YourDOST: A tête-à-tête with Puneet Manuja

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I was a School Topper in 12th (St. Joseph's, 92% - meant a lot at that time) --> I had to take a year drop even to get a good rank in AIEEE (couldn't clear IIT still)

I was a Gold Medalist during my UnderGrad (NIT Calicut, Computer Science, GPA 9.51) --> I got placed after 20% of my branch.

I was not in the Top 10% of my PostGrad (IIM Bangalore, GPA 3.2/4) --> I got placed in McKinsey & Co (arguably the best)

Learning:

  1. Don't let your results stop you from dreaming big!
  2. Don't let your results make you complacent!

In a tete-a-tete with Puneet to understand more about his journey and YourDOST, I discovered how he always took lesser-travelled paths. Soon after college, he decided to go far away from his hometown to take up his first job, become independent, and come out of his comfort zone. He faced the real challenges of everyday life and career without any support system around.

YourDOST was founded in December 2014 by IIT-Guwahati alumnus Richa Singh, along with IIM-Bangalore’s Puneet Manuja. Richa’s friend on campus died by suicide moved her deeply made her think strongly about mental health. Even though counsellors and psychologists were on the campus, hardly any student sought their support or help. Puneet met Richa at DEShaw (their first job) and could relate to the scenario as he had also gone through a lot of struggle to find a foothold in the career during college placements. He had no one to share his agonies due to the stigma around sharing our deepest fears and agonies in our social structure.

Around 2009 they started tossing around an idea to help people attain mental well-being & in 2010, Richa and Puneet presented it at iDiya, the social venture competition at ISB. However, they did not get selected because, as he evaluates, they lacked the required presentation and structured planning. But the exposure helped them, and they took it up seriously from there.

As a next step, they spoke to around five thousands young individuals, primarily from the younger age group of students and working professionals, to understand the stigma around not seeking help on mental well-being, mostly highlighting three questions,

  1. Whether they know what a psychologist does?
  2. Whether they felt the need to speak to one in the past?
  3. Whether they have visited one? If not, why?

The other side of the story was speaking to the psychologists to understand the profile of people reaching them and how they help such people.

Almost 95% of people surveyed revealed that they never went to any counsellor, and the findings were categorized into three significant problem statements,

  1. This gap is mainly due to the stigma around the topic of mental health.
  2. The entire generation lacked awareness.
  3. Accessibilities of the counsellors, especially in Tier2 and Tier3 cities

That is how the idea around YourDOST started shaping up, and the name and the logo were designed carefully. The idea was not to build up an intrusive suicide prevention network but a holistic platform to make people realize the importance of mental well-being – hence the name YourDOST. From 2010 to 2014, they ran the platform like a blog with stories of people who have been helped by counsellors, and they start noticing people are commenting when it resonates. They were already in the mode of pulling their idea as a startup.

On the trigger point to self-realize that help is required before it is too late, Puneet says Stress is like a flame, and we react as a pressure cooker, where the flame is the catalyst for the pressure. The art is to know when the flame is high enough to blow the whistle along with increasing the capacity of the pressure cooker.

In recent times, he sees the awareness spreading across due to many celebrities coming out with their stories, which is a positive wave. Speaking up a lot as a serious issue and more community participation will change the stigma attached to mental health.

When asked about the USP of YourDOST compared to the other counselling platforms? Puneet unveils the conventional counsellors are mostly available in metros and particularly to the economically stronger crowd. YourDOST focuses on reaching Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities at an economical price point. Today around 40% of the traffic comes from these places.  YourDOST’s USPs are:

24/7 availability to people seeking help is possible because, unlike some of their competitors, they are not a platform but have dedicated staff who will be available at say 2 am in the night.

He mentions two names Sanjay Anandaram and Bharati Jacob, whose right questions made Richa and Puneet come up with the right solution. And they started operations with a bunch of angel investors coming forward. Later raised $1.2 million (approx Rs 8 crore) in a pre-series A round led by SAIF Partners with repeat participation from seven angel investors - Venk Krishnan (NuVentures), SubbaraoTelidevara (NuVentures), Phanindra Sama (Redbus), Aprameya Radhakrishna (TaxiForSure), Paula Mariwala (Seedfund), Vibhu Garg (Unicommerce) and Gaurav Bhalotia (Flipkart).

They started operations with a bunch of angel investors coming forward. He mentions getting the right mentors with pointed questions helped YourDOST to come up with the right solution. They started generating revenues for the past three years and profitable for the last one and a half years. They have a few modes of helping distressed people,

  1. Personal on call, video or chat-based counselling sessions
  2. Corporate sessions
  3. Tie-ups with state governments
  4. Free self-help modules
  5. Peer community
  6. Blogs

On the pandemic situation, Puneet mentions that as per a recent study conducted by YourDOST, due to the uncertainty around the situation of lockdown, fear of getting infected, job loss, uncertainty in the exams, over 55% of Indians have experienced a rise in their stress levels during the lockdown. Additionally, feelings of anxiety, anger, and loneliness have also increased immensely, with a net increase of 41%, 38%, and 29% respectively. The counselling sessions doubled during the lockdown, and the demand from corporates to conduct sessions for the employees also increased. 90% of Indians residing in areas where lockdown has been lifted are still uncomfortable with venturing out like they used to in pre-lockdown times.

On happiness, Puneet says influencing people’s lives makes him happy in his professional life through YourDOST, as the initiative impacts all sorts of lives -  urban, corporate or rural via different government channels. On a personal level, Puneet finds happiness is not chasing happiness. He seeks happiness, not in long-term goals but in the small endeavors of everyday.

 

Puneet Manuja Chief Strategy Officer, Co-Founder @YourDOST IIM Bangalore, NIT Calicut (Gold Medalist); ex @McKinsey. YourDOST is on a mission to create this world a happier place. The platform for people to ensure access counselling support anytime (24x7) from anywhere (Site: https://yourdost.com). YourDOST works with some of the leading corporates and colleges to provide counselling support to their employees and students. If you want to be a pioneer at introducing such wellness initiatives for your company or college, write to corporate@yourdost.com.

Contributor: Paromita Bannerjee - Paromita is a leader in People Practices with a knack towards solving problems. An IIM Bangalore alumna and a story visualizer, her focus is on bridging the gap between education and industry by supporting fresh graduates to kick-start their career and helping the women to return to the workforce after mandatory breaks.

She wants to make the world a better place to live for every life on earth. She is a passionate animal lover, loves to write poetry and her encounters with ghosts (real or imaginary :)) during her leisure. She believes if there is a will, any relationship can go long run with the right balance.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the author.

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