.php/social-business/socia...

For an approach that I think is more effective, here are some good places to learn:

http://www.nextbillion.net/

http://businessfightspoverty.org/

http://www.thegiin.org/cgi-bin/iowa/home/index.html

http://acumen.org/


My sense is that YC and the partners have always been about making peoples lives better. It might just be that entrepreneurs applying for YC are beginning to realize that YC can be a great avenue to accomplish a lot of good and also create a real business.


Maybe that. After a boom of entrepreneurs with ideas to impact their own world or their own pocket, I see more "cause-driven" entrepreneurs starting up.

Congratulations for your work, I hope you achieve great success!


Thanks!


I volunteered at a hotline, answering phones for a year. Due to the nature and potential consequences of the work, we were trained pretty thoroughly over the course of 3 months before talking to any real callers. During my conversations, I realized that many callers were lonely with no one else to connect with, and that many had varying degrees of mental health issues. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I have gone through.

Your callers are probably a different profile than the ones that called our hotline, but I would be very cautious about giving out identifiable details in the answerers' profiles. Also, knowing how difficult my volunteering work was, I'd like to know more about the training process for your answerers.


Somewhat off topic, but would you mind sharing a little about what volunteering for a hotline was like? I'm considering entering a training program to volunteer for one in my area, but am not sure I am prepared for this.


I'm not the OP, but I've worked for Samaritans (http://www.samaritans.org/) in the UK. I'd be happy to discuss by email at 7cot.10.fishpi@spamgourmet.com if that's useful to you.


It will be interesting to see stats on how long listeners last. Compassion fatigue is very common in fields where people work directly with those in unfortunate circumstances (homeless, dying, drug addiction, etc.) I wonder if systems such as this will burn people out faster or allow them to help more people faster. Cool idea.


This is a good point. We have a hypothesis that there is a care surplus (like Shirky's idea of a cognitive surplus) where there are lots of people that want to give back, but they can only give back on their own terms (i.e., when they are available and want to). We are very careful to not pressure folks into doing too much. Long-term this has to be sustainable. We are developing a strong listener community and that is helping people feel a real sense of pride in what they do and like they are a part of something larger.


> I agree with this statement: "I am over 18 and I am not homicidal, suicidal or abusing anyone."

I can see how it might be legally required to add this disclaimer, but I would at least direct them to somewhere else that can help them.


Excellent point. Thank you.


This is a great idea. It might work very well with seniors. Seniors sometimes ( or lot of times) get very lonely and need someone who can listen to them or talk to them.


This is an excellent point. We definitely plan to work with seniors. My grandmother is 82. I try to call her 1x a week just to touch base. She looks forward to the calls from me and my sister, but we get pretty busy and forget from time to time. I think it'd be awesome if a listener on 7 Cups could just chat her up a couple times a week for 15 minutes each time. It'd mean the world to her. I think we have a real opportunity to work with nursing homes and assisted care facilities on a solution for them.

Also, one interesting anecdote that I discovered when talking with experts that work with the elderly. They said that often times elderly people will complain about telemarketers, but they'll answer the phone because they are lonely. They'll then end up buying things they don't really want just because they were able to connect with another person.

I also wonder if we can find a way for elderly volunteers to sign up as listeners. They've been through a lot and could help a lot of younger people going through similar struggles. If anyone has any recommendations or contacts at senior organizations, then it'd be great if you could share them with me. Thanks!


I would bet that you'd have more success signing up elderly people to be listeners (giving them something worthwhile to do when they have limited mobility and their family members are busy with work/school) than to tell them to call your helpline as customer because their grandkids don't call them.


I agree that trying to sign up elderly listeners would be an excellent idea. You will probably need a pretty strong technical support crew for them, because they in general won't have our comfort level with computers.

My father has been working to keep some older relatives able to use computers, but there are lots of challenges. A couple of points I can offer from his experience: - Tablets are probably easier use, especially if you spent some effort making a specific app. - Reliable always on internet is not necessarily a given. - Even if they have good internet, they may not have a wireless network


Having experience both in peer-support groups and as a trained mental health practitioner, I can see some perils and some promise in this idea and am interested in watching it evolve.

If anyone else is reading that wants to build something similar, I would love a marketplace for online therapists with solid reviews, bio statements/therapeutic orientation statements, clear pricing/insurance information, etc.


If you are interested in marketplaces for online therapy, have a look at Ingenio[1], which has been in this space for a while. Ingenio was acquired in 2007 by AT&T [2], supposedly for its patent portfolio, but it continues to operate.

[1] http://www.ingenio.com/ [2] http://techcrunch.com/2007/11/19/att-acquires-ingenio-and-th...


Thanks. Ideally, I think you have both peer specialists and mental health practitioners working together. We have plenty to do, but are thinking hard about how to best work with clinicians. Insurance companies in MD, TX and CA are now processing insurance payments for online therapy, so this is definitely an option for us to expand into. If you are passionate about this space, then shoot us an email. Currently, we actually already have a # of licensed mental health professionals serving as listeners.


Thank you. I need exactly this. Stupid question, but I can't quickly find the answer on your website (you may want to add this to your FAQs): Does it cost anything?


> Listeners can currently elect to charge a fee and if they do, the site takes a commission


Joseph, you are welcome. Right now we are a bit overwhelmed, so it might be hard to get through. Things should quiet down. Please let me know how it goes for you. You can send me an email at info at 7cupsoftea dot com.

We are creating a marketplace where some people will volunteer, some will have a pay what you want option, and then others will have a set rate for 30 minutes.


Seems like a service to provide medical care without a license. I wish we had people working on ways to streamline licensing and efficient uses of licensed resources, and fewer end-runs around the safety protections that licensing provides. (See also: AirBnB, Rover, Lyft, Sidecar, ....)


But we'll miss out on all the future lols:

    Welcome to 7CupsOfTea! Connecting you to a specialist now...
    You are connected to Listener "Twogirlssevencups"
    <needshelp56> Hi, thanks for listening....I feel like my life is in shambles...
    <needshelp56> i just...I just need someone to talk to...
    <Twogirlssevencups> lol kil urself


The website comes off as shady, insinuating that the service is an equivalent or valid alternative to therapy with a professional therapist. The way the 'listeners' are referred to as trained many times (which amounts to an online course, which could mean anything- how rigorous is this course? Are any would-be listeners turned away due to their performance during the course? Does the course last longer than an hour?), and especially the sentence "While many of our Active Listeners happen to be licensed professional counselors and therapists".

It would be more honest to portray the service as an online hotline.


I understand your perspective. We are not trying to portray listeners as licensed mental health professionals. We use the word trained to suggest that active listening is different from the normal kind of listening that most of us experience in our regular lives. ie, active listening is different from having a normal conversation. People normally don't use summarizing, paraphrasing and empathy regularly. Also, pointing to the licensed people on the site is not meant to equate active listeners with mental health professionals, but to simply highlight that there are a good number of licensed mental health professionals on the site.


"Founded by clinical psychologist Glen Moriarty".

What a fantastic name for the founder of a company providing moral support to those in trouble.


I found the "browse a listener" page confusing and hard to filter. One, the multi-column patchwork effect is visually messy and hard to parse. I don't know how to fix it but perhaps a single stack of page-width rectangles?

Second, many of the listeners are "Unavailable" -- there should be a way to filter it to only the available ones. If a client wants to speak to a particular person, it would be helpful to know they were unavailable, but for a general browse, those entries are not helpful. (Just that many more people who don't want to talk to me, <sniff>...)

Third, I couldn't see how the category filters (Addiction, etc) changed much if anything. Is it that most listeners are ready to handle all those topics?

Fourth, the browse feature could benefit from a keyword search to cover those categories you haven't thought of as filters -- e.g. I'd like to know how many, if any, listeners call themselves "atheist" or "liberal".


Thank you for the feedback. We have the messages tool available so you can message a listener to set up a time to connect if they are currently unavailable.


I think this is a great idea. I want to offer some design feedback and advice. This is just my opinion, but I hope it can be of help in some way.

-The testimonial scroll is a little awkward and hard on the eyes as it moves. My suggestion would be to have a fade in/fade out, or a much quicker animation

-There is quite a lot going on in the navigation bar (many different options + sub-options). My suggestion would be to narrow it down significantly to maybe 3 - 4 of the most important menu items.

-I think the "satisfaction guaranteed" thing can go. There can probably be some better messaging or use of real estate here to establish trust.

-I think there could probably be a better way to present the large image with text on top on the home screen (for example, see airbnb.com or screenleap.com). Visual design thing so it's kind of subjective.

Otherwise, really strong work. If you'd like more design help see my contact info in my profile.


I had a breakdown in my late 20's. The only thing that helped me was Time. Stay away from Anyone who takes your Money away from you. Yes--many Psychiatrists, and Psychologists have been conditioned into believing they are helping you. They will take your last cent. My condition was extreme daily anxiety, which morphed into depression; because my life fell apart. Things will get better with Time. For some reason, the brain heals slowly. I'm just commenting on Depression and Anxiety. This is just my experience; you might have better results.


Time? Is this some service I am unaware of, or are you simply saying "take some time to heal"


I think this is a great use of technology that can change the lives of its users forever. You can't get more disruptive then this.

I really hope it succeeds as I've become really worried about the number of suicidal posts I've seen on HackerNews lately. I've noticed on 3 separate occasions in the last month alone posts from severely depressed hackers usually titled something along the lines of 'want to give up'.

While I think its great that hackers can come together to support each other, I'm guessing most of us are not trained psychologists.


I think the support on this community is actually a huge strength. People in general really try to help people when they post about feeling depressed or suicidal. It is always great to read an update post several months later when the person is through it and doing better. Our site can further help by taking things a step further.


Good to see this. Not a new idea but not seen anybody execute well on this, yet. Have looked for and used a similar tool in the past, to refer friends to, and act as a listener. paul is correct but might be underestimating your TAM! I'm concerned that you might spread yourself across too "segments". Do you have plans, or enough insight yet, to concentrate on beachhead?


Damn, I'm not in the States. I'd love to sign up to this and help people looking to reach out. Hopefully they scale.


We will! Thanks :)


Wow. That's an absolutely fantastic idea, in fact probably one of the most interesting ideas for a YC company I've seen for a while.

There's a lot of risks involved, but if they do it properly and take the security risks, and system abuse risks seriously from the outset it could be a really useful tool in getting people help.


There is a science fiction story where there exists a network of anonymous listening "terminals" - supposedly anonymous for both listener and speaker (in the end not so much for the latter). Anybody here remember a title that describes that scenario?


I've clicked the link out of curiosity. Ended up chatting with one of the listeners for 2 hours... Well, actually almost all the chatting was done by me, listener was...listening. :) Man, it feels good to spill it out! Great service, thank you!


Glad you tried it out and experienced a sense of relief! That is exactly what we are aiming for!


Mental health is too much of a niche market. We need people to focus on the real problems faced by everyday people, such as: Which unlicensed taxi service will get me from SOMA to the Mission the fastest? </snark>


My only criticism here is the name, as it's implicitly suggesting that it's a good idea for people with anxiety issues to drink a lot of tea. (When in fact caffeine generally makes anxiety/depression worse.)


I think it varies from person to person. At least for me, coffee helps to concentrate better, and as a result I work more effectively and am less distracted by depressing thoughts, therefore at least temporarily reducing depression.


I have a friend that was /very/ recently diagnosed with type 2 bipolar disorder. She really needs people to speak with, and I'm excited to pass this along to her. Kudos, team!


Thanks! We actually just formalized a partnership with the International Bipolar Foundation.


Interesting, and similar to https://spillnow.com/, which I think is targeted more towards college students.


This sounds a little bit similar to The Samaritans, a charitable organisation in the UK.

http://www.samaritans.org/


These guys came out of Start Norfolk( www.facebook.com/startnorfolk ). Love what they are doing! Great founder and team, serious solution to a huge problem area.


I'm curious, what qualifications are required to become a listener? Do you have to be a mental health professional? Do you have to live in the United States?


A number of startups sound exciting, but this may be the first one I would also describe as heartwarming. I really hope you go far.


I appreciate that. Thank you!


Very excited to hear from companies in the Southeast VA region - and TC-covered, YC companies, no less!


I would be happy to be a listener, but I'm based in Scandinavia. Do you have any use for me?


Jonas, thank you for your interest. Please stay tuned.




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