Startup offers e-commerce platform for therapy of the mind
Li Zhen is better known as Jian Lili the founder and CEO of Jiandan Xinlii (My Therapist, or easy therapy), a startup that created an e-commerce platform for psychotherapy services.
“Many people see the platform as an online counseling service, which is not what we do,” says Li.
“We are trying to provide a platform where professional psychotherapists can gather, receive professional training and provide help to those in need. And the internet is the platform of all this.”
The 31-year-old psychotherapist and entrepreneur walks fast, yet speaks quietly and slowly, pausing from time to time.
Ten years ago, Li was the kind of girl that many people would dream of becoming.
She got her bachelor’s degree in English language and literature in 2006, at the age of 19, well before many of her peers started university.
Speaking about her venture, she says: “I founded the platform not just to be an entrepreneur, but also for myself as a counselor.
“I wanted to conduct psychotherapy in a more professional way.”
Looking back, Li describes her experience of becoming an entrepreneur as a series of experiences which connected accidentally -starting with a blank in her mind about what she wanted to do.
She says that when she was about to embark on her master’s degree in the United Kingdom, there were two areas that interested her -- the media industry and psychology.
“I was so young and barely had any idea about what I truly wanted to do,” she says.
She eventually chose to study psychology, partly because of a family tradition -- her mother is a psychotherapist.
“I was interested in the subject,” she says.
“It was not like psychology is the only thing I wanted to study, but it was something that made me happy.”
In 2006, Li enrolled at the University of London as a postgraduate student, studying cognitive neuroscience, as the only student from the Chinese mainland in her class, at the age of 19.
She was so young that when her supervisor first met her, he said to Li: “Oh, so you are the young talent from China.”
Li returned to Beijing with a master’s degree in 2007 and started work at a university’s psychological counseling center where, with two colleagues, she dealt with student mental problems and educated teachers and faculty members about basic psychology.
That was when she started to learn about psychotherapy in China.
“The university I worked at was professional about improving the students’ mental health. Yet when I reached out to many privately established clinics, I noticed many bad practices that could bring harm both to the industry and to those who came for help.”
One of the things that affected her most was that many clinics said: “We promise to resolve your problem and clear your confusion with seven sessions of counseling.”
Li said this created a severe misunderstanding about psychotherapy.
“Psychotherapy is about building a long-term relationship between the client and the therapist, and through the relationship helping the client discover a way of thinking to tackle uncomfortable parts,” she says.
“The idea of resolving a problem within a fixed number of consultations is not the point of psychotherapy,” she says.
“Yet the fact is when people turn to psychotherapy for help, they usually have certain problems in mind that they desperately need to get resolved.”
The advertisements started her thinking about a startup, which she described as “providing the kind of counseling to people who want it”.
Li then started with writing her ideas and reflections on Doubreak ban.com, a popular social media website, and gained followers who were interested in and agree with her ideas about psychotherapy.
Li and several of her friends then rented an office as their counseling room, and Li started to do individual counseling in her spare time.
It was her experience at Draper University, an entrepreneurship program that provides startup boot camp and courses in business for entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley in 2014 that encouraged her to establish her own business.
“I took an eight-week course there during my winter break that year simply because I wanted to take a after working at the university for six years,” she says.
“The courses and people I met there made me feel more resolute about the fact that I needed to do something that genuinely interests me.”
The course ended with a presentation that required each student to design a business startup and pitch to investors.
“The idea of a platform like My Therapist had been in my mind for quite some time, and my preparation for that presentation was basically to organize and write down all the steps in my mind and see it as my real startup.”
Tim Draper, the founder and president of Draper University, was in the audience when Li presented her project, after finalizing her studies.
Two months later, he became one of the three investors in Li’s Jiandanxinli startup, and their cooperation still continues. The program was also Draper’s second investment in China.
By 2017, the online platform of My Therapist had taken on about 500 therapists, where therapists have opportunities for further study, and provide paid video counseling to those in need through the internet.
The platform defines itself as “We are here to help those searching for mental health, and to find psychotherapists that are appropriate for them.”
Looking back, Li has a different perspective on how to define the platform she started.
“When I first started this I believed I was working to set up a better standard in the psychotherapy services, and we were there improve the environment in China,” says Li.
“But it was over the years that I realized that psychological counseling enjoys a comprehensive social support system in more developed countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Yet, in China, the whole system has not been fully established so far. So, I think that for now we are just working to provide services to those who are searching for them, and we must work together to gradually improve the environment in the industry.”
Psychotherapy is about building a long-term relationship between the client and the therapist, and through the relationship helping the client discover a way of thinking to tackle uncomfortable parts.”