Today we’d like to introduce you to Eric Coly.
Hi Eric, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I originate from Senegal, West Africa, and moved to the U.S. to attend college. Prior to developing Ayana, I spent ten years in banking. I went through a set of mental health issues that were difficult to bear. I started this chapter of my life by trying to help a dear friend of mine find a counselor. I proposed developing a product that could offer access to a counselor but do so in a much more culturally nuanced way. Ayana’s objective is to offer access to mental health to marginalized communities with an emphasis on intersectionality. My avid passion for this idea grew exponentially as I realized developing Ayana gave me the chance to do some self-healing as well. It helped me personally heal from a severe form of depression. I became more courageous about speaking about what I’ve gone through.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
It hasn’t been a smooth road because we had to find a way to respond to the demands of the marketplace. We found ourselves in the midst of COVID-19 but also in a climate that was very socially and racially charged. We had to develop a product that would be able to serve all those needs. We needed to recruit our team at the time as well, which is a challenging task for startups. We tried to seek out people for our internal team who were a good fit and as passionate about the mission as we are. As you may know, there’s a scarcity of counselors of color and we make sure every counselor is qualified in order to be featured on our app. We do a thorough background check, review their licenses, and review whether they have three years or 2000 hours of experience. All of these factors have made it a very interesting road.
We’ve been impressed with Ayana Therapy, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
When you go on the Ayana app, generally to find a match you go through a questionnaire. Your answers help us to give you the best possible match. Most apps have Eurocentric sounding questionnaires, which means that if you’re intersectional or a person of color you tend to be mismatched. It’s difficult to capture cultural nuances with those questionnaires, so we deconstructed this process and were able to add more culturally relevant items. Hence why we also have named the company Ayana, which means ‘mirror’ in Bengali. The sentiment is to precisely reflect, during our matching process, the answers you give us. Our goal is to look into who you are and make sure you’re feeling seen and heard. We feel a high level of pride attached to what we stand for, our values. It’s been a great effort for us to be seen for who we are and what we could be.
I noticed what prevents people of color and marginalized communities from getting access to therapy is cost, lack of access to insurance, lack of diversity and stigma. So we’ve addressed this by offering a very affordable price. We recently launched our B2C channel in May in support of Mental Health Month. We are now offering access to a counselor at $60 per session. Additionally, we are currently working on accepting insurance to use our product as well.
What do you like and dislike about the city?
I love LA for its diversity of culture, food and people. Los Angeles continues to draw people from all over the world, and so much is happening here in terms of culture and technology. In Los Angeles, we went through a premier accelerator program called TechStars, it’s a worldwide organization that incubates tech startups and helps them become more successful. When we wrapped up the program, we launched right after that. TechStars really helped us to develop our core identity. LA is an emerging city when it comes to tech, I’d say it’s number 3 in the U.S.
I still dislike the ubiquitous traffic here in LA.
- We’re now offering access to a counselor at $60 per session.
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