Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Kelly Marzoli is a fierce advocate for mental health awareness, reform, and suicide prevention. After losing friends to suicide, Kelly and Juliet Meskers founded an organization called Mental Health Global Network, to prioritize mental health on an equivalent level to physical health. MHGN provides Mental Health Intervention Training (like CPR for mental health) & Mental Health First Aid Kits.
We are B2B, we provide training and kits to organizations such as corporate companies, universities, and schools, as well as non-profit organizations and groups. We’ve made about $30,000 so far and some of our clients include Madison Square Garden, Warner Music Group, University of Delaware, Salvation Army, and more.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
After both losing best friends to suicide, Juliet and I realized we needed to do something to prevent future tragedies. We realized our institutions include physical training (sexual harassment, CPR) but lack education on mental health. We missed the signs because we didn’t know how to help or what to look for because we were never formally educated on Mental Health. We both studied at the National Council for Behavioral Health and were trained in Mental Health Intervention and First Aid. We then teamed up with psychologists and psychiatrists to build a training like CPR but for mental health.
If a client or anyone wants to pay you for a service or product that you don’t have yet, go create it. Never say “no we don’t have that”. Just go make moves to make it.
As we were providing this training, people were asking for more coping tools and resources. Just like every facility has a physical first aid kit on hand, we created a Mental Health First Aid Kit with coping tools for anxiety, stress, and sensory overload.
The aha moment was in working in the non-profit space, realizing there were a lot of efforts to spread awareness, but not anything concrete happening in terms of prevention. We got in touch with local universities and held our first session, the word spread from there. Now we’ve done more than 50 training and have trained more than 3,000 individuals. We were both working in corporate America before quitting our jobs to pursue this full-time.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
We had an outline of what we believed was important to include in the training and kit, then we had several meetings with the psych team to develop the content further. We also gauged responses from our survey after every training and made appropriate changes to make the training more concise and relatable.
We tried lots of different items within the kit, put new items in, took items up, developed the essential oil and playdough formula further. It was definitely difficult to order 9 products. When we have a large order, there is a lot of inventory, labeling, and shipping efforts. We are still working on a trademark so we can get our products on Amazon.
We are still doing everything ourselves and our apartments.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Our launch wasn’t a planned release, we were asked to perform training and then referred to more clients. We had to be ready once the demand was there. We created our product and then performed our services about 2 weeks later.
We financed the business with our personal money. We did not take on any funding. We learned some hard lessons but luckily we didn’t have to put too much money out, the business-funded itself.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
My biggest advice is to be a yes-person and to fake it until you make it. If a client or anyone wants to pay you for a service or product that you don’t have yet, go create it. Never say “no we don’t have that”. Just go make moves to make it. Our business has expanded. We started with in-person training, then evolved to Zoom from a 2-hour program to 30-45 minute programs.
We were asked to perform a Diversity and Inclusion training, so we built it. We were asked to do a Grief of Suicide Program, so we developed it. Social media has been our biggest revenue source, but we still need to be more strategic.
We post consistent “free” content about mental health in general so our page is never too gimmicky. This helps us engage with our audience. We have worked on cold outreach, but it rarely gets us anywhere. We are more focused on creating content that leads the customer to us. Word of mouth and referrals has also been a great driver.
Unless someone is literally making us money for the company, I don’t trust or need their opinion. The proof is in the pudding, if someone “really believes” in us, they’ll help us and make introductions that lead to income.
Our certificates encourage annual renewal, but our partners often have a turnover of individuals that need to be trained. Most clients have an annual need for our services: schools have orientation every semester, companies always have new employees to onboard. We are also working with legislators to mandate our training, in the same way, sexual harassment is a requirement. This will really encourage clients to implement our training.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The pandemic has really brought mental health to the forefront. Our society realizes now is the time to talk about mental health and implement programs like ours. We are profitable and for the first time, we’re able to re-invest our funds back into the business.
Our margins for the training are 100% profit because the founders teach the course and we provide the training on zoom, so every time we provide training there is no cost. The Kit margins are about 64% since we have to buy so many products. When we have large purchase orders, we can cut our costs down, but it requires quantity. We minimize our expenses by ordering inventory to order. Our average monthly traffic is about 500 visitors a month on our website.
Right now we aren’t spending on customer acquisition or ads, but we are filming a PSA that we will buy ad space for.
We do not have any employees, it is just me and my Co-Founder, our advisory board, and our independent contractors (psych team).
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I learned to be more defensive and not to trust people. We’ve built this from the ground up, but we recently got some bad advice and got very distracted. We were convinced to take on investors and paid lots of lawyers’ fees and spent tons of time meeting with VCs and in the end, we never took on investors, so it was just a waste of time and money.
We needed to drive revenue- no one is going to make your business dreams come true except you. Also, no one knows your business better than you, we had people come in telling us to change things when they never even sat in on one of our programs. I wish I trusted my instincts more and didn’t let people in. This was a big financial and timing setback. We got distracted from our clients because we were more focused on getting the company funded, but we never actually needed investor money for anything at all.
Now I know that unless someone is literally making us money for the company, I don’t trust or need their opinion. The proof is in the pudding, if someone “really believes” in us, they’ll help us and make introductions that lead to income. If not it’s all fluff and I don’t care how nice someone is or how much they say they love what we’re doing, if they’re not actually contributing financially or with effort, it means nothing to me.
It’s helpful to give myself structure and work a 9-5 even though I don’t have to. The hardest part is turning the work off. Especially working online and from home. But it’s important to set those boundaries for my own mental health.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We also use Fiverr frequently to outsource videos, lead lists, and other services.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
We love listening to How I built this (Guy Raz business podcast) - it’s inspiring to hear the stories and dos and don’ts of successful businesses. We also love undercover boss and undercover millionaire (tv). It helps to listen to positive stories that normalize the struggle of being an entrepreneur and overcoming mistakes.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
My biggest advice is to just go for it and make moves. You don’t need to wait for the perfect moment, you just need to respond to demand and learn as you go. Find the right people to help you, but at the end of the day, trust yourself and your instincts. It’s hard but when the success of the company is on the line you need to do what’s best.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking for unpaid passionate individuals to join our team and help with sales. There are opportunities to gain commission for referrals. We are also always looking for guests on our podcast Brains Out Loud.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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