I had the chance to sit down with Kunal Gupta, founder and CEO of Polar, a trusted-web platform provider for global media publishers. He is a member of the Board of Directors at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada (CAMH) which is an organization with over 3,000 team members operating a hospital, providing mental health education and advocacy in Canada, and has one of the largest research teams in the world focused on understanding and solving mental health conditions.
Kunal’s passion or MindTech is unparalleled. He has met with and maintained relationships with over 150 founders and entrepreneurs who are actively building in the space and has access to some of the best minds in the world on the topic of mental health.
In this episode, we have a very frank and honest two-way conversation about mental health and our personal journeys. As the conversation unfolds, Kunal shares about his mental health journey, and how becoming mindful of his mental wellbeing made him a better entrepreneur, a better leader and a better CEO.
If you want to hear more from Kunal, check him out on his blog at www.findfocustoday.com
Some of the key takeaways from my conversation with Kunal Gupta:
The framework helps us think about where entrepreneurs are solving within the spectrum of mental illness, to mental wellness and to mental performance. I believe this framework is key to understanding the problem sets, solutions, customers, payers, and strategy for solving problems with startups in this industry.
3:35 – A framework for understanding suffering and our default state / the human condition. We as humans like to ignore our suffering which invites the use of substances, addiction, etc. This takes us to a place of ignorance. Ignorance feels good, but ignorance leads to more suffering.
“Am I doing this to become more aware or am I doing it to ignore?”
8:25 – Discussion of addiction interaction and the “periodic chart of the addictions.”
9:05 – What does all of this mean for our current state of tech addiction?
10:30 – Facebook is an addiction we can indulge, and not get in trouble for it.
11:00 – What if we walked around with a sign over our head that said how much we used Facebook today, or what if our Facebook profile said how much we used Facebook today. What if we socially pressured each other to use social media less?
11:25 – Facebook is killing part of our human experience very slowly. Attention span. Quality of our relationships and connections. Surface level conversations. Everything is curated for us.
12:07 – What do we think about good addictions like meditation? Any time you chose to avoid dealing with a feeling, it is unhealthy.
13:33 – Kunal stopped drinking alcohol 5 years ago. He’s the guy that got hammered and said, “I’ll never drink again” and he actually did it. I’ve always wanted to find that guy. Alcohol was taking him to a state of ignorance, and meditation was taking him to a place of awareness.
15:48 – Part of the meditation practice is accepting reality. The balance of peace comes with not being disappointed when I don’t meditate enough, nor being too excited when I meditate more.
16:45 – It took time for me to build the confidence to sit with my thoughts for longer and longer periods of time. When you become more aware, you may not like some of what you become more aware of. Awareness does not discriminate.
18:10 – What do you do when negative thoughts come up for you during a meditation? Kunal talks about how he works to go deeper in the meditation to find the goodness in it.
19:30 – How has meditation impacted you? Kunal talks about how meditation has not necessarily made him calmer, but it has made him more aware. Then we get into when he began meditating and how his dedication to meditating has evolved over the last 5 years.
21:31 – What are the benefits of meditation and increased awareness? It’s like strength training for the mind. It’s not how I feel when I meditate, it’s how I feel when I’m not meditating. Misconception that meditation is “not thinking” which is a lie. IF you think you can clear your mind, then you are lying to yourself. Meditation is thinking. It’s becoming more aware of the thoughts in my mind. Once I’m more aware, I can accept the thoughts.
22:55 – How has meditation helped you as an entrepreneur and CEO? Kunal talks about how he has been running his business for over a decade. There have been many chapters and iterations. The business is called the same thing as it was in the beginning, but his relationship with the business and his identity with the business has changed as he has cultivated greater self-awareness. Then he gives an awesome example of how he has handled losing customers pre-meditation and post-meditation (before turning inward, and after turning inward).
27:21 – How do we as a startup ecosystem help founders find their way to more awareness and mindfulness? We discuss how it’s like the difference between living with the lights on or living with the lights off. This is the difference between having awareness, and meditation in your life versus not having it at all.
29:03 – The best teachers Kunal has come in contact with embody the practice. It comes across in their presence, language, etc. The best way to inspire anyone to look inward is for them to come into contact with people who embody the practice. We can write and read about meditation all we want. It’s not until we experience it, or see someone who embodies it, that we can understand it maybe become more open to it.
31:16 – Are there solutions in the tech space, around mental health? What should we be building to help people with mental health?
32:05 – Mental health applies to all people. Kunal developed this spectrum of mental health, illness and wellness that can help us frame the space. We talk about what needs to be built in the space and how it depends on where you want to solve in the spectrum (mental illness, mental health and mental wellness).
33:30 There will be no point solution that solves the mental health problem for everyone. An entire ecosystem is needed around this problem set.
34:00 – What does the mental health ecosystem look like today? Kunal talks about how he has met with over 150 entrepreneurs who are solving problems in this space right now. Most are using technology, some are using process improvements or organizational changes to solve a problem. Just about all of these founders are doing this from a place of passion and purpose versus profit. Passion is the main driver of problem solving in this space.
36:51 – What is bringing the influx of people to this industry now? We know a lot more about our physical health than we did 20-30 years ago. With our physical health we sort of “know what we don’t know.” We are starting to realize that in the mental health space it’s the ‘first inning’. We know so little, when it has such a big impact on so many societal issues. We are starting to realize how impactful mental health is on so many other societal issues.
39:20 – When you practice mindfulness, it is very hard to connect with the idea of failure, because you see goodness in everything. It doesn’t mean that everything is good. That’s very different. But when you see reality as it is, then you can choose how to connect to it and relate to it.
40:37 – Kunal talks about tech evolution in the space. He makes the comparison to the cell phone industry and how phones started as large clunky devices and over 40 years they evolved into power smart phones that fit in our pocket. There were three major evolutions in cell phone development. With MindTech, we are in that first stage of tech development with suitcase-sized phones. The bridge to the next phase is data. Once we get the data, we can start to look at signals. The data may not be perfect, but having any data, is better than none. Data will accelerate us from “suitcase-sized phones” to flip phones. Then we still must evolve to the “smart phone” generation of MindTech.
42:45 – How did you, Kunal, find your way from B2B Software to a passion for the MindTech space? Kunal talks about how a couple of years ago he wrestled with this idea of why he meditates. The answer seemed to be “to obtain more awareness” and “gain more acceptance of others.” But then he realized that’s not it. He realized the purpose was to be of service. He is meditating and becoming more aware so that he can help others. As he merged his passion for mental health, and for technology, it’s a natural fit for him to be focused here.