Melissa Thompson left her Wall Street career as a trader with Goldman Sachs to follow her passion for entrepreneurship and social impact, founding TalkSession, an online counseling platform that uses cutting-edge technology to connect users with highly credible professionals for on-demand, mobile therapy and counseling sessions. She is a leader in the world of healthcare technology but remains humble and curious. Among her many community involvements and initiatives, she is a member of 37Angels, a community of women angel investors, a Board Advisor to the Flawless Foundation, a Technology Advisor to Newport Academy, and is on the Board of Directors of the Center for Health Innovation, leading the Women in Healthcare & Life Sciences initiative. Melissa is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post,
I caught up with Melissa to hear about her latest project, Quantified30, where she tried 30 healthcare devices in 30 days. You can read about her adventures at www.q30blog.com.
You tried 30 devices in 30 days, what was the inspiration behind this?
I created the Quantified 30 project for three reasons. The first? I was waking up exhausted every morning even though I was sleeping. I wanted to find the underlying cause, or at least something I could do to improve how I felt. I had exhausted the obvious reasons. The second relates to my startup. TalkSession is a telemedicine platform for remote therapy sessions. As the platform grows, I want to integrate biometric and contextual data around a person’s needs related to mental health and increase the healthcare provider’s knowledge of non-verbalized elements related to his or her patient. Lastly, I was frustrated that there were so many devices flooding the market and in comparing even just two of them, I noticed highly varied results. Since wearable devices are not subject to the same acuity trials as are diagnostic applications, I wanted to perform a small experiment (sample size = 1) to determine which metrics were most reliable.
Of all the apps and devices, which surprised you the most?
As a device, Lumoback was the most pleasantly surprising. The notion of wearing a buckled strap around one’s torso sounds awkward, but it was surprisingly comfortable, accurate and I would forget I was wearing it (until I slouched).
I had a surprise “moment” that led to my inappropriate laughter in a meeting. The FitBit One, randomly lit up with the scrolling words, “SMOOCHES MELISSA.” I am a big fan of positive reinforcement, but that unprompted love note was a bit out of context.
After 30 days, are there devices or apps you still use every day?
Yes! As for devices, I still wear Shine (best looking, most seamless) and Pebble (I like the ability to quickly screen if a phone call or message requires immediate attention). As for apps, I still use Sleep Cycle, and just started using Human, which is a great “starter tracker” and has also integrated transportation metrics into the timeline as well (maybe I can reduce the amount I spend on taxis!)
If you could create a sensor or device that could provide any piece of information, what would it be?
Any one piece of information? That is a very tough question. If it could be anything at all it would be a sensor to detect danger. Danger could be environmental danger, like on-coming traffic, or it could be early diseases detection. (You did say, anything, so I think super-powers are a fair dream!)
Google Glass. What is the most exciting potential application you have heard thus far?
I may be biased, but Glass’ potential lies in healthcare, and also in education. I believe healthcare is the most critical issue of our generation and technology is at a place where we can make significant inroads into increasing quality and lowering costs.
As for education, how many times have you told yourself that you would “look that up later,” and subsequently forgotten. For example, Glass wearers could say, “Glass, what am I looking at?” And it will have the ability to dictate the histories represented by monuments.
While not world-changing, there is one app I would love to see someone develop for Glass. I am fairly clumsy and more-often than not, guilty of texting-and-walking. It would great to literally have a second set of eyes so I can look away and not risk walking into traffic or other people.
Overall, Glass’ applications will have the most impact when its ability to provide immediacy and relevance to a users’ physical environment, like Google search has done for our Internet browsing environment.
You are the CEO and Founder of TalkSession. Tell us more about the company and what your long-term vision is for TalkSession.
Recently, we were fortunate enough to present TalkSession at the White House and prepared this video short to explain our mission.
TalkSession is a telemedicine company focused on improving mental healthcare access. With 1 in 4 people diagnosed with mental illness, I, like many have witnessed family members and friends not have the ability to get the help they needed.
I hope TalkSession can break down those barriers over time and make mental health treatment more accessible and acceptable. For the long-term I want to prove through TalkSession that mental healthcare is a preventative tool. If we integrate behavioral healthcare into our primary healthcare, realizing the mind-body connection, people will have lower rates of chronic illnesses, obesity, and be happier and more productive.
I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to address this problem, armed with the knowledge and technology we have to offer.
Melissa, on a self-therapy test session with TalkSession.
What are a few goals you want to achieve in your lifetime?
As soon as I am able to invest, I want to be an angel investor and support others, while continuing my entrepreneurial pursuits. Raising the first check is always the hardest. The first angel investors who believed in me made such a difference in my business, confidence and trajectory. I would love to help entrepreneurs in the earlier stages of their development get the chance to pursue their dreams.
I strongly believe that innovation will come from the individuals with the most determination and passion to solve a problem. When asked, “Couldn’t Google replicate your technology?” Maybe they could, but my very specific niche is not their focus. Through focus, we will see a proliferation of thoughtful innovation.
My goal is to participate in and foster the movement towards using our collective ideas and skills to create products and business that are useful, and not just cool.
And as for 5, 10, 20 years from now? I hope you’ll check back with me then. I could not have predicted 5 years ago that I would be where I am today. As long as I am making a difference in the world in some way, then I will set my goals as the world’s challenges evolved and try to apply myself in the most useful way possible to address those challenges.