‘You’re Not Alone In The Struggle’: Lennie Carter’s Tech Startup, TruCircle, Empowers People To Find Mental Health Help
Some experts blame the growing number of U.S. mass shootings on gun manufacturers, their role in policymaking and on magazine capacity — the number of bullets a gun can hold. Other people blame untreated mental health issues.
Lennie Carter thinks using the term “mental health” when describing mass shootings hurts the advocacy efforts of mental health professionals. Carter’s tech company, TruCircle, is a video-chat service and directory for people to connect with licensed mental health professionals.
Many people don’t recognize the cultural and biological challenges that make it hard to live a happy and productive life. And they don’t realize there are ways to afford help. Even the stress of everyday life gone unchecked can cause physical and emotional harm.
Inspired by his late mother, Carter is on a mission. A two-time entrepreneur with a successful exit, he wants to help others find the help he needed during her unexpected passing. TruCircle offers secure video conferencing, billing and credentialing services.
I made the decision to continue entrepreneurship — to not only do it in a way where it’s about making money but to do it in a way where it was about helping people and sustaining the future for generations to come.Lennie Carter, founder of TruCircle, a video-chat service and directory connecting people with licensed mental health professionals.
A New York native, Carter grew up in Brownsville, an underserved community of Brooklyn. He has been recognized for his community work, which includes mentorship, and Google took notice. Carter earned two degrees from Stony Brook University — a bachelor of science in business management and a master’s degree in HR management.
Carter shared with Moguldom the inspiration for TruCircle, his thoughts on the mass shooting problem in the U.S. and how entrepreneurs can overcome mental health challenges.
Entrepreneurs … put our life on the line with our passion, vision, hopes to be able to sustain life. When it doesn’t work out, it can be super depressing. Our mental health becomes unstable. Entrepreneurs need to find a tribe. Networking is one of the greatest things you can do.Lennie Carter, founder of TruCircle, a video-chat service and directory connecting people with licensed mental health professionals.
Moguldom: Why did you start TruCircle?
Lennie Carter: I was already a tech entrepreneur for another startup where I joined as the fourth employee and later became an equity partner. My first two years into it, I ended up losing my mother. She passed away at age 53 from an accident on a subway platform in New York City. She was admitted into the hospital ICU and was unconscious for two weeks prior to passing. It was so unexpected, and the timing was completely a shock.
At that time, being an entrepreneur and just losing my mother, I struggled with my own mental health challenges. I struggled to find a therapist I felt comfortable with sharing my family story. I wanted someone that looked like me or had a similar background or experiences to me. I would speak to an older white person for therapy, and that wasn’t someone I felt comfortable speaking about dealing with the loss of my mother and the suicidal thoughts I was having at the time.
I finally found a good therapist, and when I did, I realized therapy wasn’t the stigma that had been placed around it. It was giving me the tools to help me overcome the challenges I faced. It helped me become a better person and a better entrepreneur.
We need to all get involved with the process of recognizing when friends and loved ones are struggling with day-to-day life. I didn’t seek to help until a loved one said to me, “I think it’s a great idea for you to go and seek someone.”Lennie Carter, founder of TruCircle, a video-chat service and directory connecting people with licensed mental health professionals.
Then in 2015, my brother’s best friend passed away to the hands of gun violence in New York City. My brother was actually living out of state at the time and I knew he would also need mental health help and support. With him living out of state and not having access to mental health services as we did in New York, the idea of TruCircle was born.
We focus on addressing the stigma and normalizing the conversation that there isn’t anything wrong with seeking help. We also provide access and availability to professionals and help people realize health insurance can be accepted as a form of payment for seeking help. In fact, Medicaid is accepted by some clinicians as well. This all led me to apply to a business competition in 2015 hosted by Google Waze executive Di-Ann Eisnor and Lupe Fiasco. After coming in first place and winning the competition, I started my journey working on TruCircle which has been for the last four years.
Moguldom: A lot of entrepreneurs struggle during a loss. How did you find your way back into entrepreneurship after your mom passed away?
Lennie Carter: I’ve always been blessed with a strong support system. My grandmother was still alive and my sister, brother, aunts, and uncles were a part of my core support system. But I didn’t understand how to manage that support system while we were all going through the transition. That’s where therapy came in and helped.
With me being at a tech startup, my support system was also the founders of the company I was working with at the time. Whether it was time off to manage the health care of my mom, or being by her bedside every single day for those two weeks she was in a hospital, or whether it was the weeks after her passing to prepare for funeral arrangements and everything else, my partners in that company were phenomenal and supported me through that journey.
It’s especially isolating as a solopreneur. Find groups where the entrepreneurs are in the same stage of business you’re in. Communicate often to realize you’re not alone in the struggle. The things that you’re facing seem like the death of your business is coming, but there are others who know of ways to overcome.Lennie Carter, founder of TruCircle, a video-chat service and directory connecting people with licensed mental health professionals.
As we transitioned and grew the business, we were blessed enough to have an exit where that company was acquired. Once we were acquired and I won the business competition, I was inspired.
(TruCircle) is legally named BC53 which stands for Barbara Carter (my mother) and 53 for the age she passed away. It offers services to those who need therapy and therapists.
I knew my next venture post-exit was going to be inspired by my mother. The things that she taught me and her helping people was kind of a core value. Even if she didn’t have a shirt on her back, she would still find a shirt to give to someone else. That was how I made the decision to continue entrepreneurship — to not only do it in a way where it’s about making money but to do it in a way where it was about helping people and sustaining the future for generations to come.
Moguldom: Are there any tips, besides using TruCircle, you would recommend for entrepreneurs to consider for maintaining their own mental health?
Lennie Carter: Absolutely. We have to support each other and be there for each other. Unfortunately, over the last week or two, there was a founder based on the West Coast that ended up committing suicide. Mental health is real for entrepreneurs. We put our life on the line with our passion, with our vision, with our hopes to be able to sustain life. Sometimes we get into this not to become millionaires, but literally to follow a passion or to have independence and freedom. When it doesn’t work out, it can be super depressing and challenging, and a ton of highs and lows that impact us in a way our mental health becomes unstable. Entrepreneurs need to find a tribe. Networking is one of the greatest things you can do as an entrepreneur even if you have a founding team.
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It’s especially isolating as a solopreneur. Either way, the highs and lows are challenging. Find groups where the entrepreneurs are in the same stage of business you’re in. Communicate with others as often as possible to realize you’re not alone in the struggle and that the things that you’re facing seem like the death of your business is coming, but there are others who know of ways to overcome.
Moguldom: What have been some challenges since launching TruCircle?
Lennie Carter: The biggest challenge overall was taking a business where the passion in my mind, body, and soul is to help other people and present it to investors who are looking at a financial model and if they can get a 10x return on investment. It was really challenging to find that balance between bootstrapping, fundraising, and sticking to our mission of helping people when you have to worry about survival. Figuring out how to put food on a table for the family while worrying about funding the business and marketing it. A lot of investors have told me “no,” they wouldn’t invest in me. Although the passion and vision were there, although we are making money and doing it in a way that’s unique and different, investors still didn’t feel as if the return would be there in a time they would expect. That has been my biggest challenge.
The TruCircle concept is … not just about the folks that need it the most but it’s bringing awareness to those that also recognize their loved ones are going through it.Lennie Carter, founder of TruCircle, a video-chat service and directory connecting people with licensed mental health professionals.
Moguldom: Were you able to obtain any investors for TruCircle since you’ve launched?
Lennie Carter: Yes. So I was blessed enough to get an investment early on through the Neighborhood Start Fund founded by Lupe Fiasco and Di-Ann Eisnor. They invested $50,000 total in TruCircle. Then last year we were able to get a $50,000 investment from UpTech. Friends and family amounts were all ranging anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 where folks understood the struggle, believed in the business and the vision. Lifelong friends made small investments to make sure that we can continue on our mission of helping others.
Moguldom: What have been some notable wins?
Lennie Carter: I was fortunate to win a New York City Mayor’s Award for the work I do in underserved communities. My hometown is Brownsville, Brooklyn, where I grew up and where poverty, infant mortality, heart disease, diabetes, all those things, are at an all-time high. All of these things are tied back to mental health issues. Another one was being able to participate in an anthology as a mental health expert and share my journey in a chapter of the book, “Black Therapists Rock: A Glimpse Through the Eyes of Experts“. We continue to graduate from and participate in great programs such as Founder Gym.
Moguldom: Mental health is being discussed more in the media as people respond to U.S. mass shooting statistics. Is it frustrating hearing the discussion about mental health knowing you have a solution to help? And does it make sense to talk about mental health in mass shooting discussions?
Lennie Carter: So, there are two frustrations that come to mind. The first frustration is that the people committing these acts of terrorism within our country are labeled mentally ill. I’m not saying that it is not the case for all of the mass shootings, but it’s frustrating to see that as the default of why this is occurring. There are a number of reasons why these mass shootings are occurring. Whether we start with the laws of the country, access to guns or to go all the way down the line to talk about privilege. Some of the rhetoric or racism that’s going on in the country may be a cause or instigation behind some of these shootings. To label the shooters as all having mental health issues is frustrating because that isn’t the case. It blurs the lines and makes it really challenging for those that are in the space of mental health advocacy. Now, all the work that’s being done in the mental health advocacy field is kind of getting tainted by folks out here committing a crime.
Rhetoric or racism may be a cause or instigation behind some of the mass shootings. To label the shooters as all having mental health issues is frustrating because that isn’t the case. It blurs the lines and makes it challenging for those in mental health advocacy.Lennie Carter, founder of TruCircle, a video-chat service and directory connecting people with licensed mental health professionals.
Mental health shows up in two forms. First, it could be completely biological due to a chemical imbalance in your body. And that’s where medication is OK to help the chemical imbalance which causes your mental health issues to occur, such as bipolar disorder and others. Then there’s the other side where there are cultural mental health challenges. Basically, your environment causes some of the stress and anxiety affecting your mental health. It could be your work environment or your living habits. So biological and cultural issues can challenge your mental health.
Mass shootings kind of blurs those lines and subsets where it doesn’t help the cause for mental health advocacy.
The second question as to TruCircle not getting to the people that need it most goes back to the self-identifying aspect. TruCircle’s essence and why the name is TruCircle goes back to what I mentioned before about people and a tribe. The key to our growth is we need to all get involved with the process of recognizing when friends and loved ones are struggling with day-to-day life. I didn’t seek to help until a loved one said to me, “Hey, I recognize you’re not sleeping well and not eating well. You’re not excited about the things you were excited about in the past. I think it’s a great idea for you to go and seek someone. I will go with you if you need me.”
The TruCircle concept is under that same umbrella. It’s not just about the folks that need it the most but it’s bringing awareness to those that also recognize their loved ones are going through it. So the people that are thinking about committing these acts of terrorism, hopefully, TruCircle can reach their loved ones, and others around them so that if they recognize the signs something isn’t right, they can be the support system or give that extra push encourage their loved ones to get help.
Moguldom: What do the next five years look like?
Lennie Carter: The next five years for TruCircle looks like us growing to be the largest diverse directory of mental health professionals out there by making sure there is accessibility for everyone that needs it. Also empowering mental health professionals to a point where the conversation on seeking help is so normalized and they’re able to have the power to offer their services across the nation to anyone that needs it.