This has been an amazing few days. I’ll remember the week starting the 12th November 2017 most likely for the rest of my life.
The date is easy to remember for me, it’s my mum’s birthday. And on that day my family gathered in Richmond for a celebration Sunday lunch. Meanwhile, I was in Chelsea meeting Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, who set up the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation. You know him, I know him, we all know him. He also set up a little thing called Easy Jet, and runs the Easy Group of companies. I was being interviewed for the award the Foundation runs every year, for disabled entrepreneurs, and grilled about my company, Mental Snapp, a new way to actively manage your mental health using private video diaries.
“How did it go?” my family wanted to know when I arrived breathless a couple of hours after their lunch. My mother had been particularly supportive and justifiably wanted to know that it went well – that I’d spent my afternoon away from her celebration on a worthwhile endeavour. “It was terrible” I moaned. Goodness, they’d grilled me. Sir Stelios, as you might expect, is incredibly acute and I had to think on my feet, being challenged by questions that no one else had yet asked me in the two years of running the company. I was convinced that was the end of our journey to the top prize of the awards. We were on the shortlist, so we’d won a guaranteed £10 000, which was amazing, but I was now sure that the overall prize of £30 000 was out of my reach. My family were fantastic at picking me up and putting me back on my feet, and I was glad that I’d come out to meet them. Oh well, I thought, I’ll put on my brave face at the awards ceremony on Tuesday.
So I went. I brought my dad with me, as I had, like Sir Stelios, borrowed money from him to set up my company. Not as much as it takes to set up an airline, but it was a nice connection to make with the Easy Group story. My husband, Tex Dunstan is my co founder and was nobly manning the fort at home with my son. Eric McAllister, our head of product, spruced up in a suit and met me at Chelsea Royal Hospital for the evening event, and Iona Davis, our social media manager, was on hand with phone, back up battery and nimble thumbs. But we wouldn’t win.
No, we wouldn’t win, I thought, as the video of all the finalists was played. It was the first time I’d seen it again since my interview. There were some really strong businesses and talented individuals in there, Jane Hatton of Evenbreak, the ground breaking jobs board for disability, Katherine Fortnum of Katherine Fortnum Ceramics, making and selling incredible ceramic pieces, James Brown of Mobiloo, the fully accessible mobile loo enabling people with disabilities to go to festivals and holiday anywhere, and Dominic Lund-Conlon of Review My Wheelchair, providing genuine user testing and unbiased wheelchair reviews. Tough competition.
Sir Stelios announced that they would be reading out the names of the people who had won the £10 000 first and then the final name would get the £30 000 and make a speech. I took another sip of my prosecco. Good thing I wasn’t going to win, I hadn’t worked out what I might say. The names were read out one by one, and at the moment when there were two people left, I still hadn’t been called. I was holding my breath… and then there was only one name left. It was mine. I’d won – Mental Snapp had won!
Wow. What a moment. I stood on stage with my giant cheque and I couldn’t stop smiling. Sir Stelios said some very kind words about the importance of mental health and the innovation that Mental Snapp represents. And then I stepped forward and made a speech with the first thing that came to my head. The video of it is here – it’s a nice little speech I think, and I got drowned by applause, which was an incredible experience. In it, I thank the disability movement for showing me that it’s what you can do, not what you can’t. And I thank Sir Stelios for showing me how supportive dads can be. And I also thank him for saying at the start of the evening to keep it short and sweet and not to keep people from the bar.
That’s it. That’s my speech. It’s less than a minute. But of course it doesn’t say it all. What I should’ve said is longer, and people would have had to wait for their drinks. I should’ve named Eric, and Iona, who were there supporting me and putting in so much hard work into making Mental Snapp a success. I should’ve given the nod to my family, who’d picked me up on that Sunday afternoon. I should’ve paid tribute to my mum, who supported me on the day of her birthday celebration. And, most importantly, I should’ve thanked my husband and co founder, Tex Dunstan, for the positive belief that he puts into Mental Snapp everyday and the business acumen he contributes. And for looking after our son that night. Hindsight is a perfect thing. It wasn’t a perfect speech.
I think in my defence I was a bit overcome with the award and the implications of it. This award is going to open a lot of doors for us. I’ve blogged elsewhere about Sir Stelios and his ability in and understanding of mass markets. He emphasised to me as we held the giant cheque together and the camera flashes popped that he wants to see us go out at as low a price point as possible – and really reach lots of people. With the profile that we’re gaining, I think we can. I’m looking forward to the next steps – there’s press and publicity to do for this, and there’s our relaunch in January.
If you want to be part of testing and consulting on an app that has the potential to change the way that we think about mental health and ourselves – through the power of video diaries – let me know. Our users say they feel kinder to themselves as a result of telling their story. Let’s spread that kindness to a wide audience of the many people affected by mental health. If you want to test or consult or be part of our community, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you – and to continuing the journey to mental health, kindness and opening up possibilities together.