Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in health and wellness but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, CEO of WeBe Life Inc., located in Bethesda, MD, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
WeBe is the first Digital Health and Well Being platform that makes it possible and easy for each of us to track and share our wellness challenges – and our successes.
First, WeBe tracks six key elements of well-being every day - emotional experience, relationships, physical health, sleep, activity, and spirituality - to engage, educate and inspire users to take better care of their own well-being and the well-being of those closest to them.
Next, WeBe creates an online space for individuals to share critical well-being information with a select group of trusted individuals – their WeBe Pod.
- to harness the power of social connection,
- to share effective tools and practices
- to identify those in need of additional support, and
- to direct those in need to appropriate resources.
In addition, WeBe invites communities – and subgroups within a community – to form affinity groups to share information about effective practices, access unique resources, and strengthen social bonds – all in the service of improving the well-being of individuals and their communities.
Finally, WeBe integrates individual user data plus data generated by user interaction – including kind/frequency of social interactions, incentive points earned, and utilization of resources – to provide valuable insights regarding which resources work best for which individuals at what point in their well-being journey.
By tracking and sharing six key elements of Well Being AND by tapping into the wisdom available in our communities, we can learn how to recognize when someone we care about is in need. We can identify what works best for ourselves and those we love. How's Your WeBe? It's Time to Find Out!
Tell us about yourself
I grew up in rural California. My father, an amazing man, was a Veteran of World War II who came home from the war with post-traumatic stress - though we didn't talk about it then. My mother, tragically, had a psychotic break soon after I was born - and although my Dad did all he could, there weren't many options available to help my mom or my family. Eventually, I became a clinical psychologist - to better understand mental health and mental illness.... and to improve access and quality of care to those in need. I built two successful private practices, and then the world - and my life's work - changed. I was living in the DC area on 9/11 and knew that we were going to war. I also knew that the mental health challenges coming home from war would be massive - and we weren't prepared. I didn't want to live Service members and their families to suffer from unaddressed invisible injuries like PTSD, so, in 2005, I founded and built a national non-profit called Give an Hour - to provide free mental health care to Service members, Veterans and family members affected by the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. By the time I stepped down as CEO, we had provided over 300,00 hours of free care to those who served.
In 2019 I was asked to lead a Presidential Task Force to build the first all-of-government, and all-of-nation effort focused on suicide prevention. Although I hadn't imagined myself working in government, it was an amazing opportunity - and I am very proud of all that we accomplished. I left the government in the summer of 2021- to return to my work on WeBe, which I began with my partners in 2018.
WeBe is the natural extension of everything I have done in my career to this point. Our goal is to change how we think about, talk about and address mental health and well-being challenges for ourselves and those we love. I'm honored to be working with an amazing team of professionals who are dedicated to bringing WeBe to the World. And because we care deeply about ensuring that EVERYONE has access to emotional health and well-being resources.... we've also launched the WeBe Life Foundation - focused on delivering the WeBe platform to underserved, displaced, and traumatized communities around the world.
What motivates me? The mental health challenges in our communities are massive - and growing...There aren't enough mental health professionals anywhere in the world to meet the need - nor will there ever be. We can - and must - use technology to deliver tools to better care for ourselves and those we love. By doing this - by educating, engaging, and inspiring - we can identify those in need of professional care early and direct them to proper care. We can prevent serious dysfunction, suffering, and deaths of despair - including suicide and drug overdose - if we create a culture focused on well-being that reinforces self-care and care for others.
It may seem like a stretch... but we have the knowledge and the tools to build it - to ensure well-being. We just need the will.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
That's a tough question to answer. I have been so fortunate over my career... to be recognized for many accomplishments. I was named by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012 - for Founding and building Give an Hour - which was an incredible accomplishment I had no idea I was even being considered for!
Also, in 2016, I worked with then-First Lady Michelle Obama on a national public health campaign that I built to educate everyone about the Five Signs of Emotional Suffering called The Campaign to Change Direction. Mrs. Obama was our first champion - other amazing influencers followed, including Dr. Jill Biden, Prince Harry, Richard Gere, Chris Stapleton, and Brian Wilson. Working with all of them was extraordinary - and a huge accomplishment.
Most recently, WeBe has been contracted to deliver a customized version of the WeBe app to a prestigious university to facilitate the well-being of all students, faculty, and staff on campus - which is amazing and exciting, and another huge accomplishment.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
I'll give you three challenges....how hard they are varies depending on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the specific leader.
First - it's hard to "keep the faith" in the face of rejections and challenges - but you have to in order to succeed. And you have to be optimistic for your team even if you don't always feel that way inside... You have to assume that you will run into walls - and that you can learn from your mistakes, setbacks, and failures. In order to withstand this specific type of challenge... it isn't so much that you have to develop a thick skin as you have to truly embrace the fact that challenges are a necessary process required to build a successful business.
Second - it can be very hard to realize that you don't know everything you need to know to build and run your business! This can be especially hard for people who are creative....and who have the initial vision. Just because you have the vision doesn't mean you're the best at making decisions regarding how to manage the finances or the operations of your business.
Third - the sacrifices required - personally and professionally - to build and lead a business can be very difficult. This is especially true for women business leaders/owners. Throughout my career, I've often been the only female CEO or senior leader in the room... It can be lonely. In addition, women are often still the ones who have to juggle careers and primary responsibility for taking care of children while we keep the family running - that was certainly true for me when I was raising my two daughters as a single mom. Things are changing, but it's still difficult for women - we have pulled in so many directions.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Be as prepared as you can be - conceptually, financially, and emotionally. Do your homework and do the appropriate due diligence. Know your sector and your competitors... Whether you're building a company in the non-profit or the for-profit sector, don't build something just because you think you can. Make sure that what you're doing is unique, filling a gap, additive....or innovative... so that you aren't wasting your time or anyone else's energy. If you're filling a need - or building a better solution - you'll have a much better chance of succeeding.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help/advice/guidance/feedback/criticism... It's so much better to have a trusted circle of advisors - across a range of areas of expertise - to help you react and respond to the inevitable challenges that your business will face - than to struggle alone.
- Make sure you have a deep, wide, and solid emotional support system. Being a leader is challenging. It can be difficult emotionally, physically, and in relationships... Can you have it all? NOPE - at least not all at the same time. But, if you keep trying to remain centered on what really matters in your life...and you develop good well-being practices.... and you have close healthy relationships... you won't have to sacrifice your well-being or your relationships! And eventually, you won't be working 24/7...You will be able to navigate the ups and downs of growing a company... you will learn how to weather the storms... And you will get to experience the thrill and satisfaction of building something - a business, a solution - and watching it flourish.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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