Good advisors, mindful mondays and a just do it mentality: mentalis’ essentials for the successful launch of their mental health app

A conversation with Hans-Jürgen Stein, MD of mentalis

By Paula Kopp

Have you ever heard of the revolving door effect? It refers to the tendency that in mental healthcare many patients relapse after their inpatient stay in a clinic. In Germany 20% of patients fall back only within 4 weeks after their discharge from a psychiatric hospital. Thus, aftercare is a crucial part of a patient’s journey.

mentalis has made it their mission to provide a seamless post-clinical-care. It is not only patients who benefit from their blended care approach but also insurance companies, hospitals and eventually society as a whole. In Germany each year over 10 billion Euros are spent on inpatient treatment for mental disorders. Reducing the number of relapses means reducing these costs while improving the quality of life of patients.

Dr. Christian Aljoscha Lukas has been researching in that field for years. Based on clinical trials he realized the need for evidence-based programs that close the intersectoral gap after a patient’s discharge. Together with Alexander Ploner and Leonhard Glomann he founded mentalis in 2018 as a FAU university-spin-off, since then a lot has happened.

We talked to mentalis’ Managing Director Hans-Jürgen Stein about their successes, challenges, motivation and what is yet to come.

In 2019 Hans-Jürgen Stein joined mentalis as Managing Director

Jürgen, thanks for meeting with us. You’ve been part of the mentalis journey for 2 years now, how did you become part of the team?

It’s a funny story actually. The original team consisted of psychologists and techies and they were looking for someone to help with the business-side. Joscha and I had some common contacts in Berlin and Hamburg, and when we arranged our first meeting, we realized that my balcony was only 30 m away from the mentalis office and that our children even shared the same playground. So apparently: In our case, what belongs together really found together.

Meanwhile, you’ve moved to ZOLLHOF. How do you benefit from working here?

After a while our first office became smaller and smaller as our team constantly grew, right now we’re 19 people. With the focus on digital health we thought we’d fit well into the ecosystem so we applied for the batch. However, you can get office space anywhere. ZOLLHOF was a step for us to gain visibility and venture out.

So you did, congrats on winning the Novartis Digital Health Award and being nominated for the Health-i Award! What has been your biggest success so far?

Thank you, 2021 has been marked by many successes, I can’t pick one. Of course these awards and all the positive feedback are great, but launching our products as medical devices and signing our first contracts with insurers are also huge milestones for us.

Launching a medical device is strongly regulated in Germany, is there anything that you would like to see from the German healthcare system in terms of less bureaucracy or startup support?

In general, we are getting along very well with the system. It’s important to have high standards for medical devices and we understand why processes take longer. We have to take into account many aspects like data protection but also ethical questions and patient security. Since we want to create a product that our users really benefit from we are happy to follow the bureaucracy in that way.

That sounds challenging. How do you keep track of all the different aspects involved?

Indeed, keeping a strategic overview is one of our biggest challenges. It’s important to not get caught up in trivialities. I try not to get lost in my daily work routine. We always have to keep in mind where we want to go and which goals we pursue for the different stakeholders.

Where do you want to go and what do you need to grow further?

Our vision is that one day people will automatically think of mentalis when they think of digital mental health and our mission is to help as many people as possible in aftercare to get better permanently.

Currently we’re rolling out in Germany and we’re very confident in that matter. Future — near term — goals would be entering international markets. We have a great team and are always looking for new members to join.

A multiprofessional team from various fields: psychology, science, design, business and IT

For the Healthy Hub we are also providing our expertise on another point of the patient-journey. Instead of aftercare we’re focussing on the time before the patients — in particular young people — get actual access to outpatient psychotherapy. This is something we want to put more energy into in the future.

You’ve come a long way already, what do you wish you would’ve known before and what were the most painful learnings during your startup journey?

In my previous career as a consultant I have worked with startups before. So I kind of knew what I was getting into: A startup is a marathon, not a sprint. After one challenge, the next comes up. We are never finished. Not in two years, not in six years. We always move ahead, closer to our vision but if we ever achieve it fully or if the vision will shift — nobody knows.

If I had to give one piece of advice to other founders it would probably be to get good advisors and mentors involved quickly and I suggest paying close attention to how processes work.

Also, it sounds very cliché but: Just do it and don’t overthink things. If it has to be done, do it. Even if that means working overtime.

What gets you through these long days and nights?

When I’m saying “just do it”, I mean not to overthink things, not necessarily overworking hours over hours. But yeah, some work days can get long, especially at the management level. Then I just sleep a little longer the next day. Being able to really create and build something drives me and it’s the biggest motivation. Coffee also helps a little, but of course that’s not what it’s about.

Also, at mentalis we like to practice what we preach. Mental health is enormously important. For the wellbeing of the team we introduced Mindful Monday and Mindful Wednesday where we practice mindfulness exercises as it’s important to recharge once in a while.

Thank you Jürgen for the interview and all the best for all your future steps!

Paula works in Marketing & Communications at ZOLLHOF and is studying International Cultural and Business Studies at the University of Passau. When she’s not writing blog or social media posts you’ll probably find her writing on her bachelor’s thesis in American Cultural and Media studies.