Marius Rus, founder of StressLess–the startup behind Tully, sat down with me for a discussion around wearable technologies for children with ADHD, autism, and other mental health conditions. He also shared his tips and lessons learned from founding two startups, plus much more.
Here is a sneak peek of our conversation:
Q: You started a company called StressLess and developed a wearable called Tully. Tell us a little bit about what it was like getting that started and tell us a little bit about what the company is and does.
A: Absolutely. It took quite long to get it started. We actually started looking at it around four years ago. The first six months were just researching, thinking about whether or not there is a market, how would we put it into operation, and then the next and the biggest challenge that we had initially was finding people to build it. I’m coming from the strategy and finance area and Adina is coming from Academia and from psychology. We knew what we wanted to do, we knew how to use it, and how to help children with that but we still needed somebody to build it for us.
It took us more than a year to find the right team as Co-founders and the right technical team. We have Co-founders that are specialized in hardware, prototyping, and in embedded software development. It was long because it was very niche, at least within the center of Eastern Europe. When you’re looking at software development, there are a lot of people. When you’re looking at hardware, it’s not so many, especially when you’re looking at somebody that has the experience and the resilience to do it as a start-up.
There’s a difference, I’ve seen it in both San Francisco and Romania. There’s a huge difference in how you create a start-up. When you’re looking at the Bay Area, on one hand, the culture is in such a way that everybody is doing a second or even a third project besides whatever they are doing. It’s not so spread out in Eastern Europe. Also, you have a lot of people that are able to do it, to rely on saving. And the savings part is not necessarily the best here. Also, funding is much easier in the west coast of US, not only in the West coast, but it’s definitely much easier than here. For us, it took longer because for the first couple of years we were bootstrapped completely but we also had to work for a living. It was only a part-time involvement. Also, hardware is hard and it’s expensive so it took us a lot of experimentation to do it.
We started out with the idea that we can do only the software part. We were thinking we were going to use some kind of off-the-shelf wearable to work with, but we couldn’t find anything that was suitable.
To come back to the second part of your question about what we’re actually doing, we are focusing on emotion management and emotion recognition. You have a huge area of sensor integration disorder. ADHD and children is only one niche out of it where people with that condition are maybe too obvious or too immediate. They might want to get things a little bit under control, and it’s not only for mental health, this is something that applies to everybody. There are a lot of people who want to have more control over their emotional reactions than they actually have because they feel that they are a little bit too reactive to whatever they need to do.
What we are doing is that our wearable tracks a wide range of physiological indicators. We are using this to forecast these high-density emotional reactions. When Tully does something like that and tracks and forecasts an oncoming emotional flare, it alerts the wearer and the wearer goes through whatever type of coping mechanism or calming exercise they already know how to do.
Whenever you’re talking about high density of emotion management or regulation, you are looking at two things. One is what you can do; what you have to do to kind of settle down and the other is when to apply that method. The first part is usually quite easy. There are a lot of exercises on respiration, movement, and even some kind of almost meditation type of exercises that can help you calm yourself and bring everything under control. The big problem is recognizing when you need to do that and Tully does exactly that. Basically, it works as an external observer and alerts whoever is wearing it that “Yeah, you might need to calm down because I know you’re getting heated.”
For more of our discussion, you can watch the whole Fireside Chat with Marius Rus, or listen to the podcast version, below.
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