This startup is focusing on mental well-being of the LGBTQ+ community

Founded in 2020, Mumbai-based Evolve is helping users improve their mental health through interactive content based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The app was recognised as part of ‘Google Play’s Best Of 2021’ in India.
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Mental health issues are difficult to identify and easy to dismiss. And with the stigma associated with mental health in our society, people often avoid or delay seeking treatment as they fear being judged. 

After being diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease, Anshul Kamath, who began his career in finance in London and later moved back to India in 2016 to start up, realised the importance of managing his mental health. He then decided to dedicate the next phase of his life to solve this problem. 

“Back in 2017, I started a passion project to help people with their mental health. Over the last three years, I’ve collaborated with leading psychologists, life coaches, and wellness experts, and facilitated workshops for thousands of individuals on mental well-being and personal growth. From college students to CEOs, I observed one common problem—no one knew how to manage their emotions, particularly their stress and anxiety, which stopped them from growing as individuals and leaders. I saw the need for a platform that was easy to use, accessible to all, and joyful,” recalls Anshul.

This is how the idea of Evolve was born. In 2020, Anshul joined hands with Rohan Arora, whom he met at a wine tasting event, to start Evolve. 

“Like me, Rohan was extremely passionate about working in the field of mental health, and for over a year, we spent time understanding each other’s core values, working styles, etc., before he came onboard officially as a co-founder,” says Anshul

The Mumbai-based startup aims to make mental health a priority for millions across the globe.

“The word ‘evolve’ signifies that all of us are on our individual journeys towards better well-being and no matter where we reach, there is always room for improvement,” says Anshul. 

The app and its proprietary interface help users improve their mental well-being through interactive content, based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Evolve was also recognised as part of ‘Google Play’s Best Of 2021’ in India, and has over 2,00,000 users from across the world at present.

App Screenshot

Focus on LGBTQ+ community

In 2021, the team, which has nine members, noticed the need to address mental health issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community. 

Anshul says, “The LGBTQ+ community is the most underserved segment in the mental health market in terms of their propensity to seek solutions versus the availability of products that actually address their needs. In spite of the high tendency to seek out mental health solutions, very few apps are built for this audience.” 

“One of the biggest trends we noticed, thanks to Google Play, was the need for mental health for the LGBTQ+ community. During the Pride Month last year (June 2021), we ran a few experiments on the Google Play Console testing out a more inclusive logo and branding. We noticed a big surge in our conversion rates and this trend continued even post Pride Month, helping us realise members of the community were naturally gravitating towards our app,” he adds.  

Even when it comes to therapists, many are not trained to understand the issues faced by people from the community, says Anshul. The number of queer-affirmative therapists is extremely low. Similarly, when it comes to digital mental health platforms and apps, most solutions are heteronormative and do not cater to the needs of members of the community. 

Hence, in February 2022, Evolve pivoted as an LGBTQ+ first app. It offers curated content specifically for members of the community including interactive introspections on ‘embracing their sexuality’ and ‘coming out to loved ones’.

The app has added a lot of contextualised content for the members of the community, particularly around the most pressing issues (for e.g., homophobia at home, exploring their gender identity or sexuality, etc). The team is also spending a lot of time with the users as well as queer affirmative therapists to understand how they can solve the mental health needs of the community.

Anshul adds, “We are seeing high levels of engagement and retention even from users who do not identify as part of the community. We also have members on our core team from the community and overall, and we took a decision to pivot towards the community in order to solve for this gap in the market.”

According to the founders, Evolve is possibly the only global mental health app that is LGBTQ+ first.

Evolve app

How it works?

Everything in Evolve is centered around creating a virtual safe space for its users where they can spend time exploring their thoughts, working on contextualised problems that impact their mental health, and building healthy habits—all without any fear of judgment.

One of the unique features of Evolve is the guided introspection sessions that are interactive and designed to simulate in-person sessions conducted by a therapist or a life coach. These are focussed on specific problems such as coming out to loved ones, dealing with homophobia at work, social anxiety, etc.

In these sessions, the platform structures the time a user spends on the app, asks them the right questions, and incorporates similar techniques and approaches that an expert would undertake. 

“Depending on the session and the issue, we decide what techniques to use when we design these sessions. For example, when dealing with specific issues for the LGBTQ+ community, the level of trauma is often much deeper and therefore a lot of trauma-informed techniques such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) or somatic work comes in,” says Anshul. 

“If it's more work-related issues such as dealing with imposter syndrome or self-esteem issues at work, then we tend to use more of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Apart from this, we also integrate other proven methods for better mental health into the product, including meditation and journaling to make the experience more holistic and allow our users to build positive habits,” he adds. 

Revenue and business model

The bootstrapped startup is working to close its first funding round very soon. While the app works on a freemium model, where it offers some services for free, parts of it are unlocked only when a user subscribes and pays. 

However, as an early-stage startup, its focus has been on ensuring it is solving the mental health needs of its users, particularly those in the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, all the features and content for the community are free for now. 

Growth and way ahead

Speaking about some of the learnings and challenges, Anshul states, “​​When we decided to pivot towards being an LGBTQ+ first app in January 2022, we knew we had a big learning curve ahead of us. We had to go back to the drawing board to build new user personas and begin to understand the mental health needs of the community, which are different from the needs we were solving for earlier.”

The team also had to ensure that the language across the app was queer affirmative, particularly when it came to being inclusive across gender identities. 

With over 200,000 users, Evolve sees India and North America as its leading markets as together these account for close to 80 percent of its user base. The rest of the users are from across the world.

Post its pivot as an LGBTQ+ first app, the startup noticed a significant increase in the number of users from the community without any targeted marketing. While around 65-70 percent of its new users in the US are part of the community, in India, around 35-40 percent of Evolve users are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Anshul credits Google Play for its growth as it has been actively recognising and promoting the app to potential users. 

“We’ve received a lot of support from the members of the Google Play team. Evolve is one of the featured apps on Google Play to celebrate Pride month in India this year, which is very special for us,” he adds.

The app has over 150,000 installs and a user rating of 4.7 on Google Play. The startup is also part of a cohort of 100 startups that are being trained as part of Appscale Academy, an initiative by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) Startup hub and Google. 

“This has been a truly enriching experience for us as we are getting mentored by Google and industry experts on product development, user growth, and varied aspects of building a successful app business for global audiences,” adds Anshul.

Over the next year, Evolve is going to focus on two key themes—building virtual safe spaces and communities to help users openly share their feelings with others going through similar issues, and allowing its users to track and measure their mental health. 

(The story was updated to tweak the headline)

Edited by Megha Reddy

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