Founder Friday: Building a Resource, with Zencare Founder Yuri Tomikawa
As a #ByWomenForWomen company, we love celebrating brands that are led by fellow female founders. Our new series, Founder Friday, is a chance to get to know some of these standout women, including our very own Heidi Zak!
For all the focus on mental health and self-care, finding a qualified therapist that works with you is still a difficult and confusing process to navigate for most people. When Yuri Tomikawa decided to give therapy a shot, she struggled to find a professional that was nearby and felt comfortable enough to talk with. She knew there had to be a better way to help more people connect to the professionals they needed, so she started Zencare. Therapy seekers can find therapists by fees and availabilities, watch introductory videos, and book a free initial call. We caught up with Yuri to get self-care advice and learn more about where Zencare is headed.
Tell us about yourself.
I'm the founder of Zencare.co, the simplest way for millennial women to find their ideal therapist. I started Zencare when I struggled to find a therapist myself, and my women-led team has now helped thousands of individuals connect with quality mental health clinicians in New York City, Boston, and Rhode Island.
I'm passionate about helping people find a great therapist fit, leading an inspiring team, and, in my personal time, yoga!
What's the top song on your playlist right now?
The entire Spotify playlists of “Viva Latino” and “Fuego”!
What are the advantages or benefits of being a founder that many people may not realize or know about?
We often focus on the product and business-side of startups – but a huge part of building a company is also building a team.
The opportunity to positively impact my team members’ lives is something I didn’t actively think about when I was starting the company, but something I now take great responsibility for and care deeply about.
In college, I read a piece by Peter Drucker in which he says that management can be one of the most rewarding jobs because you have a huge impact on your employees and their wellbeing. That has stayed with me and is something I’ve taken to heart.
Do you think founders should take time to reflect on the pros, even if they're constantly putting out fires?
Absolutely! During my first few years – which were the toughest – I kept a happiness journal, where I’d write three things that went well that day and that I was proud of. Some days were harder, but most days I could come up with many and keep going. It’s so easy to be hard on yourself as a founder, and this was a great way to acknowledge the positives and a reminder to give myself a pat on the back.
What did success mean to you when you first started your company? How has your definition of success changed since then?
When I first started Zencare, all I wanted was for it to be a useful resource for people looking for a therapist. It was a simple goal, and I didn’t have any particular vision for the scale of it. Essentially, my first metric of success was to make the platform and model work.
Now that we’re off the ground and Zencare has helped thousands of individuals, my vision is much greater – and our goal is to expand as much as possible.
That said, our ultimate definition of success will always be the same -- to help as many people find and access quality mental and emotional healthcare as easily as possible.
Thinking about your time as an entrepreneur, what do you believe is one of the most challenging hurdles women entrepreneurs have to overcome?
As a female founder of a company where our customers, user base, and team are majority female therapists, therapy seekers, and colleagues, I have actually found it to be a benefit and advantage to be a woman.
My struggles have not been specific to being a woman entrepreneur – but rather, challenges in starting a business that I think are applicable to all entrepreneurs, such as the uncertainty of success and operational difficulties. (Note: I think my experience would have been vastly different if I had raised funding from venture capitalists and other investors, as I understand that is where many women experience gender-based barriers.)
The most difficult time in the business to date was the first two years, when very little was proven; we didn’t know if the business model was going to work, and how much we could scale the network.
Can you share what happened when you finally felt like you were on the other side of the struggle?
Two things happened:
One, we kept solving one problem after another, and after overcoming many hurdles, my mindset shifted from “Panic mode every time something negative happened” to a much calmer, solution-oriented, “okay, here’s a new problem, we can solve this” attitude.
Second, we reached a few significant milestones as a company, including word-of-mouth referrals, expansion into a new geography, and profitability as a business – each of these milestones gives me more confidence in our team, product, and business.
What motivates you to keep going in the toughest of times?
For work: The knowledge that this is a mission and product worth pushing forward for, and that we can always find a solution.
For personal struggles: That time heals.
What are your favorite ways to practice self-care?
When running a growing business, self-care is hard to come by – which makes it all the more special when it does happen.
Therapy is my absolute non-negotiable for checking in and taking care of myself. Even if busy days means I need to schedule a remote session, taking that time to pause keeps me rejuvenated and allows me to reflect and hit refresh.
On a physical level, yoga and reiki are two of my favorite self-care go-tos.
I also find catching up with other founder friends to be helpful – both to be able to share in each other’s struggles and also to learn how others have addressed the challenges I’m facing.
And sometimes, the best reliever of anxiety and stress is finding the solution to it – doing my best to fix it, giving myself that recognition, and not be overly hard on myself.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Trust your gut. Most recently, the best pieces of advice have been around thinking bigger and having more confidence in my ability to execute at a larger scale.
What’s the most fulfilling part of your job?
Whenever users email us saying how Zencare has helped them find a great therapist. That’s what has kept me going from day one, and what I love most about my job.