“I went through postpartum depression and I didn’t have the knowledge to deal with it”: Emirati entrepreneur Khawla Hammad explains why and how her online counseling platform was set up.
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Strong points

Emirati entrepreneur Khawla Hammad’s personal mental health issues led to the creation of his online counseling platform “Takalam”.

One in four people suffer from mental health problems, including anxiety and depression, said Emirati entrepreneur Khawla Hammad.

In her case, it was postpartum depression, while her co-founder struggled with the grief of losing her father. Their ability to cope with grief was limited, while the cost of help was also high.

What was the main objective of your business?

“A single therapy session can typically cost between Dh750 and Dh1,000 and may not be covered by insurance unless certain criteria are met. So if someone needs prolonged therapy, the cost can be exorbitant and often unsustainable,” Hammad added.

“Our main goal was to make mental health care affordable and accessible through our online platform. With the confidentiality of the virtual sessions, the connection between the advisers and the users, the evaluation, the diagnosis and the follow-up of the progress are optimized by the platform.

However, setting up a technology-based online platform also requires considerable investment. Whether it’s making financial mistakes, investing optimally to sustain the business, or securing financing, Hammad talks about the crucial role of financial planning for any business.

Mental Health

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Did you learn the basics of financial planning from an early age?

Hamad: “No, and I wish it were different. When I was growing up, money-related conversations mostly happened between elders in the family, although it’s a crucial skill that kids need to learn through simple exercises. It is strange that financial management was and still is not part of the early childhood curriculum. Although the approach is changing now, much more needs to be done to achieve financial literacy in children. If money management lessons start early, they equip people with essential skills that can only be beneficial along the way. »

Moving on to your business, what investment does it take to set up an online consulting platform?

Hamad: “The investments would vary depending on the nature of the platform. The more technologically complex the platform, the more expensive it is to build. Basically, setting up an online advisory platform can cost between 200,000 and 250,000 USD (734,000 Dh to 918,000 Dh). We decided to keep the investments as low as possible to create a minimum viable product and test the concept. Now that we are gradually enabling the platform with AI and machine learning capabilities, this requires decent investments in areas such as research and development and hiring the right talent. It’s not just about building a mobile app or online platform, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, which requires constant investment. »

As an entrepreneur, have you received any financial support?

Hamad: “Receiving support, and even more financial support, depends on several factors. From the uniqueness and scalability of the idea to the passion of the entrepreneur and the maturity of the ecosystem, all play a role in gaining support. In our case, the idea resonated well, as did our mission to make a difference. This has helped us gain support, especially as the pandemic has led to an increased focus on mental health. Overall, the UAE has made concerted efforts to create a vibrant start-up ecosystem offering entrepreneurs support in terms of licensing, access to finance, mentorship and accelerators, among others.

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What investment does it take to set up an online advice platform?

After closing your first funding round of 1 million dollars (3.67 million dirhams), what would be your message to other entrepreneurs trying to raise funds?

Hamad: “We started until March 2021, then secured the first round of funding worth $800,000 (2.9 billion dirhams) from the Emirates Angel Investors Association, together with selected institutional investors. . In addition, we obtained a grant of $250,000 (918,000 Dh) from the Abu Dhabi Investment Office. When we closed our funding round in November 2021, we were oversubscribed well beyond what we originally anticipated.

“In our experience, we believe that presenting ideas and vision with passion is essential to attracting the attention of investors. Especially for early-stage startups when we don’t really have big revenue to show. But if the investors believe in the entrepreneur and the abilities of the founding team, they are ready to bet on the idea. Thus, the passion and drive of the entrepreneur are crucial. At the same time, it is also vital for a start-up to keep enough funds aside to sustain the business for 12-14 months.

“Fundraising tends to be a long and tedious process that can take up to 6-8 months to wrap up. It can be overwhelming but hugely rewarding if everything goes according to plan. importance of getting the investor in first, then the rest tends to be a little easier.

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Have you ever made a financial mistake? Do you want to go back in time to make a financial decision differently?

Hamad: “I’ve made many financial mistakes and each one has taught me an important lesson. That said, luckily they weren’t massive, which would bankrupt us. If I could really go back in time, I would make a different financial decision by optimally investing in the platform early on. Usually, start-ups tend to make the mistake of not investing enough upfront and saving as much as possible.

“It’s very good because it avoids losing too much money in the worst case. But a minimum investment can sometimes compromise quality, which requires more money for future growth. We ended up spending too much to build a more robust platform compared to the first version. It’s something I would change if I could.