This time last year they were getting ready to submit their thesis project and then graduate the Executive MBA. Now, 12 months later, what started as an idea in a course has developed into a project that keeps getting more and more traction. Meet Acertivo, the online platform for emotional well-being in the workplace, developed by Irina Paraschiv, RO8 alumna and her friends, Anton Ghercă and Lucian Ghindă.
We recently spoke to Irina about the project, their development so far and future plans.
Tell us a bit about Acertivo. What does the platform do and how did you come up with the idea?
When people feel bad, their work is bad. Acertivo is the online platform for emotional well-being in the workplace and beyond. We are enabling people to build new emotional skills and the mindset fundamental to a fulfilling and productive life. Think of it as a digital gym for your mind’s fitness.
The platform helps the user develop emotional skills through a library of self-paced Guided Tracks, discover and discuss new topics in Weekly Meetups or tackle current issues through individual sessions with a licensed psychotherapist or coach.
It is a B2B solution sold under a monthly subscription model to companies that want to boost wellbeing, job satisfaction and productivity within their workforce.
How did you have the idea?
The idea came up during the EMBA looking at the solutions that exist right now for people to manage their emotional health. I have been a psychotherapist for almost 10 years and over the past years I witnessed many people coming into therapy seeking help for anxiety, depression or burnout, which are all related to workplace stress.
There are very limited solutions in Romania to address emotional health in the workplace. The subject is stigmatized and put under the rug, even though it is visible when people feel anxiety, feel demotivated, don’t communicate, or communicate poorly with one another. The funny thing is that everyone knows that emotions play a big role both in thriving and in poor emotional health, but either they don’t know how to talk about it or they develop all sorts of other useless ways to deal with this such as more meetings, endless feedback loops and so on.
Acertivo is there to make emotional healthcare available to everyone, in their own time, at their own pace, with strong evidence-based content and personal assistance. A user can start any topic, use whichever order of content they feel is useful to them and a therapist is always there customizing the experience as they go along so that they receive more than a collection of information and practice, but a truly unique personal development experience.
What happened next, how did it progress from idea to launch? How long did it take to create the platform with all functionalities?
Well…I can say that it felt like a really long way, even though we’re still just at the beginning. Probably it’s a common thing amongst entrepreneurs, the frustration that you have so many ideas and plans for your product but it takes much more time to see them live than you’d wish.
The first time the idea saw the light was actually in 2019, during the Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship class from the Executive MBA. Together with my colleagues, we’ve managed to give it a shape, put it in writing and pitch it at the exam in Prague, in front of real-life investors. And, what do you know, we’re received very encouraging feedback and a morale boost in the form of an invitation to join an incubator in Prague. We had to skip it, as relocating was not an option at the moment, but this gave us hope.
After Prague, the business idea was researched further with subject matter experts from the industry for my EMBA thesis. And then we started looking for founders with complementary experience to start the project.
Fast forward 1 year we won Best Innovation award at How to Web Demo Nights Bucharest edition, fast forward 6 months we have just launched our MVP and implementing the platform with our very own first early-adopter client.
It took about 6 months to develop the technical platform as it is now and just about the same to create and adapt the content. All this happening during a lockdown, a pandemic, 2 toddlers amongst the founders and well, COVID stuff.
We still have a long road ahead of us and I am happy to see that companies are eager to approach emotional health in a more straightforward manner.
Acertivo is a partnership – what roles do you each have in the project?
We are now a core team of only three people, so the roles aren’t exactly hard defined, and we are all pitching in wherever we can. I am in charge of content development and, in the role of the psychotherapist, with user assistance. Anton Ghercă is focused on product and business development while Lucian Ghindă is our technical wizard, turning ideas about features and user experience into real-life functionalities. We are all involved in strategy, sales, and the day to day operations.
What’s important is that we all have our own personal experiences with emotional health, so this subject is meaningful to all of us. Probably that is why we are determined to make a difference in this area.
What are your objectives for the future of the partnership?
According to recent studies, 1 in 4 employees name the job as the biggest stressor in their life and close to 40% say that emotional distress is the number one cause of their lack of productivity. We want those numbers to improve, by enabling organizations to add wellbeing to the life of their employees, not subtract it.
Our big hairy audacious goal is to make emotional health services a standard benefit in the workplace of the 21st century. Not only because it’s the ethical thing to do for the employee, but also because it makes a lot of financial sense for the company.
What are your thoughts about entrepreneurship so far? What’s the best and not so great about it?
Although this is our first start-up venture, we have some previous experience in the field of entrepreneurship. I have been managing my private practice for almost 10 years, Lucian is a freelancer and Anton has had his share of intrapreneurial projects.
I think that the best part is the freedom to innovate, to come up with ideas and execute them as you go along. There is nothing better than having an idea in the morning and seeing it implemented by the end of the week. Also, it is a great source for renewed motivation and personal satisfaction. You get to build something that you really believe in, you believe in its utility to the world.
The worst part is that there is no break. Entrepreneurship looks more like a non-stop job than the idealized version in which you’re making your own schedule, getting into the car and going to the beach whenever you like. The reality is that it takes a healthy amount of discipline to stop, to set boundaries and avoid burnout.
Did you think the EMBA helped you in developing the project? What are the courses you found most interesting?
I truly believe that Acertivo wouldn’t have existed if it hadn’t been for the EMBA. Both me and Anton are alumni and the program gave us the knowhow and the mentorship to begin. But most of all, it gave us the confidence that we can achieve this and the safety net to fall unto.
For me, Finance, Economics and Entrepreneurship were game-changers. It was a different perspective from the one I had up to that point, and it gave me a broader view of the world around me. Of course, I especially enjoyed Critical Thinking, Leadership & Change management as they were closer to my alley as a therapist, but with a fresh pair of eyes.
Do you have any advice for future entrepreneurs?
Start sooner rather than later, because you will hit the side of the road sooner than you think. I’m just kidding, just start. It’s a hell of a ride. It’s personal development on fast forward. Getting used to rejection helps. You will get countless no’s from experts, investors, clients and users. Just keep looking for the ones who see value in what you’re building. And use every feedback to bring more value into your product.
It’s ok to doubt yourself. It’s ok to doubt your idea. But if you push through the hurdle you get to experience every small step as a sizable victory. And remember, you’re doing this because you wanted to do it in the first place.
You can find more details about Acertivo on their website: www.acertivo.com.
Our 11th intake of the Executive MBA is currently being filled by determined entrepreneurs and managers, starting the courses this November. Find out more about it and see if it’s right for you.