Young Leaders in Public Service with Phillip Schermer, Founder & CEO of Project Healthy Minds

October 21, 2021 0:51:05
Kaltura Video

Phillip Schermer, the Founder and CEO of Project Healthy Minds, a millennial/Gen Z-driven non-profit startup focuses on tackling one of the defining issues of our generation: the growing mental health crisis. October, 2021.


0:00:05.8 Cindy: Hello, everybody. We're gonna get started, but I know that there may be some additional people joining us. My name is Cindy Bank, and I am the Associate Director of the Program in Practical Policy Engagement, and I'm happy to see our guests here today, both the audience and our speaker. And before I do a quick welcome to our speaker, I just want to thank my associate, Mariam, who is gonna be doing on the back end, you'll see some messages from her in the chat, and then after Phil gives some opening remarks, Reuben, one of our undergrad students, will act as moderator. So, we're really hoping that this will be a real informal conversation. I think you all will enjoy meeting Phil. I just wanna just... He's gonna talk about himself, but I wanna let you know that I first met Phil when I was the Associate Director or the Assistant Director of University of Michigan's Washington, DC office.

0:01:05.5 Cindy: And I got this email from somebody in the President's Office saying, "Hey, I have this student who's participating in the Michigan Washington Program, can you maybe help him make some connections? He wants to work in the White House." So, I always like to say I helped connect him, but I'm not really sure I helped, because Phil has no problem getting places, networking, doing things on his own. And as I got to know him while he was in DC, and then even since then, we've become very dear friends. I think of him as one of my DC kids, even though he's in New York now. He's done a lot of really good things in a very short amount of time. So, Phil, I'm gonna turn it over to you, and welcome. I can hardly wait to have you back in Ann Arbor.

0:01:53.2 Phil: Thanks, Cindy. Well, it's great to talk to everyone today, and if you've worked with Cindy, you also know that she is the maestro of DC. She knows every Michigan alum, what they're doing, what they have done, where they live in DC, so she's under-selling her importance in my own life. I'm happy to share a little bit about myself, but feel free to ask questions. Reuben, excited to talk to you. So, just to sort of wind it back. I went to Michigan, I was a political science/philosophy/econ major. I took time off. When I got to Ann Arbor in 2010, there were many things that I wanted to do and many things I was passionate about. One of the things, about a year in, I had started was this non-profit called Music Matters, and the basic idea was around taking a music, tech, arts festival and combining it with a non-profit incubator to use the money from the festival to seed fund non-profit start-ups, because I got into Ann Arbor in 2010 wanting to be like, and remember, this was like when he was semi-cool, I wanted to be Mark Zuckerberg but for a non-profit.

0:03:02.5 Phil: And I thought Michigan had all the ingredients for doing something really impactful, that you had all these young people with idealism and new ideas, you had subject matter expertise across every discipline, you had half a million living alumni, you had the curricular and the co-curricular, so you had all the ingredients for a great incubator. But there really wasn't a non-profit incubator in Michigan, there really weren't many non-profit incubators anywhere in the country, at the time. So, that sort of... When Cindy first asked me to speak, that was like, I know the thesis of this is around public service. For me, it started with, "Okay, is there a way that we can take music and entertainment and culture and connect it to making a tangible difference in the world? Can we use the money from the festival to seed fund non-profit start-up ventures? And can we give students a voice in creating the kind of community that they wanna have on campus?"

0:04:03.2 Phil: I then took time where I went to DC and worked in the Obama White House on the economic policy team, which was really interesting. I started in December of 2012. I was there for six months and worked through basically the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the fiscal cliff, the first debt ceiling fight of the second term of President Obama's and then through sequestration, and learned a ton. If you don't know how the White House is set up, there're sort of two economic teams. There's the Council of Economic Advisers, CEA, it's kind of like hard quants, think tank-esque, and then the National Economic Council, where I worked, is sort of the intersection of economic policy, political strategy, and strategic communications.

0:04:50.9 Phil: And so, for me, at the time, was an incredible learning opportunity and became hooked on DC, hooked on policy. And basically, after I graduated, I went to New York and I went to work at BlackRock, and I was drawn to BlackRock for a number of reasons. I was interested in... I'd always been interested in the markets, both from the policy side and the private sector side. And I was very turned off, coming out of the financial crisis, by the ethos of most large financial institutions, the sort of money-centric, egotistical sort of ethos. And when I got to BlackRock, it was totally different. And BlackRock had been hired basically by everyone, by the New York Fed, by Treasury, by the Greek banking system, by the Spanish banking system, to clean up the crisis. When we talk about unwinding the Greek banking system and the Spanish banking system, or unwinding AIG or Lehman, or any of the institutions that failed, BlackRock was hired to basically unwind all of them.

0:05:54.9 Phil: And I thought that was really fascinating, and that's what drew me to BlackRock. And I went to go work for this incredible woman who was on the Executive Board, who was very focused on BlackRock's B2B business, and she was very interested in going direct to consumer. And so I spent basically... I've spent eight years at BlackRock, and worked on all kinds of issues. And if you know BlackRock now, what you probably know it for is our CEO, Larry Fink, writes every year a very famous letter to CEOs, that sort of sets the agenda in corporate America. Usually comes out the week before Davos.

0:06:32.3 Phil: And for the last three years, I've worked on really the substance of what Larry writes about, around stakeholder capitalism, and this whole idea that for the last 60 years, basically, business schools have taught this idea that the only obligation of companies, of management teams, of boards, is to creating shareholder value. That's the only obligation. And what Larry basically said, as the world's largest investor, four years ago in his letter, was that in today's world, companies that succeed over time don't only serve shareholders; they serve all stakeholders: Their own employees, their customers they're supposed to be serving, the communities in which they operate in, the vendors and suppliers that they work with, and that in today's world, if you were to only focus on shareholders, you actually wouldn't succeed over the long term, that the companies that really are successful serve all folks. And it's become sort of a trend now in corporate America, that everyone says that they're into purpose-driven business and stakeholder capitalism, but the real question is, how do you make that real in the corporation, what changes? 

0:07:41.9 Phil: So I've spent the last three years working on that, and then about two and a half years ago, started a non-profit called Project Healthy Minds, that I'm about to leave BlackRock to go do full-time, and that work is really oriented around a couple of areas. One, how do you take sort of... If you just take a step back and you look at the mental health crisis in America, you've got 65 million Americans diagnosed with a mental health condition, and 60% of people don't get any form of mental health care. Right? If you look at the research, there's basically three primary drivers. The first is the stigmatization of the health topic. Second is that people don't know where to go to get help. And the third is that they can't access care.

0:08:25.4 Phil: And so, the work that we're doing basically ladders into each of those three drivers. And so, on the first one, the stigma, the idea is basically, how do you partner with public figures, culture-makers, musicians, actors, actresses, athletes, et cetera, how do you partner with business leaders, how do you partner with political leaders, to get people to come out about their own mental health journey? Kind of similar to the last 20 years in this country with the LGBTQ movement, where you've had folks come out and share their truth publicly, and it's empowered somebody else to come out of the closet, and it's changed public attitudes around what it means to be [0:09:03.8] ____.

0:09:04.0 Phil: The second piece of the work is around the discoverability, how hard it is to find mental health services. And so, we're basically building, if you've ever used Expedia or to book a flight or a hotel, we're basically building a marketplace for finding mental health services. My belief is there should be one place online, a front door on the internet, for finding mental health services. Whether you need meditation mindfulness, therapy, psychiatry, peer-to-peer support, a community support group, a crisis line, whether you want a digital tool or an in-person service, there's gotta be one place on the internet that's vetted, that helps people find mental health services. And then the third body of work is creating the first national standards for businesses on what they should be doing to support employee mental health, 'cause business has been on the sideline for the last 80 years of mental health, and it's time they got in the game.

0:09:52.4 Phil: So that's basically... That's what we're doing. I think, the headline, if I had to draw a through-line on all of it, I have always been motivated by a sense of making some impact in the world. And I think that that's not like... I think that that is pretty much true of everyone I know in my generation, and have tried to work on projects or work at companies where there is some shared alignment, whether it's around financial health, wealth inequality, whether it's around education, whether it's around mental health, whatever it is, to surround myself with folks who care, that I can learn from, and hopefully contribute something to making the world a little bit better. So, that's basically... That's me. I don't know, Cindy, if I've missed anything or, Reuben, if you wanna jump in on the Q and A, or if folks have questions, but...

0:10:48.5 Cindy: Yeah, I was gonna say you sort of pulled that all together. I was about to ask is, what is it that drives you? But can you also... What I'd also like you to talk about before Reuben starts with the questions is just how much you have leverage and count on your University of Michigan connections.

0:11:10.4 Phil: Yeah.

0:11:11.2 Cindy: Because I think that, I mean if anybody went and looked at Project Healthy Minds, there's a number of alums who are on the boards now, and... Talk about that a little bit, because you really just do it in such a good way. Yeah.

0:11:22.6 Phil: Well, what I basically found is every Michigan alum has a lot of love for the institution and is willing to hear out a fellow alum, a young student, a kid who's recently out of college. And so, I think there's a lot of people who assume they can't get to senior folks, but the internet is an amazing place, and if you actually try finding people's emails, it's a lot easier than you would think. And if you have a good idea, there is this really amazing shortcut that exists for Michigan students and alums, which is that you can pretty much get a cold email into the inbox of almost anyone in America, and so, if you're willing to put yourself out there, go find the email, go make the cold pitch, and then get on the phone and pitch them. With Michigan alums, you're definitely able to... I have never really emailed a Michigan alum cold and not gotten a response. That doesn't mean that every time, they say yes to what I'm asking for, but I think it's kind of like... One of the pieces of advice I got early on...

0:12:30.7 Phil: There's two things that when I started Music Matters that were very useful. One is like, if you ask for money, you'll get advice, and if you ask for advice, you'll get money. And that's, I think, sort of a core lesson, which is everybody wants to share their knowledge and everyone wants to share their advice. And so, if you start from a place of having a genuine problem and needing someone's advice, that's a really good and authentic place to start building a relationship.

0:13:00.2 Phil: The second piece is, what I've learned over time, is a lot of people, generally do not consider new ideas on their merits alone. They look for shorthand ways to understand, is this idea gonna succeed or not? And so, there is this virtuous cycle that begins to happen where if you can get some early backers of an idea, then you have a better chance of getting the fourth or fifth person to really hear your idea and listen to your idea and consider your idea, because you already have a couple of other folks who have signed up to support it in some way. And so I think that's been one thing, like when I started Music Matters, the first person in on Music Matters was the Chief of Staff to the President of University. And at the time, he did...

0:13:55.5 Phil: His name is Gary Kranz, he still works at the University, Gary, didn't explain to me [0:14:00.2] ____ at the time, but he said, "I want you to go talk to the provost office and you can tell them that we're in, that we're gonna be supportive. I don't know how much money will give you to help get this up and running, but go tell them that you're in, see if you can get their agreement." And then I did that, and then the provost said that they were in and they said, "Go meet now with the deans, and you can say the provost and the president are in." And what you find is is that you get a fair shot at making your pitch if you can find a couple of early backers that are willing to support a new idea. I don't know if this answers your question, Cindy, but that's been my experience.

0:14:37.8 Cindy: Okay, Reuben, take over.

0:14:40.7 Reuben: Yeah, so building off of that, obviously, your board for your newest venture project, Healthy Minds, is fantastic, can you walk us through how you utilize maybe your your first backers to get more members, what that pitch process was like? 

0:14:57.8 Phil: Yeah. Well, whenever you have a new idea, most people are... Most people don't have a lot of time in their life, and so, they don't necessarily... They're not gonna have spent as much time studying the issue as you've studied the issue, they probably haven't fully read the deck that you've sent; they've kind of skimmed it quickly. And so, what you basically find is you have to find, who are the set of independent thinkers? And one of the things that's amazing about Michigan is I think by the nature of when folks are professors or teachers, when they work in an educational setting, part of what they're expressing is that they value working with young people, and so that means that they wanna support young people's ideas. And that's not necessarily true in the wider world. So I didn't realize how so many people at Michigan, when we had this idea for Music Matters and this festival, were so supportive of the idea, and it only took me really working outside of Michigan to understand that there is something really special about an educational environment, because everyone is there to basically help young people start their career, start their lives, learn, support new things.

0:16:14.3 Phil: So for us, it was basically saying, "Okay, who are some early folks who we think we can get in on the board for Project Healthy Minds who have a connection to this issue, and then once they're in, how do we then figure out who the next most likely person is?" It's kind of analogous to whipping in Congress, starting with, where can you get your base of support, who are going to be the co-sponsors of a bill, and then who is the next most likely person to work on? And it's basically engaging in that sort of exercise. And one of the things for me that I've learned in my career, basically, is, if you think about the CEO of BlackRock, Larry Fink, Larry has tremendous access to any CEO at any major company, in particular financial services, like the CEOS of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan, Larry doesn't need me or anybody else to talk to them. That's who he's having dinner with, that's who he's talking to on a regular basis.

0:17:16.8 Phil: What is interesting to Larry is the Obama folks. He was a huge Obama supporter and he loves policy. So, for him, Obama folks... And he grew up in LA, he loves music. So music, the music world and the Obama policy is really interesting. If you think about all of the Obama folks, a huge number of them wanted to go work in Silicon Valley afterward, 'cause that was cool. And the kids who work in the valley wanna be cool, like the kids in LA who are working in entertainment. And so, the tech nerds in San Fran wanna figure out how they can work with the cool kids in LA and music and entertainment, and the folks who are in LA and entertainment wanna tie their celebrity to some social impact, so they wanna be involved in Obama world. Basically, everybody wants what they don't have. And so, for me, I guess my core insight around, or my core thesis around coalition building, is starting by figuring out, who are the early backers that you can get, but then figuring out, okay, what is the coalition that you want and what is it that everyone in that coalition... What do they want access to that they, on their own, don't have access to, where if you can get that other person involved with your work, it enhances the value proposition. So, it makes it...

0:18:43.9 Phil: You know, Carson Daly is on our board, and he is amazing, but the only reason why we even had a shot with Carson Daly is because Logic, the hip-hop star, was willing to do an interview on the Today Show for World Mental Health Day with us, and because Carson loves music, that's how he got introduced to us, and once he learned about what we were doing, he was all in. But if Logic hadn't agreed to do the interview, I would have never met Carson Daly. So that's at least how I think about it.

0:19:17.4 Reuben: Yeah, hearing the background of strategies is really impactful, I think, [0:19:21.9] ____ myself. So I'm curious to, going off of... So we talked about on the communications side, can you talk more about your strategy for getting individuals to go and present organization or finding those media pitches and how you did that? 

0:19:38.0 Phil: Yeah, and sorry, Reuben, just to clarify, are you talking about how to get press, or are you talking about how to get folks to talk publicly about their own mental health journey? 

0:19:51.7 Reuben: I think moreso about how to get press. But both are interesting, by all means.

0:19:57.6 Phil: Yeah. I wouldn't say that I've cracked the code on how to get press. I think I work with really smart people who have press relationships and have been lucky to help us... Actually, Michigan alums. There's a great guy named Brandon Shaw, went to Michigan, did Michigan and Washington. Brandon is wise and smart and ambitious way beyond our age, and he basically is running communications at William Morris Endeavor, the big Hollywood talent agency. And the honest truth is, Brandon is like probably the smartest person I know in the communications field and PR, and has been able to take the story of what we're working on and find ways to get it out there. But the other thing about it is, once you start to get press, it's a little bit easier to get more press because it becomes a validator. That's like the thing about all of this is: As frustrating as it sounds, all of this is about validation around an idea. Right? 

0:21:07.2 Phil: And so, whether you're talking about recruiting board members or advisors, whether you're talking about getting press, basically, everybody looks at, who else is involved, who else has written a story about you? Who else is using the product as shorthand to make a judgment around, are you worth their time should they respond to your email? 


0:21:34.5 Phil: I think you're on mute, Reuben.

0:21:37.5 Reuben: Yeah, sorry. My next question to you, taking a little pivot back to your UMich days, how have that experience of starting Music Matters changed as it's grown to something somewhat bigger, and how has that impacted your current work? 

0:21:52.8 Phil: It's a good question. When we started... We started Music Matters, the ambition, I don't know how many folks here are familiar with South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, but the idea was like that there was a version of South by Southwest that could work for Ann Arbor, that Michigan had so much original IP coming out of it, from its students, from its faculty. And I don't mean IP in a narrow sense; I mean, amazing artists and amazing folks in the School of Music, Theater, and Dance, and engineers and writers and all kinds of... And that there was no forum for basically showcasing it to the world holistically. And that because it was so big and had so many areas of expertise, you had all of the subject matter expertise you could possibly want for a festival. And they were all in your backyard.

0:22:54.3 Phil: And so, when we started, that was a very big idea that was gonna take the support a lot of institutions, the city, all kinds of stuff. So it started kind of small. It started with a benefit concert in Hill Auditorium. And it was basically like a number of folks wanting us to prove that we could put on a concert and do it safely and use it to make an impact. And then it grew over time, and so then in the third... Even in the first year, we did a small thing outdoors on the Diag, but it was just a small version of what it could be. By the third year, we really expanded the footprint. We reserved... We basically shut down North U from outside the League through Hill Auditorium. In subsequent years, we've shut down all the way on to State and then a couple of blocks on State. But I think the overall growth and trajectory, it's interesting, 'cause there is a cap on how fast you can grow when something is only student-run, and the reason why that's the case is twofold.

0:24:08.8 Phil: You have turnover every year, so you've no institutional knowledge, but also, you don't have institutional relationships. How can an organization develop long-term relationships across Hollywood, across brands, across all these... With press, if you have turnover every year or every... And so, the organization eventually grew to the point where we did the first concert in Chrysler in 21 years, in 2017. We got a major investment from Universal Music Group, which is the world's largest record label, who basically on their own... They're owned by Vivendi, the big French public company, and the Vivendi board have given this mandate to Universal Music, if they wanted... Record sales had been going down for a while, they wanted Universal Music to diversify into new revenue streams, and one of the most profitable areas of music is live music.

0:25:04.5 Phil: And one of the determinations that Universal had made at a corporate level was that there was this massive and growing scene in the summer festival scene, the Lollapaloozas of the world, et cetera. And it was all driven by young people, but that those young people were on college campuses in the spring, in the fall, but there was no festival coming to them, and so they did this analysis and they looked across the country and they basically said, "Okay. What we're talking about is basically what Music Matters has begun to build in Ann Arbor. Could we scale up what they're doing, generate proof of concept, and then scale it at a national level?" Now, Universal Music doesn't have the social impact motivation that we do. To me, that's a core element that you can't strip out of what it is that we're doing. For them, that was less of a focus.

0:26:00.5 Phil: But I say all this to say, the scope and the size of the festival has grown significantly over the years. Obviously, COVID has screwed all that up the last two and half years, but I think this year, or the spring of 2022, we'll be back at it. But I think that there is an enduring idea here, and an idea that can be even much bigger if the institution puts the right kind of resourcing against it, because I think it ultimately serves everyone to have that sort of show... If you look at the economic impact of South by Southwest on the City of Austin, it's like over $480 million a year in economic ROIs. So, the truth is, this sort of idea serves everyone. It serves the city from an economic perspective, it serves business owners, serves the university, it serves students. I mean, it really, I believe, is a real opportunity for the university to show its leadership.

0:27:09.3 Reuben: Definitely, and anyone else, too, that wants to unmute and ask a question, feel free to join the conversation and we'll have you.

0:27:15.3 Cindy: I have another question, [chuckle] 'cause I can never get enough of the information out of Phil. So, I wanna switch over to your work with Project Healthy Minds. And we've been in a mental health crisis for a while, I'd say, in this country, and it's only been made worse now by COVID. And we're certainly seeing things on the college campus, the huge uptick in need for mental health services. Is there way in which your project or which our students can best interact with Project Healthy Minds? 

0:27:53.2 Phil: Yeah, so there's a variety of ways. The first is, if you go to, we have curated, with a bunch of our clinical experts, a set of mental health services. No matter what you need, whether you're looking for meditation mindfulness or therapy or peer-to-peer or you need a crisis line, it's all in one place. And what we found is, basically, through our research, you can kind of boil down people into two archetypes, two personas. There's one kind of person who knows the type of mental health service that they're looking for, but they don't know exactly where to find it. So they know, "I'm looking for a therapist, but I don't know where to find them. Should I use... I've heard of Teladoc, I've heard of Talk Space, I've heard of Psychology Today, I know that there's a bunch of other things that I don't really know about. Which of these things should I be using?"

0:28:51.5 Phil: Then there's a second persona of person who can't even articulate the kind of service that they need; they can only articulate sort of like how they feel, that they feel depressed, that they're dealing with anxiety, they have panic attacks, or they're dealing with trauma, that they're having suicidal ideation, whatever it is. And so what they need is help mapping how they feel to a category of service, and then they need help choosing the right kind of service within that category. And so we built that digital experience. It's just the MVP, there's a lot more that we're rolling out in the next six months, but it's like a very basic way to quickly, in as few clicks as possible, make it as frictionless to get people to different kinds of mental health care. That's one.

0:29:36.4 Phil: The second way is, if you go to, we've basically built a community structure that has three verticals: Volunteer, educate, and meet. And what it basically grew out of was, before we went public with what we were working on in October of last year, I probably had about 75 or 100 coffees with folks, either coffees or virtual coffees once COVID hit. Before we we're public, there was nothing online about us, so, I don't know why you'd reach out to us; it was just word of mouth. And it was basically folks asking, "How do I get involved?" And if you really boil down what they were saying, they were looking for one of three things.

0:30:16.0 Phil: One, they wanted to engage in skills-based volunteering. They said, "Hey, I'm a software engineer," "I'm a designer," "I work in sports," "I work in HR. How do I take my professional skill set and apply it to a cause that I care about? I'm not necessarily in a place where I wanna quit Bumble and not work on social media design anymore, but I do have some time, I do have five or 10 hours a week that I'd love to take... I went to RISD and I'm a really good designer, and I'd love to design content for a cause that's close to my heart. How can I get involved?" That's one.

0:30:58.4 Phil: Two is, people are looking for all different kinds of programming, kind of like educational programming, but not in a traditional sense, like, "Here's three things you could do to manage our mental health." For some people, that's what they need. But you have a group of folks who, whether it's for themselves, for someone they love, for a friend of theirs, they're trying to get smarter on mental health. And sometimes it's to help somebody or themselves, sometimes it's because there's something else going on, like they're interested in how police violence and systemic racism creates trauma for communities of color that exist long after protests die down and people forget the name of the police officer. Or if you think about... If you don't know if you're gonna be able to put food on the table or pay the rent, yes, that's an economics issue, that's a financial security issue. But do you know what? That creates toxic stress for families.

0:32:02.1 Phil: If you are dealing with a boss in the workplace who is harassing you, yes, that's a sexual harassment issue, but that creates trauma. And if you're a person of color and you turn on the TV and you see a 14-year-old boy shot because of the color of his skin, these issues are as much sexual harassment, economics, race issues, as they are mental health issues. Mental health is the most intersectional issue that exists.

0:32:34.0 Phil: And so what was clear was whether people were looking to get smarter on the issue holistically or to understand how, if you're a person of color and it's four weeks after George Floyd and you're trying to put your finger on how it's making you feel and you don't have the language to even talk about it, thinking about a much more modern version of what educational programming looks like for people. That's sort of the second vertical, the community. And then the third is meet. So many people, so much of mental health, you can draw back to people feeling ostracized and put in a corner and wanting to find other people with similar lived experiences so that they feel like they belong and that there's a sense of community around it. And so, the third vertical's around, "Okay, how do we bring people with similar lived experiences together?" So, whether you wanna help someone, go to use the guide, or whether you wanna get involved in some form, join the community.

0:33:35.9 Cindy: And I have one more question. Is there gonna be any... Or do you already have a piece that is involved with the policy aspect of it, looking at good state, local business policies and health? 

0:33:52.3 Phil: Yeah, so it's a good question. So I think that...

0:33:54.0 Cindy: Since we are the policy school, [0:33:55.0] ____.

0:33:58.0 Phil: Yes. So, obviously, there are lines between what a 501 C3 and a C4 can do and lobbying all that, but here's my basic view on it: If you look purely at the numbers, there are four times as many people with a diagnosed mental health condition in America as there are people with cancer. So the fact that we don't have... You look at the public health numbers, how widespread the prevalence of the issue, but it hasn't translated into political support and political priority. And if you talk to the sociologists, they would say one of the reasons why that's the case is because of the stigma. Stigma manifests itself on three levels: The individual level, at a community level, and an institutional level.

0:34:44.9 Phil: And really, stigma, if you think about it, the other side of stigma is discrimination. It's two sides of the same coin. For a while, it was stigmatized to be black in America, and it manifested with white people discriminating against people of color, and to some... And in many respects, that's still true today, right? And so, if you of open the aperture of our understanding of what it means for a topic to be stigmatized, it also means that there's discrimination in many forms. And so when I think about what is the work that has to happen in the mental health space, I believe you basically need to build grassroots coalition around mental health of folks who are prioritizing mental health, and one of the best ways that I think that happens is, if you can start by building a relationship through a traditional consumer lens, we're building a marketplace that makes it easier for you to find mental health services when you need it, because we know that 65 million people will need it this year alone, that becomes an opportunity to...

0:35:58.7 Phil: You might start at a transaction, but the opportunities, how do you turn that into a relationship? How do you take people who you first serve by helping them find mental health services, and then turn them into advocates and bring them into an ecosystem of Project Healthy Minds, where you're able to channel... Because the truth is, some people today are ready to be advocates, others are not, and there is a journey that you go on oftentimes, where it starts with a recognition first that you've got a problem for yourself or somebody you love, that you try to solve that problem, then you realize how screwed up the system is, and then that you decide, once you get to a point of stability, that you want to do something about changing the system. And so my hope is is that there's a way that we can take the people that we serve by helping them find mental health services and build relationships that we can then channel into sort of coalitional politics.

0:36:56.3 Cindy: Right. Thank you.

0:37:01.4 Reuben: And picking it up from there, the way you talk about how this is incredibly beautiful, I think it brings some of the biases that I personally have, but generally, the interconnectivity of it, so thank you for adding those elements. Going on top of that, and I'm really curious if you could talk about how ramp-up is going, and I think, obviously, the hardest challenge part about like this is, how do you get to use interface? So I'm curious to hear more about that, your plans to encourage more individuals to utilize resources.

0:37:30.3 Phil: Yeah. We feel really good about it. So, the product has been out, that guide has been public for 34 days, you've had 9000 people who use it in 34 days without spending a single dollar on any marketing and with a 23% conversion rate, which, just to give everyone a sense, if you look at Shopify, which the majority of e-commerce websites in America, are built on Shopify, the conversion rate for Shopify in the US is 2.5%. So, we're talking about a really good, really high conversion rate once people actually use the product, do they actually convert off to a mental health service. But the core, if you get to the core of our strategy, this is why we need to partner with public figures who come out and talk about mental health, to create the permission structure, so you can imagine a whole variety of things.

0:38:27.8 Phil: So for example, all of you have probably watched a TV show where there was a mental health storyline in that show, and on the final frame, there's an end card that comes up that says, "If you're a suicidal, here's the phone number of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline," right? And what's great about those end cards is that they're trying to convert... If the audience that's watching is suicidal in that particular moment, there's a phone number for them to call. The problem is is that first of all, people who are suicidal are not suicidal every minute of every day. You go through periods of being particularly suicidal. But also, people who have suicidal ideation are only a small percentage of the overall population of people dealing with a mental health condition. And so the shortcoming of that traditional approach is that the service that we're serving up only serves a small part of the audience.

0:39:30.5 Phil: And so, our vision is, okay, well, whether it's a TV show, or a movie, or film you might watch, a movie or a show you might watch on a streaming platform, or whether it's a digital short, a digital series on YouTube, or on Facebook, or on TikTok, whatever you're in, the platform, most times, the same mechanic exists, which is that the person who's creating the content wants to have a call to action so that if people who are watching this content that's mental health-related, if they need help, there's somewhere for them to go. And so our vision is, how do we become the call to action whenever anybody is creating that kind of content? So, we're going to be incorporated into... Starting later to this fall, there's an Emmy Award-winning show that we're gonna be the call to action for. So there will... We've had 9034 days, I think that number will grow pretty substantially over the next few months.

0:40:29.8 Reuben: That's super exciting news. And again, too, if anyone has a question, feel free to raise your hand and ask it and join in the conversation. On top of that, I have a question, too. I was just caught up in the conversation as well, but in essence, because you use this platform to offer mental health services, you do get into a lot of gatekeeper situations, how have you screen organizations or chosen those to engage individuals that might need those mental health services? 

0:40:55.1 Phil: That's a very good question. So I'm obviously not a clinician, and that's why we have a lot of clinical experts on our advisory counsel, we basically built the partnership with an organization that's called The National Network of Depression Centers. It's the leading consortium in the United States of University Health System. So it's everyone from Michigan, Duke, Emory, to Harvard, Stanford, UCSF, Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Cornell, there's like 28 universities, Indiana. And it was actually started by a Michigan professor and researcher and faculty member, Dr. John Greden, who is the founder of the world's first Depression Center at the University of Michigan. That's how we got connected to the NNDC, speaking of cold emails to people. And so, we have a partnership with the NNDC, and we basically, from that partnership, source a set of clinical advisors, and the clinical advisors have helped us create a framework of basically what we... Of deciding, what's our methodology for what we allow onto the platform and what do we not allow on the platform? 

0:42:05.5 Reuben: I think another more challenging question I'll throw at you is, because mental health is such a large, encompassing issue, how are you trying to support individuals that might or might not have fiscal means to pay for some of these programs and they might ultimately buy it online? 

0:42:20.2 Phil: Right. Well, that's exactly why we're focused on the whole spectrum of mental health services. Sometimes I would say early on, before we had a product out in the marketplace, there are people who would ask, "Well, isn't this the same thing as Talkspace?" And what they were really saying was, "Are you building a marketplace for finding therapists?" And I would say, "No. There are people who have created a marketplace for therapists, or a marketplace for psychiatrists. That's not what we're building. We're building a marketplace for all types of mental health services: Meditation, mindfulness, support groups, peer-to-peer, therapy, psychiatry, crisis prevention, whatever it is that you need. The idea is there should be one place online to find any form of mental health services." And one of the reasons why that's important is, first of all, there is a ton of innovation happening now in the mental health space, it's been historically a very sleepy category, but you basically had a huge wave of money, you basically had...

0:43:29.2 Phil: To give you context: In 2000, and don't quote me on these exact numbers, but these are definitely almost the right numbers, in 2014, private financing basically, like venture funding for mental health technology start-ups, was $140 million in the year. This past year, it was over $2 billion. It has grown exponentially in seven years. And so, you have a huge amount of money flowing in, some of the things being created are not evidence-based, and so they need to be filtered out. But a number of the things are, and do have a clinical basis, but they need... But you might not know of them; they might be a year old. And there is huge amounts of interested... There's a guy I know who, his start-up is not public yet, but he's basically working on this idea around, "Can you take the core mechanics of AA and apply it in sort of like a clubhouse setting using audio and audio format with small groups, and could that inform mental health, not just for addiction?" And it's a really interesting...

0:44:40.7 Phil: So there's increasingly a whole new set of... Everybody's trying to figure out if we just fundamentally don't have enough clinicians and therapists in this country, by probably a factor of 10, we need to come up like... Yes, we need to upscale, we need to give them a massive jobs program to train people on mental health, but that's gonna take a while. So we need some short-term stop-gap measures, and so we have to figure out, what are ways that we can deliver mental health services earlier on, because like all things in healthcare, it is better to be preventative and to treat it once you have a crisis, and how do we think about new forms of healthcare delivery? 

0:45:22.5 Reuben: Super interesting, engaging. I think you're finishing here, too, it's just that we're losing a little time with you. Do you have any good White House stories? I think that's always a fun note to get close to the end-on.

0:45:35.1 Phil: [chuckle] Do I have any good White House stories that I can share? Well, I would say, in the Obama White House, you had a lot of, as Cindy knows, there were a lot of Michigan alums in very senior roles. And when I was there in 2013, we went to the Final Four, actually, we went to the championship game, and it was amazing because at one point, I was being asked by my friends at Michigan, am I gonna go down to Atlanta for the Final Four? And I said, "No, no, no, I can't take time off. I wish I could, but I can't," and all my friends are going down. Well, I got to the White House on the day of the Final Four, and it turned out that Gene Sprawling, who was my boss, who was born and raised in Ann Arbor and is the biggest Michigan fan, he himself had actually left. He had put up a Michigan flag, and Valerie, Jared, and Cecilia and Gene were all busy either down there or watching the Michigan game. But it's sort of how you knew that Michigan was the right place to be. You had, on a single floor, one of the three senior advisors to the President of United States, the Chief Economic Advisor, and the Chief Domestic Policy Advisor, all Michigan alums, which was pretty amazing. And all friends with Cindy, too.

0:46:57.6 Reuben: [chuckle] Cindy is one of the most [0:47:00.9] ____ individuals I have met at UMich campus, and we're all graced to have her presence.

0:47:07.1 Cindy: You know what? As you talk about what you're doing with Project Mental... Healthy Minds, I'm sorry. It just also lays out how advocacy on issues, on service, so many things sort of follow the same stream. You identify a problem or something that needs addressing, you find those who are already backers, you build coalitions, you figure out who to talk to. It's whether you're trying to pass a law or address an issue like our mental health crisis, so.

0:47:50.2 Phil: Right. All you're trying to do in each of these scenarios is convince enough people that this issue ought to matter enough to them to do something about, to make it a priority in their own life. And on an issue like mental health, there's a good line, there's a Michigan alum named Harris Schwartzberg who went to Michigan, his brother went to Michigan, and there's a wing of the School of Music, Theater, and Dance named after his brother. We lost this issue, and Harris has a really good line, which he says, "If you're not one of four kinds of people in America, you never have to worry about mental health. But if you're one of those four types of people, then you actually do. What are those four types? If you're not a mother, father, son, or daughter, then you don't have to worry about it. But if you are one of those four, statistically speaking, since a fourth of America, this year, will have a mental... Deals with a mental health condition, then you or somebody you love is likely to deal with a mental health... " And so, what you know is is that this issue is taboo, but everybody has some connection to it. And all you need is for enough people to put it on the table and to talk about it, to enable, to inspire, to encourage, other people to do the same. And I think the work is getting to that inflection point when it's enough out in society that we actually make it a priority.

0:49:25.8 Cindy: Yeah.

0:49:26.1 Reuben: I need to go back to you again, in these last little minutes we have with you, do you have any exciting news that you can share with us about stuff to come with Project Healthy Minds? 

0:49:38.9 Cindy: Stay tuned? [chuckle]

0:49:40.4 Phil: Yeah. Stay tuned. I mean, we're really excited to get to be integrated into this TV show, and we'll be announcing that probably in the next couple of weeks. And I think if you look at this summer culturally, you've had Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, there's a sort of growing awakening in sports now around mental health, and there are going to be more people, more and more people. We're hitting an inflection point where people are talking about it more. And it's a cause that people want to start to be associated with, and so, I think that the next six or 12 months is gonna be really interesting, because I don't think it will be the end of people coming out; I think it's just more gasoline on the fire.

0:50:42.0 Cindy: Yeah. Phil, it's always good to see you. Reuben did a fabulous job moderating with your questions, and please, everyone, join me in thanking Phil, and I really hope that we get to welcome you back to Ann Arbor soon.

0:50:56.8 Phil: Yes, that'd be in my goal. Thanks for having me, Cindy. Great to see everyone.