Elettra Bianchi Dennerlein tells us why she started a business at 26. My Online Therapy is an online mental health service that provides easy access to evidence-based psychological therapy online. Elettra explains what you need to think of before starting a business in your 20s.
I battled with my mental health while I was studying before starting my business and I can genuinely say that if it had not been for my therapist, I would definitely not be the person I am today – both in my personal and professional life. Experiencing the powerful impact of therapy firsthand and having a family history of mental illness made me really interested in psychology and ultimately, the delivery of therapy.
When I moved to London from Italy, I started doing remote sessions with my therapist in Rome and that was the start of what was to become my startup five years later.
I am now the co-founder and co-CEO of one of the UK’s first virtual psychology clinics My Online Therapy. The platform is an online mental health service that provides easy access to evidence-based psychological therapies by connecting people with highly-qualified psychologists via video, web chat and daily coaching. It is modern therapy for modern lives.
How I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur
Many people have “light bulb” moments but keep them to themselves. For me, it was always clear that I would build my own business. From an early age, I hassled my family, partner, friends – and even new acquaintances – with business ideas.
I realised I was on the right track with My Online Therapy when more and more people became receptive to it and often went above and beyond to offer their advice. Take note when that happens. It is a good indicator that you’re nursing something that has real potential for growth.
Top tips for starting a business in your 20s
Don’t let your age define you!
Sometimes age holds people back – but it shouldn’t. The majority of people in their 20s have a lot of passion, energy and optimism – all of which is needed to be an entrepreneur.
If you don’t have the right qualifications, partner with someone who does
Partner with someone who has the appropriate qualifications and expertise for your business to succeed.
I am not a psychologist – nor have I ever studied psychology – so starting a business in the mental health space was daunting. Despite being familiar with the way therapy works, I needed someone leading the business alongside me who had a strong background in psychology.
What is one of the most common things we see in the startup world? The “idea person” partnering with a technical lead (who often later becomes CTO of the company) to enable that idea come to life.
Likewise, if you’re missing the expertise for execution, partnering with the right professional/s is going to make that journey a lot smoother – from all business perspectives.
Never be afraid of being the least knowledgeable person in the room
Don’t let yourself be easily intimidated by people smarter than you. I am by no means some kind of super brain like Elon Musk or Steve Jobs, but that didn’t stop me from founding my own startup.
The reality is when you’re in your 20s, there’s likely to be a lot of people who are smarter and more experienced than you. Rather than being intimidated by these people, learn from them. Always surround yourself with people that are more knowledgeable than you and can help you find answers to the problems you need solving. This will not necessarily cut down the learning curve – in fact, it might even make it steeper – but it’s going to help you achieve more successful outcomes.
Build a support network and make networking a key priority
There’s nothing more powerful than being a good networker. The more you do it, the more you realise it’s essential to the fabric of being a CEO.
Similarly, when you have an idea that people are receptive to, networking becomes your key to unlocking the full potential of success and growth of the company. The world moves around thanks to people. Get out there and network the hell out of the relevant communities for your business.
Fill an underserved demand
You don’t need to completely reinvent the wheel but you do need to have spotted a gap in your market of interest. Once you’ve identified the problem, make sure it’s one that’s widespread. Then go out, and study and test the market fit for your solution.
Choose the right kind of money you need for your business
Different businesses require different amounts of investment. The sooner you understand whether you’re going to be running a capital intensive business or whether you can do just as well (if not better) by bootstrapping it, the sooner you’ll avoid making mistakes on the choice of capital.
You’re likely to be tired of hearing people comparing taking money from investors to marriage. But it’s one of those clichés that couldn’t be more true. Make sure you secure at least some years of happy wedded life!
Know your target audience before you spend a penny
Early days are going to require a lot of testing – especially when it comes to finding your niche and understanding where your target audience spends their time. Arm yourself with as many tools as possible that allow you to track where your customers are coming from. This is going to help you save money, and most importantly, spend it in a way that will deliver strong results.
Sell by creating value
Focus on serving others. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already very familiar with the golden rule: customer is king! The golden rule, and golden mantra. Always go back to it in moments when you’re stuck.
By Elettra Bianchi Dennerlein, co-founder/Co-CEO of My Online Therapy