Startup Reporter publishes a new article of the series “Startup Journey: from 0 to 1” about eQuoo Game. In this series of articles, we aim at presenting founders not only through their innovative projects but also by talking about their personality and the team.
Oleksandr Komarevych (OK): – Silja, please tell me what eQuoo Game is doing? Where did the idea come from and why in this period?
Silja Litvin: – We develop evidence-based mental health games that support people in their personal growth, acts preventatively for those in vulnerable positions (and who isn’t right now, given the third COVID lockdown?!), and treats low-level depression and anxiety.
The startup started as part of my PhD thesis: I was really shocked at the current state of mental health care (only 35% of the population gets the mental health care they need) and wanted to design a tool that people could use and wasn’t too expensive.
OK: – What are you working on right now?
Silja: – We just launched our second game: eQuoo, the Next Generation – LODESTAR. It has 52 more levels, better gameplay, the content is written by Marvel and DC comics writer Arie Kaplan and we have a dynamic chatbot that gives players extra feedback on their mental wellbeing.
OK: – The team is vital for a startup at any stage. Who is in your team? Could you tell us about the uniqueness of each team member?
Silja: – So far we’re a very small team, with me and my co-founder, Vanessa Hirsch-Angus, our game designer, game artist, content writer and front and back-end developer. Vanessa is my COO and a powerhouse coming from an insurance (AXA) and private equity background. Interestingly enough, half my team are women, and it’s an absolute joy working with them.
OK: – How would you describe your team in one word?
Silja: – Kick-ass
OK: – What is your plan for the next six months? What is your vision for 5 years from now?
Silja: – We pivoted to B2B in the last 6 months and are now selling the next-generation version to corporate for their employee wellbeing. The next 6 months are all about scale.
Regarding the next 5 years, we’re looking to enhance the clinical effectiveness, moving towards digital pharmaceuticals, build out the game mechanics and add disorders to the game. Currently, we enhance resilience, relationship skills, personal growth skills and lower depression and anxiety.
OK: – Often, in an interview, I ask why you choose this project and not others, why where you so interested in this specific topic.
Going a long way around, this brings to the questions:
- What kind of child were you?
- Did you have someone who influenced you?
Silja: – I’ve wanted to be a psychologist since I was 12: we moved around a lot when I was a child, and I always thought of human behaviour as erratic and chaotic. When my sister got a book about body language for her birthday, it blew my mind.
Thankfully, over the years, my love for psychology and research only grew. But I’m not your typical psychologist, having travelled the world as a model for 17 years, I really wanted to do something completely new: hence the gaming.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, I say it takes a city to build a startup. I have many mentors and people who have helped, influenced and shaped my journey.
Just to name a few: Jag Singh, my Techstars director, Julian Pittam, my very first mentor/investor, Jon Harris, my mentor and investor now, Keith Gibbs, ex-AXA CEO and advisor, Professor Markus Maier, my PhD supervisor.
I know I have forgotten a lot of really important people: I have been blessed by the people I’ve bumped into over the years.
OK: – Describe the conversation when you first mentioned to your husband that you wanted to start eQuoo.
Silja: – When I met my now-partner, I already had the startup for a few months, but it was a mere vision without funding. He has always been supportive up to the point of pushing me towards growth.
I think the most remarkable moment was when I was telling him about feeling vulnerable and imposter syndrome about an aspect of my business. He practically kicked my butt and said that it was because I hadn’t worked my way deep enough into the subject matter. I sat down for the next few weeks, and he was right: I never felt that exposed again.
OK: – Why did you become a founder (startupper) and what should anyone develop in him/herself to become a founder?
Silja: – I think 17 years of travelling the world and managing my own book got me used to a level of freedom that would make it hard for me to do a 9-5 job. That and the additional combination of commercial and academic was the ideal making grounds to some unusual approach to therapy.
Anyone who wants to start a startup needs a thick skin, too. I’m sure that years of castings rejections prepped my for all the investment rejections that I run into: I don’t take it personally and take one step at a time.
OK: – What would you recommend to readers who have an idea, but haven’t figured out where to start yet?
Based on your experience, what would be your advice to them?
- Be very clear about your vision: do you know what you really want to create?
- Research: make sure it doesn’t already exist
- Business model: no one is going to fund your hobby – make sure you have a valid business model
- Immerse yourself in the startup world: here you will learn through relationships, events and experts
- Find advisors/mentors: successful people love supporting individuals with drive and passion, keep asking, you will find a lot of help
- Get in an incubator or accelerator: if you’re not a business person, like me, you can learn a lot of things by joining one
- Hang in there and kill your lovelies if need be: don’t get too attached to an idea or product. You may have to redesign or even kill it
OK: – What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have significantly influenced your life?
“The Power of Now“. It’s the book that has influenced my life the month and triggered the most growth. I love to share that with friends and family.
Love Factually, Dr Duane Welsh
Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Rocket Surgery Made Easy, Steve Krug
OK: – What purchase of €100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
Silja: – I have 5-month-old twins, the book “Dear Parents, Caring for Infants with Respect” by Magda Gerber has been a goldmine and good for my mental health as well as that of my children (I hope, lol).
OK: – If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why?
Silja: – That’s funny: I actually often fantasize of advertising on the Tube and in tube stations. I would love to see people playing a mental health game like eQuoo on the tube instead of popping bubbles.
OK: – What did you learn from being a founder?
Silja: – I learned about my ability to work long and hard hours, and that I have access to a seemingly never-ending pool of resilience.
I like to think my spirit animal is a cockroach – I’ll be the last woman standing.
OK: – If the old you could see the new you, what would the new you say?
Silja: – Enjoy the ride and do something about your anxiety sooner.
OK: – What would you like to wish the readers?
Silja: – Never stop working on yourself: We’re all sitting on a vast treasury of talent, creativity, and potential.
We just need to work past the thresholds of unbeneficial psychological habits and thinking that is hindering us.
We might not end where we think we want to go, but it will be beautiful.