How A Silicon Valley Entrepreneur Blasted Inequality With Laser Focus

Written by Dana Sanchez

Two years ago, Dan Miller launched a startup and things weren’t going well.

Anxiety set in, and the Flemington, NJ native needed a therapist. He searched for a company offering online therapy sessions and found one, but it was only available on a computer and wasn’t covered by his insurance. The experience was “off-putting.” Miller contacted a friend and licensed therapist, Coley Williams, and they eventually started a tech business together in San Francisco.

Miller is the CEO of Level Therapy, a mobile app that gives people in need of mental health counseling access to psychologists, therapists, and counselors via cell phones using video, voice, and text. One-hour sessions cost $99 and may be reimbursable by insurance.

Level Therapy sells its product to companies such as MedStar Health and Teach For America, a national group of leaders who commit to teaching in low-income schools and work to increase students’ opportunities.

Miller said his goal is to have therapists in all 50 states.

“Our user base has been growing steadily,” he said in a NJ.com report. “We’re aiming to have about 100,000 users by the end of 2018 … the reception has been great.”

Before he started his own tech firm, Miller worked at SurveyMonkey, Salesforce, and StyleSeat.

As a black male working for six-plus years in Silicon Valley, his experiences there were “nothing short of great,” Miller said in an earlier report:

Things changed when I crossed over to become an entrepreneur. I have noticed that the valley — namely the venture capital community here — has proven to be a system of subpar pattern matching which has exposed cowardice and lemming-like behavior.

Level Therapy launched in the fall of 2016 and has four days left to raise $150,000 in a crowd-funding campaign on SeedInvest. As of this writing, $121,100 has been raised.

We wanted to dig a little deeper and learn how Miller dealt with inequality and other challenges facing a tech startup founder trying to raise funds in Silicon Valley. He talked about it with Moguldom in an email interview.

Dan Miller, CEO of Level Therapy. Photo: YouTube

 

Moguldom: Where is the Level Therapy app available?

Dan Miller: Level Therapy currently provides direct access to therapists in seven states — FL, OH, IL, NY, CA, OR, and MA. We also have evidence-based products to help manage anxiety, and those are available to anyone in the world.

Moguldom: Your experiences as an employee in Silicon Valley were great. What work did you do and was your experience similar to what you hear from other black people working in Silicon Valley?

Dan Miller: I worked for SurveyMonkey as a project manager managing market research for Fortune 500 companies. I designed, deployed, and conducted analysis on the backend for our clients. A lot of this overlapped with the development of a then-new product, SurveyMonkey Audience. I began writing my own research for SM and was really interested in it, so I left to be a market research consultant at Forrester Research, then headed to SalesForce to manage all of their market research efforts with my manager, which was a dream job that I could not turn down. I left Salesforce to launch my first company, which was the world-first marketplace for musicians to book studio time anywhere — think Airbnb for recording studios. After winding that down, I consulted StyleSeat mostly on the operations and product side and helped launch ExpressPay, which is a product that brings in significant revenue for StyleSeat. I am not naive enough to believe my experience is the mean for folks in SV that look like me. I have always been focused on doing my job to the best of my ability and bringing quality to the table. Those are the things that I can control as an individual, so I try to stay laser focused on those.

Moguldom: What were your expectations about challenges you would face as a black entrepreneur?

Dan Miller: I didn’t think much about the challenges I would face as an entrepreneur before getting started. I just got started. I don’t believe anyone would actually take the plunge if they really knew of all the challenges they would face as an entrepreneur. It is important to just stay focused on defining the next problem you need to solve to reach your goal. That’s all that matters and that never changes. It is so easy to become overwhelmed by all the things. Good entrepreneurs find discipline in knowing what to focus on and blocking everything else out.

Moguldom: Was it worse than you expected and why?

Dan Miller: Not better or worse than expected. It is exactly as expected. If it was easy and not risky, everyone would do it. Entrepreneurship is a calling for people who like doing things the hard way, and taking the path less traveled.

Moguldom: Can you talk more about the fear, cowardice and lemming-like behavior you experienced from venture capitalists?

Dan Miller: All investors are not created equally. Some are past founders, most come from banking, biz school, or the consulting industry. This means most are rather risk-averse and invest conservatively, which they will say makes them good, but I argue that their professional experiences and risk aversion lead to a lack of empathy for entrepreneurs. A lack of empathy along with very large deal flow creates an environment in which VCs have limitless time and limited understanding of entrepreneurs, so they lean into other constructs — universities attended, companies previously worked at, who else is investing, etc. This is what I mean by suggesting the current environment reinforces cowardice and lemming-like behavior.

Moguldom: If you secure crowdfunding, do you think it will be easier to get funding from traditional venture capitalists?

Dan Miller: It will absolutely be easier to secure funding from VC after the SeedInvest campaign closes. The beauty is we will be in a better position to negotiate from strength while having additional market validation. VC money doesn’t make sense for all tech businesses, but if that is a direction we want to go, we will be prepared for the conversations.

Level Therapy launched in the fall of 2016 and has four days left to raise $150,000 in a crowd-funding campaign on SeedInvest. As of this writing, $121,100 has been raised.

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