This platform drives peer-to-peer conversations around mental health and wellbeing
IIT alumni Punita Mittal and Mahak Maheshwari are building SoulUp, a peer platform driving conversations and support groups around mental health and wellbeing. It recently received Rs 50 lakh in funding on Shark Tank India.
Eight years ago, after giving birth, Punita Mittal went through a lengthy period of depression. Only years later, doctors would diagnose her with post-partum depression.
“Unfortunately, seeking help and a late diagnosis meant that I pretty much suffered it over a prolonged period. At that time, I didn’t think of therapy, but I’m so glad that the world has changed in the last five years, and people are opening up about sharing their problems or the fact that they are going to a therapist or not feeling well emotionally,” she says.
Besides the lack of awareness or the stigma associated with seeking help, Mittal points out that no platform at that time could help her reach out to peers or have access to people who understood what she was going through.
This experience led her to team up with a friend, Mahak Maheshwari, to start—a peer platform that offers one-on-one conversations with trained peers on various aspects—from mental health, relationships, life choices, career/work, parenting, and more in a non-judgmental space.
It also features group conversations led by a mental health expert in the form of 75-minute online video conversations with people facing similar situations and challenges.
Recently, the founders pitched their platform on Shark Tank India, sparking conversations among Sharks like Anupam Mittal and Namita Thapar, who revealed they had mental health issues.
Thapar, the Executive Director of Emcure Pharmaceuticals, shared that she is a big advocate of support groups and counsellors and also offered SoulUp Rs 50 lakh in funding at 5% equity.
Maheswari, born and raised in Bhopal, completed her engineering at IIT-Bombay and went on to work at Bain & Company. She also built startups like WeDesi, a consumer snack brand, and Proactive for Her, a women’s health company.
“I wanted to continue building in healthcare, and when I met Punita through a mutual friend, the idea of SoulUp came up,” she says.
Building across the curve
“There are multiple reasons for building SoulUp. The market is divided into a therapist-centric model or content-led solutions. In some cases, platforms offer hybrid solutions. After a lot of research, we are focusing on building across the curve—where a lot of issues don’t require therapists but just peer intelligence,” she says.
Breaking it down from a layperson’s perspective, Maheswari explains, “SoulUp can be termed as a pure “conversations” network. If you are going through an emotional challenge, you’ll be able to discover someone who has first-hand experience with similar problems.”
At present, SoulUp offers one-on-one conversations and group conversations led by an expert. The founders prefer to keep it online as they found that several people are more comfortable with the medium and can connect better.
“The group conversations act as support groups around various challenges, including the impact of chronic health conditions, mental health conditions, or even of those undecided about having children. These are led by therapists,” Maheswari says.
Mittal reiterates that one-on-one conversations are fixed only after thorough checks. “We do not allow conversations when the client is in a triggered state. A screening form makes sure of their mental state. Also, it’s explained that the whole conversation is around peer connect and sharing of experiences, and the peer will not offer any advice.”
Most popular peer conversations on SoulUp centre around relationships, dating, parenting, caregiving, and diseases like kidney conditions and organ donation.
SoulUp has 300 peers on the platform trained by the Hank Nunn Institute in Bengaluru.
“Though organically onboarded, they go through an exhaustive verification process and are also asked for proof of diagnosis, following which they undergo mandatory training,” Mittal says.
Peer conversations are charged around Rs 199 to Rs 399 per session, and half of the fees are shared with the peers. Group conversations begin at Rs 1,000 for monthly-based subscriptions. So far, 1,200 people have signed up for one-on-one conversations since it was launched in February 2022. Most of the users come organically through Instagram and LinkedIn.
The founders believe that their appearance on Shark Tank India Season 2 will help the product scale. “Already, we have seen bookings increase for both our offerings. Namita (Thapar) with their experience in healthcare will be able to mentor us as we expand the platform and also look at institutional partnerships,” Maheswari says.
While the founders admit there is competition in the market, “they mostly focus on listening and do not necessarily have peer conversations for a shared context and shared experiences like SoulUp.”
Going forward, Maheswari and Mittal are looking at iterations to their product offering and expanding their peer network to 10,000 peers in a year and a half.
Edited by Suman Singh