Flourish Labs

5 surprising things I have in common with economist Steve Levitt

Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt recently invited me on his ‘People I (Mostly) Admire’ podcast. Our conversation ran the gamut: we discussed everything from dream jobs and fantastic failures, to the power of mental health peer support and the fall of the Berlin Wall. These are topics close to Steve’s heart, so I also learnt quite a bit about him—including some surprising personal parallels!

Here are 5  things that Steve and I have in common. The last one especially was a surprise!

  1. We are not afraid to fail because we prioritise learning. Steve tries out more projects than the average academic. I’ve worked on many failed projects in my career. We talk about some of my favourites on the podcast, like Project Loon and Project Foghorn at X. We both continue to prioritise learning over a fear of failure in our roles today!
  2. We have close family members who struggled with serious mental illness, leading us to care deeply about mental health. Having experienced the power of peer support, both giving it and receiving it, we are curious  about the science: what makes therapy and peer support effective, and how someone with much less training than a therapist can help others recover.
  3. We had the same business idea. We both imagined matching people experiencing mental health struggles with peer supporters who have gone through the same. When Steve’s daughter Lily shared her experience recovering from an eating disorder on Instagram, she got countless DMs from other teens asking her for help. Steve never got around to setting up a peer support marketplace, and was delighted to discover that I set one up at! 🙂
  4. Our worldviews have been shaped by experiences with US and German culture, at different points in our lives. Steve’s wife is German and he lives there now. I grew up in Berlin, went to the US as a high school exchange student as a teenager and almost missed the wall coming down, which we also talk about on the podcast.
  5. We both have imposter  syndrome. (Wait, what??? Steve Levitt has impostor syndrome!!) On the podcast, Steve wonders how many of his podcast listeners really feel like imposters, so he invites them to send a one line email to saying either “imposter” or “not an imposter”. I’m curious how many of you feel that they’re an imposter. If you’re brave enough to share openly, please let me know in the comments! 

Thank you Steve, Morgan and the PIMA team for the enjoyable, interesting and sometimes challenging conversation.I was nervous at the beginning of the recording (imposter!!!!), sitting in a dark studio in San Francisco talking to Steve halfway across the world. By the end Steve and I could have chatted for two more hours. Mental health and peer support are complicated to unpack. The podcast format was perfect for it, especially since Steve had a personal connection. 

I’d love to do more podcasts on the topic of mental health and peer support, for example: How peer support works with other modalities/solutions to the mental health crisis, a deep dive on the science of peer support, hearing from others with lived experience of mental health challenges for whom peer support  has worked, and whether a chatbot could ever deliver proper peer support (which is  as much a philosophical as a technical question).

What conversations about peer support and mental health would you like to hear on a future podcast? Get in touch here and let me know!

You can listen and find the transcript on the Freakonomics website here, or download the episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Flourish Labs Product updates

Introducing, a new mental health support network for college students

I was going to start this post with the data. Over 50 millions Americans have a mental health diagnosis. Over half of them get no care at all. Only 30% get therapy.  Because they can’t afford it, because their insurance doesn’t cover it, because of stigma, because they live in a county without a single psychologist (that’s 75% of Americans), because the demand for therapy is growing faster than we can train therapists, because waitlists are getting longer. Suicide is the second cause of death among teenagers and young adults. 60% of college students have mental health challenges. 60% of LGBTQ+ youth who wanted mental health care in the past year were not able to get it. There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a mental health crisis, especially among young people.

Sources: SAMHSA National Survey, Bureau of Labor

I was then going to talk about how we need new solutions, like digital therapeutics and new drugs. That we need to train more people in mental health care, not just experts with Master and PhD degrees. That peer support – people with lived experience of mental health challenges supporting others in their community – is an overlooked solution to the mental health crisis. All of this is true, but it felt like yet another article about mental health, indistinguishable from all the others I’ve been reading.

As I was sitting on the sofa chewing my pencil, my husband looked at me and said, “You’re overthinking this. You need to write it from the heart. What do you want to say?”

What I really want to say is this: You are not alone

Behind all those statistics are real people, like my husband who has been living with bipolar since we first met at university. People who can’t see a way out of their suffering, who blame themselves, who worry their loved ones, who are feeling alone in their pain. Our families and friends, mine and yours.

If you are suffering, I want you to know: You are not alone. Your pain is real, and there are others who have been in that dark cave and have found their way out of it and sometimes, back into it again. People who’ve learned what it takes to pull themselves out of that cave and ask for help. 

We want to make it easier for you to share your pain and your story with others who’ve been there. To let them help carry your load because it’s too much for you to carry right now. You deserve this help. 

Our peer supporters will support you, one human being to another. They are uniquely qualified to do this because they’ve dealt with mental health challenges themselves, and are in recovery. Our peer supporters bring a variety of life experiences, from struggling with depression or body image to identifying as pansexual or Latinx. They will share their stories of growth and resilience. They won’t judge you and they’re not trying to change you, because they know that you are complete just as you are. Rather, they’re here to listen and to guide you through things that you may not feel equipped to deal with on your own. They will help you find strengths that you didn’t know you have.

Our website and our service certainly aren’t perfect; they’re what tech people call a ‘beta product’. We embrace the imperfections, because we know they will get better as we get feedback from our first users. We’ve built them with care: Our telehealth platform is HIPAA compliant and secure. Our peer supporters are trained to a  state certification level. Our head of peer support, Ally, met with every single supporter last week to see if they’re ready, and to provide them the support they may need.

Find your supporters

If you would like to talk to a caring human being about something that’s going on in your life, we have wonderful peer supporters on our platform who are eager to be there for you. Not only have they gone through training and earned their certification, but they’ve also chosen to show up every day and be vulnerable to help you. 

When we asked them why they wanted to become peer supporters, here is what they said:

“I want to be the person I needed when I was younger.” 

“If it weren’t for the few people who were able to meet me where I was at mentally in my early twenties, I likely never would have healed. I can only hope to give that back to somebody who needs it in the same way.”

“I’m here because you matter. I know what it’s like to feel as if you’re drowning in your suffering and struggles with no room to breathe. I believe in you and your ability to heal and grow and love. You don’t have to do it alone.”

Some are just as nervous as you are right now. One said in our group chat, “I’m worried that nobody is going to book a session with me”. The others rallied around, reassuring her and making her feel heard – giving each other peer support!

So what are you waiting for? 

We hope you’ll join us in this journey. is now available for 18-30 year olds. Give a try and see how it feels to talk to someone who gets you.

It might not look like much now, but it’s the beginning of a revolution.

Flourish Labs

We’re hiring!

You’ve all seen those posts on your LinkedIn and Twitter feed where a startup announces their round and investors, and everyone comments on how excited they are about working together. I never understood the point of those announcements; they felt so self-congratulatory. Surely the real news is about the products we build and the users we serve, not merely that we raised some money. And then someone explained to me what those announcements are really about: letting prospective team members know that we are hiring… Well, we’re hiring!

Here’s why you should join us

Kim Newell Green (paediatrician, former Chief Innovation Officer at Kaiser Permanente) and I (product, marketing & moonshots at Google, X and ecommerce startups) started Flourish Labs with a vision of flourishing minds for all: a future where everyone can be their best self and achieve their potential. We’re on a mission to bring accessible, affordable mental health support to everyone who needs it by empowering people to support each other, starting with college students. We do this by mobilizing and scaling peer support with tech. We believe that peer support is an effective, yet underutilized solution to the mental health crisis. 

Peer supporters use their own lived experience of mental health challenges to help others. We are growing the peer supporter workforce by training college students in peer support skills, such as active listening, building rapport, strengths, self-care, coping strategies and safety. We’ll offer jobs in our peer support network, launching later this year. Students who seek support will be able to find Certified Peer Supporters in our network who match their needs, and book support sessions via our digital platform.

Our founding team includes Hannah Schilpp, Head of Operations (previously ran ops at 3 early stage healthcare startups, peer support experience); Shreya Singhvi, Chief of Staff (one of our former interns, recent Berkeley neurobiology & psychology graduate); Yu-Chi Kuo, Founding Engineer (previously Google, DeepMind & Facebook). We also have two awesome interns, Anastasia Zorlas (Northeastern Business major doing a Coop placement with us) and Nathan Blanken (U Maryland CS major & Active Minds chapter lead – see Nathan’s blogpost about his summer internship).

This work takes a village, so we’re grateful to our partners and advisors who bring their peer support, lived experience, clinical, digital health and learning design expertise. We’re excited to be working with Alison Malmon, Becky Fein and Laura Horne at Active Minds, Jammie Gardner, Tia Barnes and Martin Rafferty at Youth Era, Betheny Gross and Jason Levin at WGU Labs, Joanna Strober at Midi Health, Kali Cyrus at Johns Hopkins, Kelly Davis at Mental Health America, Linsey Morrison at Eventbrite, Manpreet Singh at Stanford University, Sam McLean at University of North Carolina, and Shuranjeet Singh at Taraki. 

We recently closed our seed round led by Gradient Ventures and Collaborative Fund, with participation from Learn Capital, WGU Labs, Tiny VC and wonderful angels. Thank you all for backing us!

We’re looking for a diverse bunch of company builders, peer supporters, product and marketing folks

Please check out our career page at to see open roles, why and how we care deeply about diversity, equity and inclusion, and the wonderful benefits we offer (Kim and I worked at Kaiser and Google before we set up Flourish Labs and appreciate good health insurance!)

We are currently hiring for the following roles: Founding Product Manager; Founding Marketing Manager; Product Designer (freelance/contract to perm opportunity); Peer Support Supervisor (licensed or unlicensed), Certified Peer Supporter, Peer Support Apprentice.

If none of those roles are a fit but you love our mission, we’d still love to hear from you. Just fill in our application form and select ‘Anything Role’ when we ask you what role you are interested in.

Flourish Labs Peer Support Training

Peer Support 101: Empowering college students to support each other with free mental health training

Why we’re launching our peer support training and network

At Flourish Labs, we’re on a mission to bring accessible, affordable mental health support to everyone who needs it by empowering people to support each other. We’re in the midst of a student mental health crisis. Over 40% of college students have mental health challenges, according to the Healthy Minds Study. College counseling centers are struggling to keep up with demand

We believe that peer support is an effective, yet under-utilized solution to this crisis. Peer supporters use their own lived experience of mental health challenges to help others. Studies have shown that peer support not only benefits the student being supported, but also helps the supporter maintain good mental health. In other words, it’s mutual. A recent survey found that 20% of students already have experienced peer support, and another 50% want to try it. On many campuses, students are self-organizing to provide informal peer support to each other, with little or no training.

Unfortunately, as with other mental health professions, there aren’t enough trained and qualified peer supporters to meet the need. Mental Health America estimates that only about 24,000 people work as Certified Peer Support Specialists in the US today. 

Our ambition is to grow this workforce by training students in peer support skills, such as active listening, building rapport, strengths, self-care, coping strategies and safety. We’ll then offer students a part-time job as Certified Peer Supporters in our peer support network launching later this fall. Students who want support will be able to find Certified Peer Supporters who match their needs, and book support sessions via our digital platform.

We’re not alone

This effort will take a village, not just a technology startup such as Flourish Labs, so we’re partnering with nonprofits and colleges to bring the peer supporter training and job opportunity to students. We’re working closely with two leading nonprofits in the youth peer space. Youth Era, a peer-led organization based in Oregon who have deep experience in training youth peer supporters, is our training partner. We’ve been designing our program with Active Minds, the largest nationwide network of student mental health volunteers with chapters on over 600 college campuses.

We’re also working with student groups, career centers, psychology departments and innovation groups at Northeastern University, University of St Thomas Houston, Western Governors University, Arizona State University and University of Oregon to bring this opportunity to their community. (Read this blogpost on why WGU chose to partner with us.) We’re always looking for more college partners, especially community colleges and others with diverse student populations. So if you are interested in offering peer supporter training, paid work experience and meaningful part-time jobs to your students, please get in touch.

Sign up for ‘Peer Support 101’ training, starting August 29th

Our ‘Peer Support 101’ training is a 20-hour live, virtual course designed and delivered in partnership with Youth Era. It is based on Youth Era’s proven Uplift program, and adapted for college students.  

You can learn more about the training and sign up here:

Register by August 25th to join the training starting August 29th, or get priority access for future courses if you can’t make this one.

We are offering 150 scholarships so students can participate in the training free of charge (worth $475 each). If you complete the course and pass the assessment at the end, you will receive a digital certificate that you can display on your LinkedIn or Handshake profile – and a $75 gift voucher!

As with all our projects, we’re designing our training with students, for students. This first cohort will be a beta test and we’ll evolve it over time.

We hope to see you at our first training!

Image: Nathan Blanken and fellow University of Maryland students at Active Minds event in October 2021. Photo by Kevin Carney

Product updates

Introducing myala: a self-tracking app for the mind that fosters human connection

Posted on 8 September 2021, updated 7 April 2023
by Obi Felten, Founder & CEO of Flourish Labs

Three months ago I left my job in a big tech company to set up Flourish Labs, a purpose-driven startup using cutting edge mental health science and technology to foster good mental health. Our mission: Flourishing minds for all, starting with students.

Today we’re launching the beta version of myala, an app that helps you understand the ups and downs of your mind. myala is for everyone, whether you are flourishing or languishing right now. It’s using technology that you likely have with you at all times: a smartphone and a wearable device.  

myala empowers you with your data to help you gain more emotional self-awareness

The myala app encourages you to regularly check in with your feelings, your mood and other factors such as your motivation, sleep, mental focus and social interactions.

Think of a myala ‘Check-in’ as a twice daily activity, just like brushing your teeth. It only takes about a minute (and you could probably do it while you are brushing your teeth if you’re pressed for time).

You can instantly view your data in easy to understand reports, charting how the factors that affect your mental health and wellbeing change over time. 

Unlike simple mood diary apps, myala can also integrate your sleep, activity and heart rate data if you have a wearable and choose to connect it to myala. This is optional; you can use myala with just a smartphone. We currently support Fitbit and Oura, and will add more wearables soon.

You control what you share with myala. myala empowers you with your data to help you gain more emotional self-awareness.

myala brings you human connection when it’s most important for you

In addition to self-tracking, myala is being designed to foster support from others. During 18 months of lockdowns and physical distancing from friends, extended family and co-workers, we have all experienced how vital human connection is for good mental health.

In the beta version released today, myala gives you instant access to free, 24/7 crisis support. With the tap of a button, you can text with a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. (Updated 7 April 2023: The app now refers users to 988, the mental health crisis line)

You can also view mental health and wellbeing tips and resources from Active Minds.

If you are a student at one of our pilot colleges, the app will show you mental health and wellbeing resources that are available on your campus. 

Your support

Soon, myala will allow you to share some of your data with a small number of people of your choosing. These could be friends, family or others in the myala community who want to support you. Unlike anonymous peer support platforms, myala facilitates ongoing connections with people you know and trust. myala reduces the burden of reaching out to get or give help by notifying your supporters, and encouraging them to get in touch when it looks like you might need it. Or if you’re doing well at the moment, the myala support notification might just serve as a reminder that they haven’t caught up with you in a while and it’s time for a chat.

You control who you share with. myala brings you human connection when it’s most important for you.

myala is being built with students, for students

College students are our first audience for myala. During our pilot, myala is available only via our partners or by referral. 

myala, like all of us, is a work in progress.  We’re releasing it as a beta app today because we want to get early feedback from students and colleges on what we’ve built so far, and get input on the parts we’re building next. 

If you are a student, you can get early access to myala and help myala get better by joining our Trusted Tester program. We have a limited number of slots, so please bear with us if we don’t get back to you straight away.

Each screen of the app has a ‘feedback’ icon on it. For each app release, we will share how we’ve addressed feedback from testers, so you get to see how you are helping to improve myala first hand. 

Bring myala to your college

We are inviting a small number of colleges to actively take part in our pilot during the 2021/22 academic year. We are looking for innovators who want to offer the opportunity to their students and staff to test and help evolve the product. We’d especially love to work with community colleges and HBCUs.

If you are a student, you can bring myala to your college as an Ambassador.

If you are faculty or staff, please get in touch to explore how we could include your college in our pilot. 

Project myala is a collaboration between a tech startup, nonprofits and academics

We have come together to work on myala because we share a vision of a future where more people flourish in a world of good mental health and wellbeing. 

Flourish Labs, Inc.

Flourish Labs is a purpose-driven technology startup building the app and technology platform with a small but mighty team and the help of a multi-faceted advisory board. 

Active Minds is the leading nonprofit organization supporting mental health awareness and education for young adults. Led by founder Alison Malmon, they are our co-design and outreach partner.

Youth Era is a global leader in empowering young people and creating breakthroughs in the systems that serve them. Through peer support and technology, Youth Era equips young people with tools to help themselves and their peers. They are designing a bespoke training program for myala members who want to become supporters.

Crisis Text Line provides free, high quality crisis support through text messaging. Trained, compassionate Crisis Text Line crisis counselors are available 24/7 for any crisis, not just suicide. (Update 7 April 2023: The app now points to 988.)

If you are an individual or foundation interested in supporting the work of our nonprofit partners or the research study with a grant, please get in touch.

Each partner in our multi-disciplinary team brings their energy, unique experience and insight to myala, and I’m excited and grateful every day to be working with them. We invite you to bring your own experience to myala by joining us on the journey as a Trusted Tester, myala Ambassador or pilot college.

You can learn more at We can’t wait to hear what you think of myala and your ideas on how to make it work for you.

Note: This blogpost was updated on 7 April 2023 to reflect the name change from håp to myala.

Flourish Labs

My next mission: Flourishing minds for all

Today is my last day at Alphabet, after 15 great years at Google and X. I’m setting up Flourish Labs, a startup combining cutting edge mental health science and technology to foster flourishing and good mental health. Our mission is flourishing minds for all. We are building a future where nobody is held back by mental health problems, where everyone can be their best self and achieve their potential.

Poor mental health is a huge problem for our society that has been exacerbated by recent events. The pandemic and social injustice especially affected young people and people of colour. The number of people reporting depression or anxiety symptoms in the US is now 31% of adults, 33% of Black adults, 35% of Latinx adults and 49% of 18-29 year olds, according to the CDC’s mental health survey in May 2021.

Flourishing minds for all college students

Flourish Lab’s first mission is focused on college students: no student left behind by mental health problems. Sadly that is not the case today.

40% of US college students – around 8 million – suffer from mental health problems (Healthy Minds Study). Over 40 percent of students with a mental health diagnosis drop out of college (National Academies report, 2019). Suicide is the number 2 cause of death among students, with 28,000 attempts a year (Healthy Minds study, CDC, Taub & Thompson, 2013). 

With students returning to college campuses this fall and 70% of college presidents stating that mental health is one of their top concerns (ACE survey), now is the time to make a difference for millions of students. Studies demonstrate that improving student mental health can increase academic performance and graduation rates (Healthy Minds/ACE report, 2019). Investing in student mental health makes good economic sense too: 30 students who stay in college for 2 more years at $20k/year tuition yield $1.2M in tuition revenues that would otherwise be lost, and their lifetime earnings increase by $3m (Eisenberg et al, 2009).

We are launching a pilot in August for the 2021/22 academic year. If you are a college that wants to improve the mental health of your students and are interested in taking part in our pilot, please get in touch. We are prioritising community colleges and HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) for the initial launch.

We are looking for donors to help fund our non-profit partners, including Active Minds whose founder Alison Malmon has joined our advisory board. If you are a foundation, family office or individual excited about seed-funding innovation projects at the intersection of mental health, education/college success and diversity/equity/inclusion, I’d love to talk with you. All donations will go directly to colleges in our pilot and to our non-profit partners.

To learn more about Flourish Labs and get in touch, please visit

Moving on from Google and X: Thank you and I love you

A few weeks ago I wrote about love being a competitive advantage. I’ve loved my time at Google and X because of the projects I worked on, but most of all because of the people I worked with. I’m grateful to my managers and mentors who propelled me, to my team members who taught me so much (especially the engineers who patiently explained complicated physics, chemistry and AI to me), to my peers who shared their journey with me.

I fell in love with Google at first sight in 1999, when an eToys engineer showed me a new search engine that actually worked. I fell in love again in 2005 when I sat in the lobby of the newly opened Google London office, watching bright-eyed Googlers bustling with a sense of urgency and purpose. They had lava lamps and colourful bouncy balls, just like eToys! I felt a sense of belonging instantly. My first interview was with Lorraine Twohill, a formidable Irish woman who ran the European marketing team at the time and is now the CMO of Google. After our conversation she said, “We’re going to hire you, you’ll be great at Google. Now you need to convince another 14 people that this is the case.” I thought she was joking, but that’s exactly what happened. 14 interviews later I found myself in her team as Google’s first consumer marketing lead in Europe.

I joined Google at a time of explosive growth. When I started, there were around 5000 Googlers globally and 150 in London. We hired people, launched new products and opened offices at breakneck speed. In the marketing team, I had brilliant mentors in Dan Cobley and Yonca Brunini Dervisoglu who fused creativity and data. I worked on inspiring projects: Teaming up with British Airways for a campaign featuring Google Earth. Rolling out Google Maps in dozens of countries across Europe, Middle East and Africa. Launching Android and Chrome, growing them to hundreds of millions of users. Learning how to make posters and TV ads to complement our online campaigns. Taking Streetview to the small German village of Oberstaufen. Turning the Google homepage into a canvas for children’s art with Doodle4Google. Creating April fool jokes that might someday become real products. As my 20% project, I founded Campus London, Google’s first space for entrepreneurs.

I loved marketing, and at the same time I missed building products and working with engineers. When Megan Smith, a mentor and great connector, introduced me to Astro Teller in 2012, I was curious. Astro worked at GoogleX which the New York Times had called “Google’s lab of wildest dreams”. He told me about self-driving cars and other, still secret projects: internet from balloons, delivery drones, a contact lens that measures glucose in your tears. I loved the audacity and potential for impact. I asked him practical questions: Is it legal to fly balloons over countries? Are you going to partner with mobile phone companies? Do you have a business plan for any of these projects? Astro raised his eyebrows and said, “Those are good questions, why don’t you come over and help us answer them.” 

Two months later my family and I moved to California for a new adventure. In my nine years at X, I kept my job title of “Head of getting moonshots ready for contact with the real world”, but I changed roles three times – a testament that people as well as projects can pivot at X.  

I started as one of the first non-engineers at X with an undefined role and broad remit to ‘de-risk everything that’s not tech’, including product, marketing, legal, policy, operations and business planning. I hired leaders for many of those functions, transforming X from a pure engineering team to the multidisciplinary team it is today. In my first year I mostly worked on Wing, a drone delivery service, and Loon, expanding internet access worldwide with balloons. When Loon took flight in New Zealand in the summer of 2013, I couldn’t travel to the launch site with the team because I was about to have a baby. I had a bet with the engineers about who would launch first. My daughter came 10 days early and Loon was 10 days late, so I won.

In my second chapter, I ran early stage projects. My team and I incubated projects like MineralFoghornChronicleDandelion and Malta. Many didn’t pan out. I became an expert on how to deal with failure and how to kill good things to make room for great ones. I loved learning about everything from computational agriculture to carbon-neutral fuel chemistry, VR, cybersecurity and energy storage, but running a portfolio was not my highest and best use. I am more of a scuba diver than a snorkeler; I love going deep on one project rather than spreading myself thin over several.

In my third incarnation at X, I got the opportunity to go deep on a topic I was passionate about: mental health. I started Project Amber with a small multi-disciplinary team of neuroscientists, hardware and software engineers, machine learning researchers and med-tech experts. We explored how to use brain-based biomarkers and machine learning to better assess depression and anxiety. At the end of 2020, we open-sourced our EEG technology, published our ML methods and shared insights from our user research with clinicians and students. (See this blogpost for more detail and links to materials.)

My career has moved from strategy to product to marketing to leadership roles, from ecommerce to consumer tech to moonshots. Now I am bringing all these experiences to my next chapter, focusing on mental health. I can’t wait to see where this takes me. If I have learnt one thing in the past 25 years, I know that my path won’t be linear.